Category Archives: Review

Youth by Paolo Sorrentino.


“I don’t use twitter. I’m a serious person.”

When thinking about Paolo Sorrentino I often want to use the word serious, and then stop myself. His films have a lightness to them, and even the darker moments seem elliptical. But when I came across this brilliant quote, I felt it gave me permission to consider him a serious man.

Youth does not, at first, seem to be a ‘serious’ film. A famed British conductor, Fred Ballinger, (Michael Caine in a Tony Servillo turn) is holidaying in the alps with his daughter Lara (Rachel Weisz) and best friend and filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Fred is being tempted out of retirement to play a concert for Prince Phillip, whilst Mick writes what he considers to be his last, and hopefully best, film.

But this is a Sorrentino film, and nothing is really about coming out of retirement to play a final concert; it’s about the intracacies and complications along the way. Sorrentino meanders through this loose narrative, contemplating life’s bigger issues,  peeking through windows and doors, and stopping to stare at whatever he considers beautiful or interesting.

Fans of La Grande Bellezza will find much to be enjoyed here, and whilst the sweeping Rome vistas have been replaced with the comparatively contained setting of a luxury spa, there is a similar tone of navel gazing and philosophising.

Like many of Sorrentino’s films we encounter a roster of characters, from the morbidly overweight Maradona to Boyle’s team of scriptwriters, two of whom are slowly falling for one another. Even these  minor characters – like those of ‘screenwriter in love’ and ‘girl screenwriter’ – have something more to them than their few lines or scenes allow – and it’s that feeling of an underlying depth and richness that makes all of Sorrentino’s films so pleasurable.

Michael Caine, who could be said to have played the same character in many of his films, puts on a performance of his career. Ballinger and Boyle are caught between the extensive successes of their past and the limited but crucial success of their future. There are many references to this impasse. Boyle tells his young writers to look through a telescope. He points out that the mountain appears really close, which represents the future. When he turns it around and peers through the other end, he says everything looks really far away – and that that is the past.

Whilst Ballinger and Boyle are preoccupied with a yearning for their youth, or at least what came with it, the film imparts a wisdom that is only really achievable through age. Youth doesn’t quite leave the same feeling of awe and sentiment that La Grande Bellezza impressed upon viewers, but that seriousness of Sorrentino’s, that explores birth to death and everything in between, is yet again communicated in the most beautiful, subtle, and comic of ways.


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Films for Girls – Thoughts on Melancholia and The Future

The extremity of difference between Melancholia and The Future cannot be stressed enough; one, a catatonic display of cosmic madness, and the other, a superficial break-up story narrated by a cat. At first glance there is nothing remotely similar between Lars Von Trier and Miranda July’s films. But upon closer inspection, they join a growing list of films which represent women in daring new lights. Dividing the film between sisters Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), Von Trier examines the intensely acute anxieties faced by women, questioning the practicality of love and the fatuous intelligence of men. July’s film expresses a fear of the eponymous future using a similar experimentation with time and space, laughing nervously in the face of biological clocks and mid-life crisis’.

The opening of Melancholia has been praised for its impressionistic montage; a series of excruciatingly slow sequences depicting the gloomy end to Justine and Claire’s secluded world. It has been claimed that it offers an artistic promise that the rest of the film fails to deliver on. But this abstraction serves to hint at more complex suggestions made later on in the film about women’s apprehensions with life. Justine, wearing a beautiful white wedding gown, has become entangled in roots from the surrounding trees.  Claire, clutching at her child, trudges knee-deep through the turf of a golf course, her face contorted in a gasp for air. We cannot yet see what they are running from, but they are clearly weighed down by two signifiers of femininity; the wedding dress, and the child.

What else is interesting about Melancholia? Claire’s husband believes in science and absolute certainty, whereas Claire is cautious, relying on instinct. Despite the siblings’ major differences, it is Justine who sums up the women’s higher level of awareness, ‘life is only on earth, and not for very long.’ Dunst’s character won’t just resound with those who have suffered with mental illness. Justine also has a general lethargy towards modern pressures. She is not desirous of her new husband, she lacks passion for her high-flying job, and makes it seem okay to not feel completely satisfied. Life is no fairy tale, and Justine more than embraces the end of the world as an antithesis to that concept.
In The Future, flighty Sophie (July) returns to work at a kids dance studio and bumps into two friends. Alarmed to see that they are both heavily pregnant, she cannot believe that time has passed so quickly since she last saw them. They tell her that being pregnant is ‘a drag, but it’s also amazing.’ A series of cuts reveal the families grow old before Sophie’s eyes, whilst she remains stuck behind the reception desk. ‘It’s kind of a drag,’ Sophie remarks. ‘But it’s amazing?’ offers her friend. ‘Not really…’ (Watch it here) Sophie shows no desire in the film to bear children, nor to marry her boyfriend Jason. But here, a melancholy falls over her, as if disappointed with her lack of connection with their full lives.

Despite feigning a happy suburban existence for a short while, Sophie quickly becomes confused as to who she is trying to be. She can either live out the image of a ‘grown up’ existence, with her older lover and their weekend barbecues, or, she can return to Jason, where ‘growing up’ is the elephant in the room, brought to light by a sick cat. Either way, Sophie can’t find happiness. She is followed to her new life by a yellow t-shirt, which she used to stroke for comfort. It haunts her, reminding her of the child-like way she used to live, but also of the reassurance that life brought. In a bizarre but touching sequence, she climbs inside the t-shirt, stretching it out and zealously eating up its promise of protection. Her new partner looks on in admonishment.

The surface features of a Miranda July film may seem twee and stylistic, but given enough time, her saccharine soundings actually resonate much more deeply. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a more endearing and ‘together’ piece of work, but The Future is mature and less simpering. The Future conveys a timid uncertainty about relationships and life, but there is a confidence in July’s assertions which make her out to be a whole lot smarter than her cat voice would lead you to believe.

Both films take time to reflect on the opposite of sex, although hardly in a positive light. For Melancholia‘s Claire there is nothing worse than the thought of her life ending; but for her husband, there is nothing worse than the thought of being wrong. Jason in The Future admits he just wants another ‘normal, boring day’, despite the threat of losing  the love of his life. Justine and Sophie are the types of characters usually sidelined in films; the baddies, guilty of usurping the natural order of romantic love. But here they are the anti-heroes in two films very much about, and for, girls.

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Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss

The second part of the rather clumsily coloned title of Herzog’s latest documentary, A Tale of Life, a Tale of Death, builds a vast and vague picture of what the film holds in store. But vast and vague it is. Taking the specific case of a chilling crime and its aftermath, Herzog manages to capture humans in their most vulnerable and powerful moments. He chooses to look deep into the characters on the periphery of the crime rather than linger on superfluous details, rarely breaking from the verbal to-camera accounts which function as a form of penance.

Into the Abyss is divided into five parts, a device used to theme the flow from crime to punishment. Following on from the prologue (which involves the Herzogian prompt ‘describe your encounter with a squirrel’) the crime is laid out in a languorous fashion. The messy and seemingly spontaneous triple homicide of two members of the Stotler family and a friend leads us to the ‘protagonists’ of the film – death row dwelling Michael Perry and accomplice Jason Burkett, serving a life sentence. The two men are alarmingly articulate, more so in some instances than the incidental characters, accepting gracefully their situation. Frustratingly, though, Herzog chooses not to penetrate their professed innocence, in light of the hard evidence against them.

The film is unselective in who it awards the most compassion, switching from Perry and Burkett’s plight to the astounding grief and misfortune of the victims. Herzog must have thought he’d struck gold though when he scraped the surface of the individuals involved. The unmitigating tragedy which has not just touched but suffocated the lives of Lisa Stotler Balloun and Charles Richardson (relatives of the victims) is unbearably moving, letting their stories be slowly drawn out by a sensitive Herzog. Just when you think all of the bombshells have been dropped, Herzog pulls Burkett’s wife out of the bag, an attractive, mild and slightly crackers woman who tops off the film’s incongruity.

With the look of a Lise Sarfati monograph, Into the Abyss is filmed in a simple photogenic style. The film proves Herzog still has a knack for capturing the best and worst in human thought and behaviour. It could have been more confrontational in both the interview style and political motive, but it is still a documentary which is as bizarre and comic as it is affecting, a blend which Herzog still has the audacity to mix.

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Considine shows Fiennes how a directorial debut should be done

They come from stratospherically different acting backgrounds, one a bardic pin-up, the other a working man’s hero; but Ralph Fiennes and Paddy Considine have each just released their directorial debut. The films, Fiennes’ Coriolanus and Considine’s Tyrannosaur, are as unalike as one might expect. The surprise comes though that Considine, a young turk of sorts, has come up trumps against UK acting royalty.

Watching Coriolanus, Fiennes’ modern-day Shakespeare adap playing last weekend at the London Film Festival, felt like a return to the days of quality filmmaking. Fiennes has taken a heralded text, stuffed it with a stellar cast (Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave) and high production values, and served a stodgily indulgent prestige piece dressed up as a relevant political drama. It feels like the kind of film the UK industry has made an admirable effort to move away from in recent years. Although Fiennes’ direction demonstrated an adept eye, the whole piece feels showy and dated.

Considine on the other hand has plumped for the other side of mirror. Sombre and earnest, Tyrannosaur follows a faltering friendship between Joseph (an incredible Peter Mullan) and Hannah (an equally standout Olivia Colman). Joseph, a middle-aged drunk whose demons are tugging at his trouser leg, takes refuge in Hannah’s Christian shop. Although Joseph berates her demonstrative faith and middle-class standing, it appears that Hannah’s own violent crisis places them on a par with one another. Some reviews have cautiously warned of the film appealing exclusively to the chattering classes, with a kind of poverty porn. It draws comparisons with Oldman’s Nil by Mouth, but Tyrannosaur’s creators are stringent in avoiding charges of ‘social realism,’ a genre Considine and Mullan have criticized. The film doesn’t ‘tsk’ at the ‘state of society’; instead, the camera flits indiscriminately between the lower and upper-middle, holding back any judgement calls.

Redundant debates aside, Considine caught the breath of the whole cinema and refused to abate until the credits rolled. Something which, amongst the disbelieving sniggers of the Coriolanus audience, Fiennes failed to do. Simplistic indictments of class or social commentary discredit the scale of Tyrannosaur, a success for representational UK cinema, and a snub to the tastes of the past.



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Midnight in Paris

The past decade has seen glimmering instances of greatness from Woody Allen, the native New York filmmaker with a taste for wry romance and Jewish comedy. But between the London of Match Point and the Spain of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen has failed to recapture the wistful poignancy of his Manhattan days. Midnight in Paris is his most consummate film in years. A fulsome story carried by an eclectic ensemble, with plenty of the usual Woody furniture in place to please die-hard fans.
Hollywood hack Gil (Owen Wilson) is visiting Paris with his high-maintenance fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Frustrated by Inez’s insistence on following art-gallery expounder and ex-boyfriend Phil around, Gil succumbs to the antiquity winking at him around every corner. Excusing himself from a late-night dance, Gil is tempted away by late-night revelers in an illustrious looking vehicle. Marveling at the throwback setting of the party they bring him to, he slowly realizes that the gentleman who has introduced himself as Scott Fitzgerald, is the F. Scott Fitzgerald, and by a stroke of magic, Gil has in-fact time-traveled to the 1920’s. Struggling to reconcile his first attempt at serious literature, Gil has stumbled upon a goldmine where, at midnight, he is transported to an era rich with literary and cultural icons who are eager to critique his work.
Owen Wilson, softening around the eyes, plays the prototype Allen protagonist to a tee, with his heavy footed stroll, cultural proficience, and courdorouyed charm. But underneath the surface features, Gil’s preoccupation with nostalgia and life’s ‘big things’ are staple Woody centerpieces. It’s Hemingway, and his fellow l’age d’or dwellers, who take the film beyond a fluffy romance. Although almost being sent up, Hemingway darkens the film, reminding us that life is a long journey on which you are only destined to die. The quixotic Adriana (Marion Cotillard) softly embodies the antithesis to Gil’s irksome fiance. She is a sensual muse, alive with chance and vivre. Thankfully, Adriana isn’t just some Aphrodite floozy; she too is caught up in the demon of nostalgia, lusting for Gil but tempted by the promise of her own golden age, the Belle Epoque.
As always , Allen makes the trials of a relationship appear so fair to weather – the personality defect in the other half, the sudden vision of their unhappy life together, and a pair of overly intrusive parents to hurry the split along. It would be refreshing to see him tackle the truth about break-ups, which are so rarely of such ease or without heartache.
All of Woody Allen is here to be seen. Life’s moments of magic, complication, philosophical interjection, and more so than ever, romance. Midnight in Paris is a quietly joyful success which will have you fantasizing about your own Parisian love affair. Truly, a movable feast.

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Lucky McKee’s gnarly controversy, The Woman

The androgynously named Lucky McKee has a knack for turning seemingly ordinary situations into unexpected shockers, and often at the behest of a central female character.  In 2002’s May, so sick is the eponymous goth of trying to fit in, that she takes to meticulously sewing together her own best friend – comprised of the body parts of those who have wronged her. In a similar tableau of peculiar normality, Chris Cleek’s family live under his authoritarian gaze and an unspoken fear permeates the household. Similar to May, Chris begins a pet project of his own; rehabilitating a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) he has caught in the backwoods of the family property. As the family creak under the pressure of their new addition, the bubbling tensions erupt in a sickeningly satisfying finale.

If May was a heroine styled in the image of Carrie, then The Woman is a full out feminist revolutionary. On first appearance, through the telescopic sight of Chris’s rifle, the woman appears as a hulking untamed creature. Her plentiful supply of body hair and long unclean nails rail against the usual norms of femininity, standing in stark contrast to wife Belle’s petite apron-wearing frame. The children are clearly cast from the same dye as their parental other; only son Brian’s sociopathic behavior mirrors his father’s own misogynistic tendencies, and youngest daughter Darlin’ takes great joy from mimicking the domestic duties of her mother. But it is teen outcast Peggy, with her baggy unshaped t-shirts, defiant black hair, and pale features, which are more aligned with their basement visitor than either of her parents.

Bella’s conveniently turned blind eye is brought to bear, and the household is overturned in an exhilarating final sequence. Although tempting to share The Woman‘s gratifying ending, there is certainly a case for ‘don’t let anybody tell you what it is.’  The climax might be inevitable to some, but no amount of warning will quite prepare you for the graphic final sequence.  Following the Sundance premiere, a furious member of the audience  questioned what value the film has ‘for any person to see’. The Woman will certainly leave you with a reaction as animalistic as her appearance, but whether that reaction is tribal will probably depend on your assigned XY chromosomes. McKee’s nihilistic horror sometimes breaks into comedic melodrama, turning horror conventions on their head once again. In a radical reading, The Woman expounds a messianic tale of emancipation; of overturning a patriarchal rule which will only fester and trickle down the bloodline to start all over again.

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Canary Wharf…The Murder Capital of the World

Future Cinema flashes back to the eighties in a  weekend double-feature extravaganza.

In London’s Canary Wharf this weekend, the only reminder that you weren’t in Santa Carla, or San Diego, were the polite queues at the bar. Stalking the makeshift beach elsewhere however, bandana-clad brothers and fanged vamps from The Lost Boys, and aviator attired Top Gun‘s, made for one radically star spangled pop-up cinema event.

Hosted by Future Cinema (a fusion of Future Shorts and Secret Cinema), the 8000 strong audience was testament t0 the organizers mantra of “changing the way we view cinema.” Completing The Lost Boys’ Santa Carla was a boardwalk funfair, Vampire cave, and roaring motorbike gang. Top Gun’s San Diego brought Oceanside waves and an interactive locker room, albeit a less homoerotic one. And if that isn’t enough to convince you as to why, in a time of exhibition uncertainty, people paid £25 a pop for tickets, there were even live buzzcuts on offer.

Much like the newly founded cine-clubs, founder Fabian Riggall has tapped in to the new cinephile psyche of sharing the film experiencerather than abandoning the otherwise floundering industry altogether. This summer, even the unlikely city of Milton Keynes held a three-day ‘drive in’ event, screening family Sci-Fi classics such as Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. With 3D driving up the price of an average cinema visit, and audience feedback suggesting a less than happy experience with the new technology, it seems as though punters are more keen on getting physically involved with tried and tested favorites.

As the crowd whooped along to classic lines such as ‘truth, justice and the American way’, and took part in mass sing-a-longs led by Navy officers, Future Cinema have made the distant world of Hollywood all that more tangible. In a film future hazy with doubt and the sound of snipping scissors, this transformative experience has proved that interactive cinema can offer much more than a pair of plastic 3D specs.

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