Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Rio Breaks - Review

Justin Mitchell, a longtime cinematographer and director of an abundant of short films and music videos, makes his directorial debut with a feature length documentary called Rio Breaks, about two young best friends who compete in surfing contests on the coast of Rio de Janiero, and how these competitions become a chance to escape the favela slums in which they live.

Mitchell on his homepage, says he started on the project in 2004 when he read an article by Vince Medeiros's article upto 2009 and its completion, Medeiros shares a writing credit with Mitchell on the screenplay.

The two best friends, Fabio and Naama, are treated with esteem and respect as we watch them flirt between the drudgery of their slum lifestyle in the renowned favelas of Rio and the joie de vivre they experience when surfing in the cool crisp water of Arpoader Beach that reaches towards the Atlantic.

Mitchell does not shirk from giving the boys a background as we go in amongst their homes, Fabio tells the story of his home called Vietnam - because of the constant shooting and violence in it.  These insights into the young boys, aged 12 and 13 only, really brings to the surface their need to succeed in the surfing world.  Mitchell uses recognised names in the Brazilian surfing fraternity as examples of what is possible, if you are good, you can get money, leave the favela far behind and live happily.

However, like that other great sports documentary Hoop Dreams, the dream is there in front of the boys whilst ambition and perserverance will only get you so far in life.

Mitchell's background in cinematography comes to the fore in this visual as well as spoken narrative; inter-cutting between talking head interviews, documentary footage and action packed visuals of the surfers in their element - it shares a passion and viscerality with that other great surfing movie, Riding With Giants.  Mitchell shot on HVX2000 as well as 16mm and 35mm film; giving a cinematic experience of both digital and filmic exhiliaration.

Continuing the recent trend of sporting documentaries that excel not just as nostalgia for past glories (Fire in Babylon, Senna) but also social commentaries, making comment on anthropological differences of different geo-political backgrounds - being young in Rio may sound like fun, but it sure does not look like it once you see how these people live.

A film as much for the head due to the polemical narrative, as well as for the eye due to the stunning visuals and imagery served up by an experienced photographer who successfully makes the jump to the directing chair.

Rio Breaks is on limited release from Friday 3rd June, and is distributed by Mr. Bongo films, who have had previous success with boxing documentary Sons of Cuba.

Agnosia - DVD review

Following hot on the heels of the theatrical release of Julia's Eyes in cinemas last week, Momentum Pictures release another film from the producers of Pan's Labyrinth, Agnosia is another Spanish thriller which made its UK debut at the London Spanish Film Festival.

Directed by another Guillermo Del Toro protege Eugenio Mira, and written by Antonio Trashorras (who also collaborated with Del Toro on The Devil's Backbone) the film tells the story of a young Joana Prats who after an accident suffers from a neurological illness, agnosia, that affects her perception.

As a doctor explains, we normally have a filter that reduces all the stimuli into senses of sounds and sights, in Joana's case she cannot interpret the stimuli she receives, leaving her in this perplexed state - she knows you are there but is not necessarily deaf or blind.

After the death of her father, Joana becomes victim of a sinister plan; whilst two men fight for her affection the true love of her man will become crucial; Carles (Noriega), her father's right hand man who seeks his industrial secret and Vicent (Felix Gomez) an impulsive servant who falls in love with Joana whilst working at the mansion.  Does Joana find the strength to seek out the truth, as the tagline suggests perception is not reality.

The film is blessed by the Spanish tradition of film-making influenced by the work of Victor Erice in the rich period detail of the baroque setting of the film, and the work of Del Toro's fantasy work specifically Pan's Labyrinth in terms of the visual richness and fantasy elements - the narrative themes it shares are that of a vulnerable young girl in distress, to be saved by a downtrodden young man as she escapes into a fantasy world of which neither she nor loved ones can grasp, and how love can be a mistake or mistaken for something else. 

Often in Spanish/Latin film (even in the work of Almodovar) there is an ulterior motive to someone's affection for an individual; in this instance we are aware of someone's sinister motives, and it is the young girl who finds out too late to her cost; another genre convention where for certain characters they find out too late.

The specific details of familial relationships and the fractured household in which they belong reminded me of the seminal Latin American film Like Water for Chocolate and the weight of magical realism that exudes over the film is apparent.

Starring Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others) and Eduardo Noriega (Open Your Eyes), along with the impressive Barbara Goenaga as the suffering Joana.  The film is elegant and entertaining to a certain degree, the film just falls short of matching the Hispanic heights of Del Toro's work, even though the best of young Spanish cinema on display here finds that particular national cinema is in good spirits.

Agnosia is released by Momentum Pictures on 30 May on DVD for £12.99 and contains special features aplenty.

Moby - Free Download

Hey all, follow the link to get a free download of Moby's new single, 'The Day'

http://www.moby.com/journal/2011-05-25/free-download-day-orchestral.html

available from his new album DESTOYED.

Also, Moby is on stage at the BFI Southbank tomorrow evening as part of a BUG:Video Retrospective, he will be conducting a Q&A with Adam Buxton ('Adam and Joe', 6Music) after the video and I will be reviewing the event for my blog readers.

Contact the BFI (02079283232) for any last minute ticket availabilty and follow @thelittleidiot on twitter for my updates and my own feed @SwitchBarLondon for the review and other movie/culture links.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Warrior and the Wolf -DVD review

Asian cinema has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts due to the global acclaim of such titles as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers.

However, for every Hero there are those titles that flatter to deceive, films that mean well but lack the execution to succeed when the endeavour is clear on screen.

Based on a short story by the prolific Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue, The Warrior and the Wolf tells the story of the Han Emperor who sent his army to the far Western border of China.  In order to subdue rebellious tribes, and a land full of wolves, the army would have to endure harsh winters in the Gobi desert. After much bloodshed, Commander Lu and his men give up and begin a retreat.

Trapped by a blizzard, Lu (Joe Odagiri) commandeers a shack and finds a beautiful Harran widow (Maggie Q) who become embroiled a passionate affair.

Whilst the film is shot beautifully in the widescreen along with stunning battle scenes, the film in other areas feels lacklustre.  The affair whilst full of passion, borders on rape as Lu becomes a wolf after much contact with them, as the widow clearly is not enjoying herself.  It leaves an odd feeling in the mouth, and whilst the battle scenes are the only element of redeemable execution, it pales in comparison with recent work of 13 Assassins.

Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang who had directed The Blue Kite, the expectation must have been high for a film of this calibre, along with the cast assembled, more a chance missed on this occasion.

The Warrior and the Wolf is released Monday 30th May from Universal indi Vision, priced £15.99(DVD) and £19.99 (Blu-Ray)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Frank Day - RV Night Q&A

Following my visit to the Sony World Photography Competition, I made contact with one of the photographers Frank Day via email. Not expecting a response, I was pleased that he did make contact. I decided to ask him a few questions and here is the interview.
Firstly, have you seen any of the Sony World Photography Competition? Do you have a favourite piece in the competition yourself?
I did see it at Somerset House.  The second prize winner in Architecture...the southern California material...was excellent. (Day refers to the work of Frank Meyl, of Germany, Midcentury Modern, who took photographs of people's front porches in Southern California, near Malibu).

What is your take on photography as an artform in this current multi-media world we live in?
Photography is the only legitimate artform.  Everything else is a fraud.

You live in Washington DC, why did you decide to go to Florida and the Carolinas for 'RV Night'?
Winter avoidance

Are you happy with the outcome?
Yes, very much so...I hope to shoot more of those images this coming winter.

Do you have any influences, be they from the world of photography or another art form?
On the photo side, Todd Hido and David Lynch.  In terms of painting, the way I make the foliage look, that directionless glow, that comes from late medieval landscape...think the background in van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystical Lamb, or the backgrounds in countless miniature illuminations.  Also Rousseau, the way the RV's crouch in the jungle like his animals...

I ask, other art form, as the photos reminded me of science-fiction/fantasy films with the RV's looking like spaceships...
They do look like life support pods.  And that's what they are, actually.  Dropped inaccessibly into the middle of the jungle.

Is there a statement about nature and technology you were striving for?
To me the dark beyond the RV or caravan is the whole point...the unknown, threatening, hostile dark world beyond the pool of light.  The world at the edge of the ancient map where things lurk.  In this case, the daunting future, the possibility that things will go really wrong and we will end up surviving in little sustainment pods.

What's next on the agenda?
What's next?  More of the same I hope.

Many thanks and I wish you all the best for the future and thank you for your time in answering the questions.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Lance and Ryan - Two Peas in a Pod

In spite of it being the last day of the Premier League season, with five teams at risk of joining West Ham United in the Championship and all the clamour and passion that familiar last day frenzy throws our way.  In spite of it being the European Rugby Cup final in Cardiff, which served up the equivalent of the Liverpool comeback with Leinster proving triumphant against a shellshocked Northampton.  In spite of the best European golfers dualling in Southern Spain for the World Matchplay title - it was two non-competing sportsman who took centre stage.

Both Lance Armstrong and Ryan Giggs have had their names dragged through the mud in recent days.  Armstrong (the 7 time Tour de France winner and spokesman for anything is possible after his winning battle against testicular cancer), was called out by former teammate Tyler Hamilton on the prestigious US show '60 Minutes' stating that both he and Armstrong injected themselves with EPO.  Hamilton has since returned a medal he won at the 2004 Olympics as a rite of passage and redemption. Whilst Armstrong remains silent on the matter except for a tweet on Thursday night after the broadcast which read, "20+year career. 500 drug controls, in and out of competition, worldwide. Never a failed test, I rest my case."


Well it does not really rest there unfortunately for Lance.  Having formally retired now from his illustrious cycling career, the feats remain in doubt in fact they have done since he returned from surgery to win the Tour; you came back from chemotherapy and won, and better than you did when properly healthy.  Now in the development of human beings, even that is miraculous.  Armstrong has these feats at stake, as well as his role as spokesman and ambassador for many charities and organisations, nevermind the endorsements he is still paid for the use of his image.  Now not only is the national exposure of Hamilton's testimony, but also Hincapie and Floyd Landis (another cheat) also state that Armstrong cheated knowingly.

As for another cheat in Europe, for the past few weeks, there has been a big campaign by freedom-of-speech lobbyists stating that the constant use of super-injunctions used by celebrities to sustain their wall of privacy.  The biggest one doing the rounds and offering lots of opinion in papers and call-in shows, is the one concerning a high profile footballer with a clean cut image had an affair with an ex-Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas.  The crux comes because Ms.Thomas has been vilified for wanting to gain income off of her stories, whilst the footballer is allowed anonymity.

Until today, when MP John Hemming used parliamentary privilege to name the footballer as none other than Ryan Giggs of Manchester United.  Giggs the 12 time Premier League winner, one of the most decorated footballers of his generation, and recipient of both the PFA Footballer of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the last two years.  Giggs is less than a week away from the Champions League final at Wembley against Barcelona.  The clamour from the press - front and back page- will be immense to get quotes from him, and I am sure his manager Sir Alex Ferguson will not welcome the unwanted distratction to his preparations.

The problem I have with things and the irony of the situation is that you have two esteemed sportsman both nearly the same age who have peaked on the highest stage and have spent the majority of their careers in the limelight of adulation and the fine line between sportsman and celebrity.

Armstrong feels he does not have a case to answer owing to his record in drug tests, and yet he responds to accusations via the slightly anonymous method of his twitter account.  Giggs on the other hand has had his legs swept out from under him, even though the Herald on Sunday in Scotland, did produce a picture of him with his eyes blanked out to keep the guessing game going - the irony being that jokes and rumours have circulated the internet for a number of weeks implementing Giggs as the man who slept with Imogen Thomas (herself a lady of Wales - hence the affinity between the two). 

My problem with both though is that Armstong and Giggs through their established personas as role models and model professionals have let themselves down further, by not coming out to face the music.  America has had this soap opera before in it's national pasttime of baseball during the steroid era as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa all kept quiet as the whispers grew louder - now players are freely admitting hoping that time heals better than wounds. 

Armstrong is an institution and his record is unbelievable but all the more reason to fit for it surely, by coming out in a press conference and stating categorically that he did not do it.  When the whispers first started, I felt that if it were true and lets face it, it is slowly becoming that way, that it would be the end of cycling - the greatest example of the sport would be a fraud, and leaving proper figures like Mark Cavendish with no reason.  Armstrong may not only ruin his own vaunted reputation, but also that of cycling itself.  People will switch off and turn away from the sport.

As for Giggs, for so long a quiet man is it any wonder he kept quiet for so long or wanted to keep his privacy to himself - but he would not have been the first married footballer with children to play away from home and he certainly will not be the last.

My problem is that with footballers we know what they get paid for approximately three to five hours work a week, and in this business much like heads of large corporations they should act accordingly and appropriately.  Football clubs are multi-million pound businesses and should expect their employees to toe the line in regards to conduct.  The players seek privacy yet if they were grieving over the sudden death of a family member, or had been diagnosed with a serious illness they would announce a press conference and state that they would like their privacy to be respected; so what is the difference here, come out and admit it, ask for privacy then.  We football fans are not stupid yet we do not want to be treated like cretins when it comes to matters of what we should and should not believe, especially when it is the average football fan that pays the wages of said footballers.

The old adage of straight from the horse's mouth has never seemed more appropriate, and yet we seem to have found not one but two mute stallions.

SEE FILM DIFFERENTLY - 'A Clockwork Orange'

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE RETURNS TO THE BIG SCREEN FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY
40 years after its groundbreaking release, Volkswagen celebrates with screening in original film location

An exclusive screening of Stanley Kubrick’s four-time Oscar nominated cult classic, A Clockwork Orange, is set to take place on Thursday 2 June at Brunel University in West London – one of the key locations featured in the groundbreaking British film.

The event is the latest in Volkswagen’s See Film Differently series, designed to provide film fans with a behind the scenes style insight into some of the most memorable and iconic British films.

It follows original location screenings of An American Werewolf in London which was held inside ZSL London Zoo, gangster classic Get Carter, shown at Newcastle Racecourse and Trainspotting, screened at the Royal Scottish Academy; all notable locations featured in the classic films.

Fans of A Clockwork Orange, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, will be able to watch the film in Brunel University’s lecture theatre.  This serves as the setting for one of the film’s unforgettable scenes in which Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, is subjected to experimental aversion therapy.

The event will also feature a one-off exhibition of original stills and film memorabilia provided by the Stanley Kubrick Estate and TASCHEN, publishers of The Stanley Kubrick Archives.

In addition, those fortunate enough to attend will be treated to complimentary cinema style food in the ‘Moloko Bar’, a specially themed exhibition space inspired by the milk drink favoured by Alex and his gang in the film.

Tickets for the event are free and available courtesy of Volkswagen through an online ticket draw.  For the chance to win tickets, film fans should log on to www.seefilmdifferently.com, and register their interest.  Ticket applications close at midday on Friday 27 May and all lucky winners will be informed on Friday 27 May.  Tickets will be allocated at random.

Film fans can find out more about Volkswagen’s campaign and share their views on the events by visiting the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/seefilmdifferently

Le Quattro Volte

The long awaited sophomore feature from Italian, Michelangelo Frammartino, is released on Friday 27th May; and his second feature after 2004's Il dono (The Gift).  First screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, the film is unclassifiable, not tied to any genre specifically but undoubtedly the best cinematic use of goats in film history.

The film's title can be translated as the 'four seasons' or the 'four turns' but is based upon the ideas of animism and reincarnation.  As Frammartino states in the production notes, "Man is made of mineral, because he has a skeleton; he's a plant, because he has blood flowing through his veins like sap; he's an animal, because he has mobility; and he's also a rational being. So in order to fully understand himself, a man has to understand himself four times."

The film follows a goatherd - and to quote a Sound of Music - he is a lonely one at that, he works tirelessly and only for the goats, he drinks water with dust mixed in with it, to tend to a tickling cough but it is given to him by the church - the tradition being that it translates as dust being a little particle of God, and dust is the first thing you can see in the light - as you head for heaven. We are witnessing the final days of an elderly man.




But it is the goats who are the stars of the show in this instance, and once the old man passes on, we are greeted with the birth of a kid goat - the film follows the kid on its first steps, before it rests by a fir tree.  It then renders its gaze on the tree through the seasons, before it is felled and re-erected in a village for a festival, then chopped into logs and entombed in another scarazzo.

This mise-en-scene is familiar to doyens and followers of the 'slow cinema' so prevelant in European cinema under the watchful auteur eye of Bela Tarr mostly and endorsed by such directors as Abbas Kiarostami.
Whilst the documentary eye of Frammartino is all encompassing, the necessity of these long takes where nothing happens is actually a narrative requirement and part of its development.

Not to say it is all slow and monotonous, Frammartino works a wonderful sight gag into the mix that has to be seen to be believed.

Shooting on a landscape close to the director's home, the film has his indelible thumbprint upon proceedings although it does need to tip its hat to the work of James Benning who gave us 13 Lakes, a director who can take inanimate or non-human objects as the basis for narrative focus and tell a convincing story in the process.

Frammartino does something more than that; he gives us a film that is poetic, spiritual, theological and strangely uplifting at the same time, that is without noting how beautiful the film looks with its sweeping vistas and landscapes, photographed by Andrea Locatelli. A film that is both surreal and real, rational and theoretical, it is a hidden gem and bares to be seen by an audience wider than the typical arthouse crowd.

Cold Weather - DVD review

The detective genre is turned on its head in this hip, independent feature from mumblecore veteran Aaron Katz, in this his third feature.

Doug (Cris Lankenau) has returned to his hometown of Portland, Oregon after dropping out of his forensics degree in Chicago and moved back in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), having split with his girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon).

After meandering around town and attempting to connect with his sister, Doug takes on a job in an ice factory - moving bags of ice from one side of the room to another seemingly. At work he befriends Carlos (Raul Castillo), a part-time DJ, and they share some good times together along with Gail. Then Rachel turns up unexpectedly with some business to attend to. Carlos and Rachel then go out together until one night they are meant to meet, and she does not turn up...

Like any American independent feature, there has to be a gimmick or a hook and for the first half of this film you do wonder in which direction this film is going. It follows four twenty-somethings going about their mundane lives, hanging out, sharing stories, liking or disliking Star Trek and then the possibility of a romantic arrangement (to the shagrin of the male lead) throws this narrative off course and offers something different.

Rachel's no show for a date with Carlos leads him to believe that she might have been kidnapped, and so it makes sense as to why Doug and Carlos have been spending a lot of time talking about Sherlock Holmes; the two amateur sleuths are living vicariously through the words and influence of Arthur Conan Doyle.
All of a sudden the missing girl is not the macguffin, but the suitcase that has inside of it some explicit photographs that the Cowboy (named because of his choice of hat attire) has to blackmail her. The two men are helped by Gail in their sleuthing. This leads to some funny scenes especially when they check into a hotel room, and then check out again, the audience know that the motel clerk (played by producer Ben Stambler) is thinking Doug and Carlos are gay, and Doug does not help when he says, 'I like Room 34, i had a good experience in it once'.

The laidback nature of Lankenau's performance may become frustrating and his reluctance to help Carlos in his detective work does make you wonder why does he want to be a detective if he does not want to do the legwork. But once they get a clue regarding baseball statistics, the ball is rolling and they are on the scent.
Whilst these detectives may be far removed from the kinetic madness of Benedict Cumberbatch's current Sherlock portrayal, the cleverness and delight of the film is that the detective plotline is itself nothing but a macguffin.
Katz depicts with the rebirth - not of a new career - but of a sibling relationship as Doug and Gail grow closer and stronger together working out the clues that lie within the mystery.
The title of Cold Weather can refer to the climate of Oregon itself and Doug's new job at the ice factory, but perhaps it refers to a climate of familial relationships and how given factors of distance and lack of time together siblings can lose contact and grow cold to one another.

The ending which finds brother and sister working in perfect harmony is very much intimate and exuding warmth - this is thanks to the direction of Katz who gives us glimpses of clues, mentions of a brighter youth in dialogue ('they are all mixtapes you made for me'), discreet body movements and glances all part of a bigger mystery, but with a naturalism indicative of the great ensemble.

Katz, who also wrote the screenplay and edited the film, has a bright future should this cult hit in America find the audience on this side of the pond. Here is hoping he can rise up to the next level in terms of budget and scale; it certainly seems like he has the integrity and ability to do so.
Cold Weather is released on 23rd May by Axiom Films is certified 15 and £15.99(RRP). The bonus features include an audio commentary by Aaron Katz along with producers Brendan McFadden and Stambler; an alternate ending (which was rightly culled) and a brilliant live performance of the end credits score by compose Keegan Dewitt, a life long friend of Katz - a score that is both eccentric, eclectic and thrilling.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Two In The Wave - DVD review

Emmauel Laurent's insightful documentary charts the rise of French cinema's two brightest stars Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard as they gave fresh impetus to their nation's cinema in the form of the Nouvelle Vague, or the New Wave to give it it's English translation.

Starting in 1959 with the Cannes premiere of Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), Truffaut's triumphant debut feature, the film shows how Godard responded in kind with Breathless (1960); how the two men were shaped by their cinema going youth, how their journalistic freedom at Cahiers du Cinema in Paris helped define them as filmmakers and then slowly how their friendship disintergrated without it being resolved before Truffaut's premature death in 1984.

The film uses a voiceover by Antoine de Baecque - a prolific cultural historian - who lends a sense of gravitas and appreciation to proceedings, he is helped by the use of film extracts from both Godard and Truffaut, archive interviews and perhaps most perplexingly, a young actress turning pages of vintage magazines as the voiceover tells us what she is looking at.

This is where the documentary falls short; with such a distinctive subject matter and with a brilliant conflict of interests between the urbane Truffaut and rebellious Godard taking place there were surely stories aplenty to share here. For instance, this is the first time I realised the backstory to the triumphant 400 Blows screening was that Truffaut, being critical of the Festival in his famous magazine the year before, had been banned from Cannes so making his film premiere sweet revenge. This type of information was not taught us at film school, it was a common belief that Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer et al, all just picked up a camera and went guerilla like Godard did for Breathless.

However, looking back on these films you get the sense that Truffaut had a sense about what he was doing with 400 Blows and the way it was shot gives it that one foot in the authentic cinema, and one foot in the new wave owing to the depicition of youth - a polished rebellion if you will.

Whilst the documentary may serve as reliant in academic circles and film classes seeking background information on such established directors, much like that actress (Isild Le Bosco) turning the pages of archives, there is a whole lot more to be learnt from reading books, especially Richard Brody's Godard biography Everything is Cinema (2008) and for Truffaut seek out the Interviews with Hitchcock (1954).

Two in the Wave is released by New Wave Films on DVD and Blu-Ray and is out now.

Storm Boy - DVD review

Like Taxi Driver, this little movie from Australia is also celebrating it's 35th anniversary. Winner of Best Film at the 1977 Australian Film Institute awards is released on DVD by Crabtree Films on Monday (23rd May).

Based upon the novel on the same name by Colin Thiele , it tells the story of a young boy who lives alone with his widowed dad in the beautiful coastline of South Australia's Coorong who befriends an aboriginal man, Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpill) who initially scares him and also comes to care for some pelicans who come across his home.

After the pelican mother is killed by hunters, Storm Boy rescues three chicks and cares for them, once they hatch he cristens them Mr.Proud, Mr.Ponder and Mr.Percival. After his Dad convinces him to release them ('All wild things must be set free'), one pelican, Mr.Percival returns to them. Before long though the friendship with Fingerbone Bill and the need to attend school create conflict and the fate of Mr.Percial hangs in the balance.

The father says Storm Boy knows enough, the female teacher (dressed to the nines in a fake fur, and speaking in a posh anglicised accent) says he needs the education and denying him will do irrepreable harm - the difference between urban and the garden is all apparent.

Beautifully shot by Geoff Burton, and with a lovely piano led score the film is a useful nature film helped by the sterling lead performance of Greg Rowe, the young man christened Storm Boy who runs around barefoot and is treated as much of an outsider once he heads to school

Part an indictment of man's destruction of the world he lives in (two fishermen throwing beer cans into the sea) and part love letter to the natural world, Storm Boy is that rare film that wears its heart on its sleeve and in the true Antipodean sense, is not ashamed of it either; a film with a clear message and spirit as powerful today (maybe even more so in today's age) as it was firstly upon release. Treat yourself to a rare Australian piece of timeless cinema, directed by Henri Safran.

Released by Crabtree Films on Monday 23rd May on DVD

Junebug - DVD review

I first saw Phil Morrison's debut feature at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2005 and I am pleased to see it returning to our screens in a brand new DVD release. That year it was the standout feature I saw over those two weeks. 

The film is an insightful look at the culture clash that takes place when a young brother from the south brings his new fiancĂ©e (a Yankee) home for the first time to meet the family.   
 
It begins with men hollering, a former communication tool in North Carolina were the film is set and it focuses on the role communication – verbal and non-verbal – has on a family as the eldest son, George (Nivola), returns home for a few days with his new wife, Madeline (Davidtz), of six months.  At his family home we have Eugene and Peg, his parents whose conversations are led by Peg and leave Eugene restricted to monosyllabic answers.  Johnny (McKenzie), the youngest son, is a rebellious sort who hates being spoken to or down to and prefers actions (later he throws a wrench at George) and Ashley (Adams), Johnny’s wife, who it heavily pregnant, talkative and inquisitive. 
 
What follows is a view of what priorities you are meant to have; when Ashley does go into labour Madeline (an art gallery owner) decides to pursue a client while George thinks that family should come first, he tells her this and ultimately this puts a wedge in the relationship. 
 
George (Alessandro Nivola) and Madeline (Embeth Davidtz) head for home while she recruits a new artist for the New York gallery she works for.  While the couple are happy together, the household they start to frequent is one of quietness that this new life opens up new doors.  George's parents - Eugene and Peg - are simple folk; their conversations are led by Peg with Eugene's replies limited to monosyllabic answers.  Johnny (Ben McKenzie) is the rebel of the family who would like to be as smart as George but suffers from being the youngest of the family and living in George's perpetual shadow and has the added weight of living with his pregnant wife, Ashley (Amy Adams) who is immediately uplifted by Madeline's arrival as she offers her a view of the world up north, a world of glamour and culture.  Ashley is awestruck but in a big sister sort of way. 
 
It is important to note the role of communication in this film, the different sorts it employs and what sort of emotions it conveys.  This is set around two set pieces - the church social and the baby shower.  At the church social, the larger community get to see the returning George and have Madeline shown off.  It also provides Madeline the opportunity to see a different side of George she has not yet seen, when he sings a solo of a hymn.  The camera scans the room, the church taking in the solo humbly and then the camera holds on Madeline, who herself is now awestruck at this secret.  It is a softer side of George absent from the instant attractiveness we see at the film's beginning.  At the baby shower, the feelings of disdain Johnny has been building up surface which itself leads to Ashley's premature pregnancy. 
 
The film does not overreach for sentimentality and does not portray the South in stereotypical terms which is a credit to Morrison and this fine group of actors he has employed.  Nivola has never gone to these lengths before and it suits him, he broods at time and has a real presence.  Davidtz plays the cultural outsider very well and rather than making her the intellectual, at times her intelligence can be rude in comparison to the simpler south (which itself might sound racist). 
 
However, the film belongs to Amy Adams, who was rightly Oscar nominated for her role.  Her bright-eyed and talkative role in another film might have been annoying, but in fact is endearing as she plays Ashley as the heartbroken sole who is forced to be with her childhood sweetheart, but like all the other characters yearns to escape at times but is forced to stay.  In other years, Adams might have won the Oscar (like Marcia Gay Harden or Mercedes Rheul) but instead let us be grateful that such a performance was captured by such an unknown with a great future. 
 
At the end for the first time we are left with ambiguity which is odd for the films conclusion, but appropriately it leaves a couple in silence with one having asked a question still awaiting a response, as they 'escape' but do they really want to.  A well written screenplay that is a joy when you think of it in hindsight and is recommended to all.
 
Throughout the film we have all types of communication and the effect it has on relationships and community; communication through faith, prayer, food – especially food as it governs when family spend time together (‘What time is dinner?’). 
 
In terms of communication, Ashley is the most appealing character which is odd considering if she was in another film she would be laughed at and not with, but because she is the only character who speaks openly to all we find her endearing as well as innocence.  When she is in hospital after surgery, George comforts her and usually the person who has suffered would remain quiet while George would console her with positive thoughts.  But Ashley remains the constant talker while George listens and just being the receiver and someone to listen is what Ashley wants, unlike Johnny who married Ashley because she got pregnant (it appears, but then we are not told that).  Nivola in this scene is brilliant he just listens and broods on the screen, giving great strength to a scene that easily could have subsided into hysterics but it helps if only one person asks and answers.  Nivola hugs her, kisses her on the forehead and leaves Ashley happy.  As he returns home he confronts Johnny, again he does not speak and Johnny’s violent jealousy of George erupts in the wrench being thrown, it is the only violent act of the film but speaks loudest.
 
It uses a melodic soundtrack that does not have non-diegetic music to fill out scenes and this renders the film a sort of natural space unlike other American independent films, but then again most American films do not have the type of outstanding performance we receive from Amy Adams.

Junebug is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray (£13.27RRP) by Eureka! Films, the special features contain a full length audio commentary from the stars Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz; Amy Adams interview and Q&A session in London from March 2006; ten deleted scenes; behind the scenes documentaries.

Barney's Version - DVD review

Paul Giamatti first came to prominence with his role as Bob Zmuda opposite Jim Carrey's Andy Kauffman in Man on the Moon; but I first noticed him in two very small roles.  As Howard Stern's lamentable boss, Kenny, in Private Parts where he is all mouth but no bite and as a smoking bellboy in My Best Friend's Wedding who give Julia Robert's character some advice in a corridor.  Both small roles and typically throwaway but there is something endearing and charming about Giamatti - the actor who gets that role as the schlub, the schmuck, the fat guy with his unique shape.

Barney's Version is directed by Richard J. Lewis, and based upon the novel by Mordecai Richler with a screenplay by Michael Konyves.  The film stars Paul Giamatti as the synonymous Barney Panofsky, the unrepentant callous individual who despite being a somewhat drunk and acerbic in his intellect, is nevertheless irresistible to women.  During the flashbacks that Barney has during the film's duration we see him with three desirable women, all whom marry him. The third and final wife, is in particular a saint, and he ultimately ruins his happiness with her and their life together.  Ultimately, Barney's brain begins to slow down and he becomes a mere ghost in the world as his family and friends begin to shun him.

Giamatti pleasingly gets his teeth into the role, as we follow Barney from his bohemian musings in Rome in the late 70s and his first misguided marriage to Clara who he believes he made pregnant; to his second marriage to the Jewish princess played by Minnie Driver, like the novel (which saved its most acerbic comment for) is not granted a name.  The sequences with Barney and this princess and her family are the most cynical of the literature and the hierarchy of Jewish stereotypes; the father in law looks down upon Barney's father, Izzy (played with aplomb by Dustin Hoffman) with disdain when he bemoans his lack of career progression saying stating maybe his lack of integrity when assaulting criminals might have served him better than focus on predjudices.

And yet, this film does have a unique heart.  Barney meets his third and final wife, Miriam Grant (stunning Rosamund Pike) at the wedding of his second wife.  He leaves his wedding and tracks her down saying run away with me, when cooler heads should prevail.  Barney later calls Miriam as he is signing his divorce papers for a date a few years later, and on their first date he retches up all the whiskey he hoped would give him courage.  Barney is an old romantic, and that is where the heart comes from, and once he and Miriam are married these are shown to be the best years of his life - two kids, success with his television production company (Unnecessary Productions - which gets a good pun) and respect from his peers.

The only cloud that hangs over him is the unsolved disappearance of his friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), who fell into the lake by his country house after an argument involving a gun.  We are led to believe that Barney shot Boogie, and the unrelenting pursuit of a Detective O'Hearne (Mark Addy - yes that guy from the Tesco's adverts and The Full Monty) to prove Barney's guilt makes us believe that maybe Barney did do it.

These questions are lightly glossed over by the film's conclusion, which is a reflection on the at times whimsical screenplay and light direction, both of which are helped by a stunning central performance by Giamatti who is at times beguiling yet never less than charming.  He is helped by Pike, who in a role that could easily be wafer thin on paper is elevated by her elegance and radiance she brings to the role; two tropes lacking in a lot of North American cinema lately.

It is important to note, that this is a Canadian production, and the film never over states that fact in the production unlike other films that may blare out the nationality of the piece, but the attention to period detail and set design puts some American productions to shame.

Barney's Version is for you if you like films similar to Mr.Holland's Opus that tells the story of someone through the decades and is helped by a powerhouse central performance by an under-rated performer, this is for you although it does include a little bit more swearing and sex than the Richard Dreyfuss film.  And as to why Giamatti did not get a Leading Actor nomination from the Academy, well that is as tragic as Barney Parnofsky's life wants to be.

Paul Giamatti, is one of my favourite actors to come out of Hollywood in the last ten years.  My favourite performance of his remains Miles in Sideways, a performance that wrongly was ignored by the Academy awards that year whilst his co-star Thomas Haden Church did get a nomination.  This year Giamatti won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in Comedy, and rightly so, alas he was again ignored by the Academy for this performance, admittedly a good field of actors but should not it be time to give a guy his due.

Barney's Version (15) is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 23rd May from Universal Pictures International Entertainment with a £19.99RRP (DVD) and £24.99(Blu-Ray).  The bonus features include a special featurette.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Stake Land - International Trailer

Stake Land has a new trailer going live, click on Stake Land to access the new international trailer.

STAKE LAND - the ‘Midnight Madness Award’ winner at the Toronto International Film Festival starring Nick Damici, Connor Paolo Kelly McGillis and directed by Jim Mickle.  STAKE LAND is in UK cinemas from June 17th.

A young boy (Connor Paolo, Gossip Girl) is about to learn how cruel the world can become. Martin was a normal teenager before the country collapsed in an empty pit of disaster, and a vampire epidemic swept across the nation’s abandoned towns and cities. It’s up to Mister (Nick Damici, Mulberry Street, World Trade Center), a death dealing, rogue vampire hunter, to get Martin to safety. Armed with a trunk full of wooden stakes and a desperate will to stay alive, Mister and Martin make their way through locked down towns, recruiting fellow travelers along the way. Among them are a devout nun (Kelly McGillis, The Accused, Top Gun) and a pregnant teen (Danielle Harris, Halloween, Halloween 2)…

As with his hit, MULBERRY STREET, Jim Mickle creates a dark and terrifying world, although this time it is fully stocked with the most vicious vampires in recent film history. STAKE LAND is a gritty, post-apocalyptic road movie with teeth!

Something Borrowed - review

Something Borrowed is adapted, upon the chick-lit novel of Emily Giffin, by Jennie Snyder.  It stars Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, Colin Egglesfield and John Krasinski.

Rachel (Goodwin) is thrown a surprise 30th birthday party by her best friend Darcey (Hudson), who is engaged to Dex (Egglesfield), who was Rachel's study partner at New York University when studying law.  At the birthday party, Darcey shows off a video projection of her and Rachel's life together, best friends forever but with Darcey playing a more prominent role.  It appears that whilst Darcey is the life and soul of any party, Rachel is lucky to be invited.

After the party, and after Darcey has been taken home by Dex, he returns looking for Darcey's handbag.  Dex and Rachel then have one more drink which leads to a clinch in the back of a cab home, and them sleeping together.  Whilst Rachel puts it down to wedding jitters, flashbacks convince us that Rachel and Dex were meant to be together and they missed their chance after their final exam, when Darcey jumped in and practically threw herself at Dex, as Rachel stepped aside and let Darcey get what she wanted - as she has done all her life.  A point raised by her best friend Ethan (Krasinski), who takes a dislike to Darcey even though they have been friends since childhood.

Dex and Rachel continue their clandestine arrangement over the summer switching between the city of New York and the beaches of the Hamptons, whilst wedding plans carry on regardless.  Ethan tells Rachel to tell him to leave Darcey, but Dex being the Ralph Lauren model from the Hamptons (to quote Ethan) has no backbone and cannot call off a wedding he does not want to go through.

This leads to generic themes of romantic comedy with declarations of love in the rain, nostalgia of eternal first love and the youth it arrived at with and a coffee table soundtrack.

That last paragraph may sound like a bit of a dismissal of the film, but the film is above average thanks in part to the performances of Goodwin (wholesome idealism) and Krasinski (sarcastic bite) whose to and fro dialogue when together is better and more believable than the wooden Egglesfield.  As for Hudson, so often the poster girl of the 21st century rom-com, has gone the other way and instead of playing the put upon woman, is here the woman who puts upon.  Her Darcey, is loud, brash, egotistical and a believer of her own hype - nevermind, the borderline and worrying alcoholic dependency of her character.

Some moments are laugh out loud funny, such as the badminton game that brings to the surface the competitive nature of all the characters and the fear and grip a secret can hold over a group - this is thanks to Krasinski, so used to working in an ensemble with the rat-a-tat delivery of dialogue, whilst everytime Hudson talks you feel she wants the camera still so she can be seen and heard.  Also kudos to Steve Howey as Marcus, Dex's cousin, a man stuck in a timewarp of late 1990s surfer dude persona, but gets good mileage from his nympho role and bad boy with a gentle heart.

At the end, characters all end in happiness but sometimes the script feels a little labourious (a typical trend of current rom-coms) and feels back to front - the moment when we see the chemistry of best friends Rachel and Darcey doing a Salt n Pepa dance routine in perfect synchronisation comes too far and too late into the film; there is never any evidence as to why Ethan and Darcey are at each other's throats and the sub-plot of Ethan being 'gay' to stave off a girl's advances, is never fully explored for comic potential.  The film may have something borrowed, but it certainly has nothing new.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

That's What I Am

Starring the Oscar-nominated Ed Harris, with support from Chase Ellison (Tooth Fairy), Amy Madigan (Field of Dreams) and WWE superstar Randy Orton, in a film produced by Samuel Goldwyn Films and WWE Studios. That's What I Am is the first time director Michael Pavone, has also writen the screenplay inspired by true events.

Pavone's background is mostly in television, directing episodes of Blood Brothers and Everwood, and it is this restrictive film-making with its weak set-ups that gives the film its character and a style reminiscent of The Wonder Years, and with the customary voiceover of a now mature adult looking back on his high school years, the sense of nostalgia for halycon days of the late 1960s is ever apparent.

The period detail is winning; the costumes of children dressed in brightly coloured trousers or dresses, the period piece cars and the lighting makes the 1960s look like a warmer more tranquil period - in spite of the major political issues going on in the background, as alluded to in a credit sequence referring to Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement.

But in spite of this fancy dressing up on the exterior and in the accomplished production design, there is some serious subject issues going on underneath the surface. Themes of bullying and prejudice are the key to this film being an above average middle of the road depiction of a young teenager's growing pains.
Mr. Simon (Harris) pairs up students for a report in his English class; he chooses everyman Andy Nichol (Ellison) to pair up with Big G, a young man who although intelligent is a foot taller than anyone else, has ears too big for his head and a full head of head of red hair, the G stands for ginger.

After initial mocking of the pairing, Andy decides to make a fist of it and make a good report; he also learns about prejudice and friendship, whilst also falling for the cutest girl in school Mary Clear (fittingly, clear a name for a girl pure of skin).

Andy eventually stands up to the bully, and in spite of some cruel name calling against Mr. Simon's private life, he does not ignore the fact that the teacher is an influential role model and such issues in regard to someone's private life should not put into question his ability as a teacher.

Featuring hit songs of the era, the film will leave you with a contented smile on your face, as it is elevated above mediocrity thanks to the performance of the ever reliable Harris. Above average, That's What I Am, that's what it is.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Abel (Diego Luna, Mexico, 2009)

Mexican actor, Diego Luna, most famous for Y Tu Mama Tambien, makes his directorial debut with Abel  a script by Augusto Mendoza, with executive production from Gael Garcia Bernal and John Malkovich.

Abel is played by Christopher Ruiz-Esparaza, is a young boy who after the abandonment of his father from the family home has fallen silent and been confined to a mental institute for two years. His mother, Cecilia, feels that a reunion with his siblings Paul and Seline will lead to an improvement in his behaviour and speech.

Granted a week's sabatical by the doctor, Abel's speech returns but only in the form of an adult - and the belief he is his own father, the same father who left home. Cecilia feels it is best to encourage such behaviour, so Abel talks to his siblings as if they are his children, and Cecilia dotes on him like any loving wife would.

This leads to funny proceedings and exchanges between the much older Seline and the younger Abel, whilst there is a touching connection between Abel and Paul (played by real life brothers). The doctor comes and states it is okay to carry on, as long as he takes the requisite medication; that is until his father unexpectedly returns to the home. Abel does not recognise the father, believing himself to fit that role; tensions mount as a solution is looked for Abel's condition.

This Oedipal story is told with great deftness and a lightness that marks Luna out as a genuine talent, and the use of the camera at a child's level throughout in the family home and emphasising an adult's presence with the use of low angle to show their height and threat.

Not surprisingly, considering he is a talented actor in his own right, Luna elicits commendable performances from all the cast especially Ruiz-Esparza in the titular role; who is both commanding and affecting.

A film that is both intelligent and entertaining, continuing Latin America's recent renaissance in the cinematic field.

Abel is released by Network Releasing and is Out Now for £19.99RRP, and the DVD is packed with extras: a booklet by London Film festival programmer Maria Delgado; footage of the film's premiere at the LFF in 2010 and a Q&A from the VIVA! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at Manchester in January 2011 with Luna and producer Pablo Cruz; Chile premiere video diary; stills gallery; trailer. More extras than is usual for such a small title, and an unusual pleasure.

Taxi Driver Turns 35

Martin Scorsese's seminal picture from 1976 is granted a reissue and re-release in a new stunning print 4k digital restoration (under the guidance of Grover Crisp at Sony Pictures) with a run in selected cinemas to mark the 35th anniversary of its initial release back during the last Golden Age of Hollywood.

Oddly, for a cinema buff, Taxi Driver is one of those films I have never gotten round to seeing; partly due to the fact that because it is constantly listed as one of the great films of all time, you see clips so you feel you have already seen the film. Of course, this is a silly opresumption and you need to see the film in its entirety to make a real critical judgment - seeing it on the big screen will naturally serve this purpose.

When watching Taxi Driver you are immediately struck by the forcefulness of Robert De Niro's central performance as the now-iconic Travis Bickle, in both his charisma and the menacing voiceover -where he talks of whores, scum and wishes they could all wash away into the sewers.

For a film that is so revered due to the notion of it being different to anything else, it follows a distinct three act structure - with Travis' persona altering for each specific act.
In the first act, you see the pro-active and resourceful Travis who is nice to people, wants to work hard and take the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) on a date.

When Betsy refuses his advances and stops returning his calls you get the angry and frustrated Travis - the one who purchases guns, and talks to Secret Service agents. Tellingly, the frustrated Travis has two key moments when he meets Senator Palantine in his cab, voices his disapprovals of the world and halts the politician in his tracks with his brutal honesty and the memorable 'You talkin' to me!' scene, which has been parodied and mimicked to kingdom come.

The third act is vengeful Travis, when he takes it upon himself to save Iris (Jodie Foster) from the clutches of Sport (Harvey Keitel), donning a mohawk and a glint in his eye, Travis goes into the whorehouse and shoots just about everyone in sight and Iris being saved whilst her tormentors are killed.

The film won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1976 and you can see why it was such a hit upon the European scene as it exhibits European sensibilities - though pretty explicit in its depiction of violence and having flashpoints of violence or menace throughout, these scenes are followed almost repeatedly by moments of Travis in quiet contemplation and reflection.

The script written by Paul Schrader, is brilliant, but Schrader has made clear his profound respect for the work of such auteurs Carl Dreyer, Robert Bresson and Ozu - all directors who combine a mixture of faith and use long periods of stillness to offset more appropriate action; one such moment is when Travis plays with rocking his television back and forth on the table it sits on until the point that momentum forces it to fall backwards and explode. By that time, Travis is done with society and the destruction of the television, his last link (or window) to the outside world is gone and he is only with himself and his actions, which ultimately ends in the bloodbath.

I was also reminded of something I read in regards to Travis as an extension or continuation of characters like Ethan Edwards/John Wayne in The Searchers (1956), an avenging angel (hence all the talk of religion and faith) with Travis saving Jodie from the Other, much like Ethan saved Natalie Wood from the Indians who kidnapped her. The idea of an avenging angel or saving grace is a familiar theme in westerns, but the planting said angel in a city landscape makes Travis more an anti-hero because of his mental unstability and fragility, much like Ethan. However, whereas Ethan became unhinged due to serving in the Civil War and not knowing his role; Travis served in Vietnam and has returned to work but is unhappy with the way of the world and wants to change it, even if it means doing something as disbelieving as unsettle a Presidential candidate. His belief is that if he saves Iris, he could be branded a hero, something he was not upon his return from Vietnam.

De Niro is mesmerising in his career defining role and the score by the renowned Bernard Herrmann is both pulsating and unsettling in its sense of mood. However, this remains Scorsese's calling card to the world following on from the rawness of Mean Streets and the made-for-hire work like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; there is still the rawness of the former title yet with more polish and acumen and photographed in a style to match the work of Coppola, especially The Conversation. If you have the opportunity to see it on the big screen, I recommend the Curzon Soho who have it on for a week minimum, then do so and experience one of the great films of the 1970s and one of the great works by a great director.

Taxi Driver is released by Park Circus Films on Friday 13th May in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and key cities and is certified 18.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Screaming Man

The acclaimed director of Daratt, Mahamat-Saleh returns with a telling meditation of an ageing African male that has a deftness and humanity within it, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

Said screaming man is Adam (Youssouf Djaoro) who is a happy pool attendant at a fancy hotel in civil war Chad.  Adam shares the duties of his job with his 20 year old son, Abdel (Diouc Koma), yet there are fears over the future of job security owing to the investment of Chinese money into the infrastructure of the hotel.  Many workers fear for their job, one is David (Marius Yelolo), a chef who in the few scenes he shares with Adam gives wisdom and advice - upon hearing the unwanted news, David says to Adam, 'the problem is we put our fate in the hands of God'.

After this news, Adam is told he has been demoted to the role of gatekeeper of the hotel - the man who must raise and lower the barrier for cars and other motor vehicles - whilst Abdel has been given sole responsibility of the pool.  Hence, Adam feels embarrassed and devalued as a man as well as a trusted worker.  His role as moneywinner is further but into question by the demands of a local district chief who keeps pestering him for money to help with the war effort.  (It should be noted that there is never any mention or reason given as to why Adam keeps saying he is broke and cannot pay.)  Yet the conversations with the chief lead to Adam making a decision that will lead to a terrible act of betrayal.

Haroun has a real assuredness behind the camera - he cleverly shows a difference between the workplace environment and the home environment; one is vibrant, the other is still - but he does this without going to lengths of changing the tone or colour of the palette, instead relying upon the performances of his actors who are front and centre.  A good scene at the start shows Adam with his wife, Mariam, as they eat food together you feel the warmth of their love, but in the background is a television with news of the civil war ongoing.  The scene tells you two things; the personality of Adam is enhanced as a loving husband and provider, nevertheless the civil war intrudes upon their sanctuary, as it will do later on with more tragic consequences.

The script, also written by Haroun, asks questions about duty (to work, to family, to your country), the idea of loyalty to the same factors and the father and son dynamic (an ongoing trope of Haroun's previous work).  Adam is jealous of Abdel as much for his youth as for being selected for the job of pool attendant; but once Abdel's pregnant girlfriend, Djeneba (Djeneba Kone) appears this affection for his son is reassessed leading to the final act of the film.

This conclusion of the film - whilst an eventual part of the narrative - is handled deftly offering the chance of reconciliation with a distinctness and deftness you rarely see, giving ample opportunity to his DoP, Laurent Brunet to shoot some wonderful landscapes of the Chadian landscape.

Djaoro as Adam gives a strong central performance as he morphs from the the life and soul of the hotel to an aged man broken by promises and his own selfish acts.  At the end a screaming man (because if the title of the film was 'The Screaming Man' it would lose that universal feel), wonders the plains and wading in the river.  But he wonders around in the best African film since Moolaade.

A Screaming Man is released on Friday 13th May by Soda Pictures.
Click on the title of the film to watch a trailer.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Submarine - Review

Richard Ayoade, who came to prominence by performing with relish in the Channel 4 sitcom, The IT Crowd, also did a side bit of directing music videos, primarily for the English indie band, The Arctic Monkeys, even directing their only live DVD, as well as Alex Turner's (lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys) side project, The Last Shadow Puppets.  Submarine, is his feature debut as both writer and director, adapting the novel by Joe Dunthorne.

The novel follows the erstwhile Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), as he comes across first love for the first time with the equally tenacious Jordana Baker (Yasemin Paige), whilst trying to keep his parents marriage together.  This juxtaposition of young love with the dwindling of the adult relationship is a clever trick of Ayoade's adaptation.

The script includes numerous callbacks throughout - Oliver mentions how he reads the dictionary looking for obscure word of the day's and then when his father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor) uses an obscure word (in this case, atavistic) it prompts him to look it up.  Oliver is the type of young male who uses words like schism to explain the current obstacle affecting his parents relationship; and the constant referring to the depth of the ocean (six miles) which is brought up initially and then recalled on two more occassions later in the film.

The work that Ayoade most resembles is that of Wes Anderson - this film and Anderson's are quirky, literate (the film is presented with three parts as well as a prologue and epilogue) and perhaps a bit too clever for itself, yet is not ashamed to use big displays of public emotion, which ultimately leaves the characters flummoxed.  Another trait they share is that all the characters know a character better than themselves; after their first intercourse, Jordana tells Oliver, 'Don't get cocky', the formal warning of the phrase serves as an intuitive part of Jordana in forewarning how this may affect Oliver when he gets to 38 years of age, as he fears for a moment.

The period detail of the mid to late 1980s is immaculately rendered and yet the film could have been located in any post World War 2 period due to the universal themes - first love, bullying, infidelity, the fear of a broken home and cynicism of other belief systems.  Yet Ayoade is able to inject nice typically British quirks on the school theme and the usual close conversation between concerned teacher and timid student. As Oliver is talking to the teacher about his fears, a middle shot is set up with them at the forefront backing onto a window onto the playground, and behind them students jump up and down mocking the serious situation whilst gesticulating for all to see, whilst the two people indoors are oblivious to it all.

All the actors on display are brilliant; Taylor and Sally Hawkins as Oliver's unhappy parents are both given key scenes to show off (especially Hawkins when she talks to Oliver in bed, and it ends up her worrying he might be gay), Paddy Considine hams it up as next door neighbour-mystic Graham, with an awful Pat Sharp mullet.  However, the deepest admiration should be reserved for the two newcomers, both are brilliant yet when they are together is when there is a real spark - never more apparent than in the wordless finale at the water's edge; they merely look at each other to say it all.

The songs by Alex Turner, a key feature of the poster campaign, are a bit wistful at times and not inspiring as they should be for a film, which may rely on them more in another context.  In spite of that flaw, Ayoade is helped by his DoP, Erik Wilson (who also worked on the forthcoming Tyranosaur directed by Paddy Considine) who lends a vibrancy to proceedings. 

This film was part funded by the UK Film Council and the National Lottery, a travesty that that body has folded when something as rich and fulfiling as this shows that there is genuine talent in the British Isles when it comes to film-making.

Monte Carlo - new trailer

20th Century Fox is pleased to make available the International Trailer for MONTE CARLO, a sparkling new romantic comedy starring Selena Gomez, Gossip Girl stars Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy, Cory Monteith  (Finn from 'Glee') and Andie MacDowell.

Three graduates fulfill their dreams of vacationing in Paris.  They accidentally find themselves in a lavish world, where they live like royalty and experience romance.  But at the end of their journey, they discover the true magic of friendship. 

Released August 26th, Monte Carlo is based on the novel “Headhunters” by Jules Bass and is directed by Tom Bezucha.

Click here to find the trailer

Courtesy of Thinkjam Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Fire In Babylon - review

The West Indies are made up of different islands, but they come under one banner yet from island to island the accent is different, the food is different but cricket becomes this universal sporting gesture in which their character is expressed onto a world stage. The different islands bring different temperaments, 10 young caribbean men put together is not a team, but a gang. The selection of Guyanan Clive Lloyd elevated the team with purpose and mentored the team to dominance, they won the first World Cup in 1973 when it was held in England.

A voiceover is used like in 'Citizen Kane' looking back fondly but with a critical objective eye on matters. Not surprisingly, a contemporary soundtrack of classic 70s reggae and funk music is utilised to create an atmosphere of nostalgia and class.

Cleverly, using archive material, the Australians (Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Geoff Thomson) during the tour of 1975 are built up like evil purveyors of their craft; aiming to hurt batsmen with their fast, hostile bowling as batsmen do not play the ball but aim for self-preservation. Those test matches were built up like a World Championship, it turned into a fight with broken hands, broken bones, and humiliation for the proud West Indies. Australia won with intimidation factors, in a hostile environment where many players were subjected to verbal abuse from opponents and the fans. Australia remained on top, winning the series 5-1, but things were going to change.

Fittingly, the tour of England in 1976, (the talk of immigrants in 1976 is still prescient in today's age) taking on the colonial masters on their homeland when Tony Greig famously said he would make them 'grovel' the idea of making the 'slaves' bend to his demand brought up terrible imagery in the mind, coupled with the ongoing apartheid in South Africa and only stoked the fire in the belly of the West Indian team. Greig soon ran off to Australia with his tail between his legs.

That summer, cricket was played with such flair that West Indies gained new fans and it is indicative as to why the West Indies are held in such esteem and fondness on these shores, is due to that summer, when the passion exhibited was unlike anything ever seen. England were demolished and legends were born; the summer of Andy Roberts and Michael Holding bowling peerlessly and the arrival of the 'master blaster' Viv Richards.

Richards like other seminal players - Adam Gilchrist, Don Bradman - changed the very nature of the game, making bowlers scared of him. The West Indies became so dominant because they had bowlers who could terrify batting orders into submission, and then Richards would come and do the same thing and amass huge totals where teams would seek ways to avoid defeat by the end of the first innings.

A gripping visual essay more than documentary reflecting on why the West Indies hold such a special place in the history of cricket; the World Series cricket debacle of 1976/77 when test players could not play for the test side due to the involvement with Kerry Packer's revolutionary one day series - when they were paid handsomely for once and not a pittance; then the rebel tour of the early 1980s to apartheid era South Africa when many players were then banned from playing test cricket again.

Pleasingly the film ends on the 'blackwash' tour of England in 1984, when a competitive England led by Ian Botham, set the West Indies a formidable 300+ target to chase on the last day. That target was met with disdain by Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, who chased down the target for the loss of no wicket and took the wind out of a resilient England team. Also on that tour the emergence of Malcolm Marshall, meant that as the bodies of Roberts and Holding got older, the younger tyros of Marshall and Garner had the fast bowling attack in good stead, and led the groundwork for Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose to come to prominence.

There might have been a fire in babylon, but through the talent of their fast bowlers and one special player, as you rarely get with Richards, they fought that fire with a fire of their own. Bringing cricketing nations to their knees, and giving a voice to people who were undervalued giving joy to collective nations and spirit to those who had none.

Riley should be proud of the end result of the film, a pleasing nostalgic look back at halycon days of glory that may never fade, and also an example to the current team who have talent but no leadership nor desire to fulfil their potential. Sometimes, you get teams that never reach their potential, this West Indian team reached their zenith and went beyond it, always with a smile on their face, as will anyone who watches this brilliant film.

Fire In Babylon is a Cowboy Films/Passion Pictures production with funding from the National Lottery/UK Film Council, distributed by Revolver Entertainment. In cinemas from May 20th.

Frank Day's 'RV Night'

Taking my day off to sample some culture with my beautiful girlfriend, and to appease both our tastes for said culture. We took the decision to go to Somerset House, London and go to the exhibition which complements the 2011 Sony World Photography Competition.  Paying our £10 entrance fee, we do wonder if we this over the top price will be sufficient for an exhibition of photographs.

How wrong I was to short change the exhibition, I would pay £10 again each and every time to see some of the work on display.  Covering all manner of subjects from Thailand glow lamps to feasting ants; to the world's fattest man competition to the gruesome result of gunshot wounds in Latin America, the show took my breathe away.  Of course, such an exhibition garners discussion and you voice your disapproval at some of the results - for one, I was disappointed at the sport category, The World's Fattest Man Competition, from Ethiopia, shows how men dine on cow's blood and milk to bulk themselves up, with the fattest man being declared the winner.  This was first place in the sport category, beating the work of Javier Arcenillas who did some great work looking at Cuban boxers.  A more justifiable and worthy winner in my opinion.

However, I would like to focus upon the portfolio of one Frank Hallam Day who posted some work entitled 'RV Night'.  Just one word, two letters, two syllables but a piece of work that is both quirky, intelligent and entertaining.

Sometimes when you approach photography, I take the view that it should offer a lot more than just a certain view of events it depicts; it should make you think, make you discuss connotations and what is the photographer trying to say.

Day depicts RV's (recreational vehicles) most common in America as they rest at night.  Day travelled a lot in Florida and other southern states to photo nature or greenland of these lands with RV's parked for the night whilst their owners lay inside watching the TV.  Day comments that he took the photos without the owners knowledge, which makes it feel a little bit more dirty and voyeuristic as if you are prying on something you should not see - a secret view that you are especially granted access to.

The RV's when pictured are sometimes hidden by foliage and trees (rarely are they in full view), so this clash of man's technology resting amongst mother nature gives a version of science-fiction, the vehicles look like sleeping transformers and the added significance of their jungle names, 'Cougar', 'Jaguar', 'Puma' give it added connotations.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the pictures are and how much of an indelible impression they have left on me, but perhaps that is the beauty.  One picture will affect you a lot more than another, I feel it is only right that you share this passion for someone's work with others.  I hope my kind words will make you do the same, and whilst there is a few weeks left please do go and see the exhibition at Somerset House.


Stake Land - see it before anyone else!!

STAKE LAND is an energetic, brutal and thoughtful take on the vampire film set against the stark backdrop of a post-apocalyptic American countryside.

The film won the Midnight Madness Award at the Toronto International Film Festival after garnering rave reviews for its poetic take on a genre.

The film stars Nick Damici, Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl) and Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) and is directed by Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street) and is released in cinemas on June 17th.

Metrodome Distribution and Prince Charles Cinema are teaming up to unleash STAKE LAND on the British public. Film fans have the chance to see the film for free at a special screening taking place on Sunday June 5th at 10:45am.

Cinema-goers tough enough to arrive at the screening with proof of having donated blood in the last year will also be entered into a competition to win an exclusive STAKE LAND related prize…

To be in with a chance of grabbing a ticket, visit the STAKE LAND Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/StakeLandMovie or email stakelandpcc@metrodomegroup.com

Winner’s names will be picked at random one week before the screening and notified shortly after.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Blitz - New trailer/video clips

New clips from the new Jason Statham film BLITZ is online now, follow the links below to see. The film also stars Paddy Considine and Aiden Gillen; tells the tale of a cop killer with Statham the man with the answers.
Released on May 20th

Click on Blitz to see the newest trailer

http://www.blitzmovie.co.uk/
www.facebook.com/blitzmovie

Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment and Thinkjam

Monday, 2 May 2011

What did Mourinho expect?

Jose Mourinho, has a problem. He has a problem with many things. He has a problem with referees. He has a problem with being second fiddle to Barcelona. He has a problem being second to Pep Guardiola.  He has no such problem with languages; fluent in five languages means he knows how to get his point across.

His moaning before the first leg about psyching out Barcelona and the need of physicality to disrupt their passing flow anticpated an all out attack from Madrid.  However, Mourinho did an about face and went all defensive employing a three man midfield to sit back and soak up pressure, also asking the front three of Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria to defend also, and instead of dictating the forward momentum, ask them to work only on the counter attack.

Ronaldo voiced his displeasure, Ozil came off at half time and Di Maria was ineffective; curious that considering they scored 6 goals at Valencia four days before, Benzema was only on the bench.

Coupled with the negative formation and tactics, Mourinho was asking for trouble when he brought up referring standards across Europe and his history of having a man sent off in four consecutive matches against the Catalan giants.  Pepe's reckless tackle led to him becoming the fifth. 

The suggestion before the game was that a Portugese official would have been appointed, now I do not know why UEFA would even let that story leak because appointed a countryman of Mourinho's would never occur to suffer the wrath of a biased view.  So the German, Wolfgang Stark was appropriate, though I did find it funny having a German going in to try and administer calm between two warring nations.  But both sets of players attempts to influence, Madrid upon Daniel Alves and Barcelona upon Pepe meant that the chance of impartiality was a long way away and put a bad taste in the mouth.

So what do UEFA do in appointing for the second leg but Franck de Bleeckere of Belgium; highly respected but the man who sent off Thiago Motta for Inter Milan at the Nou Camp at this stage last year, ultimately Motta's dismissal did not affect the result as Inter won the Champions Leauge.  Will lightning strike twice? Probably not as Barcelona hold a two nil advantage, whilst Madrid have Pepe and Sergio Ramos suspended.

But after his dismissal from the bench last week and being expelled from the touchline for the second leg, Mourinho has lost his power to influence but the appointment of the Belgian is a deliberate slap across the face from the European governing body.  I always think when you have two teams from the same country, maybe the solution should be a referee from that nation who has done these games before.  But Mourinho should not have expected any favours, Tuesday night should be a procession for Barcelona as they head to Wembley's final on 28th May.

Ballast DVD review

The debut feature from Lance Hammer finally reaches the UK screens, and this is the DVD release of the film that graced selected scenes in April.  The film took 3 years to reach our shores after it won major prizes - Directing and Cinematography - in 2008, and also major critical reaction from cineastes in America, including Roger Ebert.

Ballast is a gritty evocation of life on the Mississippi Delta, as three people encounter tragedy and the weight of it that befalls them.

Three black people encounter each other. Lawrence (Michael J.Smith) is paralyzed with grief after the death of his twin brother.  Twelve year old James (JimMyron Ross), comes under the wings of terrible youths with unfortunate results, whilst his mother Marlee (Tarra Riggs) is unbeknowst of his behaviour.  When violence erupts in the life of the mother and son, they flee in the night and safe harbor is on Lawrence's door step.  This then rekindles a bitter longstanding conflict between Lawrence and Marlee, who was once married to Lawrence's twin; whilst James has robbed Lawrence to try and pay off the youths who have attacked him.

Director Lance Hammer, graduated as an architect and with the British cinematographer Lol Crawley (Four Lions), has created a film of real humanity where race does not enter the equation.  If this was a film depicting white people, there maybe a possibility of sentimentality or happy endings, but on this occasion, the non-professional actors provide the neorealism and independent feel of a film unlike anything seen before in American cinema.

Credit to the actors for taking us on this emotional rollercoaster, but the true credit belongs to the writer-director Hammer who shows a real command of proceedings which is genuine and surprising for a feature debut.

The DVD is released by Axiom Films, is certificate 15 and a running time of 93mins.  The DVD features a 'Ballast Scene Development', a featurette that runs 36mins, also an exclusive limited edition booklet, theatrical trailer and English HOH (Hard of Hearing) subtitles.

The DVD is out now and is £15.99RRP