NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Alain Guiraudie | Cinematographer Claire Mathon | Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou | Length 92 minutes | Seen at Shortwave Cinema, London, Saturday 1 March 2014 || My Rating very good
© Les Films du Losange
There are a bunch of observations you could make about this film upon watching its first half-hour, and then there’s a bunch of stuff that comes later on. Most obvious is that the setting of the film, by the lake of the title, is the film’s only location. The dialogue sometimes mentions things that happen elsewhere, but for the most part, these characters’ lives are defined by the time they spend sunning themselves on the rocky shores of this French lake in summer, enjoying one another’s company in the wooded area behind, and pulling into and out of the car park off the main road. The other early observation is that the characters are all gay men and spend most of their time entirely naked, to the point where the film’s signature shot has the camera positioned near the water’s edge, looking up at these men as they lay back and check one another out. But it’s just one of the repeated shots that suggest a languorous mood of possibility — which becomes one of threat as the film progresses.
This screening was presented as part of a series dedicated to the visual spaces of television, alongside a shorter work called “The Saliva Milkshake” (reviewed below). The image is a screen capture of the film’s title card. Both were originally shown on the BBC, with the feature originally aired on 12 May 1981 as part of the “Play for Today” series, and the shorter work on 6 January 1975 in the “Centre Play” series.
SPECIAL SCREENING FILM REVIEW || Director Alan Clarke | Writer David Leland | Cinematographer Ken Westbury [as film cameraman] | Starring Rosalind Ayres, John Duttine, Derrick O’Connor, Warren Clarke, Colin Blakely | Length 73 minutes | Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT3), London, Monday 24 February 2014 || My Rating good
I feel as though I preface a lot of my reviews by claiming I’m no expert on what I’m about to write about, but I must at least be honest. This is going to occur fairly frequently when one dips into areas of filmmaking that are strange or unusual or otherwise outside the mainstream, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In this case, the format of the standalone television drama (whether a half-hour segment or a feature-length presentation) is one that has been particularly ill-served by advances in distribution over the last few decades. There are still huge numbers of TV shows languishing in archives (or entirely wiped from them) that get very little airing nowadays. They may have garnered larger viewerships than many cinema-distributed films at the time, but for only one or two airings many decades ago. It’s this context in which I come to this film I’m reviewing now, a fascinating document of a past era (albeit tackling themes still very much relevant now), which I saw in a one-off archival screening at the British Film Institute.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Jaume Collet-Serra | Writers John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle | Cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano [as Flavio Labiano] | Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery | Length 106 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Monday 3 March 2014 || My Rating likeable
© Universal Pictures
I sometimes wonder what makes a great actor, and what really separates the performances that get recognised in major industry awards and the ones that prop up straightforward genre fare that won’t get anywhere near such recognition. Because this film — a taut action thriller set on a plane for which the threat of global terrorism is just a convenient prop for a bit of gung-ho men-with-guns nonsense — certainly has some good actors in it, ones who’ve had that taste of recognition (Lupita Nyong’o, who has a small role here, just the other night). But none of them are going to be getting any nods next year, except from their accountants, because the difference between those two planes of acting has little to do with the actor, but with the quality of the writing, and this right here is boilerplate generic action-by-numbers. It just so happens that it’s done with enough aplomb that it mostly stays on the right side of enjoyable hokum.
As ever, I’ve let my month of focusing on films about filmmaking peter out somewhat, but hello! Still here! I promised you a list and so a list I shall provide. (Thankfully, Wikipedia has its own useful list to jog my ever ineffectual memory.)
Of course, I should say a few words about the category. First off, these aren’t just films set in the world of filmmaking, of which there are plenty. In fact, at least one of the below isn’t even set in that world. No, these are films that engage with the issues around filmmaking, whether at the technical level or at a deeper more inchoate level of what it is to create a work of art, and all the moral and ethical issues this may involve, when you’re collaborating with and manipulating characters and lives (whether real or fictional).
What are your favourites? Do feel free to let me know!
The eyes have it in Irma Vep (1996)
In any case, here are mine:
It’s that time of year again…
I started this blog in March last year, so just missed out on all the discussion that naturally revolves around the annual ritual of film industry awards ceremonies. Most prominent among these is of course the Hollywood-centric Academy Awards, but there are plenty of others that also naturally want to look back at this time of year — for example, the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards, the list goes on almost interminably. Just to be clear right upfront, it is everyone’s right to enjoy and even be inspired by awards ceremonies should they wish; what I’ve written below is merely my own (grumpy) opinion.
FILM REVIEW || Director Irwin Winkler | Writer Jay Cocks | Cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts | Starring Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally | Length 120 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), London, Wednesday 26 February 2014 || My Rating very good
I seem to have a rather conflicted relationship to self-awareness in films: I was quite unkind towards Anna Karenina (2012) and its efforts at presenting the action at times through a proscenium arch as if it were on stage, but elsewhere it’s the kind of thing I love, and I can’t really pretend I’m in any way consistent. The stage is a big feature of this biopic about the life of Cole Porter and his relationship with Linda Lee Thomas, too, but for some reason I’m more sympathetic towards it here. Perhaps that’s because Porter’s life is one very much lived out on and through the stage and performance, so presenting his life as a pageant to his older self, with periodic flourishes of artificial staginess, all seems of a piece to his story. It’s also filled with delightful musical performances of his work, such that whatever its shortcomings, it drew me in quite nimbly.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Jean-Marc Vallée | Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack | Cinematographer Yves Bélanger | Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn | Length 117 minutes | Seen at Genesis, London, Thursday 20 February 2014 || My Rating worth seeing
© Focus Features
There’s no doubt that Matthew McConaughey has been turning in some excellent acting performances of late, but once again with this film (as with the similarly critically-feted Mud last year), I find myself unable to quite understand what all the fuss is about. The performance, yes, is very good, but the film it’s in service to seems to be made up of well-worn familiars of the genre, and held together by an unflashy style that occasionally shows sparks of editing flair, but is mostly fairly workaday. It’s hardly a disease-of-the-week teleplay, but the style is not a million miles from a TV movie. Or perhaps I am just reacting to grumpily to that very first appearance of the title cards in Times New Roman. It doesn’t take much sometimes.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Kenneth Branagh | Writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp (based on characters by Tom Clancy) | Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos | Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh | Length 105 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 12 February 2014 || My Rating likeable
© Paramount Pictures
I remember when Kenneth Branagh used to make serious awards-bothering films. I watched his four-hour version of Hamlet (1996). Twice. I even watched the two-hour cut as well, for some reason losts to the mists of time. I mean, that was almost 20 years ago now, and it’s to his credit that he doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore, very sensibly having re-focused his talents on fun, hammy roles. There was his wizard in the second Harry Potter film, or his Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn. It would probably be fair to add the Russian oligarch bad guy Viktor that he plays in this film to that list, though what with all his precise financial machinations, it’s a more underplayed role of brooding intensity and clears the way for Chris Pine’s action heroics.
There are many types of filmmaking, and television advertising is one more. This is a film that finds common ground between filmmaking and political change, via the medium of television and the language of advertising.
FILM REVIEW: ‘Films about Filmmaking’ Theme || Director Pablo Larraín | Writer Pedro Peirano (based on the play El plebiscito by Antonio Skármeta) | Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong | Starring Gael García Bernal | Length 118 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), London, Friday 24 January 2014 || My Rating very good
© Network Releasing
As a story from his own country’s recent history, ostensibly this film by Chilean director Pablo Larraín is about the democratic overthrow of dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1988, following 15 years of his rule, since he seized power from the left-wing Salvador Allende in a coup aided by the United States. However, it’s not really straight history, and it deftly manages to wrap in a commentary on the importance of television and the power of advertising, not to mention being a human drama about one man in the centre of this movement for change.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Directors/Writers Joel Coen and Ethan Coen | Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel | Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake | Length 105 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Sunday 9 February 2014 || My Rating a must-see
The thing about Llewyn is, he’s a bit of dick, to put it plainly. Over the course of the film we come to have a little understanding about why this is, and the structure of the film even gives us a little chance to revisit that initial assessment at the end. He’s not a dick like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street — he’s not hateful at a fundamental level — but he’s a man in need of some social graces. So, starting with a vaguely obnoxious character in an iconic American setting (Greenwich Village in the early-60s), the new Coen brothers movie has crafted a story of quite considerable pathos which has already attracted plenty of impassioned online essays, itself always a good sign.