Wednesday, 8 October 2014

London Film Festival 2014: Hard To Be A God

"This is not Earth, it's another planet," announces the voice-over at the beginning of Aleksei German's Hard To Be a God (Trudno Byt Bogom), "About 800 years behind." That might sound like a minor variant on "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" - but in fact the setting is some time in the future, and the hellish 'city' of Arkanar is behind only in the sense that the "Renaissance didn't happen here." As both city leader Don Reba's 'Greys' (soldiers so-named for the colour of their uniforms) and the 'Blacks' in the powerful religious Order all vie to round up, torture and execute any 'wise guys' (artisans or intellectuals), a group of Scientists from Earth go undercover as local nobles of divine descent, observing the atrocities all around them and trying to insinuate some sort of Enlightenment without resorting to their own violent interventions. Yet as one of these Earthlings, 'Don Rumata' (Leonid Yarmolnik), is discovering, it is relatively easy to go native, but hard to be a god.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

London Film Festival 2014: The Duke Of Burgundy

His first feature, Katalin Varga (2009), is a rape/revenge story shot in Transylvania with exclusively Hungarian dialogue. His second feature, the metacinematic mystery Berberian Sound Studio (2012), is set in Seventies Italy and uses the grammar and tropes of giallo to explore the misogynies in and around an unseen horror film undergoing endless, infernal postproduction. Which is to say that writer/director Peter Strickland likes to inhabit the outermost limits of genre - and his latest, The Duke Of Burgundy, is no exception. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gone Girl Review

One thing that is most imperative about reading anything about director David Fincher's new film Gone Girl is that one needs to avoid all forms of spoilers. So this review will strive to do the same while suggesting that if anyone attempts to tell you anything about the plot of the film, to firmly place one's fingers in one's ears and run swiftly away. Adapted from her novel of the same name, Gillian Flynn's script requires the full two hours and twenty nine minutes running time to tease out the relationship and stories that emanate from Gone Girl.

When Nick Dunne's (Ben Affleck) beautiful blonde Ivy League wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, a media wave and then storm springs up around the story. Police are involved with suspicions raised as literal clues in envelopes turn up for Nick to solve. As the case progresses who Nick and Amy are is thrashed out via prime time seeking media shows and in the hearts and minds of the TV watching public.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

You And The Night: A Jean Rollin Electro Poem

As much as I like French cinema, one thing that has often been bothering me lately is its overt reliance on naturalism. Oh sure, it does it so well. But it is almost like all the film graduates from the grand old FEMIS cannot earn their stripes unless they go down that road. Yet where are the French Brian de Palma, Peter Greenaway, David Lynch, Apichatpong Weerasethakul even?... It is even more baffling considering how, within France itself, the new wave came up with such formally inventive films decades ago. I'm thinking Godard obviously, but also Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette... Sure there has been a lot of genre films coming from France over the last decade, but they don't offer a great deal in term of formal experimentation (apart perhaps from Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury).

Japan's Sun Rises Over The Raindance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival, America’s mecca of indie cinema, was never so-called for taking place in sunny times. On the contrary, January in Utah is the season of extreme cold and much snow, and Park City at that time attracts skiers as much as cine-hipsters. Rather, Sundance ultimately takes its name from one of the best known on-screen rôles by festival godfather Robert Redford. Still, the name of festival's transatlantic counterpart Raindance is an example of dry British humour about wet weather, in resigned recognition of the precipitation that tends to characterise the English autumn in which the festival takes place. Yet it needn't all be grim, damp and cold - for even as the sun sets on the British summer, this year's Raindance features a showcase of films from the Land of the Rising Sun, with special emphasis on filmmakers in the springtime of their careers. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

In Order Of Disappearance Review

The same week that quiet, diligent snowplow operator Nils (Stellan Skarsgård) receives Citizen of the Year from his local Norwegian town, his son is murdered by a drug cartel. Nils knows his son to have been innocent and just as diligently as he clears the snow for his fellow citizens, he begins to clear a path through the drug organisation that killed him to find out who ultimately gave the order.

This puts him in the sphere of the drug kingpin Ole also known as The Count (Pål Sverre Hagen) a highly strung, beautifully tailored vegan crime boss teetering on the edge of a nervous break down. As the body count increases causing a dent in Ole's staffing ranks, assumptions are made about the source of the saboteur which results in the involvement of a Serbian drug cartel led by a figure known as Papa (Bruno Ganz).

Sunday, 7 September 2014

FrightFest 2014: Day 3

It seems to be an enduring trend of film festivals that it is often the directors you expect the most who let you down, while it is those films you did not know anything about it that surprise you. And FrightFest this year was no exception. The best film I saw was one I did not know or expect anything from, Faults by Riley Stearns.

In it, Ansel (Leland Orser), an expert on mind control is enrolled by concerned parents whose daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has fallen into the clutch of a weird cult. Having kidnapped her and confined her to a motel room to do his work, it is safe to say that Leland had not anticipated the turn of events, leading to a mental game of cat and mouse. Faults is Sundance-y to the max, but not in an annoying, kooky romantic comedy with a ukulele kind of way, more in a resolutely independent, creative and original way. And it is a tribute to the festival they have extended the boundaries of their selection to include some less obvious candidates such as this. If anything, I often felt during FrightFest that I was seeing a much more interesting snapshot of the US indie cinema than I did at Sundance London earlier this year.