Archive for September, 2015

The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.

In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?

The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.

It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.

The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.

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We’re very pleased to launch the official trailer for the short film Blue Borsalino, directed by Mark Lobatto and executive produced by Christopher Smith (Creep, Black Death). The film stars Emmy winning David Warner (Titanic, The Omen), Olivier nominee Margot Leicester as well as Bart Edwards, Laura Dale & Amanda Drew.

Blue Borsalino is a neo-noir drama that tells the story of a retired private investigator, whose first and only client wakes from a coma, revealing a secret that has cast a shadow over his life. Check it out below:

The trailer showcases the strong visual sense of director Mark Lobatto, reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper, as well as the rich cinematographic talents of DOP Eben Bolter and production designer Daniel Vincent. The film was also edited by Dave Silver and the musical score was composed by David M. Saunders.

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Lobatto says of the film: “Blue Borsalino would not have been possible without the support of over 300 individual backers from around the world, who believed in the project enough to make it a reality through crowd-funding. We were grateful to be a Kickstarter ‘Staff Pick’ within a couple of hours of our campaign launch, followed by being featured as the ‘Project of the Day’ just days into the campaign. We look forward to representing the film at film festivals as we hope to find it as wide an audience as possible!”

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In the great Westerns of Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More) and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) a man always comes to town. The man in question – like Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Leone’s films – is an imperfect protagonist (or anti-hero) who brings retribution to an also corrupt society. The brilliance of the documentary Welcome To Leith is that is also revolves around a man who comes to town, yet he is no hero, but a frightening real-life antagonist.

Leith, North Dakota was founded in 1910 and is one of America’s smallest cities, with a population of 16 as of the 2010 census. After the railroad was abandoned in Leith in 1984 it became deeply isolated, yet there is a close-knit community within the city. In 2012 Craig Cobb, the notorious white supremacist, rather anonymously moved into the town and quickly and easily began buying up land from the locals. Things became scary when he started moving neo-nazis into the town, stocking up on weapons and patrolling the streets.

Welcome To Leith picks up this story, initially from the point of view of the long-term locals, who become aware of Cobb’s plans to grow the town into a majority white supremacist enclave and endeavor to kick him out by any legal means necessary. While the film does deal with the legal aspects of this standoff, the real thrill of watching the film comes from the way in which the tension between Cobb and the town boils over into physical action. Much like a Spaghetti Western, the opposing forces frequently come into direct conflict, which makes the ideological struggle very real.

The film also offers Cobb and his supporters screen time, which sheds light on their perspective and builds tension, but it never plays in their favour (as the British TV documentary The Battle for Barking also didn’t for the BNP.) To hear Cobb’s views from the horse’s mouth leaves no doubt that this recalcitrant man offers a senseless vision of division, chaos and hopelessness. Only those whose political leaning comes from a place of irrational prejudice, entitlement and anger could be convinced.

Directors Nichols and Walker do well to create a real sense of isolation in Leith; beautiful cinematography of the sweeping landscapes outside of the town shows just how cut-off this community is. There is a vital sense in the film that Leith is really the frontier between a compassionate and accepting American way of life and a despair ridden white nationalism. Ultimately the film’s open ending leaves a sense of frustration in the viewer – perhaps there’s room for a sequel – but also a crucial sense of vigilance towards this ongoing struggle.

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Wild Tales aside, it’s been a terribly long time since a Spanish-language thriller has revelled in worldwide regard. Six years have passed since Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) by director Juan José Campanella scored a wide audience along with critical acclaim (including an Oscar nomination), and Marshland (La Isla Mínima) has qualities akin to its success.

It is the universal aspect of the crime yarn that compels us; a story that could happen anywhere – when framed around a specific culture – can take on a new meaning. The Spanish backdrop, and 80s setting, give Marshland a paradoxically fresh feel, along with that gritty tone that mystery/thriller audiences crave.

The plot is something you have may have seen before, yet hearing that different language, and seeing an unfamiliar environment – different to that of say London or New York – gives it a special essence. Of course, this perspective can primarly be experienced by those less aware of European cinema, but however familiar you are or aren’t, Marshland should not be missed.

It is 1980, in the South of Spain, and deep within the harshest environment, two bodies have been found – those of two missing girls. A pair of homicide detectives are sent to solve the case, ahead of the harvesting season, and before more trouble erupts in the town.

Every review or word you hear about Marshland will speak highly of its cinematography. The spectacular imagery of the titular landscape opens the film – and continues as transitional edits throughout. Cinematographer Alex Catalán’s eye for darkness and splendour helps the film address its symbolism – it is, after all, about the murders of innocent, beautiful girls. For audiences comfortable with the more prime time crime dramas, this may be too morbid in tone. However, the film’s biggest draw is its murkiness.

Director Alberto Rodriguez does a sterling job at generating tension through his lengthy fixation on gloom. Visually the film combines a murky yellow, foggy grey and a steel blue palette, something like Darius Khondji’s Seven photography. In many respects, Marshland will live longer in memory thanks to Catalán’s sense of what makes a crime film look great.

Additional praise must go towards Javier Gutiérrez and Raúl Arévalo for their performances. Relatively secretive and silent, the two actors lend more expression to denoting emotion. It aligns with the film’s sensibilities – that of soft disquiet. They develop well, giving the audience opportunities to understand their motivation and skills. By the end you are rooting for them 100%, giving the film’s volatile finale added dread.

An excellent addition to the wide catalogue of crime films, Marshland compels all the way through. Its short box-office life in the UK can be ignored in light of its deserved success on home entertainment and 10 Goya awards in Spain. To settle down in the dark with Rodriguez’s drama is a rewarding, and cinematic, experience. He uses the medium well, scoring and editing the film masterfully to keep your eyes locked on the screen.

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The biographical film is dangerous territory. There are myriad reasons for this: the hackneyed form of the biopic, the biographical inconsistencies, the expectations that come with portraying a revered figure. Dealing with a master filmmaker is perhaps the most treacherous of territories; if your filmmaking doesn’t live up to theirs, what have you said that they couldn’t more eloquently?

When it comes to Abel Ferrara, director of Pasolini, it is well established that he has balls of steel. Whether it’s his self-starring soft-core debut 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, the rampant punk horror The Driller Killer, or his hysterical drug cop drama Bad Lieutenant, his resume is replete with the bold, brash and explicit. But how does this confidence lend itself to the subject here, one of Ferrara’s heroes: Italian neo-realist, Catholic, Marxist, poet, writer, director Pier Paolo Pasolini? The results are fresh, authorial and not at all definitive.

Pasolini begins with Pier Paolo (Willem Dafoe) in post-production on a deeply disturbing scene from his final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, in which young people are raped and exploited by a fascistic political elite after the fall of Mussolini in 1943. It is a show of confidence to begin the film by referencing this famous scene; a scene representative of Pasolini’s disturbing power as a filmmaker. Fortunately Dafoe immediately cuts a striking, if Americanised, version of Pasolini and generating sufficient intrigue in the character.

There is a tone of rumination that is maintained throughout the film, which plays out Pasolini’s final day before his untimely murder. Juxtaposed with the day’s activities are scenes from an unmade Pasolini film, in which the lesbian and gay communities meet on one night a year in Rome to propagate the human race. The cutting back and forth never glimpses us quite enough of one or the other – given the film’s lean 84 minutes – but with a character as complex as Pasolini one senses that Ferrara intends to create a snapshot rather than a complete portrait.

The film does not attempt to provide us with a comprehensive understanding of Pasolini, nor does it attempt to wrap his death up in an overly ambitious poetic, or political logic. What the film does do is glimpse aspects of a renegade thinker and polymath artist, as seen through the eyes of the generation he influenced most profoundly. It is a reimagining and an attempt at humanising the figure. We see him in his role as an intellectual, as a gay man and as a family figure; he was profoundly attached to his beloved mother.

It is in playing to his own strengths that Ferrara makes a success of Pasolini. He is clearly at home working with Dafoe, whose own work as Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was an even more preposterous, yet fascinating interpretation of a figure of moral significance. Ferrara’s own thematic interests are present in Pasolini: ethics, faith, politics and the alienation of modern life. This is the work of a committed fan and student of Pasolini and not one who claims to possess all the answers.

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Upon coming into contact with the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, Legend producer Tim Bevan wasn’t initially convinced to make a film. He understood that a certain ‘hook’ was necessary to transform the material into a film of sufficient interest. Upon viewing Legend, it is quite easy to identify that deciding coup: Tom Hardy.

This is not the first time the notorious gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray – the fearsome gangland operators of 1960’s East London – have been portrayed on film. Back in 1990 brothers Martin & Gary Kemp, actors and musicians of Spandau Ballet, played the pair in The Krays by Hungarian director Peter Medak (The Changeling.) That film, in spite of its gritty and rather eerie sense of atmosphere has certainly aged in 25 years, so Legend is not unwelcome in 2015.

Aided by state-of-the-art post-production, Tom Hardy performs a fantastically entertaining double act as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray. In Reggie Kray, Hardy finds a measured, patrician character with a life that teeters dangerously between the rational and the outrageous. In Ronnie there is no such rationality; he is mentally unstable, fanciful, enormously dangerous, yet endearingly sensitive and curiously open about his homosexuality.

While the film is unashamed in it’s larger-than-life – and pleasingly hammy – conception of these characters, there is plenty to be surprised by. Not least by Tom Hardy’s remarkable ability to create a rapport between the twins (often seen in immaculately constructed two shots) that is continuously compelling to watch. It is often said that good acting is in fact truthful reacting; so quite how Hardy managed to provide both the action and reaction in so many scenes will remain a compelling reason to watch the film.

The film feels less accomplished in its handling of the history, although the setup is good; narrated from the point of view of Reggie’s young wife Frances Shae, the film features a welcome female view on an otherwise overwhelmingly macho scene. The issue here is that – other than establish the story and highlight Frances somewhat – this perspective never truly affects the rather predictable vision of obscene violence and macho posturing that the film happily indulges in generic fashion; perhaps this was to be expected from a film called Legend.

The film is most interesting in its dealing with Ronnie Kray’s relationships with men. While reveling frequently in distinctly old-fashioned gay jokes, the film makes no bones about his queerness: a refreshing attribute in a British gangster flick. The most admirable view of the Kray Twins available here is in their ability to defend one another, no matter how they personally transgressed the norms of their time and place.

In Legend, director Brain Helgeland has made a curious film, not without the qualities of a ‘guilty pleasure.’ This is a film to be enjoyed for Tom Hardy’s overwhelming, but never boring, domination of screen time and space.

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Pathé and Suffragette Producer Faye Ward have collaborated with The Industry Trust to produce an effective trailer promoting the importance of Copyright and Creativity in the Film Industry.

In order to support creative endeavor, creative professionals should be paid for the moments they create; this message, combined with the theme of women’s liberation in Suffragette makes for a strong juxtaposition. Check it out below:

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