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Trailer: The Foreigner photo
Trailer: The Foreigner

Trailer: Watch Jackie Chan vs Pierce Brosnan in The Foreigner

So... Jackie Chan as Liam Neeson? Sold!
Jun 26
// Hubert Vigilla
Jackie Chan fights Pierce Brosnan. Yeah, you read that right. The Foreigner has Jackie Chan vs. an evil 90s James Bond (so basically Sean Bean?), and it looks like a solid revenge thriller. Rather than Chan playing his usual ...
David Bowie: The Image photo
David Bowie: The Image

Watch The Image, a 1969 horror short film starring a young David Bowie

At the time, this was rated X
Jun 13
// Hubert Vigilla
David Bowie had a memorable, otherworldly presence on screen. He was a believable strung out alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, a seductive strung out vampire in The Hunger, a dance-happy goblin king in Labyrinth, a proper B...
T2 Trainspotting photo
T2 Trainspotting

Choose life, watch the first 10 minutes of T2 Trainspotting

Them accents, luv
Jun 13
// Hubert Vigilla
I never got around to seeing T2 Trainspotting. In fact, I haven't seen the first Trainspotting since maybe the year 2000. Yet I've been meaning to rewatch the original and its sequel back to back to see how they complement on...

Review: My Scientology Movie

Mar 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220428:43450:0[/embed] My Scientology MovieDirector: John DowerRating: NRRelease Date: March 10, 2017 Gibney's documentary--an adaptation of Lawrence Wright's book of the same name--is a top-to-bottom takedown of the entire Church of Scientology, looking at the group's origins via the eccentric L. Ron Hubbard to its current state. Sweeney's Panorama pieces were more upsetting. The first, Scientology and Me, featured Sweeney getting stalked and harassed by high-level members of the Church of Scientology; the follow-up, The Secrets of Scientology, revealed how the Scientology operatives intimidated Sweeney, with the go-ahead coming from Scientology leader David Miscaviage himself. I mention the above works for their clarity of purpose and strong execution. Theroux's movie is far lighter on substance and information to its detriment, and much more impish by comparison just based on circumstance. He'd originally intended to make a documentary on Scientology and sought full cooperation of the cult. The Church of Scientology declined his request. They no longer allow journalists access to the church, perhaps because of Sweeney's damning work, which revealed just how nuts the organization is at its core. Undeterred, Theroux makes his own movie about Scientology featuring dramatic recreations and reinterpretations of events. There's an open casting call for people to play David Miscaviage and Tom Cruise, the former played by an alarmingly talented guy named Andrew Perez. For accuracy and insight into his film (and to bait the Church of Scientology), Theroux also contacts Mark Rathbun to help as a consultant. Rathbun was a former high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology, at times a brutal protector and enforcer for the church. He's now an apostate. My Scientology Movie sort of reminded me of Theorux's 2003 special Louis, Martin & Michael, in which he tried to get an interview with Michael Jackson but instead wound up hanging out with Michael's father and Uri Gellar. By not getting directly to Michael Jackson, Theroux got a great portrait of the strange world that Michael lives in. Similarly, by not working directly with the Church of Scientology, Theroux gets an oblique portrait of Scientology. The film isn't a takedown in the Gibney mode and it's nowhere near as intense as Sweeney's pieces (it's not even as good as Louis, Martin & Michael, to be honest), but Theroux's ability to disarm offers an all right roundabout look at how Scientology affects former members. Long-time Theroux fans like myself might be left wanting. One of the film's recreations centers around a detention center for misbehaving Scientologists. We witness the kind of intimidation and humiliation that church members endured at the hands of their leader. Perez shifts into Miscaviage mode, becoming an abusive, self-righteous demon eager to demean as he is to shove and to strike and to break furniture to make a point. The Church of Scientology sends its team of stalkers to see what Theroux is up to. What might be unnerving is oddly undone thanks to Theroux's unshakable calm. Theroux does what he's always done best in these sorts of situations: he renders scary things absurd. Theroux applies his trademark naivete, though it's on Rathbun rather than a current cult official. Rathbun's the closest that Theroux can get to the church directly, and he tries to ask questions, discern original motives, and get into the mind of a high-level Scientologist. Rathbun is practiced in the art of manipulation and intimidation, however, and a resentment builds between them. Those awkward moments in a Theroux piece are compelling to watch because they are such unguarded moments. Theroux gets a slight glimpse at the innerworkings of Rathbun, a complicated man who is much more of a mystery than whatever's going on in the Church of Scientology.
My Scientology Movie photo
A Theroux perspective, but not thorough
Louis Theroux won me over many years ago with the show Weird Weekends. In each episode, Theroux embedded himself in a subculture and use his extreme mild-mannered niceness to disarm his subjects. He'd hang out with porn stars...

Here's a complete list of 2017 BAFTA award winners

Feb 13 // Hubert Vigilla
Best Film La La LandArrivalI, Daniel BlakeManchester by the SeaMoonlight   Best Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land)Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake)Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals)   Best Actor Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals)Ryan Gosling (La La Land)Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)   Best Actress Emma Stone (La La Land)Amy Adams (Arrival)Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train)Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)Natalie Portman (Jackie)   Best Supporting Actor Dev Patel (Lion)Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)   Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis (Fences)Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake)Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)Naomie Harris (Moonlight)Nicole Kidman (Lion)   Best Original Screenplay Manchester By the SeaHell or High WaterI, Daniel BlakeLa La LandMoonlight   Best Adapted Screenplay LionArrivalHacksaw RidgeHidden FiguresNocturnal Animals   Outstanding British Film I, Daniel BlakeAmerican HoneyDenialFantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemNotes on BlindnessUnder the Shadow   Best Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer Under the Shadow – Babak Anvari (writer/director), Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh (producers)The Girl With All the Gifts – Mike Carey (writer), Camille Gatin (producer)The Hard Stop – George Amponsah (writer/director/producer), Dionne Walker (writer/producer)Notes on Blindness - Peter Middleton (writer/director/producer), James Spinney (writer/director), Jo-Jo Ellison (producer)The Pass – John Donnelly (writer), Ben A Williams (director)   EE Rising Star Award Tom HollandAnya Taylor-JoyLaia CostaLucas HedgesRuth Negga   Best Cinematography La La LandArrivalHell or High WaterLionNocturnal Animals   Best Editing Hacksaw RidgeArrivalLa La LandManchester by the SeaNocturnal Animals   Best Animated Film Kubo and the Two StringsFinding DoryMoanaZootropolis   Best Documentary 13THThe Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring YearsThe Eagle HuntressNotes on BlindnessWeiner   Best Film Not in the English Language Son of SaulDheepanJulietaMustangToni Erdmann   Best Special Visual Effects The Jungle BookArrivalDoctor StrangeFantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemRogue One: A Star Wars Story   Best Original Music La La LandArrivalJackieLionNocturnal Animals   Best Sound ArrivalDeepwater HorizonFantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemHacksaw RidgeLa La Land   Best Make Up & Hair Florence Foster JenkinsDoctor StrangeHacksaw RidgeNocturnal AnimalsRogue One: A Star Wars Story   Best Costume Design JackieAlliedFantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemFlorence Foster JenkinsLa La Land   Best Production Design Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemDoctor StrangeHail, Caesar!La La LandNocturnal Animals   Best British Short Film HomeConsumedMouth of HellThe PartyStandby   Best British Short Animation A Love StoryThe Alan DimensionTough   Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Curzon Group BAFTA Fellowship Mel Brooks
2017 BAFTA Awards photo
La La Land scoops up overseas
The BAFTAs last night awarded several top prizes to Damien Chazelle's La La Land, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Emma Stone), and Best Original Music. It may be a preview of what's to come at the Oscars. Ot...

Watch Ryan Scafuro's Election Night, a short documentary about America's long evening

Jan 17 // Hubert Vigilla
It's fascinating to witness the entire tone of that pub change. Once there was optimism, then there was deflation and disbelief; both of the latter linger without leaving like some awful fog. It's not a be-all or end-all statement on election night, but it's a chronicle of moods that many are still dealing with. We're days away from a new President of the United States, and I sense a lot of this country and the population overseas continue to be stuck with that uncertain feeling captured at the end of this film. It's morning in America, and it's raining. If Scafuro's name sounds a bit familiar, he was the producer and director of photography on the excellent strong man documentary Bending Steel, directed by Dave Carroll. Both Scafuro and Carroll have also worked on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. How was your election night? How are you feeling now? Chime in down below in the comments. [via Short of the Week]
Election Night photo
Democracy's rainy hangover
Inauguration Day is this week. It's also my birthday on Inauguration Day. If you've seen some of my previous film and TV-related posts about Donald Trump on this site, you probably know how I feel about this. It's a glum and ...

Review: I, Daniel Blake

Dec 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220904:43138:0[/embed] I, Daniel BlakeDirector: Ken LoachRating: TBDRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (UK); December 23, 2016 (USA)Country: UK Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a widower who's been denied disability benefits after suffering a heart attack. He's an everyman figure for the vulnerable elderly, and for anyone who's been on hold with customer service for longer than necessary. Daniel doesn't have any family or friends to help him in this situation, so he needs the social safety net. There's a catch: in order to receive any benefits, he has to look for work, and yet he can't work at the moment because his doctor says it will aggravate his heart condition. His plight may sound familiar, but that's because it's a reality for many older people. The elderly and other vulnerable populations often face these kinds of helpless situations. Rather than receive individual assistance with computers or paperwork, the system wants to push him through and out as quickly as possible--men and women chewed up and spat. While Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty may heighten the dire situation, Johns' performance grounds Daniel. He's an individual man and a common man metaphor, and achingly human. Daniel's path crosses with Katie (Hayley Squires), a struggling single-mother from London trying to resettle in New Castle. Hers is a life of constant denial. Spaghetti for the kids at dinner, and just an apple for herself until morning. She can't find work because there aren't any jobs, and so that cycle of denial continues. In one of the movie's most moving and empathetic moments, we watch Katie overcome by hunger at a food bank. She breaks down. Squires brings a lot of heart to her performance, but in this scene Katie's courage has faltered. There's only a debased shame. Somewhere, mixed in, there's also dread. Together, Daniel and Katie offer a glimmer of hope for the people failed by the system. When vulnerable people slip through the country's social safety net, perhaps their only shot at dignity is to be there for one another. And perhaps because this plight is so familiar--seen on film, TV, in families or down the street--struggling people can feel a little less alone in the world. The situation in I, Daniel Blake is so specific to the UK, and yet the pain and the hardship is relatable throughout the western world. Knowing that someone else has experienced the same thing can help reduce that sense of hopeless desperation that accompanies poverty. It's a meek hope, though, a faint and brief glimmer, which may explain the fervor of the film, like something off a Billy Bragg record. I, Daniel Blake feels like a rallying cry for reform and greater egalitarianism, or at least some restoration of humanity and kindness to systems that have become so good at stripping humanity away. If the characters seem familiar, it's probably because the same tragedies happen so often and have happened for so long to so many. If the story beats sound familiar, it's probably because the cadence of protest chants often have a common pattern. I, Daniel Blake is ostensibly about a man named Daniel and a woman named Katie, but I know these people by other names and with other faces.
Review: I, Daniel Blake photo
Familiar yet powerfully urgent
Bureaucracies make great villains. Faceless and absurd, they operate in such nefarious ways and are perfect machines for dehumanization. Bureaucracies are reliably inefficient, needlessly hierarchical, ruthlessly procedure-ob...

Review: High-Rise

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220425:42900:0[/embed] High-RiseDirector: Ben WheatleyRating: RRelease Date: March 18, 2016 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a brain surgeon who's taken a flat in a new luxury high rise. In the apartment above there's Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a flirty socialite who makes eyes with the good doctor as he sunbathes nude on his balcony. Building designer Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in the penthouse, where his wife rides white horses on the rooftop garden and he looks down on his grand social experiment: all the comforts one could need, a hermetic society. And yet the parties and the supermarket and the pool access is never enough to keep people compliant. They isolate themselves, they become tribal. The opening of the film, which looks downright post-apocalyptic, shows how far the high rise life has decayed. Laing scavenges the dumpsite foyer of his building for food, dressed in the tatters of a business suit. He's gone from doctor to concrete pirate. There's no food, but thank goodness for stray dogs. Like the upper-middle-class residents of the skyscraper, I'm not sure director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump get what they want out of High-Rise; the same may go for the audience. Adapted from the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, it's a sordid and decadent movie about people going native in their own crowded living quarters, but it's even looser and sloppier than that. As society crumbles, the narrative structure of the film breaks down as well. The last half of the movie eschews traditional narrative and tells the rest of the building's decay in a series of loud vignettes and montages. I can pinpoint the exact moment midway through High-Rise where I lost a lot of my patience. Before a raging bastard of a man named Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) goes on a dominating rampage, he tapes his own voice in a cassette recorder. He repeats "I am Richard Wilder!" On the one hand, I get it (Wild, yes, and you're wilder than others, like this is the wild, okay), but on the other hand I rolled my eyes because I couldn't have not gotten it already (yeah, Dick wilder, I noticed). The scene that follows it is ugly and uncomfortable; obviously by design, and yet. High-Rise isn't bad so much as it's convoluted in its execution and maybe wishy-washy with its cultural critique. There's something Gilliam-esque about some of the scenes. The aristocratic party in 18th century garb is a nice bit of upper class affectation, and ditto the block party out in the hall. Similarly, the growing squalor of the building looks like something out of Brazil combined with a third-world landfill. The lights flicker out periodically, and nothing quite works the way it should in this place, and yet one carries on. Laing is no Sam Lowry from Brazil, however. Like some of the characters in High-Rise, Laing is passive and content to sit back as the world around him devolves and crumbles, which sort of squanders Hiddleston's natural charisma. He exists as a metaphor, a symbol, not a person. Meanwhile, others act or are acted upon; most of them also metaphors or symbols rather than people. It's the difference between facades and actual domiciles. There's a clinical lens about High-Rise, which makes sense since the breakdown is about observing the devaluation of others. It's like watching a crowded cage full of rats who are bound, at some point, to destroy each other just given the crowding and the lack of resources. And yet it's not quite like that since our ability to observe this cannibalization is interrupted. The sense of cause-and-effect is broken up, it feels like there's something missing. The vignettes that comprise the final half of High-Rise become frustrating since we're rarely offered a chance to explore the emerging tribes of the building. Here are tribal cultures and subcultures organizing themselves inside of a multi-tiered concrete petri dish (e.g., a matriarchal society of women and orphaned children), and we barely get an opportunity to observe their method of survival. MILD SPOILERS ABOUT THE FINAL SCENE The final words of the film don't belong to any of the characters we've spent time with. Instead it's the voice of Margaret Thatcher extolling the virtues of capitalism. Nevermind that there's little in the movie about capitalism per se. Maybe this is Thatcher suggesting capitalism as a solution to the egalitarian nightmare whose failure we just watched? And given our place in time, maybe the state of nature isn't quite as bad as the current state of government-approved inequality. High-Rise is a work of interesting and extreme architecture, but I'm still not sure what to make of its design.
Review: High Rise photo
Going native in a concrete jungle
High-Rise is a bit all over the place, and it's a bit of a mess, but it also seems to be that way by design--a sort of warped architecture. I'd gone in sort of expecting a vertical version of Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer, but i...

Review: The Lobster

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219844:42633:0[/embed] The LobsterDirector: Yorgos LanthimosRating: n/aRelease Date: October 16, 2015 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK, Greece, France  In the world of The Lobster, single people are social pariahs. After the death of a spouse or a divorce, a single person is forced to check into a hotel filled with other single people. They have forty-five days to pair up and get married, otherwise they are killed and have their consciousness transferred to an animal. Lots of people choose dogs, but throughout the movie we also see horses, pigs, and peacocks. Our hero David (Colin Ferrell, with a slight gut) chooses a lobster; he brings his brother (who is now a dog) with him to the hotel. You can earn extra time to prevent metempsychosis by hunting down single people in the woods with a tranquilizer gun. The hotel operates with business-like efficiency, providing scheduled social activities like some bad singles cruise from hell. To reinforce the importance of relationships, the hotel staff puts on skits: A single man pantomimes eating a meal alone, he chokes, he dies; a man and his wife pantomime eating a meal together, he chokes, she administers the Heimlich maneuver, he lives--applause. To determine whom you can pair up with, you're asked whether you're straight or homosexual (the latter sounds so much like business-ese in the context of the film). David asks if there's a bi-sexual option and is shot down--you can only choose one or the other, not both. Paper or plastic, soup or salad, efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. And it's blackly hilarious. The international cast adds to the oddball appeal of The Lobster, and they deliver their lines in an intentionally stilted manner. Olivia Colman's hotel manager strikes just the right balance between clinical, supportive, and fascistic to make her moments memorable. As for the guests, at times they seem like awkward pre-teens going through the early stages of adolescence. David befriends men played by John C. Reilly (with a slight lisp) and Ben Wishaw (with a slight limp), but they act like boys in the schoolyard. In some scenes the lines are bumbled or devoid of actual human emotion, like they're reading a script or they're pod people acting like humans are supposed to act. Flirtation is no longer about attraction or fun but learned behaviors about how people are supposed to flirt, or the desperation of a ticking clock scenario; relationships are a form of mutually beneficial transaction (i.e., we get to remain humans) that's not necessarily satisfying. Some of the best moments in The Lobster come from Lanthimos' exploration of the various forces that urge people to get into relationships against their will. The time limit might be taken as a biological imperative to have kids, or even just a desire to get married by a certain age; the pressures of the hotel staff are the different cultural, familial, and religious expectations attached to marriage and relationships. Any time your relatives have nagged you about dating, marriage, or kids, you have occupied a room in Lanthimos' hotel. Lanthimos also pokes fun at the arbitrary ways we sometimes choose who we want to be with. Limping Wishaw is looking for a woman who also has a limp, because something in common (no matter how arbitrary) might mean greater compatibility. Sometimes shared interests or traits are an arbitrary reason to get into a relationship. Does he or she really need to like your favorite band? Is a 99% match on OK Cupid really a guarantee of compatibility? A number is just a number like a limp is just a limp, and what people share together isn't a matter of arithmetic or mere reflection; there's a kind of private language and grammar that develops between people who are really fond of one another, and these things can't be forced or imposed from the outside. Since The Lobster is rooted in binaries, we also get to learn about the harshness of single-life out in the woods. In the wild and the damp, we meet the leader of The Loners played by Lea Seydoux, who's both a kind of political revolutionary and a radicalized kook. She asserts her own absurd will over The Loners that is in stark contrast to the rules of the hotel--instead of relationships, it's all about forceful solitude. And yet like the hotel, her rules are equally arbitrary, equally absurd, and also blackly hilarious. It's no longer a case of "paper or plastic" among The Loners, but rather "with us or against us." Lanthimos is equally suspicious of these denials of attraction and the repression of our desire to connect with someone else; it's another imposition on human nature and individual choice. In the woods, animals who were single people wander through shots. They're probably better off. For all the absurd and anarchic humor throughout The Lobster, the movie loses momentum before it comes to an end. It's as if Lanthimos exhausted the possibilities of his conceit and didn't figure out the final pivot his story could take. (I mentioned Barthelme earlier, and his best stories often have a sort of pivot near the end, revealing an additional train of thought that's been operating, parallel or hidden, all along.) The Lobster can feel a little one-note at times, but I suppose it's really one note that's played by two opposing sides, a kind of tyranny of logic. During the New York Film Festival press conference after the screening, Lanthimos said his screenplay was very logical. The comment drew some giggles from the press, yet it's true. The Lobster adheres to the logic of its conceit, and maybe too much. But there's still enough to love.
Review: The Lobster photo
Love is strange (so is loneliness)
I still haven't gotten around to seeing Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, though I intend to. The blackly surreal 2009 film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and drew favorable comparisons to the work of Luis Bunuel ...

Tribeca Review: The Banksy Job

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220520:42931:0[/embed] The Banksy JobDirectors: Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan HarveyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: UK  AK47 is the head of the art collective Art Kieda, a self-described "arto-politico humorist movement" (because who else would describe it that way?). He becomes obsessed with Banksy after the artist refused to sign a print purchased at a party. AK47 could have purchased a signed print from the same party, but he wanted to save money. Out of spite, he steals The Drinker. Seriously. Is a Heist a Work of Art? Maybe. The heist itself plays out like a sloppy, slackery bit of municipal roadwork, but there's a kind of brazen moxie about it all. If it's not a work of performance art, it may be a great bit of silliness. You get a sense watching AK47 that he views everything as a kind of lark, from his previous careers as a rave organizer and amateur porn star/pornographer to his current attempts at art making. And yet saying it's a work of art might be off--is any act a work of art simply because someone says so, even if they're taking the piss? The way AK47 giggles and preens during and in retrospect, it almost seems as if he's also having a wank. Is AK47 an artist? AK47 calls himself an art-terrorist, and to the extent that this entire act of thievery caused a kind of interruption of routine he's accurately described himself. And yet in stealing the art and later trying to sell it (after a series of unexpected complications), he offers a weird exercise in the philosophy of art. AK47 delves into the origins of The Drinker's creation and presents the audience with the kitsch equivalent of the Theseus' Ship Paradox. Maybe AK47 is an artist who relies on the work of others--Banksy, Al Qaeda, Plutarch, Exit Through the Gift Shop--to arrive at salient aesthetic ideas. It's sort of like being drunk and finding the $20 that someone else left in the ATM at the bar.  Is The Banksy Job Just Taking the Piss? Like Exit Through the Gift Shop, much of The Banksy Job leaves the viewer wondering how much is real, how much is invented, and how much is just a series of weird half-truths. There's a bit of everything in there, including a recitation of the Art Kieda code, yet something tells me the collective isn't quite the army AK47 suggests. Banksy appears in the film as an interviewee, or at least it's some guy with his face blacked out and his voice digitally altered to protect his identity. It fits the AK47/Art Kieda aesthetic, though--whether real or not, it's all pretty much about taking the piss. Okay, But Is It Art? Good question. Hell if I know. The safe answer is "Maybe?"
Review: The Banksy Job photo
Taking the piss, but is it art?
There are cock and bull stories and there are shaggy dog stories and there are complete piss-takes. The Banksy Job is kind of a mix of all three. At its center is a Bansky obsessive who goes by the artsy sobriquet AK47. His r...

The Survivalist photo
The Survivalist

Watch the trailer for The Survivalist, a moody post-apocalyptic drama/thriller

One of my favorites from Tribeca 2015
Jan 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The Survivalist was one of my favorite movies from last year's Tribeca Film Festival. (You can read my review at another site here.) It was a moody, memorable indie drama set in the overgrown woods of a post-apocalyptic futur...
Ridley Scott/The Prisoner photo
Ridley Scott/The Prisoner

Ridley Scott wants to adapt The Prisoner for the big screen

Plus Hubert's preferred episode order
Jan 11
// Hubert Vigilla
Originally aired in 1967 and 1968, The Prisoner is one of the best TV shows of all time. Many directors have tried to bring it to the big screen, including Simon West and Christopher Nolan, and the show had a poorly received ...
Radiohead Bond theme photo
Radiohead Bond theme

Listen to Radiohead's unused James Bond theme song for Spectre

A Christmas gift to you from Radiohead
Dec 26
// Hubert Vigilla
Spectre was sort of wonky as recent Bond movies go. The film was full of Bond callbacks, particularly to the Roger Moore era, which was nice for a cheap nostalgia pop but a big step backwards after the strengths of Skyfall. O...
Black Mirror Netflix photo
Black Mirror Netflix

Netflix teases its 12 new episodes of Black Mirror for Season Three

Twelve! Twelve episodes! Ah-ah-ah!
Sep 25
// Hubert Vigilla
It's now official: Netflix has ordered 12 new episodes of Black Mirror for Season 3. As we reported last time, Charlie Brooker is currently writing the new series, and the show will be produced in collaboration with House of ...
Black Mirror Netflix photo
Confession: I loved the pig episode
Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was given new life when Netflix added it to its streaming library in late 2014. Many a thinkpiece ensued, and pretty much everyone you knew probably asked if you'd seen it at some point or ...

RIP Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

Jun 11 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219552:42431:0[/embed]   And, of course... [embed]219552:42432:0[/embed]
The legend was 93 years old
Sir Christopher Lee has passed away at the age of 93. Lee died in the hospital on Sunday, June 7th, though word of his passing has only reached news outlets today. According to several reports, this was at the request of Lee'...

Why It Sucks To Go To The Movies In London

Apr 03 // Jackson Tyler
I live in the most expensive city on earth, and like many people in that city, I am incredibly poor. I’ve been living unemployed for the last year, on temporary half-rate employment support allowance, because after all this time, my case has yet to be processed. My ticket to Fast and Furious 7 today will cost me almost a quarter of said weekly allowance. As somebody who tries to keep relatively current with movies in order to write about them on the internet, such a massive cost inherently changes my relationship with them. Making regular cinema trips is an intense financial burden, and as such, I have to be choosy about those which I go out and see. Yet, I don’t often make that choice myself. I mean, I do, I’m not getting into free-will or anything here, but decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. I’ll see a movie on opening weekend if more people are going to be talking about it so I can avoid spoilers and get in on the zeitgeist. I’ll see a movie on opening weekend if I’m going to review it. I’ll let a potential masterpiece slide if I’ve got something to do at home and want to afford milk for the weekend. It’s not hard for me to argue that if my criticism is driven by what I watch, and what I watch is driven by what is deemed culturally relevant for me to watch, that I am a bad critic. After all, that is the manner in which the status quo remains dominant regardless of how harmful or stagnant it may be. People always decry the amount of sequels and remakes, but they make the most commercial sense for everyone involved. Studios get a pre-existing audience to market to, movie websites get to survive because people are looking for information on them, thus creating more and more interest in the movies that already had an audience. It’s an incredibly successful and self-sustaining system that tends towards hegemony. Because the film industry is just that, an industry. It relies on the consistent exploitation of both its workers and its audience in order to maintain the profit margins that it creates. By engaging with movie culture on its terms, I am feeding into a system of my own exploitation, and the exploitation of others. Instead of heading to the Odeon on a Friday, I could stay at home and watch a cheap second hand DVD I picked up two years ago for 25p, and have enough money to afford something better than frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. Maybe with that leftover money I could put it towards a cause that would work against the way the government treats the poor and the disabled and improve the quality of life for others as well. I don’t, though. And honestly, I think that last paragraph ends on a dangerous line of thinking. It’s the same line of thinking that blames poor people for the exploitative labour practises of amazon, because they can’t afford to drive to the shops. Ultimately, I can’t truck with any thought that puts the responsibility for change on those that are already struggling and desperate. The idea that the public have the final say under capitalism is clearly a fallacy, because people’s choices are so often dictated for them. Anyone who says “Vote with your dollar!” gets serious side eye from me. When I have so few dollars to vote with, and those with power and status so many, is it any wonder we keep getting the same results? This is how the same voices get to be heard over and over in criticism. Those with the established jobs, those with access to pre-release screeners, or those that can afford to keep up with the increased prices of regular tickets, tend to be straight, white, cis men. These economic processes are the same processes that lead to the experiences and thoughts of marginalised being pushed to the side-lines within criticism, when they’re the people who need to be heard. Criticism is being written that dismantles these harmful ideologies, often later when these movies become widely available, or cheaper, or even pirated, and then I see it written off by established people so often as “inevitable tumblr backlash.” Tumblr isn’t a monolith, I’m not saying its perfect, but to write off important criticism because it doesn’t come from a legitimate established platform is only helping to sustain a system that is ultimately harmful and exploitative for all but a minute number of people. I haven’t got an answer, I don’t have a fix, and I wouldn’t trust anybody who says they do. All of these problems in movie culture are merely the problems of western culture writ small, No Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism and all that jazz. And when forced to be complicit in your own exploitation, the only thing you can do is try not to feel guilty. My band aid of a quick-fix is just: be empathetic, help others where you can, and try not to think about it. When thinking about a film I ignore my relationship to it as a product, because otherwise every time I wrote anything I’d probably break into a rant about the death of post-war socialism and that doesn’t help anyone who wants to know about The Avengers. But one thing I can do, when faced with any harmful elements of a culture or sub-culture, is to try to find or build my own alternative niches to engage with. In this case, what it means is I want to make it a personal goal to write more about movies that aren’t new releases, that aren’t in the news, that aren’t about to get a sequel. Hopefully you’ll see more words from me that are worth reading because they’re good words rather than because they’re relevant and topical, and I encourage you to find more critics who operate this way, because there’s like a million of them better than me even on this here website. Read alternate voices, support marginalised perspectives, and if we can’t get rid of an awful system, at least we can build cooler, safer spaces within it. Anyway. Enough of this, I’m heading out to watch Fast and Furious. Can someone spot me a tenner?
London Movies photo
How Much Does A Movie Ticket Cost?
Earlier this week, I complained errantly on twitter, as I am wont to do, about my local cinema’s increasing of prices to £11.80. (Which, for those of you in America, comes to $17.51 for a standard 2D ticket). I w...

Review: A Field in England

Feb 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217297:41244:0[/embed] A Field in EnglandDirector: Ben WheatleyRelease Date: February 7, 2014 (VOD/Limited Theatrical)Country: United Kingdom  A Field in England is set during a battle, but not really on a battlefield. Beyond the opening moments, there's nothing really to indicate that any kind of war is even going on. If they weren't holding guns, it would be extremely easy to forget about the supposed conflict surrounding them. Even the big shootout that ends the film lacks any sort of war-like power, because it's between characters who have been with each other for a while, not from the entrance of a new faction looking for blood. Everything is very insular, focusing on four characters with two others in lesser roles. From the frequent "Get down"s, it seemed like they were supposed to be hiding in the grass from an unseen enemy, but because that enemy never rears its ugly head, it seems like a weird formality. There aren't even gunshots or shouts in the background. They're getting down because the director told them to, not because they have any need. What that all adds up to is something extremely boring. Which is a problem, because this is a film that demands your attention while doing everything in its power to lose it. For 90-ish minutes, basically nothing is happening, and the entirety of the film's intrigue comes from the audiovisual presentation rather than the thing itself. Visually, it's bizarre, and I don't mean really mean that in a good way. The opening warns of a stroboscopic sequence (a word I had never seen before), but for a long while, I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. Early on, takes are long and uninteresting. People stare at things and talk. There are tableaus. Tableaus! At several points in the film, everybody just stops moving and the camera cuts between them for a minute or two. It's every bit as uninteresting as it sounds.  Plus, A Field in England does nothing to feel like a historical thriller. The period costumes and weapons are all well and good, but it feels more like a filmed reenactment than something actually set in the past. A big part of this is due to the decision to release the film in black-and-white. There's something inherently bizarre about a black-and-white film shot digitally. It looks cheap, like it's trying to replicate some old-timey feel without doing any work. Sometimes film grain is added in post, or the gain is jacked up in-camera, to give it a film-stock feel to push its appearance a bit further into the past, but there's nothing like that here. It's a pristine, completely desaturated image. And it stops being interesting immediately. At one point, a characters says something like "Look at the colors!" and I wished that I could; it probably would have made the film a bit more bearable to sit through. Maybe the lack of color and action says something about the monotony of war, or maybe director Ben Wheatley is just weird. Which I would believe, because it finally struck me during the stroboscopic sequence (fueled by hallucinogenic mushrooms) why I disliked the movie so much: because it's an experimental film masquerading as a narrative. The story doesn't make sense because there is no story. The first half of the film has the pretense of a narrative, but that disappears and then it just goes crazy. And when I realized that, I didn't start to like A Field in England, but I finally understood what I was watching. I have no idea what it means or what the images were trying to tell me, but when it hit me that that may have been the point, I was willing to forgive it, just a little bit. I don't like experimental films, but I can appreciate their existence. What A Field in England does with its resurrecting characters and tableaus and poorly-done black-and-white and horrendously long moment where the soundtrack is entirely screams (if I had been in a theater where I couldn't turn the volume down, I probably would have gone more insane than the screaming character) is make an unpleasant experience that keeps the viewer constantly at arm's length. And if that's the point, then fine. It's not going to make me like the movie, but it will subdue my rage just a little bit.
A Field in England Review photo
I feel like I missed something
Did you know that there was an English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century? I had no idea, but apparently from 1642 to 1651, there were three sets of battles between those who followed the king and those who beli...

Cuban Fury Trailer photo
Cuban Fury Trailer

First trailer for Cuban Fury starring Nick Frost

Nov 14
// Nick Valdez
Cuban Fury may not have a domestic release date yet (only releasing in the UK for now), but that doesn't make me want to see it any less. Nick Frost stars as a young salsa dance project who's trying to get back in the groove...

Review: 12 Years a Slave

Oct 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216440:40759:0[/embed] 12 Years a SlaveDirector: Steve McQueenRating: RCountry: UKRelease Date: October 18th, 2013 At the center of 12 Years a Slave is Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He's conned, kidnapped, and taken into slavery in sequences that feel like Kafka rather than real life. We're first introduced to him in the midst of his bondage, but the film doubles back to recount how he arrived in this situation. McQueen does some fascinating jumps through time early in the film as a means of acquainting the audience with Northup's idyllic life in Saratoga Springs, NY, melding recollection and exposition through images and scenes rather than through overt dialogue. When Solomon is captured and taken, the tenor of the film changes dramatically, and yet the whole film is shot with a consistently uncanny elegance. Even though 12 Years a Slave is an adaptation of Northup's 1853 memoir of the same name, there's something eerie and otherworldly about the film. I think it has less to do with the evocation of the era and more to do with the film's evocation of Solomon's dread and the perils of spiritual decline. The Spanish moss has a menace to it, as does the scream of cicadas. The riverboat ride that transports Solomon from Washington DC to the South is like being ferried to perdition. We see Michael K. Williams on this boat in chains and with his face harnessed in something like a mix of manacles, muzzle, and bondage gear. The slave selling sequence has the feel of a nightmare in how casually people are treated like chattel. I couldn't help but read the film as a sort of surreal descent into the bleakest places of the nation's soul. A fair amount has been made of a UK director helming a film about American slavery. (Nevermind that the film's screenwriter, John Ridley, is American.) I think McQueen, through a mix of national distance and close human concern, depicts the pre-Civil War south as a kind of subtly alien hellscape. He's able to get beyond whatever received cliches a native culture may have provided him and instead gets into the core human emotions that have resonance beyond national borders and cultural identities. It's a film about American slavery, yes, but a country of origin is not an impediment to exploring universal experiences of human suffering and human dignity. 12 Years a Slave digs deep into what it means to be human and what it means to have that humanity debased, degraded, and stripped away mercilessly. The violence isn't just physical and verbal, however, it even becomes philosophical and existential. Solomon's captors refer to him as Platt and say he's a runaway slave. No longer is he a violinist or a well-regarded member of a community; no longer do a wife and family have meaning. Solomon notes an important distinction when he says that he doesn't just want to survive but to live. He used to live as a person, but all he'll manage as a slave is survival. The latter is still a kind of life, but how long is it possible to lead it without being totally broken? More than the odd otherworldliness of the film, 12 Years a Slave is driven by sadness and helplessness. The scene I mentioned at the beginning of this review was one that affected me the strongest, but I wound up crying through at least a quarter of the film since it strikes such a melancholy chord. Much of it is thanks to the performances, especially Ejiofor. There's a persistent worry etched in his brow, and a growing woe in his eyes as he learns to be suspicious of everyone, even those who may seem sympathetic to him. Where there once was joy and pride, there's only a kind of raw imperative to exist in solitude. There are two slave women whose narratives are also an important part of the film's journey through hopelessness. There's Adepero Oduye as Eliza, a mother trying to hold her family together, and later there's Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, who's left in an untenable situation that would make most succumb to despair. Both actresses and characters are memorable in their own depictions of desperation. There are many faces of evil in the film. Paul Dano is maybe the most caricature-like as a screaming Southern racist. His histrionics have improved on those displayed in There Will Be Blood, and one of his early scenes involves a song sung to slaves that's as absolutely chilling as it is surreal -- it's almost funny how over-the-top hateful it is. The ditty plays as the backing track to a montage on the slave routine and the very absurdity of slavery. Benedict Cumberbatch is a kind man for a slaveowner but is ultimately evil in his human disregard. The whole of his character's heart is found not in a kind gesture to Solomon but in an extended act of indifference. In the deepest pit of this American hell, there is Master Edwin Epps played by Michael Fassbender. The man is absolutely demented, and it doesn't help that he thinks the Lord's on his side. Epps wakes up his slaves for dance parties, he abuses them at his will, and he lusts after Patsey even though he's ashamed to admit it. His wife Mary, played by Sarah Paulson, is a ruthless and capricious belle full of venom, and she might be just as evil as her husband. What makes both of them so frightening is a constant unease. Acts of rabid, wanton cruelty can happen any minute they're around. Whenever Solomon may have an inkling of hope, betrayals and the lash are a reminder of how fleeting this hope can be. It's strange what keeps hope alive. There's an old idea (and maybe a misinterpreted one) that hell is where God is absent, and yet there seems to be hope anywhere that there's still some sort of life, even if it's just survival. Solomon and his fellow slaves share in a deep faith that keeps them going even though their circumstances ought to call into question the very existence of a merciful and all-loving deity. When there seems little chance for escape, when all hope seems lost, Solomon joins in a slave song in one of the film's most memorable moments. It's not about major crescendos of emotion, but rather a quietly observed change in Solomon during the scene and in the story. The song could have gone on minutes more and it would have been a bright and welcome reprieve from the sheer despair of the film. 12 Years a Slave is such an emotionally draining movie. When I stepped out of the theater, I couldn't process much of what I'd seen intellectually because I was still too attached to it emotionally and viscerally. I still am about 24 hours later. I might be next week. This is profoundly affecting, deeply moving cinema, and within it, most importantly, is an undeniable heart that's beating full of life.
12 Years a Slave Review photo
The difference between living and surviving is stark
When 12 Years a Slave played at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, there were reports of walkouts during screenings, even among the press. It wasn't because the movie was bad. Far from it. People walked out b...

NYFF Review: Alan Partridge

Oct 07 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216434:40752:0[/embed] Alan Partridge (Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa)Director: Declan LowneyRating: TBDCountry: UKRelease Date:  August 7th, 2013 (UK) When characters are taken from the small screen to the big screen, one of the challenges is finding the right kind of story to contain such a small personality. Most television characters, especially in sitcoms, are defined by a limited shtick, and it's important to find a movie that plays to that limited shtick by building a larger cinematic framework for the character without it feeling like a rehash of old gags. (Maybe the best of example of this is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.) Alan Partridge winds up finding the right vessel for Alan Partridge by doing something that feels like an episode of a show blown up for the big screen. The radio station that Alan has worked for over the last couple years -- he used to be a television presenter, but his career took a slide -- has been bought by a hip young conglomerate that's phasing out old talent for new kids. Pat, one of Alan's long-time colleagues played by the always-reliable Colm Meaney, gets sacked and decides to do the only rational thing: he walks into the radio station with a shotgun and takes it hostage. Hilarity ensues. I imagine that when Alan Partridge gets released in the United States, there'll be a couple of think pieces about gun violence and hostage situations as a source of comedy, with the writers of said think pieces forgetting just how funny Dog Day Afternoon was in spots and that black comedy can be hysterical. Coogan and his co-writers didn't forget, and the resulting film is a mix of slapstick and well-observed social awkwardness. Pat makes a gun-rest with duct tape around another DJ's head, a bunch of crass personalities are stuck together in a room, and Alan sees the hostage situation as a possible way to up his slumping profile as a media celebrity. There's also mangina. Alan Partridge is a gag-a-minute, rapid-fire sort of comedy, and the laughs come in different ways, so even though I've listed a few gags, there are plenty more. There's the giggle from the line that describes Feetwood Mac as "soft rock cocaine enthusiasts" -- funny cuz it's true -- and there's a cringeworthy moment that involves Alan's backwards idea of gender roles. Several, actually. He's not what you'd call progressive about those sorts of things. Alpha Papa is a movie full of quotable lines as well, so many quotable lines that a second or third watch is necessary to catch them all. Since I've never been to England and I'm not much of an anglophile, I know I'm missing at least a third of the jokes that are UK-centric. Maybe the most surprising thing about Alan Partridge is that Coogan doesn't seem sick of the character. Alan Partridge made his first appearance more than 20 years ago on BBC Radio, and in Alpha Papa, it seems as if everyone invested in seeing where this goofy twit winds up. It's a game of comic limbo, maybe: how low can Partridge go? Coogan's gone on to have a successful career outside of Partridge, much of it thanks to his work with Michael Winterbottom, so it'd be easy to resent his attachment to a single part of his career. I can't say he necessarily embraces Alan Partridge, but he doesn't seem to be pushing it away, and that's refreshing in a way that Ricky Gervais' return to David Brent isn't. Alan Partridge as a character has always been a cult thing stateside -- I didn't even get into Partridge stuff until seeing 24 Hour Party People in college and wanting to know more about Coogan -- and I think Alpha Papa will similarly play to a niche audience of people who love those UK nitwits. Watching it can be a bit exhausting since there are so many jokes and, let's face it, about an hour with Partridge is a strong enough dose for most people, and yet it's worthwhile. I don't think Alan Partridge will win that many new fans to the character, but it'll make the fans happy, which is what Alan would want if he were real. [Alan Partridge will screen at Alice Tully Hall on October 7th. For tickets and more information, click here.]
Alan Partridge Review photo
If you like Alan Partridge, you'll like Alan Partridge
British comedy has a fine tradition of endlessly watchable twits. Off the top of my head, some of my favorites are Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers, Arnold Rimmer of Red Dwarf, David Brent of The Office, and Alan Partridge of wa...

NYFF Review: Le Week-End

Sep 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216539:40695:0[/embed] Le Week-EndDirector: Roger MichellRating: NRCountry: USA/UK/France  Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) go to Paris to celebrate their anniversary, because Paris is a city of romance and their relationship is rocky (to put it mildly). Because I went in without any real sense of what this film was going to be (I thought it was a French that was in French, so imagine my surprise when Jeff Goldblum’s named appeared in the credits), I kept imagining the film would go in some over-the-top direction. Maybe a wallet would get stolen and hilarious hijinx would ensue. I thought there would be more bumbling, and at times there really seems to be the setup for that sort of comedy, but it never happens. That isn’t to say the film’s not silly at times (the dine and ditch scene is extremely silly), but its silliness feels grounded in a way that was surprising. I know it’s a disservice to compare this film to the Before Trilogy, but the similarities are unavoidable, especially given the general similarities in appearance between Lindsay Duncan and Julie Delpy. There were times I wanted to shout at her and tell her to get back to Ethan Hawke, because who was this guy? (I wonder if the next film will deal with affairs? That would be interesting.) But reason it’s a disservice is because it’s simply not as good, but then again... how could it be? And this isn’t a knock against the people behind Le Week-End. The Before films are among the most smartly-written, brilliantly-made romance films in the history of ever. That this film is releasing the same year as the thematically similar (and far superior) Before Midnight is honestly sad, because everybody who has seen both will be making the comparisons, and they won’t come out favorably. And so now I sound like a hypocrite, but if you see Le Week-End (and you should), don’t compare it to other films. It doesn’t use its similarities as a crutch and it’s not trying to invoke some sort of nostalgia to make the viewer think it’s better than it is. Le Week-End is its own thing, and it should be thought of that way. So for the remainder of this review, I will refrain from talking about the Before films, as difficult as it may be. But let’s talk about the real reason we’re here, that god amongst men who makes this movie what it is. Logic says that roles shouldn’t be written for a specific actor, but I can’t imagine that the role wasn’t written for Jeff Goldblum. The character of Morgan is exactly what people imagine Jeff Goldblum to be, and it is spec-freaking-tacular. No one else could have done that part, and without Goldblum there to lighten up the second half with his sheer existence, the film just wouldn’t have worked. Morgan, a college friend of Nick’s, lives in Paris and runs into the couple while they’re out in the street. He invites them to a party, which they accept, begrudgingly. That party is a moment of truth for the characters, made all the worse for Nick by the fact that his old friend, who looked up to him in their youth (in an almost creepy way, actually), is wildly successful while he kind of pathetic. It’s the kind of thing that could be too heavy-handed (“your life is great, mine is terrible, wah!”), but it works. Morgan’s son, who exists mostly to show that Morgan isn’t perfect, does stray a bit into that tortured-introvert-child-of-a-successful-extrovert thing that has been done a billion times before, and hearing anyone speak ill about Jeff Goldblum is kind of unacceptable, but for what it is it’s fine. It’s not a great moment, but it does what it has to to further the story along.  And it’s a good story. The give and take between Meg and Nick throughout the film is well done and the way Nick gives in to his wife’s demands as she spends more and more money while he attempts to keep the status quo is sad, but in those moments where they really connect and it seems like maybe things will be okay I was rooting for them to stay together. In those moments where they were in different worlds, it was hard to believe that there was any future. You love and hate the person you’re with, and this is a very good portrayal of that principle. Broadbent and Duncan’s performances are quite good, although Jeff Goldblum was always going to be a showstopper. The periodical French dialogue isn’t subtitled, but since it’s a British production that was clearly a deliberate decision, and as someone who knows less than a dozen words of French I often wondered what I was missing. That’s been a thing lately (Elysium didn’t subtitle a lot of the random Spanish, although that I understood), and I don’t know how I feel about it. It was clearly going from the perspective of Nick, who seems about as French-illiterate as me, versus his wife who seems to have something of a grasp. We were as ignorant as he was, but since the film doesn’t always follow him, it’s kind of weird. Why was it from his perspective and not hers? They’re both the leads, right? But whatever. It’s a small thing that doesn’t really matter and had little impact on my overall feelings about Le Week-End.  I liked the movie, quite a bit in fact. Sure, much of my love is reserved for the beautiful and brilliant Jeff Goldblum, but he’s not the worthwhile thing in the film. Just the most worthwhile.
Le Week-End review photo
Yet another reason to love Jeff Goldblum
It’s impossible to not compare Le Week-End to the films in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy. With the setting of Before Sunset and the struggles of Before Midnight, but with a more aged cast, it almost feels lik...

Book: Very Naughty Boys (HandMade Films)

Sep 24 // Hubert Vigilla
There may be no pairing as British as an ex-Beatle and Monty Python, and it's here that HandMade Films began. Unable to find money for The Life of Brian after the original backer pulled out last minute, it was the late George Harrison who put up millions of his own money to get the movie made. The reasons were simple: Harrison purportedly told Eric Idle at the time, "Well, you know, when The Beatles were breaking up, Python kept me sane, really, so I owe you one." The company's first three films -- The Life of Brian, The Long Good Friday, and Time Bandits -- distinguished HandMade as a place for independent spirit and a breath of fresh air for British cinema. Its lasting contributions to the UK film industry continue to be those three, as well as Mona Lisa, the cult classic Withnail and I, and possibly A Private Function. But there were many misfires along the way for HandMade, and one of the the most disastrous was 1986's Shanghai Surprise. The film starred Sean Penn and Madonna. Then husband and wife, the couple was on top of the celebrity world, and they seemed to look down on everyone else on the planet. While the making-of stories for HandMade's best films are fun reads, there's something extra enticing about the Shanghai Surprise chapter. (Sellers aptly names it "Shanghai Cock-Up.") It basically confirms everything I thought about Sean Penn at this early point of his career, i.e., he was an insufferable, snotty, unpleasant, arrogant prick. The late Richard Griffiths shares one especially ridiculous anecdote about Penn, ending it with a well-deserved, "So fuck Sean Penn." Throughout the book, there's a constant tussle between the various filmmakers and Harrison's business partner Denis O'Brien. O'Brien was a money man with expensive taste in living and bad taste in film. He was also a control freak. In nearly every chapter, there's mention of O'Brien trying to suggest script changes and even re-cut films in post-production against the wishes of the filmmakers. Harrison was almost entirely laissez-faire about HandMade, trusting the filmmakers to create and O'Brien to use his money wisely. [embed]216361:40693:0[/embed] Some creative friction can lead to wonderful things. Though the situation is a bit different, I remember that Gene Wilder fought Mel Brooks for the inclusion of the "Putting on the Ritz" scene in Young Frankenstein; Brooks said he was glad Wilder fought so hard for it because it was clear it was important and it's one of the most memorable scenes in the film. But at HandMade, this strife between creatives and money got so bad that Powwow Highway director Jonathan Wacks took his film home every night out of fear that O'Brien would hire a HandMade rep to seize the movie and tamper with it. Many times O'Brien wanted to remove the best bits of a picture. Gilliam puts it succinctly: "I began to feel after a while that Denis had this incredible unerring ability to go to the very core of the thing and rip its heart out. He was like some Aztec priest." Given the eventual fate of HandMade, Gilliam's assessment is right in more ways than one. The pattern of conflict and strange money matters leads to some real sadness when Sellers arrives at the fall of HandMade. Without saying too much, it's the ugly center of the money vs. the creatives conflict. The money often exploits the creatives, without regard for ethics or for friendships. There's a good reason why O'Brien is rarely painted in a positive light throughout Very Naughty Boys. It's a sour final note for a company that made careers and has created some enduring films; the book's original title seems bitterly appropriate. There are two landmark Bob Hoskins movies in HandMade's filmography: 1980's The Long Good Friday and 1986's Mona Lisa. Both are part of the The Criterion Collection, though Mona Lisa's now out of print. As Sellers points out in his postscript to Very Naughty Boys, both films are still highly regarded, The Long Good Friday in particular is ranked among the best British films of all time by both the British Film Institute and Empire. I haven't seen either, but having read about them, I now need to. [embed]216361:40694:0[/embed]
Very Naughty Boys Book photo
The unexpected rise and the ugly fall of HandMade Films
My knowledge of the British film industry is spotty at best. Beyond the requisite Hammer fandom, an admiration for classic Ealing comedies (e.g., Kind Hearts and Coronets), and adoration of the Free Cinema movement, I'm prett...

Review: Electric Man

Sep 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216459:40646:0[/embed] Electric ManDirector: David BarrasRelease Date: 9/10/13 (DVD)Country: Scotland There's nothing really new about Electric Man's plot. Two down-on-their-luck comic book shop owners, Jason and Wolf, have to come up with £5000 in a week or else their store will be closed down. In a crazy mishap, they acquire an ultra-rare mint copy of Electric Man #1, one of the rarest comics on earth, and one that is worth £100,000. Problem solved, right? Not quite! Other people want the comic, people who are dangerous and will destroy the property of, taze, or possibly even kill the people in the way. (Worth noting: I kind of missed what was going on in the first minute or two because there were some pretty impressive accents on display, but either that first scene is an anomoly or my Babel fish started kicking in. If you tend to have difficulty understanding not-Americans speak English, your mileage may vary. But I did learn how to pronounce "Edinburgh" properly so that's something.) So you've heard this story before, even if not in exactly this configuration, but that's not necessarily a problem. In this case, though, it just means the story is uninteresting. You know exactly where it's going at any moment, and any attempt at a twist can be seen coming from the above description. And while we're at it, let's talk about borderline-offensively-stupid romantic subplot. Jason is attracted to a generally attractive female, fine, but beyond that exactly nothing makes sense. Lauren's entire character is based on falsehoods and fabrications, but somehow underneath it all we're supposed to believe that there's something genuine about her commitment(?!) to someone who she met yesterday and spent about thirty seconds talking to before kissing? Also, she followed up that kiss (the first of unnecessary and illogically many) with the semi-outraged exclamation "A hooker? Jesus Christ!" because I guess she didn't ask for money, so she's not a prostitute? Or something? I don't know. The issue with the story means that Electric Man relies on its technical aspects to wears its low-budget on its sleeve. Almost every single shot screams "indie film," and even though it's got some cinematic widescreen going on, it reeks of unprofessionalism. There's nothing wrong with not having a budget, but flaunting it is just silly. In a world where zero-budget YouTube videos can look really, really good, a low-budget look just doesn't cut it anymore. The couple of scenes where the film pulls from film history come off as tacky rather than clever, and really give the whole thing a student-film feel. The wooden acting makes it even worse. Basically everyone is incompetent at best, and some performances are actually cringe-inducing (specifically Fish (actual name), who plays the theoretically dangerous Uncle Jimmy) Toby Manley, who plays Jason, is competent and seems to be doing as well as he can with the shoddy writing, but he hardly saves the show and actually just highlights how bad everyone else is. I could go on, but I really don't feel like bashing the film anymore. It seems like it was made earnestly by people who were trying to make something silly and quirky, and it has its moments, but those moments are too few and far in between. And those credits held so much promise... Give Electric Man his own movie. A mid-30s period piece superhero movie. Now that could be something worth watching.
Electric Man Review photo
Can't hold a charge
In the animated title sequence for Electric Man, the audience is treated to a motion-comic showing the genesis of the titular character. A depression-era construction worker zapped by lightning, he becomes a super-powered crimefighter. It's a pretty cool scene. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the film's creativity was spent on making it pretty cool, at the expense of basically everything else.

NYAFF Review: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Jul 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216021:40392:0[/embed] Comrade Kim Goes FlyingDirectors: Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans, and Kim Gwang-HunRating: NRCountry: United Kingdom, Belgium, North Korea  When I imagine North Korean propaganda, I don't think of laughter and circus tricks. I think of threats and reminders that the leader (whoever it may be at the time) is immortal and God on earth or whatever. That everyone else is basically the devil incarnate and also that joy is forbidden. But Comrade Kim Goes Flying isn't like that at all. In fact, it's downright adorable. From beginning to end, I had a smile on my face, and I was completely invested in the journey of Comrade Kim Yong Mi (Han Jong Sim). Comrade Kim is a coal miner (always exceeding her quota, as any good member of the working class should), but she has aspirations of being an acrobat. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted to fly, but her father doesn't want her to reach her full potential. But this is North Korea, and in North Korea the working class can do whatever it puts its mind to! When Comrade Kim decides to join the Construction Brigade in Pyongyang for a year, she does it at least in part so she can see the circus. She learns that her idol, trapeze artist Ri Su Hyon (Kim Un Yong), is retiring, and she auditions as a replacement. The audition is a failure, because it turns out that Comrade Kim suffers from vertigo, and so goes back off to Construction. But even if she is somewhat discouraged from acrobatics, she loves working with the Construction team mixing cement, carrying bricks, whatever she has to do. She does it all with a massive, perfect smile on her face. Because she is the epitome of the working class, and she is happy doing what she can to help society. All of this sarcasm, truly, comes out of love. Comrade Kim is the most adorable person who has ever existed, and even though her determination wavers a bit as she finds herself againt overwhelming odds, she is successful, because goddamn it SHE IS THE WORKING CLASS! And if I ever wanted to forget, the constant speeches and slogans would make it impossible. Oh the drinking games that could come from this film. "Take a shot every time they celebrate the working class!" By the third act, everyone would be dead from alcohol poisoning. I showed a friend the trailer, and she said to me, "This looks adorable! Also, it's propaganda?" Impressively, they cut Yes, it's adorable propaganda, and perhaps that's the most dangerous kind. If Wikipedia is to be believed (which it probably isn't), this is the first film to come from North Korea since 2008, which makes it an important representation of and look into that culture. It's kind of bizarre, actually, because it doesn't seem much more modern than what was shown in the 1979 Taiwanese relic Never Too Late to Repent, which also screened at NYAFF. If Comrade Kim represents the reality of North Korea, then the country is stuck decades in the past. To think that the film was only released this year is kind of incredible. And maybe I'm too high-brow to realize that that's just what coal mining is like and construction workers are like, but... cell phones. And computers. These things are nowhere to be found. I don't even think I saw a television (but maybe I did?). If these things existed in the backgrounds of shots, I missed them. Perhaps I was too distracted by Hong Jong Sim's brilliant smile. I think North Korea should make her their ambassador. If she showed up at the UN and just smiled at everyone, hearts would melt, and North Korea would be welcomed into the international community with open arms. So it's weird that this film was made by a Brit and a Belgian, because this is almost certainly not what North Korea is like. Pyongyang is their premiere city, and it's glowing (to the point where some of it actually looked fake). Even if the people are as happy as Comrade Kim there, what about the rest of the country? The team behind Comrade Kim has worked in North Korea before, making documentaries. I haven't seen them, but this film doesn't make me want to. It makes me think that the directors are every bit as brainwashed as the citizens seem to be.  But at the same time, I can't hold that against Comrade Kim Goes Flying. The film may have been made with some sketchy intentions... but it's just so damn cute. Watching it is an absolutely joyous thing. It may be 81 minutes of propaganda, but it's 81 minutes of amazing, positively charged propaganda that puts a smile on people's faces. Everyone I talked to who has seen the film has said the same thing.  So I unequivocally recommend the film, just don't think it's something it isn't. Just sit back and enjoy the working class celebration, because, don't forget, they can do anything they set their minds to.
Comrade Kim Review photo
A friendly reminder that the working class can do anything it puts its mind to
The strangest thing about Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the nationality of its directors. When I first heard that there was a collaboration between the UK, Belgium, and North Korea, and a romantic comedy no less, I kne...


Only God Forgives UK Trailer

Gosling and Refn's Bangkok delight
Jul 04
// Nathan Hardisty
Blimey. While you lot are out and about mingling and meeting 'Murica-ing, Ryan Gosling's hot face has been splattered all over a fancy new UK trailer for the Winding-Refn outing Only God Forgives. The new trailer shows off, ...

Review: Byzantium

Jun 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215243:39896:0[/embed] ByzantiumDirector: Neil JordanRelease Date: TBDRating: NRCountry: United Kingdom I wonder who decided to make actress Saoirse Ronan's hair dark. She's currently in a number of films, including the upcoming adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's The Host (which sadly has no connection to Bong Joon-Ho's 2006 film of the same name), and any of the various directors could have decided that the once-blonde star of Hanna should be a brunette. If it wasn't Neil Jordan, though, he owes that person a debt of gratitude. There is something both off-putting and irresistible about a person with light blue eyes and darker hair, and it is an excellent visual representation of Ronan's character in Byzantium. Eleanor Webb is a 200-year-old vampire living in an 18 year old's body, someone at once terrifying and fascinating. Vampires in Byzantium are, to put it mildly, different from those in general vampire lore, right from their appearance: they don't have fangs. Instead, their thumbnails extend and sharpen, perfect for puncturing a major vein or artery. They can see themselves in mirrors, aren't affected by sunlight, and aren't particularly averse to garlic or crosses or anything of the sort. They seem to be a bit stronger than the average person, but not significantly so, and though they are surely more durable, a blade to the neck leads to a swift end. The most notable trait they retain from the mythology, in fact, is the invitation requirement so brilliantly captured by 2008's Let the Right One In. That being said, this is relevant only twice and the rules of invitation are not entirely clear. For example, Eleanor Webb is a brilliant piano player (as she would have to be after centuries of practice), but she demonstrates it by walking into an old-folks home and sitting at the piano and playing. No one knows who she is or why she's there, but she sits down and plays nonetheless. I loved the scene because I loved the music, but she did just kind of walk in without an invitation. The vampiric detectives who follow Eleanor Webb and her actually-monstrous black-haired, brown-eyed mother Clara (Gemma Arterton) also don't seem to need prompting when they arrive at a person's door, but maybe it's the technicality that the people behind the door are oftentimes dead. If there are rules, they really aren't explained very well. I imagine people are wondering how Byzantium tacks up to Neil Jordan's other vampire film, Interview with a Vampire, and I have to say that I can't tell you. I haven't seen Interview with a Vampire, and though I considered doing so to give some more context to this review, I decided against it. Instead, I'll compare it to another Jordan monster movie, The Company of Wolves. That film, a werewolf story, follows a Little Red Riding character, and I feel that Byzantium is the same way. It's not just that Eleanor Webb wears a red hooded coat, but it's the idea of a naive girl who is led away from her path into some sort of temptation. In this case, her temptation is a sickly ginger boy named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and the temptation is to tell her story. The story is one she has written many times on pages that she has thrown to the wind or the sea or pretty much anywhere at all, so long as no one else could see them, but she decides that Frank is the one to break the... Hmmm... The umm... You know what? I don't really know. What exactly does she think telling Frank is going to accomplish? And how is it that in the nearly two hundred years she has been with the evil Clara (who goes around prostituting herself for money, something Eleanor has thus far avoided) and not once slipped up and told somebody? She may look like she's 16, but she's nearly two centuries old. At some point, Little Red Riding Hood's naivete goes from being sad to just pathetic. If Little Red were 200 years old, no one would feel for her when she was taken in by a wolf in her grandmother's clothing. And even if we are supposed to believe that somehow someone can remain so stupidly pure and innocent for such a long time, how do we explain that her innocence was forcibly taken from her nearly two centuries before the start of the film? Unless she's supposed to have reverted to some infantile stage or something, I don't see any way to justify her actions, and if she was supposed to have reverted, well she didn't go far enough. And here's where the threads start to show. As I watched Byzantium, I was struck by the beautiful cinematography and the haunting soundtrack, and I felt like I was watching something truly incredible. When I watch movies for review, I keep a general sense of what I think my final score will be in my head. Sometimes when the review is written the score at the bottom will fit nicely in that spectrum, and sometimes it won't, but I try to gauge my own reaction to a film as I'm watching it. With Byzantium, that number was high, much much higher than the number you'll see below, and that's because I was swept up by the audiovisual splendor of it all. As soon as it ended, I turned to Hubert and asked him what he thought. He liked it quite a bit less than I did (as you'll read below). We started talking about it immediately (and another critic got very angry at us) and everything he said made a lot of sense. And after that conversation, as I mulled it over in my head, I realized I had been taken in. Were Byzantium nothing more than a piece of entertainment, this would actually be quite a commendable thing. It would be like watching a Christopher Nolan film. Inception is amazing and gorgeous and a spectacle, but it also makes no goddamn sense when you realize that there is an entire week of missing time on the first level of the dream. It's a stupidly large plot hole that would completely destroy the impact of the movie if it were going for art and impact, but it's not. It's just damn fine entertainment. Byzantium wants to be art (and maybe a little bit of entertainment) but can't hold up its end of the bargain. It's a great-looking film, and I definitely think it's worth watching, but understand that what's onscreen is actually a sham. The underlying framework is every bit as shoddy as a dream within a dream within a dream. Hubert Vigilla: I really admired the vampire lore of Byzantium, with its centuries-long roots, its deadly brotherhoods, and its striking imagery of starlings and blood. There's also a unique spin on gender and tradition in this vampire mythology that's promising for greater exploration. While I think all of that is really rich material to play with, Byzantium ultimately feels like a dud of a story set in a dynamite universe. A lot of that has to do with the character Eleanor, who's underwritten and underconsidered. Ronan's performance is fine, but Eleanor the character is too naïve for someone around 200 years old. It's as if she's still a teenage girl who's never even kissed a boy on the cheek, but we know that she's lived a hard and brutal life in a cruel world as a vagabond/grifter. More than that, she's been surviving basically on the run the entire time with the much savvier Clara, who by contrast is a fully realized character with an actual sense of history behind her. Eleanor has a strange impulse to share her life story with others, but I still don't know what she hopes she'd gain from it. A normal life, which would be impossible since she's ageless and immortal and hunted? Acceptance in a world that doesn't believe in vampires? While it doesn't make sense in-story, it's at least a convenient device to drop large chunks of exposition when needed. Since this is never made clear, Eleanor gummed up the entire film for me. I'm also not sure what I make of her fledgling romance with Frank since it never once struck me as believable. They don't even have an awkward chemistry together; they're just plain awkward. 50 -- Average
Byzantium Review photo
The story of a 200-year-old Little Red Riding Hood
Imagine you are in a large store and off in the distance you see a quilt. It’s an intriguing design, and you walk towards it, fascinated. It’s really a gorgeous thing, brilliantly composed with designs depicting b...

Review: Berberian Sound Studio

Jun 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]212886:38876:0[/embed] Berberian Sound StudioDirector: Peter StricklandRating: NRCountry: IrelandRelease Date: June 14, 2013 (limited)  Berberian Sound Studio is a movie about making movies. More precisely, it's a movie about an aspect of post-production: sound design. The film centers around a fictional movie that we never see any clips from (except for the awesome opening credits). It's called Equestrian Vortex, a title both ridiculous and sublime. It could be about anything, really, and wouldn't be a bad name for a band. A sound engineer named Gilderoy (Toby Jones) travels from England to Italy to do audio work on Equestrian Vortex, assuming the movie is about horses. His forte is nature documentaries, so that'd make sense. Instead, Equestrian Vortex is a trashy Italian horror movie about witches and black magic. But it's not really a horror movie, at least the director (Antonio Mancino) insists that's not the case -- "It's a Santini film." He continually talks about history and truth while Gilderoy is forced to record the sound of women being branded, drowned, and mutilated. The dialogue and the mayhem of Equestrian Vortex recall Suspiria and Inferno, and there are plenty of other Argento references packed throughout: black-gloved hands, the rampant violence against women, the sudden close-ups of objects for visual interest and mood, a subjective camera that might be the POV of another person. Snippets of Equestrian Vortex music written and performed by the band Broadcast recall Goblin and the theme from Rosemary's Baby, as well as the score from the forthcoming Australian giallo Sororal. It helps add a certain authenticity to the film within the film, and provides some obvious horror cred for writer/director Peter Strickland. Gilderoy is well out of his element, and he's such a pushover on top of that. Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) is the local sound guy, and he wants none of this outsider's input or experience. Everyone is a jerk to Gilderoy except for Silvia (Fatma Mohammed), an actress busy taking verbal abuse from everyone else around her. (More of that Argento-style violence against women, but this time it's during ADR work.) Gilderoy is homesick a few minutes into the job. He's immediately sympathetic -- it's that Droopy Dog mug and Jones's polite voice. He's such a frail soul, and he even gets letters from his mother describing the tranquility he's left behind. Paranoia pervades Berberian Sound Studio. Gilderoy is unable to leave the recording area, and he can't get reimbursed for his initial flight. On top of that, he hasn't read the script for Equestrian Vortex and doesn't know when his job on the film will end. I mentioned that lingering camera, and it leaves you wondering if there's someone watching Gilderoy this entire time. Could it be the person running the projector, who we only know by a pair of hands in black gloves? Is there real witchcraft involved? The possibilities are tantalizing, and with its slow burn and moody sound design, Berberian Sound Studio maintains a sense of mystery and dread for a while. The other possibility is we've entered Barton Fink territory in the film, and the sound studio is the life of Gilderoy's mind. It's the private hell of creative types. Barton Fink is a pretty good unit of comparison -- Fink goes to Hollywood to write a wrestling picture; if Bare Ruined Choirs came out 30 years later, Fink might have wound up in Rome doing giallos. Like Fink, Gilderoy's got talent. There's a beautiful scene where he's able to create otherworldly noises using common items; there's another fine moment where he enhances Silvia's voice with a sound board. Where Fink had peeling wallpaper, Berberian's motif (or at least one of them) is rotting produce. Watermelon, cabbage, lettuce, radishes -- these are the sounds of people dying and getting maimed. There are shots of this wasted food with an ominous simmer in the background. There's something corpse-like about the way the moldy food is shot that's a great stylistic choice on Strickland's part. It dawns on you that something's definitely not quite right; something's coming unglued. The set-up is so rich, the potential so enticing, but Berberian Sound Studio blows it during the final third. Not completely, at least. There is a moment in that final third that's unsettling and just teeming with frightening possibilities. Gilderoy gets an inkling about the true nature of Equestrian Vortex. The mayhem of the sound is joined with a chaos of vision. But then the movie gives up and tries to be clever. Some people will buy into it, but the choice struck me as lazy since it's a movie that's otherwise so well put together. Works that are truly clever never feel like they're trying to be clever. I wonder if the film concludes the way it does simply to be evocative and peculiar, as if both could be substitutions for being good. I love evocative and peculiar things, but they need to have something else beyond that, otherwise the peculiarity is just posturing. The end is just vague and a cop out. Vague I can't stand, a cop out is inexcusable. It makes me think of what Strickland's first draft of the screenplay was, or how he could have built into this ending more effectively. Maybe the frustration is based on how Berberian Sound Studio creates a sense of dread and squanders it on attempting profundity through ambivalence. Even though Barton Fink isn't explicitly explicated at the end, it closes in such a way that I couldn't imagine another ending. It feels right; it makes you feel. The ending to Berberian Sound Studio doesn't make me feel anything because it doesn't amount to anything palpable -- not for Gilderoy or Equestrian Vortex. I can intellectualize it, but even then the dots don't feel like they're connected. This is a finale full of sound and missed opportunity, suggesting something that makes me feel nothing.
Berberian Sound Studio photo
Sound, fury, and Barton Fink
Before I ever saw Dario Argento's Suspiria, I knew the film for its sound. It was back in 1996 in high school and I had yet to find a video store in my area that carried a copy of the film. I'd read up a lot on Argento and Go...

Trailer: The World's End

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
 The World's End Trailer photo
Drink responsibly... and then eat a green Cornetto
Here it is, everyone! The first trailer for The World's End, the third and final part of the Cornetto trilogy. It looks like Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost are going into Invasion of the Body Snatchers territory wi...

Review: Midnight's Children

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215270:40008:0[/embed] Midnight's ChildrenDirector: Deepa MehtaRating: NRCountry: Canada/UKRelease Date: April 26, 2013 In a lot of ways, Midnight's Children is unadaptable. It's such a massive story, for one -- a generational family saga that braids into a tale of India's independence; a work of history and magical realism and play with language. At the center of the story is Saleem Sinai (played as an adult in the film by Satya Bhabha), a child born at the exact moment that India gained its independence. He narrates the film, which is the closest a movie can ever get to first-person narration. The children in India born between midnight and 1:00am that night were imbued with special abilities, sort of like superheroes, a metaphor for the potential of this moment in India's history. Sinai's ability rests in his massive nose: through this nose, he's able to contact and join all of the children of midnight, in hopes that they can all communicate with each other and make the country a better place despite such vast differences in culture and power. It's such a bizarre but beautiful conceit, but it's just the surface of the book. There are also massive conflicts with other countries, families separated by different drives and allegiances, commentaries on class, explorations of religion, commentaries on dung. Sinai's unique place in all this tumult of history and culture is as an intermediary, and not just between these children of midnight. He is a constant outsider because he is never quite in one camp or another -- an in-betweener like his grandfather in a lot of ways -- and in many cases, the outsiders with these sorts of predicaments have a gift of observation and insight. They are always looking around them from a center rather than looking out from a fixed position. It's true in literature, it's true in many films, and I suspect it's also true in real life. The best artists may be the people who are in the in-between, which allows them to consider various points of view without the need to dominate any of them. I re-read a little of Midnight's Children for the first time in years before writing this review, and what's striking about the book is how it can do whatever it wants. The novel jumps back and forth in time. Like a magic trick, it insinuates ideas here and there invisibly and does little bits of narrative sleight of hand through flashback and flash forward and mentions of present action. There's a freedom of language at work which captures the thought process of Saleem, the nature of history and memory, and a genuine sense of personality, voice, and poetry. It's a book that does what books can do best with language. As a film, Midnight's Children unfortunately loses all of that texture and beauty -- we're left with a sari without a pattern or magnificence; a chutney that doesn't taste like the chutney that mom used to make. All the poetry of Sinai's narrative gets traded in for plot, and even Sinai's voiceover seems out of place in the film. It overexplicates the themes and feels overbearing, while in the book the voice is just right. And all the amusing digression in the novel that added a sense of heft to the family histories is mostly shorn away. Rushdie has streamlined his story but to detriment of the story. It doesn't help that there's a bizarre smallness to the production. Rushdie had originally written a teleplay for a five-part BBC miniseries adaptation of Midnight's Children that never got made, and this feature film sometimes feels like a television miniseries that's been condensed into a two-and-a-half hour movie. It's hard to get the right amount of production value to mount a story like Midnight's Children, and to director Deepa Mehta's credit, he tries his best with what he has. There's one sequence in India much later in the film that's executed with the anarchic color and verve of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film, which obviously wins some kudos from me, but the majority of the movie has a very basic visual style, and a very clean look rather than a lived-in one. History, both of a family and of a nation, is supposed to feel lived-in. Maybe the biggest difficulty with literary adaptations is just the nature of source material and medium and how they fit together. A story like Midnight's Children is probably best suited to be a book just because of what language allows Rushdie to do with information, history, and poetic flourishes. There is no equivalent in film for this. Since Sinai's nose is so important to the story, smells and tastes are vivid, and written language can convey all five senses effectively while cinematic language is predominantly restricted to the visual, the aural, and occasionally the tactile. Though cinematic language operates so much differently than textual language, some movies just fall short because of the quality of the source material is so much better than the film could ever be. I still like Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, but the book makes the movie look like amateur hour simply because of the power and beauty of Vladimir Nabokov's writing. If Midnight's Children was more of a straightforward plot-based narrative, maybe a better adaptation would be possible, though it would still be extremely abridged. A lot of the film adaptations that work best tend to be ones where the books aren't really great books in their own right. Think Jaws or Jurassic Park, for instance. On the other hand, some adaptations work best when they just find the way to convert the book into film language (maybe To Kill a Mockingbird), or deconstruct the book and remake it something that shares in the same spirit (maybe the Lord of the Rings books or, an extreme example, David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch). The experience of the film will be different for a person who hasn't read Midnight's Children, but I suspect a similar sort of lacuna for these viewers as well. As a book, though dense and complex, there's a rapturous sense of beauty in Midnight Children from the very beginning that rarely lets up. As a film, Midnight's Children is watchable but not wholly captivating, and it doesn't have the sense of urgency that Sinai has as a character in the book: this is a story that is important, and it must be told, and it must be shared.
Midnight'sChildren Review photo
Salman Rushdie wrote the screenplay, but it's still not as good as the book
Salman Rushidie's 1981 novel Midnight's Children is his most beloved book. It was hailed as the best recipient of the Booker Prize in that literary award's first 25 years, and Penguin has included Midnight's Children in its G...

Whole Hog's UK run of the show is done; next stop for the production is Japan
You may remember that there was a planned UK stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. Whole Hog, the theater company responsible for this live-action adaptation, turned to Kickstarter to help make the play the ...

SXSW Review: Everyone's Going to Die

Mar 13 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215072:39784:0[/embed] Everyone's Going to DieDirector: JonesRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: UK  Misfit love stories are usually the best kinds of love stories, or at least I think so. Whether it's Harold and Maude, Punch-Drunk Love, or Minnie and Moskowitz, I think there's always more at stake for the misfits than for the Kate Hudsons, Jennifer Anistons, and Matthew McConaugheys in the film world. It may go all the way back to the politics of the schoolyard, which is just as deadly as the wild: the people on inside of the herd will be protected and never truly isolated -- they will survive. Meanwhile, the outsiders are doomed unless they submit to the indignities of the herd or can find another outsider. That's especially the case with people who feel lost in life for various reasons, which is where we find Melanie (Nora Tschirner) and Ray (Rob Knighton). Melanie is a German woman living in the UK, stuck in a doomed engagement to a mostly-absent British artist, and unhappily forced to babysit her fiance's niece since she can't get a job. Her husband-to-be makes furniture out of other pieces of furniture, which is just one example of the movie's absurd deadpan. We know Melanie's a misfit right at the beginning: she's passed out drunk in a pool with a Charlie Chaplin mustache, though it initially seems like a Hitler mustache until she puts on her bowler. She meets Ray in a small cafe when he spots her 20 pence to buy a coffee and sandwich. It's one of the brief moments of attraction that's more magnetic than romantic -- real recognize real, oddball recognize oddball. They strike up a rapport and feel a sudden comfort in their own skin. Ray, also in a bad relationship (a failing marriage), looks a bit like Rutger Hauer as one of the Reservoir Dogs, and he's got a mysterious job that fits the profile. His early misfit moment: the channel on his hotel TV is stuck on a gay chatline advert. The man splayed in his tight underoos is speaking to a deep desire: he just needs someone to talk to.  I mentioned that it takes a little bit of time for Everyone's Going to Die to establish its tone (though in retrospect, two shots in the opening scene should have clued me in immediately). Once you get into the movie's groove, however, the oddball humor just doesn't stop. Witty line after witty line, a constant back and forth of dry and comic observations, many punctuated by Ray's command of "Fuck off" whenever Melanie makes fun of his age. He's punchy at first, but it's flirtier than it is serious. And then there's the short play within the film called Everyone's Going to Die, a brilliant piece of absurdity done completely straight for the maximum laughs. What comes immediately after the play is somehow more absurd, but it fits in the strange world of the film. This wit and sharpness works in large part thanks to Tschirner's and Knighton's chemistry on screen. If it's not love between them or physical attraction, it's at least the familiar ease of strangers-who-become-friends-who-become-lovers. They also communicate the sense of outsiderness well in whatever they do. Both the characters are at major crossroads of repeating the same old patterns of failure and self-recrimination. There's a comfort in being locked into something even if it doesn't turn out for the best. And yet there's the moral imperative for the outsiders in these misfit romances: outsiders should help get other outsiders unstuck. Everyone's Going to Die was written and directed by Jones, a UK-based filmmaking collective/duo. I think the reason so much of the quick and dry dialogue works is this kind of collaboration. It's almost as if the two people in Jones were getting into conversations and recording the lines, interjections, and tangents. While this could result in all the characters speaking with the same voice or pair of voices, it's varied and modulated enough so that everyone has a distinct personality. It's an impressive feature-length debut for Jones. The filmmaking seems confident and assured, and Jones even ends the movie about four or five shots before a Hollywood story would end (which is usually the best place to end a movie anyway). On top of all the wit and punch and honesty in the performances, there's an impressive soundtrack. Though Slow Club is only in the trailer as far as I remember, there's great punctuation in scenes from We Are Augustines and other bands whose names I don't know but whose songs I can't get out of my head. Maybe collaborative writing is fitting for misfit romance movies. If these stories are about outsiders meeting other outsiders, clicking because of common interest, and escaping because they finally feel able to, it would make sense for two people to be the guiding hands for the story -- form and content/content and form. The old idea of an essential solitude for writing doesn't seem quite so lonely anymore as long as two like minds are working together. That makes sense for this film. Everyone's Going to Die makes you glad that it's possible to get found, no matter how lost you're feeling.
Going to Die Review photo
Misfit love stories are usually the best kind
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX. Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] A few things entice...


International Trailer: The Last Exorcism Part II

Feb 19
// Hubert Vigilla
Here's a new UK/international trailer for The Last Exorcism Part II (The Exorcism-ening). There's a bit more to this than the previous trailer for the film. More bone-cracking, for one, and more creepy dark things on the wal...

Trailer: Maniac (UK)

Elijah Wood could use a bloody Valentine today
Feb 14
// Hubert Vigilla
Valentine's Day can be a lonely time for many people. Maybe no one knows that better than Elijah Wood's character in Franck Khalfoun's remake of Maniac. In this UK trailer for the film, we get a glimpse into his life as a si...

These BAFTA Best Film posters are beautiful

Feb 12
// Liz Rugg
Here we have a bunch of posters created by illustrator Jonathan Burton for this year's British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, and they are pretty wonderful. Each poster features one of the Best Film nominees, Arg...

Full list of 2013 BAFTA Film Award winners

Feb 11 // Hubert Vigilla
BEST FILM ** Argo Life of Pi Lincoln Les Misérables Zero Dark Thirty   BEST BRITISH FILM Anna Karenina The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Les Misérables Seven Psychopaths ** Skyfall   BEST DIRECTOR Michael Haneke, Amour ** Ben Affleck, Argo Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained Ang Lee, Life of Pi Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty   BEST ACTOR Ben Affleck, Argo Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook ** Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln Joaquin Phoenix, The Master Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables   BEST ACTRESS Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook Helen Mirren, Hitchcock ** Emmanuelle Riva, Amour   BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Alan Arkin, Argo Javier Bardem, Skyfall Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln ** Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained   BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Amy Adams, The Master Judi Dench, Skyfall Sally Field, Lincoln ** Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables Helen Hunt, The Sessions   BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Amour ** Django Unchained The Master Moonrise Kingdom Zero Dark Thirty   BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Argo Beasts of the Southern Wild Life of Pi Lincoln ** Silver Linings Playbook   BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM ** Amour Headhunters The Hunt The Intouchables Rust and Bone   BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE The Imposter Marley McCullin ** Searching for Sugar Man West of Memphis   BEST ANIMATED FILM ** Brave Frankenweenie ParaNorman   BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN Anna Karenina Life of Pi Lincoln ** Les Misérables Skyfall   BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Anna Karenina ** Life of Pi Lincoln Les Misérables Skyfall   BEST COSTUME DESIGN ** Anna Karenina Great Expectations Les Misérables Lincoln Snow White and the Huntsman   BEST EDITING ** Argo Django Unchained Life of Pi Skyfall Zero Dark Thirty   BEST MAKEUP & HAIR Anna Karenina Hitchcock The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Lincoln ** Les Misérables   BEST SCORE Anna Karenina Argo Life of Pi Lincoln ** Skyfall   BEST SOUND Django Unchained The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Life of Pi ** Les Misérables Skyfall   BEST VISUAL EFFECTS The Avengers The Dark Knight Rises The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ** Life of Pi Prometheus   BEST DEBUT BY BRITISH WRITER/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER Thina Garavi (writer/director), I Am Nasrine ** Bart Layton (writer) and Dimitri Doganis (producer), The Imposter David Morris (director) and Jacqui Morris (director/producer), McCullin James Bobin (director), The Muppets Dexter Fletcher (writer/director) and Danny King (writer), Wild Bill   RISING STAR AWARD Elizabeth Olsen Andrea Riseborough Suraj Sharma ** Juno Temple Alicia Vikander
Argo takes Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Editing
The 2013 BAFTA Film Awards were last night, Britain's highest film honor. The big winner of the night was Argo, which won Best Picture, Best director for Ben Affleck, and Best Editing. Skyfall took home Best British Film, as ...


First look at Edgar Wright's The World's End

Dec 21
// Hubert Vigilla
With the stupid Mayan apocalypse upon us, it seems fitting that we should share the first official still from Edgar Wright's The World's End, the third and final part of the Cornetto trilogy. (You may recall the teaser poster...

Trailer: American Mary

Brutal body modification pays the bills
Dec 07
// Thor Latham
Though the movie already premiered at Frightfest, American Mary will be getting a limited theatrical release in the UK right before it's released to home video on January 21st. Empire has an exclusive trailer to share i...

Flix for Short: Breezeblocks

The music video for "Breezeblocks" by Alt-J
Dec 05
// Hubert Vigilla
It's that time of year when I catch up with music that slipped passed me in the last 11 months. I recently ran into the song "Breezeblocks" by Alt-J (∆). It's not bad, and it's been growing on me. I actually find mysel...

Flix for (not so) Short: Threads

It's the end of the world as we know it, and we're all gonna die
Nov 30
// Hubert Vigilla
With the end of the world coming up (so say the Mayans, who were clearly never wrong about anything), here's an apocalyptic installment of Flix for (not so) Short. Threads was a 1984 BBC-produced film written by Barry Hines ...

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