Saturday, 28 May 2016

REVIEW - THE DAY BEFORE THE END (LAV DIAZ)


Shouting into the void: not the past but the future, a cultural landscape devastated by indifference. The West has infiltrated the East, usurped its codes and conventions with its own, creating a clusterfuck of nonsense, and its silent, sinister wake. Lav Diaz once more pulls from the past to illustrate the present, and gives a glimpse of that future in The Day Before the End, a montage of bewilderment that will bewilder its viewers. Who, what, why: any number of questions, and many more answers, though too few of any discernible consequence. In Diaz's desolation, you take what you can. He respects artists, and the artistic process, but laments the perceived pointlessness therein - the actors unheard, unnoticed, standing strong and shouting, preserving for preservation's sake. He loves his country, or is it just an idea of his country, an aspiration for it? Is it more of a reminiscence that he prefers, one lifted from the works of other artists, foreign artists? If his nation's self-destruction was not, in fact, by itself, but by Western influence, then can its salvation truly be Shakespeare, a paragon of Western culture? Or is that salvation too merely a reminiscence, a poignant reminder from what is before? And he fears - a danger that is identified yet unidentifiable, something at stake, but exactly what? Equally unidentifiable. If it truly is the day before the end, what to do? Diaz gives up and keeps going, a hopeless harbinger yet a determined one. If all we can do is shout into the void, then at least someone has something to shout about.

Friday, 27 May 2016

REVIEW - NINA (CYNTHIA MORT)


Incompetence reigns in Nina, a blazing beacon to light the way of 'What Not To Do' when making a movie. An exploitative industry unmasked and unwittingly unpicked in this most egregious example of it - in the basic conceit and in the efforts to disguise that exploitation. Put simply: to 'honour' the life of Nina Simone, one of the most gifted, outspoken, influential figures in the Civil Rights Movement, with a treatment so dishonest, so misguided is a grave insult to the woman herself and to the whole movement; to proffer the legitimacy of that treatment, to insist upon its artistic and political merit, is to discredit all that both she and they stood for. Nina is no mere mistake either, since its callous distortion of history and honesty is entirely willful, an attempt at bolstering dramatic intensity at the expense of dramatic integrity. This is a common trait among films based on true events, but it's a despicable one when it contributes to a betrayal of the nature and purpose of those events. To boot, Nina is also an example of hideous filmmaking, truly awesome awfulness. Cynthia Mort's direction is devoid of atmosphere, structure, at times even a fundamental understanding of how to frame an image so that it is comprehensible. Her script is one clunking platitude after another, lacking in the most rudimentary knowledge of its subject's character, consistently shoehorning truths about her life into false constructs to add more conventional 'colour.' Speaking of colour, the skin-darkening makeup on Zoe Saldana is as offensive as the effort to make this size 2 stunner appear plump is stupid; Saldana is no better, barely approximating Simone's speaking voice, completely missing her singing voice, imbuing her with not a jot of her passion at any point. It's a horrible, amateurish impersonation, resembling Simone no more than it resembles a human being, which is rather little indeed. A catastrophic biopic - surely one of the worst ever made.

OFFICIAL TRAILER FOR ANDRZEJ ZULAWSKI'S COSMOS


Here's the trailer for Andrzej Zulawski's Cosmos, and it's as wondrously bizarre as one would hope for. A prize-winner upon premiering last Summer at the Locarno International Film Festival, it finally arrives in US screens on the 17th of June. Be sure to catch it, since it is the final film from this maverick filmmaker - Zulawski died on the 17th of February.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

REVIEW - LAND OF MINE (MARTIN ZANDVLIET)


The allure of prestige picture status hampers so many international mid-budget productions, predominantly those of a historical nature. Martin Zandvliet's Land of Mine is one such production - modestly mounted, helmed with sense and sensitivity, but hindered by adherence to commercial tropes and bland stylistic choices. And it's regrettably unambitious too, identifying the virtue of its story in its very existence, rather than examining it with any discernible insight. Alas, Zandvliet isn't entirely incorrect in this assumption: Land of Mine's unfamiliar but true, dramatically rich story of young German POWs forced to sweep the Danish coast for Nazi landmines shortly after WWII is a compelling one, and deserving of respect and some level of accuracy in its treatment. This it is provided by Zandvliet's gentle, measured approach, but if there's any point to the film it is made early and often, with no development beyond the obvious. Indeed, Land of Mine traces wretchedly obvious narrative lines from beginning to end, thus signposting each of the supposedly shocking events that occur and nullifying their emotional impact. Yet average filmmaking reaps some rewards, getting as much right as its gets wrong. Performances are shoehorned into melodramatic conflicts and resolutions, but are uniformly capable; period recreation is strong, with an admirably authentic feel to everything but the overcooked grey tint of the cinematography. It's a mistake, but an expected one, in a film where virtually everything is expected; it's one thing this story definitely does not deserve, though - a faded postcard aesthetic, resigning Land of Mine to history. The film itself may suffer a similar fate.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

FINDING DORY: TRAILER #3


Drag SeaWorld! Drag it to the bottom of the ocean and let it drown! Much as I, unlike many, do not consider Finding Nemo to be among Pixar Animation Studio's best works, it's nevertheless a lovely adventure movie, so my hopes and expectations are understandably high for the sequel, Finding Dory. Pixar are being their usual irritating selves with the release date strategy, though: out on the 17th of June in the US and on the 29th of July in the UK. Check out the first and second trailers for Finding Dory too.

REVIEW - A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING (TOM TYKWER)


A film, stranded as its lead, in the strange desolation of Dave Eggers' prose, with a mandate to idiosyncrasy. Tom Tykwer soon establishes a rhythm and a tone that fulfill that mandate, as the experienced cinephile might expect of him; and who better than this director to craft a work so fulsome in its design, from material so reticent to assist. Tykwer's films aren't just mere dabblers in the art of emotional architecture, they're devotees of it. Few working filmmakers today examine the influence of our immediate surroundings on our mental state with such depth and with such detail as Tykwer, and A Hologram for the King is a consistently interesting, surprising continuation of this artistic obsession. There's a vibrancy to every moment, every movement, that is matched by the tone of the film - buoyant, ebullient, sun-drenched and silly. As per, the bigger the budget, the less the strain on the filmmakers' collective creativity; one rather wishes to feel some sense of resistance in A Hologram for the King, some grit, some flaw in the construction that might better reflect the protagonist's feeling of depressed dislocation. We observe his ennui without ever engaging in it, and the film's odd lack of ambition is uncovered in its inability to approach this topic from another angle, or arguably at all. For something so apparently esoteric in style and content, A Hologram for the King is unusually entertaining, in a very commercial manner, and not unwelcomely so. 'Strange... surprising... odd... unusual:' on paper (or on screen), it's literally all of the above. In person, though, this is a most affable, enjoyable film, and all the more surprising for that.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

REVIEW - X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (BRYAN SINGER)


Styled from the syntax of the superhero movie, X-Men: Apocalypse is a dead-weight entry into a franchise whose reputation diminishes as its size expands. Any more expansion and this film would explode - it's blustered bloat from first to last, too much CGI, too many characters, too much bombast and portent, too much of everything. The old X-Men movies cared about their characters; Apocalypse cares only for their plot-pushing potential. The old movies cared about place, location, spatial dynamics; Apocalypse cares only for monolithic digital extravaganzas, soulless, gargantuan creations of derivative imaginations. The old movies employed silence not as an accent to the action but for its own virtues; Apocalypse is brash, noisy, sound and fury signifying, alas, nothing. Bryan Singer is getting progressively worse at making his X-Men films genuinely meaningful, and ever less sensitive as to the broader implications their barely-surviving subtext might possess. The film is a stylistic nightmare, and a conceptual one too, but does it succeed on its own terms, as entertainment? Sad that a franchise that once challenged the mindlessness of its genre has now succumbed to it, but this film is at least serviceable in this regard. It has moments of menace, and of levity, the latter largely attributable to Evan Peters, who's underused here but far from alone in this respect. So much happens, or merely seems to happen, that none of the film's finer qualities are granted the time and energy to properly develop, though a number of effective action sequences are nonetheless enjoyable. That this is what the X-Men films have come to may have been inevitable, if they were to survive in this era of mega-franchises, but it's no less disappointing for that fact.

Monday, 23 May 2016

REVIEW - THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY (ANDREW ROSSI)


And filmmakers think they have it hard. A glitzy gathering of the world's most beloved purveyors of plastic surgery may not seem the ideal arena in which to push the point that fashion is (or can be) art. The naysayers would likely take one look at the Met Gala and scoff, again, but Andrew Rossi takes a closer look, and confirms it for those who were so foolishly undecided: of course it's art. And of course The First Monday in May is art too, whether or not it knows it - it's plain and unambitious in its artistic impulses, but it's art all the same. A deeper, fuller, more probing approach toward developing a synergy between the efforts on display in the film and those behind the scenes in Rossi's camp might have engendered a worthier, more profound examination of its subject. As it is, The First Monday in May is enjoyable, engaging, gently thought-provoking and less gently ravishing to behold. The Costume Institute Gala is a tribute to the clothes; a flurry of photographs plastered online once a year achieves the same effect, so Rossi alters his focus, making his film a tribute to the work that goes into the gala. It's potentially the least clothing-orientated film about fashion ever made. It's far from bereft of glamour, though, and if you find yourself living for the production design, you'll find yourself dying for the fashion. And those who don't, those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this art form for what it is, may join in a game of comparison: Guo Pei's 2-years-in-the-making piece for Rihanna, or whatever scrubs you're currently sporting. You bet fashion is art.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

I, DANIEL BLAKE SHOCKS TO WIN A SECOND PALME D'OR FOR KEN LOACH


And, with that, the best chance in over 20 years of a woman winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival just died. Maren Ade's universally acclaimed Toni Erdmann had already won the FIPRESCI Prize and was the overwhelming favourite to win the whole shebang; a pre-ceremony rumour suggested that jury president George Miller hadn't liked the German director's comedy, however, and that it might go home empty-handed... as indeed it did. Instead, the Palme went to Ken Loach for his film I, Daniel Blake, permitting Loach to join the esteemed ranks of the few directors to have won two Palmes, after his win ten years ago for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. And there were plenty more surprises among the awards this evening, as you can see below:

Palme d'Or
I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)

Grand Prix
It's Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan)

Prix du Jury
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)

Prix de la Mise-en-Scene
Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper)
Cristian Mungiu (Graduation)

Prix d'Interpretation Feminine
Jaclyn Jose (Ma' Rosa)

Prix d'Interpretation Masculine
Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman)

Prix du Scenario
Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman)

Camera d'Or
Divines (Uda Benyamina)

Short Film Palme d'Or
Timecode (Juanjo Gimenez)

Short Film Special Mention
The Girl Who Danced with the Devil (Joao Paulo Miranda Maria)

Palme d'Honneur
Jean-Pierre Leaud

CANNES 2016: FINAL PREDICTIONS INCLUDE TONI ERDMANN FOR THE PALME


21 films in, and with all other awards now distributed (except the Camera d'Or, which will take place during tonight's Ceremonie de Cloture), film fans will spend today pondering and predicting as to the fate of the films in Cannes 2016's Official Competition. Despite some major duds in the lineup, and a general slackening in quality toward the festival's end, the consensus seems to be that this year's batch was a vintage one (just don't ask Peter Travers...). Below, a brief analysis of how SOS thinks the awards could go down, as well as some highly tentative predictions.


Palme d'Or
Naturally, one must expect the best-reviewed film of the festival to stand the best shot at winning its top award, and what better than the best-reviewed film of any Cannes Film Festival in recent years? For once, a female-directed film - the likes of which are generally rare in Official Comp - leads the way, with Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann claiming a record high on Screen Daily's 2016 Jury Grid. Whether or not George Miller's nine-strong festival jury will agree is impossible to say, but it's rightly regarded as being at the front of the queue by most onlookers.
Prediction: Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Runners-Up: 2Elle (Paul Verhoeven) / 3) Paterson (Jim Jarmusch) / 4) Graduation (Cristian Mungiu) / 5) Aquarius (Kleber Mendonca Filho)


Grand Prix
The obvious choice for Cannes' second place award would surely be the film one predicts as second-most-likely to win the Palme, right? But the awards work differently from that, and beyond the Palme, the jury may opt to place some of their other favourite films in individual achievement categories. I consider Cristian Mungiu's Graduation a safe choice for a top award, given that it's a relatively soft contender in some of the other categories.
Prediction: Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)


Prix du Jury
The wider film community seems to be in agreement: Aquarius' Sonia Braga is the favourite to win the Female Performance award. Despite her status, and the reported standard of her work in the film, that's a hotly contested category this year; Aquarius is also strong in the top awards, and could prove a surprise winner of the Palme. I'm not predicting Kleber Mendonca Filho's first Cannes entry to perform that well, but it would do well to win the Jury Prize instead.
Prediction: Aquarius (Kleber Mendonca Filho)


Prix de la Mise-en-Scene
Cannes' Best Director award can often poach some of the more challenging, auteuristic films from the top award categories. These tend to be among the festival's most divisive, stylised offerings. It's reasonable to predict Paul Verhoeven's Elle to win something this evening, and my bet is that it'll take this award: the clearest shot it has at a win. Verhoeven's an icon by this stage in his career, and would be a popular winner in this often-overlooked category.
Prediction: Paul Verhoeven (Elle)
Runners-Up: 2) Jim Jarmusch (Paterson) / 3) Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon) / 4) Cristian Mungiu (Graduation) / 5) Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper)


Prix d'Interpretation Feminine
This is the award, outside of the Palme d'Or, that's got everyone talking. Countless contenders for the Female Performance award, with so many viable winners that a top five, as listed here, doesn't even begin to cover the possibilities. There are the consensus choices, like the aforementioned Sonia Braga, Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper and Isabelle Huppert, vying for a record third win in this category for Elle. But those are all far safer swings, and I want my official predictions to reflect the surprising nature that the official jury awards often take at Cannes. I pick Sasha Lane's star-making turn in a film I feel sure will win something tonight, American Honey.
Prediction: Sasha Lane (American Honey)
Runners-Up: 2) Sonia Braga (Aquarius) / 3) Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper) / 4) Isabelle Huppert (Elle) / 5) Ruth Negga (Loving)


Prix d'Interpretation Masculine
A much quieter range of possibilities for the Male Performance award this year. As a result, one of the Palme frontrunners takes precedence here, given the lack of challengers. Paterson may be the kind of well-reviewed but gentle pictures that goes home empty-handed, but a win for Adam Driver would be a very popular choice from George Miller's jury, and seems a likely one too.
Prediction: Adam Driver (Paterson)
Runners-Up: 2) Peter Simonischek (Toni Erdmann) / 3) Adrian Titieni (Graduation) / 4) Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman) / 5) Babak Karimi (The Salesman)


Prix du Scenario
Usually considered the lowliest of the main prizes at Cannes, the Screenplay award is nevertheless a prestigious accolade in its own right. It's often awarded to serious, dialogue-heavy, morally-complex dramas, the likes of which tend to be fairly common at the festival. This would obviously put both of this selection's Romanian New Wave entries, Graduation, and the first film to screen, Sieranevada at the top of the list. Given that Graduation has an award under its belt already, I'll plump for Sieranevada here.
Prediction: Cristi Puiu (Sieranevada)
Runners-Up: 2) Cristian Mungiu (Graduation) / 3) Jim Jarmusch (Paterson) / 4) Andrea Arnold (American Honey) / 5) Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman)


Camera d'Or
Pulling from across Cannes' entire selection, though with no entries this year in the Official Competition, the Camera d'Or is awarded to the best first feature-length film at the festival. As ever, there are many good choices for the award this year, with a couple of animated titles surely in strong contention. My prediction is The Red Turtle, famously the final film with input from Studio Ghibli, not least given that it has thus far failed to win the top awards from either FIPRESCI or the Un Certain Regard jury, despite my prediction that it was first in line for both.
Prediction: The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit)
Runners-Up: 2) My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras) / 3) Wolf and Sheep (Shahrbanoo Sadat) / 4) Raw (Julia Ducourneau) / 5) Mercenary (Sacha Wolff)