Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Writer-director Nancy Meyers has carved a niche as the purveyor of banal, slightly funny chick comedies, often focussing on romance among the older generation.  Evidence for the prosecution would include SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, IT'S COMPLICATED and now THE INTERN. This is a harmless, very schmaltzy, barely comedy starring Robert de Niro as a 70 year old widower who goes to work for Anne Hathaway's stressed out boss of an internet start-up.  We're told again and again that Hathaway's character, Jules, is meant to be hard to deal with. A younger version of Meryl Streep's character in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA if you will. But of course neither Hathaway nor Meyers are willing to let Jules get that ugly and so we are less invested in how charming silver fox Ben (de Niro) gets through to her. Turns out that she's actually all soft and fuzzy, and so is he, and that she's just battling with being asked to take on a CEO, and a dissatisfied stay at home dad. Naturally he becomes an avuncular figure, giving advice to all the lost millennials in the office and brings Jules some measure of work-life balance.  There's nothing actively bad about this movie. It's earnest and decently enough acted and does what is says on the tin. It's just sad to see a movie so transparent in its plot movements and emotional manipulation.

THE INTERN has a running time of 121 minutes and is rated PG-13. The movie is on global release.

INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

For anyone with even a passing interest in cinema the story of Ingrid Bergman is well known. The iconic actress from CASABLANCA came from a theatre background in Sweden to fame in Hollywood but at the height of it all was ostracised for leaving her husband and child for Roberto Rossellini.  Re-inventing herself as a European arthouse actress she was a forceful advocate for freedom from societal judgment and the quality of her work meant that the opportunities found her, even in exile. 

What's different about this documentary is that director Stig Bjorkman has managed to get such amazing access to Bergman's letters, home videos and photographs. Most of all, he has access to all  her children.  And so while this is "just" another linear re-telling of an extra-ordinary life, what you're actually getting is Ingrid speaking to her best friends in real letters, or the interpretation of her children and their interpretation of her life.  Moreover, the focus here really is on her life rather than the films.

RUBEN GUTHRIE - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

Aussie writer-director-actor Brendan Cowell (SAVE YOUR LEGS!) returns to the BFI London Festival with his black comedy-drama RUBEN GUTHRIE about an ad exec battling with alcoholism in the face of workplace peer pressure and an unsupportive family.  As the movie opens, he gets tanked and falls into a swimming pool, breaking his arm, and losing his fiance unless he can get sober for a year. This prompts panic in those around him. His best friend thinks he'll be no fun. His boss thinks he'll lose his ad-skills and dangles a younger social media hipster as competitive pressure.  His dad thinks he should just man up.  And in a typically pithy exchange, when Ruben tells his mum that he's taking it one day at a time, she responds "that doesn't seem very ambitious".   Despite all the surrounding nastiness, Ruben remains a spiky and not totally likeable character, and I love that Patrick Brammall plays him as half charming and half repellent. He evidently shacked up with his fiancee when she was underage and sleeps with his vulnerable AA sponsor almost as a distraction.  That said, apparently those who know say the original stage play, also written by Cowell, was far darker and nastier, with Guthrie far less sympathetic.  

MY NAZI LEGACY - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

David Evans' documentary is the most affecting I have seen in the festival previews to date.  It is devastating in its simplicity of concept and relentlessness of investigation. The narrator and key protagonist is Phillipe Sands, a famous human rights lawyer based in the UK who, in turns out, had family killed in the Holocaust and a grandfather who survived but was understandably reluctant to speak about his experiences. The power of the documentary is that is chronicles Sand's encounter with two sons of high ranking Nazi officials. The first, Niklas Frank, whose father Hans ran the General Government in Poland, has fully embraced his father's past to the point where he is almost obsessed with how much he despises him.  The second, Horst von Waechter, whose father was the Governor of Krakow and Galicia, steadfastly refuses to accept any evidence that his father had command responsibility for the mass murder of Jews, and welcomes anyone who will speak of him as a decent man, even if that man is wearing a swastika. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

LIVE FROM NEW YORK! - BFI London Film Festival 2015

LIVE FROM NEW YORK! is the directorial debut of Bao Nguyen, chronicling the history of the iconic comedy skit-show Saturday Night Live. He does so in 80 minutes so it would be easy to put this film's superficiality down to its brief run-time but I suspect it has more to do with the director having bought Lorne Michael's kool-aid, wanting to diminish the non-Lorne years and not having the guts to seriously interrogate the charges of institutionalised sexism and racism. And I don't by that "where was the black Friend" argument.  SNL was meant to be different - cutting edge radical. This is what skewers the director's use of hyperbolic opening music - Gil Scott Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - this may have been true in the 70s and 80s but for the past fifteen years it feels as though the cutting edge of radical satire has lived on South Park or The Daily Show. Let's be honest, isn't SNL mostly harmless by now? Isn't everything that Julia Louis-Dreyfus says about the 80s true now, where SNL was desperately trying to keep pace with pop culture rather than setting the pace?

THE PEARL BUTTON AKA EL BOTON DE NACAR - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

As I began to watch Patricio Guzman's stunning documentary, THE PEARL BUTTON, I thought "ah! this is one of those films where I can sit back and let the beautifully photographed majesty of nature wash over me".  And yes, there is some stunning cinematography of nature in this film.  But very quickly we realise that this this film is actually about oppression - the oppression of an indigenous people who lived in Patagonia and were driven to extinction contrasted with the political murders by the Pinochet regime, whose bodies were dumped into the sea.   We are meant to draw an analogy between the people who lived in harmony with the Pacific Ocean, a people who travelled by boat (if not exactly seafaring) who believed that to be submerged in death was to achieve an after-life in the stars, and the victims of Pinochet's violence.

JIA ZHANG-KE, A GUY FROM FENYANG - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

The premise of this documentary is simple. Director Walter Salles (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) spends time with his friend and documentarian Jia Zhang-Ke.  They walk through the streets of his home town, Fenyang, in northern China, and talk about how life has changed, the old days at film school and his interests and passions. This is juxtaposed with interviews with Jia's family, friends and colleagues and interspersed with clips from his films. The small moments are hilarious. When a fan and student asks to take a photo with Jia and he can't help direct him not to shoot against the light! And all the way through there's great humour mixed in with the melancholy - Jia pointing out that his childhood home used to be a prison, and lamenting the death of the seedy independent karaoke bar.  

IN JACKSON HEIGHTS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

Frederick Wiseman (AT BERKELEY, NATIONAL GALLERY) specialises in meticulously filmed, kaleidoscopic documentaries that give us a languorous, immersive slice of life. In his latest film to play the London Film Festival he returns with an over-three-hour look at life in the ethnically diverse Queens neighbourhood, Jackson Heights.  Without overtly editorialising or inserting himself into the picture, Wiseman creates a picture of a place that is filled with passionate, diverse people struggling to make a life for themselves. This stretches from new immigrants taking classes to gain citizenship to small business owners struggling with new regulations to minority group lobbying for their rights.  I got the feeling that I was witnessing politics - real politics - played out at the micro level - where it really matters.  The politics of who gets to parade, who gets to protest, who gets to become an American.  In doing so, we hear lots of fantastic street music, and meet lots of fascinating people. People who have put into their community for years and keep on keepin' on.  It's strange when an everyday tale of everyday people - because of the skill of the person alighting on the details of their lives - can be transformed into something lyrical and epic. But in this portrait of a community - a very real community in defiance of all those who believe such things don't exist - there's a kind of epic importance.  This is social documentary film at its very finest. And as the slow march of gentrification rolls in from Brooklyn, it's all the more important.

IN JACKSON HEIGHTS has a running time of 190 minutes.  The film played Venice and Toronto 2015 and will play the BFI London Film Festival 2015 where it is nominated for the Grierson Award. Although both screenings are sold out there are usually stand-by tickets available.  It will be released on November 4th in the USA.

Sunday, September 06, 2015


Andrew Haigh (WEEKEND) returns to our screens with another deeply affecting, beautifully directed character drama.  45 YEARS stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as an apparently happily married couple approaching their 45th wedding anniversary when a letter is delivered reporting the discovery of the frozen body of the husband's former girlfriend, Katya.  Although she died before the couple even met, his references to "my Katya", the fact that they pretended to be married, the way it has affected him, all deeply affect his wife.  The husband disappears into the attic to look at old letters and play old records and even smell old perfume. And the formerly trusting, loving wife becomes distrustful and insecure - checking up on him, changing from a perfectly understanding reasonable woman into someone unwilling to even hear the other woman's name.  

What I love about the script is that you feel sympathy with both characters even as they do things that are unsympathetic or self-involved. These are two real people, with all their faults and strengths, facing up to emotions long forgotten and long suppressed.  As we see the wife become sneaky and cold, her position is utterly understandable. As she demands a public show of loyalty at their anniversary party, and we see her husband almost child-like in his desire to please her, we still understand both sides.  The tragedy is shared and irrevocable, as summed up in the most haunting close up on Rampling's face that closes the film.

This is film-making at its most raw and elegant - the melancholy blue-gray misty Norfolk landscape a perfect backdrop for the melancholy regret.  It's a film that contains no grand emotional break-downs but is absolutely paralysing in its depiction of mis-trust.  Andrew Haigh has established himself as one of the most assured directors of actors and I can't wait to see what he does next.

45 YEARS has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated  15 for strong language and sex. The movie played Berlin 2015 where Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay won the Silver Bear.  It opened earlier this year in Estonia and is currently on release in the UK, Ireland and Slovenia. It opens in Germany on September 10th, in Denmark on October 8th, in France on November 4th, in Sweden on December 4th and in Greece on December 10th.


AMERICAN ULTRA is a really fantastic film with a unique premise, a great score and visual style and the ability to both capture a darkly comedic tone but also be a genuinely tense action thriller.  It stars Jesse Eisenberg as a stoner called Mike who's actually the last man standing of a weird US spy programme designed to create and mind-control super-spies.  When the ruthless CIA careerist played by Topher Grace decides to kill Mike, his handler Lasseter (Connie Britton) decides to activate him in order to save his life.  We then get a series of really insane action scenes, as well some genuinely moving emotional scenes in which Mike wonders who he really is and how his relationship with girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is really operating. But what really impressed me was the feeling that the director an DP had a clear idea about how they wanted to tell the story. It's using cinema and all it has to offer to create powerful and complex and memorable storytelling.  There's a superb scene near the end where our bruised and bloodied couple are hobbling out of a destroyed building to the sound of a Chemical Brothers attack, framed in smoke from the fireworks they've let off and covered in the green laser sight-tags of machine guns.  The director, Nima Nourizadeh, decides to show the couple's interactions in silence with just the track playing.  That's some memorable shit right there.  My only slight gripe is the way that Max Landis chooses to end the film. Didn't feel right to me, and maybe a cheesy set up for a sequel.

AMERICAN ULTRA has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated R. The movie is on global release.

Saturday, September 05, 2015


THE RISE OF THE KRAYS is one of two Kray twins feature films released this year and certainly the less famous.  Directed by Zachary Adler from a script by Sebastian and Ken Brown the film is a stylish but low budget effort starring unknown actors. It takes a basic linear approach to the East End gangsters' lives - starting with the two of them well established as local thugs and taking over local protection rackets.  We get Ronnie's first stretch and the purchase of the Double R club.

What I liked about the film was its authentic period detail on a low budget,  its stylised cinematography, and the subtle but elegant score.  I also really liked Simon Cotton's performance as the psychopathic paranoid schizophrenic Ronnie and the way in which the director focusses in on events that tip him off.  There's a great scene where a prison guard says something innocuous to Ronnie and the film slows and we see this relatively unassuming kid turn into an enraged monster.   What I didn't like was the hackneyed voiceover and the utter lack of charisma and cinematic heft of Kevin Leslie as Reggie.  The twins need to balance each other otherwise we can't understand how Reggie managed to keep Ronnie from utter self-destruction for so long.

THE RISE OF THE KRAYS was released in the UK on DVD in May 2015.  It has a running time of 108 minutes and is rated 18 for strong violence and very strong language. 


THE KRAYS: KILL ORDER is a lo-fi but insightful and balanced documentary fronted by Bernard O'Mahoney, who was a Kray associate.  His presentation style may be stilted - he sounds like he's reading off a script as he awkwardly faces the camera - but you can't fault the access he has to the Krays associates and the way in which he inter-cuts differing views of controversial events.

The documentary takes a linear approach. It tells us about the twins growing up in East London, their vicious energy channelled into boxing.  Dodging the law and national service, making a name for themselves as running protection, the moving onto more general villainy. Intimidating Peter Rachman, getting a West End club, going inside, and the dangerous psychosis that undermined their criminal enterprise.  There's Ronnie's homosexual affair with a Lord and his deep paranoid schizophrenia.  There's Reggie's marriage to the tragic Frances Shea and accusations of who may have murdered her. And finally, the murders. 

A good example of the approach of the film is to the suicide of Reggie's wife.  We get glamour girl Maureen Flanagan defending Ronnie of charges of murdering Francis, because he would never had betrayed his brother like that. Than self-appointed Kray consigliere Toby Von Judge accusing Violet Kray of having killed Frances.  O'Mahoney is well aware of the legends and myths surrounding the Krays - and of their own role in creating them.  He knows he can't answer what really happened. But in showing the various reactions  - thinking the worst and most twisted - thinking the best - he can show the impact that the Krays have had on popular culture.  The staunch defenders of the East End lads who loved their mother, to those willing to thing of them as sexual deviants and serial killers. It's all there. And like I said, even if Kray aficionados don't learn anything new in this documentary, the new interviews are certainly worth watching.

THE KRAYS: KILL ORDER has a running time of 88  minutes and is available on demand this weekend and on DVD on September 16th. It is rated 15 for strong language and references to violence.