Monday, 31 August 2015

OBIT - WES CRAVEN


No director of horror movies was as influential in the modern era as Wes Craven. It is thus with regret that I write an obituary to the great man, who died yesterday, the 30th of August, aged 76, after a three-year battle with brain cancer. Alongside writing and directing some of the most seminal films of the last 45 years, Craven was also a keen bird conservationist and a novelist, but will be best known to the general public for his array of classics. The Last House on the Left can claim to be one of the most influential horror titles of all time and also one of American cinema's most compelling debut features; after that, he went on to make other memorable films such as The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare and Scream. He, like many horror filmmakers, was never popular with industry voting bodies, but impressed audiences and critics alike throughout his career, regularly bouncing back from a number of flops to turn out yet another work of genre excellence. He is survived by his wife, former Disney vice president Iya Labunka and his two children from a former marriage.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

REVIEW - MISTRESS AMERICA (NOAH BAUMBACH)


A look inside a generation, or a subset within a generation, from two insiders. You know you're getting the real deal when those insiders are as incisive as Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are, though for all the sense they infuse into their subjectivity, Mistress America is perhaps too sensitive to truly formulate a cohesive idea of what that generation represents. The film is a broad portrait with a fine touch, and too certain of its strengths as such to identify any of the weaknesses in itself that it finds, exploits and embraces in its characters. It's that embrace that brings Mistress America down, as it eventually betrays the coarseness that made its knife-edge dance of character development tolerable. Baumbach and Gerwig love these people, even as they encourage us to loathe them, and that bestows upon Mistress America a generous empathy that the actors run with, alongside a slight sycophancy mixed with superiority that, frankly, ought to be expected. The film's flaws are hard to forgive, in retrospect, since they emerge fully formed only toward its closing passage - until this point, it's a rather delightful, acerbic portrait of lost souls seemingly determined on never being found, forget about actually finding themselves. That knife-edge between astute and obnoxious is largely traversed with admirable precision, particularly in a variety of strong, perceptive performances; Gerwig is especially good at incorporating the comedic elements of her writing into the integral fabric of her character, and while the result may be too subtle for some, it's pretty super for the rest of us. That's the kind of detail that both invigorates Mistress America and somewhat spoils it - an obsessive intelligence on the behalf of its insider filmmakers.

Friday, 28 August 2015

REVIEW - TALE OF TALES (MATTEO GARRONE)


Engaging escapism from Matteo Garrone, a filmmaker whose admirable desire to depart from his own formula bears the same force as that formula once did, so abrupt is this departure. He approaches Tale of Tales with the same purity of style that one expects from Garrone, and suggestions that he puts said style to similar purposes here than before, though the effect is strikingly different. It's also simply striking, as Tale of Tales is a dazzling fantasy, a sensory feast fit for any of the film's royalty. This is the film's greatest asset, even if it's often stunted by lapses in quality and squandered on a project whose constituent parts barely even seem to be intended to coalesce into a whole. Three separate stories, each of them additionally fragmented perspectively, are edited together in a manner that works in terms of pace (the mythical grandeur of each of them better served by the 2-hour running time than were they isolated and their lengths abbreviated), but not in terms of narrative nor of tone. Therein, Garrone fumbles plot details - one story concludes with a pair of seemingly straightforward yet utterly indecipherable scenes - and indulges in overly-ornate dialogue, thereby ruining potentially fine performances from an able cast - one tale involving two elderly women and a besotted king in particular benefits from strong work by Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson. But all serve a higher power, and one that redeems Tale of Tales in just about every shot: its stylistic stature. Garrone's visual schemes are allegorically moot and thematically empty, but they're nonetheless spectacular. He recreates a visual version of the past set fantastically askew, captured in some of the finest cinematography Peter Suschitzky has ever produced, decorated with stunning production and costume designs, and adorned with Alexandre Desplat's beguiling score.

TRAILER FOR SEBASTIAN SILVA'S NASTY BABY


Sebastian Silva is well-liked at Screen On Screen. He's an indie filmmaker with genuine talent and a genuinely singular artistic countenance, and he's made consistently strong features to date. The inclusion of Kristen Wiig in the ensemble of his latest film, Nasty Baby, ought to help increase his international profile further. The film, whose first trailer is above, has screened only at festivals thus far this year, with early year showings at Sundance and Berlin. It's due to be released theatrically in the US on the 23rd of October, and would be a wise choice for arthouse audiences in select cities when it comes out.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

REVIEW - HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT (BEN SAFDIE AND JOSHUA SAFDIE)


A pointless film chronicles a pointless existence in Ben and Joshua Safdie's Heaven Knows What. And that's not criticism, it's recognition of the Safdies' formal mastery, and their empathetic acuity, though while they do possess the skill to turn so bleak and distressing a story as this into a compelling feature, as pointless as it may appear to be, one does occasionally wish for something more substantial to latch onto. The viewer slides down the slippery surface of this film, a gossamer-thin layer of sorrow and sheer hopelessness, hoping that the filmmakers might pierce through this layer at some point and pry deeper within; alas, we fall off its withering edge in the end, to see as we only could from a distance - its slight surface was all the substance it ever had. Perceptively edited to distort the passage of time as we understand it, we who have roofs over our heads, Heaven Knows What truly is an exceptionally expressive film, employing the full array of technical tools available to its team of dedicated indie filmmakers that it might depict its scenarios with unflinching honesty. That they do so without the pretense to impose upon their film any social commentary or metaphorical subtext is admirable and likely wise - their subjects themselves have few concerns beyond their basic, brutal needs. Arielle Holmes, whose own experiences the film is based directly upon, is first among equals in a cast of mostly non-pro performers, each and all of them both grounding the film in the kind of tonal accuracy it requires and elevating it in the process. Heaven Knows What has been made with a singularity of vision among all of its contributors - a difficult vision, no doubt, but a fine one.

Monday, 24 August 2015

REVIEW - THE WONDERS (ALICE ROHRWACHER)


A quiet little revolution, or an unassuming silent protest. It's an unexpected treat, to feel like you're witnessing something this fresh, when in fact it's as traditional as filmmaking gets. Alice Rohrwacher returns to rurality in The Wonders, a film of lulling beauty and charming, though not contrived simplicity. She recalls a way of life that is receding from the western world, and does so with a faintly nostalgic joy and sensitivity; simultaneously, she depicts encroaching modernity with a gleeful tackiness, one which she seems to imbue with almost equal artistic credence. Like Gelsomina, her enigmatic, wise young protagonist, Rohrwacher is torn between her love for one thing and her desire for another, yet her optimistic, emotionally-astute style of directing mitigates the melancholy with good-humoured grace. The Wonders is thus an enjoyable, affecting experience, whose emotive power is wholly earned, both through the quality of the direction and through the honest empathy of the screenplay. And even if it doesn't touch you as it touched me, even if its absurd strokes struck you as silly and its profound ones struck you as shallow, there's limitless beauty to behold in the glowing cinematography and the authentic production design. The landscape is crucial to The Wonders, whether natural or not, and perhaps most crucial of all to the success of Rohrwacher's conceit is the connection she ably forms between her characters and their surroundings, their lifestyle and that of the world they situate it in. The film doesn't so much suggest going back to nature, rather it lauds the cultivation of our role within nature. It's a lifestyle that she reconstructs, then swiftly deconstructs, and the result is a fleeting glimpse of magic.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

REVIEW - MIA MADRE (NANNI MORETTI)


Nanni Moretti makes movies like the great playwrights of old made plays - seemingly free of influence or interference, and defined more by their characters, their dialogue and their ideas than any sense of structure or form. What idiosyncratic structural value the works of those playwrights acquired, however, eludes Moretti, and Mia Madre is the latest example of this shortcoming, and perhaps its most profound to date. The depth and detail that radiates from this film at times is wholly absent from it at others, and the dichotomy is pronounced: Moretti has a handle on his lead character, though not on her work; emotional exchanges of dialogue, not philosophical nor narrative; a select few figures in his ensemble, and none of the others; drama, not comedy, as he attempts both. There's that lack of interference, that which is so valuable in European filmmaking, even as it entails that films such as Mia Madre will inevitably be made. Though the director himself stars in this film, he is clear that his psychological surrogate is Margherita Buy's filmmaker (naturally) - the metatextual significance that her profession contributes is unflattering to the film, as Moretti stages scenes of cumbersome metaphorical heft, betraying the inadequacy of his own mise-en-scene and naively reframing it as hers. Only in Buy's performance does the film suggest a higher level of quality, and she stresses the strain on her character in upholding different responsibilities to different people and purposes, always in a sensitive, heartfelt, naturalistic manner. There's a fantastic film in her face alone, better than the one her character is making, and better than Mia Madre.

Friday, 21 August 2015

2015 TIFF GALAS AND SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS ANNOUNCED


The newest additions to TIFF 2015's already expansive slate have been revealed. Organisers have declared new gala and special presentation titles, including the official closing night film, Paco Cabezas' Mr. Right with Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick and Tim Roth. Alongside the initial wave of 2015 titles, you can check out the films showing in other sidebars here, and the newly-created Platform strand here. All the new screenings are below:

Galas
  • Disorder (Alice Winocour)
  • Man Down (Dito Montiel)
  • Miss You Already (Catherine Hardwicke)
  • Mississippi Grind (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
  • Mr. Right (Paco Cabezas) - closing night film

Special Presentations
  • 45 Years (Andrew Haigh)
  • About Ray (Gaby Dellal)
  • Angry Indian Goddesses (Pan Nalin)
  • Being Charlie (Rob Reiner)
  • Body (Malgorzata Szumowska)
  • Equals (Drake Doremus)
  • I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham)
  • London Fields (Matthew Cullen)
  • Ma Ma (Julio Medem)
  • The Meddler (Lorene Scarafia)
  • Mr. Six (Guan Hu)
  • Mustang (Deniz Gamze Erguven)
  • My Mother (Nanni Moretti)
  • Our Brand Is Crisis (David Gordon Green)
  • A Tale of Love and Darkness (Natalie Portman)
  • A Tale of Three Cities (Mabel Cheung)
  • Truth (James Vanderbilt)
  • The Wave (Roar Uthaug)
  • The Witch (Robert Eggers)

2015 WORLD SOUNDTRACK AWARD NOMINATIONS


Nominations for three of five categories for the 2015 World Soundtrack Awards have been announced by the World Soundtrack Academy. Alexandre Desplat, Johann Johannsson and Hans Zimmer - all nominees for last year's Oscar (with Desplat the winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel) each receive two nominations, including Composer and Original Film Score. Nominations for Discovery of the Year are yet to be announced, and voting is open for the Public Choice Award on the WSA website. Current nominations are featured below:

Film Composer of the Year
  • Bruno Coulais (3 Coeurs / Diary of a Chambermaid / Fly Away Solo / Gemma Bovery / Mune, le Guardien de la Lune / Song of the Sea)
  • Alexandre Desplat (Everything Will Be Fine / The Imitation Game / Tale of Tales / Unbroken)
  • Michael Giacchino (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes / Inside Out / Jupiter Ascending / Jurassic World / Tomorrowland)
  • Johann Johannsson (The 11th Hour / Sicario / The Theory of Everything)
  • Hans Zimmer (Chappie / Interstellar)

Best Original Film Score of the Year
  • Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game)
  • Patrick Doyle (Cinderella)
  • Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything)
  • Antonio Sanchez (Birdman)
  • Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)

Best Original Song Written for a Film
  • Diego Luna, Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams - 'The Apology Song' (The Book of Life)
  • Lonnie Lynn, Che Smith and John Stephens - 'Glory' (Selma)
  • Rita Ora and Diane Warren - 'Grateful' (Beyond the Lights)
  • John Padgett and Saoirse Ronan - 'Tell Me' (Lost River)
  • Christopher Taylor and Joseph Trapanese - 'Carry Me Home' (Insurgent)

REVIEW - 13 MINUTES (OLIVER HIRSCHBIEGEL)


Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall felt like part of a nation's attempt at understanding its shameful history; Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 Minutes feels like an attempt at understanding one man, from filmmakers who already seem to think they do. The process of rendering extraordinary moments in history as banal accounts of contrived histrionics and faux nobility is one well covered in cinema, a tradition that informs 13 Minutes down to the slightest stylistic detail. It's not merely a humdrum film, it actually makes its remarkable true story seem humdrum too. Christian Friedel plays Georg Elser, a man who singlehandedly concocted a plan and created a bomb that very nearly killed Hitler mere weeks into WWII, and who was then incarcerated in Dachau until the end of the war, when he was shot dead just days before the camp was liberated... but that's not important. What's important is that he's a sensitive, charming, intelligent, honorable, non-violent, self-righteous, sexually-irresistible, morally-infallible genius! Women fawn over him, the Nazis respond to his pompous animosity with patience and reverence, and history shines upon him as one of the great human beings of all time. Hooray! 13 Minutes offers a few tantalising hints - intriguing suggestions of where its historical inquiry may lead - about a deeper, richer purpose to its pretentiousness: a potential rumination on the endurance of ideas and independent thought. These hints are few, though, and that inquiry never truly materialises - this screenplay already knows it has all its own answers, and is so eager to prove it that it gives its own game away in the first ten minutes, which are its strongest by a clear margin. Humdrum, hokey and an almighty missed opportunity.