Thursday, 27 September 2012

Berberian Sound Studio

Peter Strickland turned many heads in 2008 with his debut feature, Kaitlin Varga, a film that premiered at the Berlinale and was memorable for the bold use of naturalistic lighting throughout the production of a film that was in essence a rape revenge thriller.

Strickland has comeback to the fold with an even bolder and more ambitious project, but this time produced at Three Mill Studios in West London.  Strickland was teaching English as a foreign language in Hungary, and found money for his first feature by using his family's inheritance.  This time he has found backing through the UK Film Council and Film4 for this his second feature.

Strickland has written a piece about Gilderoy (Toby Jones - in a rare leading role) an English foley artist, who has been transported to somewhere in Italy to work on post-production of a giallo horror picture directed by Santini (Antonio Mancino) where he works under the watchful eye of producer Francisco (Cosimo Fusco) a man who would love to be in charge but does not have the vision.

From the off, Gilderoy is on the back foot.  An Englishman in a foreign land without a grasp of the native language, he is told to be more polite and courteous to his hosts.  Santini is affronted by the notion of Gilderoy stating the generic context of the film, 'Never call my picture a horror picture.  It is a Santini picture.' as he angles for authorial residency alongside Dario Argento to whom this is an audiovisual love letter.

Strickland does wonderful things with his script, we never get to see any of the actual filmed footage of The Equestrian Vortex ('I thought it was about horses?') instead we are treated to actors screaming on cue adding additional dialogue to the scenes, seeing in their eyes the colours as they watch the footage back.  Strickland also employs two mute technicians as the worker bees who do all the destruction and damage to create the bludgeonings, stabbings and burnings that occur in the studio.

Slowly however, the wheels start to come off the post-production process as the director Santini attempts to bed an actress, Silvia (Fatma Mohamed) which ends in sabotage.  This leads to them re-hiring and again messing up the process, apparently it was hard to find a solid screamer in mid-1970s Italy.

Gilderoy also slowly descends into a period of depression and alienation prompted by the letters sent to him by his Mother in regard to some birds in his garden shed.  Gilderoy usually works alone in said shed, so working in a much bigger studio is a big deal for his career, yet he is one of these humdrum button-downed Englishmen who are scared to spread his wings himself, much like the baby birds his mother has found in his garden.

Whilst the film is expertly produced in terms of sound design, and visually stunning thanks to the work of Nick Knowland cinematography; yet there are at times lots of ideas in the film that are never fully pursued.  The motif of a spider in Gilderoy's apartment leads him to look at something from his window, something which we never see; the repeated pictures of rotting fruit lead to nothing in general apart from fresher fruit being added to the pile and Gilderoy's numerous attempts to gain reimbursement for his flight is somewhat shot down by the insinuation that the flight never existed - why is this, does this make our Englishman a liar, or worse a madman who is not who he says he is.

A lot of these narrative threads are either tossed aside too quickly or rashly dealt with to maintain a short running time - itself a mystery as the first hour does seem to drag in spite of the evocative beauty of the piece in general.  The third act which brings us Gilderoy being dubbed in Italian and with the film breaking into a piece about Surrey fields, is somewhat unwanted and distracting.

This is a shame as the film is masterly put together by Strickland with a lot of faithfulness and respect to the slowly forgotten art of sound editing and design.  Yet the ending comes somewhat abruptly with Gilderoy staring at nothing in particular, meaning that the sound editor is probably just as blind as all.

Berberian Sound Studio is out now on limited release from Artificial Eye

Monday, 24 September 2012

Casa de Lava

The erstwhile Portugese director, Pedro Costa's second feature length film Casa de Lava is released by Second Run DVD today.

Marianna (Ines de Medeiros) is a nurse who escorts a comatose Leao (Isaach de Bankole) from Portugal to his homeland of the Cape Verde Islands.  When they arrive, she is practically dumped by the helicopter pilots who leave her to return to an undisclosed war.  They eventually get moved to a hospital, but no-one will claim Leao stating that no-one knows him.  

While Leao lays asleep Marianna wanders around the volcanic island, slowly becoming mesmerised by the people and the sights.  Most notably she revels at an all-night party, yet moments of fear remain from the presence of rabid dogs.

This film is still expressive of a director finding his feet and attempting to make his voice heard above the crowd.  Like most European auteurs, Costa has an observant camera that allows action to take place in the frame and not pursuing a reaction although his films do sometimes harness documentary sensibilities in their overall outcome.

Costa was abandoned himself as a child, so the yearning for a nuclear family is apparent in the traits of his characters, who he uses as versions of himself - they are searching for a home or a settled place.  Marianna is a lost soul, lost in the sense that she is far from home and in a strange land; Leao is also lost in the sense that he has not been found by anyone who can claim him, and so both are of no fixed abode or location - Costa would return to these traits of loneliness and alienation in his masterpiece Colassal Youth (2006)

Marianna is another of the strong female characters who are independent in spirit and conviction.  As a nurse, she knows nothing about the people she treats, the week on the Casa de Lava allows her eyes to be opened.  Her independent spirit is helped by having her wear this red vibrant dress signifying both fire and warmth - these little touches by Costa marks him out as a keen observer of people, much like his fellow countryman Manuel de Oliveria.

There are moments of melodrama you would anticipate in European auteur cinema, yet this is not over-reached due to the placing of Marianna/Leao in a strange land.  By stumbling into a place of purgatory, people are most scared of dying and the unknown hence the tentative treatment towards strangers yet the natives are seemingly accepting of their lot in life.

The use of landscape and environment is so richly established it becomes a character in its own right as well as a notable narrative device; the human characters act like they do because of the location and vice versa.

Casa de Lava (1994) is released on DVD by Second Run Films today, Monday 24th September and on the disc there are many features; a new HD master of the film especially for this release; an interview with the director discussing the film; an interview with cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel and a new essay by renowned film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Inside Out: Anton Corbijn

Out on DVD from Momentum Pictures, directed by Dutch director Klaartje Quirijns, Inside Out is a documentary about one of the most visionary and influential photographers of the late 20th century, fellow Nederlander Anton Corbijn.

Corbijn's name is one of those rare artists whose name is known the world over across many cultural forms - art, photography, cinema, music and video.  Corbijn came to prominence in the late 1970s for his photography work with Joy Division and most importantly, the fatal Ian Curtis.  Corbijn's shots of them on a snow covered bridge in Manchester helped the band migrate across the atlantic before the untimely suicide of Curtis in 1980.  Corbijn's first feature-length film in 2007 would be Control, the story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division.

Corbijn's inspiring work would continue through the 1980s with his seminal work for U2 (the War album in 1982) and Depeche Mode in 1987 culminating with his work with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in the early 1990s.  One fact I was unaware of was that he directed the video for Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box.

Corbijn remains the go to guy for album covers and sleeve photography, as the film shows him interacting with Arcade Fire and the most recent collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed.

Director Quirijns does not force the glamour of these rock superstars down our throat, Bono is first seen hiding behind a blacked out passenger window of a car; but what is paramount is that all these superstars treat him as an equal because his style has helped them become the stars they are.

Yet Quirijns makes clear that Corbijn is at times a loner, and through his love of music he found a place in the world - he learnt English from listening to albums, yet he is drawn to these lost souls (Curtis, Cobain) as he is one himself.  One startling moment comes when Corbijn is lying in his Dutch apartment, his amplifier is broken so he cannot listen to any music, he is lost without his music.

The director cleverly shoots the film with Corbijn never centre of the frame, he is just off centre mostly as if he is a subject in his own work.

We meet his colleagues and work associates who worry for his stamina, his workaholic ethic is putting a lot of strain on him - gallery exhibitions, meetings, album shoots, film direction - how can one man sustain himself for this level of quality.  Perhaps the need to be globally accepted and regarded comes from the lack of love he got from his father, something we are alluded to when Corbijn goes to meet his mother who tells him she did not love his father.

Insightful, entertaining and eye-opening to a world of glamour and celebrity, Inside Out is a telling document on one of the world's most revered artists whose work will be remembered for many years.

Anton Corbijn: Inside Out is released on DVD from Momentum Pictures on Monday 17th September at £12.99RRP featuring scene select with English subtitles.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Les Enfants du Paradis

Originally released in 1945 at the tail end of the Second World War whilst Paris was still burning, Marcel Carne's film Les Enfants du Paradis is considered one of the greatest if not the most notable French film of all time, in the same vein and scale as Hollywood's Gone With The Wind from six years previously.

It is a rare slice of art house cinema from the French 1940s and tells the story of Parisian courtesan Garance (Arletty) and the four men who are in love with her - an aristocrat, a thief, an actor and a mime - based upon actual larger than life people from the 1820s and 1830s, where the film is based.

Carne originally released the film into two parts - beating Harry Potter and Twilight by 70 years - Boulevard du Crime and L'Homme Blanc.  As Paris was still under Nazi occupation, Carne attempted to get past censors by splitting the film in two, and then restore the film to its original length once the war was over.

It is important to understand and appreciate the lengths Carne went to in his production.  The sheer scale of the film in terms of extras, production, costume and art direction is immense and to consider that this film was done under enormous levels of oppression is all the more staggering when you see the final results.

The script written by Carne and in collaboration with Jacques Prevert, a surrealist poet is indicative of the input.  The film feels like one long poem visually and sonically due to the sumptuous score by Joseph Korma.  Carne's vision of Paris is a romantic notion of fonder times and persuasions.  The fact that the film was made shows the defiant French backbone which withstood the Nazi invasion.

Whilst the film is at times a bum-numbing 190 minutes, it does suffer from a pacing issue after all the main male characters are introduced; but the richness of the production wins out in the end, rewarding those who do stick it out.

Carne mixes all form of cinema and artistry; great soundtrack, wonderful acting with piercing dialogue and even mime performed by Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), especially in one of the opening scenes when he performs a sequence to save Garance from a wrongful accusation of theft by a buffoon.  The scene is not rushed and allowed to gestate, to the benefit of all in view. We watch the mime, the audience in the square watch him, all are transfixed.

Carne would continue directing into the 1980s absorbing the bashing of La Nouvelle Vague, yet he would never hit the same heights of Les Enfants du Paradis - a wonderful and breathless love letter to Paris and France, when it most needed it.

Les Enfants du Paradis is released on two-disc DVD or Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on Monday 17th September.
My thanks to Aim Publicity for the check disc.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

NFL 2012 Week 1 picks

Okay another season, another chance to remove egg from your face and give you my picks for the first Sunday of the NFL season.

This season promises to be good with all teams enjoying a full off-season with no CBA strike and bargaining occuring.  The players asked for less physical practices, yet injuries are still happening.  Some teams have been affected by such injuries such as Minnesota Vikings with Adrian Petersen; yet some teams like Kansas City have those returning like Jamal Charles who will change the balance of a side.

Some teams have been affected by contract hold outs like Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville; or a new star on a new team; Peyton Manning starts for Denver, whilst the man he replaced Tim Tebow lines up in a supposed wildcat offence with the New York Jets.

All in all though I cannot wait for the season to start, and having wrongly predicted a New York Giants victory on opening night, I hope my picks are a bit better this weekend

Week 1, Sunday 9th September
Colts @ BEARS - a baptism of fire for the new star rookie QB Andrew Luck facing a tenacious defence of Chicago even without the questionable Brian Urlacher.  Jay Cutler rekindles his partnership with Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte with his new contract will want to get off to a winning start.  Double digit victory, though Luck should still throw 2 TDs

EAGLES @ Browns - Michael Vick v Brandon Weedon; like John Wayne v Randolph Scott. Who you going to pick? But Eagles have too many other weapons, and Andy Reid has won 63% of his road trips, too much experience for the Browns, though will be good to see how Trent Richardson's knee holds up

Rams @ LIONS - personally I like the Rams and think they will improve to maybe 6-10 this season, although on Detroit's home turf it is asking a lot.  Although Jeff Fisher v Megatron will be good; how will the League combat the best receiver in football. Double digit victory.

PATRIOTS @ Titans - the reigning AFC Champions return with more weapons against a quietly rebuilt Titans with Jake Locker at the helm.  Might be closer than people may think, but on paper the quality shines through.

Falcons @ CHIEFS - this is a great opening match-up; Atlanta are one of the better regular season teams yet have no play-off win yet for Matt Ryan. The Chiefs have rallied for Romeo Crennel, and with a 1-2 punch of Charles and Peyton Hillis at running back, and Dwayne Bowe still at wideout, expect an upset in Kansas.

Jaguars @ VIKINGS - not the most mouth watering of encounters but in terms of quarterback play, Christian Ponder is better than Blaine Gabbert right now, and the Viking will win if Petersen starts.

Redskins @ SAINTS - following the news that Johnathn Vilma and Will Smith will be eligible to play this season, this will give the Saints extra motivation to get off to a winning start.  They may not have Sean Payton, but Drew Brees is this team's true leader.  RG3 debuts and expectations are high.

Bills @ JETS - this one has flipped and flopped for weeks, but I nudge it to the Jets as they have the Tebow option for short yardage and wildcat.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is okay but the Jets sometimes know how to win and have not shown us their full hand yet.

Dolphins @ TEXANS - Ryan Tannehill goes on the road for his rookie start at AFC South favourites Houston.  Houston have weapons on offence, yet in spite of losing defensive options will still have too much for a team very much in transition.

49ers @ PACKERS - what a great game for the first week,the two best regular season teams from NFC face off.  The 49ers are better with more weapons at receiver and added Brandon Jacobs, yet this is still Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau, home field advantage still counts for a lot nowadays.

SEAHAWKS @ Cardinals - Russell Wilson is an explosive QB, he will excite people and Pete Carroll has put his neck on the line; Arizona have one of the best receivers in football in Larry Fitzgerald yet they still cannot find a man good enough to throw to him, they have chosen John Skelton.

Panthers @ BUCCANEERS - the Bucs have changed coach, they traded well getting Vincent Jackson from San Diego, drafted well in getting Doug Martin and have a decent QB in Josh Freeman.  The Panthers do have Cam Newton, but again the home team for me on this occasion. The momentum is in Tampa Bay.

Steelers @ BRONCOS - a great contest with Rothliesberger v Peyton Manning in his regular season debut for Denver.  I fancy Manning to come out of the gate here, throwing to numerous and unheralded receivers (hello Eric Decker) who will become household names.

Bengals @ RAVENS - a tasty divisional rivalry match up for Monday Night Football's opener; expect the Ravens and their new no-huddle offence to create even more points and targets for Ray Rice, under the leadership of Joe Flacco.

CHARGERS @ Raiders - whilst the nudge for the AFC West has been given to the Broncos and Chiefs; the Chargers have flown under the radar whilst the Raiders are in turmoil.  If the Chargers can halt Darren McFadden they win the game.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Lamenting Liverpool

Liverpool FC are supposedly in crisis, they have one point from there first 3 games. They have failed to score in two of those games, they gifted the one point to their opponent in the other.  They have just offloaded a certain striker.  Yet this is Liverpool, they play to full houses, they still have quality in the squad yet this is a crisis.

You may detect a whiff of sarcasm in that opening paragraph, mainly because this is not a crisis.  This is a team in transition.  Over the summer, the decision was made to inject fresh blood into brand Liverpool by the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) led by John Henry, who owns the Boston Red Sox.

They sacked legend Kenny Dalglish and hired Brendan Rodgers from Swansea City, who elevated the southern Wales team from the Championship to the Premier League; leapfrogging Cardiff and playing football that was both beautiful and profitable.  Rodgers employed the tactic of tika-taka football like Barcelona, using a lot of possession to frustrate opponents yet being clinical with finishing; in their first season in the Premier League, they were safe with something to spare winning many friends and respect from fans.

Rodgers needed to get some talent in, yet for some reason the funds that were available to King Kenny - who bought Carroll, Downing, Henderson, Adam - were seemingly this time unavailable to Rodgers.  Rodgers did manage to bring one stalwart of his Swansea side, Joe Allen with him; and they were able to swat away admirers of Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Luis Suarez to remain at the club.

Now Rodgers has a side with general quality, but no impact players apart from Andy Carroll on the bench, then Liverpool made the costly decision of letting him go to West Ham on loan for the season.  Carroll's debut for the Hammers on Saturday for an hour before an untimely hamstring injury, showed him at his best. A fearsome aerial target who brought fear to the Fulham defence, his mere presence led to two goals coming from set pieces as West Ham maintained a 100% home record.

Liverpool on the same weekend at home to Arsenal looked toothless and lifeless in attack.  Rodgers system of 4-2-3-1 is all well and good for keeping possession and soaking up pressure but if you do not have the right people doing the right jobs it will come with no end result.

The problem for Rodgers and most importantly Liverpool is that they have a personnel issue.  The players there are not the right ones for the job.  At Swansea, he had men like Neil Taylor, Leon Britton, Gylfi Sigurdsson who could do a job in linking up with Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge whose pace was second to none, whilst Danny Graham would be that goal poacher up front.

Liverpool unfortunately have a midfield general in Steven Gerrard who has always been more combative than  creative; he is good in a fight but he has never had a good touch and his wayward pass led to Arsenal's first breakaway goal.  That goal was also helped by a wayward defensive display by Glen Johnson at right back. Whilst Rodgers must like the idea of having Johnson bombing forward, he must not neglect his defensive duties that left Messrs Skrtel and Agger exposed as Lukas Podolski scored his and Arsenal's first goal of the season.

Also, Pepe Reina is having a bad time or crisis in confidence.  In midweek he dropped a shot from a Hearts player into the net, adding to the number of goalkeeper errors occurring so far this season; but he was to blame for allowing Santi Carzola to seal the game on 68 minutes as he was down too slowly and it ricocheted into his net.

Rodgers would be better served, using Martin Kelly when available at right back and morph Johnson into a right winger like Gareth Bale did for Tottenham in those nights against Inter Milan. With Johnson and Stirling down two wings you have the pace of Dyer and Routledge replicated.  It does bear a question as to why they did not pursue Scott Sinclair who has been sold to Manchester City, when he clearly wanted away.  Whilst Allen is a good player, he will not win you matches like Sinclair possibly can.

So is Rodgers to blame for raiding his former club for the wrong players?  Liverpool are not in crisis, they just maybe put themselves in that position.

College Football Week 1 review

Week 1 in College football seems odd.  You had a game taking place in Dublin for the Fighting Irish, you had games on Thursday night for South Carolina, with the superstitious Steve Spurrier (say that fast 5 times) enjoying a tough road trip to Vanderbilt, but winning nonetheless.

The other mystifying occurence is the use of pre-season rankings before anyone has played a down.  So you had USC ranked #1 when they have not played yet, and having to back up all this potential.  The ranking works in two ways, they stay atop of them until they lose or play an absolute stinker in victory.  USC made short work of Hawaii, with Heisman trophy favourite and senior Matt Barkley throwing for 372 yards and four TDs; helped by wide receiver Marqise Lee who caught 10 passes for 197 yards and returned a punt 100 yards for a TD.  USC had so much on offence but the defence will face sterner tests throughout the year, most notably from Oregon, #5, who scored heavily as always 57-34 at home to Arkansas State.

The most impressive performance however was Alabama, the National Champions, who having lost a lot of defensive starters did maintain the offensive line and have a good QB in AJ McCarron.  In a tough opener at Cowboys Stadium against the respected Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten, led by senior Denard Robinson, the Crimson Tide were never threatened scoring three 1st quarter TDs in a 41-14 victory.

The team they beat in New Orleans in January, LSU also won 41-14 but against lesser opposition in North Texas; at the moment though for LSU following the Tyrann Mathieu suspension, they need to go about their business and yet the Tide and Trojans enjoy the spotlight.

What did come to the fore however, is the gulf between the SEC and other conferences.  The depth of talent in the SEC is significant with victories for Georgia (#6, 45-23 v Buffalo), Arkansas (#10, 49-24 v Jacksonville St), Clemson (#14, 26-19 v Auburn; a real barn-burner to start the season) and Florida (#23, 27-14 v Bowling Green).

The best individual performance that put down a marker for the season was by Geno Smith, quarterback for the West Virginia Mountaineers, who in their first game in a new conference having moved from the Big East to the Big 12 defeated Marshall 69-34. Smith completed 32 of 36 attempted passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns, one rushing TD with no interceptions.

The Big 12 have some ground to make up on the dominant SEC but with the WVU high powered offence joining the powerhouses of Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State expect West Virginia and Smith to be making some notable headlines this season.

What to look forward to?
In Week 2, a lot of programs have picked winnable games for home openers (South Carolina play East Carolina); but you still have some interesting contests.  The LSU Tigers host Washington, Missouri new to the SEC from the Big 12 host #6 Georgia.  However, the game of the weekend could be Nebraska visiting UCLA; as below the Bruins have a high powered offence led by QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin, they can score heavily unlike some of the Big 10 teams did over the weekend.

Notable performances
UCLA's Johnathan Franklin rushed for 214yds on 15 carries and 3 TDs against Rice in their season opener with a long of 78 and a 74 yarder. Not to be out done his QB Brett Hundley ran for a 72yd TD.  This was not a career night for Franklin, who ran for 216 in 2010 v Washington State.

Utah may be a sleeper in the Pac12 and opened with a 41-0 shutout over Northern Colorado; Jordan Wynn threw for 2 TDs (19-27, 200) and John White ran for 119yds in a one-sided contest.