Tuesday, 21 October 2014


A look at the weekend's new releases, as an R-rated film sits at No. 1 for the fourth consecutive frame.

FURY [TOP SPOT] - $23,702,421
Against recent R-rated thriller Gone Girl, which David Ayer's Fury has unseated from the top of the US box office, this is not a very strong start. But it's not bad either, by any means, and public reception has been promising. Awards buzz has rather dried up for the film, though, so don't expect it to play well beyond the autumn.
Prediction: $70-80m

THE BOOK OF LIFE - $17,005,218
A modest gross for a modest animated product. This marks a slight step up from Reel FX's last film, Free Birds, and, combined with the decent reception to the family film, one can expect it to perform better in the long run too.

Prediction: $50-60m

THE BEST OF ME - $10,003,827

By some margin, The Best of Me's opening is the lowest yet for a Nicholas Sparks movie. That's even including The Notebook, which didn't have quite the same level of positive brand recognition that this does. Whether or not this means that the film's audience simply hasn't rushed out to see the film remains unclear.

Prediction: $30-40m

BIRDMAN - $424,397

How to evaluate Birdman's rather enormous opening in just four theatres? It's over 125% what Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children made over the weekend, and it was in nationwide release. Its per-theatre average is the eighth-highest ever for a live action film. But then, wasn't that all to be expected? Its true success will be gleaned when it expands, and when awards season kicks off.

Prediction: $30-40m


This, to me, is the big success of the weekend. It's one of a mere handful of films to score a per-theatre average of over $30k, and was only one spot away from the Top 20 in only 11 theatres. Roadside Attractions will be looking to turn this into one of their biggest hits to date with a serious expansion plan.

Prediction: $10-20m

A MATTER OF FAITH - $138,677

Not even overwhelmingly positive reviews tend to result in high grosses for non-Miyazaki Studio Ghibli fare, but The Tale of Princess Kaguya has achieved that. $18,305 per-theatre is an impressive gross for the film, which performed underwhelmingly in its native Japan.

Prediction: $0-10m

THE GOLDEN ERA - $48,000

Ann Hui's new film didn't attract the kind of critical response that was expected of it during the recent festival season. Chinalion must have hoped to make as much money as possible by putting the film into a peculiarly hefty 15 cinemas, and might just have succeeded. Just.

Prediction: $0-10m

RUDDERLESS - $37,440

One of those simultaneous VOD releases that was kinda asking for it. Why 18 theatres? Refer back to The Golden Era for a similar explanation.

Prediction: $0-10m


Why hasn't Listen Up Philip made as much as I expected it to? Did the arthouse crowd just not care? Well, why not? The critics certainly did care. This must be a bit of a disappointment for all involved.

Prediction: $0-10m


That'll do, ish. In five cinemas, a higher per-theatre average might have been hoped for, but this hasn't fallen flat enough to be considered a flop.

Prediction: $0-10m

GOD THE FATHER - $15,037


DIPLOMACY - $8,518
Opening in just one cinema, Volker Schlondorff's theatrical adaptation earns a fine amount. That's all. Once upon a time, he might have been looking at a lot more, but that was then, and this is now.

Prediction: $0-10m



CAMP X-RAY - $1,316
Dreadful... out of context. Considering that the vast majority of Camp X-Ray's audience is probably extremely tech-savvy, you can bet that this film has made a serious distance more on VOD, where it was released day-and-date with its theatrical opening. It'll be remembered more positively than this gross suggests, I expect.

Prediction: $0-10m


Although it will announce its choices for the best of 2014 in December, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association will host its annual awards event on the 15th of January. They've recently revealed the recipient of their Career Achievement Award for this year's ceremony, and it could hardly be a more worthy pick: the actor Gena Rowlands. Best known for her collaborations with her partner John Cassavetes, including seminal performances in films such as Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night, Gloria and Love Streams, the 84-year-old star is one of the greatest living film actors, and wholly deserves the honour.


The London Film Festival only includes a small fraction of its selection each year, roughly 5%, in its official competition, but they're many of them excellent features. Critical mega-hit Leviathan won the top award from Jeremy Thomas' jury, reportedly the unanimous choice, beating my preferred choice, The Duke of BurgundyFull winners below:

Official Competition
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Special Mention

Girlhood (Celine Sciamma)

Documentary Competition
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed)

First Feature Competition
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Best British Debut
Sameena Jabeen Ahmed (Catch Me Daddy)

BFI Fellowship
Stephen Frears

Monday, 20 October 2014


Love is a torment in Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy, a third consecutive feature from the director to appear wildly ambitious and yet utterly effortless. His burgeoning, meticulous, vivid mise-en-scene presents content as context, a bountiful hive of concealed information - he delves as far into his characters' cerebrums as their crotches, and as the amplified atmospheric noise of insects, obsessively small, obsessively detailed, seeps into reality. But what is reality? Strickland toys with our expectations, turning askew situations around, and around again, and again, our senses luxuriating in the immense, idiosyncratic beauty of his film as our heads gasp for some clarity, some definite sense of place. We will not be afforded such distinctions; nor will his characters. Their carnal yet chaste relationship, obsessed with whatever extremities they feel compelled to pursue, takes the form of a Moebius strip, like a spiral of repetition, encompassing birth, death, rebirth, life and its byproducts to be consumed, a fetid pool of textures left swirling around them as does one's placenta, or perhaps one's faeces, if not taken proper care of. Proper care is perverted in The Duke of Burgundy, though, obsessively distorted to fit one's needs; what of the relationship's needs? Obsession is obsessed with itself, descending down that spiral to the most minute details. What pleasure Strickland permits us to derive from this film, of endless analytical value, is in his playfulness, that toying that he extends to so much of his work. It's self-reflexive style, progressive pastiche, and it's the most persuasive argument conceivable for non-narrative cinema: The Duke of Burgundy is of such enormous worth as said exercise, as a mosaic of exquisite artistry, be it in Andrea Flesch's supple fabrics and sensuous seams, Cat's Eyes' aptly non-classifiable score or just in Strickland's singular artistic intentions. It's an experience meant for those willing to experience it, and its premier message lies therein.


Jacob Cheung employs tools of simplicity and serenity to hysterical effect in The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, an overblown and over-complicated martial arts picture that mistakes business for energy and melodrama for emotional sincerity. It's easy to see where he got waylaid - the plot doesn't exactly lend itself to restraint and carefulness, though with so many classical twists the film could have used much more of both - but stylistically this is a gauche and rather disrespectful film that will disappoint all but the hardiest fans of the genre. Cheung, whether knowingly or not, constructs a consciously artificial historical environment, responding to the magical elements of the text with a lack of imagination: the lens flare, the cumbersome production values and the brash, Westernised score (unfortunately now commonplace among many similar films) cheapen The White Haired Witch, which otherwise has enormous potential for sensory brilliance. Such cannily-selected details as the impressive authentic scenery or Timmy Yip's magnificent costumes are relegated to the background, as Cheung over-emphasises hollow spectacle, be it in interminable close-ups of mediocre acting, or poorly edited wuxia sequences. Tung Wei's action choreography is creative, but indistinguishable from the array of lacklustre stunt work spliced into these scenes. Indeed, Cheung displays a determination to render inherently dramatic aspects as banality, with his attentions apparently focused upon more questionable content: in particular, a wretched final scene that is just the wrong side of being an outrageous triumph of bad taste, but is therefore merely outrageously bad.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


The futility and the absurdity of law over a lawless landscape. In the struggle to exact their cultural identity upon Algeria's fearsome desert, men of all different heritages and creeds engage in a senseless conflict, feuding over a place in the world that eats them alive in great swathes. One detects the natural tension in David Oelhoffen's Far from Men, the perception that danger is forever present, even as supposed enemies are not. There's an otherworldly desolation to the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, a notion that these men are aliens upon this land, their only real hope to see sense and abandon it. They may adapt through openness - the willingness to accept their shortcomings and realise their true, humble purpose in life. Tellingly, it is only the men whose 'honour' has been stripped of them who are capable of such - they are loners, outsiders, fittingly dwarfed in tremendous isolation by the impressive scenery. Oelhoffen's film is lean and succinct, as one expects a thriller of its kind to be, but not as one has to be. There's relatively little analytical scope in Far from Men, the intriguing complexities of out enigmatic leads revealed early to be mere hollow character descriptions, and Oelhoffen resists the opportunity to develop their relationship to its full potential. The film is mostly only as it seems: simple and plain, though effective in its plainness. Whether it's as densely textured as one hopes it will be or not, the fact is that Far from Men is a solid piece of work founded on solid thematic and stylistic grounds.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


The adult characters in Chiung Chiang Hsiu's exquisitely sensitive drama The Furthest End Awaits each experience the lure of memory, of familiarity, of an existence that has passed, abandoning them in a space from which they have not. It is when one runs from one's future that the real damage is done, but when one accepts the need to move forward - but with patience, always - that damage can be repaired. The Furthest End Awaits has the trappings of a gentle 'slice-of-life' drama, simple, uncomplicated, observant and non-judgemental. Those are valuable qualities for most films to possess; Chiung appreciates their true value by applying them to a concept that only gradually, with the same patience she admires in her characters, becomes apparent. The film formates positive, optimistic methods of adjustment to the complexities of pursuing a practical existence - in Japan, where it is particularly pertinent to feel rooted in both past and future, given its rich heritage and its lust for development in a great many regards. Old rituals and new technologies combine, and bridge gaps, heal discord, when their masters are of pure intention. Chiung's presentation is plain, her content clear, a vast reverence for the beauty of the natural world and all of the life therein showing in her careful attentiveness, her respect for the delicate textures and thin materials so prevalent on this narrow strip of islands, facing a gigantic ocean on one side and a gigantic continent on the other. She finds inroads to the deepest depths of her characters' souls, unveiling the benevolent, sincere desires that lie beneath all the unnecessary concerns of life. Their preoccupation with revisiting and returning becomes cleansed, a gracious comprehension of the healthier requirement of looking ahead replacing it. Families that have been broken or lost, its members left as isolated as they are at this rural tip, this furthest end, are re-found, bonds re-made, and harmony restored. This is a hugely spiritual, beautiful film.


The connection between the flourishing animated film culture in Japan to the fledgling one in Ireland may not be evident to all, but it's a connection that makes unexpected sense, despite the two nations being half a world away. Both are island nations at the edge of a continent - like many island nations, their culture on the whole is defined in no small part by the sea. Rural dwellers close to the shore live existences that are extensions of the water that faces them for as far as the eye can see in Tomm Moore's enchanting animation Song of the Sea. Moore makes full and sensitive use of Ireland's rich magical mythology, so well-developed by centuries of isolated living. The challenge when tackling material like this is to perfect the presentation; luckily, Moore and his art director Adrien Mericeau have a masterful aesthetic intuition, and Song of the Sea is, at times, an extraordinarily beautiful film, possibly even too beautiful to thoroughly digest all of its visual wonders in one sitting. The wealth of shades the employ to imbue their 2D images with vibrancy and character lend them a glowing quality that puts most expensive 3D animated designs from major American studios to utter shame. The stylistic reverence is apparent too, reinforcing the authenticity in Moore and writer Will Collins' concept. Moore has devised an elaborate window onto the natural world that exists within and beneath the increasingly-urbanised world we've attempted to create above it. His instinct to elucidate, visually, does render the film devoid of much mystery - the storytelling in Song of the Sea is rather prosaic as a result. But the magic remains, in glorious, wondrous beauty, allowing the film to rank among the finer features of recent years from those animation masters half a world away.


Misty Upham, one of cinema's most celebrated and recognisable Native American presences, has died. Following her disappearance earlier this month, police found a body, now confirmed by Upham's family to be hers, on the 16th of October. She first came to the attention of cinephiles when she appeared in the twice-Oscar-nominated Frozen River in 2008; the role earned her accolades including an award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and a nomination at the Spirit Awards. Since then, she's been seen in Django Unchained, Jimmy P and August: Osage County. She has been remembered in the press by famous friends and costars such as Melissa Leo, Meryl Streep and Juliette Lewis.


By and large, the boundaries between Greek tragedy, social satire and soap opera are thin and difficult to define, often set more by the tone of the project, rather than the content. Andrey Zvyagintsev is brave to utilise elements from all three dramatic genres in total earnest, even if his inevitably sharp cinematic intuition leads one to opine that his intentions in so doing were wholly self-aware. Leviathan is his most unambiguous essay on the modern human condition yet, so brilliantly represented, as ever, by the uncivilised citizens of a supposedly civilised country, his native Russia. The film is obvious, but always on target in its excoriating tirade against our own species, the ludicrous means to which we go to justify how viciously we abuse each other. These machines are rigged not only to reward the undeserving but to punish the victims in society, and Zvyagintsev observes no visible means by which to take said machine out. People of an overpopulated world end up as detritus on the beach, indistinguishable from the sand and rocks; their oppressors and murderers exploit that machine, that leviathan, to maximum advantage. If it seems ridiculous, objectively, the numerous stages of degradation which these innocent characters must undergo all make total sense within the film, its grandeur excusing all, its allegorical purpose excusing all, its position as Greek tragedy, or social satire, or soap opera excusing all, its humour excusing all. Equally unambiguous about Leviathan is its straightforward, honest humour. Zvyagintsev does not imply that we ought not to cry or despair, he just forces us to laugh through it. His comic touch is even more effortless than his flair for high drama, though its lasting impact is less.