Thursday, 21 September 2017

Critical Week: Take a break

Press screenings for the 61st BFI London Film Festival started on Monday, and first out of the block were films that have a UK release coming up soon after the festival ends (it runs 4-15 Oct). I'll write more about these movies during the festival itself, including full reviews of many of them. But this week I saw Luca Guadagnino's exquisite Call Me By Your Name starring Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet (above), Aubrey Plaza in the snappy black comedy Ingrid Goes West, Russian master Andrey Zvyagintsev's excellent Loveless, Japanese master Takashi Miike's gritty and layered samurai epic Blade of the Immortal, the quirky Zambian satire I Am Not a Witch, and the fascinating doc The Prince of Nothingwood about an outrageous Afghan filmmaker.

As for non-festival movies, since there were no press screenings I could attend, I had to buy a ticket to see Kingsman: The Golden Circle at my local cinema on Wednesday morning. It's good fun, in a nutty sort of way, but pales in comparison to the transgressive original. Reese Witherspoon and Michael Sheen showed up in person (pics on Instagram!) to introduce their new film Home Again, along with writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer and producer Nancy Meyers. It's the perfect film for people who love sappy movies about perfect white people. Much scruffier, Big Bear is a rather clunky Hangover-style bachelor party movie that turns violent. Shot is a riveting drama tracing the impact of a gunshot from a variety of angles. The Ritual is a twisty and atmospheric thriller about a group of Brits lost in a very creepy Swedish woodland. And In Between is the terrific Israeli comedy-drama that has caused all kinds of controversy in its homeland for its depiction of free-thinking Palestinian women.

Coming up this next week, we have the AA Milne biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin, Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories and the nature doc Earth: One Amazing Day. London Film Festival screenings include Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger, Claire Foy in Breathe, Michael Haneke's Happy End, Robin Campillo's 120 BPM, the black comedy Brigsby Bear, the Aussie thriller 1%, the Israeli drama Foxtrot, and the Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman. Yes, it'll be another busy one!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Critical Week: Smile for the camera

This week was supposed to be a quiet pause to regain my breath after the Venice Film Festival and to get ready for the London Film Festival - press screenings start on Monday in advance of the festival itself (4-15 Oct). But it hasn't worked out like that. This was a busy week too! Screenings included the new Armando Ianucci film The Death of Stalin, a hilariously pointed political comedy set in 1953 Moscow with an ace cast of scene-stealers including Jason Isaacs, Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin and Jeffrey Tambor (pictured above with others).

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are excellent in the skilfully made British comedy-drama Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, based on a memoir about the final years of Oscar-winning screen siren Gloria Grahame. Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts shine in the gripping and sometimes a bit murky The Glass Castle, based on a memoir about growing up with anti-establishment parents.

Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf take on the title roles in Borg vs McEnroe, a lively, beautifully observed biopic about the iconic tennis rivalry, set during the 1980 Wimbledon final. Robert Pattinson plays a low-life criminal loser in Good Time, a luridly stylish all-night odyssey that stretches credibility but holds the interest. And an ensemble of solid British actors features in Brakes, a multi-strand improvised movie about break-ups that's scruffy and funny.

In the diary for this next week is a mix of festival and mainstream films: Reese Witherspoon in Home Again,Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name, Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz in Gemini, the horror thriller The Ritual, Russian marital drama Loveless, Japanese action movie Blade of the Immortal, Zambian drama I Am Not a Witch,arthouse thriller Let the Corpses Tan and Afghan filmmaker doc The Prince of Nothingwood.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Venezia74: Celebrations on Day 11

The 74th Venice Film Festival came to a close tonight with a starry awards ceremony at which Guillermo del Toro unsurprisingly took the top prize for his superb The Shape of Water. Earlier in the day I spent a couple of hours out in the sunshine and then caught my final film of the festival (see below). Here the winners in the bigger categories and sections, as well as my 10 favourite films of the festival...

Grand Jury Prize: FOXTROT
Director: Xavier Legrand (CUSTODY)
Actress: Charlotte Rampling (HANNAH)
Actor: Kamel El Basha (THE INSULT)    
Special Jury Prize: SWEET COUNTRY
Mastroianni Award: Charlie Plummer (LEAN ON PETE)
Lion of the Future: Xavier Legrand (CUSTODY)
Glory to the Filmmaker: Stephen Frears
Lifetime Achievement: Jane Fonda and Robert Redford

Film: NICO, 1988
Director: Vahid Jalilvand (NO DATE, NO SIGNATURE)
Jury Prize: CANIBA
Actress: Lyna Khoudri (LES BIENHEUREUX)
Actor: Navid Mohammadzadeh (NO DATE, NO SIGNATURE)
Scr: Dominique Welinski and Rene Ballesteros (LOS VERSOS DEL OLVIDO)

Venice Days
People's Choice: LONGING
Director: Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza (CANDELARIA)

Critics' Week

Queer Lion: MARVIN
Fipresci - Debut Film: Kim Nguyen (LOS VERSOS DEL OLVIDO)
Fedeora - Film: EYE ON JULIET
Fedeora - Debut Dir: Sara Forestier (M)
Fedeora - Actor: Redouanne Harjane (M)

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Lean on Pete
  3. M
  4. Custody
  5. The Third Murder
  6. Suburbicon
  7. The Shape of Water
  8. Love and Bullets
  9. Nico, 1988
  10. Brawl in Cell Block 99

dir-scr Sara Forestier; with Sara Forestier, Redouanne Harjane 17/Fr ****.
An unusually involving and offbeat romance, this is a remarkably assured writing-directing debut for actress Sara Forestier. With a clever premise, the film brings two marginalised people together, forcing them to address personal issues they would rather hide from the world. Forestier packs the film with little unexpected details about these characters, both of whom are so beautifully played that we can't help but root for them as we vividly identify with their longing and frustration as well as their joy.

I'll be straight back into screenings in London starting on Monday, and this coming week includes Borg vs McEnroe, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, The Glass Castle and Brakes.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Venezia74: Be a team player on Day 10

The sun was out again today at the Venice Film Festival, a relief after the deluge and ongoing wash-out last night on the Lido. There's definitely a sense that things are winding down here. Most journalists are gone, the films seem oddly less glamour-intensive and those of us still hanging in there are looking a bit like the walking undead. The collateral sections gave out their prizes this evening at the Venice Days villa on the beach, so we were very glad the weather held for us today. Here are the three films I watched...

Man Hunt
dir John Woo; with Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama 17/Jpn ***.
John Woo returns to his roots with this rampaging action movie, which also pays homage to the history of Japanese cinema as an innocent man tries to clear his name. Set in the present, but shot in cheesy 1970s style, the film is a lot of fun with its convoluted plot and breathtakingly choreographed action scenes. It also features all the Woo trademarks, from shattered glass to fluttering doves. And bullets, lots of bullets.

dir Andrea Pallaoro; with Charlotte Rampling, Andre Wilms 17/Bel ***
With barely any plot development or dialog, this film is essentially a cold exercise in watching a person deal with the collapse of her family. Fortunately, she's played by Charlotte Rampling, an actress who rivets the audience even when she's just watching something happen off-screen. Which she does a lot in this movie. But in her eyes, the emotions of the situation are very real, even if we never quite understand why.

Custody [Jusqu'à la Garde]
dir-scr Xavier Legrand; with Denis Menochet, Lea Drucker 17/Fr ****
A punchy drama that grips the audience with a complex situation and shifting characters, this French film only gradually reveals the truth about the dissolution of a marriage. Writer-director Xavier Legrand and his skilled cast take a bold and intense approach to a story that unfolds through a series of perspective-shifting encounters. It's often painful to watch, building to a confrontation that leaves us deeply shaken.

Tomorrow is the last day of the festival, so I'll try to catch up with a couple of things I missed. And then the big awards presentation is in the evening, so I'm looking forward to some upset decisions from Annette Bening and her jury.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Venezia74: Have a holiday on Day 9

I only saw two films today at the Venice Film Festival, a welcome relief after seeing four most days over the past week. In between, I crossed over from Lido to Venice once again for a day of sightseeing, museums and food. Then back to Lido for our jury deliberations in a deluge of rain. Here are today's films...

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno
dir Abdellatif Kechiche; with Shain Boumedine, Salim Kechiouche 17/Fr ***.
Another very long, strikingly naturalistic film by Abdellatif Kechiche, this loosely plotted drama is packed with beautiful young people who spend the summer either on the beach or at the disco. The Arabic word "Mektoub" roughly translates as "it is destiny", so clearly the filmmaker has bigger things on his mind. But the remarkably engaging scenes are weakened by camerawork that echoes the most misogynist characters, relentlessly gazing on women's bodies.

Racer and the Jailbird [Le Fidèle]
dir Michael R Roskam; with Matthias Schoenaerts, Adele Exarchopoulos 17/Bel ***.
Filmmaker Michael Roskam reteams once again with Matthias Schoenaerts for this personal drama set against the criminal scene in Belgium. More of an epic romance than a thriller, the film has plenty of emotional moments that draw the audience into the central romance. Although it's all perhaps a bit too dark for its own good, as the film runs out of hope before we're ready to give up on these people.

Tomorrow: Charlotte Rampling in Hannah, John Woo's Manhunt and the French drama Custody. There;'s also the awards presention for the parallel section prizes.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Venezia74: Taking aim on Day 8

Italian films are notoriously hit and miss here at the Venice Film Festival, perhaps because so many filmmakers are friends with programmers. So it was great to see one that was so hugely enjoyable this morning, and met with a big roar of approval from the crowd at the screening. I have now seen all of the films in contention for this year's Queer Lion prize, and our jury will meet tomorrow to hash out who our winner will be. Here's what I saw today - I skipped a fourth film tonight, just for my own personal sanity...

Love and Bullets [Ammore e Malavita]
dir Antonio Manetti, Marco Manetti; with Giampaolo Morelli, Raiz 17/It ****
The Manetti brothers find a fresh angle on the usual Naples crime thriller. The plot may be fairly typical, but it unfolds as a musical comedy with terrific songs and a continual stream of hilarious gags. While many jokes may be limited to Italian viewers, the approach is so witty that it crosses over to wider audiences, with a gleefully entertaining mix of dark drama, broad slapstick, some wonderfully elaborate musical numbers and quite a bit of surprisingly resonant emotion.

Sweet Country
dir Warwick Thornton; with Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris 17/Aus ***.
With a gentle pace that echoes the rhythms of life in turn-of-the-century rural Australia, this slow-burning dramatic Western quietly creeps up on the audience. It offers deep themes and detailed character, plus a vivid depiction of the clash between the Aboriginals and the European interlopers. The film's setting may echo other movies, but the tone is distinctly more internalised, exploring the true nature of justice in a seriously unjust place.

The Prince and the Dybbuk
dir-scr Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosolowski; with Rosemary Mankiewicz, Angelo Manzini 17/Pol ***
This experimental documentary explores notorious Polish filmmaker Michal Waszynski. And its rather slippery since its subject continually reinvented himself, erasing his past to forge ever more glamorous futures as a prince in exile. Clearly he was haunted by something from his past, as evidenced in his iconic 1937 film The Dybbuk, about a close friendship between two Yiddish boys. The film's loose structure is frustrating for audiences who would like to know the full story, but the film has hypnotic charm.

Tomorrow is a quieter day: Matthias Schoenaerts in Le Fidele and Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour opus Mektoub, My Love.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Venezia74: Stand by your man on Day 7

It was a double dose of Javier Bardem today at the 74th Venice Film Festival. I spotted him out on the red carpet this evening with Jennifer Lawrence for Mother!, and he is also in town with his wife and fellow Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz for their Escobar biopic Loving Pablo. It was another sunny, warm day on the Lido, and journalists are starting to look downright bleary after spending so much time in the cinemas. But there are only four days to go. Here's what I watched today...

Loving Pablo
dir-scr Fernando Leon de Aranoa; with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz 17/Sp ***
This film is based on the memoir by Virginia Vallejo, and if it had stuck to her perspective it might have been a striking new approach to the well-worn story of Medellin drug lord Pablo Escobar. But Spanish filmmaker Fernando Leon de Aranoa tries to include extensive detail about the rise and fall of Escobar's empire, which leaves Vallejo as a side character. It also fails to make the most of either Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz, even though both are on fire.

dir-scr Darren Aronofsky; with Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem 17/US ***.
Darren Aronofsky uses the tropes of a haunted house thriller to explore the act of creation, both artistically and domestically. Yes, this is a freak-out parable about both directing a movie and establishing a family. since everything is so overpoweringly symbolic, the story and characters get somewhat lost in the chaos. It's bold and unsettling, but never remotely resonant. And it leaves us wondering why we so willingly put ourselves through this kind of agony.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
dir Chris Smith; with Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman 17/US ***.
While shooting Milos Forman's 1999 film Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey commissioned a backstage documentary, but the footage was never shown. Using a rather twinkly present-day interview, Carrey presents it now, revealing how he felt inhabited by Andy Kaufman both on and off set while the biopic was being shot. It's an entertaining look at a collision of offbeat comedy talents, exploring both actors' backgrounds and working styles in a way that's eye-opening and perhaps disturbing.

The Wild Boys [Les Garçons Sauvages]
dir-scr Bertrand Mandico; with Anael Snoek, Vimala Pons 17/Fr ***.
Heavily stylised on a low budget, this offbeat French adventure sends a group of five rebellious teen boys into a messy confrontation with gender identity. It's energetic and very witty, but far too pretentious to register very deeply with audiences. Still, strong performances emerge though the gimmicky, Guy Maddin-style visual approach, and the central idea is amusingly pointed: that a world of only women would probably be a more peaceful place to live.

Tomorrow looks extremely eclectic: the Aussie thriller Sweet Country with Sam Neill and Bryan Brown, the Italian musical-comedy Ammore e Malavita, Vivian Qu's dark Chinese drama Angels Wear White, and the Polish documentary The Prince and the Dybbuk about chameleon-like filmmaker Michal Waszynski.