Friday, 24 June 2016

REVIEW - FIRE AT SEA (GIANFRANCO ROSI)


My country has turned its back on these people. An island nation of whites, condemning countless brown and black faces to dehydrate and drown on waters mere miles from our own, mere miles that yet we've found all too easy to ignore, an ease that seems set to only increase. Gianfranco Rosi's observational style, its apparent passivity contrasted by its intensity of focus and by Rosi's choices of focus points, thoughtful and thought-provoking, provides an ideal outlook to Fire at Sea's more disquieting sections. No flourishes, no embellishments, no direction except that of the action that it documents - a powerful film in that it captures a powerful reality. It is thus that Rosi's focus points must then come under more sceptical scrutiny. The lives of Lampedusa's inhabitants remain curiously unchanged, and inferences are drawn between the lack of concern Rosi identifies in his subjects and that of the wider European community, growing all too accustomed to tragedy no longer on its doorstep but with both feet already through it. But these inferences are altogether too subtle in Fire at Sea, which often gets caught up in gentle character comedy and a thoroughly un-cinematic mundanity in that observational style. It's a fine contrast to the more harrowing material, but it's unnecessarily dwelt upon in this regard, distracting from the crux of this film's own concerns, which leaves much of its first two thirds worthy but bland. This powerful reality does receive the treatment warranted by its power, but too little, too late. As a statement on this cleft continent's current situation, it's as thought-provoking as any other.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

REVIEW - THE EXQUISITE CORPUS (PETER TSCHERKASSKY)


If every film is, in fact, a documentary, in that it serves as a document of the creative process that engendered it, specifically that of the creation of the images on screen, Peter Tscherkassky's The Exquisite Corpus is not merely a documentary film but a documentary of film. And while many artists have previously legitimized this medium via suggesting and stressing its value in both reflecting and informing many aspects of the way we live our lives, few non-pornographic films have ever truly tackled that most integral aspect: sex. In bucking the trend, Tscherkassky's film not only documents sex on film but actively participates in it - film is a physical object in The Exquisite Corpus, manipulated in its physical form in order to engage in the processes it depicts. It forms a tactile, tangible link between the titillation on screen and the titillated before it, occupying the formerly blank space between the patently unreal softcore that is the zero point of Tscherkassky's content and the inevitably real arousal that it inspires. We now not only watch but feel, transcending the voyeurism that often marks the destination en route to making sense of our response to erotic art. The Exquisite Corpus is a full corpus of sensory immersion, imitating the seduction within itself and the arousal within its audience in a most vivid, all-consuming manner. This remarkable engagement with the language of eroticism, both in art and in life, makes inferences that few artists dare to, framing sex as an insatiable, unstoppable, unavoidable essentiality; the film literally speeds up, slows down, warps, dies, commits its every act of existence in sex. Its images depict the full body as a sexual object, its structure presents all of life as a sexual experience, its rhythms imitate the throbbing, thrilling repetition of sexual excitement. The Exquisite Corpus is one of the most intelligent, invaluable works of cinematic art - erotic or not - in recent years.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

REVIEW - WARCRAFT (DUNCAN JONES)


It's too easy to scoff at a film like Warcraft. It offers no promise of hope, no suggestion of respite from the overbearing vulgarity of its style, lifted so faithfully from its video game source. Here is a work of art that engages with the language of a form of entertainment often dismissed as inherently unartistic. In objective analysis, there is thus much that Warcraft misjudges from an artistic perspective - it's a derivative, aesthetically ugly, laughably macho fantasy, marred by some poor acting and even poorer scripting. But to dwell on these mistakes is itself a mistake, since these are mostly anything but - Duncan Jones has grappled with this aforementioned video game language in a manner unlike those directors before him attempting similar tasks. He strives not for the incoherent chaos of the action sequences, nor the perfunctory yet convoluted narrative structure of his inspiration (though fails to entirely excise either), rather its style, its stakes, its sense of purpose which the action and the narrative only serve. While the quality he engenders from such a sub-standard product is surprisingly strong, more admirable still is Jones' refusal to acknowledge it as sub-standard at all. He's a fanboy, but an intelligent one, and instead of accepting the lowliness of this enterprise, prescribed by a narrow-minded elite of cynical cinephiles, or vainly aspiring to exalt it, he addresses it as a worthy approach to art-making in and of itself. Warcraft is the video game adaptation warts and all, but with a dedication to the design of those warts that betrays a contagious love and respect for them. To scoff at such craftsmanship is too easy, precisely because it only requires an easy glance in its direction. Look closer at Warcraft, both because you can and because it deserves it.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

TRAILER FOR ANDREA ARNOLD'S AMERICAN HONEY


Here's a first look at one of the most promising features from the Cannes official competition this year, Andrea Arnold's American Honey. The British auteur ventures outside of her home nation for the first time with this jumbo-sized portrait of the contemporary American youth lifestyle. It won Arnold her third Jury Prize out of three appearances at Cannes. No release dates have yet been confirmed for the film, but no doubt A24 will embark on a robust release strategy when they open it Stateside.

REVIEW - THE CONJURING 2 (JAMES WAN)


The horror movie mini-masterclass continues. The Conjuring 2 conjures up faith in a story long since proved false; James Wan's manipulation of the truth is rather easier to submit to than the mental manipulations his audience must do. Give into this film's technical charms - it's worth it - but keep a talisman of common sense and smarts clasped at the ready for its thematic toxicity. For the first half, The Conjuring 2 operates much as its predecessor, serving as a condensed catalogue of all the horror movie tropes and techniques that inspired it. If it's less ingenious than that predecessor (and as the many more from which it follows), it's actually scarier - the threats here are more palatable, more harrowing, closer to hand. Wan has unearthed a direct line to his audience's nerves, and he near strips it bare. And then he exploits us further - having worn us down with one terror after another, he seeks to turn his film into more (or is it less) than the crass but atmospherically effective rebuttal of a hoax. It becomes a prophet of trust in the catholic church, ridiculing the sceptics, mocking their plausible theories - since found to be genuine - and exalting the process of lying in the pursuit of attention, converted here into the pursuit of religious conviction. It was all working so well as a slightly shlocky horror movie, made with more care than it perhaps deserved; too much care, in the end, in both the right places and the wrong. It's at once an improvement in quality and a deterioration in intent.

Monday, 20 June 2016

RACHEL WEISZ IN TRAILER FOR DENIAL


Bleecker Street will make a bid for awards glory this year with Denial, the story of Holocaust denier David Irving's libel case against historian Deborah E. Lipstadt, played here by Rachel Weisz. The trailer above showcases good performances and a promising plot, though just how successful the filmmakers' attempt at courting votes come awards season will be remains to be seen. Out on the 30th of September in the US and on the 3rd of February in the UK - much as many films take a similar release route between the two countries, with a Fall release in the US and an early-year one in the UK, this is a peculiarly large gap, especially for a film largely set in the UK.

OBIT - ANTON YELCHIN


Sad news from California, as actor Anton Yelchin has been declared dead following a car accident. He was a mere 27 years of age. A bright young star with many fans, thanks to a resume of impressive performances in well-regarded films, he will be much missed by cinephiles and more casual movie-watchers worldwide. Born in St. Petersburg, his family emigrated to the US before Anton was even one year old. It proved to be a fortuitous move for his career, as he would soon become one of the American film industry's most valuable young stars. Breakout roles in 2001 films Along Came a Spider and Hearts in Atlantis, the latter for which he won a Young Artist Award, led to more high-profile gigs, in films like Alpha Dog, Charlie Bartlett and, with three appearances under his belt, as Pavel Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, the role for which he is arguably best-known. Subsequent performances confirmed that his talent was the equal of his burgeoning fame, in films such as Like Crazy, The Beaver, Fright Night, Only Lovers Left Alive, Cymbeline, Experimenter and Green Room. Despite his tragic passing, we haven't yet seen the last of Yelchin, as he has five upcoming projects yet to be released. May we savour these final films from a life taken much too soon.

REVIEW - APPROACHING THE UNKNOWN (MARK ELIJAH ROSENBERG)


Approaching the Unknown boasts simple aspirations, and thus fails on simple terms. Short, straightforward and characterized by a scarcity of actual identifiable content (equally an indicator of the film's low budget as of its writer-director's creative ineptitude), this is a humdrum, mercifully forgettable piece that feels more like an ill-advised attempt at testing the water, rather than actually treading it. Mark Elijah Rosenberg's first film appears more calling card than fully-fledged feature, though even on such a basic mandate, Approaching the Unknown misses its already-modest targets. A story of an astronaut's journey to Mars, the first in the history of this film's vision of the future, is potentially ripe ground for rich psychological enquiry and/or artistic exploration. Rosenberg dabbles in each, but is inexplicably preoccupied with surely the least promising aspect of such a scenario: narrative development. One man in one room - largely the most of what this film constitutes (although a space station stop-off, flashbacks, and intermittent video calls to Earth interrupt the solitary atmosphere, to enervating effect), yet Rosenberg seems to consider this a prime opportunity to construct a proper story. It's nothing of the sort, and certainly not with the laziness displayed here: predictable plotting and horrible dialogue conspire to spoil every single scene, at least until they're dispensed with in the film's silly (though still predictably silly) final act. Redemption, no, but some amount of mitigation in Rosenberg's direction, at least the impetus to survive the scene and battle on into the next. He deploys his sense of space, of the effect of architectural design and our place therein, and in the larger context of the galaxy, to decent use, though it's nothing groundbreaking within this genre of filmmaking. Simply put, it's not enough to rescue this simple failure.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

OFFICIAL BRITISH TRAILER: I, DANIEL BLAKE


Honest and heartfelt, here arrives the UK trailer for the latest film from  the country's own Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake. It was the surprise winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last month, securing a second Palme for Loach, upon his swift return to filmmaking following an intended retirement two years ago. The film is released in the UK on the 21st of October; no US release date has been confirmed at time of writing.

REVIEW - THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT (KYLE PATRICK ALVAREZ)


The hazy clarity of fact transposed into the clear haze of fiction. The Stanford Prison Experiment is the sensationalization of an event that didn't need sensationalized, the simplification of a story that didn't need simplified, and nevertheless an inherently compelling film on the nature of the male psyche as expressed through, or controlled by, our societal institutions. That's nothing less than the very intention of the infamous 1971 experiment itself, if not the most valuable angle from which to approach the outcomes of its notoriously compromised method. Kyle Patrick Alvarez astutely shifts the focus of his film from the psychological study of the experiment's participants to a similar study of its creators, themselves adopting increasingly participatory roles. Alas, perhaps aptly, if counter-intuitively, The Stanford Prison Experiment functions as a study of its own creators, and their drive to manipulate a process whose intentions were much more meritable. Alvarez and writer Tim Talbott's psychological inquiry has only the semblance of depth - and remarkably little breadth given the number of notable characters - rather ringing out the same points over and over. Cinematically, Alvarez achieves an admirable level of emotional intensity that acutely captures the feverish friction that must have distinguished the experiences of those who submitted themselves to this most audacious venture. But that audacity, if indeed not even marred by but accentuated by its flawed nature, is not reflected in this artistic venture. There's little sense of appreciation for the ethical and emotional complexities that are so readily inferred by mere mention of this experiment; in their place, a fun, fictionalized reduction.