Poster of the Day: Black Swan (2010)

black-swan-poster-2Darren Aronofsky’s dark and twisted tale of mind-cracking obsession in the uber-competitive world of ballet divided audiences (as often the best films do) between those who thought it was pretentious garbage, and those who thought it was BLOODY BRILLIANT. Where do you land?

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I HAD THE CRAZIEST DREAM LAST NIGHT. I WAS DANCING THE WHITE SWAN.

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THE ONLY PERSON STANDING IN YOUR WAY IS YOU.

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I JUST WANT TO BE PERFECT.

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posted by Dixie

End of an Era

Some of you will already know by now that Video City is to close its doors (in its physical presence!) for the last time on Wednesday 24th June, after 30 years in Notting Hill.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for supporting us so magnificently over the years and for making it such a hugely enjoyable experience in recommending and discussing a wealth of cinema from all over the world.

Due to ever changing technology it has become apparent that the physical sale and rental of DVD’s is becoming difficult to maintain, but our belief is that a knowledge and love of film should enable us, in the not too distant future, to offer an expertly curated choice of film through a digital delivery system. It won’t happen overnight but I would urge you all, if you are interested, to leave us your email address so that we can hopefully renew our relationship with you in a new medium.

We will carry on renting and selling films in the remaining weeks and we hope that you will continue to support us in that time period. We will be offering plenty of bargains (new and ex-rental), so why not take this opportunity to start or add to your personal collections.

I can only reiterate what an absolute privilege it has been for myself and all of my colleagues to have shared our passion for films with you over the many years we have been in Notting Hill. We hope to be seeing some, if not all of you, again at a later date

Simon Brzeskwinski

Send your email address to info@videocitylondon.com

What’s Everyone Watching? Our Current 5 Most Popular Rentals (And Their Alternatives)

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INTERSTELLAR

See? This movie is why I never did high school physics. Because there’s nothing books can teach you that movies cannot. Matthew McConaughey saves the world and gives us all good excuses for why we’re late arriving to work (“Um, the gravity on the tube was like, super heavy, and so I was really quick but, like, for me it seemed like 5 minutes but for you it was like 3 hours. Theory of relativity, innit.”)

If you liked this then how about: SUNSHINE (2007)

From Britain’s favourite turner-down-of-knighthoods Danny Boyle, this underrated space adventure features a team of astronauts trying to, you guessed it, save the world. While the second half of this film trails off dramatically, it’s still worth a watch for its intelligent, emotional plot and characters.

Cliff Curtis realises that whoa, that sun is hot bro.

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2014, THE IMITATION GAMETHE IMITATION GAME

The patrons of Video City have spoken, munching their Chinese take-away with a tear in the eye as Benedict Cumberbatch frowns his way to an Oscar nomination. He still trails co-star Keira Knightley by 2 nominations to 1 though, proving once and for all that the pout is mightier than the frown. Who knew? I for one look forward to him evening things up in the upcoming George Osborne: The Musical.

If you liked this then how about: ENIGMA (2001)

Kate Winslet asks co-star Dougray Scott about her Oscar chances. He says he prefers Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.

A very different film about the same struggle to crack the German code that eventually just about won the war (don’t mention it), Enigma is part historical drama part noirish romance-thriller. A major flaw is that Turing isn’t even mentioned, but it’s still a solid, slow-burning spy drama worth a watch.

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leviathan.hero_-960x480LEVIATHAN

It’s very pleasing to me to see this film going out so frequently. As if it weren’t remarkable enough just by virtue of being made in Putin’s Russia with its powerful anti-totalitarian message, it’s actually just remarkably good. Russian-American tensions probably contributed to its loss at the Oscars, but history will remember this as a great work of cinema.

If you liked this then how about: WINTER SLEEP (2014)

‘Did I leave the gas on?’ wonders protagonist Aydin.

These two films dominated the Cannes Film Festival last year, and critics were divided as to which should win the top award. In the end Winter Sleep won out. One of the decade’s great films so far, this 3-hour character study is compelling, tragic and achingly real. Like Leviathan, it is a story about power, people and relationships, set against harsh rural landscapes.

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THE DROP

I’ll admit that there was a moment watching this one, when Tom Hardy finds the abandoned puppy at the beginning, that I emitted a barely audible “oy vey”. But this is more than just a tough guy with a heart of gold (although,, dammit, Tom Hardy you do have a heart of gold!). This brooding character drama with a compelling layer of New York wiseguy shtick is like its puppy, finding its floppy-eared way into the hard hearts of Video City’s finest.

If you liked this then how about: SLEEPERS (1996)

Brad Pitt and Jason Patric chat about how bizarre it will be to audiences in 2015 that Patric was the more famous of the two at the time.

Based on Lorenzo Carcaterra’s controversial novel, this is a tale of friendship, revenge and a perplexing lack of Oscar nominations. This is, like The Drop, a story about past actions and their consequences. It’s refusal to be a simple revenge tale is what sets it apart; every action has a consequence.

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PADDINGTON

This delightful blend of cuddly kiddie entertainment and Theresa-May’s-worst-immigration-related-nightmare has definitely bridged the child-parent divide and once again brought peace in the ongoing conflict that is Family Movie Night. That it also makes me wish I had Ben Whishaw on call to tuck me in with his melodious voice every night is neither here nor there.

If you liked this then how about: MOUSEHUNT (1997)

Lee Evans has a philosophical moment. Are we not all as mice in the cheesy mousetrap of cosmic existence?

Nathan Lane’s entire career seems to have been in underrated 90s comedies when you think about it. Here, he and Britain’s sweatiest man, Lee Evans, play two incompetent and clumsy men who inherit an old house from their father. They go to war with the resident rodent who has no intention of leaving. Parents and kids, the war is over. We have settled the dispute. Take this damn movie.

posted by Dave

Poster (and Film) of the Day: WE ARE THE BEST! (2013)

vi_ar_bast_ver3Eye-popping in the punk tradition – Lukas Moodysson’s latest film is a brilliant portrayal – and vindication – of the young outsider: different; outcast; confused, but strong, bold and rockin’ with mates (the best!).

we-are-the-bestHonest, unsentimental and defiant (just like its protagonists), We are the Best is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Coco Moodysson (the director’s wife) and focuses on the friendship of three misfit girls in the early 80s, on the cusp of their teens, as they attempt to form a punk band – and do it, in a good ol’,  banged out way. One of the things that makes this film so refreshing – apart from the protagonists being girls – is the lack of self-doubt, introspection or depression that is generally a prerequisite of outsider-teen flicks (especially when they are female). Instead, it’s pretty much full-steam-ahead confidence and its requisite cohort, the brazen attitude. Go, girls, GO!

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Interview with Coco Moodysson about the adaptation of her graphic novel

Great interview with director Lukas Moodysson on his inner teenager, for Pitchfork

Lukas’s tumblr – he seems quite into cameras and Rhianna.

From Coco Moodyssoon's orginal graphic novel, Never Goodnight (2008)

From Coco Moodyssoon’s orginal graphic novel, Never Goodnight (2008)

Coco in a photobooth in Stockholm, 1982

Coco in a photobooth in Stockholm, 1982

posted by dixie turner

Poster of the Day: Jour de Fête (1949)

Jacques+Tati+4Jour de Fête (1949) – dir. Jacques Tati.

Originally shot in both black and white and colour, Jour de Fête was only released in its black and white version, with some occasional splashes of colour which were applied by hand directly to the frames. Audience goers at the time had to be satisfied with those few frames until the film’s colour version was restored in 1995 (now both versions are available on DVD/Blu Ray). Eye-popping colour, however, was always present in the film’s posters, as seen here.

BFI article on the Thomsoncolor/black and white versions.

jour-de-fete-1949-013-poster-02Jour de Fête follows Tati’s postman who, upon watching a US newsreel showing the efficient transport methods of the Us postal service, attempts – with hilarious results – to modernise his bicycle delivery service. A somewhat less cynical accompaniment to Chaplin’s Modern Times perhaps, in which the innovations of modernity for increased productivity are thrust upon the worker from without – and certainly with considerably less wine consumed. However, the results – hilarious or otherwise – are not dissimilar and a critique of the mechanisation of industry and its effects on the individual can be seen here also in the ridiculous effects these processes have. As human becomes more like machine, as Tati’s postman attempts to deliver a greater volume in a shorter time, as the wheels of his bicycle spin faster and faster, we are on the road to comedy-gold disaster.

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posted by Dixie

The Art of the Good Superhero Sequel

avengerThe Avengers: Age of Ultron is finally released later this month, 3 years and four superhero movies after the first installment. Of those four movies, three were sequels and I would contend every one was better than that series’s previous entry. And so, I thought I’d celebrate those times that superhero part-twos have actually added to or even improved on the original films and take a look at just how they did so. As someone who was underwhelmed with the first Avengers (the $1.5 billion gross suggests I am in the minority), I nevertheless have high hopes for the next impending chapter.

The Dark Knight:

Batman-the-dark-knight-7358620-1600-1200Where else to start? The superhero sequel par excellence, there aren’t many out there that would disagree with The Dark Knight‘s reputation as the greatest superhero movie of them all. Bigger, longer, darker and more emotional than Batman Begins, this is a film of stunning ambition and genuine weight. I think everyone is familiar with Heath Ledger’s unforgettable work as The Joker (and the consequences on his personal life the role had) but the film is equally remarkable for the incredible stunt work (almost all of which was practical rather than CG) and Aaron Eckhart’s criminally underrated turn as Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent, the emotional core of the film. This was the first time a superhero film truly dared to be more than that label was supposed to allow, and the result is a film that resembles Heat with its cat-and-mouse dynamic more closely than it resembles what we had come to expect of Batman. The gleaming nighttime Chicago cityscape  also provides us with a Gotham City that we had never seen before – and made it feel more real than ever. Complex emotional developments, dark and shocking plot turns, TWO truly terrifying villains, a downbeat ending and jaw-dropping stunt work make this the benchmark for every way in which a superhero sequel might transcend its origins and become great.

Spiderman 2:

spider-man_22It’s funny how, looking back on them, after Spiderman-fatigue at the hands of Marc Webb (heehee) and Andrew Garfield, Sam Raimi’s films, which seemed so new and edgy when they came out, seem so dated. This is not a bad thing. We’re so used to broody superhero darkness these days that these films are so refreshingly fun and innocent. The other great thing about Raimi’s vision of Spidey is that people forget (mostly due to Spiderman’s absence from the Marvel films for rights issues – though that is soon to change), that this is Marvel Comics’ flagship hero! Peter Parker is the Clark Kent of Marvel, the guy that we most relate to as an everyman, that speaks to us about how with great power comes great responsibility. And this film does the most to capture that. We find Pete tired of being Spiderman. He wants to live a normal life and be with Mary Jane, and so he abandons his responsibilities as a hero. The film’s strength is that it offers us so many different strands of conflict that, unlike Spiderman 3 (possibly the worst film in the history of cinema), are blended together seamlessly. Peter must decide between a normal life and being a hero when he cannot have Mary Jane both ways. His friendship with Harry Osborne is threatened as he carries the secret of having killed Harry’s father, The Green Goblin. And Dr. Octopus, the deliciously insane villain, faces his own struggle against the bionic arms taking control of his brain as he comes to terms with his own guilt and role in his wife’s death.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

captain-america-le-soldat-de-l-hiver-captain-america-the-winter-soldier-picture-movie-2014-wallpaper-02Here we have one of those films that just had no right to be as good as it is. Captain America: The First Avenger is the sort of film that, while there’s nothing really wrong with it, just doesn’t do anything for you if you aren’t American, really. It’s a bit too middle-of-the-road to ever really excite and, like most of Marvel’s Phase One films, seems designed to set up sequels more than to actually tell a story. And so in the minds of many (yours truly included), the phrase ‘Let’s go see Captain America 2′ is not one that elicited much excited. But thank the film gods that surprises like this can still jump off a screen at you. This is more 70s political thriller than superhero film. Managing to continue the story of the first film in a way that is emotionally resonant and totally unexpected while still staging breathtaking action scenes (and finding time to give us a very sinister Robert Redford as the film’s main supporting part), Winter Soldier somehow takes a character as unbelievable as Captain America and makes us genuinely care for him. We also feel the difficulty he has in adjusting to a new life in 21st century America, having slept through most of the 20th, a situation that produces equal parts hilarity and pathos. Arguably the best film Marvel has yet released (barring maybe the first Iron Man), this is probably the most essential pre-Avengers: Age of Ultron viewing, as the plot twists here confidently dismantle everything Marvel has built for us and raise the stakes in a completely thrilling and uncontrived way.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

hellboy_2_4 Hellboy-II-hellboy-ii-the-golden-army-3961756-1920-1080It speaks volumes for the genius that is Guillermo del Toro that he followed up his Oscar-winning 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth with this pulpy sequel. And even greater volumes that it feels every bit as personal and fully realized as his fantasy gem. While the first Hellboy introduced a very unconventional hero (how many Nazi-summoned demon private-eye’s are the on our screens?) and was simple, pulpy fun, this second film is better in every way. Written as an original story rather than adapted from an existing comic, del Toro crafts a visually sumptuous work that is bursting with unforgettable images and ideas – from the subterranean troll market to the sightless Angel of Death to a towering elemental that terrorizes New York in a battle that manages to be exhilarating, funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Del Toro’s strength, apart from his unparalleled ability as a visual storyteller, is his refusal to compromise character development to facilitate action. The villains here are all motivated by real issues, and the audience must sympathize with and understand them, making this more than simple good-versus-evil. Hellboy himself, having chosen to ally himself to humanity in the first film, now realizes that perhaps people really are too narrow-minded to ever accept him and his kind, setting up a complex dilemma which the film negotiates movingly and effortlessly.

The Matrix Reloaded

the-matrix-reloaded-6_177975-1280x800Okay, so it’s not a superhero film. And okay, it’s not better than the first film. But dammit I will never let a chance to talk up The Matrix Reloaded pass me by. The thing that people misunderstand about this film is that it’s not meant to be The Matrix. This is a whole different exercise. And it’s by far the most fun in the franchise. While the third installment is a bloated, overly serious mess, this film is lean, light and full of incredible set pieces, the most notable of which is the 15-minute car chase sequence that surely ranks right up there with the best ever on film. Although the film suffers from setting-up-a-sequel-syndrome, this only really affects the very end. For the most part, seeing Zion and the last remaining humans is a fascinating sequence and it opens up so many questions about the universe which the third film fails to answer, and Neo’s command over the power he discovered in the first film is just plain awesome, dude (as Keanu’s Ted of Bill &Ted’s Excellent Adventure might have said). We get a great villain in the Merovingian, a progressively more frightening Agent Smith and I’d be lying if I said I’m not still trying to work out what the damn Architect says at the end. The Matrix was all about presenting us with a massive idea and challenging us in a cerebral sense to embrace and come to terms with it. Reloaded accepts all that and instead poses the question ‘What are the possibilities of this world?’ And boy does it answer that in style.

I think the main thing these films have in common is that, without the need to go through the motions of setting up who these people are and how their worlds work, they can delve into more mature avenues of inquiry, things that we could never get to see when we had to grasp at some big concepts. Technically, they all present us with even more ambitious action sequences and set pieces than their first parts, all in very different ways, and thus are not just more impressive on the level of character but also on that of pure escapism. Here’s hoping that Avengers: Age of Ultron can follow the same pattern and, without being hamstrung by exposition, give us a set of characters who are developed enough to be understood as ‘real’ people with complex conflicts…while they level cities and blow up things, because that’s cool too.

posted by Dave.

Damaging Goods: Seven Films that Destroyed Their Directors’ Careers

We’ve all heard those stories of debut films that catapult their filmmakers to instant success. Think Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Clerks, American Beauty, etc. But what about those times when a film ends up costing its helmers everything? Here’s a look at a few films, some of them masterful, some awful, that had profound effects on the careers of those that brought them to life. Spanning 80 years, let’s look at them in chronological order.

1. L’Atalante (1934) – directed by Jean Vigo

The earliest film on this list is arguably the greatest of them all. Jean Vigo’s masterpiece of beautiful and tragic romance cost him not only his career, but his life. Vigo was already ill with tuberculosis when he began work on what was to be his only feature film. As it takes place on a barge, travelling the Seine, conditions were cold and often wet and Vigo’s health deteriorated to the point that he directed while bedridden for large portions of the shoot. Refusing to compromise on his vision, he insisted on finishing his work. After shooting his health never recovered and he died at the age of 29, before the final cut was completed by his faithful editor. L’Atalante is one of those films that manages to somehow define cinema itself while one watches it. It is rough, naturalistic and unsentimental but somehow dreamlike, lyrical and emotional. A glorious film that makes us wonder what else this great voice might have produced.

2. Peeping Tom (1960) – directed by Michael Powell

Michael Powell, of legendary Powell and Pressburger fame, found his career destroyed (certainly in Britain) by the immensely controversial release of his psychosexual thriller Peeping Tom. Calls for the films to be banned and destroyed were not uncommon, even from professional critics, and although the film is now understood as a brazen masterwork, at the time its story of a troubled protagonist who films his own murders of beautiful women before watching them back was altogether too much for the British public. Filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (whose editor Thelma Schoonmaker is Powell’s widow) and critics such as Roger Ebert have championed the film as a singular achievement. But for Powell, who had brought gloss and erotic prestige to a remarkable string of films in the 40s and 50s, this was a commercial and critical failure from which he was never to recover, directing only 3 more theatrical releases in the remaining 30 years of his life.

3. Playtime (1967) – directed by Jacques Tati

Continuing the theme of unappreciated genius, this is one of my favourite films ever. Tati spent 3 years making this, his magnum opus, for which he built several blocks of his version of Paris in order to be able to move freely and stage things as he’d like, along with its own power plant. This was nicknamed “Tativille” and, coupled with his insistence on shooting with 70mm film and stereophonic sound, made production an arduous process. Budget overruns made financial success an imperative and when the film came out it didn’t come close to recouping its cost. Tati insisted it only be screened in cinema’s with 70mm capabilities and audiences resented his relegation of his signature character, Hulot, to a supporting role. Although this failure is said to have haunted Tati both professionally and personally for the rest of his life, Playtime is an utterly astonishing film. Its scope is unbelievably ambitious and its jokes are complex visual structures that reward multiple viewings, which also reveal the powerful social critique Tati wove into the benign comedy.

4. Heaven’s Gate (1980) – directed by Michael Cimino

Fresh of 1978’s Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter, Cimino set out to make one of the most ambitious westerns ever. Budgets ballooned and studio execs interfered and the end result was a colossal mess, a muddled saga of economic power struggles. Cimino’s dictatorial demeanour on-set and his wanton cruelty to animals were just the tip of the iceberg as the film ran four times over-budget and weeks over-schedule. Upon release, this film was such a critical and commercial failure that not only did Cimino’s career nosedive (having been one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars) but his studio, United Artists, collapsed. So if you’re looking for who to thank for the current Hollywood model of studio power over directors – look no further. Recent re-edits of Heaven’s Gate have seen it reappraised as a lost masterpiece but, while I’m as big a supporter of an epic Marxist western as anyone, a great film this is not. Willem Dafoe’s film debut can only go so far to make up for the lost hours of my life…

5. One from the Heart (1982) – directed by Francis Ford Coppola

My favourite artist is Tom Waits, who contributed the soundtrack to this one. Terri Garr was also unreasonably attractive. Neither of those things can mitigate the disaster of this one. Coppola had come off the legendary shoot of Apocalypse Now and one can only assume his truly unbelievable run of 1970s filmmaking had burnt him out because this tale of love lost and regained is a real mess. It is almost hard to believe just how relentlessly brilliant Coppola was in the 70s because post-One from the Heart, which left him in massive debt and forced him to close his studio Zoetrope Studios, you can count on one hand the good films he’s made (here they are: The Outsiders, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Godfather Part III if we forget the first two and the fact that by Coppola’s own admission debt from One from the Heart forced him to direct it at all). I think it’s fair to say that this massive miscalculation signalled the end of one of cinema’s great voices.

(I have to interject here, just to say, I thought Tetro (2009) was pretty inspired – moody, beautiful, mysterious and strangely magical.  – Dixie)

6. Donnie Darko (2001) – directed by Richard Kelly

This one is a little different. Sometimes, a film can be destructive by bringing about success that hasn’t been earned. Who hasn’t seen this film? Who doesn’t love it? It’s brilliant, warped, funny, oh-so-dark and all the more brilliant for being a debut work. That Kelly was able to successfully manage a $4.5m budget on his first try is impressive. But when success like this comes round and studios give you carte blanche to bring them another hit…let’s just say that if Pulp Fiction is one end of this spectrum, Southland Tales is the other. Tales is a spectacularly awful film, all misanthropic jock posing and directorial arrogance. It is a complete mess, a poster-child for why all artists need an editor, and bombed massively in both critical and financial senses. Its craziness is counteracted only by Kelly’s third and most recent feature, The Box, starring blandest-leading-duo-of-2009 Cameron Diaz and James Marsden and a creepy Frank Langella. Both of these subsequent films underwhelmed hugely and it remains to be seen if Kelly truly did use up his brilliance on one gem of a film or if he plans to mature and bring us more.

7. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – directed by Stephen Norrington

It is one of cinema’s tragedies that this turd, which manages to ruin both a magnificent graphic novel series and a slew of literary heroes for future generations, will also go down as Sean Connery’s final film. Blade director Norrington has not directed a film since and seems to have nothing on the horizon, which is just as well if this is any indication of his future cinematic offerings. Like a Victorian Expendables, this is all macho bombast and wafer-thin plot and seems designed to introduce a dazzling array of characters with no point save future installments that, thanks to its magnificent tanking, will never come to be (hopefully). I think it’s better for everyone out there if all involved with this one just take some time away from making films – a lifetime should do the trick.

posted by Dave.

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The Brilliance of Mel Brooks

Mel-Brooks-SpaceballsSo, Mel Brooks is coming to London – March 22nd, Prince of Wales Theatre – for his first ever one-man show in the UK, at the age of nearly 89. Brooks is one of the last of the great American comedians, and yet his true brilliance is often overlooked, mostly due to his own unwillingness to affect any kind of pretentiousness – what’s important to him is the laugh, and there have always been plenty of those.

mel liveA useful comparison here would be Woody Allen, who approaches his own 80th birthday similarly determined to keep working prolifically. Apart from the obvious ethnic comparison, with both emerging from a tradition of Jewish comedy, both have built their comedy through a sophisticated reverence for classical literature, theatre and philosophy. It is impossible to truly love these two filmmakers without a certain amount of education, in order to unpack their references and ideas. But where Allen has always seen himself as an artist, and openly resented the implication that he is a comedian, Mel Brooks has never wanted to be anything else – there’s nothing he loves more than getting a good laugh, and he will do anything, no matter how crude, to get it. It is never surprising to have a joke about Kafka followed by a fart joke, and never less than hysterically funny.

MPW-38022Both of course act in their own films, but Allen has constantly taken the lead in his, reflecting his idea of himself as a tortured romantic. Only once, in Silent Movie, has Brooks played the lead, despite his obvious talent as a performer. He prefers to steal the show with outlandish cameos that often crystallize his films’ core attitudes and ideas beautifully – from merchandise-obsessed Yoghurt in Star Wars-parody Spaceballs to incompetent, prejudiced bureaucrat LePetomaine in Blazing Saddles (a second cameo as a Yiddish Native American is also a treat). This is quiet evidence not only of his comic timing but also his ability as a writer, razor-sharp and well-honed.

Brooks’ films break the fourth wall extensively, pointing out their own flaws and bizarre natures as often as they tear into their respective subjects. This meta-textual fascination, coupled with his own preoccupations with the entertainment industry, male neurosis and an almost tragi-comically absurd view of power and the ‘way the world works’ so to speak, have been examined repeatedly over the course of a near-50 year career behind the camera and have formed a filmography deceptively rich in ideas about many things, particularly films and how we watch them.

anigif_original-grid-image-8866-1377790641-18anigif_original-grid-image-8866-1377790643-22He also had, to my mind, one of the great years for any director in memory. In 1974 he directed two films, both potentially his masterwork: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Comedy dates, it’s true. Things are rarely as funny 40 years on, times and attitudes having changed. But Saddles is a film that seems to get funnier by the day. And not just funnier, but edgier. It is impossible to imagine this film being made today, its satire is far too biting, too painful, too irreverent and too unconcerned with political correctness. In a way Tarantino surely dreams of, Brooks manages to entirely escape his whiteness and create a truly radical film (having Richard Pryor as a co-writer surely helped) that challenges us more and more.

young-frankenstein-posterAnd back-to-back with this he wrote and directed Young Frankenstein, one of the most visually and technically sophisticated comedies ever. A pitch-perfect spoof of Universal monster movies, this also features Gene Wilder’s finest performance, as nebbish scientist Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced, Fronk-en-steen). Possibly the only time Brooks allows himself to hint at his hidden artistry, Young Frankenstein is as beautiful and measured as it is gut-bustingly funny.

walk this wayFor someone who won an Academy Award for his debut film (1968’s The Producers), Brooks has been underappreciated as an artist. Rather he has been loved for his shtick, which is all very well. But now, in his old age, his presence as someone with a wealth of experience, of stories, and of a refreshingly un-selfconscious attitude toward his work and himself, is something to be treasured. And with this shift comes a renewed appreciation of his singular talent as, truly, one of the funniest men to ever have made his mark on entertainment. To listen to Brooks talk nowadays is to hear true love for film and for comedy.

This may well be the only time Brooks plays his show in the UK, but we’re lucky to have him at all. From showbiz takedown The Producers, to the Hitchcockian comedy/thriller High Anxiety, to his two masterpieces of ’74, all the way to his more recent successes on Broadway, Mel Brooks has always been a comedic risk-taker, a confident directorial voice and, the closer one looks, quite possibly a comedic genius, who conceals a stunning aesthetic and referential sophistication beneath an aura of slapstick, vaudevillian gags.

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posted by Dave.

Favourite Scenes: Ed Harris, giving it beans…

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giphy (5)Never mind the Pollock (2000) – Ed Harris plays art-punk, Jackson Pollock with a power-house performance, directed by himself (he was briefly hospitalised during filming – clearly, from too many beans).

In-House Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

imageNightcrawler:

“The closer you look… the darker it gets.”

I have to say, for me personally, this was one of cinema’s highlights last year and it certainly lived up to all i thought it was going to be. Well, almost….

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a bit of a nobody; a loner with obsessive tendencies. Someone who will happily walk over a corpse if it means he’ll get to what he wants.

The film opens with Lou Bloom attempting to find a job in construction, but after refusal, heads on out into the night frustrated and looking for something, anything, better to come his way. Driving on the freeway he inadvertently stumbles across a car accident where his attention is drawn, not to the accident, but indeed to camera man Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) who is by chance on scene filming the carnage. And it is here his obsession starts.

imageAfter being refused by Joe Loder to give him a job as an assistant, Lou Bloom realises that he doesn’t need help. In fact all he needs is a camera and to be at the right place at the right time to capture life’s unfortunate events and to sell the footage to the highest bidder. In steps Rene Russo, Nina Romina, who is the morning news director for one of larger tv networks. She agrees to buy his footage and encourages him to continue his work and promises more exposure and more money within the tv network.

imageAs Lou Bloom’s obsession becomes more controlling of his personality he realises that to be able to get the best out of every unpleasant event, he needs a second pair of hands. This unwitting character is Rick Carey( Riz Ahmed) who, like Lou, is down on his luck and looking for any work that will pay and is happy not to ask too many questions. His weak character plays right into Lou’s hands and Lou knows now he can push the limit of acceptability with regards to what and more importantly, how, he films each event. And this is where I shall leave the plot so as not to spoil anything.

Nightcrawler is a clever mix of modern with retro, kind of in the same vein as Drive with Ryan Gosling. Its story of freelance camera men being “ambulance chasers” is what works so well in giving it that retro feel. It puts you back in a mind-set before the likes of Facebook and Twitter and the 24 hours a day news channels. That rush to get to the exciting story before anyone else and to show it to the world as “yours” must have been something very unique and special for those involved and which, for me, feels well captured here.

imageI have to admit that there were one or two little things that popped up where I thought… “hmmmm would that really happen…?!?” But I forgave it that because the rest of the film was so well-balanced and written to the point where later in the film I actually gasped in shock out loud. So to Dan Gilroy on his writing and directorial debut, I say “Bravo!”

So, simply put, I highly recommend Nightcrawler. In fact, thinking about it, I could have just said that at the beginning..

Reviewed by Ben

Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (Pt. 4)

 GhostDog_quad-1DAVE SAYS G IS FOR: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily… And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

So begins this unique crime tragedy from one of America’s master filmmakers. Jim Jarmusch has been staking his claim as the US’s independent cinematic voice par excellence for some 30 years now, and in 1999 he furthered that claim with this strange, hypnotic, spiritual, cynical, lyrical noir gem. Forest Whitaker stars as the eponymous Ghost Dog, a hired assassin who has pledged his life to an aging Italian mobster. He lives on the rooftops of an unnamed city, training the carrier pigeons he communicates with (and only with) and living his life strictly by the Bushido, the ancient Samurai code. Nobody knows his name, or where he lives, or how to contact him. They know him only by the moniker he has chosen, and by the flawless record of assassinations he has left behind.

The film is an eclectic mixture of Eastern wisdom, hip-hop soundscapes and jagged-edged New York wiseguy cynicism. When Ghost Dog leaves a witness to one of his assassinations, the mob gives his master, Louie, an ultimatum: either Ghost Dog dies, or he does. And so Ghost Dog sets out to weave a bloody trail of death throughout the mob in order to protect the threatened Louie. Unfazed by the fact that not even Louie understands his unwavering devotion, Ghost Dog will do anything to uphold the Code of the Samurai, including hilariously shooting his master (twice) in order to throw the mob off the scent.

We never learn Ghost Dog’s true identity, and he becomes as much a myth to us as he is to the befuddled mobsters he sets out to take down. His only friend is Isaach de Bankolé’s Haitian ice-cream salesman, despite the fact that neither speaks the other’s language or has any idea what the other is saying. And the only way we get to know him at all is through the tentative friendship he forms with local school kid, Pearline, a kindred spirit who takes a liking to Ghost Dog and seems to understand his strangeness in some beautiful, unspoken way. This mythic quality is really what sets this film apart from other ‘hood’ or crime flicks.

Rather than bombastic and action-packed, Jarmusch’s film is elegant and understated, both in its treatment of character and its occasional outbursts of violence. It pokes fun at many tropes of the crime genre, not least with its Italian mafia that cannot afford to pay rent on time and who more closely resemble Scooby-Doo baddies than Goodfellas. Whitaker’s magnificent performance is at the heart of all of this – quiet and controlled but concealing a deep underlying emotion and a moving sense of loyalty and justice. He lets others do the talking, preferring to say only what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. In many ways, his profound inner peace is what most inflects the atmosphere of the film, despite the high body count.

Ghost Dog also features one of the great scores in recent film history, by influential hip-hop producer The RZA, who cameos (above left) in one scene as a mysterious fellow samurai. With this score, straddling the same gulf between urban grit and Zen harmony as the film itself, Ghost Dog creates a completely unique atmosphere, quite unlike any gangster film before or since. Those familiar with Jarmusch’s previous masterwork, the psychedelic western Dead Man, will also find this something of a spiritual successor, and the director leaves more than one Easter egg in here for the keen-eyed viewer.

There are not many films that can be called completely unique, but Ghost Dog, while perhaps not for everyone, certainly has no equal. By the end of the film one is left with the sense that one has not so much watched a slice of life as been told the story of a myth or tragic passion play, with a hero who represents a set of ideas and principles that have come into conflict with a time and place in which they do not belong.

One of those films that bears multiple viewings over time in order to truly let the weight of the ideas and the drama truly sink in, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai should be top of the list for anyone with a taste for daring, independent or unique pieces of cinema.

Check out the trailer right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRMu7RytXyE

Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (pt.3)

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WILLIAM SAYS G IS FOR: Germany Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1948)

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‘I see this film as a prayer from Rossellini to the postwar world, a prayer for compassion’ – Martin Scorsese. More last gasp than prayer, Martin. Inadvertent last rites? Perhaps. Bazin said “not a movie but a sketch, a rough draft of a work Rossellini hasn’t given us.” Rossellini gestures; man is the bastard. Quiet, confident desperation here.

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Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (Pt.2)

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LALLY SAYS G IS FOR: Garbage Warrior (2007)

“We’re trying to develop a method of living that allows people to take care of themselves”

Garbage Warrior is a documentary about American architect Michael Reynolds and his quest to evolve his designs for independent, sustainable living. Highly critical of the wasteful nature of his profession, Reynolds began his career experimenting with various technologies including thermal mass construction, wind and solar power, and green house designs. His experiments resulted in the Earthship, a self sustaining house built out of recycled materials such as car tires and beer cans.

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“You’ve got to be able to make mistakes otherwise you never evolve”

Filmed over the course of three years, Oliver Hodge’s film introduces us to the architect’s designs and the long standing New Mexico based community who build with him. Reynolds’ 35 year battle with waste, however, was forcefully halted in the early 2000s by the State Planning Department due to the buildings’ unconventional nature and experimental design. Whilst he was caught in a bureaucratic ‘catch 22’ in America, Reynolds and his crew were invited to Indonesia where in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami their Earthship technology was immediately welcomed and put into practice by the residents of the devastated Andaman Islands.

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“If you don’t want to look at the problem, why would you want to come up with a solution”.

Michael Reynolds, ‘warrior’ against waste, had to wade through years worth of paperwork and petitions just to be allowed to experiment with his radical designs on his own land. Ironic, given that in the past New Mexico sacrificed thousands of acres to irradiation experiments for Atomic bomb testing.

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Oliver Hodge’s film provides us with an interesting insight into the inner workings of the State legislature, where hidebound attitudes and pitfalls await around every corner. It is not a scaremongering film intent on shocking its audience into action, but rather an inspiring account of how much positive change just one person can make with enough determination.

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Garbage Warrior is the story of one man’s passionate and energetic efforts to change the way we treat the world, and to show us that change is not only obviously necessary, but well within our capabilities; the technology is here we just have to examine how we live our lives and act.

Since the release of Garbage Warrior, Reynolds and his crew have continued to evolve their designs and share them all over the world. You can check out his adventures and progress here: earthship.com

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***

Preview: The 87th Annual Old White Guy Awards

gurus-top8-021815It seems like the biggest stories of this year’s Oscars have been those films and people not nominated, rather than those who were. Much has been made of the fact that not a single nominee in the Best Director or either Screenplay categories are either female or African-American, despite the presence of presumed contenders Ava DuVernay, who directed Selma or Gillian Flynn, who adapted her own novel Gone Girl from page to screen. Add to this the fact that the Academy also nominated 20 white actors in its acting categories, one almost gets the feeling if it could nominate 10 old men for the Best Actress categories it would, if only the rules would allow it.

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Moving on from these and other snubs, though (LEGO Movie, anyone?!), the race for Best Picture seems to have come down to two very different films: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which has the backing of most critics, and Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñárritu’s Birdman, which seems to have the majority of industry support. The criticism has been leveled at both that they are merely gimmicks, in Boyhood‘s case that it was filmed over 12 years and in Birdman‘s that it is made to look like one single continuous take from beginning to end. But both are brilliant, unique films that completely deserve their nominations. So which is going to take home the big prize?

birdman-01Birdman.

Right now, the smart money is on Birdman. It is this year’s most-nominated film (tied with The Grand Budapest Hotel with 9 apiece) and all the recent momentum seems to have swung its way. It also seems likely to take home awards for Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography. Of course Boyhood is certainly in with a shout and if it manages an upset in Picture it will almost certainly take Best Director too, but at the moment it looks like a solitary win for Patricia Arquette’s magnificent performance in Best Supporting Actress for the one-time frontrunner.

Birdman is a film of the moment, edgy and fast-paced and it’s about ‘the business’, precisely the sort of back-patting ego-inflater the Academy loves (I mean, it also happens to be an excellent film which helps, at least). But one can’t help the feeling that if it isn’t Boyhood‘s name called on the night, it may just be the latest in Oscar’s long-running tradition of should-have-won films that we look back on in years to come with hands on heads. Boyhood is sure to go down in history as a great piece of American cinema from Richard Linklater, some would say his generation’s greatest American director  – but is it what the Academy likes?

the-theory-of-everything-eddie-redmayne-2-3Eddie Redmayne as Hawking in Theory of Everything.

The only major award Birdman seems likely to lose is Best Actor, which is surprising considering Michael Keaton’s mammoth performance. But in a tight race it looks like it’s Eddie Redmayne’s to lose. Redmayne has surged late in the running with his remarkable work as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Academy loves a true story and a physical transformation, and Redmayne nails both with aplomb. Although Bradley Cooper scores his third consecutive nomination for his flag-waving work in American Sniper, he and fellow nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Steve Carell will all just be happy to be there.

What a pity that far and away the year’s best performance, from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma has been ignored. I wonder why. I mean, the Academy did nominate Laurence Olivier for playing Othello in blackface…but that’s none of my business.

still-aliceMoore in Still Alice.

The other acting categories are all but sewn up. Julianne Moore will get her long overdue statue for her work in Still Alice, while JK Simmons (Whiplash) and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) will complete this year’s line-up with deserved wins. In another year without Moore perhaps Reese Witherspoon (Wild) or Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) might have challenged but both already have Oscars of their own and the Academy’s old white men- I’m so sorry, old wise men have decided its ‘time’ to honour one of the best actresses working for the last 20 years.

Ida1Ida.

There are still a few unpredictable races scattered throughout, like Best Foreign Language Film. Despite many predicting Pawel Pawlikowski’s majestic Ida, this category has seen many upsets in recent years, so don’t be surprised to hear Argentina’s Wild Tales called out and that’s what I’m predicting to win. There’s even an outside chance of Russia’s searingly powerful Leviathan taking home the award, but in the past US foreign relations have played a bigger role than they maybe should have in determining this one and so it seem unlikely we shall see a Russian winner. On the documentary front it would seem that Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour  is going to be the one to beat, though keep an eye out for the wonderful Finding Vivian Maier, an in-store favourite, although it’s unlikely to be an upset this year.

Things to Keep an Eye Out For:

  • Neil Patrick Harris is the latest brave soul to take on the task of hosting the ceremony. Can he revitalize the world’s most popular roomful of old white millionaires?
  • Best Cinematography sees veteran Dick Pope finally nominated for Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. Can either he or equally overdue legend Roger Deakins (Unbroken) claim a statuette or will we see Birdman’s Emmanuel Lubezki win for a second consecutive year (he took it home last year for Gravity)?
  • Just how much support will dark horses Grand Budapest Hotel and American Sniper have? Both could easily come away with 3 or 4 statues of their own. If any films are going to sneakily prove popular choices, it’s these two. Expect Sniper to challenge for both Sound categories, Editing and perhaps even Adapted Screenplay. Expect Grand Budapest to be up for it in Costume, Production Design, Hair and Make-Up, Cinematography and maybe even Original Screenplay if it’s really loved.
  • With no Gone Girl in Best Adapted Screenplay, it could go anywhere. Expect it to be one of the Brit biopics. Either further love for Theory of Everything (along with Best Actor and potentially Score) or a consolation for The Imitation Game.
  • Animated Film frontrunner The LEGO Movie was a shock omission, so will the completely wonderful Boxtrolls get it’s due or will we be learning How to Train Your Dragon?
  • The one nomination LEGO did get was for it’s hit theme song “Everything is Awesome”, expect song to come down to this versus Selma’s Glory”, which might end up being the ‘sorry-we-were-racist’ prize for 2015.

And finally, will it be Inarritu and Birdman or Linklater and Boyhood that come out on top? While some are predicting a split between Best Director and Best Picture, this is rare (ignore the fact that it’s happened in both the last 2 years, it’s RARE I tell you!) and whichever man wins is likely to see his film win too.

Selma-FilmSelma.

Fingers crossed on this end for Boyhood (or, in a perfect world, Selma – but that’s so unlikely it’s actually past the point of parody) but regardless of which film wins, either would be one of the most artistically daring projects the Academy has ever gone for, so good luck to all!

Posted by David.

Film and Poster of the Day: Paths of Glory (1957)

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Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou and Ralph Meeker.

“NOW THE SCREEN BLASTS OPEN THE BOMBSHELL STORY OF A COLONEL WHO LED HIS REGIMENT INTO HELL AND BACK – WHILE THEIR MADDENED GENERAL WAITED FOR THEM – WITH A FIRING SQUAD!”

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“I PITY YOU.”

SAINT-AUBAN: DID YOU URGE YOUR FELLOW SOLDIERS FORWARD?

ARNAUD: MOST OF THEM WERE DEAD OR WOUNDED BEFORE THEY GOT THREE STEPS BEYOND THE TRENCHES.

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“IF THOSE LITTLE SWEETHEARTS DON’T FACE GERMAN BULLETS, THEY’LL FACE FRENCH ONES!”

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“LOOKING OVER YOUR RIFLE, I SEE? WELL, THAT’S THE WAY. IT’S A SOLDIER’S BEST FRIEND. YOU BE GOOD TO IT AND IT WILL ALWAYS BE GOOD TO YOU.”

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PARIS: YOU SEE THAT COCKROACH? TOMORROW MORNING WE’LL BE DEAD AND IT’LL BE ALIVE. IT WILL HAVE MORE CONTACT WITH MY WIFE AND CHILD THAN I WILL. I’LL BE NOTHING AND IT’LL BE ALIVE.

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PRIEST: HAVE FAITH IN YOUR CREATOR – DEATH COMES TO US ALL.

ARNAUD: THAT’S REALLY DEEP!

posted by Dixie Turner