Brrrr, is it just me or did it suddenly get a bit chilly round here? I thought it best to actually round up some genuinely frightening films for this years Halloween celebration, a horde of zombie movies or pack of vampire pictures are all very well but they’re not actually scary ‘scary’ are they? You don’t begin to feel a bit nervous or start to let your imagination run away with you when viewing one of those exhausted clones of classics gone by do you? With both these and other horror sub-genres still dominating the cultural conversation, True Blood and I suspect The Walking Dead aside I’m sick to death of vampire rip-offs and C grade shambler movies, seriously sometimes when enduring these facsimiles I could just die. In that sense I’m a victim of my own success in that I get sent a clutch of dodgy horror movies every fortnight or so as part of my supposed film reviewer credentials and not one of them – not one - has been worthy of actually crafting a review – we’re talking cheaply digitally shot, predictable, badly acted messes without a scintilla of fear in a single pixel, each and every one of them. So, I thought it best to get back to basics with the ghost story, it was a close run consideration between this and Demon or Satanic movies as they can also be quite unnerving (it crossed my mind to do a mammoth screening of all four Exorcist movies back to back, now that would have been gruelling for all sorts of reasons*) but as I have many of the following pictures to hand I’m taking the easy route. This won’t be in any great detail, just some short clip or the trailer from YouTube, with a brief paragraph to follow – after writing ten reviews over the past fortnight and another three to go to close down the LFF I’m taking it relatively easy with this one. I’ve purposely omitted both The Fog and The Shining as they have received more than enough attention on here before, so here are some suggestions to get you in the mood, grab your e-meters, your parapsychology handbook and remember – don’t cross the streams and here be major spoilers…..
Onibaba – Japan has a wealth of ghost stories and myths throughout its colourful cultural history, I’m opting for Onibaba over the equally fine Kwaidan due to simple brevity – one is 103 minutes long, the other 183 minutes. The ghostly elements are spoilers so I’m keeping schtum on that front, this is a fine period piece (made in 1964) with some genuinely freaky moments. The film has an old EC comics feel of your sins being revisited upon you in a horrifically ironic fashion, an almost comical fate for the central transgressors if my fading memory is accurate.
The Haunting – From Shirley Jackson spine tingling prose – ‘silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there……walked alone’ <shivers> A hideous omission from my greatest horror films list comes a genuinely unnerving film, I defy anyone to watch this, alone, with the lights off and not feel a little creeped out as I did back in about 1985 or 1986. It posits that old scholarly challenge about spending a night in a haunted house which has been excavated most recently in the almost half-good 1408, if anyone should offer you a similar deal I suggest you have a look at this followed by a long hard think. Then a drink.
The Carnival of Souls – A key influence on a certain David Lynch, this Z-grade movie from an independent production house which was used to churning out industrial and educational films The Carnival of Souls has some terrible acting, ropy sets, and some of the most simply eerie visuals committed to screen – see above. It’s a real cult favourite, and proof that away from the majors an inventive mind could overcome the obstacles of a limited budget, poor resources and inexperienced cast. Spooky stuff…
Ghost Story - Not necessarily a scary film but a favourite of certain film fans, the CHUD guys reference it in their podcasts now and again so it certainly made an impression on them. Based on the novel by Peter Straub with an old school cast of Fred Astaire, John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. there are some scenes, as above, which have imprinted themselves on a generation who caught this on a late night ITV viewing. A bit like the original Salem’s Lot now that I think of it.
The Innocents – One of the best of the original wave of gothic horrors of the 1960’s, like The Haunting this film really builds a sense of menace and dread with some superb scares along the way. The BFI print although pricey – I think it cost me about £20 – is worth the investment considering the exhaustive commentary from Christopher Frayling accompanied by a glorious negative transfer that does the menacing visuals proud. Deborah Kerr was great in this, taking the whole enterprise very seriously. Great monochrome photography.
Ringu – Yes, it’s kind of dated and the visions of water drenched, vengeful feminine spirits with matted long hair has been flogged to death since the originals release in 1999 but lets not forgot just how creepy and unexpected that scene was, its very rare (for me anyway) that one sequence can still push those buttons and really get you riled up. It builds very quietly and efficiently to the real scares, although the inevitable American re-make wasn’t as bad as I expected you should really stick with the original. You don’t want to make Sadako mad now do you?
The Others – Back in 2001 this quiet little chiller was released and like The Orphanage some years later it’s a return to the gothic horror elements of the old dark house, creepy children, nervous labourers and cloaked psychological dread. I didn’t get the twist for this one, I was so engrossed in the atmosphere and techniques in play that my mind wasn’t permitted to wonder into speculation territory, for a genuinely jumpy and spooky film of the past decade then you can’t find better.
Hausu – Something of a lost artifact amongst the film crowd this cult number finally got a Criterion release earlier in the year and I’ve been trying to find a place to weave it into a post since I saw it in the spring. Its more phantasmagorical than threatening, but as a little light relief and for something a little different – and it’s certainly quite unique – then Hausu is highly recommended.
Dead of Night – The most famous section of this classic portmanteau is of course the celebrated Michael Redgrave and his ventriloquist dummy sequence but you should also take a look at the episode initially excised from the American print of the film, an incident at a children’s spooky Christmas party – alas I couldn’t find that on-line so the opening is above to whet your appetite, you’ll have to pick up your own copy from somewhere. I’m sure it’s not particularly scary these days, in fact it has a quality more akin to some historical curiosity with its clipped accents, dated design and British pragmatism but the germ of a shudder is there, if you look closely.
Beetlejuice – A little bit of comic relief to quell your beating heart before bedtime, who remembers when Tim Burton was good? I thought about Ghostbusters and I considered Blithe Spirit, The Frighteners also has a certain charm and serves as an intriguing little snapshot of Peter Jackson experimenting with techniques and SFX that would weave their way into the LOTR trilogy, but for a bit of nostalgia then lets revisit Winona, a pre Batman Michael Keaton alongside Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin. Hmmmmm, you know what, I think after looking at the last three entries I may be going a bit soft in my old age, so let’s just redress that balance shall we? Sweet dreams…and see how many you can name;
* Initially that comment was a joke, then killing time in HMV between screenings on Thursday I saw this for £15 and thought. ‘fuck it, why not?’ I’ll ignore the Harlin of course but the Schrader prequel has interest, I haven’t seen I or III in ages and I’ve had a masochistic desire to watch the loathed part II again for ages – god help me.
Tense? Anxious? Claustrophobic? Whatever you do, don’t think a trip to the cinema will alleviate these ailments as the last few weeks has seen a morbid fixation on a lingering demise, whether it be death by suffocation (Buried), death by refrigeration (Frozen), or in the case of Danny Boyles bombastic new film, death by dehydration – 127 Hours. Charting the horrific experience of adrenaline junkie Aron Ralston whose arm became trapped under a boulder after a freak climbing accident out in the remote Utah badlands, 127 Hours charts the almost superhuman feat of endurance that he suffered for five days with dwindling food and water, with no prospect of rescue as no-one knew where he was. As his discomfort intensifies Aron takes to recording his grim experience with his handy camcorder, a potential final will and testament to his friends and family. As the hours evaporate and his provisions decay, Aron begins to understand that there is only one way out….
From its dizzying split screen opening 127 Hours revels in Boyle’s atypical histrionic style, a vivid whir of the speed and vibrancy of modern life – commuters exiting stations, vehicles shrieking down expressways, a Koyaanisqatsi influenced montage split across a trio of bisecting panels, all scored to a pounding techno score to set the scene of intensity of experience, of thrill seeking and perhaps a slight aversion to the modern technological life. As the film moves to Aron’s explorations of the Utah wilderness the azure blues of the Arizona skies contrast with the Neolithic browns and yellows of the ancient and impersonal stone that hover over Aaron’s gruesome ordeal, considering the film credits two cinematographers, Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak (who both operated to provide a dual level of coverage) this is evidently a film with a carefully graded and considered colour scheme. Where Buried and Frozen were content to constrain their action to their victims immediate vicinity Boyle expands the canvass to incorporate flashbacks, hallucinations and fictional flights of fancy, all generated by Aron’s increasingly delusional mental state. This opens up not only Aron’s history and our sympathy for his plight, but also makes us question if we could muster the bravery and strength to follow that final, grisly route to escape.
The now notorious extraction scene is as unpleasant as you’ve probably heard but not exploitative, it’s suitably shocking and painful but the camera doesn’t linger for any rubber necking purpose, preferring to alleviate the stress with a little joke from Aron’s perspective once the deed is done. James Franco provides a suitably charming then distressingly intense performance, a recital culled from numerous discussions and consultations with the real Aron and most crucially his viewing of the real video diary that Aron recorded as he effectively faced his imminent death. Boyle seems to be inspired by the trials and tribulations of various youth subcultures, be it the back-packing culture of The Beach, the slum children of Mumbai in Slumdog Millionaire, or the Edinburgh heroin scene in Trainspotting, his energy and enthusiasm seem to burst on screen with an optimistic vigour that only the young allegedly hold, in any case 127 Hours is a giddy testament to the strength of human endurance, regardless of your vintage.
Well that was a successful, albeit exhausting final 72 hours of this years London Film Festival. Another four films, another press conference (127 Hours, pretty good film), an interesting masterclass and one well utilised press pass later I’ve got my work cut out for me this weekend to catch-up on all my assignments. I speculated that there wasn’t a great deal to look forward to during the festival last month but as usual I’ve been proved wrong, on the one hand there wasn’t any throughly outstanding pieces of work, no five star pictures (although Black Swan was close with four) but on the other there was nothing truly awful either, overall it was a solid three star run of just over a dozen movies. I thought I managed a pretty good mix of material, most of the high profile American stuff, some foreign entries (Japan, France, Germany and Italy), the opening and closing gala films and a couple of documentaries, my biggest regrets are probably 13 Assassins and Biutiful but I’ll catch those on general release over the coming months.
Tuesday’s Alejandro González Iñárritu Masterclass at the BFI was pretty good, he was quite a passionate speaker with a keen turn of phrase which revealed his insightful working methods, his simile of film-making as crafting stones on an ‘industrial’ production line, on-set or on location against the pressures of time, weather and finance, these stones which are then in turn sculpted into a coherent movie was quite illuminating. I didn’t appreciate the devotion to sound that he expresses in his films, he likened each of his projects as being built around a different musical tone, as having their own ‘sonic landscape‘ – think 21 Grams as a Jazz piece, Amores Perros as Rock & Roll and his imminent Biutiful as a melancholy yet poetic Blues number – that sounds like a tough one, I’ve heard it described as two and a half hours of ‘misery porn’. I’d have liked to see more of these events but they sold out very quickly, particularly the Romanek and Aronofsky numbers.
I didn’t have the time or inclination to take up any of the interview prospects that I could have pushed for (there are ‘mingling’ events at hotels where you’re supposed to informally approach ‘talent’ and get some reportage along with the other hacks over a canape and coffee), to be honest at the moment my day job interfered with such activities due to timings and I’m not sure I’m cut out for such shenanigans, I’d rather stick to the screenings for the moment as I’m still in amateur mode with this and quite frankly I’d rather keep all these efforts on more of a ‘fun’ level. Something for me to think about for next year though eh? So stay tuned, I’ll see what I can manufacture along with a Halloween special, its a good job I’ve already had stab at this as the last half hour of Sion Sono’s Cold Fish could have prompted me down some very transgressive areas…..
In his new psychological musical Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky has delivered a curious duplex with his critically embraced The Wrestler, both films featuring blistering central performances of obsessive physical performers, individuals with punishing regimes whom operate in their own hermetic sub-culture, a world where the pursuit of perfection is placed before any due respect to health or salubrity, be it of a mental or physical dimension. With snippets of Cronenberg’s early body horror operas and shards of Polanski creeping sexual paranoia Black Swan is one of the finest American films screened so far at the London Film Festival, a gracefully dizzying piece of work, from its opening overture to its dazzling crescendo.
Natalie Portman, who could be in line for a best actress nomination next year is Nina, a highly strung and deeply ambitious young ballerina at the prestigious New York National Ballet. Nina is under enormous psychological pressure from her strident mother (Barbara Hershey) to excel where she could not, to become the lead dancer at a gala performance, an ambition denied to her due to her falling pregnant twenty years ago, she now investing all her thwarted dreams into her brittle young progeny. Initially overjoyed that she has secured the central role in a new season of Swan Lake Nina becomes increasingly anxious and obsessed with her performance, a persistent neurosis that is compounded with the arrival of a promising young rival named Lily (Mila Kunis) who may have her own ambitions for the ingénue spectacle. Thomas Leroy, the troupes tyrannical creative director (played with a typical jovial intensity by Vincent Cassell) transfers his attention and affection to Nina from an aging dancer (Winona Ryder), a bitter and broken creature who may just serve as a disturbing harbinger of Nina’s future trajectory. These numerous pressures and strains result in a slow mental deterioration as Nina incrementally comes apart at the seams, with strange hallucinations, curious injuries and medical ailments bewitching her growing ambitions, her role and her real life entangling in a mesmerizing study of obsession and subconscious torment.
Black Swan is an elegant, impeccably designed film in both form and content that should delicately pirouette into many cineastes films of the year list. From the opening overture Aronofsky takes his hand-held camera onto the stage, in amongst the actors, to provoke a tangible sense of immediacy and reality to the scenes, shooting on grainy 16mm the film has a documentarian style which seems counter intuitive to such an ornate and reputedly glamorous milieu. Like The Wrestler the smaller details, the specific rituals and equipment of the trade are explored to sketch in the minutia, through a deft burst of montages in the films earlier scenes the levels of devotion and dedication required of these young performers are laid bare. The film is peppered with strong whites and blacks throughout its production design to emphasis the dual nature of Nina’s psyche, her distress almost spilling over to the real world, a duopoly that Aronofsky elucidates with a judicious use of mirrors and reflections. Nina’s deteriorating grasp on reality is masterfully charted and the film is quite gruesome in places, some disconcerting flourishes are staged which ensure that the viewers, like Nina, are not sure of the validity of what may have just occurred. The films greatest triumph however is the integration of the original Swan Lake narrative into the film as this is very much a re-interpretation of that canonic narrative in a cinematic form, as Nina is also a creature whose love is thwarted due to a rival – at least in her perceptions – a rivalry and jealousy which seems certain to lead to a tragic result. The cast of Black Swan is uniformly excellent with Portman excelling as the driven yet fractured Nina, with sterling support from both Hershey as her concerned but coercive mother and Kunis as her corrosive feminine nemesis. Aronofsky incorporates the classical Swan Lake aural stylings into a score by his regular collaborator Clint Mansell, a hybrid which provides a contemporary ambience to the menacing proceedings. Seductive, sensuous and sparsely sinister, Black Swan is one of the years best.
So there’s the review, this was a terrific movie and definitive proof that amongst a faintly poor roll-call of cinematic offerings this year there has been some bona-fide brilliance. I attended my first ever press conference shortly after the closing credits rolled, this was a little weird I have to say, not due to the trappings of one of Knightsbridges finest five-star hotels (in a previous life and career path I have been wined and dined in just about every one of London’s super-posh hotels), it was more weird seeing people on-screen a half hour ago sitting in front of you for real, but maybe that’s my problem in separating reality from fiction eh HAL? Aronosky, Kunis, Cassell and producer Scott Rudin were in attendance and it was quite a sober affair, with only Cassell cheekily deflecting a question on the intensity and preparations for his role to Kunis, due to a soon to be notorious scene between her and Portman…..sorry, got a little distracted there for a second. Aronofsky got most of the questions, tackling the inevitable Red Shoes comparison by revealing that he only saw it for the first time during production, and quite rightly pointing out that similar themes, characters and tropes are bound to emerge when you are investigating such a unique area- he’s got a point. Its hectic over the next few days, I’ve got a Iñárritu Q&A tomorrow, Sophia Coppola’s new film on Wednesday (so I’m giving this another spin tonight) and then a final trilogy of movies on Thursday, after that I’ll start thinking properly about a Halloween post, in that spirit (ho, ho, ho) how does this grab you? No? Me neither….
I’ve been so damn busy that I missed my fourth birthday which occurred a week or so ago, but don’t worry the lack of good wishes, cards or presents from you gentle readers will be overlooked due to our mutual sense of eternal, everlasting shame (sobs..) I have hopefully managed to secure a longer term commitment to my current assignment, personally speaking this is great news considering the current, horrific fiscal climate, believe me as these paralysing cuts lacerate over the next 12 months things are going to get very, very tough in both the public (30% cuts in local government - jesus christ) and private spheres – and those interdependencies are more critical than I’d imagined or previously understood. I could rant but I’ll spare you that emission, lets move on to the fictional world (sobs…), so what’s been happening trailer wise I hear you cry?
A big fat zero of nothing is the answer to that question, a quick trawl around reveals nothing that particularly punches my buttons, so here is some more grindhouse hilarity;
That’s certainly a tandem alternative to the arty LFF stuff that I’ve been enjoying, compare and contrast Never Let Me Go and Miike’s 13 Assassins (my biggest miss of the festival, there are no press screenings and both official screenings sold out in minutes, much to my frustration) with that first couple of trailers. Anyway, in terms of general miscellanea then I strongly recommend this excellent series of documentaries on the horror film, fellow aficionado Mark Gatiss hosts and writes the series and he certainly knows his onions, as usual with the BBC there are fine production values, appropriate clips and some fascinating interviews with some of the moldering survivors. I’ve only skim read much of The Guardian’s amusing ‘The Greatest Films Ever‘ season but there are some pearls amongst the swine, writer Joe Queenan can be terrifically funny and insightful, at least they got
one two things right. This finally arrived in the mail and I’m saving it for an evening devoid of competing attractions, it’s a turn to SF completest material and I’ve been looking forward to it since it was screened at this years Berlin Film Festival, I’m not much of a Fassbinder fan but it sounds mesmerizing, I’d never even heard of it until it was announced in Sight & Sound a few months ago. Finally, did you ever wonder what happened to all those colonial marine after their misguided sorte down on LV426? Well wonder no more. Some more hilarity, I’ve not unearthed these versions of the Assault or Warriors trailers before;
So there’s five more films to see at the Festival that I’ve arranged, including a press screening of the closing gala film next week, then there’s Halloween to think about (rather than pull a zombie evening or slasher bloodbath I was thinking of delivering a good old-fashioned post on some of the best celluloid ghost stories, that should be change from the norm eh?), I’ve got my Godfather II review to finish (50% done), I have to catch a screening of Metropolis where I can which should be an interesting double bill along with the long-awaited European unleashing of Machete, somewhere around there I’ll hit my 500th post celebrations then it’ll be Christmas and Tron Legacy and my best of the year compendium – phew, clearly there will be no rest for the wicked. Much more impending is tomorrows Black Swan screening followed by my first official press conference which I’m anxious to attend, a chance to see Aronofsky pontificate on his acclaimed new movie should be fun although I might just sabotage the event with a host of nerdish questions on this recent announcement. Only joking of course, I don’t want to jeopardise my chances of wooing Mila Kunis now do I? Hubba Hubba.
Hands up if you’ve heard of the US invasion of the Philippines in 1900? No? Me neither. This obscured historical conflict provides the back-drop to John Sayles latest achievement, a film which has obvious coetaneous links to more recent efforts of US nation building, of winning the hearts and minds of a hostile indigenous populace, but any concerns that this would be a bludgeoning, transparent diatribe are swiftly evaporated with Sayles fine sense of characterisation and performance. There are no defined black & whites in Amigo but alternating shades of gray, as such the political points are present but finessed to a fine point, and even a scene displaying a primitive version of waterboarding doesn’t feel too clunky, it doesn’t feel too conspicuous, given the breadth of Sayles research that he alluded to in the post screening Q&A you can be assured that he has culled such echoes from real torture methods of the era to make the film even more resonant. But lets begin with an overview;
In 1900 the United States government invaded the Philippines as part of its ideology of ‘liberating’ countries from its then contemporary ideological enemies, in this case the colonialist Spanish, whom had annexed the archipelago and incurred the wrath of the erstwhile US ally President Aguinaldo. Amigo centres on the fate of one modest village (or Baryo in the local parlance) and its denizens who are caught in the crossfire of the American invaders and indigenous insurgents, a difficult and treacherous period for both peasant farmers, village leaders and committed desperado’s, as a small US force uses their homes to establish a forward garrison. This places the head of the village in a potentially lethal quandary, his negotiating with the mostly dismissive American troops through the manipulated translations of a Spanish priest presents its own obstacles, a hinderance complicated by the fact that the local guerillas detachment is led by his brother and bolstered by his teenage son, both of whom regard him as a collaborator…
Amigo has that warm Sayles humanism in spades and his usual strengths – a discerning skill in astute characterisation, a grasp of unconventional plotting and an a sagacious observation of political and historical patterns – are all here in this insightful, adult drama. In one fantastic spit of dialogue the village menfolk are instructed to vote – democracy being an unusual and bewildering prospect to a society built on generations of rule by the village elders – and a junior officer points out that perhaps to make proceedings more democratic they should let the women participate in order to make up the shortfall in numbers, the younger men having fled to join the guerrillas – ‘don’t be ridiculous’ comes the sneering response from a junior officer, as if such equality was morally repugnant. In another unconventional touch the usual moral centre of a film such as this, the archetypal figure of decency and temperance would be encapsulated in a religious figure, in Amigo that would be Padre Hidalgo, a Catholic clergyman who, to use an academic phrase, is a self-righteous, hypocritical wanker of the highest order. He revels in the new power and influence that has been usurped to him after the demotion of the village leader, and his fate is not what you’d expect or what he deserves.
The films characters are not cyphers, they are not black and white figureheads with the soldiers singularly the imperialist instruments of torture and murder, nor are the villagers simply the resourceful and fiercely proud natives that stand as Amigo’s oppressed heroes. The individuals within both groups are presented as sometimes agreeable and sometimes disagreeable – in short they are human, and are ably supported in the presentation of this task by fine performances from Garret Dillahunt, Bembol Roco and Sayles favourite Chris Cooper. Amigo’s plot strands are not necessarily followed to their expected conclusions, although the film does conclude on a throughly satisfying race against time, a detail culled once again from the extensive historical research of the era. John Sayles latest film is a humanistic, suspenseful historical drama with a modern resonance, an essential addition to fans of mature, adult cinema.
In his new film Tabloid the acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris turns his intellect to a seemingly frivolous subject, given his previous works predilection for scrutinising cold war architects, battlefield torturers and saving innocent victims from death row in the likes of The Thin Blue Line, a piece widely regarded as one of the greatest non-fiction works committed to celluloid. In 1977 a young American woman was arrested in the South West of England for the alleged kidnap and rape of her former fiancé and lover Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon who had been spirited away to the UK from America to evade his impending nuptials to Joyce McKinney, a former Ms. Wyoming who had fallen in love with him at first sight. Joyce and an unusual cadre of companions travelled to the UK to free Kirk from this poisonous sect in her version of events, his side of things claiming that she kidnapped him at gunpoint, imprisoned him in a country cottage and proceeded to rape him for the following week. Joyce’s unusual life and its obscured surprises – and this incident is just the beginning – are the chief culprits of a story that grows more bizarre and unusual as more of its details are exposed, the strange naturally progressing to the ridiculous as Tabloid interweaves Mormon sects, bondage sessions, cloned canines and the murky world of the tabloid gossip columns into its narrative, much of which will have you laughing out loud to Joyce’s colourful life and her frequently unique terms of phrase – ‘stuffing marshmallow into a parking meter slot’ is one euphemism that’s going to stay with me for quite a while.
The film follows the usual documentarian format of numerous talking heads recalling their version of events, including an extensive interview with Joyce who provides the spine of the film, these disclosures are fused with press clippings and archive footage culled from the seventies, although the central ‘victim’ Kirk declined to be interviewed for the picture. One is left with the impression that many of these testimonies are not exactly purer than snow as Joyce is gradually revealed to be a somewhat eccentric, slightly mad but overall harmless figure who didn’t quite deserve the press notoriety that she engendered, by the same token someone so eager to sell their story to rival tabloids is not so easy to exonerate from complicit guilt in a caliginous freefall of smut, betrayal, and sensationalism. As ever with the finest documentaries one is left questioning the notion of an empirical truth hidden within the morass of allegations and counter-allegations, stories and counter-stories, with some of the central figures now dead, others mute and the survivors recollections of events diminishing as the decades fall away this seems destined to be another unsolved mystery that will be taken to the grave. The two Daily Express figures are fairly odious with their cheerful tracking of the more lurid aspects to the tale, but the film counterpoises this with the keystone cops elements of Joyce and her companion’s abscission to Canada from the UK while previous boyfriends and paramours emerge from the shadows to cash in on the lucrative bandwagon. Initially appearing quite lightweight Tabloid’s comedic pulses mask a faintly disturbing treatise on the gutter press, when you consider the way that Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears have been scrutinised to the point of insanity and illegality over recent years it appears that we haven’t evolved a great deal since Joyce’s scandalous behaviour over thirty years ago, and perhaps in the final analysis that is Tabloid’s most resigned conclusion.
So that’s the first week over then. I’m off to a flying start I think, covering the opening gala film, most of the major American releases so far, I’ve mixed it up with a German and Italian film and saw my first documentary today. This weekends screenings were with the regular punters and I have to say this is preferable to the press events as that’s where the directors and cast crop up for the usual Q&A, it was quite a nice surprise to see John Sayles on Saturday as I’m a fan and his new film Amigo was pretty good. The documentary I mentioned was Errol Morris’s Tabloid which is mentioned in here along with some other stuff;
What seemed a little flippant at first – I mean this is a film-maker whose work gets people released from prison – was quite funny and did have something to say about the press and the trap of notoriety. I’ve just got back from seeing Picco which as you’d imagine being a German version of Scum wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, it was OK and very sensitively done but I doubt I’ll watch it again. So that gives me four days to catch-up with three reviews, before the next tranche of screenings on Friday, the headline of which will be Aronofsky’s Black Swan;
Natalie Potman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey -Yowza. I fail to see how this can be less than interesting, it has a intriguing visual texture from that trailer, a fusion of Rosemary’s Baby and The Red Shoes? Count me in…
A palpable roar of disapproval was emitted from the on-line genre society when it was announced that director Matt Reeves would be following up on his well received found footage monster movie Cloverfield with a remake of a newly anointed sacred text, 2008′s Swedish chiller Let The Right One In which has been widely praised as one of the best horror films of the past twenty years. The claims of a US audience being unable to read subtitles notwithstanding the real question was how could Reeves possibly surpass the original ? Would his re-imaging, culled in part from the source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist have a more penetrating bite than its evil twin? Would its genre masked notions of childhood resilience remain intact? Would Let Me In mine alternative dimensions to the source material not captured in its pioneering predecessor? Well no, unfortunately it doesn’t as although Let Me In has much to enjoy in its lead performances and an admirable sense of atmosphere this is essentially another pointless revisit of hallowed ground, and another testament to the theory that more gore equals more scary being as redundant as Lex Luthor’s hairdresser.
Transporting the activities from a frigid Stockholm suburb to a (nuclear?) winter shrouded Los Alamos Let Me In closely follows its progenitors narrative path – 12-year-old loner Owen finds himself bullied at school and overlooked at home, his parents in the midst of a messy divorce leaving him isolated and alone. Whilst spying on his neighbours in a misplaced attempt at human interaction Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Road) observes a mysterious young girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz from Kick-Ass) and her father move in next door and a hesitant friendship begins, dispelling Owen young seclusion as a new friend – and possible girlfriend – is secured. In tandem with this burgeoning friendship are a plague of mysterious, horrific murders that are affecting Owen’s school, for Abby is a vampire and her ‘father’ is her human familiar who procures for her the necessary sustenance to preserve her unholy existence – human blood.
Critics such as the UK’s Mark Kermode have made the astute observation that the difference between the films boils down to the Swedish incarnation being a film about children, one of which happens to be a vampire and the American impersonation is a film about vampires, one of which happens to be a child. Let Me In has a sense of apprehension culled from its Eighties setting and the images of Reagan talking of a ‘evil empire’ in the background, its frosty envelope, like the original also hints at an impending extinction. Reeves appears to be cribbing from his friend J.J. Abrams director’s manual by littering the screen with lens flashes and distorted focus effects, the craft and care that have been invested in the film are clear (apparently he was drawn to the subject as he was bullied for his effeminate nature as a child) but the ultimate effect is somewhat hollow. This sounds uncharitable I know if you haven’t seen the superior original (and yes I agree that those who haven’t will have much to enjoy in this remake) – it’s certainly not a bad film and I’d recommend it for the most part even when they both share some terrible use of CGI – the cats scene in Let The Right One In being complemented by some pointless vampire attack enhancements in the case of Let Me In, in both these affectations are terribly jarring and tend to jolt the viewer out of the viewing experience.
Both Elias Koteas as a suspicious policeman and Richard Jenkins as Abby’s guardian are welcome additions, and the re-make also ejects the unnecessary coverage of the tangential figures of the Stockholm suburb, keeping the focus on Owen and Abby’s dangerous affiliation. A remake or revisit to existing source material I can accept, a carbon copy of shots I cannot – and in Let Me In there are certain facsimiles which are really quite disappointing, merely mirroring a pan from left to right from a right to left axis in the original when Oskar / Owen meets Eli / Abby for the first time is not so subtle camouflage, as is an almost identical recreation of the originals liberating penultimate scene. Where Let The Right One In was beguiling Let Me In is brittle and snaps in its final movements, but Reeves cast and crew have talent to spare and one hopes that they stalk fresher prey the next time round.
Under its Cinema Europa programme strand the London Film Festival strives to screen the best of the world’s contemporary European cinema, an experience that can either swing from a refreshing change to routine forms of storytelling or a frustrating and pretentious ninety minutes in the dark. The Italians have a particularly strong suite of films at this years festival and Le Quattro Volte from director by Michelangelo Frammartino is sure to garner attention and potential frustration in equal measure, as it did from its Cannes debut earlier in the year. In a pastoral Calabrian village an elderly herdsmen is seen shepherding and tending to his flock in a repeated cycle that he must have conducted for many years. As his frugal existence meets its preordained conclusion the narrative focus shifts to a different lead, to the animals and scenery who occupy this vista, as the people of the village meld into the background and alternate articles of interest come forward. A calf is born and takes its first faltering steps, an ancient tree collapses and its corpse is ravaged for fuel, in one extraordinary single take a sheepdog wrecks unfortunate destruction – what can it all mean?
The academic film magazine Sight & Sound has for recent years been charting the emergence of a so called ‘slow’ cinema on the world stage, a type of cinema exemplified by the likes of Bruno Dumont, Bela Tarr or Carlos Reygadas, a strand of film-making where the emphasis is not on the conventions of dialogue or on the conventions of characterisation or in some cases even a cursory interest in plot, these all being sacrificed on the altar of atmosphere as very long takes of beautiful landscapes and evocatively lit interiors dominate run-times. Le Quattro Volte certainly falls into this latter category as the film has perhaps a half dozen words of dialogue which are not subtitled, once the emphasis changes from the herdsman there are no characters at all to speak of, although in a curious way a process of Anthropomorphism takes hold in the viewer as the animals and eventually minerals (I’m not joking) seem to take on an animated life of their own. It may sound trite but the cycle of life is here in this visual tone poem, a film certainly not for everyone that evokes a sense of Kiarostami or Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar in its unusual format and structure, some viewers will be bored and others entranced, in either case Le Quattro Volte seems destined to provoke discussion.
In the five years since its Booker prize nomination Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go has collected a cadre of devoted fans whom were quietly reassured that despite the recruitment of an American director – Mark Romanek - to bring this literary favourite to the big screen it would maintain its quintessential British flavour by casting three of the contemporary UK’s most promising acting talents, with an adaptation from local screenwriter Alex Garland and an indigenous shooting terrain of Sussex, Sommerset and Surrey. With these cultural qualities in mind it was unsurprising to see Never Let Me Go selected as the opening gala feature of the 54th London Film Festival, as the curators sought a prestigious marriage between literary quality and native constitution, whilst it’s certainly not in the vein of afternoon tea or the reassuring thud of willow on leather Never Let Me Go does retain a native Anglican affectation, especially when one considers how the word English is a close lexographical cousin to the word anguish.
In the 1970′s the young wards of Hailsham, an exclusive British boarding school are beginning to discern the nature of their unusual destinies and rural societal isolation. Urged to preserve their health at all costs by the headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) the children are gravelly warned that any incidence of abscontion from school grounds could result in lethal consequences. A pitying substitute teacher hints at their fate and is immediately dismissed from the idyllic retreat and the pupils infrequent contact with outsider delivery men results in barely submerged scorn. Against this mysterious backdrop a trio of students including Ruth (a spirited Keira Knightley), Katy (a reflective Carey Mullign who provides a lyrical voiceover) and the emotional Tommy (Andrew Garfield) begin to develop feelings for each other, a companionship that blossoms into a love triangle with Katy at its one unrequited vertisce. Decanted to a transitional base or ‘cottage’ upon the cusp of adulthood the graduates learn of their unavoidable path in life - a development I’m keeping spoiler intact - that activates ecumenical feelings of jealousy, love and betrayal that threaten to pull the three of them apart.
Sometimes it takes an intruder to scythe through the cultural baggage, to see a culture afresh and although the ideals at the core of Never Let Me Go are universal both the Japanese insight of Ishiguro (who in that sense revisits some ground of his acclaimed novel The Remains Of The Day) and Romanek provide a deft commentary on the insulated, island isolated, the faintly repressed English habitat. The child actors are excellent as the precursors to the three leads, you can readily accept them as the earlier incarnations of Ruth, Katy and Tommy as they wander through the ochre grays of Hallisham’s chilly halls and Knightly, Garfield and particularly Mulligan are engaging, absorbing and heartbreaking throughout the remainder of the movie. Romanek takes a restrained and distanced approach to events, there is no flashy camera work, just studied dialogue scenes as he lets the piece grow organically from the script and performances. Perhaps the films most interesting conceit is the resigned acceptance with which the graduates of Halisham and similar institutions around the county seem to accept their fate – they seem so conditioned to their smothering destinies as if the very thought of flight or resistance is an utterly alien concept which would never even cross their minds. Indeed the film takes a restrained approach to these SF elements of the plot, there are no razor wire impediments, no guard dogs and no real sense of some invisible totalitarian regime guarding these precious commodities although some grim hints of deteriorating conditions for our players ancestors at Halisham and the like emerge as the film soldiers on.
Eagle eyed film fans may detect loose ties to the unusual English B-Movie The Damned by US exile Joseph Losey, in both that forgotten 1963 curio and Never Let Me Go we find that isolated and quarantined children are being manipulated for an uncertain purpose. Shades of Blade Runner also abound with a writhing reconnaissance of what it truly means to be human, Never Let Me Go foregrounding the notion that art and expression are a fundamental definition of the human experience. Although the plot skips through the decades before arriving at the 1990′s the film retains a curious sense of the 1950′s throughout its life-cycle, whilst the cars and fashions seem to subtly change Romanek and his production designer feel no need to insert explanatory tools at the edge of the frame such as TV announcements or an era specific musical score, the dour and forlorn British seaside resorts of the films final act providing a gloomy backdrop to the tales conclusion. Sombre and surprisingly moving, Never Let Me Go provides an elegant entrance to this years London film festival.
Well, it begins tomorrow at the wince inducing time of 9:30am with a press screening of Never Let Me Go for me. I’m curious about this now, from reading around it sounds like something a little different, I overlooked the vague SF trappings from the trailer and I haven’t read the book. I suspect that like The American this will be a popular one for the hack brigade, so I’ll need to be over at Leicester Square as early as possible to get a seat.
This is followed by some Italian oddness over at the NFT that should provide a broader palette of cuisine than my normal genre banquets…..
…as my first ‘official’ day concludes with the frigid dessert of Let Me In, I’m not posting the trailer again. Then it’s back to work for a couple of days and a weekend back at the flicks which might be detonated with this, plus some other material I’ve already mentioned – I’m not really a fan of Motorhead but I do want to break things up with as much non-fiction as possible and a take on the legendary rock and roll hedonist wil probably have a few laughs at least. This time last year the prospect of three films in a day would have been quite daunting, but after Frightfest I think I can take it.
Not much to report at the moment so here is another lazy post, I’m slowly working through my Godfather II report in the absence of anything else to discuss although my end of year round-up extravaganza has been outlined and partially populated – it’s a work in progress of course but believe me from previous experience it helps to begin these things early. So first of all an obligatory Coen embed of the new full trailer of True Grit, then some snapshots of what I’ve got lined up for the London Film Festival once it gets going this time next week.
Looking good partner. So moving on to the LFF there are some possible treats I’ve unearthed, at least from a Minty perspective, but first of all here is a blog re-visit which will mark my first ‘official’ screening on the 14th;
The early US reviews of Let Me In have been quite a surprise, with some commentary along the lines of the film being at least the equal if not better than Let The Right One In. I like the perspective that you should look at the film not as a redundant re-make but an American version of the source novel, we shall see but I’m pleased to announce that this has now been elevated to a picture that I’m not seeing out of some misguided sense of genre duty but now out of genuine curiosity. Next up, I’m a big fan of John Sayles so the prospect of seeing a new picture of his is welcome, my first on the big screen, it looks as if he hasn’t lost his sense of political camouflage;
Then there is some Teutonic material – not sure what’s going on with this one;
Sophia Coppola’s Venice champion recently got added as a late addition to the programme and I just managed to get a seat, as previously reported I’m a fan of her work;
Penultimately I could not let the chance of seeing Sion Sono’s new splatter fest pass me by;
I’m taking a day off work in the last week of the Festival to catch that with a double bill of the documentary Inside Job later in the evening to round things off, sometimes you can’t beat a good documentary (hopefully) as a final antidote to all the fiction.
I got a ticket for a potential Michelle Williams Q&A and then she went and cancelled her appearance – it’s also cool to break the films up with the occasionally intermittent real world interaction – but this disappointment did prompt me to get a ticket for the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu interview which was previously sold out – weird. All the above are films and events I’ve paid for, there will hopefully be more to add as more press screenings get announced when the festivities begin in earnest, my calendar was simply too demanding to slack off and see some of the material that was shown to the media freeloaders this week. I’d really like to see The Black Swan if possible - all four screenings and the Aronofsky event sold out in minutes - and I admit that I’m also newly intrigued by Never Let Me Go, Catfish and Submarine but we’ll see how things roll.Finally The Social Network opens in the midst of this clamour which I will definitely be seeing on opening night, I think it’s fair to say that the rest of this month shall be hectic. Can’t wait.
In her sprightly second feature D’Amour et D’Eau Fraiche (Living On Love Alone) the rising French director Isabelle Czajka tells the story of Julie (Anaïs Demoustier), a 23 year old arts school graduate who is slowly learning that things are tough in the current job market. Like the generations before her Julie works hard and plays hard, juggling administrative duties in a prestigiously chic Paris design studio during the week whilst dabbling in clubbing and causal sex during the weekends. Her opportunity soon descends into exploitation as she is cajoled into running errands and babysitting the directors children, when she should be gaining an education in the contours of the business. She soon finds herself back on the market and an impromptu role-playing test for a soul-destroying job as a sales rep. provides one silver lining, she gets to meet the handsome Ben and soon a burgeoning relationship develops. Escaping to the south France for a weekend break she makes a disquieting discovery, it seems that Ben travels with a pistol and there may be other sides to this young man that she hasn’t foreseen.
It’s nice to see some unknown faces on the screen and behind the camera and overall Living On Love Alone is a briskly paced, capable dramedy with modest intentions. There is some sly criticism of the current predominance of twenty somethings overpaying for tiny flats in metropolitan centres, the struggles of forging a career in a diminishing (and pretentious) job market and the unwelcome societal pressures from parents and siblings on what constitutes being a success these days, but these qualities are kept low in the mix as the film concentrates on Julie’s story and journey. Demoustier provides a convincing performance of a young woman simultaneously confident in her sexuality yet quietly frightened by the realities of day-to-day life, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her in the years to come. As the film transmutes into a lovers on the run tale during its final crescent I felt it lost some of its charm, but perhaps Czajka was aiming for some sort of reality check on the traditional romanticism that those films usually exhibit. A film with talents to watch.
A certain breed of Michael Mann’s aficionados lavish in the spectacle of criminal practitioners operating at the abslute highest echelons of their craft and certain movements in George Clooney’s stylish new thriller The American replicate these transgressive glimpses into a secretive, taciturn world. Following on from his critically acclaimed debut Control director Anton Corbijn has graduated to the big league and recruited one of the worlds biggest stars to anchor his sophomore feature, a paranoid tale of deception and suspicion that is dripping with an Antonioni inspired sense of wearying ennui, any punters expecting a brisk action packed blueprint will surely be exiting the theatre and angrily demanding their money back. Purveyors of the cultivated crime film however, those enthusiasts of sequences where characters intensely discuss the velocity of mercury tipped explosive rounds, of those who debate the relative merits of various firearm suppressor designs or the specific qualities of Polish rifle-sights will find a lot to admire in this unusual hybrid, an anomalous blend of art-house sensibilities and the histrionic Hollywood thriller. Although it suffers from a depressingly conventional final arc The American is an appealing addition to the hit-man genre, and serves as further evidence (if it were needed) that George Clooney is not afraid to tamper with his leading man image.
Clooney is Jack, a bespoke supplier, provider and advisor to a secretive European network of professional assassins. His activities have clearly upset some local goons whom attempt a hit of their own as Jack relaxes with his girlfriend in a remote Swedish cabin, an operation which is no match for his superior skills which illustrate that he is no stranger to performing some chilling efficient wet-work of his own. Fleeing to a pastoral Italian village on the instructions of his contact Pavel (an etched Johan Leyson) Jack agrees to one final job whilst also falling for the suspicious charms of local call-girl Clara (Violante Placido) in one final, desperate attempt at human contact and potential redemption. Clooney certainly is the American in this film as he is surrounded with a retinue of contacts, handlers and criminal figures who appear to have strutted off the pages of the latest Vogue Paris catwalk edition, the film is populated with a cortege of beautiful foreign actresses whose studied professionalism are affiliated with Jack’s sententious behaviour. His final contract concerns the crafting of a weapon and ammunition to the frosty Mathilde (Thekla Reuten),* a liquidator whose current assignment remains shrouded in mystery…
An unnerving sense of anxiety permeates The American from its opening frames to final conclusion as Jack is constantly monitoring his environment for potential threats, it’s a very internal portrayal of angst ridden apprehension which recoils with Clooney’s fantastic Oscar nominated performance in Michael Clayton. Our anti-hero is clearly engaged in a titanic internal struggle and a desire to escape the life, but by the same token you are not left with the impression that this is a good man enmeshed in an infernal world of spooks, murder and treachery, as a surprise adumbration in the opening sequence clearly signals Jack’s mercenary credentials. Corbijn’s wealth of experience in crafting dozens of visually arresting music videos over his twenty-five year career pays dividends and the chilly photography of the Italian countryside is exquisite. Much of the films cool and distanced aura is undone however with a perfectly predictable text-book conclusion which detracts from the previous 100 minutes of carefully constructed and beautifully composed semiotics, and an implausible relationship with a local priest bleeds into a clumsy butterfly metaphor that staggers when it should soar as the titles begin to spool. The American is an interesting mesh of the European art film and its melancholy draped environments, an affectation that does not comfortably intertwine with its final action beats and one is left feeling that if only it had the conviction to maintain its ethos an inevitable reputation as a cult film curio could have been eclipsed with something like an unexpected classic.
*Ah, I’ve been wracking my brain thinking of where I’ve see her before, she was In Bruges which is a fucking interesting connnecton don’t you fucking think?
THE 54TH BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
The programme for the 54th BFI London Film Festival was announced last month and as ever the prestigious European gala will screen a efficiently diverse selection of highly anticipated films by both established and emerging talent from around the world. As ever the festival will showcase a particularly strong vein of indigenous films including Opening and Closing Night Galas which spearhead the strong British presence in the global film community. During a mammoth 16 days of contemporary celluloid celebration the festival will screen a bewildering 197 features and 112 shorts, including 11 World, 23 International and 33 European premieres, many presented by cast members and filmmakers, alongside a stellar line-up of special events. The 54th BFI London Film Festival will run from 13 – 28 October at a myriad of venues around the capital, from the National Film Theatre to the West End, from the Curzon’s to the Lumieres, from the West and the East of the metropolis there will be something to interest the passing fan and film fanatic alike.
GALAS & SPECIAL SCREENINGS
The festival is launched with Mark Romanek’s acclaimed NEVER LET ME GO, starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, whilst Danny Boyle’s immediately notorious 127 HOURS will close proceedings, with key figure from both sides of the camera in attendance. Buttressing the bookends are THE KING’S SPEECH, with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter; hot from its rapturous Venice reception is Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN starring a fragile Natalie Portman; Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR; NEDS, directed by Peter Mullan; THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening; whilst art-film connoisseurs will welcome this years Cannes Palme D’Or winner UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES. Other gems include CONVICTION starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIUTIFUL wth Javier Bardem; WEST IS WEST, the loose sequel to East is East; Xavier Beauvois’ OF GODS AND MEN; and Julian Schnabel’s returns with MIRAL featuring Slumdog star Freida Pinto.
FILM ON THE SQUARE
Much of the attention will be focused on London’s Leicester Square which will host a collection of the most vigorous films of 2010. Anton Corbijn follows up Control with the chilly THE AMERICAN starring George Clooney; CARLOS is Olivier Assayas’s expansive five hour saga of the notorious Venezuelan terrorist; the venerable Godard continues to provoke cineastes with FILM SOCIALISME; ROBINSON IN RUINS marks Patrick Keiller’s long awaited return t the screen with a narration by Vanessa Redgrave. additional treasures include Diego Luna’s debut ABEL; Kelly Reichardt’s MEEK’S CUTOFF features Michelle Williams and Paul Dano; LE QUATTRO VOLTE, is a mysterious quasi-documentary centred in an Italian village and RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE will make you look at Santa in a more sinister light. Showcasing the festivals global scale are two African features, the first A SCREAMING MAN from Chad and the second BENDA BILILI which is a documentary exploring the fortunes of a clutch of Congo based urban musicians. Ken Loach leads a strong UK themed strand with ROUTE IRISH, a stream that also includes Joanna Hogg’s ARCHIPELAGO, Lucy Walker’s WASTE LAND and Richard Ayoade’s incendiary SUBMARINE. Esoteric film fans will welcome the chance to absorb new movies from established masters, including Jan Švankmajer’s SURVIVING LIFE, Miike Takashi’s ferocious 13 ASSASSINS and indie legend John Sayles returns with AMIGO.
NEW BRITISH CINEMA
The UK continues its long and distinguised pedigree of cinema exploring social concerns. In THE ARBOR, Clio Barnard scrutinises the work of writer Andrea Dunbar; in MANDELSON: THE REAL PM? director Hannah Rothschild was embedded with her controversial political figure over a tumultuous year and sports fans will support FIRE IN BABYLON which reveres the heritage of West Indian cricket. Kim Longinotto explores India during PINK SARIS whilst conceptual artist and Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing delivers her cinema debut with SELF MADE, both of which contributing to the welcome representation of female filmmakers this year.
Contemporary French cinema is celebrated through a panoply of features from established figures and budding auteurs. There are new discoveries such as Katell Quillévéré with her LOVE LIKE POISON and award winning director Antony Cordier’s HAPPY FEW, the Marion Cotillard starring LITTLE WHITE LIES is Guillaume Canet latest feature and Catherine Breillat will enchant her acolytes with her unique take on the THE SLEEPING BEAUTY legend. Isabelle Huppert stars in both SPECIAL TREATMENT and COPACABANA, similar gallic legends Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani appear in MAMMUTH whilst Kristin Scott Thomas is the claustrophobic focus of Lola Doillon’s IN YOUR HANDS. Finally, Isabelle Czajka returns to the festival with her corporate satire LIVING ON LOVE ALONE, the follow-up to her promising debut The Year After.
Broadening the palette beyond France includes the European entries MYSTERIES OF LISBON which is a four and a half hour epic from Raúl Ruiz; then there is WOMB, an exquisite tale starring Eva Green and Matt Smith and MY JOY, a Soviet centred parable. Pernille Fischer Christensen’s film A FAMILY revisits her recurrent interest in the notion of genealogy; EVEN THE RAIN stars Gael Garcia Bernal in a tale directed by Icíar Bollaín and written by stalwart Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty whilst the murky world of Italian politics is exposed during Sabina Guzzanti’s DRAQUILA – ITALY TREMBLES , a post earthquake documentary that contains a controversial and provocative exposé of Silvio Berlusconi’s activities. Further debate is provoked in PICCO, a German film that explores the horrendous violence plaguing a youth prison which may be the ideal companion piece to Alan Clarke’s brutal Scum.
A diverse menagerie of documentaries and fiction is collected from around the globe. The US independent movement evolves in the likes of SPORK, a gender satire of the high school movie; Geoff Marslett’s animated SF slacker MARS is gathering interest; COLD WEATHER is heralded as a new take on the crime film and THE TAQWACORES explores Muslim delinquents in Upstate New York. The incremental influence of social media is challenged in the disturbing CATFISH, a faux documentary that has garnered enormous kudos from its prior festival screenings whilst LEMMY is a comprehensive portrait of the indestructible Motorhead singer and legendary rock god. The musical trend continues in STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS. Current conflicts are confronted in THE TILLMAN STORY which examines the controversy surrounding the death of a NFL player turned US soldier in Afghanistan. Other treats include the Egyptian themed MICROPHONE which is set in the vibrant underground music scene of Alexandria; AUTUMN which traverses the conflict in Kashmi; and LEAP YEAR, a Mexican feature which procured director Michael Rowe the Camera D’Or at Cannes. Finally to East Asia where the cultish Sion Sono is sure to deliver another crimson bloodbath with COLD FISH; then there is DEAR DOCTOR which is the third feature from Japan’s Miwa Nishikawa and Chang Tso-Chi’s warmly witty family piece WHEN LOVE COMES.
The BFI’s legendary reputation for conversation of this fragile art form will trumpet the digital restorations of two bona-fide classics – Renoir’s BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING and David Lean’s heroic THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI whilst the latest project from Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation will showcase a restored print of Edward Yang’s fascinating A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY. Numerous technical adversities have been surpassed to resurrect Pabst’s German Expressionist classic PANDORA’S BOX starring the silent film siren Louise Brooks. Proceedings are certain to get gritty with the pre-code films THE MATCH KING and THE MAYOR OF HELL, both of which featuring the iconic James Cagney, a potential mirror to the breezy screwball comedy TURNABOUT and captivating musical SUNNY SIDE UP. London’s post war atmosphere is captured in three short films restored by the BFI in BOW BELLS AND WATERLOO SUNSETS. Other restorations include the enormously influential agit-prop classic MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA and Manoel de Oliveira’s RITE OF SPRING.
The festivals guest list is a roll-call of cinema talent with the likes of Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, Hilary Swank, Julian Schnabel, Helena Bonham Carter, Naomie Harris, Pablo Trapero, Lisa Cholodenko, Gillian Wearing, Joanna Hogg, Ferzan Ozpetek, Richard Ayoade, Kim Longinotto and Apichatpong Weerasethakul all confirmed as attendees. The popular and fascinating strand of Screen Talk events will welcome the directors Darren Aronofsky and Mark Romanek but both, alas, are already sold out. Peter Mullan, Lisa Cholodenko, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Olivier Assayas will lead Masterclasses and if you’re lucky you can book tickets here.
Allow me to begin with a clumsy metaphor – over the past month big-screen film experiences for me have been like buses, you wait for weeks and then three come along at once. Last night I absorbed the epic, three and a half hour The Godfather II at the BFI, tonight I attended a special interview and Q&A with one of Southwark’s favourite acting legends – there is another that I’ll get to – and tomorrow I am privileged to conduct my first ever London Film Festival press screenings in the cosy confines of the NFT2 where I will be catching The American and Living On Love Alone – bring it on. My Godfather review will take a while to craft if I’m to do it justice, for now though let’s concentrate on another superb BFI event, a spirited and throughly entertaining interview with Sir Michael Caine, a true film legend of the UK whom is celebrating the publication of his new autobiography that covers his expansive sixty year career in the movies on both sides of the pond. As expected Caine was quite the polished raconteur, regaling the audience and interviewer Francine Stock with an assault of anecdotes and observations, concluding on a promising look forward to some imminent projects of a nocturnal variety….
BFI Director Amanda Nevill introduced the evening with an amusing artifact that had been pressed into her hand shortly before the session commenced - a BFI library card of a 1962 pedigree which belonged to one Maurice Micklewhite, amusingly his membership was revoked for not returning the texts he had borrowed. Full proceedings commenced with a clip of one of the all time great British crime films Get Carter, a performance that Caine explained was based on a man that he and his friends knew whilst growing up on the notorious Heygate Estate in central London. It transpires that once the film was released back in 1971 he bumped into said acquaintance in a club who wasn’t too impressed with the movie, explaining that he thought it was rubbish as Carter wasn’t married, that he didn’t have kids and therefore had no reason to conduct his bloody vengeance, as all he and his cronies ever did was protect themselves and their families from similar villains. A dubious assertion of course but as Caine explained he wasn’t about to start an argument with someone whom was reputed to have killed at least five other criminals, a figure whom was never even questioned by the rozzers for these alleged transgressions. I’ve always loved this film and if I ever get round to posting my favourite ever UK films you can be sure it will get the requisite commentary, as we incrementally approach my 500th post extravaganza I’m mulling over certain areas of coverage….
After years of bit-parts and small theatre performances Caine’s big break came with 1964′s Zulu, a film I’ve never particularly cared for but I concur that I haven’t seen it in many years. Caine revealed that when he attended the rushes of his first days work his reaction was not entirely favourable, despite seeing himself on TV many times prior to his initial big-screen exposure he threw-up on the spot, such was his disgust at his appearance and performance. I think that’s quite an honest, down to earth reaction which betrays his humble roots, an expression of insecurity which was compounded by his revelation that he has never attended a similar rushes session in the intervening 45 years of work. You’d think he’d have got the confidence of his skills by now eh?
Caine semi-retired back in the early nineties and concentrated on his then blossoming restaurant investments throughout the UK and America, it was only the intervention of his good friend Jack Nicholson that convinced him to perform in the badly received Blood and Wine picture that re-ignited his passion for the craft, although the film was a flop he was so enamoured with the creative experience that he threw himself back into the fray and garnered another Oscar, (the first was for Hannah & Her Sisters I think), another BAFTA and numerous other awards over the past two decades which has kept him fascinated with the craft. Stock pressed him on the observation that he seems to occupy the position of the wise sage these days, as an exposition figure in his recent roles in the likes of the Batman franchise and Children Of Men which he absorbed with charitable acceptance, dourly observing that as a 77-year-old man his Alfie themed leading man days are far behind him. Like most he wasn’t too fond of that terrible re-make although he praised Jude Law as a mis-cast figure in a badly constructed, slightly creepy script.
A slight aside – I’ve got some strangely fond memories of a direct to video film that I once watched during my video shop days called A Shock To The System which starred Caine and I must hunt it down again, it may well be rosy-tinted nostalgia but I recall it being an efficient little treatise on corporate revenge. The best anecdote of the night brings us back to that other Southwark bred cinema legend in response to a question from the audience on whether or not he’d enjoy the alleged prestige of a pub being named after him in some sort of true cockney kudos, Caine disclosed that he once went on something of an impromptu walk-around of his old stomping ground with the silent film legend Charlie Chaplin and whilst they didn’t exactly click it was a memorable experience. Caine asked Chaplin if he was aware that there was a pub named after him on the Elephant & Castle (I saw it when I worked round there last year – it looked grim) and Chaplin remarked that ‘yes, I was just in there. It was full of Irishmen’ – thus the conversation was officially over. That’s not the real punchline though, Caine elucidated that yes he and Charlie were born and raised in that part of the world but so was the son of a butcher back in the 17th century, a clergyman named John Harvard who emigrated to the US and established a certain Ivy League University – a story that Caine concluded with the verbal expression that ‘not a lot of people know that‘ – I’m sure you can imagine the applause.
Deathtrap was briefly mentioned and I remember enjoying this film for its puzzle film aspects, I’m intrigued to see that Sidney Lumet was behind its efficient direction so that’s another addition to the Lovefilm queue. A questioner asked if Michael intended on seeing the current West End production – ‘No’ he answered, ‘ because I know how it ends’. Keeping with the London theme another interrogator asked if after his experience making the De Palma Hitchcock homage/clone Dressed To Kill he ever had the opportunity to work with the portly master of suspense, it transpires that he was offered the lead in Frenzy but rejected the part on moral grounds, despite forging something of a friendship with Alfred over the previous few months (them both being Englishmen abroad with their own particular frames of reference and humor) on the Universal back-lot Hitch never spoke to him again. I’ve read similar tales that validate this type of irrational, almost childish behavior from writers, craftsmen and executives in response to Hitchcock’s business activities - those creative types really are quite fragile aren’t they? It wasn’t raised but I always like Caine’s journeyman, business man approach to his career, no doubt culled from his working class upbringing, one of the great tales revolving around a criticism of his appearance in the laughable Jaws 4: The Revenge. ‘No, I’ve never seen the film,’ Caine is quoted, ‘but I’ve seen the house it paid for and it is magnificent’. Finally of course we conclude with the recent Nolan collaborations, I’m not surprised to hear that Christopher crafts a paranoid control over scripts and story that extends back to their initial contact when he personally delivered the script of Batman Begins to Caine’s house in Surrey and personally oversaw his reading of the script, explaining that he could not leave this radioactive document with him for fear of spoilers lurking into the internet maelstrom. Nolan also codes all his documents with Blue Harvest style secrecy which Caine seemed vaguely bemused about, although recent press releases have confirmed that Part 3 is on the horizon Caine vaguely confirmed that shooting commences next May.
Finally an obvious choice considering the recent news but what else am I going to select eh? I missed the last Tony Curtis visit to London which is exemplified here, like the Stan Winston visit some years back I’m annoyed I didn’t make the effort for this, to my mind this only leaves Kirk as the only real personality of that golden age era – he’s outlived them all. So coming up soon will be the Godfather II review, some inclinations on the London Film Festival that I need to craft as part of my commitment to the press pass, some actual LFF reviews, now that we’re n October I need to consider another Halloween special, a potential 500th post mentalism and then the end of the year round-up. Stay tuned….and here is an obvious coda which is worthy of its pedigree;