Out Now – 19th September 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

The Riot Club
If there is one aspect of culture I don’t understand it is “lad culture”. All the bloody lads, top banter, and all the homoerotic fun that comes with it. This film is essentially about what happens when the lads in question are wealthy and can indulge in more decadent loutishness. The BBFC promises “strong violence, very strong language, strong sex, sex references, and drug use” so prepare to have your morals compromised.

The Giver
Set in a dystopian future where the government has taken on totalitarian control and the masses, dressed in muted colours, lack free will and don’t even seem to realise that they are being oppressed proper noun discovers that the world they live in is not what it seems. With their new-found knowledge proper noun decides to escape their society and change things for the better. PLOT TWIST! Proper noun is a boy!

Think Like a Man Too
Following on from the presumed success of Think Like a Man this sequel adds cast members, a different (but not too different plot), and the word “Too”. Enjoy!

A Walk Among the Tombstones
A drug kingpin’s wife is kidnapped so he hires the one man who has the specific set of skills needed to get her back; Liam Neeson. Here Liam Neeson is totally not playing the same character from Taken. For legal reasons it is very important that we all agree that he is not playing the same character from Taken. He is playing the same character from Taken.

Wish I Was Here
If you can get past the title, and the whole Kickstarter debate, you might (might) enjoy this second feature from Zach Braff. If you are like me and have gone from loving Garden State to being scared to ever watch it again then I advise you to read Melissa’s review of attending a preview screening as she shares our reservations. Wish I was here… Oh! I am here! In fact here is the definition of where I am. I am so silly sometimes.

Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen has bounced back from the success of Blue Jasmine to bring us a period comedy that critics worldwide are calling “not great”. Regardless of the quality, or lack thereof, we get the charming combination of Emma Stone and Colin Firth. This charm will shortly be followed by uneasiness when we realise they are supposed to be a romantic pairing.

Salomé / Wilde Salomé
Al Pacino directs and stars in a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play that, for the sake of editorial authority, I will pretend to be familiar with. Also we have a documentary in which we follow Al Pacino attempting to direct and star in a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play that, because it is my favourite play ever, I perform to crowds in Covent Garden every Friday night. Essentially you are getting a film and its DVD extras all at once. for the price of two trips to the cinema. Yay?

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq
Michel Houellebecq gets kidnapped! If only his family had contact details for Liam Neeson’s character from Taken.

Khoobsurat
“Remake of 1980’s Khoobsurat starred Ashok Kumar and Rekha with modern touch.” Hmm… this synopsis really relies on me knowing something about the original Khoobsurat. Which I do not.

20,000 Days on Earth
Nick Cave stars in a film about Nick Cave. Perfect for fans of Nick Cave or caves in general.

Night Will Fall
Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein shot a film together in 1945 about German concentration camps and nobody has seen it until now. Imagine that. In fact don’t just imagine it get down to the cinema and see it with your eyes!

Grand Piano
“Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a note written on his music sheet.” I’m no expert but as I understand it notes are precisely what you want on your music sheet. A music sheet with no notes is actually just a sheet.

Love Hotel – Film Review

Love Hotel

When first asked to watch a film about a Japanese love hotel I will admit that a lot of conclusions were jumped to. The idea of a hotel where you check-in without seeing the receptionist’s face and hire a room by the hour conjured up all manner of sordid imagery in my head. My assumption was that this sort of hotel would be a hotbed (pun intended) for illicit affairs and all manner of kinky goings on. What this documentary by Philip Cox and Hikaru Toda demonstrates is that while these hotels aren’t totally innocent establishments the activities within are varied and often incredibly touching.

Certain aspects of Japanese culture is revealed through the events at the Angel Love Hotel in Osaka Japan. In an overcrowded country where space and privacy is at a premium the love hotel offers a welcome escape from everyday life. An escape away from judgement where people can truly be themselves and where secrets can be shared.

For such a secret and intimate escape the film-makers have gained a surprising level of access to not only the inner working of the hotel and its staff but to the customers as well. In a completely uncensored fashion the film takes us inside the bedrooms with their occupants and allows us to witness first-hand what takes place inside. At first this feels intrusive and an invasion of the privacy they are so desperately seeking but before long I found myself drawn in and captivated by the intimate moments within.

These intimate moments do include what you might have first imagined. One man is splashing out on his first dominatrix experience and finally finding the sexual gratification he was looking for. Meanwhile a single woman is using the hotel to conduct an affair with a married man. These carry with them a certain amount of fascination but what really intrigues are the more tender moments happening elsewhere. An elderly pair of former lovers meet weekly to take tea, waltz, and reminisce, an old man thinks back on his mistreatment of women and writes a love letter to his neighbour, and a gay couple pop out from the law firm they both work for to find a space to be alone together. With these stories the film stops feeling just sexually intimate and moves on to offer the audience emotional intimacy. When someone enters the love hotel the audience steps inside their head as they let their defenses fall down.

One couple in particular won me over. They have been married for some time and seemingly are regular visitors to the hotel. Inside their room we see them as playful and obviously still in love. It is only when the cameras follow them to their lives outside and to their home does the contrast between their relationship in the real world and in love hotel world become clear. While in the hotel they talk openly and play with each other back home everything feels much colder and less open. The power of escape offered by the hotel is laid bare and its importance to certain Japanese citizens is clear. As the hotel’s manager says himself, “it’s not just for sex. You can do that at home.”

Love Hotel is a documentary that lets its subjects speak for themselves and offers no commentary of judgement. It truly surprised me and challenged by preconceptions of what this type of hotel was used for and what it has to offer Japanese culture. Love Hotel is incredibly sweet, intimate, and unfiltered. I only wish it had been longer.

DocHouse host the UK premiere of Love Hotel at the ICA this Wednesday 17th September complete with a Q&A with directors Phil Cox and Hikaru Toda. For more information and to buy tickets visit the DocHouse website.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Line-up

BFI London Film Festival 2014

It has begun. Booking for BFI members began for this year’s London Film Festival this week and it was the usual bloodbath as cinephiles fought to obtain tickets to this latest collection of cinematic delights. There are plenty of gems to be found among the hundred of films within the line-up and plenty that don’t star Benedict Cumberbatch or Brad Pitt. Ticket go on sale for the public on Thursday 18th September and you can peruse the full catalogue online at bfi.org.uk/lff. Each film is assigned to one of eleven strands at the festival. Below I take you through the strands one by one and pick out a personal highlight for each.


Love

Love is Strange
Love is Strange

The love strand is all about love, lust, and everything in between. What greater examination of love can there be than looking at a couple 39 years into their relationship? The couple in question are Alfred Molina and Footloose‘s own John Lithgow, a pair who find themselves looking for somewhere to live when one loses his job. During the hunt for a new home each stays at a different apartment and this new distance puts their relationship to the test. From what I have read this is the film to make you fall in love with love again and so is a must see at this year’s festival. Both Molina and Lithgow are hitting career highs and to have them come together as a couple promises to be unmissable.


Debate

Rosewater
Rosewater

Jon Stewart is best known for presenting the scathingly truthful comedy news show The Daily Show, a show that far too often feels like the only honest coverage world news can get. Who better than to present his directorial debut as part of the strand designed to spark debate. Focussing on world politics rather than comedy Stewart explores the incarceration of BBC journalist Maziar Bahari who was arrested for treason while covering the 2009 elections in Iran. If there is anybody who can cover such an event in a balanced way it is Jon Stewart.


Dare

Thou Wast Mild & Lovely
Thou Wast Mild & Lovely

When looking for a daring piece of cinema you can’t go wrong with what the writer-director calls a “magical-realism-romcom-mumblecore-western-with-horror”. The plot involves a married man taking a summer job on a ranch staffed by just the ranch owner and his daughter. I can only imagine what unfold as the BFI give it the just as baffling description of “a rural erotic horror romance”. Sign me up.


Laugh

Night Bus
Night Bus

I’ll let you figure out for yourself what this strand is all about. Night Bus has a simple enough premise; for ninety minutes we follow a double-decker through the streets of London at night. As passengers get on and off we meet a variety of characters, all travelling through the capital when most people are asleep. This appeals to me simply because I know first-hand the joys of the night bus and am curious to see how they translate to the big screen. Possibly one of the most “London” of the films at the festival.


Thrill

The Salvation
The Salvation

An actor that most befits the word “thrilling” is the great Dane Mads Mikkelsen. Mads is taking his chiselled cheekbones to the old West in the what the BFI have dubbed a “smørrebrød western”; I just hope they don’t say that to the director’s face. Fleshing out the international cast are Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and the increasingly prevalent Eric Cantona. If you weren’t convinced at the first mention of Mads Mikkelsen then you clearly haven’t watched enough of his work.


Cult

The Town That Dreaded Sundown
The Town That Dreaded Sundown

You’ve to be careful with cult cinema as what one fan might watch on a weekly basis, you might struggle to sit through once. My pick in this strand is the perfect example of this; a remake of a 1976 horror film set in a world in which the original film is not only true but exists as a film. Call this a sequel, remake, or reimagination, I call it a future cult classic.


Journey

My Old Lady
My Old Lady

There are a few things make a film extra-appealing to me and one prime factor is the presence of a British actor over a certain age. Kevin Kline plays an American writer who inherits a Parisian flat but is unable to sell it unless he can convince its current tenant to move out or die. That tenant? Why it’s Maggie Smith! I’m sold. The Journey strand is filled with journeys, destinations, and beautiful locations.


Sonic

The 78 Project Movie
The 78 Project Movie

Sonic is a collection of films and documentaries that surround the subject of music. My pick of these musical delights is a documentary about American folk music in which the film’s director travels the country recording all manner of musicians performing folk songs on retro recording equipment. The film promises to be a love letter to folk music and analogue technology. Sounds lovely to me.


Family

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow
The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

The Family strand is precisely what it sounds; a collection of films the whole family can enjoy. As someone without children to hand I would also like to point out that a film suitable for children isn’t automatically out-of-bounds for an adult. The more I read about this particular film the more I want to see it. A satellite crashes to Earth and turns into a girl who, along with a cow that used to be human, seeks help from a wizard who has been turned into toilet roll. Pure joyful madness.


Experimenta

Vampire Bat
Imitations of Life

In Experimenta art meets film to create something that doesn’t necessarily feel the need to contain a narrative, character, or any of the usual cinematic devices. Do not go into this expecting the usual collection of shorts, Experimenta is something else entirely. This particular collection of shorts takes existing films and remixes, reshapes, and remakes them. Some will delight you, some with infuriate you, but none will be anything you have seen before.


Treasures

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Here’s what I love about the London Film Festival and the BFI in general. When hearing that part of the festival includes the screening of classic films you might presume that the chosen features would be those held up as artistic masterpieces; beautiful but not necessarily fun. Instead what we have, amongst the artistic, musical, and masterful, is one of the most intense horror films committed to film. While lacking in the gore and nudity more common nowadays Massacre instead maintains a tense, almost unbearable, tone of absolute horror and suspense.

Out Now – 12th September 2014

At Berkley

In which I encourage you to see a four-hour documentary about an American University…

The Boxtrolls
Boxtrolls are cave-dwelling trash collectors, otherwise known as wombles. Under threat from an evil exterminator the trolls a rescued by a young orphan boy they raised in a manner that in no way constitutes kidnap. Stop-motion animation and rave reviews mean this might not be a bad choice.

A Most Wanted Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last lead role, we’re a while away from his last on-screen appearance ever, is as a German spy in this John le Carré thriller. Truly the end of an era for fine character-led performances from one of modern cinema’s greats.

Pride
When you first see promotional material for Pride it is too easy to dismiss it as just another Billy Elliot or Full Monty. Then you see some full scenes from the film and read reviews and realise that this might actually be a British comedy gem about the marginalised fighting back. Then you remember that this is precisely what Billy Elliot or Full Monty were and feel silly for being so judgemental. I will be seeing this.

At Berkeley
Frederick Wiseman presents a four-hour documentary set at University of California at Berkeley. Wiseman’s style is simply to film for hours/days/weeks on end and then carve out a film from the footage. There is no voiceover or interviews and the result is mesmerising. I saw this at the London Film Festival last year and it was sincerely worth four hours of my time.

Finding Fanny
No obvious jokes please! This is an Indian romantic comedy drama about a man hitting the road to find his first love. This is about romance, not the smut going on in your mind.

Ballet Boys
Speaking of Billy Elliot… Documentary about boys who do ballet.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
Documentary exploring those who try to live a spiritual lifestyle in the modern world. “It is a record of experience that proposes belief in transcendence as a viable outcome of living in the now.” Good…

One Night in Istanbul
“A screen adaptation of the hit play about the exploits of a group of Liverpool Football fans at the European Cup final in Istanbul.” Oooh a play! Oh, football.

A Dangerous Game
Follow-up to 2011’s brilliant documentary You’ve Been Trumped. Sadly this latest attack on the beautifully coiffed Donald Trump is said to be less worthy of a cinema trip.

In Order of Disappearance
A sort of Scandinavian Tarantino film starring Stellan Skarsgård about revenge, gang warfare, and the like.

Manuscripts Don’t Burn
Iranian drama with a lie for a title.

The Two Faces of January – DVD Review

The Two Faces of January

Film
Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are an American couple touring Greece in 1962 after fleecing investors back home and fleeing the country. At the Acropolis of Athens they bump into tour guide and con artist Oscar Isaac who latches onto the pair in pursuit of their money and Dunst’s feminine charms. Events back in the states catch up with the trio, blood is shed, and soon the three are on the run from the law. Who can be trusted? Will they make it out of the country? Who will Dunst choose, her husband or the man she hardly knows? Will they all make it out alive?

If you haven’t yet noticed The Two Faces of January is a thriller in the most traditional fashion. With its authentic period style, crosses and double crosses, and romantic trysts suggested at but never explicitly shown this film could easily have been made fifty years ago. Being such a slave to convention and possessing such an old-fashioned manner is both to the film’s credit and detriment. The look and feel of the piece is admirable. Every shot is gorgeous and benefits from the production’s globe-trotting filming schedule while the actors are shot in a sympathetic light that showcases bone structure and lets all three leads resemble classic Hollywood icons.

Where traditional thriller mechanics disappoint is in allowing the film to become completely predictable. Maybe not completely predictable, I won’t pretend to have seen every twist and turn coming, but certainly when a character is double crossed or revealed to have an ulterior motive I wasn’t exactly falling out of my seat so much as nodding slowly to myself in a knowing way. Feeling as though you know what is going to happen is a terrible situation to be in when watching a thriller as you are never overly concerned about what actually does happen. Add to this the fact that both male leads are unlikeable untrustworthy types and I was struggling to generate much empathy for them.

The Two Faces of January 2

As for Dunst’s leading lady; she is the biggest casualty of The Two Faces of January‘s retro feel. While these days we expect, but don’t always get, a female character with some level of personality and backbone this is something that the film fails to provide. Dunst is for the most part a prize to be won and a pawn in the struggle between Mortensen and Isaac. Dunst is seemingly ambivalent about who she ends up with and is equally happy being rescued by either man. When any scene of dramatic importance takes place Dunst will reliably be asleep, waiting in the bedroom, waiting at the top of the stairs, or simply elsewhere not troubling anybody. A feminist icon this character is not.

Quibbles aside The Two Faces of January is a perfectly fine throwback thriller with serviceable acting and beautiful scenery. Just don’t go in expect to see anything new. Writer/director Hossein Amini has certainly got a fine eye but perhaps could have spent some more time energising the plot when adapting from Patricia Highsmith’s original novel.

Extras
Both DVD and Blu-ray discs have the same special features which is something to admire in itself. These take the form of the usual collection of featurettes, interviews, and deleted scenes. The interviews focus mainly on celebrating the fact that filming took place in multiple countries; more Wish You Were Here then anything in depth. There is also a blooper reel which felt slightly odd considering the po-faced tone of the film itself.

The Two Faces of January is out on DVD and Blu-ray next Monday 15th September.