Archive for the ‘Britain’ Category

The European movie scene is unique and marvellous. Look beyond the top 10’s and you will find movies that bombard your senses and leave you deep in thought.

Movies with subtitles is something that surprisingly few in the UK seem to enjoy. We’re not quite sure why? To shake things up a bit, here’s a list of European movies that will make you laugh, weep, shiver and think.

Armour (Love) – dir. Michael Haneke / Austria | France | Germany

After Anne (the late Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke, Georges’ and Anne’s life together hit a point of no return. The two retired pianists suddenly face the perhaps toughest challenge of the lifelong love: old age and the deterioration of mind and body.

Brutally honest, Armour portrays aging love and the helplessness that follows when a loved one slowly succumbs to the ravages of old age.

We follow Georges’ struggle to accept the inevitable, as Anne suffers from early dementia and a series of strokes, reducing her to little more than a helpless child.

“In the course of two hours, Haneke suggests that the ultimate test of a lifelong passion may come not in its first flourish, but in the compassion of its very last days, and that while love cannot conquer death, it can give life’s bleakest moments a run for their money” David Hughes

Jagten (The Hunt) – dir. Thomas Vinterberg / Denmark | Sweden

In this critically acclaimed Danish thriller, Thomas Vinterberg shows how a close- knit small community can crumble in no time when rumours are on the run.

Lucas, a small town nursery teacher, is falsely accused of sexually abusing his best friends daughter.

As we follow the slightly awkward but charming divorcé being torn apart and shunned by the local community, we are reminded of how relentlessly a smaller group can turn on you when you need it most.

“Vinterberg sets our suspicions twitching from the off, which makes us wonder later, with no small measure of guilt, which side of the mob we would have been on.” Robbie Collin

La Tête en friche (My Afternoons with Marguerite) – dir. Jean Becker / France

La Tête en friche is a heartwarming atypical love story. Germain is a very self- conscious, bloated man-baby in dungarees. Marguerite an articulate, fraile, and intelligent 95-year-old.

In a public square in a small French village, Marguerite and Germain form a close friendship over literature. Marguerite’s subtle love for words and Germain’s quirky wonder over them brings them closer day by day.

“Germain suffers through flashbacks to his unhappy childhood, but seems on the whole serene. He loves Annette but he declares himself “in love” with Margueritte.

So are we, a little. She is bright-eyed and high-spirited, and never overplays the heart-tugging” Roger Ebert

Les Émotifs anonymes (Romantics anonymous) – dir. Jean-Pierre Améris / France | Belgium

With both main characters suffering from awkward bashfulness, emotif, this french comedy is a quirky but adorable story of how two very shy chocolatiers, Angélique and Jean-René, fall in love.

As the chocolate enterprise takes its worst toll, Angélique, originally hired for sales, anonymously develops a new line of special chocolates. Through their passion for chocolate, the two chocolatiers finally find a way to communicate.

“The tale of two pathologically shy chocolate makers who are meant for each other but are too afraid to connect is a mug of warm cocoa with marshmallow topping that produces a comfy feel-good glow” Stephen Holden

Bal (Honey) – dir. Semih Kaplanoğlu / Turkey | Germany | France

This award winning film is set in the densely forested region of north-eastern Turkey. Yakup and his family lives in an isolated mountain area, and he makes a living by climbing trees to harvest wild honey.

Yusef, Yakup’s son, struggles in school. He is lonely, has a stammer and is desperate for attention.

One day Yakup doesn’t come home.

In an astonishing scenery, we watch Yusef slip into silence as his mother Zehra’s heart breaks.

“It is a film whose unhurried pace must be allowed to grow on you, but once it has, there is something engrossing about the tragedy unfurling slowly and indirectly before our eyes” Peter Bradshaw

Kon-Tiki – dir. Petter Skavlan / UK | Norway | Denmark | Germany | Sweden

This spectacle of a film is based on the true story of the Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, who set out to prove that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre- Columbian times.

We follow Thor (a pompous Norwegian man who cannot swim) in his adventure to raise money, build a balsa- wood raft, and draft from South America to Polynesia (4,300 miles). With a crew of several Norwegian men trapped on an ocean raft, arguments unfold and their craft of a raft, ‘Kon-Tiki’ is put to the test.

“What the film doesn’t skimp on is spectacle. Brilliantly shot in a rugged National Geographic-like way by the cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen, it captures the sailors’ feelings of both awe and terror about their self-inflicted predicament” Geoffrey Mcnab

About the author

At Global Language Services Ltd we’re passionate about languages and language nuances. We’re a language service agency based in Scotland, supplying interpretation and translation services locally, nationally and internationally.

The technology of the 21st century is remarkable, but however good the translation technology is, it cannot yet pick up the subtleties of a language, the culture that underpins it, or even the humour that oils many of our conversations.

When Alexa and Siri say nae we say yae!

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2016 has been a strange year of film viewing for me (partly on account of getting married, which it turns out takes up a lot of time and energy.) I’m yet to watch a number of essentials (Toni Erdmann, PatersonSieranevada, I Am Not Your Negro, Elle), but I’ve also been plesantly suprised by films I might otherwise have missed. Here are the films that left an impression on me in this craziest of years.

1) ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING (DIR. ANDREW DOMINIK, UK/FRANCE)

Of all the films I saw in 2016, none was more mesmerising than Andrew Dominik’s documentary following the recording process of Nick Cave’s excellent album Skeleton Tree. The film captures a terribly troubling time for the Cave family, following the loss of 15 year old Arthur Cave and this runs through the film making it feel like a painfully private affair. It is a testament to Dominik’s handling of the situation that the Cave family were willing to release the film and it is also the director’s best film next to sprawling epic The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

2) THE QUEEN OF KATWE (DIR. MIRA NAIR, USA)
Mira Nair’s The Queen of Katwe is a film that sneaks up on you with an emotional undercurrent that pays off extraordinary well by the final sequence. Telling the story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, Mira Nair casts newcomer Madina Nalwanga in the central role and surrounds her with established talent David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as numerous child actors. A potentially challenging production from Disney – shot on location with many non-actors – it succeeds thanks to the director’s talent for straddling different worlds of production. A big hearted film for all audiences.

3) INTO THE INFERNO (DIR. WERNER HERZOG, UK/GERMANY/CANADA)
Of the two documentaries released by Werner Herzog in 2016 (the other being internet doc Lo and Behold), Into The Inferno was the most cinematic and most truly Herzogian. In Inferno Herzog tackles volcanoes, not a new subject for him (see 1977’s La Soufrière), but here he expands the subject to explore North Korea, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Iceland. Along the way Herzog discovers some amazing civilisations and wonderfully eccentric characters, particularly the larger than life Paleoanthropologist Tim D. White. Herzog’s recent drone footage, as well as the archive of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft make for majestic, frightening scenes.

4) CHI-RAQ (DIR. SPIKE LEE, USA)
One hell of a Spike Lee joint! Chi-Raq is an adaptation co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott, based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a Classical Greek play in which women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting. While the film was criticised by some (including Samuel L. Jackson at the Dubai Film Festival) for not dealing with America’s gun violence in a direct fashion, it is none-the-less one that frequently represents Lee at the height of his polemical powers. Teyonah Parris is a forceful presence as Lysistrata and appearances from Sam Jackson & Wesley Snipes are welcome, alongside John Cusack as a fiery white pastor.

5) ALI, THE GOAT AND IBRAHIM (DIR. SHERIF EL BENDARY, EGYPT/FRANCE)
One of the most refreshing films I saw this year was this tragicomic feature debut from emerging Egyptian director Sherif El Bendary. Set in contemporary Egypt and telling the story of two friends with different afflictions (one loves a goat, the other hears excruciating noises), Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim takes us across Egypt to its major water bodies as the characters attempt to remedy their problems. What exactly the film says about life in contemporary Egypt is hard to define, but its mischievous absurdity is pitch perfect for this most unusual of years.

6) NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (DIR. TOM FORD, USA)
For those in doubt of Tom Ford’s credentials as a film director, Nocturnal Animals goes some way towards quelling those feelings. This is a meta thriller, which makes fantastic use of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon, to explore a failed relationship (the main thread) through a violent fictional narrative written by Adams’ character. I am rarely a fan of duel narratives such as these – as often the intended effect simply falls flat – but in this case Ford creates a compelling, disturbing tapestry which is thoroughly gripping and emotionally complete.

7) A UNITED KINGDOM (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, USA/UK/CZECH REPUBLIC)
Amma Asante’s follow up to 2013’s excellent Belle is a very moving rendering of the true story of Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) – the first president of Botswana – and his English wife Ruth Williams Khama (Rosamund Pike), as they struggled with family, apartheid and the British empire to assume power after Botswana’s independence. Although the supporting characters are more swiftly sketched in, the film finds power in two highly impressive, emotionally engaging central performances by Oyelowo and Pike. With carefully crafted period visuals – contrasting a moody noir-esque London with the sun-kissed plains of Botswana – the film is a pleasure to watch, making Asante’s next film Where Hands Touch highly anticipated viewing.

8) HIGH-RISE (DIR. BEN WHEATLEY,  UK/BELGIUM)
Ben Wheatley’s most ambitious film so far is one that – once again – harks back to the psychedelic British cinema of Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, perhaps more overtly than any other he has made. Taking JG Ballard’s original text and adapting it into a relatively plotless, decadent extravaganza, Wheatley gives us a film of surreal delights in which Tom James Bond Hiddlestone glides through sequences that would look at home in the films of Russell and Fellini. Wheatley’s body of work is one that feels organic, developing, never perfect, but always alive; more please.

9) THE HATEFUL EIGHT (DIR. QUENTIN TARANTINO, USA)
A troubling film. When I emerged from watching The Hateful Eight at the start of 2016, I didn’t know what to think, but I certainly felt pretty dirty. A parlour game in which nefarious characters engage with one another in the most base of terms; the film is an old style exploitation flick and Sergio Corbucci would surely be proud. Each scene plays out at a snails pace, the drama brimming with racism and women hating. It is the most disturbing film of Tarantino’s career. Now at the end of 2016 – having witnessing the politics of the last 12 months – I think I understand The Hateful Eight a bit more and I still feel dirty.

10) ONLY MEN GO TO THE GRAVE (DIR. ABDULLA AL KAABI, UAE/IRAN)
An intriguing discovery from the 2016 Dubai Film Festival: Abdulla Al Kaabi’s arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave is a film that evokes the genre works of Almodovar, Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk (a big influence on the Emirati director.) Telling the story of a group of women, struggling to deal with an undisclosed secret of their late mother, Al Kaabi uses the film as a vehicle to deal with taboos present in his culture and unite unlikely artistic collaborators from Iran, Iraq & the UAE. The film’s constantly inventive shooting style and compelling acting signpost Al Kaabi as a talent to watch in 2017.

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In 2009 documentary filmmaker James Page travelled to North Korea on a tourist visa, carrying with him a set of different cameras. Fascinated by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since a young age, James’ intention was not to come back with a story designed around a pre-conceived narrative, but to grasp the opportunity and connect with the real people he met. 7 years on James’ film, From North to South Korea, has its world premiere on Tuesday 18th October at the New Orleans Film Festival. We spoke to James to learn about his journey to North Korea and the one he has been on since, to finally release the film.

What is the most fascinating thing to you about North Korea?
For me, the most interesting thing about North Korea is the lack of information there is about the inner workings of the country and the lives of the people there.  Likewise the perceptions the outside world has because of this.

Could you tell me about the origins of the project?
From North to South Korea initially started as a desire to see the last country divided by the Cold War and see what 65+ years of division by politics looks like.  I visited both North and South Korea in 2009 armed with a polaroid camera, DV camera, Super 8 camera and a digital camera.  I thought that capturing a country unlike any other in different formats would be an interesting way to try to make some sort of sense of the things I would see and experience.  It was not until I came back from North Korea having made a friendship with my North Korean guides (Mr. Pak and Mr. Kim), and visited a South Korean friend (Geon-hee) that I realised I had formed friendships on both sides of the border and that despite both sets of people being Koreans, they had no realistic chance of meeting due to the division of their nation.  It was this realisation which made me pursue, what essentially was a personal study of a place, into a short documentary.

Why has it taken a number of years for you to be able to release the film?
2009 seems like such a long time ago to have shot a documentary which I am now releasing. Initially my biggest issue was moral and legal.  When I went to The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name) I went under a tourist visa and not as a journalist.  When I came home I realised the content I had shot for my own use, told a story that I wanted to share with others, and as such anything I created and showed publicly would be considered a misuse of my tourist visa by the North Korean Government and Koryo Tours, the sanctioned tour company I utilised to visit the country. Violating a tourist visa in this way could result in both my guides loosing their jobs, the tour company having its license revoked, myself being barred from visiting North Korea again, and the potential of legal action.

Several TV and online documentaries about North Korea have chosen this route, believing that once they have their story they will have no need to go back to North Korea or worry about the people they came into contact with.  In order to make sure my guides would not be compromised by an unauthorised release of a film using ‘tourist footage’ I had to gain approval of the film by the North Korean government. If I could not get this authorisation, then I would not show the film.  Fortunately the owner of the tour company, Nick Bonner, has also produced 3 of the most respected, legally shot, documentaries about North Korea.  With his help and mentorship I was able to edit my original cut of the film in a way which maintained the same level of engagement with the  subject of North Korea, while using language that was non confrontational to the North Korean government.

After three years of various cuts, and a number of run arounds with Embassy Staff at the North Korean Embassy in London, I was finally given approval to show the film, and a confirmation that their would be no issues for my guides, the tour company, or any issues for me going back to North Korea in the future.  In that same time period I signed with a production company who was very eager to market the film, but once I finally got permission the documentary side of things had shifted, which then left my film stuck in a contract I could not leave for another year and a half.  Finally with my film free from government, moral and contractual issues, I was able to start post-production, which thanks to some amazing favours and talent, I was able to finally ‘finish’ in early 2016.  Its been a long journey and one I thought about leaving behind, but for better or for worse the situation on the Korean Peninsula has hardly changed, and the story I tell has stood the test of the past 7 years, due to the lack of change between the North and South.

What surprised you most about visiting North Korea?

It sounds very simple, but what surprised me most about North Korea was seeing people living their lives.  North Korea is probably one of the most politicised and dehumanised nations on earth, and the idea of what it must be like to live your day to day life there is on the bottom of many people’s question lists when trying to engage with the topic of North Korea.

What was the experience like from an emotional perspective? Was it moving, nerve wracking, surprising?
Initially visiting North Korea was intimidating.  Despite my attempts to study North Korea, its history, etc, it’s hard for all the terrifying things we hear about the country to not influence one’s experience.  Would people try to brainwash me?  Were there microphones in my hotel room? Would I be used as propaganda? These gut reactions quickly left, and I tried to engage with my guides as people and not as government minders.  However after leaving North Korea, visiting South Korea and seeing the border from both North and South and knowing people who I cared for on each side, the emotion that stays with me to this day is a great sadness for this division and the suffering this division has caused.

What did making this film teach you about your own experience, growing up in the USA & UK?
Having Grown up partially in the US you are taught at an early age that communism (or countries that call themselves communist) are the epitome of evil, before you have any idea of what communism or socialism are, so the idea of being in this ‘other’ place still carried a certain sense of unease despite however aware I thought I was about my own education. Trying to be aware of how my own unconscious prejudices influenced my experience of North Korea was a journey in itself.  Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, is often labeled as a show capital, and indeed it is, but what nation’s capital is not a show capital?  We see North Korean’s as brainwashed into believing in a system and a certain way of life, but how have our own governments conditioned us to think and operate in a certain way?  Turning those statements about North Korea into questions about how our own countries operate and being aware of those same parallels in my life and our society was probably the biggest lesson I took in regards to my own upbringing in the UK and USA.

Is there anything that you would like the audience at the New Orleans Film Fest to take away from the film in particular?
I would like for people attending the New Orleans Film Festival to leave the film thinking about the people who live in North Korea and the division of Korea as a whole, the next time they see an article about the ongoing nuclear and human rights issues on the Korean Peninsula.

What kind of relationships did you develop around making the film? Who are you still in touch with?
The biggest relationships I have made from this film were my friendships with my North Korean guides Mr Kim and Mr Pak, and the continuing friendship with my South Korean friend Geon-hee. Keeping in contact with Mr. Kim, Mr. Pak and Geonhee has been two different experiences.  With Geonhee, despite that we now do not live in the same city, we keep in contact via the usual means of Facebook, Skype, whatsapp, etc.  We chat regularly, and its really an afterthought about our access to communicate with one another.  My communications with Mr. Kim and Mr. Pak couldn’t be more different.  The vast majority of North Koreans do not have any access to the world wide web, emails, or the ability to make calls or send letters to people outside of their borders.  I took the only avenue of communication with my guides that I was presented with; writing a letter to them, which was sent to the Korean tour company who would then review the letter and decide whether to pass it on to Mr. Kim and Mr. Pak.  Unfortunately I never got a response and have no idea if they received my letter or if they did try to respond.  One day I hope to go back and see them, show them the film, and see how they are.

What documentaries inspire you?
Nick Bonner’s film A State of Mind inspired me to make documentaries and try to approach subjects such as North Korea through people and not just politics.  More broadly such greats as Werner Herzog, Chris Marker, and Errol Morris are a constant source of inspiration.  Joshua Oppenheimer’s films have been a more recent inspiration as well.

What can you tell me about your upcoming filmmaking projects?
Currently I have a feature in development which is a sequel to my short.  From South To North Korea will attempt to make the impossible happen and allow for Geonhee to travel to North Korea legally and meet Mr Kim and Mr Pak.  The Film will examine the process of just how difficult it is for North and South Koreans to try to meet and the history and politics of why Koreans of both North and South have been kept from interacting with one another.

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Following on from the 2014 summer tour of the same name, Where You’re Meant to Be details Scottish indie-rock legend Aidan Moffat – formerly of Arab Strap – as he takes a trip around the various communities of Scotland, re-working traditional Scottish folk songs with a modernist bent.

Moffat’s narration explains early on that he is “ignorant of his roots, but that’s because [he’s] more interested in the present, and the uncertainty of tomorrow”, which is a good example of Moffat’s typically Scottish poeticism which runs throughout the film. Moffat has made a name for his dark wit and apt observations of modern Scottish living, so his appropriation of the traditional folk song, which is based on similar themes, is not at all surprising.

Moffat and the film’s director, Paul Fegen, make strong use of the singer-songwriter’s deep voice, which largely drives the documentary, not just in the performances of these songs but also his narration; this plays a key part in the film’s narrative, as he addresses it to Sheila Stewart, the film’s other main component.

Stewart is a musical legend in her own right. As the last surviving member of her family, she was the living embodiment of a strand of famous traditional folk songs, which had been passed down through her family generation-by-generation. As a result she became a TV and Radio personality, as well as a performer during the 70’s.

This is how Moffat, in researching songs to use for this tour, discovers Stewart, whom he goes to meet due to his desire to use her family’s songs. The pair’s interaction is particularly amusing, as captured in a conversation had while driving around Stewart’s countryside home, as she sees Moffat’s re-workings as an encroachment on her family’s songs and tradition – especially as he takes the lyrics “too literally”.

What is fascinating however is as we follow Moffat & Co’s tour around the beautifully scenic corners of Scotland, the songs become Moffat’s own. Passed down from Stewart – regardless of her protestations – as well as others, she becomes a surrogate mother to Moffat, who represents the next generation to perform these songs.

The film, therefore, opens up an interesting question as to whether it is right to, in the eyes of Stewart, “abuse these ballads and melodies when the traditional versions are still relevant” or whether Moffat’s (and I expect the majority of his audience’s) generation are in fact merely continuing this tradition, in their own terms.

The film, and tour, culminates in Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands Ballroom (where this premiere screening takes place), which Moffat argues is as crucial to this generation of Scotland’s musical identity, as were the various town halls and countryside farms – both of Stewart’s traveller heritage – and the myriad other locations Moffat visits.

In a truly beautiful scene, the various people that Moffat and his band have encountered during the tour are all present at this final performance; this includes Sheila Stewart herself, who eventually becomes so disgraced by Moffat’s “butchering” of her family’s song, that she gets on stage and performs it herself with Moffat’s band and audience participating. It is a very moving moment, as Fegen carefully splices the younger Stewart’s TV performances – along with Moffat’s earlier shows – all building towards this climactic, last performance from the great Stewart, who sadly passed away shortly afterwards.

Where You’re Meant to Be is an awe-inspiring film, tapping into both Scottish and folk music identity, which Stewart argues “is one of the most important aspects of Scottish culture.” A warm, affecting, beautifully constructed piece of documentary filmmaking, which I would encourage anyone (Scottish or otherwise) to discover for themselves.

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“It’s like we all silently decided to cross a line” bemoans High-Rise‘s central, well-to-do temptress, Charlotte (Sienna Miller) half-way through Ben Wheatley’s latest film, and it is no exaggeration.

Adapting J.G Ballard is no mean feat and it has previously required the strength of Spielberg, or Cronenberg to do him justice. Luckily, High-Rise, a project in the works virtually since the novel’s release in 1975 – due to producer Jeremy Thomas’ insistence on creating an adaptation – is in safe hands with the relatively young (in filmmaking terms) Ben Wheatley.

Wheatley has acquired a cult following after his work on small indie films (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England) and High-Rise is his biggest-budget project to date. His darkly comic (and often violent) tone is a highly suitable approach for a J.G Ballard adaptation, a writer who – particularly throughout the 70s and 80s – was known for a similar style.

In a Q&A after tonight’s screening, Wheatley expressed how his involvement with this project was down to a chance meeting with producer Jeremy Thomas, after assuming the rights would be held by a Hollywood conglomerate. As a result, Wheatley was able to access the resources and star-power not previously available to him, to create a highly stylish, 70’s infused dystopian thriller in the same vein as the source material. Wheatley has expressed a desire to remain faithful to the “highly visual” nature of the novel, ignoring all previous screenplay attempts at this adaptation.

High-Rise begins in relative order. We are introduced to the titular housing project through new tenant Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) who moves into the 25th floor of the 40 story building in which the “cream of the crop” live at the top and the working class tenants live at the bottom. Laing meets his neighbours from all levels of the tower block, establishing varying relationships with all of them.

Then, as Charlotte’s premonition predicts, everything turns into chaos, narratively and structurally, through a nightmarish kaleidoscopic montage sequence, halfway through the film’s running time. It is a disorientating effect, as we go through the looking glass into a newly established disorder, where everyone looks to protect themselves with their varying means of defence.

Wheatley expertly keeps control of an all-star cast including Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss and an excellent turn from Luke Evans as a George Best meets Evil Dead‘s Ash lower-class rebel, who leads the charge against the upper floors. In what becomes an anarchic orgy of sex and violence, Wheatley always maintains the narrative’s satirical and darkly comic tone throughout, never losing focus despite the carnage – especially during the film’s final reveal.

High-Rise is an extremely successful tribute to 70’s sci-fi, brimming with excellent performances and design and references to films such as A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse, Now. It highlights the burgeoning mania of “modern living” with a post-modern view on Thatcherite politics that continue to prevail today.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.50.06Kicking off the 2016 edition of Glasgow Film Festival last night was The Coen Brother’s new romp Hail, Caesar! their ode to the Studio System era of 50s Hollywood. As to be expected with the Coens, they deal with their subject with an equal amount of love and cynicism, looking at the “Golden Era” of their craft with a healthy dose of post-modern irony.

As is now customary with the Coens, the brothers direct a star-studded ensemble cast in their lighthearted love-letter to a bygone era, excellently re-creating the studio lots of Capitol Pictures. Binding the multiple simultaneous projects together is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the studio’s fixer who solves the various problems of the studio’s cast and crew, as well as batting away questions from scoop-hungry twin sister journalists, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Nearing the climax of the studio’s production of their “premier picture Hail, Caesar!” however, central star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears on an assumed “1 or 2-day bender”; though the party line is that he has a “high-ankle sprain”. In actual fact, Whitlock has been kidnapped, in a scheme actualised by a couple of extras on the set of the film, and taken to a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems.

Although they set the film up a potential road-caper, The Coens don’t, in fact, focus merely on Whitlock’s disappearance, but also the studio’s “the show must go on” attitude, in spite of adversity due to a tight schedule and budget. While Mannix is aware of the problem and its severe nature, it doesn’t suddenly jump to the top of his priorities list in his daily roles, as he must keep various other stars and directors happy with their own problems, while also considering a highly lucrative and much more comfortable job offer of his own.

This is when the film is at its best, showing the rather manic Studio System as it churns out its latest epic, western, drama and musical, all the while needing a cool pair of hands at the centre of it all (Mannix) who – while clearly respected within the studio – has no elevated status, which is reserved for the “key talent”. While Mannix doesn’t seem to mind this, he does battle his own personal demons and Catholic guilt, with a secret smoking habit and a tempting job offer. Despite this he is a seemingly decent man who genuinely loves and respects his family.

Brolin plays the, on the face of it, controlled Mannix with aplomb, and is excellent as lynchpin for the entire picture. While Clooney and other star cameo turns (Johannsson, Tatum, McDormand, Swinton) are all highly enjoyable, the film simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without Brolin.

The trouble is that the film as a whole fails to really capitalise on the wealth of talent on offer. While it is highly entertaining, there is nothing here that really sticks with you for much longer than the screen-time. There is plenty of humour and enjoyment to be found in the Coen’s faithful recreating of 1950s Hollywood, including an exaggerated nod to the blacklist and “Communist threat” of the era – playing at times like a twisted version of the recent biopic Trumbo – yet the film doesn’t dig much further than that.

While this isn’t necessarily a problem given the Coens have largely made a career out of films where nothing really happens, or works, it equally is that expectation which befalls Hail, Caesar!. Any fans of the brothers’ work can find various re-treadings of ideas they’ve done before and much more successfully.

For instance, the setting and ideas on display here are also in the masterful Barton Fink, the comedic road movie caper in The Big Lebowski, the kidnapping trope in Fargo, the theological considerations of A Serious Man. These films explored their central ideas very successfully and while Hail, Caesar! is clearly more light-hearted fare, one can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before and in more entertaining circumstances.

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rsz_1rsz_screen-shot-2015-04-13-at-100638-am-e1428934141259Someone should really take away Paulo Sorrentino’s passport. Just quietly remove it from his bedside desk, perhaps hide it under the sofa, anything to stop him from getting on a plane with it. Whenever Sorrentino seems to take flight from his native Italy, things seem to go wrong. His characters become caricatures, his witty dialogue becomes tedious and his profound ruminations merely silly.

Sorrentino wrote the main role especially for Michael Caine, but it’s difficult to see why. Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired composer residing in a luxury resort in rural Switzerland. Stoic and stubborn, Ballinger watches with detached amusement at the circus of well-to-do freaks that drift through the resort. He’s joined by his lifelong friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a fading but zestful movie director and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), who acts as his assistant. Paul Dano plays a jaded Hollywood starlet hiding from himself and the world, and even grumposaurus musician Mark Kozelek makes an appearance.

Youth, like The Great Beauty, has simultaneously little story and too much of it. The essential thread of the film is Ballinger’s conflict over accepting an invitation from the Queen to perform one final concert. The reasons behind this reluctance are unclear, and like Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty, Ballinger is a somewhat passive, ponderous protagonist. Elsewhere, Boyle wants to make one final film, his last shot at a great piece of art, by cajoling some obnoxious young writers to help him conceive it.

The main problem with Youth is that it’s difficult to care about any of the characters or their woes. Sorrentino is a director who takes risks, he throws some left turns, surprises the audience, and in most of his previous films these risks have blossomed and soared. However, when they fall flat, they fall really, really flat. Ballinger and Boyle’s pretensions are neither charming nor interesting, and it is somewhat sickly that a middle aged director has sought to convey the complexities of old age.

There is the occasional brilliant moment, such as a fantastic dream sequence in which Ballinger crosses a flooded piazza to meet the gaze of a beauty queen, but these are few and far between. Caine and Keitel are not bad actors but with the pretentious, muddled dialogue they are given by Sorrentino they are made to look foolish. Paul Dano is one of the only actors to come out with any credit; his turn as Jimmy Tree, the lost starlet, is strange and serene. There is the delicate, mournful tones of Kozelek’s fingerpicking to add a touch of pathos to proceedings.

The swooping, elegant camera of Sorrentino’s previous films has vanished. This is replaced by banal static shots, to emphasise the mundanity of life in the resort and the sedateness of old age. Which is a shame, because Sorrentino is at his best when he glides like a bird. If The Great Beauty was pure, sentimental and expressive then Youth is over-thought out, ponderous and dull. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

 

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Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 19.57.11Here’s a documentary well and truly deserving of digital restoration. The BBC made Cracked Actor, directed by Alan Yentob, for their Omnibus strand in 1974.

The film captures David Bowie very much in The Man Who Fell to Earth mode, following his move to the States (and killing off of Ziggy Stardust) and features some great interviews and incredible performances – particularly Moonage Daydream – from an often drugged and frighteningly skeletal Bowie. Still, it captures the artist at his height.

I’m glad he made it through this period (and apparently so was he):

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1) CAROL (DIR. TODD HAYNES, USA)

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By far the best film that I’ve seen this year, Haynes serves up another sumptuous melodrama focusing on societal prejudices. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play the two lesbian lovers torn apart by 50’s conservatism.

2) THE LOBSTER (DIR. YORGOS LANTHIMOS, GREECE)

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Funnier than most comedies and darker than most dramas, Lanthimos’ weird sci fi was one of 2015’s strangest offerings. Colin Farrell plays a heartbroken single man sent to a eccentric rural match making hotel- if he doesn’t find a true companion there he will be ‘terminated’.

3) BITTER LAKE (DIR. ADAM CURTIS, UK)

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Veteran essayist Curtis turns his focus on the ‘simplification’ of modern politics in order to mask truths, exploring the West’s involvement in the Middle East in particular. Distilling hundreds of hours of fascinating footage and ethereal ambient/pop music, Curtis has created a film that is dreamy, poetic and ultimately unsettling.

4) THE TRIBE (DIR. MIROSLAV SLABOSHPITSKY, UKRAINE)

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An unusual take on the mobster drama, this peculiar Ukrainian film sees a young deaf mute enrol in a boarding school for the deaf and dumb, only find to himself embroiled in ‘The Tribe’, a group of young thugs. The cliches of the gangster film are all here, but the film gains a strange power in its use of silence.

5) TANGERINE (DIR. SEAN BAKER, USA)

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This effervescent LA comedy drama sees Sin-Dee, a trans working girl just out of prison and on the lookout for her cheating pimp boyfriend. Shot just on iPhones and using real locations, Tangerine has a chaotic buzz and naturalism to it that is reminiscent of John Cassavetes’ work.

6) FORCE MAJEURE (DIR. RUBEN ÖSTLUND, SWEDEN)

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An icy oddity that left viewers debating whether it was best to laugh or cry, this had echoes of Ulrich Seidl’s films. Set on a ski holiday in the French Alps, a near fatal avalanche leaves a Swedish family in a world of confusion and reproach.

7) TOKYO TRIBE (DIR. SION SONO, JAPAN)

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Madcap hip hop gangster musical from the deranged mind of Sion Sono. Warring gangster clans vie for power in a neon lit, rain drenched Tokyo, as vicious hip hop beats flow over the soundtrack and gore splashes across the screen.

8) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (DIR. ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, USA)

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Like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, this US-Iranian effort seductively subverted the vampire film genre. A young woman stalks the Iranian Bad City, looking for male prey. The story is thin but the film is atmospheric and eerie, gleefully turning the male predator cliche on its head.

9) STRAY DOGS (DIR. TSAI MING LIANG, TAIWAN)

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It takes a while to settle in to the pacing and tone of Tsai Ming Liang’s languorous films, but once you are in, you are in. A father desperately tries to provide for his young family on the drizzly streets of Taipei, as they find shelter in an array of abandoned and decrepit buildings. Moments of real poetry amidst the decay.

10) WILD TALES (DIR. DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN, ARGENTINA/SPAIN)

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A Tarantino film for people who don’t like Tarantino, this collection of mini films thrills and chills in equal measure. Loosely based around a theme of retribution, we see an often mundane beginning quickly escalate into something ludicrous and often bloody. It’s testament to director Szifron that the films remain both silly and gripping.

 

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If there’s something that football fans of clubs outside the world’s elite (so about 90%) know about modern football, it’s that success is fleeting. Elite teams, your Bayerns, Barcas, Reals etc. have always existed, but up until the 90’s the playing field was seemingly more level, with a greater number of teams finding successful periods. Then television companies like Sky and recently NBC poured money into the richest teams, through re-branded tournaments such as the British Premier League and European Champions League, and those on the outside have been frozen out, barring some huge outside financial investment.

I Believe in Miracles is therefore, a refreshing reminder of a time gone by where football was a more “honest”, community driven and less money-driven game. In 1975, the somewhat disgraced Brian Clough found himself unemployed after being fired by then footballing giants Leeds United after only 44 days. His disastrous spell and reputation (having walked out of Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion previously) meant the only team who would take him were a struggling Nottingham Forest side, whom despite previous successes were languishing in the old second division.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Forest rose through the division within the months of Clough’s appointment to gain promotion to the top-level First Division and from their watched their success grow as they went on to win the division title, two league cups and most incredibly, two European cups back-to-back all while retaining the core spine of the team inherited by Clough five years prior.

It is a remarkable story of how a team could once be built for success due to football prowess rather than monetary value. I Believe in Miracles excellently re-tells this story, managing to get interviews with essentially the entire squad, featuring big names such as Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Archie Gemmill and Martin O’Neil each managing to bring an entertaining and erudite re-calling of the team spirit that bonded them together.

Perhaps most incredibly however is that the most charismatic person to feature in the documentary is, still, Brian Clough himself. Even for generations after his prime, all football fans have at least heard of Clough, who died in 2004, his legacy remaining due to his son Nigel’s current managerial work, and in popular culture due to the recent Martin Sheen starring biopic The Dammed United. Such is the presence of the enigmatic Clough, the interviews shown here from the late 70’s show what a character he was, deflecting unwanted attention from his players through his humour and perceived arrogance, while his squad cannot speak highly enough of his, and his assistant Peter Taylor’s, man-management and tactical skills. This is an excellent companion piece to The Dammed United, which the Clough family were reportedly unhappy with, faithfully telling the story from where that film leaves off.

While this film perhaps won’t transcend it’s initial sporting audience in the same way, Senna did, it is regardless an entertaining and faithful re-telling of this remarkable sporting achievement, felt by the entire city of Nottingham. Director Jonny Owen also knows exactly when to let his interviewees or indeed, the football, do the talking, while expertly editing pieces together accompanied by the era-defining late 70’s sound of Disco, Funk and Soul music. A must watch for football fans everywhere.

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