Saturday, April 26, 2014

Film Review: 112 Weddings (2014)

112 Weddings

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink – an essay about the importance of snap judgments and ‘thin slicing’ – there is the story of John Gottman, a psychology professor who spent a large part of his career as a marital psychologist.  Gottman claimed that he could study a three-minute video of a married couple interacting in his lab and subsequently predict with high accuracy whether they would stay together or eventually divorce.  Apparently micro-expressions on couples faces and their attitude towards criticism and defensiveness etc. was enough to extrapolate a forecast.  This research came flooding back to me within minutes of watching a new documentary about married couples, ominously titled 112 Weddings. 

Alongside his filmmaking career, Doug Block has spent over twenty years filming weddings as a way of making money on the side.  Somewhere around the 100 mark he began to reflect on the nature and purpose of this ancient ritual, as well as wondering what happened to the couples that he had invested such time and energy into.  This led him to make contact with some of his favourite couples and to follow up on how their marriages were going, with both poignant and tragic results.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Film Review: Love Me (2014)

In our world of uninhibited online free-market capitalism, the easiest impulse to exploit is lust.  The new documentary from Jonathon Narducci explores one of the most audacious examples of this in action:  mail order brides (or consensual human trafficking).
Love Me

John Adams is an ‘Average Joe’ from Phoenix, Arizona that met his wife Tanya 14 years ago on a Russian “Love Tour”.  This inspired him to set up A Foreign Affair, a website for American lonely hearts to find love online through thousands of profiles of Eastern European (mainly) women.  After users signs up for the service, they get the chance to talk to women directly – the only catch of course is that they speak different languages, so Adams helpfully provides a $10 per message translation service.  He also organises expensive group holidays over to Ukraine for the men to meet women in person.

Director Narducci follows six men before, during and after such a holiday to find out how successful they are, yet this is filmed more as fly-on-the-wall anthropology than televisual exposé.  He tries to stay neutral by showing stories with happy and not-so-happy endings, but includes enough information for viewers to decide for themselves.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Film Review: Noah (2014)


One of the arguments against films based on a well-established story is the problem of audiences knowing the ending.  This was true of Titanic, United 93, and (obviously) The Passion Of The Christ.  A solution to this problem is known as artistic license – and Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story of the great Biblical flood is a masterclass on how to do it with style…

Many generations after the fall from the Garden of Eden, mankind has split into the descendants of Cain (who killed Abel and therefore followed a life of sin) and the descendants of Seth who have dedicated their lives to the protection of all creation.  The film begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) a successor of Seth, witnessing the death of his father at the hands of Man, and then later grown up with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and family living alone and at one with nature.

Noah begins to have eschatological visions of a great flood, so embarks on a journey to find his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for guidance.  Here he learns of a way to protect the innocent in a giant arc, as the wicked get wiped from the Earth by the wrath of The Creator.  So far, so biblical. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Film Review: The Hip Hop Fellow (2014)

The Hip Hop Professor
Picture credit - Price Films
To borrow a line from the BBC, the function of a good documentary should be to inform, educate and entertain.  As much as I love feature films, there is nothing quite like a documentary to inspire reflection and understanding of an idea or an issue.  When a film makes you look at something in a fresh way or from a new angle, it can be the most exhilarating experience.

The Hip Hop Fellow managed to do this to me in two ways: Firstly, it rekindle my love for ‘classic’ Hip Hop and the technical structure of the music, and secondly it explained the history of Hip Hop within a political and cultural timeline in a way that seemed new and exciting (to me).  For fans of the genre, this is mandatory viewing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film Review: Benny Loves Killing (2013)

Benny Loves Killing

Benny (Pauline Cousty) is a French student living in London trying to direct her first horror film. Even though she is enrolled on a theoretical Film course, she wants to submit a feature film as a dissertation as she feels it is more creative and personal.  After moving out of her unassimilated lonely mother’s flat, she begins to sleep on any sofa that friends and acquaintances will provide, which fuels a growing kleptomania and drug addiction.

The first feature film from Ben Woodiwiss is a love letter to cinephilia and the love of genre.  The protagonist is a passionate horror fan who understands and champions the importance of interpretation of films and the intelligence of filmmaking.

Benny floats around London in a soft-focus haze of cigarettes and joints, refusing to wash through a dislike of the feeling of water.  Her professors are trying to empathise with her creativity, yet remind her that she will only keep her funding if she conforms to their criteria for the course.  

Film Review: The Double (2014)

The Double

The ‘dystopia’ plot as we know it today is a little over a century old.  From its origins in the books of Jack London and E.M. Forster, through to luminaries such as Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury, the narrative goes something like this: 
Many years into the future a society has evolved in which a government/corporation has ultimate control over an aspect of human life.  In this world, a man (usually) begins to question the validity of this control and slowly begins to rebel against it – normally due to the desire for a woman that he cannot obtain.  After learning the ‘truth’ about the nature of the control, the protagonist must sacrifice everything that he loves (including the woman) in order to break free of the tyranny.  The final act never ends well.

These stories use an idea of the future to teach us a crucial lesson about the present – the horrors of totalitarianism, eugenics or biblioclasm etc.  The second feature film from Richard Ayoade is a dystopian vision of banal bureaucracy and pandemic loneliness.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Film Review: The Borderlands (2014)

Fifteen years ago I went to a matinee showing of a horror film in Bournemouth’s biggest cinema screen with a friend on a weekday lunchtime to see a film that was getting huge attention on the recently invented ‘World Wide Web’.  We were pretty much the only people in the cavernous cinema and the experience was completely chilling.  To this day I have never been so scared in a cinema as I was when I saw The Blair Witch Project (I was 14).

At the time, TBWP seemed to be just the jolt that the horror genre needed to spark some life back into it.  Yet since that seminal film, the ‘found footage’ horror subgenre has become something of a cliché with familiar visual tropes and narratives.  Some have been more successful than others, like [rec] and Paranormal Activity, but mainly audiences are becoming tired of them.  Myself included.

This cynicism tainted my initial feelings towards seeing The Borderlands, the debut feature from writer/director Elliot Goldner, but it completely restored my faith in the genre and showed what can be done on a micro-budget with a solid script.  Throughout the film I kept thinking what my 14-year-old self would be thinking if I had seen it then…