Wednesday, 28 January 2015

REVIEW - NIGHT WILL FALL (ANDRE SINGER)


How can so comprehensive a document and so fine a film still come up short? With requisite respect, Night Will Fall examines both the making and the shelving of the Hitchcock-supervised concentration camps documentary from the 1940s and that very film's own subject. Director Andre Singer pitches the tone of his tricky task well, resorting neither to hyperbole nor to complacency, and thus Night Will Fall shocks without sensationalising. There are some topics that cannot be covered enough in art, and the Holocaust is one such topic; in basic, primitive terms, these events will never cease to appall, the images captured here will never cease to repulse. The footage herein is among the most affecting you will ever witness - a statement I can make with confidence, given that there can be no question of the extremity that the depravity of the SS reached in these camps. On that footage alone, and on the collective decision made both now and 70 years ago not to censor, not to stage, simply to observe, Night Will Fall is an essential work. How hard it is to criticise, then, under such circumstances. And indeed, Night Will Fall is a very fine film, but it's worth considering that it could have, perhaps even should have, been more. It is short, too short - there's enough material here for limitless contemplation and examination. Voiceover narration by Helena Bonham Carter is soft and detached, and a tad didactic at times. The film itself presents mere detail after detail, with little inquiry; the details suffice, without doubt - how could they ever not? But still the notion remains, untroubled: how? Why? There are some topics that cannot be covered enough in art, and Night Will Fall does its bit to cover them, and no more.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

REVIEW - MORTDECAI (DAVID KOEPP)


Inadvertently functioning as the definitive statement on the fickleness of public sentiment toward celebrity, Mortdecai is an invaluable, and profoundly revealing document. Functioning, as are its intentions, as a comedic spy caper... well, it just doesn't. Mortdecai is all concept and theory: a promising notion here, a talented actor there, the recipe for a mildly-appealing piece of throwback nonsense nestled somewhere within the mess of inept filmmaking. The only thing preventing this film from excelling as a classic of artistic misjudgdment is its monotony, as scene after scene stumbles over the same questionable comedic routine. It is, however, almost completely, impressively pure in the detail and design of its worthlessness. To see capable actors of much repute commit themselves to material this unfortunate is a shockingly effective depressant; to see what glimmers remain of Johnny Depp's abilities, glimpsed only in brief glances that recall the distinctive personalities he has so memorably crafted in many other roles, is to observe the changing face of American film in an instant. Yet, it's a struggle to imagine that Mortdecai's sense of humour was ever in vogue, even before such silly send-ups of the 20th Century British aristocracy existed in this form (which they have done for decades). One character's sole punchline involves him repeating the word 'balls' at any appropriate opportunity - that's the standard of Mortdecai's humour, and also of its morals. There's a very clear difference between the portrayal of a politically-incorrect protagonist, and the perpetuation of sexism and homophobia in entertainment through lazy, misogynistic storytelling and direction. Whatever interest this film might have harboured as said document on the changing face of American film is sacrificed - Mortdecai is just a stupid, offensive, wasteful knock-off.

Monday, 26 January 2015

BIRDMAN WINS SAG ENSEMBLE CAST - AWARDS SPLIT OVERALL



In what's shaping up to be an unexpectedly close race to call, Birdman just won its second major guild prize in a row this awards season. The Screen Actors Guild gave the comedy their Ensemble Cast award, though mixed things up a tad by choosing Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything over Birdman's Michael Keaton. With American Sniper breaking all kinds of box office records, continued support for The Grand Budapest Hotel (including a Golden Globe victory over Birdman) and Boyhood's default frontrunner status, this year's Oscar race hasn't looked this tight since it began almost two months ago. SAG nominations are here, and their award winners below:


Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Zach Galifianakis, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts (Birdman)

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
Unbroken

Lifetime Achievement Award
Debbie Reynolds

Sunday, 25 January 2015

REVIEW - EX MACHINA (ALEX GARLAND)


The history of gods, the future of intelligent life - Alex Garland presents his outlook on the tipping point between the world as we've always known it and the world it may evolve into. It's a typically portentous, promising, shallow outlook, but the suggestions that Garland sprinkles through Ex Machina, suggestions that he's onto something more substantial than his usual schtick, buoy this engaging film. His science is suspect, so he leaves it well alone, and that's wise. His psychology is of fluctuating levels of quality - there's one gratifyingly frank discussion about sexuality, but Garland shows peculiarly little interest in examining the psychological differences between entities in Ex Machina, when surely that is this film's raison d'etre. His technical aptitude is fine, and that's what's most impressive about Ex Machina. It validates the structure he's so fond of (a slow burn, escalating tension, concluding in a violent shitstorm) and actually justifies the film's character as a more physically, stylistically literate work than a philosophically literate one. Those queries still linger, though, with a number of questionable details in the basic scenario, and too much left unexplored in the ramifications of what's implied herein. Ex Machina could, thus, have certainly done with taking itself less seriously; the sole moment when it lets down its guard for a gleefully odd choreographed dance sequence is already a strong contender for the best movie scene of 2015.

SURPRISE! BIRDMAN WINS PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA


It hasn't won a single major award for Best Picture so far this season, as they've been distributed among non-Oscar-nominated fare or either Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel. That all changed yesterday for Birdman, however, as it won the Producers Guild of America award in a fairly big upset. While Boyhood clearly still has the best shot at an Oscar win, this does open the race up somewhat, not only to the suggestion that Birdman could win, but to the fact that Boyhood is beatable. The LEGO Movie won the animated award and Life Itself the documentary one. The PGA nominees are here, ICYMI.


The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures
Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole)


Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
The LEGO Movie (Dan Lin)


Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
Life Itself (Garrett Basch, Steve James and Zak Piper)

Friday, 23 January 2015

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES LEADS VISUAL EFFECTS SOCIETY NOMINATIONS


In a wholly deserved feat, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes leads all films with nominations from the Visual Effects Society. It notches up five mentions in a competitive year - six features compete for the main live action award, though still they couldn't find space for Oscar-nominee Captain America: The Winter Soldier among them. Winners will be revealed on the 4th of February. Full details below:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Photoreal / Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Blondell Aidoo, Anders Langlands, Lou Pecora, Richard Stammers and Cameron Waldbauer (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
Nicolas Aithadi, Stephane Ceretti, Paul Corbould, Jonathan Fawkner and Susan Pickett (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Hannah Bianchini, Matt Kutcher, Dan Lemmon, Joe Letteri and Ryan Stafford (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
David Conley, Steve Ingram, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon and Kevin Sherwood (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)
Michael Dawson, Barrie Hemsley, Kelly Port, Adam Valdez and Carey Villegas (Maleficent)
Kevin Elam, Scott Fisher, Paul Franklin, Ian Hunter and Ann Podlozny (Interstellar)

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal / Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Ivy Agregan, Jake Braver, Ara Khanikian and Isabelle Langlois (Birdman)
Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, Nic Birmingham, Stuart Bullen and Simon Rowe (The Imitation Game)
Greg Baxter, Jim Berney, Matt Dessero and Marshall Krasser (Divergent)
Jan Burda, Jenny Foster, Gabriel Sanchez and Simon Weisse (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Brian Cox, Erin Dusseault, Steve Gaub, Bill George and Dave Morley (Unbroken)

Outstanding Models in Any Motion Media Project
Brett Achorn, Duong Minh, Scott Watanabe and Larry Wu – ‘City of San Fransokyo’ (Big Hero 6)
Leslie Chan, Alistair Maher, Niklas Preston and Justin Stockton – ‘Laketown’ (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)
Landis Fields, John Goodson, Han Dae and Anthony Rispoli – ‘Knightship’ (Transformers: Age of Extinction)
Oliver Jones, Raul Martinez and Tom McClure – ‘Mecha-Drill’ (The Boxtrolls)

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal / Live Action Motion Media Project
Jose Enrique Astacio Jr., Dion Beebe, Albert Cheng and Michael Havart – ‘Beach and Paris Attacks’ (Edge of Tomorrow)
Austin Bonang, Dennis Jones, Casey Schatz and Newton Thomas Sigel – ‘Kitchen Scene’ (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
Faraz Hameed, Dorian Knapp, Stephen Painter and Hoyte van Hoytema – ‘Tesseract’ (Interstellar)
David Houghton Williams, Keith Miller, Jonathan Paquin and Alessandro Saponi (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal / Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Matthew Adams, Simon Jung, Ben Roberts and Jordan Schilling (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)
Marie Victoria Denoga, Frank Fieser, Matthew Welford and Craig Wentworth – ‘Beach’ (Edge of Tomorrow)
Raphael Hamm, Isaac Layish, Tristan Myles and Sebastein von Overheidt – ‘Water’ (Interstellar)
Quentin Hema, Simone Riginelli, Christoph Salzmann and Florian Schroeder (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal / Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Stephen Bevins, Richard Bluff, Steve DeLuca and Tiffany Yung – ‘Times Square’ (Lucy)
Tom Bracht, Kirsty Clark, Thomas Døhlen and Graham Page – ‘Tesseract’ (Interstellar)
Luis Calero, Greg Kegel, Quentin Marmier, Johan Thorngren – ‘Triskelion Headquarters’ (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Grady Cofer, Ben O’Brien, Dan Wheaton and Yukihiro Susumu – ‘Antediluvian Earth’ (Noah)

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal / Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Jon Allitt, David Caeiro, Ronnie Menahem and Alex Nowotny (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)
Steve Avoujageli, Pawel Grochola, Ikarashi Atsushi and Paul Waggoner – ‘Destruction and Sand’ (Edge of Tomorrow)
Jose Burgos, Eric Jennings, Dan Pearson and Sheldon Serrao – ‘Helicarrier Broadside and Crash’ (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Sam Hancock, Timmy Lundin, Premamurti Paetsch and Adam Paschke- ‘Quicksilver Pentagon Kitchen’ (X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Outstanding Performance of an Animated Character in a Photoreal / Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Mark Edward Allen, Daniel Barrett, Alessandro Bonora and Suzuki Masaya – ‘Koba’ (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
Laurie Brugger, Kevin Spruce, Rachel Williams and Mark Wilson – ‘Rocket’ (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Jeremy Buttell, Darren Hendler, Elliot Rosenstein and Matthias Wittmann – ‘Thistlewit’ (Maleficent)
Andrea Merlo, Emiliano Padovani, Paul Story and Eteuati Tema – ‘Caesar’ (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Bruce Anderson, John C. Donkin, Kirk Garfield and Carlos Saldanha (Rio 2)
Graham Annable, Travis Knight, Brad Schiff and Anthony Stacchi (The Boxtrolls)
Bonnie Arnold, Dean DeBlois, Simon Otto and Dave Walvoord (How to Train Your Dragon 2)
Roy Conli, Don Hall, Zach Parrish and Chris Williams (Big Hero 6)
Jim Dodd, Chris McKay, Amber Naismith and David Williams (The LEGO Movie)

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Amy Chen, Jeff Masters, Sean McEwan and Glo Minaya – ‘Magical Land of the Remembered’ (The Book of Life)
Ted Davis, Shannon Thomas, Wang Liang Yuan and Yoon Sun – ‘Oasis’ (How to Train Your Dragon 2)
Rob DeSue, Curt Enderle, Emily Greene and Jesse Gregg – ‘Boxtroll Cavern’ (The Boxtrolls)
Ralf Habel, David Hutchins, Michael Kaschalk and Olun Riley – ‘Into the Portal’ (Big Hero 6)

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Jayandera Danappal, Matt Ebb, Miles Green and Carsten Kolve (The LEGO Movie)
Kent Estep, Timur Khodzhaev, Ralph Procida and Peter Stuart (The Boxtrolls)
Henrik Fält, David Hutchins, Michael Kaschalk and John Kosnik (Big Hero 6)
Lucas Janin, Spencer Knapp, Jason Meyer and Baptiste van Opstal – ‘The Battle’ (How to Train Your Dragon 2)

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Ignacio Barrios, Diana Diriwaechter, Jason Sadler and Drew Winey – ‘Gabi’ (Rio 2)
Stephen Candell, Jakob Hjort Jensen, Fabio Lignini and Park Hong Seo – ‘Hiccup’ (How to Train Your Dragon 2)
Colin Eckart, John Kahwaty, Zach Parrish and Zack Petroc – ‘Baymax’ (Big Hero 6)
Travis Knight, Michael Laubach, Jason Stalman and Kyle Williams – ‘Archibald Snatcher’ (The Boxtrolls)

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project
Marco Erbrich, Vincent Langer and Christoph Westphal (Deep Dance)
Fan Ya Hui, Guan Xiao Wei, Wu Meng Xuan and Xu Sheng (Dragon Clan)
Roman Kaelin, Falko Paeper and Florian Wittmann (Wrapped)
Xavier Lafarge, Bruno Lévêque, Teo Saintier and Rémi Stompe (Murphy)

REVIEW - CAKE (DANIEL BARNZ)


Here is a good movie undone by its will to be a bad movie. That sounds like a curious proposition, but it's actually quite clear and quite comprehensible when one considers what happens to a movie when concessions are made in the pursuit of commercial interests. As an examination on the life of a woman living with chronic pain, and crippling grief to boot, Cake would be an entirely satisfactory drama, only it's basically not that at all. In Daniel Barnz's direction and in Patrick Tobin's screenplay, her difficulties rank second in their concerns behind what kooks and quirks they can employ to relieve us, the audience, from the pain we might experience in witnessing her pain. Fuck our pain, that's not what film is about; it's likely a great deal more painful to witness the strained mediocrity they so determinedly strive for. Playful tics and faux-artistic notions dominate Barnz's mise-en-scene, swiftly overtaking what honest, affecting depictions of a life lived under horrible, inescapable physical and emotional duress reside in this film's feeble heart. Not that anything about Cake is especially offensive - on the contrary, it's Cake's inoffensiveness that hampers it so. At its best, though, it's still just an excuse for its cast to show off, which is a limp premise for a film to possess under any circumstances. Luckily, the cast is good enough that it's actually the only thing worth watching in Cake, and it certainly is worth watching, with strong work from Jennifer Aniston and Adriana Barraza in particular.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

REVIEW - PREDESTINATION (MICHAEL SPIERIG AND PETER SPIERIG)


Time twists around itself in the Spierig brothers' Predestination, which is twisty in so many definitions of the word. A pleasingly self-contained thriller, what appear to be its whims and implausibilities are all cleverly justified by its premise. The Spierigs use a time travel device neither as a gimmick nor as an accoutrement - it's the foundation and the inspiration for a thrilling, surprising sci-fi film. Like the best sci-fi films, its wonderful construction and strong visual styling make it memorable, its intellectual and emotional currents make it unforgettable. What's unique about Predestination is how smartly it combines these elements, drawing them all from the same chronological source. Fittingly, everything is connected in this film, more so than it ever appears, and the manner in which the connections are made, as revealing to the characters as to us (this being the key to an effective twist, that we do not ever feel hoodwinked), is exemplary. Emphasising the human story at the core of the scientific one distracts us, insisting that we invest in what we are experiencing, thus missing some of the subtle clues that the Spierigs don't shy from including, and also reacting more strongly when the picture becomes clear. Or just clearer. Structurally, there's a very smart usage of the passing of time, whereby the film is split in half due to a flashback-style narrative in the first half, that's actually all set within one location; it's terrific stuff, the natural amplification of intensity as the scenes, quite simply, increase in quantity and decrease in length, while the early flashbacks ensure that this isn't too abrupt, nor too deflating, an adjustment. The film's style is fairly basic, and there are some niggling continuity errors, but all is redeemed by the sheer force of the film's audacious narrative twists, and by committed performances: Ethan Hawke is charismatic as a time-travelling agent, and Sarah Snook utterly magnetic as... I wouldn't dare say. She's completely brilliant, though.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

LOVE & PEACE TRAILER


I see no love nor peace in the trailer for Sono Shion's Love & Peace, but I do see a turtle, and I love turtles, and I am at peace with that. No idea when we'll get a chance to see this - much of the world is still waiting for Sono's last film, Tokyo Tribebut his brand is becoming ever more popular with each new feature, so you can be sure that we at least will. Sono's also got Shinjuku Swan on the schedule for this year.

REVIEW - CITIZENFOUR (LAURA POITRAS)


A sombre indictment of the state of the world today, as regimes retaliate in wan despair at their ineffectiveness. Our leaders are no longer leading us, they're just spying on us. It's in this understanding, succinctly set out in Citizenfour's chilling opening scenes, that Edward Snowden takes steps toward changing the face of our relationship, as citizens ourselves, with our governing powers. Behind his encrypted messages is a human being, as behind these literally indefensible state-sponsored activities are many human beings. He opens a monologue out into a dialogue, or so is his intention, and risks his livelihood in the process. Laura Poitras cannot help but divulge in a portrait of Snowden himself, who unwittingly becomes the subject of the media attention he has courted out of necessity; the few moments of personal honesty this man allows us are quietly devastating, and barely alleviated by our knowledge of how his story has progressed since the events depicted here. As an explication of those events, thoroughly and precisely, Citizenfour is an invaluable document, though it could only ever be too brief, so alarming is the scale of the betrayal which our leaders have exacted upon us. No matter how often one ruminates over it, it remains a shocking truth, and Citizenfour is at its most potent, and justly so, when it uses its content for that same shock value; there are lengthy passages of dense exposition in reaching those shocking conclusions, but they're worth the effort it takes to wade through them.