Thursday, 29 September 2011

Guilty of Romance

From the acclaimed director of Cold Fish, Sion Sono comes his final part of his supposed 'hate' trilogy Guilty of Romance (Koi No Tsumi) which garnered further acclaim at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Comprising of two storylines - a detective investigating the grisly murder of a lone woman; with that of Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), a wife of a famous romantic novelist whose marriage is devoid of romance.  To bolster here confidence she takes up a job as a naked model faking sex for a camera; which ultimately leads to prostitution whilst maintaining the facade of a domesticated, monotonous housewife at home to her unbeknownst husband.

The plot can be considered a lift of Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour, but Sono makes clear to put on his own distinctive trademark on to the subject matter.  Sono's background before breaking into film was in poetry, and you can see from his characterisation that he does love his characters - giving them the opportunity for introspection, in terms of writing journals, giving them the opportunity to discover themselves even when they do not know what they might find.

His sharp detail for set design and lavish use of colour coupled with the dynamic use of classical music to evoke heightened sense of mood in the characters are all apparent - but on this occasion he does not forget that the film starts with a graphic act of violence.  Sono is perhaps making a statement of the parallel between the guilty acts of violence and romance, mentioning how the film follows damaged individuals, but still human beings who deserve love all the same.

In a still stilted society like Japan, that maintains a prudeness and shyness surrounding the sexual orientation of many of its population; it is nonetheless refreshing to see a director be bold enough in terms of following his convictions and the blending of genres (film noir, mystery, melodrama) that utilise his authorial motifs of vivid colour and graphic imagery to its maximum potential, and gaining career best performances from his leading ladies especially Kagurazaka, in the belle de jour role.

Guilty of Romance is release by Eureka! Entertainment on Friday 30th September on limited release in the UK

Everywhere and Nowhere DVD review

The director of Kidulthood, Menhaj Huda, returns with a self-scripted movie for Everywhere and Nowhere; the story of Ash (James Floyd) who is a young Asian and is torn between his family values of tradition and his own dreams of becoming a DJ.

The film boasts a stong cast of well known faces who will be able to garner your attention; James Buckley (Jay from the Inbetweeners), Art Malik, Simon Webbe (from boyband Blue) and the exciting young talent of Adam Deacon from the hilarious Anuvahood.

The plotline of Ash living a double life of keeping the family happy by day, whilst partying at night doing all very un-Muslim things smacks of the storyline of East is East; British Asians torn between the old world and the westernised culture they have grown up in.

The scenes of Ash and friends in the nightclub are quite authentic giving a rawness and the joie de vivre of youth thriving doing what they like; it is a shame that the same passion is not apparent in the more family dominated scenes when a cut and thrust might have been better found in a swifter edit.

The soundtrack featuring underground artists like Sukh Knight and Engine-EarZ does bounce and feed the nightclub scenes some credibility, you just wish better care and attention was given to the domesticated scenes.

But whereas Damien O'Donnell's seminal 1999 picture was made with funny bones in mind, the need to overplay the melodrama does a disservice to the work of Floyd and Deacon who are good in their roles along with the ever-reliable Malik.

Everywhere and Nowhere is released from Icon Entertainment on Monday 3rd October on DVD for £12.99 and should sell well on the coattails of Adulthood and Four Lions.

The DVD features the cast talking about personal experiences, a music feature and interviews with Huda, Floyd and Deacon.

Monday, 26 September 2011

No Surprises for Man City

Following on from their first dropped points at Craven Cottage last week, when throwing away a 2-0 lead at Fulham last week, the first team needed to come back with a win as the minimum requirement at home to Everton.

The foibles of the Premier League and the power of television in terms of scheduling means it will be rare that both Manchester clubs play at the same time on the same day, save it when they play each other.  So City this week got the benefit of going out there knowing that if they win they will be top for all of four hours.  Luckily, their city rivals United lost their first points of the season at Stoke City in the evening game meaning that there is a tie at the top of the table after six games.  City will feel a bit chirpier, United a little worried.

But should United feel bad about dropping points at Stoke City, a place that is becoming harder and harder to leave with a win.  Liverpool lost there already and Chelsea were lucky to escape with all three points.  Yet Stoke have built up the Britannia as a fortress that has solidified their Premier League status.

Manchester City were playing Everton on Saturday lunchtime.  Now Everton are becoming a strange anamoly as a team who win games without a noted striker on the teamsheet.  A few years ago, as a matter of necessity following a bunch of injuries Tim Cahill was employed in the lone striker role.  Cahill was again employed in that familiar role for himself, but Louis Saha stews on the bench begging to start. 

The need for Cahill playing up front lonesome, was so Everton manager, David Moyes could flood the midfield and disrupt the flow of City's forward momentum.  Yet this sort of tactic needs a more clear cut gameplan, on this occasion Everton did not intend to make shooting opportunities and instead sit back and attempt to not lose the match.  However, no team can withstand an onslaught of attacking prowess for 90 minutes or a slightly skewed referreing performance that favoured the home side and their millions.

Some critics are indicating that Manchester City's eventual 2-0 win thanks to goals from substitutes Mario Balotelli and James Milner (his first for the club) meant that City had passed a test or an obstacle on their way to Premier League glory.  However, when a team sets up like Everton did against a star-studded team it asks for trouble.  Yes it is negative and yes it is in some ways anti-football, but Manchester City have far too much talent to overtake a stubborn Everton defence.

The removal of Aguero for the goalscorer Balotelli, was not a risky strategy is was Mancini having one eye on the Champions League encounter versus Bayern Munich on Tuesday night and he is nursing Balotelli very well.  He scored in midweek against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup, that sort of goal can do wonders for a lost soul such as the young Italian; albeit a goal that took a huge deflection off the lunging Phil Jagielka that Tim Howard (always excellent) could do nothing to prevent.

The bench of City in comparison to Everton's was a huge difference. If Mancini, did not want to use Balotelli he could always use Tevez. 

For Manchester City to win the Premier League they need to not drop points at home and have as few surprises as possible; they need to win games like this against teams that simply do not match up against them.  The odd points dropped away from home at Fulham and Stoke will not hurt any team nor damage title credentials. 

Credit will be given to City once they start going to Stamford Bridge, Emirates, Old Trafford and Anfield and win convincingly - winning a lunchtime game against a striker-less Everton will never set the world alight.  It should not even bother wasting the matches.

NFL - Week 3 Thoughts & Feelings

Going into week 3 of the NFL, there were many things starting to take place already.  Already the worse teams were happy sitting at the bottom contemplating life for next year wishing the lock out had occured, yet seeing a silver lining in the form of Andrew Luck in the 2012 Draft.  The better teams have set off like collective terraced houses on fire, Patriots (2-0), the champion Packers (2-0) and the Saints (1-1) although that one defeat came against the prevailing Pack on opening night and went to the last play of the game. 

Surprises the Eagles are (1-1), shooting themselves in the foot at Atlanta last Sunday evening when victory was there for the taking.  The fear I had about the Eagles was starting to come to fruition, hype can be a worrying aspect of any side and Michael Vick needs to be healthy and on the field of play for four full quarters.

Further surprises can be found by 2-0 sides the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions.  Whilst the first two names did turn some heads, I have not been surprised by the Lions success - the core for a solid defence has been in place for some time (and they still have Nick Fairley to return), they have a fully fit Matthew Stafford who did wonders with one arm, imagine what he can do with two and he has weapons.  A beast wide out in Calvin Johnson, a solid running back in Jahvid Best coupled with the poise Stafford has shown, maybe the Lions can be the team to push the Packers in the NFC North instead of the Chicago Bears.

So going into the NFL's third week it was a bit surprising to find people thinking that things will follow their natural course.  The Bills upset the Patriots at home 34-31 scoring off a last kick field goal breaking a 15 game losing streak and making a statement, Tom Brady still threw for 300+ yards but his four interceptions were costly.  And for the second week running the Bills score with a last minute drive led by Ryan Fitzpatrick who is becoming a leader for the Chan Bailey led offense that is getting results.  The Bills are for real, and the AFC East is now a three team race.
    A three team race because the New York Jets lost in Oakland, a surprise to many but for me I called this one on the ESPN game 'Pigskin Pick'em' as I felt Oakland were on the wrong end of a shootout in Buffalo last week and did enough through the air and on the ground to worry a Jets defense that has to travel to the other side of the country.  This seems an odd factor in the NFL, east teams hate travelling west and vice versa and so often the fact that teams are taken out of their comfort zone and go to a near enough foreign land does strange things to a professional athlete.  They know the schedule so why does it happen?

Detroit won a game they might have lost last season, winning in OT in Minnesota so a big road win for the Lions but worries persist for the Vikings who again threw away a halftime lead and cannot seam to get their act together for 60 minutes, and once Peterson has had a good half the Lions blocked him up and their offence became stagnant as Stafford and company responded to go 3-0.

The Eagles as I suspected (though I did not pick it) lost at home to an Eli Manning led Giants side 29-16 which flatters the supposed 'Dream Team' as Manning threw 4 TDs and found weapons when he apparently had none.  Michael Vick again did not last the game, this time suffering a suspected broken hand which may mean him missing next week's action which may not be all bad news.  Vick's type of play and lack of cohesion means things like injuries are common place, and he is currently 1-6 dating back to last season.

The Chargers won again but unconvincingly in a division battle against the poor Chiefs, with Philip Rivers winning but throwing another two INTs - the Chargers are in danger of being sucked up into a proper division battle if the Raiders maintain their good form.

Monday Night Football this evening comes from Dallas (1-1) in their home opener against the Redskins (2-0), the Cowboys could have been 0-2 but for the intervention and inspiration of Tony Romo last week in San Francisco who came off the bench with a rib injury and punctured lung to win the game in OT.  Unfortunately, his main weapon that day Miles Austin is not playing and Des Bryant remains doubtful, along with a 50% Felix Jones at running back so expect Jason Witten to be utilised whilst Rex Grossman continues his rising from the ashes and attempts to go 3-0 and sit atop the NFC East.  Prediction; a low scoring encounter which may come down to a FG or maybe even OT - but the Redskins look more complete due to the injury setbacks the Cowboys are suffering.

My Voyage to Italy - DVD review

Martin Scorsese narrates and presents a personal voyage through the history of Italian cinema, which had a huge influence on his life from an early age when watching it on his small television in New York when growing up, to the huge impact it has had on his esteemable career.

Featuring excerpts from many filmmakers he had enjoyed immensely; the neo-realism of De Sica and Rossellini, the surrealism of Fellini and the groundbreaking Antonioni.

The documentary is an epic in its own right, running to a mammoth 246 minutes (4 hours) of footage.  The only downside is the inserted images of Scorsese himself; he looks like a gangster standing atop a building in Little Italy, but the black and white camerawork, itself a nod to the monochrome beauty of the Italian cinema.  Yet there is a strange melancholy about the scenes of Scorsese, as if he is an omnipresent movie savant - in some quarters he is but unfortunately the scenes can be deemed a bit eerie.

What cannot be mistaken though, is the passion and enthusiasm of Scorsese's thirst to share his joy of these films with the masses.  You can put on retrospectives and write it in books, but sometimes putting yourself on camera makes for a more convincing argument, his empassioned narration further does justice to the debt Scorsese and many of his contemporaries (Coppola especially) owe these Italian masters.

The DVD 'Voyage to Italy' is out on September 26th, and has a recommended RRP of £14.99 from the good people at Mr. Bongo Films

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)

Pedro Almodovar is reunited with Antonio Banderas in the Spanish auteur's latest filmic offering.

Banderas plays a plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, who after suffering the death of his wife from burns sustained in a car crash, posits the idea of a transgenic skin (fusing human and pig genes).  Unbeknowst to his colleagues, who warn him off of doing the idea, he is testing the skin on Vera, a young woman he holds captive in his mansion El Cigarral outside of the city Toledo.

Vera can only communicate via the intercom installed in her room, Robert who is slowly becoming more and more infatuated with her watches from the next room by way of a television screen (which might as well be a two-way mirror). 

Robert is helped by his mother Marilia (Almodovar stalwart, Marisa Paredes), whose other son Zeca arrives and wrecks havoc on the house by raping Vera and ending up shot by Robert.  It is not spoiling the film for you by saying this, as the rape begins a flashback that explains how all these people came to be at this precise moment.

We flashback six years to a private party where Robert attends with his unhinged daughter Norma, Norma is apparently raped by a young Vicente.  Norma dies shortly afterwards and as an act of revenge, Robert kidnaps Vicente.

Almodovar is clear in indicating that Vicente is a nice young gentleman, confused more by his feelings for the attractive lesbian who works in his mother's clothes shop.  What follows however, is a typical Almodovar storyline - that mixture of soap opera melodrama with highbrow stylistics.

This recently has been a criticism of Almodovar; that brand of style over substance.  Whereas, Volver and Talk to Her can be considered stylistic, they were nevertheless films of great substance and yet oddly full of restraint, something Almodovar is not known for.

In this instance, the auteur throws caution to the wind employing an adaptation of Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, but only the basis of a surgeon using his skills to exact a vigilante revenge.  Banderas as Ledgard is cast against type as the evil/mad doctor; who is brilliantly skilled yet twisted in his interpretation of ethics and code of conduct.  Banderas is get that bit older now, so it is good to see him taking on roles of dramatic purpose that can stretch his evident acting chops and away from those matinee idol roles of the mid to late 1990s. 

Banderas is the centre of the film, holding our attention from the outset as we watch him experimenting in his homebound laboratory.  Ledgard is a mixture of all mad doctors - Dr.Moreau, the doctor from Franju's Eyes Without a Face and even a hint of James Stewart's Scotty from Hitchcock's Vertigo - that clinical determination mixed with personal obsession.

The other gripping presence is that of Elena Anaya as Vera, who in her yoga posturing and one piece suit, is that luminous beauty Almodovar so often finds in his films following in the footsteps of Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz.

In spite of all the fine acting, for once the person who falls short is Almodovar himself as he for once becomes a victim of his own stylistic impulses.  The story becomes secondary, even the major plot twist so important a piece of narrative detail leaves the audience more bewildered and astounded at the sheer improbability of it all.  Which is a shame because there are artistic flushes you would expect from Almodovar, and seeing Banderas act with such lustre in his native tongue is always better than seeing him voice an animated feline.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The 55th London Film Festival Preview

It is that time of year again and the official run up to the Academy Awards starts in earnest.  Think of the Awards season, as a long marathon, someone shoots the gun at Leicester Square on October 12th, with a water station situated on October 27th, with the chequered flag in Los Angeles in late February.

My memories of the various LFF's I have attended are always being able to see George Clooney's newest film, be it Up in the Air, Good Night and Good Luck, Fantastic Mr.Fox; he returns again this year with two more films one serious, one comedy.  The serious one is when he is in political mode and is the American Express Gala, The Ides of March, which he directs and co-scripts (with Grant Heslov). Clooney also stars as democratic Presidental hopeful Morris, with a new spokesman Myers (Ryan Gosling), the film is wordy and focuses on backroom shenanigans.  The comic role is Clooney in Alexander Payne's new film The Descendants, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, based in Hawaii - Clooney plays a father who has re-examine his past to embrace his new future.  The combination of Payne with Clooney playing one of his misanthropic male leads is tantalising.

Clooney's role as festival star is being fought over by our own Rachel Weisz who stars in both the opening and closing gala films. The former is 360 by Fernando Meirelles (they have worked together on The Constant Gardener) and this film focuses on how different levels of society and their sexual relationships can transgress sexual boundaries.  The star-studded cast puts it in the same boat as Babel but a cast that includes Jude Law, Weisz, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Foster means that this may escape the fatal banality of that bloated vessel.
    The closing film is the return of Terence Davies to fictional cinema (following his epic documentary on his hometown Liverpool's visual history) nice time adapting Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, set in 1950s London still suffering from the aftermath of World War II.  Weisz is joined by two of our better thespians, Tom Hiddleston (Thor) and the great Simon Russell Beale.

Other Galas screenings allow first time views in Britain for new films from Nanni Moretti (We Have A Pope), Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut (Coriolanus), David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method), Steve McQueen (Shame - which just won Michael Fassbender a Best Actor award at Venice), Michael Winterbottom (Trishna) and Madonna (W.E.)

Also to be screened are the exciting We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsey, starring Tilda Swinton in an Oscar worthy performance.  There are also screenings of films by such erstwhile talents like Richard Linklater, Roman Polanski, Todd Solodnz, Bruno Dumont, Takashi Miike.  New documentary features are prominent from Frederick Wiseman, Jonathon Demme, Werner Herzog and Nick Broomfield, who goes in search of an interview with Sarah Palin in 'You Betcha!'

As ever it is not just about new Hollywood and auteurs from across the globe being given exposure, new British cinema is celebrated.  And this is a vital platform for these young filmmakers as often these films will fail to be released in this country, an unfortunate statement but alas one of fact - Richard Jobson returns with The Somnambulists (focusing on soldiers returning from Iraq) and Dexter Fletcher's debut feature Wild Bill look like highlights.

A favourite strand of the LFF programme is the Treasure of the Archives series; this year we have Cry Danger, a crackerjack film noir from Robert Parrish; a restored The Caine Mutiny starring Humphrey Bogart; Roberto Rossellini's The Machine that Kills Bad People from 1952 and a colour feature from Kenji Mizoguchi Shin-Heike Monogatari (Tales of the Taira Clan) from 1955.

As ever I suggest you seek out something different, be it a French film in the French Revolutions strand or one of the always good short cuts and animation.  You would be spoilt for choice if you are a cineaste or suffer from cinephilia like myself; but you certainly would be hard pressed not to find something to your liking.

Public booking opens on September 26th, by person or phone or online.
Phone 020 7928 3232 (9.30am-8.30pm daily), Online visit or go to the counter at the BFI Southbank up to and during the festival.

It promises to be a brilliant experience as always, and it never fails to disappoint.

Attack the Block - DVD review

Joe Cornish's directorial debut is released on DVD today, and is a credit to the talent in British filmmaking being given a chance to express themselves when given confidence by producers and other creative talent behind them.

Cornish, the taller one of Adam and Joe fame, was always the more technically proficient of the pair.  Whilst Adam Buxton concentrates on stand-up comedy and acting, Cornish was the one who would be more technical and more indebted to his influences.  The pair often parodied 'Star Wars' using replica action figures to mimic everyday situations or soap-style scenarios, years before 'Robot Chicken' did the same thing.

Cornish attempts to take on the horror genre - a genre that has proved fruitful in recent years for British filmmakers, most clearly by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead (and the role for Nick Frost in the film is a clear nod to this), and having the same producers on board meant that they clearly believed Cornish could deliver.

And he does, taking a fantastical scenario.  It is Bonfire Night in a South London council estate, a group of hoodies spot a meteor falling whilst attempting to mug a young nurse.  They kill the alien invader that pops out of the meteor, and carry on.  Then the alien's friends crash land seeking reckless bloody revenge on the youngsters.

Cornish has many reference points - the siege set up is akin to John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, the use of bikes as a mode of transport for the youngsters a la Elliott and friends in E.T. ; the meteor and alien laying siege to where it lands is like Predator and the monsters look more like mutated werewolf than alien, perhaps a nod to John Landis' An American Werewolf in London.

Critics will say what is so original or progressive about a film that is so open about its reference points, an argument to throw back is that with the proliferation of the internet and the openness or acceptance of parodies, this is the way forward.  And Shaun of the Dead did much the same thing when mimicking the work of George Romero and other zombie films.  The distinguishing characteristic of the film is the realistic portrayal of the hoodie culture and the young men playing them, whilst all unknown, do invest a level of authenticity in the performances.

Cornish, for so long, a person people have been waiting for has arrived and can feel vindicated in being able to have made the film he wanted to make.

Attack the Block is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Optimum Releasing and is certified 15.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

UCL: Where Complacency meets Inferiority

The Champions League proper is back, following the thrills and spills of Arsenal nearly succumbing to Udinese - the group stage and the smorgasborg of 16 games over 2 nights featuring the stars of world and European football.  However, whereas the Champions League was a unique idea when it originated in 1992/93, now we have a mish-mash of superior teams mixed with teams who although champions they are not up to standard.

And due to the UEFA co-efficients and rankings and pot seedings, you get some dynamic groups.  You need only look at Manchester City's group of death with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal and then compare it with their city neighbour's snore-fest of Benfica, Basle and Gelati (of Romania, if you did not know). 

United are far and away the strongest English side with the largest depth available and yet Alex Ferguson had some problems following an international week and a PL fixture on Saturday evening.  He made numerous changes, gave David de Gea a much needed 'rest', Ashley Young is tired and he is still without his trusted central defensive pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic. 

United played a 4-3-3 of Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Smalling, Evra; Valencia,Fletcher, Carrick; Park, Giggs,Rooney. This side was deceptive, by flooding the midfield and picking Fletcher and Carrick, Ferguson hoped to nullify the emotional Benfica side that would be propelled by the passionate home support.  Giggs played off of Rooney who was very much mute all evening, Valencia rarely ventured forward and posed an attacking threat, whilst Park had to do a lot more defending than envisaged.

The team smacked of negativity, and yet Ferguson will believe he got a lot out of the game.  Players gained match minutes and if injuries do not clear then they can be called upon for the Chelsea game on Sunday, yet he must have a few questions.  What kind of statement does this performance give to the rest of Europe?  Contemporaries Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were both away from home and were dominant against lesser opposition, the difference being those two teams have harder groups.  United should top their group and will do with 3 home wins; and oddly the Champions League offers Ferguson a chance to utilise his squad options yet but for the weak finishing of Benfica's Nolito in the closing stages the campaign might have gotten off to the worst start. 

This complacency might haunt several teams, as it did Barcelona on Tuesday night when they did all the hard work against AC Milan coming back from a goal down to lead 2-1 gain 75% possession and yet concede a late set-piece goal which could be the difference between topping the group and coming second.  Barcelona have injury issues themselves - the first choice centre backs Pique and Puyol were out so Guardiola employed Mascherano and Busquets in central defence, and this lack of cohesion led to Alexandre Pato scoring after just 30 seconds.  Possession led to dominance and Barca had the lead after 50 minutes, yet they could not find the crucial third, as long as the score remained a goal difference Milan must have believed in one more chance.  It arrived in injury time from a corner by Seedorf met by Thiago Silva whose bullet header flew past Valdes who had the whole goal to protect with no markers on the goalposts.  That to me smacks of complacency, the last minute at home and you don't defend as if it is your last, The header went to the far post the most obvious post to cover from this specific set-piece.

Luckily, Barca and AC Milan are in a weak group with Bate and Plzen (yep, me neither) providing little opposition to these superior powers. 

And that is the problem with the UCL, the group stage is deliberate in keeping all the super-powers apart until the knockout stages in February begin allowing them all a thick slice of television money.  Unfortunately, certain big times may not actually start playing their strongest sides until they meet a team they believe to be their equal.