Friday, 29 July 2016

REVIEW - MEN & CHICKEN (ANDERS THOMAS JENSEN)


A self-consciously quirky Danish comedy that seems to promise only hammy puerility, Men & Chicken ultimately proves its worth as a feature, if only in comparison to initial expectation. Well-acted and benefitting from punchy dialogue and a fitfully engaging, if predictable, plot, it's a cut above its cinematic kin in aiming for several cuts below and somehow succeeding. Anders Thomas Jensen markets himself here as a childish provocateur, but sells himself as a decent filmmaker, making a thoroughly indecent film. And if you're wholly prepared for the additional strain of subtextual social commentary, you're perhaps not so prepared for the keenness of Jensen's observations, even if he never stretches himself in the complexity of what he intends to say. Men & Chicken stays true to its off-colour comedic tendencies throughout, indeed only adds insult to injury in this regard (in the worst taste yet to largely good effect), and never truly evolves into a work of artistic or philosophical significance; its improvements are made only as the integrity of Jensen's tonal tastelessness becomes more apparent, and as the film settles into its identity as a beautifully ugly work of low art. Its finest attributes are mostly mitigated by the obviousness of its premise, the self-awareness of the execution of that premise, and the limitations of Jensen's straightforward mise-en-scene, but they're never utterly erased. What exists in this film is a modest success on its own terms, and thus a great deal more than it promises to be.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

REVIEW - CHEVALIER (ATHINA RACHEL TSANGARI)


A Greek New Wave film that, finally, has some relation to reality. Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier may lack the distinctiveness of her former work, and that of her national filmmaking compatriots, but it's in possession of a winning combination of incisiveness and affability, giving it warmth and depth in equal measure. A satirical lambaste of masculinity in the damage it wreaks upon itself, this caustic comedy recognizes its male characters' inescapable tenure to society in general - a society that is, alas, designed by the man for the benefit of his other men - just as their boat maintains its ties to the mainland dock. With a strong ensemble over nine roles, Tsangari examines the nature of masculinity and its manifestations in every available aspect, with results that are pleasantly predictable alongside those that are quite the opposite. Naturally, absurdity and bleakness define much of what these men do, and much of what we make of it, but Tsangari never capitulates to these such specific temptations. The absurd quality is attained organically, through her ever-objective gaze upon actions that may feel normal to their perpetrators, but certainly don't appear normal to their audience. And that normalcy is threaded throughout Chevalier, helping to uphold the crucial detail of keeping these unbelievable acts entirely believable in context. It's only out of context, in the filmmaker's aforesaid objectivity, that her satire truly takes shape. As such, Chevalier remains a somewhat shapeless film, one which might have reaped greater rewards from indulging in those temptations - it's arguably at its best in its more immediately engaging, occasionally graphic moments. It's a fine line that is walked here between reality and absurdity, however, and one which this film largely walks well.

VENICE LINEUP ANNOUNCED: ARRIVAL, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, VOYAGE OF TIME IN THE MIX


The Venice Film Festival has revealed its full slate of screeners for its 73rd edition, following the announcement of the Venice Days selection. Major American titles such as Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals (both starring Amy Adams), Damien Chazelle's fest opener La La Land, Pablo Larrain's Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie - his second major festival competition entry of the year, following Neruda, which showed at Cannes - and Terrence Malick's IMAX documentary Voyage of Time make the cut. Alongside those buzzed-about features are plenty from esteemed international auteurs such as Andrey Konchalovskiy with Paradise, Wim Wenders with The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, and Lav Diaz with The Woman Who Left - another director debuting a second film in competition at a top fest, following his 8-hour Berlin prize winner A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery. Plenty of promise in the other strands too! Check it all out below:

Venezia 73
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour)
The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez (Wim Wenders)
Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven)
El Ciudadano Ilustre (Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat)
El Cristo Ciego (Christopher Murray)
Frantz (Francois Ozon)
Jackie (Pablo Larrain)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle) - opening film
The Light Between Oceans (Derek Cianfrance)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
On the Milky Road (Emir Kusturica)
Paradise (Andrey Konhcalovskiy)
Piuma (Roan Johnson)
Questi Giorni (Giuseppe Piccioni)
La Region Salvaje (Amat Escalante)
Spira Mirabilis (Massimo d'Anolfi and Martina Parenti)
Une Vie (Stephane Brize)
Voyage of Time (Terrence Malick)
The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)

Orizzonti
500,000 Years (Chai Siris)
Amalimbo (Juan Pablo Libossart)
Big Big World (Reha Erdem)
Bitter Money (Wang Bing)
Boys in the Trees (Nicholas Verso)
Ce Qui Nous Eloigne (Hu Wei)
Colombi (Luca Ferri)
Dadyaa (Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung)
Dark Night (Tim Sutton)
Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)
Die Einsiedler (Ronny Trocker)
First Night (Andrei Tanase)
Good Luck, Orlo! (Sara Kern)
Good News (Giovanni Fumu)
Gukoroku (Ishikawa Kei)
Home (Fien Troch)
Kekszakallu (Gaston Solnicki)
King of the Belgians (Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth)
Liberami (Federica di Giacomo)
Malaria (Parviz Shahbazi)
Maudine Poutine (Karl Lemieux)
Midwinter (Jake Mahaffy)
Molly Bloom (Chiara Caselli)
On the Origin of Fear (Bayu Prihantoro Filemon)
Il Piu Grande Sogno (Michele Vannucci)
Reparer les Vivants (Katell Quillevere)
Le Reste est l'Oeuvre de l'Homme (Doria Achour)
Ruah (Flurin Giger)
Samedi Cinema (Mamadou Dia)
Sao Jorge (Marco Martins)
Stanza 52 (Maurizio Braucci)
Tarde para la Ira (Raul Arevalo)
Through the Wall (Rama Burshtein)
La Voz Perdida (Marcelo Martinessi)
White Sun (Deepak Rauniyar)

Take a look below the cut for La Biennale's other sidebars, including some hotly-anticipated world premieres showing out of competition:

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

REVIEW - THE BFG (STEVEN SPIELBERG)


Real magic happens when you're not looking. Turn your attention to the trick, and that magic is lost - though we think we want to know, we never truly do. You likely weren't looking for, nor expecting, real movie magic when you sat down to your favourite film, the one most likely to evoke a sense of satisfaction and nostalgia in your memory. Steven Spielberg trades in this stuff regularly, and herein lies the issue: he wants to evoke those same senses in his audience, but the production of nostalgia relies upon the reproduction of an experience in the mind, and it's impossible to reproduce an experience in the same moment in which it's occurring. Thus, The BFG, which is so overtly an attempt to actively produce nostalgia, comes across more as a magic trick with all the sleight of hand made manifest in its every movement, rather than the real movie magic to which it aspires. The technique is strong, the execution stronger still, but the purpose is corrupt. The film is better when it lays off the wonder and whimsy, and hones in on character. A most British film in style and tone when dialogue takes over, here is where this most American director finds his feet. The BFG exploits the charm of Roald Dahl's prose and the skill of actor Mark Rylance to create a work that's as affable and heartwarming as it's intended to be. It's a broad comedy adventure in the mould of a dramatic family film, and boldly commits to its wholesome British eccentricity. Spielberg's regular collaborators turn in smart work, from Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg's lovely production design to John Williams' score, one of his best in recent years.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES FIRST BATCH OF 2016 FILMS


Here's your first gander at the films most intent upon scoring with the awards ceremony set to arrive later this year, and a few others, simply content with the raise in profile that an appearance at a major international festival provides. The Toronto International Film Festival takes place between the 8th and the 18th of September this year, and will serve as a launching pad for many of the year's most popular films, no doubt, not least given the sheer number of world premieres in the below lists. It's a big fest, so this big list - comprising Galas and Special Presentations (and likely not even all of them) - will only get bigger over the coming days and/or weeks, with further strands being announced. Take a look at the lot below:

Galas
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg)
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig) - closing night film
The Headhunter's Calling (Mark Williams)
The Journey Is the Destination (Bronwen Hughes)
JT + the Tennessee Kids (Jonathan Demme)
LBJ (Rob Reiner)
Lion (Garth Davis)
Loving (Jeff Nichols)
The Magnificent Seven (Antoine Fuqua) - opening night film
A Monster Calls (J. A. Bayona)
Planetarium (Rebecca Zlotowski)
Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair)
The Rolling Stones Ole Ole Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America (Paul Dugdale)
The Secret Scripture (Jim Sheridan)
Snowden (Oliver Stone)
Strange Weather (Katherine Dieckmann)
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig)
A United Kingdom (Amma Asante)

Special Presentations
The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee Woon)
All I See Is You (Marc Forster)
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor)
Asura: The City of Madness (Kim Sung Soo)
Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh)
Barry (Vikram Gandhi)
Birth of the Dragon (George Nolfi)
The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker)
Bleed for This (Ben Younger)
Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann)
Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven)
BrOTHERHOOD (Noel Clarke)
Carrie Pilby (Susan Johnson)
Catfight (Oner Tukel)
City of Tiny Lights (Pete Travis)
The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg)
Daguerrotype (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)
A Death in the Gunj (Konkona Sensharma)
Denial (Mick Jackson)
Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Foreign Body (Raja Amari)
Frantz (Francois Ozon)
The Handmaiden (Park Chan Wook)
Harmonium (Fukada Koji)
I Am Not Madame Bovary (Feng Xiao Gang)
The Journey (Nick Hamm)
King of the Dancehall (Nick Cannon)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
The Limehouse Golem (Juan Carlos Medina)
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Mascots (Christopher Guest)
Maudie (Aisling Walsh)
Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
The Oath (Baltasar Kormakur)
Orphan (Arnaud des Pallieres)
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola)
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
Salt and Fire (Werner Herzog)
Sing (Garth Jennings)
Souvenir (Bavo Defurne)
Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Love)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith)
Una (Benedict Andrews)
Unless (Alan Gilsenan)
The Wasted Times (Chang Er)

WOMEN AT THE FORE IN 2016 VENICE DAYS SELECTION


The Venice Days section, an unofficial sidebar of the Venice Film Festival, has announced its screenings for its 2016 edition. Films from female directors are given special prominence in this year's lineup, with 7 of the 19 titles hailing from women. The competition entries here will compete for the Venice Days award, worth €20,000, with the top prize decided upon by a jury presided over by Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce - certain to produce an interesting result! Additionally, there will be an audience award for the section, and the several first works in the selection will also be eligible for the Luigi de Laurentiis award, which covers all of the festival's strands. Venice Days' 12th edition will take place between the 31st of August and the 10th of September. Check out their choices below:

Competition
Guilty Men (Ivan D. Gaona)
Heartstone (Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson)
Hounds of Love (Ben Young)
Indivisible (Edoardo de Angelis)
Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy Jr.)
Polina (Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj)
The Road to Mandalay (Midi Z.)
Quit Staring at My Plate (Hana Jusic)
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell)
The War Show (Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon) - opening film
Worldly Girl (Marco Danieli)

Women's Tales Project
Seed (Kawase Naomi)
That One Day (Crystal Moselle)

Special Events
Always Shine (Sophia Takal)
Coffee (Cristiano Bortone)
Il Profumo del Tempo delle Favole (Mauro Caputo)
Rocco (Thierry Demaiziere and Alban Teurlai)
Vangelo (Pippo Delbono)
You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski (Matteo Borgardt)

REVIEW - STAR TREK BEYOND (JUSTIN LIM)


The first, last and strongest feeling one detects in Star Trek Beyond is one of liberation. Free from the fanboy-baiting wankery of predecessor Star Trek Into Darkness, this refreshed franchise ironically returns to the kind of quaint charms that once built such a fervent fanbase. Granted, there was always something slightly ropey about both the design and the execution of even these modern editions, but Beyond may be the first in a long time to truly embrace its inferiority in a landscape dominated by mega-blockbusters and their expanded cinematic universes. If the mistakes of the previous film are corrected, though, this film acquires some of its own - it's fitfully entertaining, but never the breathtaking thrill-ride it aspires to be. Justin Lim directs with a lack of visual imagination, and perhaps even a curious bewilderment in the action scenes; a Fast & Furious veteran, you'll not see much of his usual aptitude for action in this film's cluttered, incoherent setpieces. That same lack of imagination extends into Beyond's scenario, arguably even originating from it, as Doug Jung and Simon Pegg's script offers little more than the same old storylines. If that's what allows the film to recapture some of the old Star Trek spirit, it also prevents it from venturing, well, beyond it. It's all distinctly average and predictable; thus, one's attention is drawn to whatever standout details it can find. The makeup effects are quite spectacular! Michael Giacchino's score is typically magisterial! Sofia Boutella really cannot act! Shame, but aren't they all having fun? A little more liberation, and then maybe I'll be having fun too.

OBIT - MARNI NIXON


Arguably the most recognizable film star with only three visible appearances on screen, legendary vocalist Marni Nixon has died. She had breast cancer and was 86, and passed on Sunday the 24th of July. Contracted as a replacement for the singer hired to dub Deborah Kerr's voice for the musical numbers in the 1956 classic The King and I after the first singer's sudden death, Nixon's career took off with this high-profile appointment. You couldn't quite say she shot to fame, however; the studio refused her a credit and threatened to kick her out of Hollywood should anyone ever find out that it was her voice, not Kerr's, on the soundtrack. But her screen credits racked up from there: An Affair to Remember, again dubbing for Kerr, West Side Story for Natalie Wood, and My Fair Lady for Audrey Hepburn. She appeared in The Sound of Music in a brief role as Sister Sophia, and can be heard on the soundtracks to Disney animated films Cinderella and Mulan. Quite an estimable resume, one which Nixon justly exploited to good end with a successful career on the stage following her experiences in film. Married three times, including to Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold, Nixon is survived by her three children, Andrew, Martha and Melanie.

Monday, 25 July 2016

REVIEW - MARGUERITE & JULIEN (VALERIE DONZELLI)


A bold, thoughtless experimental work from a director who might have taken the care to test her experiments out beforehand were she a smarter stylist. Valerie Donzelli runs on ambition and intuition alone in Marguerite & Julien; ideas and inspiration abound, but mostly untethered to any particular tenet of the film's core concerns. Even where one detects some degree of connection between concept (the multitudinous anachronistic details) and purpose (evoking a sense of timelessness in the love story), one does not detect any similar degree of substance to the connection - it's juvenile and lacking proper form. The film exists on no solid ground, an exercise in flimsy silliness - there's a soap opera quality to the controversial plot and its melodrama-courting extremities of emotion, though bereft of the spectacular commitment that many such soaps or telenovelas invest in service of their storylines, Donzelli thus betrays the very nature of her project. Rather, it often seems like the loose, frantic daydreams of a romantic adolescent, with even the awkward half-heartedness of a teenager's uneducated embrace of sexuality. In this regard, Donzelli truly strikes a miss: Marguerite & Julien is pure taboo, suffused with salacity from start to finish. Here, the taboo is broken early and often, though generally only in theory, or in indirect discussion. The openness negates the essential scandalousness of the subject by largely not following through on it, instead leaving it unacknowledged, thereby failing either to maintain the taboo (and so fatally dismantling the controversiality) or to deconstruct it (and so perpetuating it). Points for trying something different, though the actual act of 'trying' is in dispute.