Friday, 20 October 2017

Marshall By Reginald Hudlin

Reviewed By Linda Marric

As courtroom dramas go, you can’t do much better than Reginald Hudlin's brilliantly understated new feature film Marshall. This mid-budget surprise hit is everything you would want from the genre and much more; and the fact that it is based on a true story makes it all the more gripping. Chartering an early case in legendary civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall’s career, the film does a commendable job in reacquainting those of us who were less familiar with the man and his tireless fight against institutional racism against black people in the American justice system.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Reagan Show By Pacho Velez And Sierra Pettengill

Reviewed By Nick Tesco

The Reagan Show Directed by Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill this portrait cum documentary of Ronal Reagan unfurls solely through film clips from TV news programmes and White House archive material. There’s no new footage, no portentous commentary so the viewer is left to judge for themselves what substance, if any, Reagan actually possessed.

Focusing on the narrow topic of the arms reduction negotiations and treaty with the USSR, but not exclusively, the realisation slowly dawns that here was a man acting a role for some unknown body. As is always the case there is no obvious conspiracy, merely the understanding that vested interests were acting with impunity. All the familiar tropes are there for the aspiring right wing putative “leader of the free world” (© any right wing American), the use of simplistic language, evil, empire, freedom ad infinitum, the equating of freedom with the right to make money and the vacuity at the heart of the beast.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin by Simon Curtis

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin might not be one of the most perfectly executed films, but what it lacks in the direction stakes, it definitely manages to make up for with its genuinely heartwarming and deeply affecting storyline. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, the film offers a beautifully nuanced account of the story behind one of the most loved children’s books in history and the boy who became symbolic of an idyllic childhood in the English countryside in A.A Milne’s Winnie The Pooh books. Recounting the story behind the creation of all the characters who became part of most people’s childhood, the film present a flawed yet charming story arc which is certain to move its audiences to tears despite its obvious shortcoming.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Exception by David Leveaux

Reviewed By Nick Tesco

History is told through the prism of the Jeffrey Archer School rather than Hilary Mantel’s in this waste of a great cast. If you had the likes of Cristopher Plummer, Eddie Marsan and Lily James available to you surely you’d ensure that the story you told maintained some vague grip on historical reality. Yeah, I know this is escapism but puh-lea-se! Add Jai Courtney and Janet McTeer and the idea that a terrible waste of effort and talent takes root.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Little Mermaid (1976)

What's it all about?
You probably know, or think you do. This is a relatively close adaptation of the original Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of The Little Mermaid.

Why haven't you seen it?
I'm not sure whether I should credit the Disney film with being a help or hindrance in this case. On the one hand its popularity keeps the story in the consciousness, on the other, it has a tendency to eclipse other versions. I only heard of this film having become interested in Czech surrealism after seeing Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders, and let's just say that The Little Mermaid isn't a film you're very likely to stumble upon

Why should you see it?
As I alluded to above, Disney has, thanks to its position in popular culture, a way of taking ownership of the fairytales it adapts, and that certainly seems to be the case with The Little Mermaid. On the one hand, it's fair enough to lighten up what is a dark and sad tale for a young audience, on the other it's good to have a version that gets closer to the original intent of the story.

This isn't to say that Karel Kachyna's take on the tale is relentlessly grim, indeed it can be quite enchanting and beautiful. The film's first half hour takes place almost entirely under the sea, as the King of all the seas prepares for a birthday celebration marking one year before his daughter (Miroslava Safránková) is married and her husband will inherit the throne. The film doesn't exactly look as though it was hugely expensive, but whatever the budget the design is beautiful and intelligent. The Mer people wear flowing robes, have blue make up on the top halves of their faces and wear their hair up, with ocean debris sticking out in all directions.

Sets are adorned with sunken treasures from the human world, some the Mer people seem to understand (the King knows what swords are), but others are more obscure (“It's full of yellow circles” is the Little Mermaid's reaction to a chest of gold coins). Kachyna makes great use of these design elements as well as of very slight slow motion, which gives some key moments in the underwater kingdom a quality of movement that matches the design's creation of an otherworldly space.

It is only in the film's last half hour that the Little Mermaid (who is never given a name) trades her voice for a chance to go to the human world and have a Prince she rescued from drowning fall in love with her. The scene of the spellcasting is well done, with the witch laying out in detail the pain that the Mermaid must endure for this chance. Without playing up to it, it becomes a creepy moment. On land the film is rather more ordinary than it is underwater. The design isn't as inventive and while the acting is solid enough only  Safránková stands out. The ending does deliver on its tragic intent though and the story is well told throughout, it's just that the film marks itself out much more in its first hour.

The Little Mermaid isn't the masterpiece that Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (whose star, Jaroslava Schallerova, has a small part here) or Jan Svankmajer's Alice are, nor even as distinguished as Three Wishes For Cinderella and lacks their surreal edge. That said, it tells its story faithfully and, through its design, transports us to an underwater kingdom that feels truly like something out of a fairytale. It's well worth seeking out if you've seen the films mentioned above and are curious.

How can you see it?
This is strange. While researching this section I couldn't find a DVD release of this film, nor is it available on Amazon or Netflix, to my knowledge (if you look on a certain well known video site though, you'll find it easily enough). What I did stumble on is a RUSSIAN telling of The Little Mermaid, also from 1976, on Amazon's Prime streaming service. I've never seen it, but will be correcting that soon.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

London Film Festival 2017: Shorts

Real Gods Require Blood

This year's London Film Festival is playing well over 200 feature films, but often lost in the shuffle among the coverage of those are the short films that accompany each strand of the festival and which are often goldmines for spotting new talent. I'll be reviewing some of these over the course of the festival and here, to begin with, are four films, each from different strands.

The Artificial Humors [Short film award programme 1]
Dir: Gabriel Abrantes
The premise is kind of irresistible. Claude (Gilda Nomacce) creates a robot, which she names Andy Coughman, designed to test the limits of artificial intelligence. While learning to socialise, Coughman falls for Jo (Amanda Rodarte), a girl from a remote part of the Amazon but on the suggestion of a friend Claude decides to reprogram Coughman, making him the first AI standup comedian, but in the process he loses the memory of his love for Jo.

Almost Heaven By Carol Salter

Reviewed By Andy Zachariason

Good films drop an audience into a crevice of the world and show us how they reflect something larger that exists in our own lives. First time director Carol Salter has done just that with Almost Heaven, a documentary following Ying Ling, a seventeen-year-old who’s training to become a mortician in China.

This is a film that’s filled with dead bodies and mention of ghosts, yet it’s calm, gentle, never forced – comforting even; like a spa treatment for the soul. This observant and relaxed approach mirrors Ling’s own professionalism as she learns to prepare the deceased for their final moments in this world.