Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The State Of Cinema

Recently at the San Francisco Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh gave a speech about filmmaking, money and 'The State Of Cinema'.  Seeing as we loved his last film Side Effects so much it only seems decent to replay the talk in full.

Please listen to it all and share it with anyone you know that is interested in film/filmmaking.  It is a fascinating 40 minutes...

State of Cinema: Steven Soderbergh from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.

He is a great cultural critic and his talk made me feel terrible and then full of hope.  A true stroyteller...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Film Review: The Place Beyond The Pines (Derek Cianfrance) 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines

The new film from the director/actor team of Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling is a heavy and lengthy exploration of morality, ambition and fate.  This might sound pretentious and vague but the film is both a story of modern-family drama and a seething criticism of corruption in the judiciary and executive branches of government, even if it is simply an indie heist film.

The film seems to have been heavily influenced by HBO-style American TV shows as the plot is vaguely episodic and follows different characters for different sections of the narrative.  The film starts with Luke (Gosling), a travelling motorcycle stunt man, finding out that he has a son with Romina (Eva Mendes), an ex-‘flame’.  He wants to provide for his son so decides to stay local and gets a job with a local mechanic called Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who lives out in a deserted building out in the forest (beyond the pines).  Together they begin to rob banks as Luke tries to support his son and win back Romina.  This eventually gets him in trouble with an ambitious policeman called Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) who has his eyes on a career in politics.  The film then jumps fifteen years forward and we see the interaction with Luke’s son Jason and Avery’s son AJ.  Any more information would spoil the plot… 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Film Review: Red Dawn (Dan Bradley) 2012

Red Dawn
Red Dawn is the ultimate cognitive dissonance film.  It is both simultaneously genius and unspeakably dumb; poignant and repugnant; militaristic and pacifist; racist and worldly, and most importantly it is reactionary and conservative at the same time.  I can imagine that the target audience for this film are die-hard Republicans who are pro-war and anti-Obama – and yet at the same time I can imagine that anti-war liberals will get an enjoyment out of this too.  Only a film this stupid can be so sneaky…

The main characters of the film are Jed (Chris Hemsworth): an egomaniacal Iraq War Marine veteran, and Matt (Josh Peck): an egomaniacal college football star.  They live in a small town in Washington State and are learning to spend time together after Jed ran away and joined the marines after their mother died.  This story unfolds for 30 minutes needlessly until suddenly one morning North Korean paratroopers begin to fall from the sky and successfully invade America.  With no resistance.  At all.  (The North Koreans have a new super-weapon that completely wipes out all US defenses)  Jed and Matt then escape to a cabin in the woods in order to start a group of insurgents that have to repel the evil foreign invaders.  Jed teaches Matt and his friends guerilla tactics and rudimentary military maneuvers in order to rise up against the foreign aggressors.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Film Review: Dans La Maison (François Ozon) 2013

Dans La Maison

Dans La Maison is the 14th feature film from Francois Ozun and hopefully the international breakthrough that he deserves.

The film begins with Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a disillusioned French literature teacher, talking to his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) about the terrible writing styles of his young French students.  He has set them the task of writing about their weekends and the pitiful responses lead him to seem ready to give up hope.  That is until he reads a witty response from one of his students called Claude (Ernst Umhauer) who has satirized his middle class neighbours, focusing mainly on the mother of the household.  Germain is encouraged by this and asks Claude to write more, which leads to both the boy getting inappropriately involved with the family, and Germain risking his job in order to satisfy his curiosity about The House referred to in the title...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Memorable Funeral Scenes

At a time when everyone is talking about the death of a major cultural figure, it is impossible to escape the discourse and not think about the death of family and friends.  Regardless of what you may think of her policies and legacy, one thing that is unanimously agreed is that she should be remembered publically (for better or worse).  No one is trying to make the claim that she should be forgotten, but instead she should be celebrated or reviled as a symbol of something larger than herself.  The chosen way that we remember people in culture is to hold a funeral – something that has been represented on screen in many different ways, some poignant and some farcical.  Here are some of my favourites:

Old School (2003)

Everyone always forgets how good a singer Will Ferrell is (in his own special way…).  This is a great song and a heartfelt rendition for his ‘boy blue!’

Friday, April 12, 2013

The first 50 films that I have watched this year...

Like all obsessive weirdos, in 2010 I started to record all of the films that I watched so that I could see any organic trends over time of what sort of things that I was interested in.  I didn't try to gravitate towards anything artificially, I was just interested in seeing what type of films I really liked.

So here are the first 50 films that I have watched in 2013:

Sniper: 23 days in Washington D.C.
April Showers
Bowling For Columbine
Bang Bang You’re Dead
Cloud Atlas
Les Miserables
Bonnie & Clyde
Planets of the Apes
Revolutionary Road
Beasts of the Southern Wild
God Bless America

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Film Review: Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) 2013


Everyone analyzing post-apocalyptic cinema seems to interpret the ‘end of the world’ that is shown on screen as symbolic for a fear of a particular contemporary anxiety in an audience.  This has ranged over the years from globalization to Aids, from immigration to terrorism, from UFOs to climate change and most recently financial meltdown. Without spoiling too much about the plot of the film, I think that it is the explosion in ‘big data’ and companies such as Apple and Google that are the symbolic bogeyman that this film is concerned with.

The narrative of Oblivion centers on Jack (Tom Cruise) and Vickers (Andrea Riseborough), a team left on the post-apocalyptic Earth of 2077 with the mission of cleaning up after a war conducted between humans and aliens called ‘Scavs’.  Jack and his crewmate do not know the details of the war as their memories have been wiped; yet they are told that after they have finished maintaining the machinery that will harvest the rest of Earth’s resources, they will join the rest of humankind on a spaceship called the Tet that will transport them all to Titan – a moon of Saturn.  When Jack conducts a routine bit of maintenance one day he meets fellow human survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who then begins to change his perception of the mission that he is on and the causes of the war that he cleaning up after.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Film Review: Room 237 (Rodney Ascher) 2013

Room 237

If there was any (mainstream) filmmaker that deserves a documentary dedicated to deconstructing their enigmatic back catalogue it is Stanley Kubrick.  Famously reluctant to explain his work, as well as being meticulous with his pre-production research and production direction, his films reflect the work of a true auteur and are unanimously agreed to be deserving of critical analysis, of which all of his films have been subjected to by academics for years.

Room 237 is a film that relies heavily on postmodern film analysis in order to understand cinema.  Rather than trying to reach a definitive meaning for Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining it offers five contradictory theories without prioritizing any one of them.

The documentary is almost entirely made from clips from The Shining with a voiceover from one of the five amateur theorists explaining their interpretation of the film.  Sometimes the scenes are slowed down enough to linger over every frame and other times graphics are used in order to explain something (such as the layout of the hotel and its ‘impossible windows’) but mostly the entire narrative is a re-edit of The Shining with a new voiceover.  His other films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon are mentioned as well, but only in passing.

Kubrick was the master of depth of field and one-point perspective filmmaking, which means that everything in each of his frames is always perfectly in focus (as shown in this excellent video below). 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Winchester Film Festival - Interview

The Winchester Film Festival is a small programme of films being screened in interesting locations - for example a war film being played in the Army cadet HQ, a horror film being shown in a railway tunnel.  I asked the organiser Christian Francis a number of questions about the showings:
What inspired the Winchester Film Festival?  Are there any other festivals that have similar programmes?
There was no direct inspiration for the Film Festival per se. The School of Film & Media always ran an internal student film festival, but within the myriad of festivals Winchester has, none are film based. So we saw the opportunity to give something to the community. But this is not for profit or monetary gain, as each year we donate all proceeds of ticket sales to a nominated local charity.
When we started there were no UK festivals which utilize innovative and matching locations to the films. But since a couple have sprung up, which have even copied some of our programming (Which is a great compliment.)
What role do you think small festivals play in the local community?
I think small and large festivals play a huge part in the community. Any festival has the facility to increase tourism to the city, provide something different for the community to experience, and for us, allows us to raise awareness on our nominated local charity which may be new to the audience.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Electronic soundscapes

There are a number of films that are about the electronic music scene yet wildly misunderstand the music.  Most of these films concentrate on clubbing and Ibiza and superstar DJs, where actually most of the time people are listening to this music in cars as soundtracks to cities and falling asleep to the repetitive  and utopian synths (just me...?).  These films below show a much more sophisticated understanding of electronic music and how it can build moods and moments

HACKERS - 1996
A cyberpunk film all about the Internet before people really knew what the Internet was capable of (see more here).  A great film with a pumping soundtrack from The Prodigy, Underworld, Leftfield and The Orb: All of the biggest electronic monster-groups from the mid ‘90s.  A classic.

A film all about the Berlin techno scene featuring the legendary producer Paul Kalkbrenner in the central role.  The entire soundtrack is by him and features huge tunes such as Bengang and Gebrunn Gebrunn.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mondo Loco - Pilot Episode

(Even though this is a TV documentary, it's main focus is film so it's okay...)

This is the pilot episode for a TV series called Mondo Loco, which explores famous film and TV locations giving them a bit of context.  It's fun and not too historical and is only 15 minutes so deserves a watch...

Alex with Richard Brake