Monday, 4 July 2016

Check The Gate Season - The Search for the American Soul in the Right Stuff

Check The Gate is a new season dedicated to presenting films on film that will run at the Prince Charles cinema this summer. It is a collaborative efforts curated by various journalists and film collectives such as our friends at The Badlands Collective. Among the impressive line-up, peppered with rare films and old favourites, the highlight might well be the 70mm presentation of The Right Stuff, probably one of the greatest American films ever made. Our contributor Andy Zachariason tells us why, and it feels fitting to publish it on this 4th of July.

In 1980 the silhouette of a man in a fedora and the crack of a whip signaled a new hero in American cinema and set the stage for the onslaught of 80s popcorn spectacles. Indiana Jones was the child of blockbuster wunderkinds Spielberg/Lucas and brought black and white morality. In 1982 an alien befriended a fatherless young boy and in doing so restored the balance of a nuclear family. In 1985 a teenage boy went back in time to 1955 to repair his parents marriage and restored order to the 1980s. The decade of Reagan era cinema is loaded with tales of returning to a "simpler" time, but there is one film that crystallized that 1950 American spirit and hero better than any other. In 1983 Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff, based on Tom Wolfe's novel, merged spectacle with decades of American discovery. It was as if the soul of American ingenuity had finally been given the proper scale.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra

The Colombian Amazon, 1909. German ethnologist Théo Von Martius (Jan Bijvoet) enlists shaman Karamakate (Niblio Torres) to help him find the mythical yakruna plant, which he hopes will cure his sickness. In return, Von Martius pledges to deliver Karamakate to the last of his people, the Cohiuano, from whom he has been separated since white Europeans descended to colonise the area. 

Ciro Guerra's film, shot in austere black-and-white, recounts their journey upriver into the heart of the rainforest while simultaneously telling the story of the older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) agreeing to take a second explorer, American botanist Evan (Brionne Davis), on the same quest in 1940.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Sundance London 2016

After a hiatus in 2015, The Sundance Film Festival finally made its highly anticipated return to London. The decision was made to move the festival from its original venue at the O2 Centre in North Greenwich to the far more central location of The Picturehouse in Soho. This venue which is barely a year old has already seen huge popularity amongst film fans in and around London.

On paper this should have been a great opportunity for the festival to pick up where it left off, and build on past successes, and in fairness it has somewhat succeeded in doing so. However, despite a great selection of films, it has failed to capture the imagination and for whatever reason some screenings had many unsold tickets left on the day.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Aferim! by Radu Jude - Review

Romanian auteur Radu Jude's latest sees him partner with novelist Florin Lazarescu for a first period piece, a tale of bigotry, duty and revenge set in 19th century Wallachia, then under Ottoman rule. 

Growing up under Communism when all that was taught in schools placed an exclusive emphasis on the heroic aspects of the region's history, Jude and Lazarescu set out to present a truer picture, trawling documentary evidence to find a story that might convey some of the murkier aspects of their homeland's heritage. Aferim! went on to win Jude the Silver Bear for Best Director at last year's Berlin International Film Festival. It's hard to dispute the jury's verdict, the director delivering a splendidly earthy vision of life as lived during a little-represented moment of Central Europe's turbulent past.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Ran by Akira Kurosawa - Re-release

If there ever was a film that would thrive through restoration, Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 epic Ran is that, and thanks to Studio Canal we are able to experience the film in all of its elegance.
Based selectively on Shakespeare’s King Lear and rooted in Japanese folklore, Ran follows a father and his three sons as corruption and competition throw them into war with each other. This invokes a dichotomy of status and influence, especially in the state of battle, where one’s great power can be lost and taken by another at the drop of a hat.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Measure of a Man by Stéphane Brizé - Review

Very few films in the last 10 years of social realist cinema have managed to achieve what Stéphane Brizé has in The Measure Of A Man (La Loi Du Marché). The film made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and its lead Vincent Lindon won a Best Actor award. It was also shown at last year’s London Film Festival, and was an early favourite with critics and festival-goers alike. It tells the story of a put-upon former factory worker Thierry (Vincent Lindon), who after giving the best years of his life to a job he excelled at is made redundant and forced to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of job seeking, retraining, and having to justify his unemployment benefit cheque every month. At first Thierry seems to be taking everything that is thrown at him in his stride, actively looking for work in his area of his expertise, but we soon see him becoming more and more exasperated by the unfairness of what has happened to him.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Rams by Grímur Hákonarson - Review

Grímur Hákonarson's bone-dry comedy drama, now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Soda Pictures, introduces us to rival Icelandic sheep farmers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson). The pair are feuding brothers whose lands lie adjacent and who nevertheless haven't spoken to one another for 40 years, relying on Somi the sheepdog to deliver messages back and forth - and only when absolutely necessary. The exact cause of their quarrel is obscured by the mists of time, although elder brother Kiddi, a temperamental alcoholic, appears to nurture a grievance about their long-dead father's decision to entrust Gummi with the family pastures rather than himself.