Wednesday, 25 February 2015

John Wick - Preview

Following on from the recent release of the trailer from Warner Bros. for John Wick , NTTA is back with the poster poser of the week for the new one sheet of John Wick before its scheduled release on April 10th in the UK.


The new one sheet is not cryptic or as mysterious as others, instead it puts all the eggs in one basket of the prospective audience member being a big Keanu Reeves fan.  Reeves has had more hot and cold hits than many Hollywood stars and yet he still remains an enigma partly due to his zen like modesty and his very shrouded style of acting which can appear to be one tone, yet carries weight in reserve.

In that sense, he is much like those famous Hollywood actors Gary Cooper and Charles Bronson.  Men who had a presence in their build, yet a magnetism that would have the camera in thrall to them.

The reason I bring up Cooper and Bronson, is that John Wick is the kind of role that those two legends would portray.  Individualistic and yet trying to get away from the past life they left behind; devoid of a partner they only have themselves as company and walk alone in search of redemption by putting the law in their own hands.  Think of Cooper in High Noon and Bronson in Michael Winner's series of Death Wish films; are they vigilantes or just men out to serve justice.

The poster has Reeves in brooding form, besuited as he is throughout the majority of the trailer, striding towards the camera confident and brazen in his ability. Unlike the trailer though, which shows plenty of carnage and gunplay you only have in the poster Wick on a street with only an overturned car.  For taste purposes, no poster can really have dead bodies lying around and because of the dark tones used in the blues and blacks any fires would be distracting, as Keanu is put front and centre. 

However, compare it to the poster or US poster below, and you can see a stark difference in the tone of the film.  Keanu holding a gun which he does throughout most of the film, with the barrel of the gun forming the 'O' in John, perhaps a nod to James Bond in terms of adulation but the need to thrust the gun into the face of the audience looking at the poster speaks more about the relationship American viewers have with guns than the UK audience who have stricter gun control policy.


The trailer is dynamite and it shows what Reeves does well, actions speak louder than his words although it has two good points - one where he says, 'Am I back? Yeah I'm back' perhaps speaking for himself as well as his character and a piece of dialogue with a concierge about laundry, he has always been under-rated with his timing and delivery.

Directed by Chad Stahelski (a stunt co-ordinater on The Matrix and The Wolverine), the film has done well in America garnering positive reviews for Reeves in particular with a sequel already touted following the $42m gross in the three months since release in October 2014. 

Whilst the avenging hitman and grieving husband is nothing new, it is positive to see Reeves up his action star potential again in a vehicle suited to his range of acting ability. When harnessed properly as in The Matrix and Point Break it can be golden, and John Wick promises to not disappoint on this occasion.

John Wick is released by Warner Bros. in the UK on April 10th

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

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Directed by the Zellner brothers and produced by Alexander Payne, this original and slightly off the wall production follows the titular heroine, Kumiko, played by Oscar nominer Rinko Kikuchi.

Kumiko is a depressed 27 year old living in Tokyo, Japan who is not happy with her life lot in life. A loner by necessity, who hates her work, is intimidated by her peers, her boss and her overpowering mother who we only hear by way of phone conversations. Kumiko is in need of a release and a salvation, her outlook is changed by the appearance of a videotape of an American independent film that she takes to be real.

The film is the Coen brothers famous film Fargo and Kumiko believes that the money buried at the film's end by Steve Buscemi's character is real and she can find it.  This semblance of not knowing what is fact and fiction is indicative of other Japanese films where mythology is lauded and equally feared as depicted in the Ringu films.

After finally quitting her employment, Kumiko heads for Minnesota to set out on her treasure hunt where she encounters people who are aware of Fargo and the cult that has built up around the film.  One policeman is especially helpful to Kumiko in spite of the language barrier, and yet Kumiko's hunt inevitably will encounter a dead end.

The production credit of Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, is important to his oeuvre of travelling films or pictures where lead characters go on an actual journey both physically and metaphorically.  Think of Jack Nicholson's character in About Schmidt where he goes cross country or Bruce Dern in Nebraska more recently.

Kumiko, though, shares more with Dern's character in that he cannot seem to be able to distinguish reality from fantasy. Dern believed that he won the lottery and travels to get his supposed winnings.  On that journey his son Will Forte accompanies him as a mere moral support rather than truth sayer. Kumiko has no companion unless you count the helpful policeman, yet this is indicative of societal changes and filmic responses to the handling of mental fragility.  Hark back to Harvey starring James Stewart or even Donnie Darko where Jake Gyllenhaal's eponymous character shared with Stewart the belief that a seven foot rabbit told him what to do.

Whilst Donnie Darko was a political swipe at the mistreatment of adolescent mental issues and Harvey asked maybe the crazy one is the smartest person, what those characters had in abundance in the eye of the audience was empathy.  Kumiko whilst wide eyed, and perhaps if American could be termed adorkable, here she is what she is - an introvert without any semblance of normality in her loneliness.

While Kikuchi does valiant work with a part that requires her to be in every scene of the film without vanity.  The hope for a positive outcome does not come to fruition and instead becomes a vain construct of happiness inside a deluded mind where the journey is not as rewarding for us as it is for our heroine.  This is a shame as the Zellner's show a real proficiency to their work in terms of shot composition with artistic flair and striking the right tone without judging Kumiko completely.

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is out on Friday 20th February from Soda Pictures.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Trailer Talk: Trainwreck

Starring the breakout potential of Amy Schumer, and directed by Judd Apatow, Trainwreck from Universal Pictures looks likely to enjoy the exalted company of The 40 Year Old Virgin/Knocked Up as the summer smash comedy hits.

Schumer has been on a role of late gaining cult status for her stand up material, and this is her first major starring role and the coupling with Apatow promises big things.

Schumer plays a near 30 year old single girl called Amy who has been instructed by her distant father to not believe in monogamy.  This leads to her sleeping with men from week to week with no question of commitment.  This provides ample comic potential in the trailer with various hook-ups and several put-downs, including possibly the funniest thing John Cena (the WWE wrestler) has ever said, when he plays one of Amy's dates.


Amy's character works for a men's magazine and she is instructed to do an expose/interview on a sports injury surgeon Aaron played by Bill Hader.  During the interview, they hit it off and go for a drink which leads to hilarity and then the next morning. Aaron phones Amy hoping to go out again, which leads to the thrust of the second half of the trailer with Amy dithering about what to do as she has never experienced this before leading to a longer than usual conversation with her friend.

While the conversation and dialogue between the pair is funny, it feels a bit unnecessary to have such a protracted segment of the film in the trailer but then there are enough laughs in the trailer to pique your interest without ruining the final outcome.  This is a film that will be seen by many, and promises bundles of laughs in the same way Bridesmaids did.

Like many Apatow films the film will more than likely run over two hours, and it appears that we witness a lot of Amy's missteps with people like John Cena before we and she encounter Bill Hader's character, and it is good to see Hader given this sort of leading man romantic role instead of secondary status.

Trainwreck is scheduled for release in the UK on August 28th from Universal Pictures

Trailer Talk: Kumiko The Treasure Hunter

Soda Pictures are pleased to release the trailer for the forthcoming Kumiko The Treasure Hunter starring Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi as the eponymous heroine of the film.

Kumiko is a disillusioned soul in a city of 35 million people.  She works in a dead end job that makes her unhappy and unappreciated, has a nagging mother and successful peers.

Yet while living alone she watches a copy of an American independent film.  Night after night she watches the film for clues as to where the stash of money in the film has been buried, with the belief that the film is a real document. So begins Kumiko's journey to America to find her treasure in this beguiling and equally bizarre tale.

Written and directed by the Zellner Brothers and produced by Alexander Payne (a director not adverse to films about journeys); the film looks like one of those rare breakout independent films due to the original content, eccentric lead performances and brilliant screenplay.

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th February from Soda Pictures

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Premier League will eat itself

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Yesterday, 10th February 2015, the English Premier League announced the television rights for coverage of its league with Sky Sports and BT together spending £5.14bn deal to screen live football matches. Sky won five of the six packages and will screen 126 games, whereas BT now will screen the Saturday tea time games of which they get 40+ games during the 2016-19 seasons.  Sky could not have anything as that would be a monopoly.

While there has been much hoopla over these figures and much criticism aimed at the Premier League for this 70% hike in rights sold since the last scheme three years ago. The Premier League has become this all encompassing monster where continual television coverage from Sky Sports especially has made us as fans and consumers salivate over the comings and goings of managers from their car to the office. It has made a celebrity out of Kevin Bond's passenger door whilst Harry Redknapp leans out of it to spout more transfer drivel.

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But what will happen with this money? All this wealth should hopefully help out our clubs with the restrictions of the Financial Fair Play system Michel Platini is trying to implement across Europe and maintain our success in European club football.  Yet there is a fear that all this money will mean, is that clubs will spend even more and more extortionate amounts of money on transfer fees, agents fees and player wages.  Perhaps we will see Lionel Messi play in this country if one Barcelona cannot remain sustainable and two, a club can pay him £500,000 a week and remember with him being foreign he would like that after tax so you are looking at a gross weekly salary of £660,00 per week for the maestro.

A lot of people are fearing that none of this money will trickle down to the lower leagues below the Conference Premier and the games this writer referee's at; where pitches are permanently untreated, constantly postponed, facilities are appalling and volunteers run these clubs for the love of the game with nothing in return.  The unfortunate thing is the Premier League, remember, remains a breakaway division which is governed by the Football Association for prosperity, yet the Premier League was created to garner a greater share of television revenue from those willing to pay hence, the Sky Sports era was born and the clubs have never looked back.

None of this £5.14bn will go to the coffers of the FA at Wembley Stadium, so why can people expect it to go into grass roots football. The Premier League is a selfish commodity and in that sense is only concerned with the welfare of its 20 members season to season, yes it looks after the three dismissed members with parachute payments but those clubs will bankrupt themselves by paying over the odds on wages for players they thought were better than they are.  You need only look at Leeds United for evidence of how the mighty have fallen, along with Portsmouth and Sheffield United, two more clubs outside of the Championship.

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It is not in the Premier League's remit to look after grass roots football, that has to look after itself.  Yet it slowly is because 'normal' fans are being priced out of the attending of Premier League games as season ticket prices go ever upwards and matchday single tickets are hitting the £100 threshold. Football is a working class sport built on the tradition of attending on Saturday afternoons with your work pals or with your children.

Now a generation of children cannot attend because in this post-recession world, fathers and mothers cannot afford to take their children to witness football as the cathartic theatrical sonicsphere it is when seen in the flesh. The demographic of attendees is predominantly white, middle aged and middle class, those with disposable income who can afford it currently; this is where people are seeking alternatives such as FC United of Manchester; a fan owned club with a new stadium working at a positive turnover and not beyond its means.  The options are there for fans to go and see these club and if the Premier League clubs do not bring their prices down by the start of the 2016-17 season which coincides with the launch of this new deal, fans may well vote with their feet.  In some cases they already are, the Etihad at Manchester last week had small pockets of empty seats visible on television coverage.

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Another thing to be addressed is how will Sky pay for this buy passing on the price to the subscriber now they will no doubt create another channel dedicated to GPS movements of players during games along with heat maps and touch profiles; all for under £20 a month. Yet it is the business outlets who will have to pay more especially those in London where business outlets are based on your business rates paid to local councils; currently in London you will pay upwards of £1000 a month for your subscription.  This will more than likely be going up due to this new pay deal. And don't forget BT have exclusive Champions League rights from next season, so businesses will have to pay two subscriptions for two must have products.

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And nothing seems to have been mentioned about this Friday night window for games; with it being new and unique Sky will no doubt program probably the best game for the wow factor initially but you get the sense that teams playing in the Champions League on a Tuesday will more than likely want to play on a Friday night to get the full weekend off as preparation, and players prefer playing on an evening than Saturday afternoon (ask Arsenal); so Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal fans should get used to only seeing their side play at home on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm a handful of times in a season. 

Let us not forget the social ramifications of a live Friday night match on Sky Television who have flirted with the window before for Championship football to no avail. There will be a few weeks during the season when there will be live football on everyday of the week, for social reasons it is unreasonable to expect people to be out every night not to forget the implication and effect this will have on individual's home life where football and nothing else is on the television, with parents neglecting the treatment of their children and welfare of a stable home unit.

Nevermind the fact that in this day and age of constant media attention, the press media is slowly dying and it is sad to hear that on the day the Premier League records a record television deal, journalists and established ones are being made redundant at the Daily Express, including a friend John Dillon, who has seen the changes of the Premier League happen first hand. Now his voice of experience is considered no longer necessary nor deserving of a daily platform.  In a world of nonsense where little facets of information are declared fact, the art and act of journalism is being lost to the digital age of vines and memes - odd that considering the Premier League is so me me me.

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There is probably more bad than good about this deal, but frankly with all the money coming in with these astronomical figures bounding about, why should Richard Scudamore care what you think about the deal. He's just sorted out his pension, and in business you are always out to look after number one.

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Great Museum

Out on Monday from Matchbox Films, this documentary The Great Museum directed by Johannes Holzhausen garners a release that may well push it to a wider audience.

This document is about the reopening of Kuntzhistorisches Museum in Vienna and it shares a bit of limelight with a similar film in this instance to Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery, which took the viewer behind he scenes of the London National Gallery.

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Whereas the latter film is marshalled by a veteran director, this film is shepherded by a director who is trying to show you things behind the scenes in a 'look at what I happened upon' and Wiseman has this way of being shot so unobtrusively the effect is far greater albeit both films are thematically the same.

That may do a discredit to the film which does have its moments such as when a worker speaks up at a meeting saying she has never met people from different departments, there is the potential for the director to follow that lady and make a socio-political comment on office politics and class hierarchies in the workplace and yet that employee is quickly forgotten about.

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Nevertheless the film should not be thought of as the Deep Impact to Wiseman's Armageddon or an Infamous to someone else's Capote; but rather another edition to the pantheon of documentary film about important buildings and what they stand for.  A document about life, art and the passion for both available in one place.

The Great Museum is out on DVD from Monday 9th February courtesy of Matchbox Films

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Jesse Moss Interview

With the forthcoming release of The Overnighters on DVD from Dogwoof, I had the pleasure to interview the director Jesse Moss and ask him some questions about the film and its production. To read my review of the film, please click here.

 Jesse Moss

What was the genesis of The Overnighters?
The genesis came from a clergy column written by Pastor Jay Reinke, that appeared in his local newspaper, the Williston Herald.  I read the column and called Jay, and he told me he was helping and housing some of these men and women who were flocking to North Dakota and had nowhere to sleep. I found Jay, but it took me while to come to understand what an extraordinary documentary subject he was.  He revealed himself slowly, and I found myself drawn in to his passion and his mystery. The overall filming took about 18 months to complete.


What is your background and have you always wanted to pursue a documentary film career?
I worked briefly in politics, but left in my mid 20s to pursue filmmaking and never looked back.  I had the good fortune to work with some exceptional filmmakers when I was young which was my film education.

What filmmakers influence you and does any particular documentary resonate?
The direct cinema tradition has strongly influenced me, including the work of Albert & David Maysles, DA Pennabaker & Barbara Kopple.  Salesman is one of my favorite films as is Harlan County USA.  

So why do these stories never get covered until the story turns sour in America's mass media market?
I think the mainstream media has a big blind-spot, and they're impatient.  The luxury I had was time to let this story develop.  I felt there will little serious long-form reporting about the ground-level experience of people coming to Williston and trying to survive.


Did you watch any films during the production?
I watched very little while I was making the film.  I read - or I should say re-read - some George Orwell, specifically Down and Out in Paris and London, and The Road to Wigan Pier, both moving, compassionate chronicles of the working poor.

Was a lot of the story start to develop in the cutting room or did you edit as you progressed?
I started editing while I was still shooting, and there was a constant dialogue between the field and the cutting room - which was very important.

Reason I asked earlier about watching films was because I sensed a similarity to American westerns, the lone crusader in a town and so on
I did come to see The Overnighters as a western.  The parallels were strong: a story set in a boomtown, a struggle between hope and fear, a flawed hero, who ultimately is cast out by the community.

Have you been surprised by the critical response to the film?
I have been grateful for the critical support the film has received, and how willing audiences and critics have been to embrace the complexities and ambiguities of Jay's character and the story.

What are you working on now? Will you follow in the footsteps of Kevin MacDonald and James Marsh into feature films?
I'd love to follow in the footsteps of James and Kevin, filmmakers I greatly admire.  In fact, I'm developing a scripted feature that is based on factual material.  And I've begun a new documentary on 1970s icon Burt Reynolds - which couldn't be more different than The Overnighters.

The Overnighters is out on DVD from Dogwoof on Monday 9th February

The Overnighters Will Stay With You

A compelling documentary about 21st century life in North Dakota, The Overnighters follows desperate and broken men flee their homes in search of money and to chase their dreams to the oil fields of North Dakota either to chase a rainbow or to flee demons.

The film follows the efforts of a local Pastor who offers sanctuary to men by letting them stay in his church firstly and/or live in their cars in the parking lot; causing much consternation amongst the local community who look unfavourably upon out of towners.

While this could be considered a social document for the modern age, you could say this is like the Gold Rush during the Old West with men leaving their family and homes in search of a quick buck and to make a new life for themselves. When they get to the location they are greeted by locales with cynicism and scorn with only a welcome coming from the house of the God.

Directed and filmed by Jesse Moss and produced by Amanda McBaine (The Investigators), The Overnighters won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2013 and was nominated for Best Feature Documentary in 2014.

Moss has a keen eye for mise-en-scene from a small child with dirt under their finger nails that have not been scrubbed for days to a man laying on a bed behind a chain link fence but shot to look like a prison. Not only is it a document of a man trying to do the best he can, but it is also the disintegration of a marriage in front of our very eyes which makes the film all the more raw and powerful in its message.  And much like a western, one man ends up alone in the wilderness searching again for a place to sleep at night.

At times hard hitting and totally engrossing in portraying both the need of people to help others and the resentment that help may lead to, the film is a societal document about the schism in American society between those that have jobs and those that do not.

The Overnighters is out on DVD from Dogwoof on 9th February.

For an exclusive interview with the director, Jesse Moss, please click here


 Click for Options

Directed by Susanne Bier and starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in their third film collaboration together following Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Serena sees J-Coop go further back in time to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in 1929.

Cooper plays George Pemberton a timber merchant who wants to keep making money despite the onset of the crippling Great Depression, whilst fighting the government for the timber land he owns that they want to save to construct a national park in the nearby region. Pemberton owns land also in Brazil, he wishes to sell the land to the government for $1million dollars and then retire to South America.

However, Pemberton is a lonely man. Lonely in the sense that he has no wife, although he does not mind making women in town pregnant and then forego child support nor any notion of responsibility.  On a business trip to Boston and encountering his sister at an equestrian event he spies Serena (Lawrence) and in a kismet slow motion shot, Pemberton is smitten.  Although he goes to quite some extremes to make his feelings known, his first words to her, 'I think we should be married'. Whilst Serena guffaws, we the audience do something else.

Click for Options

Serena returns to the timber yard with Pemberton and she knows a thing or to about timber having grown up in the business, she sets her stall out by wielding an axe in the field to demonstrate a notch for the workmen. However, all is not well with Pemberton's business partner Buchannen (David Dencik) who takes an instant dislike to Serena much in the same way any first mate on a ship would do when the Captain falls in love with a native.

Shady business dealings foreshadow one characters premature end, and the way that death is handled with such a cold hand and heartlessness means that this film will not end well for all involved. Illnesses, lies, betrayals are all visitors to this timber merchants where the fog descending from the hills have this ominous quality. Phallic imagery and symbolism abound throughout the film, the men controlling guns and knives are never far from the old shadow, you live by the sword you die by the sword.

Bier is a renowned filmmaker but like her contemporary Lasse Hallstrom comes from Scandanavia, where the sense of melodrama is never far from view.  This is a problem for a film like Serena, it means well and with the sumptuous costume design and set production, the picture looks wonderful, it is such a shame that the film has muted ambition in terms of not telling us anything new of the era. The Depression was a terrible time, but why is there no message about the current economic climate perhaps or political allegory as say John Sayles did with Matewan during the 1980s amidst the Reagan administration.

It seems the ambition was restricted to the notion of dressing Ms. Lawrence to the nines in clothes of a wonderful bygone era, and yet it is not her fault that she is horribly miscast in the picture.  Serena strikes me as someone who should have been closer to Pemberton's age and not the mere nymph she appears to be here, Lawrence unfortunately is still very young in her own right and has nowhere near the life experience required for a role such as this, full of complexity and turmoil. If he hope was to dress Lawrence up and make her appear to be Carole Lombard then they succeeded, they just should have attempted to get the ambiguity of Barbara Stanwyck.

However, J-Coop do make a good fist of it and with their obvious chemistry handling the Pemberton's a constant simmering of passion in an otherwise lukewarm situation. Featuring able support from Toby Jones as the town sheriff, Rhys Ifans almost unrecognisable as a hand on the mill and Sean Harris, all providing the essential need of gloom amidst the mist in North Carolina.

If you want to see better work from this director seek out In A Better World from Bier's native Denmark, a startling portrayal of troubled individuals set against the changing tide of political correctness.

Serena is out on DVD from Studiocanal on Monday 23rd February