Archive for April, 2013

Boys on Film: Youth in Trouble is the ninth edition of Peccadillo Pictures’ successful series of gay themed short films. This collection looks around the world to Brazil, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Canada and the UK, to explore the challenges of being a young gay man in a wide variety of scenarios.

At its most interesting Youth In Trouble shows us the inside of an Australian prison, in The Wilding by director Grant Scicluna. Recalling Alan Clarke’s prison masterpiece Scum, The Wilding is a gritty and naturalistic short in which two inmates develop an intimate relationship amid a culture of prison violence. The film thrives on its realistic casting, particularly lead Malcolm (Reef Ireland), and it feels that director Scicluna has potential amongst the burgeoning Australian crime cinema.

Pariah director Dee Rees’ intriguing Colonial Gods looks with bite upon the racist treatment of Somali and Nigerian immigrants in Wales. While somewhat meandering in its plotting, this is a rich film in its social commentary, performances and visual ideas. It also makes for a great sonic tapestry of voices, with Arabic, Nigerian and English dialogue spoken in a variety of accents.

The collection occasionally lapses into an excessive tendency for earnestness. Canadian short Deep End does very little to dramatise its moral dilemma, in which young boy Dane struggles with his older brother coming out. Swiss/German film Prora also wears thematically thin in its exploration of sexual tension, on a backdrop of a derelict Nazi holiday camp (presumably a metaphor, but for what exactly?) Brazilian short Family Affair never breaks free of its limited location to say anything pertinent, in spite of its convincingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

However, UK director James Cook creates some incredibly tense moments in psychodrama Together. Though the film suffers from a few directorial missteps (odd angles and overly flamboyant lens choices) and an abrupt twist in the tail, it is clearly made by a director with a sense to entertain.

Spanish director Carlos Montero smartly builds a darkly numerous psychological thriller in Easy Money. The film sees Spanish rent boy Jamie (Mario Casas) in too deep, when he arrives to service a middle aged client who mistakes him for a hitman. Montero brilliantly keeps us guessing for the entire 15 minute duration.

Finally This Is Not A Cowboy Film is a comical tribute to Ang Lee’s Oscar winning Brokeback Mountain. Set entirely in school toilets the film amusingly captures a group of male and female teenagers grappling with the frontiers of sexuality.

Boys on Film: Youth in Trouble is a shorts collection that walks the thin line between issues and entertainment, but when the two coalesce it is a real success.

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The charmingly titled Angst, Piss and Shit from Norwegian director Fredrik S. Hana is a stylish throwback to Italian Giallo filmmaking (shot in Argento-esque CinemaScope), with a subversive Nordic humor and tragically melodramatic core.

Arthur Berning stars as Kjetil, a deranged serial killer whose relationship with his girlfriend Wenche (Maja Baaserud) has gone sour. The couple once engaged in romantic adventures of a murderous nature, but we discover that Wenche’s taste for violence has dissipated. Kjetil maintains his murderous activities independently; as a result Wenche feels betrayed, even cheated.

The film’s opening sequence, where Kjetil murders an innocent woman in one long absurd take, is totally engrossing. The weird humor that Hana elicits is disturbing, but recognisably unique. Equally striking is the film’s proggy soundtrack by Anders Hana, which recalls long time Argento collaborators Goblin.

Much like its title though, Angst Piss and Shit is far from subtle in its handling of these deranged characters. The interesting central relationship between Kjetil and Wenche is not substantially developed amid the scenes of violence. This is something of a disappointment, as the actors and visual choices are strong.

Nevertheless this is still a very promising short. Hana displays a strong grasp of the technical and artistic variables required to translate his ideas to the screen. Perhaps with a feature treatment Angst Piss and Shit could be a truly compelling (if stomach churning) exploration of demented love.

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Back in 2012 we reviewed the low budget Irish horror The Railway Children, directed by Jason Figgis. Despite its tiny budget the film was an impressive piece of work that proved Figgis’ directing skill, with his large ensemble cast of young Irish talent.

Off the back of The Railway Children Figgis and his team at October Eleven Pictures and Teen Feature Film Project have developed another feature, entitled The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann. The film is a gritty, modern take on the vampire genre that looks like a timely step forward for Figgis’ team. The film’s promotional stills and video clips hint at a film that promises to be as sensational as it is disturbing.

October Eleven Pictures have just launched their Indiegogo campaign to raise $20,000 to complete post-production on the film (including the main edit, grading and sound mixing.) The money will also help them shoot a new and particularly complex sequence. Donations such as this are essential to independent productions like Isabel Mann and the team have a plethora of gifts for those generous people who donate.

To find out more about donating towards the production of this exciting piece of Irish horror filmmaking, take a look at the production’s Indiegogo page. You can also follow the progress of the project on the film’s official website. Finally take a look at Jason Figgis’ Indiegogo pitch video below:

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They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

– Philip Larkin

With blunt simplicity, the esteemed British poet sums up generation after generation of family life. In his latest film, The Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance takes Larkin’s verse to heart. The writer-director’s breakthrough film Blue Valentine established him as a film maker with a grip on the heart strings, preying on the uncertainties and paranoia of a flailing relationship. It was an unusual film in that it spanned across a large time frame, detailing the highs and lows of a marriage in uncompromising detail. There was more in common with the character driven films of ’70’s Hollywood that Bob Rafelson and John Cassavetes used to make.

While Blue Valentine flourished in its intimacy, here Cianfrance is working with a much bigger canvas and the strokes are much broader. The film essentially revolves around three sections, focusing on the divergent fortunes of two families whose lives seep in and out of one another. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a tearaway stunt motorcyclist performing around the country. When one of his flings with Romina (Eva Mendes) results in a child, Luke takes it upon himself to settle down in Schenectady, New York and try to provide for his new son. Finding his skill set limited, Luke is persuaded by petty criminal Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to use his driving experience to rob the local banks.

Meanwhile, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a young rookie officer eager to make his mark on the world. His background in law and a dedication to his young family makes him an anomaly in a corrupt police department, thus beginning his struggle to maintain a clear conscience in the face of amoral practice. A chance encounter with Luke’s reckless bank robber leads the two on a mammoth saga that spans the generations. The Place Beyond The Pines is an ambitious, richly layered film that excels both as a crime saga and a family drama.

Gosling, the go to heart throb of indie cinema, gives a typically commanding performance as Luke. He seems to have mastered the ‘cocky young player with the damaged soul’ to perfection. While his role is relatively short, he casts a shadow over the rest of the film that leaves the audience looking back toward him for answers. Bradley Cooper is nuanced and heartfelt, conveying the inner angst of someone fighting against the system and his own inner demons. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Mendelsohn’s needy loner and Ray Liotta’s calculating officer.

Cianfrance again opts for an almost documentary like aesthetic, the shaky camera work mirroring the rawness of the characters emotions. He also proves himself as an able director of action; the motorcycle scenes are filmed with a blistering ferocity and tension. Alternative icon Mike Patton delivers an affecting, offbeat score, relying on melancholic, echoing piano notes and ominous guitar interludes to maintain the ambience. Elsewhere an achingly beautiful Ennio Morricone piece elevates scenes of catharsis to an almost religious fervour.

The Place Beyond The Pines is not a perfect film; the final section lacks the gravitas as the two that went before it, and is a little too neat its climax. If the film had previously established the cyclical effects of a damaged upbringing, then the third act makes it all too literal. However, its sprawling, ambitious scope is admirable and invigorating, the characters vivid and human and the narrative conflicts juicy and engaging. Cianfrance achieves a great juggling act of realistic personal drama and operatic crime thrills. Now Cianfrance has established himself at this level, it’s exciting to see where he will go next.

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How would we look upon our lives in an ideal world? Would we still revel in nostalgia and pine for childhood experiences, or would we move forward and blossom? These are the questions provoked in the reflective odyssey Home written and directed by former Nuri Bilge Ceylan actor Muzaffer Özdemir.

Home sees middle-aged protagonist Doğan (Kanbolat Gorkem Arslan) travelling through the mountainous countryside of Turkey, trying to find a remedy for his depressed state of mind. The explicit cause of his neurosis is undisclosed, but he is a man ill at ease with life. Doğan decides that seeing his birthplace might sooth his troubles, but as he journeys through the countryside he becomes increasingly disillusioned. The corporate takeover of the landscape, the disappearing of sincere religious figures and the decline of his culture fill him with concern.

However, Doğan finds some solace in documenting preserved locations of natural beauty with his camera. He snaps places remembered from his childhood, which may soon be removed forever. The process of documenting and creating appeases his cynicism momentarily, yet as soon as her remembers his childhood he becomes withdrawn and foetus like.

Though certainly introspective, Home eschews the intensity of a Ceylan film (such as Once Upon A Time In Anatolia.) At 75 minutes it makes for comparatively light viewing, yet it is not light on its thematic considerations. Doğan’s fixations feel as though they come directly from the mind of Özdemir himself. Much like his protagonist, this is a director troubled by the changing and decaying world. It feels as though Özdemir has distilled the changes he has witnessed over almost seven decades to make this debut feature.

In formal terms Home is a tentative work. The camera is framed unobtrusively and natural light illuminates each scene. Özdemir captures nature from the wind in the trees to animals roaming in the wild, yet there are no moments of Tarkovsky-esque awe. However Özdemir returns recurrently to the subtle motif of bells (including cowbells) and cowslip flowers, which serve as a staple icon of natural beauty.

Finally the film determines that man’s attempt to follow God’s creation (ambitiously constructing industry and infrastructure) leads to meddling with nature itself. It is an appropriate assessment for a film such a modestly constructed film and yet there is a sense that Özdemir has the potential to show us more. Perhaps for his next feature he will blossom, like Doğan’s beloved cowslips.

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“Spring break, spring break…“ Like a life-affirming mantra, rapper turned gangster Alien (James Franco), chants the words again and again. Like a drug-induced reverie, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers takes the idea of spring break for more than a rite of passage, but for the very meaning of life. Some might argue that the film revels in style over substance, but Harmony Korine is a director who has always rewritten the rulebook. His style of filmmaking is the ultimate form of substance abuse and Spring Breakers is quite a trip.

In a piece of inspired casting Korine turns former Disney Channel stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, alongside Ashley Benson and his wife Rachel Korine into a group of budding spring breakers. Gomez’s Faith is a good Christian girl, but she is bored by her immediate surroundings. Desperate to go on spring break the other three commit a robbery to fund the trip. The robbery is directed with a gritty efficiency, in one long tense take that feels like Killing Them Softly imbued in neon. Soon they are away from their world of stained glass churches and endless laptops, to Florida for naked bodies, drugs and booze.

Like a month spent on magic mushrooms, Spring Breakers flows with an extremely abstract sense of time. Korine drops in and pulls out key characters on a whim, while the editing of the sound and visuals is hallucinatory and cyclical. However, there is a ruthless efficiency in his scripting that drives the narrative forward into unexpected territory; this means our perception of who the main character is changes throughout the film. The film’s thriller set-up is never far from our minds though, making for an original juxtaposition of genre and art house styling (brilliantly shot and lit by Gaspar Noe’s regular cinematographer Benoît Debie.)

But cine-literacy is not the name of the game here; it is entertainment, albeit through Korine’s unique auteur eye. The film’s high points include a frighteningly convincing assembly of gangsters (headed up by rapper Gucci Mane) and a bizarre musical centerpiece where Alien and the girls sing ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears. This moment recalls Korine’s glorious use of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ in his 1997 debut Gummo. Franco’s performance as Alien is also a surprisingly nuanced highlight. When he brags about his status as a ‘G’ with the words “look at all my shit!” (referring to his stockpile of guns and money), we know that underneath he is really a sweetheart.

While it seemed like 2007’s Mister Lonely was Harmony Korine’s closest stab at the mainstream, Spring Breakers has transcended even that. The best thing about this film though is that it still feels true to Korine’s own cinematic lineage, with moments of rough documentary style and a disturbingly ambiguous moral conclusion. The film’s elusive moral values may not work for all audience members, but for fans of his grungy tragedy Julien Donkey-Boy and his bittersweet Mister Lonely, Spring Breakers sees the enfant terrible at the chaotic height of his directorial powers.

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rsz_21imageIn light of the recent BFI retrospective of British director John Boorman, we are reviewing the re-release of Point Blank, one of his earlier US thrillers. Boorman cut his teeth in the 60’s as a documentary maker for the BBC, before moving swiftly on to fiction features; Point Blank was one of his earliest films and one of two films made with Hollywood icon Lee Marvin. Partly inspired by the French New Wave, as the ground breaking Bonnie and Clyde was the same year, this is a revenge thriller with a remarkably experimental bent.

Lee Marvin plays Walker, a hardman lured into help his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) complete a ‘job’ when Reese falls into hardship. A  supposedly simple case of intercepting a money package at a disused prison, the tables turn for Walker when Reese decides to double cross him, leaving him for dead and fleeing with his wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker). Walker survives, of course, and embarks on a journey to retrieve the money that Reese owes him for the deal. On the surface Point Blank is as simple as could be, a straightforward tale of someone getting back something they’re owed, but the film is full of grey areas.

For one, there is no real sense of retribution exactly. Walker kills in a liberal fashion, but he is not motivated by revenge or anger. A stoic, simple man, this is simply about getting the money that was rightfully owed to him (no matter that the money was dirty in the first place). Strangely, the initial antagonist is dispatched relatively early in the story, and it then becomes a film about Walker trying to fight an almost invisible force: corporate America. The villains are hardly villainous, just bland men in suits trying to make money, and here comes this hefty thug trying to settle a personal score. Boorman and his writers have noted the disparity between the individual and the faceless corporate world. In this recession era, Walker could have been a strange and beguiling anti-hero.

Walker is a man of few words, he lets others do the talking and lets his actions speak for themselves. Marvin’s understated performance has a tragic quality to it, a beaten man trying to rescue some dignity and purpose in a corrupt world. He may work on different principles and codes to the average audience member, but his stubborn drive to maintain them is oddly admirable. Vernon makes for an able antagonist, an amoral, slimy man with a low, booming voice.

Boorman directs with flair in abundance. A wild fight scene in a jazz club is one of the highlights; an incessant, funky band plays as Marvin dismantles two thugs with all the care of a rampant bull. Hallucinogenic projections from the club add to the disarray, bathing the brawlers in luminous reds and greens. Elsewhere the sound design is used with creativity, as Walker’s booming footsteps are heightened to give an ominous, hypnotic beat. Even costume contributes, with the garish orange and yellow shirts and dresses signalling Walker’s reintroduction into society, after the muted intro colours. Point Blank has stood the test of time both for its technical ingenuity and its pertinent social message. A deserved cult classic.

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