Little White Lies Magazine http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk en 10 Things To See At The Borderlines Film Festival 2015 10 Things To See At The Borderlines Film Festival 2015

Running until Sunday 15 March at venues across Herefordshire, Shropshire and The Marches, this year's Borderlines Film Festival, which kicks off today, boasts a dazzling array of world cinema spread out over numerous strands. Here are our picks of this year's programme.

Manakamana

Shot entirely within the confines of a cable car suspended above a Nepalese jungle, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's mesmeric documentary was one of our favourite films of 2014. Catch it at The Courtyard in Hereford at 2.30pm on Saturday and again on Tuesday 3 March at 11.30am. Read our review of Manakamana.

Iris Prize Festival: Best British LGBT Shorts

A selection of British gay, lesbian and transgender short films fresh from Cardiff's 2014 Iris Prize. Films include post-apocalyptic viral thriller, Remission, footballing parable Playing the Game, Asperger’s drama Butterfly, and monochrome coming-of-ager We Are Fine, all screening at Hay Parish Hall on 1 March at 2pm.

Charlie's Country

Playing as part of the festival's retrospective of the work of acclaimed director Rolf de Heer, Charlie's Country reveals the cultural disparity in contemporary Australia as seen through the eyes of an indigenous tracker named Charlie (David Gulpilil). On Tuesday 3 March, the film will be introduced by LWLies deputy editor Adam Woodward at the Courtyard at 12pm. Also, don't miss Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes and The Tracker.

Difret

Director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari delivers a rare and vital look at Ethiopian society. Highlighting the violation of the rights of young woman across the country, from forced marriage to gang rape, the film is a shocking and delicate portrait of one girl's plight. See it on Tuesday 3 March at the Courtyard at 6pm and on 5 March in the same venue at 8.30pm.

Inherent Vice

Thanks to Borderlines, there's still time to catch PTA's stoner noir, staring Joaquin Phoenix as beach-residing PI "Doc" Sportello and adaptation from Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name. Get your fix between 6-9 March at the Courtyard in Hereford. Read the LWLies review of Inherent Vice.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Swedish director Roy Andersson's singular trilogy-capper is, for our money, the year's most glorious (and funniest) film. See what all the fuss is about Kinokulture, Owestry on Tuesday 10 and Friday 13 March at 7.30pm and 1.30pm respectively. Read our review of Pigeon... in the latest issue of LWLies, available now from our online shop.

Mommy

Xavier Dolan's latest is a beautiful and brutal meditation on love and family, delivered with the Québécoise writer/director's characteristic panache. Catch it on Saturday 8 March at the Courtyard at 8pm.

Timbuktu

This double Cannes winner from Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako sheds a stark light on his country's social conflicts. Brave and compelling, it follows a bunch of residents whose stories intersect on the desert's edge. Previews at Booth's Bookshop Cinema in Hay on Thursday 5 March, then again at the Courtyard on Tuesday 10 and Friday 13 March.

The Salt of the Earth

Documenting the Genesis project, photographer Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's ambitious scheme to create a new paradise in his native Brazil by planting over two million trees, Wim Wenders' poignant chronicle of one man's beautiful dream, made in conjunction with Salgado's son, Juliano, picked up the Special Prize in the Un Certain Regard strand at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. See it on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March at the Courtyard.

The Tribe

At the tail of the festival is this curious feature from Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, which is set in a state boarding school and filmed entirely in sign language with no subtitles, voice over explanation, or music. An original and occasionally staggering work. Screens on Saturday 14 March at the Courtyard at 8.30pm.

For full programme info and to book tickets, visit borderlinesfilmfestival.co.uk ]]> Fri, 27 Feb 2015 01:58:19 GMT Adam Woodward 10 Things To See At The Borderlines Film Festival 2015 From rural Australia to west Africa, this year's Borderlines comprises a wide variety of current global issues. White God White God

Presumably titled ‘White God’ because ‘White Dog’ was already taken, Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s high concept stunt drama, which took home the Un Certain Regard prize (its Palme Dog coup was far more deserved) at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is essentially Spartacus reimagined with a canine cast. Indeed, the film features no less than 274 hounds, who tear about the streets of modern-day Budapest wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting masters who have beaten, caged and trained them to fight for sport in seedy backstreet arenas.

Only 13-year-old trumpet-player Lili (Zsófia Psotta), it seems, is on the side of our poochy protagonists. When her beloved crossbreed Hagen gets booted out by her mean-spirited pa for no apparent reason when she goes to stay with him, Lili is determined to track down her best friend before he ends up like so many of the city’s strays. Little does she know that Hagen’s fate already appears to be sealed having been picked up by a local dog shelter where he’s next in line to take the Long Sleep. But Hagen has other ideas. In an exhilarating sequence he breaks free and mobilises a small army of neglected mutts, an event the local authorities are inexplicably ill-equipped to deal with.

This is a unique premise executed with gusto by Mundruczó and his team — special mention to the dog handlers and trainers who helped orchestrate this strange spectacle, not to mention DoP Marcell Rév for the visceral dog’s-eye-view camerawork. Yet while White God works as a parable for our times — where economic inequality has widened the gap between the rich and poor — its novelty value dilutes its core message. This is an entertaining, technically accomplished work, but unlike the 1982 Samuel Fuller race-relations thriller which the title references, its set-up ultimately proves distracting.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:28:41 GMT Adam Woodward White God This Orwellian fable which climaxes in the creation of an all-dog army never transcends its central gimmick. Focus Focus

Focus is the flashy, crass and ultimately rather daft new film from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the writing/directing team behind the significantly more likeable I Love You Phillip Morris. That movie showed Jim Carrey stepping exhilaratingly outside of his comfort zone. This one finds Smith trying desperately to crawl his way back into his.

The last few years haven’t been all that kind to the Fresh Prince star. He’s ostensibly one of the biggest movie brands in the world, though to maintain that status he could do with a monster hit. After Earth, Seven Pounds, even Men in Black 3, they were all disappointments to varying degrees. Alas, if the purpose of Focus is to reignite Will Smith’s fading star, then it struggles to find its spark.

Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a charismatic career criminal blessed with an almost preternatural talent for thievery. He recruits up-and-coming huckster Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) to unwittingly carry out his latest scam, before cutting ties completely when she gets a little too close to the truth for comfort. Fast forward a few years, and their paths cross once more, this time in the ridiculously opulent world of international motor racing where they’re independently plotting their own ingenious shakedowns.

Focus is a vulgar and exasperating film, one that strives for that particular strain of Steven Soderbergh/Out of Sight-era swagger, and finds itself falling almost pathetically short. Riffing shabbily on superior works like The Thomas Crown Affair, Trouble In Paradise, and, hell, even Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Ficarra and Requa depict a world of glamorous criminality and luxurious sex. However, beneath their movie’s classy veneer lies a viscous layer of racial stereotypes, random homophobia and casual sexism. In this unsavoury universe, Australians are sleazy drunks, Asians are incorrigible gamblers and Mexicans are overweight slobs. Tawdry jokes about gay sex (male and female) are fair game. Women are tools to be used by men in wider schemes they wouldn’t understand.

In this respect, the picture feels fundamentally fraudulent. Sure, characters sip expensive wines in exotic locales, sleep in beds with enormous linen headboards (the headboards in this film are amazing) and hang with the glitterati at lavish society soirées. But it’s all a distraction from the intrinsic classlessness of the enterprise. The film wants to be a 1928 vintage Krug, but in reality it’s a Blue Nun spritzer, and someone’s run out of cocktail umbrellas.

Artifice is everywhere. To wit, one of the most significant scenes in Focus takes place in a VIP box during the Superbowl. Except, it’s not the Superbowl. It’s a non-branded, fictional version of the Superbowl, featuring fabricated teams like the non-existent Chicago Rhinos. Clearly, they couldn’t get the rights to use the real thing, and that’s fair enough. But in a film that wants you to (yes) focus on the small stuff and gradually piece together the bigger picture as the convoluted plot unfolds, this kind of detail really matters. If viewers can’t buy into the fictional world the film’s selling, then what investment should they make in the ensuing chicanery?

Earlier in the story, we’re invited to explore the gang’s temporary base of operations, a den full to the brim with stolen goods and dirty money. But they’ve got blackboards: they’re literally writing down every single thing they’re doing in chalk. Chalk! Basically, they’re the worst criminals ever. You can tell they’re the worst criminals ever because people start showing up spouting ridiculous macho bullshit such as, “just do what you’re being paid to do, shit-heel” like they’re sleepwalking their way through an Elmore Leonard pastiche. In fact, everyone in Focus is essentially just sleepwalking their way through an Elmore Leonard pastiche. Incredulity abounds, making it rather bloody hard to give a monkeys about what’s happening to anybody during the film’s progressively topsy-turvy narrative.

At the centre of it stand Will Smith and Margot Robbie: two stars circling each other, waiting for the most opportune moment to collide. Admittedly, they come tantalisingly close. Their chemistry is tangible and infectious, and they’re absolutely worth watching even as the film’s absurdity starts actively screwing both them and the audience over in a final act that’s about as satisfying as a brick sandwich. The question is: just how many comebacks does Smith deserve?]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:26:01 GMT Chris Blohm Focus Despite the chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie, this is little more than a crass Elmore Leonard knock-off. It Follows It Follows

In a single, sinuous take, the camera circles a middle-class suburban street as panicky-looking-teenager Annie (Bailey Spry) runs out of her house, constantly looking over her shoulder and unconvincingly brushing aside a confused neighbour’s concern. Annie drives off, and we next see her sitting on a beach alone at night, on the phone telling her dad that she loves him and apologising for past misdemeanours. In this hasty goodbye to childhood, Annie occupies a literally littoral space, yet does not seem quite ready to face the infinite ocean at her back. Come the dawn, Annie is just a mangled, corpse, lying bloody on the sand.

This opening to writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows establishes its generic allegiance to horror, while also introducing water as the film’s most fluid of recurring symbols. When we first meet 19-year-old protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe), she is floating, bikinied, in the bounded waters of a small backyard pool. On the cusp of adulthood, she is still contained within the protective environment of a suburban family home, yet old enough to be the sexualised object of the male gaze (in this case shared with two spying local boys).

Read our interview with David Robert Mitchell

After having sex with her older boyfriend (Jake Weary), Jay discovers that he has deliberately passed on to her an infectious affliction. Something relentless, protean and deadly is now following her and will eventually catch up — although she can slow its progress by transmitting the infection sexually to others. Jay seeks to evade, maybe even defeat, the ‘it’ of the title, travelling from the relative security of the leafy suburbs to the forbidden urban decay across town, and from her paddling pool to the bigger public pool (where she had her first teen kiss and drink) to the beach and the altogether more dangerous waters beyond.

With all these boundaries being transgressed, It Follows offers anxious coming-of-age drama, as Jay, her younger sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe), and their best friends depart from the Eden of childhood for a first dip into their own decline and mortality. Set in a Detroit that could be from today or from 30 years ago, with Disasterpeace’s John Carpenter-esque synth score further muddying the chronological waters, the film exhibits the same dreamy preoccupation with teenage rites of passage as its writer/ director’s lyrical 2010 debut The Myth of the American Sleepover.

Viewed purely as a monster movie, this is creepily tense and often surreal, with one of the most ickily Freudian scenes of body horror in memory. Yet, unusually for the genre, these young teens are all likeable and genuinely look out for each other, keeping viewers closely engaged with their fates. The monstrous antagonist here is all new — and yet so ancient as to be timeless — and the film positively shimmers within its own metaphorical glow.

For not unlike the Russian novel that one of Jay’s teenaged friends reads throughout, It Follows unremittingly pursues the two greatest themes in both art and life, as its adolescent kids learn to stave off with sex, however temporarily, the ineluctable approach of death. Most of all though, this is a film about waiting: for adulthood, experience and annihilation.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:25:22 GMT Anton Bitel It Follows A petrifying and refreshingly original horror movie from American name-to-watch, David Robert Mitchell. The Tales Of Hoffmann The Tales Of Hoffmann

When Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film of Offenbach’s fantastical 1881 grand opera first appeared, there had never been anything like it. Of course, opera productions had been captured on film before, but this was different — the work was created anew in the film studios and rendered in gloriously indulgent three-strip Technicolor. The key was recording the music first, which essentially freed Powell and Pressburger to shoot to playback. At liberty to whirl the cumbersome cameras around like never before, they also cast physically expressive dancers — like flaming redhead Moira Shearer and sinister character specialist Robert Helpmann — to handle the choicest parts in Offenbach’s saga of a yearning poet searching for an eternally elusive feminine ideal.

Essentially, this is where Powell and Pressburger invented the pop video way back in 1951, though the lilting ‘Barcarolle’ is the only big tune here to percolate into wider public consciousness. In so doing, they created a kaleidoscopic audiovisual experience, shimmering with spangly costumes and thriving on the more outré and macabre elements in the material, not least where Shearer’s exquisite mechanical doll is merrily dismembered and beheaded when it’s discovered she’s not actually the real thing.

Full-on colour coding delineates Hoffman the poet’s different romantic misadventures, a riot of reds in the carnivalesque Venetian section where he tangles with a seductive courtesan, contrasted with a panoply of Mediterranean blues for his encounter with an ill-fated opera singer on a Greek island. And since they shot the whole thing in a mere 17 days, those very same swathes of colour often stand in for the sets they never built, sometimes even painting stuff in instead — like the memorable image of a golden staircase simply drawn on the studio floor.

All of which is so creatively daring and flamboyant that you can only sit there and wonder why you’re not enjoying it as much as you’d anticipated. The directors throw absolutely everything at the screen, yet like any 19th-century opera The Tales of Hoffmann does rather plod its way towards crescendos of tragic ecstasy, sturdy American tenor Robert Rounseville’s protagonist somewhat lacking the screen acting craft to convey the psychological rollercoaster ride his character — and hence the audience — should be feeling, but never really registers.

Unlike the very best works of Powell and Pressburger (as in, say, The Red Shoes or A Matter of Life and Death), the visual magic and a passionate belief in the intoxicating potency of art aren’t, in this case, matched by a strong narrative drive pummelling and intensifying our emotions. It’s an impressive undertaking all right, yet somehow it all feels a bit too academic and effortful — though Martin Scorsese and George Romero are among those absolute evangelists who have publically recalled how the dash and splendour of this fine movie first bewitched them during childhood. See it and make up your own mind.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:23:40 GMT Trevor Johnston The Tales Of Hoffmann The Archers boys take on the 1881 Offenbach opera, with results that are dazzling, if hardly on a par with their finest work. Hinterland Hinterland

Shot on the desolate, beautiful Cornish coastline for £10,000, British independent filmmaker Harry Macqueen's debut feature is curiosity-inducing without being convincing. Concerning a weekend in the life of Harvey (Macqueen) and his long-lost friend Lola (Lori Campbell), Hinterland drenches slow-burn character development in depictions of nature's might. It then undoes the good work by hitting false notes during its painstakingly established emotional crescendo.

Harvey and Lola are the sole characters, and the double mystery of who they are and their relationship to one another is subtly gripping from the moment the former picks up the latter and her guitar from a grimy London hovel. He drives her to the cottage that they used to frequent with their families as kids. She is a travelling musician who has just returned from America for an unspecified reason that doesn't seem to bode well.

Campbell has a natural, free-spirited energy that complements the more taciturn and introspective character of Harvey. He is initially presented as the selfless saviour but she returns the favour through the medium of fun. Macqueen layers up his role showing a surface awkwardness that gives way to enjoyment and pleasure at Lori's impulsive suggestions. Witness horse photography, fishing and all manner of innocent larks experienced as sea-wind whips hair and ragged hills telegraph isolation. These youthful hi-jinx have a gravitas. They are nostalgic diversions to mark time as the pair build up the courage to talk about real shit.

Macqueen played his ace by realising that he and Campbell have an easy on-screen chemistry. Their rapport works best when riffing over the little things. The details of the disruption that drove Lola back home emerge prompting mutual revelations of dissatisfaction with life. These outbursts sit awkwardly in the characters' mouths feeling more like a writer's structural decision of 'insert climax here' than organic evolutions of scenes. This debut shows Macqueen's capacity to capture natural rhythms in people and in landscapes. Where he comes unstuck is in the distractingly contrived elements of his filmmaking.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:19:45 GMT Sophie Monks Kaufman Hinterland A distractingly contrived two-hander from newcomer Harry Macqueen boasts some robust lead performances. Catch Me Daddy Catch Me Daddy

A medium close-up of a face, grizzled and encrusted with god-knows-what. It moves out of the frame and the focus rapidly shifts to the middle-distance, on to a football sticker that’s been crookedly affixed to the side of a kitchen water heater. Whether this superficial piece of micro set dressing is down to production designer Sami Khan, art director Andy Watson, cinematographer Robbie Ryan or the director of Catch Me Daddy, Daniel Wolfe, (or, indeed, none of the above) is something for those present on the day to decide among themselves. There’s every chance it was just there in the background, a happy accident which came part-and-parcel with the location.

It’s an eye-catching piece of clutter, but it speaks volumes about the way the film has been made, its interests, its attitudes and its bleak sense of realist artistry. It’s the kind of detail that you’d imagine seeing in a photograph by Martin Parr, whose own work sometimes skirts uneasily between fond Hogarthian kitsch and archly derisive working class mockery.

The film is full of these moments, these “football sticker” visual digressions, where the camera lingers on a set-up in order for the full detail of the frame to be forcibly stressed. Catch Me Daddy even arrives with an accompanying pamphlet of still photographs which inspired the shooting of the film, and it does sometime feel like Wolfe is unable to suppress the discipline of capturing a single, primal, static moment in favour of images that flow more seamlessly. He gets lost in the background.

The football sticker belongs to a silver-toothed drug dealer who lives alone in a tower block. A comically grotesque wall-mounted portrait suggests there was once a family there, but they’ve packed off to make way for an exotic snake collection and pockets of coke stashed in the settee pillows. These small stresses speak of a history that existed prior to the timeline of the film, fleshing out a character’s entire past in a simple visual cue. It’s a film primarily about the different ways children drift away from their parents, and this lonesome pusher becomes another dismal iteration of this human rite.

The shot works because it’s essentially empathetic, presenting the good deeds of a bad person, however insignificant they may be. Yet, the film isn’t always as beautifully tactful. There’s a punkish disdain for northern England, its citizens are presented as troglodytic ne'er-do-wells, barely a soul without some kind of unsightly facial disfigurement, while the landscapes are littered with grotty nightclubs, road-side fast-food shacks with poorly-painted signs and silly names, rinky-dink hair salons and pokey, uninviting pubs. Poverty is aestheticised, with an ironic focus on what people look like in the context of an amusingly archaic backdrop. There's no nobility in the working class. And this is something you could overlook were the film not so packed full of cosmetic garishness.

Read our interview with director Daniel Wolfe

Having to make a decision over whether the film does or doesn’t brandish a certain insensitivity towards its subjects (human and geographic) is possibly its greatest downfall. But the question needs to be addressed because this is clearly a serious, quality text and there’s so much else to admire. Wolfe’s top-trump here is newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, who plays Laila, the character to whom the title refers. She’s a bejewelled innocent who has become victim to harsh familial circumstance, the particulars of which Wolfe and his co-writer sibling Matthew keep very vague. Ahmed makes for a scintillating screen presence, her naturally puffed-up eyelids lending a druggy disconnect to her desperate situation.

She also imbues the film a feeling of bitter melancholy, as there's the sense that even though she and her Scottish boyfriend Aaron (Connor McCarron) are in potentially mortal danger, that this fleeting stretch of autonomy is exciting enough to temporarily muffle the unspoken sins of the past. The fact that her concept of escape involves her barely leaving North Yorkshire is itself points to a quaint unworldliness, that despite the traumas she has suffered, it's a place she likes and doesn't want to leave.

The Wolfe brothers prove themselves to be expert monologists, with the film's duel high-points involving characters merely reciting memories or dreams to their respective accomplices. The dialogue always feels natural and unforced, and even though the content sometimes drips with thick portent, it’s never enough to dull the pleasure of just hearing these actors speaking these words. Plotting is more of an issue, and a remarkably tense opening few reels — which follows two separate timelines heading on a messy collision course — is dulled by some regulation plot twisting, double-crossing, narrow escaping, etc.

Some have written about Catch Me Daddy as an overtly political movie, one which addresses the notion of "honour killings" in the British Pakistani community. It's been compared to John Ford's The Searchers, but it feels more akin to the gruelling likes of Elem Klimov's World War Two classic, Come and See. The inference is that the film is essentially a plea for religious tolerance and understanding, especially regarding the treatment of young women. While this notion sits in the background like a rogue football sticker, it never feels like Wolfe is forcing a statement, that everything wraps up neatly into a headline-friendly liberal screed. The clever obfuscation of fact and context is, in the end, what makes the film worth catching.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:12:15 GMT David Jenkins Catch Me Daddy Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is a revelation as the lead in this smart debut feature by Daniel Wolfe. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Excitable young hotel manager, Sonny (Dev Patel) and his grouchy, English partner Muriel (Maggie Smith) are speeding down the freeway to California. She is channeling stereotypes about old people — "Just tell me there's a cup of tea and a biscuit waiting inside!" His strong Indian accent expressing anachronistically polite British phrasing also veers close to parody. What are the pair doing in San Diego thousands of miles from their hotel base in Jaipur? Pitching business expansion to a leisure mogul is what. This process will fold in hotel inspectors, love troubles and Richard Gere, as it beats its fittingly ramshackle path towards narrative climax.

Can a follow-up built on the success and charm of an original hold independent merit? As far as Sonny's coveted second hotel is concerned, sure, why not. In terms of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the sequel to 2011's charming, money-making The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, not really. The cream of Britain's ageing acting aristocracy weave their magic anew but this time there is no adapted book structure (Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things formed the basis first time round) to lend a shape. Director John Madden's ensemble rom-com relies on an original screenplay by Ol Parker, and there's not enough substance therein to dramatically sustain a two hour film.

Cinema punters in their sixties, seventies and eighties are hardly deluged with stories revolving around their demographic (just wait for Andrew Haigh's 45 Years) meaning that despite its flaws, there are still moments when The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel conveys a fresh perspective. Romance is the dish of the day with Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy)'s tentative attraction forming the central dramatic arc. It's a respectful courtship drawn out by the demands of Evelyn's new job as a fabric purchaser. "I'm 79-year-old," she says with prim vulnerability after being offered the job. "We don't mind if you don't," says her would-be employer gently. Her tone summarises the film's whole empowering attitude. Age is a false barrier and self-imposed ones are the real focus in this world.

The world in question is, once again, the Indian state of Rajasthan complete with colourful saris, fragrant marketplaces and traffic jams of rickety tuk-tuks. It feels slightly humbug to point out that all native characters are in service to the white characters (just like during our colonial past!). After all, the servile Indian characters are defined by their relative youth and capability inasmuch as their country of origin.

It only sticks out this time because there is often a lull in stimuli. Colourful, digressive stories come and go, from the accidental hit that Norman (Ronald Pickup) takes out on his girlfriend to Sonny charismatically bungling fiancee duties to Tamsin Grieg mysteriously rocking up as the only white person below retirement age. Wit and charm and titans of performance provide jolts of entertainment and bite-sized food for thought but this second tidbit is less tasty than the tiffin-box offered by the original.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 12:57:44 GMT Sophie Monks Kaufman The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel A return to that sunny outpost for the elderly and infirm ushers lightly diminishing returns. The Air Bud Franchise Ranked The Air Bud Franchise Ranked

In anticipation of Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó's forthcoming canine thriller White God, we asked people on Twitter to put forward their suggestions for the greatest ever dog-themed movie franchise.

Beethoven was the popular choice. But we all know the series went downhill after Beethoven's 2nd. There's no use pretending otherwise. Others offered Lassie. LMFAO! Homeward Bound? Have a word. For our money the true top dog is Walt Disney Pictures' multi-disciplinary-sporting-pooch series, Air Bud.

In order to substantiate said claim, we decided to watch all five original Air Bud films back-to-back. What follows is a deep analysis of each film, with the final scores provided at the end. (NB: we opted to exclude the seven Air Buddies sequels, which focus on the exploits of Buddy's puppies, as well as the recent Santa Paws Christmas spin-offs.)

 

Air Bud (1997)

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Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Released 1 August, 1997
Starring Buddy the dog, Kevin Zegers, Wendy Makkena

00:01:30 – During the opening credits sequence, a clapped-out clown car rolls into town. A sign reads, 'Welcome to Fernfield: Where Everything is Possible'. Fernfield is later revealed to be a bucolic Seattle suburb. The car pulls up outside a kid's birthday party. A disgruntled clown emerges, as does Buddy dressed in a rather fetching red-and-white polka dot number. The clown threatens Buddy.

00:04:55 – The birthday party is a total disaster, and, somewhat unfairly, the blame is placed squarely on Buddy. On the road out of town, Buddy's cage falls off the back of the trailer. An SUV rams the cage, freeing Buddy. The kid inside the car looks bemused. It's not every day you see a dog in a clown costume.

00:07:58 – The kid's name is Josh Framm (Kevin Zeggers). During a conversation between Josh's mother, Jackie (Wendy Makkena), and the Fernfield High principal it is revealed that the Framms are new in town, and that Josh has been depressed ever since his father died in a test pilot accident.

00:12:08 – Josh discovers an abandoned basketball court.

00:14:58 – Despite his clear lack of ability, Josh tries out for the school basketball team. Coach Barker (Stephen E Miller) offers a few words of inspiration: "If you can win on the court, you can win in life."

00:17:25 – While getting in some much-needed practice, Josh spots Buddy hiding in the bushes. His once gleaming clown costume has been reduced to soiled rags, alluding to the hard times he's fallen upon. Buddy's waggy disposition contradicts this stark mood.

00:19:12 – Back at home, Josh appears distracted.

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00:19:50 – Ignorant of the fact that some dogs are lactose intolerant, Josh lures Buddy with a trail of vanilla pudding.

00:21:31 – Buddy enthusiastically takes to the court and demonstrates his jump shot.

00:24:35 – After Josh sneaks Buddy home, the pair indulge in some bathtime bonding.

00:27:40 – Buddy introduces himself to the rest of the family, but fails to make a good impression.

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00:32:02 – A quick browse of Buddy's bio tells us that he also played 'Comet the Dog' in the long-running sitcom Full House.

00:39:32 – Buddy has established his own routine. It remains unclear whether he'll ever be accepted as part of the family.

00:42:40 – It's Christmas morning. Buddy is nowhere to be found. But wait, what's that peering out from under the tree all wrapped up in a green bow? Josh's wish has come true. Merry Christmas everyone!

00:44:24 – Amid all this festive cheer, Josh is reminded of his father's absence. On court, in a bid to console his grief-stricken owner, Buddy makes an astonishing succession of baskets.

00:48:20 – Having inexplicably made the team, Josh turns out for the Timberwolves' first game of the season. During the second quarter, Buddy bounds onto court. Slapstick hilarity ensues.

00:51:35 – Buddy stuns the crowd by making a three-pointer from way downtown.

01:51:49 – One of the taglines used in the film's marketing campaign was 'He Sits. He Stays. He Shoots. He Scores.'

00:52:40 – We've managed to obtain some rare footage of Buddy's strict training regime from when he was a puppy:

00:54:17 – After Coach Barker is let go for psychologically abusing one of the kids, the janitor (Bill Cobbs, channelling Bill Cosby/Scatman Crothers) takes over. Josh suspects that he is retired basketball legend Arthur Chaney. His unorthodox 'invisible ball' training sessions baffle the kids.

00:56:49 – Buddy is kitted out in a jersey and miniature Air Max. It is adorable.

01:02:05 – After an unlikely mid-season turnaround, the Timberwolves qualify for the state final against the Warriors.

01:02:53 – Jackie discovers a fortnight's worth of newspapers buried in the front yard.

01:03:30 – The film takes a dramatic turn when Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) aka the clown, having seen Buddy shooting hoops on TV, claims rightful ownership.

01:08:13 – Josh rescues/steals back Buddy.

01:10:54 – Further reading reveals that Buddy was trained to play various sports by Kevin di Cicco, who found him as a stray in 1989. It's your classic wags-to-riches story.

01:11:12 – After feeding him yet more vanilla pudding, a visibly distressed Josh explains to Buddy that he's left with no choice but to disown him.

01:11:45 – Golden Retrievers are fine and all, but when your central character's default facial setting is 'blissful insouciance', every key dramatic scene is rendered emotionally redundant.

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01:13:02 – According to IMDb, Air Bud was filmed in under one month.

01:18:51 – With the Timberwolves down 20 points with seven minutes left on the clock, Buddy makes a late entrance and is immediately brought on for a game-changing cameo.

01:20:50 – The squad number on Buddy's jersey is 'K9'.

01:24:47 – Buddy makes a free throw, but drags his hind paws over the free throw line while the ball is mid-flight, making it a foul shot. Somehow the officials fail to spot the call.

01:25:10 – Buddy makes the second free throw, but again jumps across the line before the ball hits the basket. What game are these officials watching?!

01:25:48 – Article 4.3.2 of the International Basketball Federation official rulebook states that each team member must wear a shirt, shorts and socks. Buddy lacks two of the three required items of uniform, thus putting him in clear violation of this rule.

01:26:25 – Josh scores a buzzer-beater to win the game.

01:27:45 – The Framms are awarded full custody of Buddy following a bitter legal dispute. Outside the courtroom, Buddy savagely attacks the clown.

01:34:30 – The credits roll. In the pantheon of 'animals playing sports' movies, Air Bud unquestionably raised the bar.

 

Air Bud: Golden Receiver (1998)

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Directed by Richard Martin
Starring Misc Golden Retrievers, Kevin Zegers, Cynthia Stevenson
Released 14 August, 1998

00:00:31 – A stock establishing shot reveals that we're back in Fernfield.

00:03:12 – Josh (Kevin Zegers), now in his early teens, attends a professional basketball game with his mother Jackie (Cynthia Stevenson) and sister Andrea (Alyson MacLaren). Buddy is left in the car, but quickly escapes and finds his way into the arena, whereupon he wreaks havoc.

00:06:09 – A friend of Josh's tells him that high school chicks dig football players. Josh briefly entertains the notion of trying out for the team.

00:08:42 – We meet a Cruella Deville-esque Russian animal trainer named Natalya (Nora Dunn), who's looking to add a star attraction to her travelling circus.

00:09:43 – Buddy watches Josh make a sandwich.

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00:11:25 – Josh suggests to his mum that it's time she started dating again, before proceeding to sabotage the chances of the first respectable candidate.

00:13:12 – While out rollerblading, a lonely Jackie pauses to confide in Buddy.

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00:21:22 – At his first practice session, Josh impresses Coach Fanelli (Robert Constanzo) with his "killer arm".

00:25:11 – Concerned by his lack of wag, Josh takes Buddy to the local vet, Dr Patrick (Gregory Harrison), who by now is dating Jackie. In real life, Buddy the dog died of a rare form of soft tissue cancer on 10 February, 1998. According his Wikipedia page, Buddy died peacefully in his sleep. From Golden Receiver onwards, the role of Buddy was played by various Golden Retriever dog actors. This sequel was made in his memory.

00:27:47 – Buddy reveals that his aptitude for basketball also applies to football.

00:29:39 – A bureaucratic faculty member expresses concern that the football team hasn't had a winning season in 10 years. If only they could find a secret weapon...

00:32:15 – Considering he's a Seahawks fan, Coach Fanelli's loose grasp of defensive coordination is surprising.

00:35:55 – Josh's big moment arrives when the starting quarterback dislocates his shoulder in the opening game of the season. Josh gets sacked on his first play and the opposing team runs in the resultant fumble for a touchdown.

00:38:55 – On the next play, Buddy saves Josh's blushes by making a stunning catch. The crowd goes berserk.

00:45:10 – In game two, Buddy — sporting a Timberwolves jersey and retro leather helmet — rushes for 72 yards, makes four receptions, forces two fumbles and scores three touchdowns.

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00:50:43 – The film's tagline, 'Just Dog It', is a play on Nike's 'Just Do It' slogan.

00:51:33 – The Timberwolves breeze through the playoffs via a euphoric montage.

00:53:48 – Patrick proposes to Jackie, which upsets an increasingly angsty Josh.

00:55:01 – After Josh runs away, Buddy is snatched by Natalya and transported to a secret dock-side warehouse in an ice cream van.

00:58:12 – Following a man-to-man chat with Coach Franelli, Josh returns home, only to find that Buddy is missing.

01:03:17 – As the Timberwolves prepare to kick off against the Giants, Buddy is freed by a dungaree-clad chimpanzee. Together, they release the other animals.

01:06:42 – Buddy and co rise up against Natalya and her hapless cohort, Popov (Perry Anzilotti). During a showpiece physical comedy scene, a skunk sprays Natalya in the face.

01:10:39 – Coach Franelli is seen clutching a can of Coca Cola in virtually every scene he's in.

01:12:11 – After successfully commandeering the ice cream van from the chimp, Natalya and Popov attempt to run Buddy over. Patrick intervenes.

01:15:35 – Air Bud is back! And just in the nick of time, with the Timberwolves down three scores in the fourth quarter.

01:16:30 – The Timberwolves run a textbook reverse-sweep and Buddy charges downfield for a TD. Teamwork makes the dream work.

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01:22:21 – Buddy gets flattened by an outside tackle and is forced to leave the field. Unflustered, The Timberwolves snatch victory in the dying seconds.

01:25:30 – Patrick and Josh share an awkward moment as they attempt to reconcile their differences.

01:26:12 – In characteristically maverick fashion, Buddy invades the pitch during a Seahawks-49ers game.

01:29:31 – Despite essentially being a shot-for-shot remake, Golden Receiver lacks the uncomplicated charm of the original.

 

Air Bud: World Pup (2000)

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Directed by Bill Bannerman
Starring Misc Golden Retrievers, Kevin Zegers, Caitlin Wachs
Released Straight-to-DVD

00:01:08 – The film opens on Jackie (Chilton Crane) and Patrick's (Dale Midkiff) wedding day. Buddy, acting as an usher, has forgotten the ring.

00:03:31 – On his way home to fetch the ring, a luxuriant russet bitch catches Buddy's eye.

00:06:13 – At the reception, Buddy entertains a group of kids by nudging a soccerball around. Nearby, a dog catcher watches on ominously.

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00:09:17 – Despite his obvious commercial value, at no point does anyone deem it necessary for Buddy to wear a collar.

00:15:51 – Josh (Kevin Zegers) sizes up some tail of his own, an English soccer coach and fellow student named Emma (Brittany Paige Bouck, who judging from her accent is almost certainly not English).

00:18:01 – A joke is made in reference to America's lack of interest in, and basic knowledge of, soccer.

00:21:10 – During training, Buddy slams home a penalty kick.

00:23:42 – Game montage time. Buddy puts in a champagne performance, cementing his reputation as a big game player.

00:30:43 – A friend of Josh's tells him that chicks dig a guy with a sense of fashion.

00:31:30 – Emma utters the phrase "Higgidy-piggidy".

00:32:39 – At a fancy soirée, Emma's father (Duncan Regehr) and their black housemaid, Mrs Brimstone (Patricia Idlette), exhibit equally unconvincing British accents.

00:36:21 – Buddy has somehow managed to dig a tunnel into next door's garden. He uses it to bring his love interest, Molly, a baguette.

00:39:22 – In the Timberwolves next game, Emma hits an absolute worldy from all of 25 yards. Not to be outshone, Buddy bags a first-half hat-trick.

00:43:38 – Josh takes Emma to the movies to see a film called 'Ninja Bloody Ninja'. Buddy and Molly opt for a quiet night in.

00:46:07 – After a disastrous first date, Emma accuses Josh of being a "twit" and a "hipster".

00:49:06 – Buddy shows Josh how to rock a pair of shades.

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00:49:53 – The Timberwolves are expelled from the league for fielding an ineligible player (Buddy). No one mentions the fact that he has previously appeared for two separate Fernfield High teams.

00:52:10 – In a scene lifted directly from 101 Dalmatians, Molly goes into labour. Buddy becomes the proud father of six.

00:56:45 – The Timberwolves are reinstated into the league. Despite lacking match sharpness, Buddy extends his purple patch.

00:59:16 – This is really starting to drag now. Perhaps thinking of dog-related puns of famous footballer's names will help pass the time...

01:00:01 – The puppies are stolen by a pair of heartless goons. Their motivations are vague.

01:02:50 – At the league championship game between the Timberwolves and the Springbrook Spartans, former United States women's national soccer team goalkeeper Briana Scurry is introduced to the crowd. Buddy, Josh and Emma are notable through their absence.

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01:04:36 – Stan Colliemore, Spaniel Sturridge, Emile Husky...

01:06:25 – Against the run of play, the Timberwolves take the lead.

01:11:20 – After the bad guys have an unexplained change of heart, the puppies are saved and our all-star trio heads to the stadium.

01:13:17 – Buddy is promptly subbed on and buries a header into the top corner with just seconds remaining.

01:14:28 – The defeated Spartans are refreshingly magnanimous in defeat. Briana Scurry personally congratulates Buddy.

01:15:00 – Four months later at the Women's World Cup, the USA edges out Norway in a tournament deciding penalty shootout. The winning save is pulled off by, you guessed it, Buddy. Who needs opposable thumbs when you've got a winning spirit, eh?

01:18:24 – You know the feeling when something you enjoyed as a kid turns out to be really, really bad for you — like Sunny Delight and Rolf Harris? This is rapidly becoming one of those moments.

 

Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch (2002)

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Directed by Robert Vince
Starring Misc Golden Retrievers, Caitlin Wachs, Patrick Cranshaw
Released Straight-to-DVD

00:00:12 – The first post 9/11 Air Bud opens with a harrowing scene in which Buddy, dressed as a firedog, heroically drags injured civilians from the smouldering rubble of the World Trade Center. Just kidding. It's more of the same.

00:01:32 – A pair of cartoonishly evil scientists hatch a plan to harness the 'super sporting gene' from Buddy and his puppies with a view to marketing it as a new performance enhancing drug.

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00:03:46 – Picnic time with the Framms. Josh (Kevin Zegers) appears to have a new stepfather, although no one mentions anything. Either that or Patrick has aged horribly since the last film.

00:10:40 – Heartrending scenes as Josh says his goodbyes before leaving for college. Hereinafter the film's focus switches to Josh's previously ignored younger sister, Andrea (Caitlin Wachs).

00:13:38 – Josh gives Andrea their father's watch. This is the first time the watch has been featured in any of the Air Bud films.

00:15:12 – The scientists appear to be operating under the command of a racoon named Rocky. It's possible that Rocky has some incriminating pictures of the men. Although that doesn't really make any sense, because he's a fucking racoon.

00:20:35 – There are an alarming amount of Golden Retrievers in this town.

00:21:01 – Buddy continues his irritating habit of embarrassing the Framm kids at school.

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00:24:32 – For no discernible reason, Andrea decides to try out for the school baseball team.

00:27:17 – It turns out director Robert Vince has previous, having helmed the 2000 chimpanzee/ice hockey caper MVP: Most Valuable Primate and its skateboarding-themed 2001 follow-up MVP: Most Vertical Primate.

00:32:38 – Buddy's basketball proficient puppy, Shooter, is shown wearing sweatbands while taking part in a pick-up game. As everyone knows, dogs don't sweat, so this is presumably a fashion-based choice.

00:35:17 – Buddy reveals himself to be a world-class baseball player. Nobody seems surprised.

00:36:12 – Sheriff Bob (Patrick Cranshaw, who you may recognise as Joseph "Blue" Pulaski from Old School) is alerted to the disappearance of Shooter.

00:37:30 – For anyone not well-versed in baseball parlance, the film's title is a reference to a spectator tradition known as the seventh-inning stretch, where fans stand up and stretch out their arms and legs between the halves of the seventh inning of a game.

00:38:44 – After her friend Tammy (Chantal Strand) picks up an injury, Andrea seals her place in the Timberwolves starting roster during the obligatory winning-streak montage sequence.

00:42:29 – Must remember to cancel that monthly donation to Battersea Dogs' Home.

00:46:12 – When three more puppies, Striker, Shaq and Tango, go missing, a concerned Buddy decides to take matters into his own paws.

00:48:34 – Andrea and Buddy find time to hit the practice field.

00:50:14 – Hang on, weren't there six puppies originally? What happened to the other two?

00:53:12 – Buddy puts his ongoing domestic crisis aside to help the Timberwolves to a narrow victory over their local rivals, boosting their play-off hopes.

00:59:47 – Rocky the racoon's sinister intent is reinforced.

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01:06:42 – Buddy is reunited with his puppies. Unfortunately this occurs in the scientists' trailer/laboratory.

01:09:28 – The Timberwolves are down 4-0 in the junior championship game. Even the previously animated commentator appears to be losing interest.

01:11:50 – Andrea rescues Buddy and the puppies, no thanks to Sheriff Bob. She and Tammy race across town to rejoin the team.

01:15:16 – Some sloppy play by the opposition infield allows the Timberwolves back into the game.

01:13:28 – Despite being a family film, Seventh Inning Fetch features some prominent advertising for Bud Light, who at this point have all but missed the opportunity to cash-in on the franchise's popularity.

01:19:20 – The Timberwolves are down four at the ninth. They're going to need a miracle to win this one.

01:24:56 – Josh returns home from college just in time to watch Andrea ding one way downfield to clinch the game for the Timberwolves.

01:27:40 – In a familiar coda, Buddy is drafted to the Los Angeles-based Anaheim Angels. In his rookie season he leads them to the World Series and — after making a final-out catch from first base — is named MVP.

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01:28:50 – Seventh Inning Fetch is the nadir of the Air Bud franchise.

 

Air Bud: Spikes Back (2003)

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Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Starring Misc Golden Retrievers, Katija Pevec, Tyler Boissonnault
Released Straight-to-DVD

00:01:12 – Having mastered the three most popular sports in America — and soccer — Buddy is ready for a new challenge. The opening credits promise a special guest appearance from professional volleyball player, swimwear model and sometime actress, Gabrielle Reece.

00:03:16 – As Buddy lollops gaily through the town square, the residents of Fernfield are shown preparing for the annual Fernfield Summer Fair.

00:03:49 – In keeping with tradition, Spikes Back features two buffoonish male villains, here posing as emergency plumbers. This time, however, they're not after Buddy but an enormous diamond.

00:06:37 – One possible explanation for the subtle narrative variation throughout the Air Bud franchise is that the clown put Buddy in a coma at the start of the first movie, and everything that happens subsequently is an elaborate projection of the same repeated dream sequence. Or it's just lazy screenwriting.

00:12:28 – Andrea (Katija Pevec) bids a tearful farewell to Tammy (Chantal Strand), who's moving with her family to San Diego.

00:13:45 – The Fernfield Summer Fair is in full swing when the sub-Crufts canine obstacle course gets underway. Josh's kid brother, Noah (Jake Smith), leads Buddy out to a rapturous reception.

00:14:29 – Familiarity is starting to breed contempt.

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00:16:08 – Our slack-jawed antagonists realise that Buddy's unique talents make him the ideal jewel heist accomplice.

00:18:45 – Patrick (Alfred E Humphreys) now appears to be ageing backwards.

00:21:50 – Andrea meets her new next door neighbour, Connor (Tyler Boissonnault), who happens to be a keen volleyball enthusiast.

00:26:20 – The film introduces us to Buddy's talking parrot sidekick, Polly (voiced by Brian Dobson).

00:28:21 – Connor asks Andrea if she plays volleyball. She does not.

00:29:50 – Buddy eats Noah's ice cream. Noah is understandably aggrieved.

00:35:32 – Connor teaches Buddy how to play volleyball. Buddy is a natural.

00:38:09 – Straying from the hitherto winning Golden Retriever-only formula, Spikes Back boasts an array of different dog breeds.

00:38:30 – Buddy inadvertently dons a vase-cum-cone of shame.

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00:40:12 – Is Buddy an alien?

00:45:47 – Nicholas Harrison, who played the umpire in Seventh Inning Fetch, returns as the Fernfield High beach volleyball coach. His previous performance did not warrant a reprisal.

00:49:12 – The Timberwolves narrowly lose to two-time state champions the Riverside Rats. The match is poorly attended.

00:55:31 – Buddy fills in as the Timberwolves replacement setter. Coach McKay remarks that he is not an Irish Setter.

01:02:43 – Mysteriously, there are no cats in Fernfield.

01:05:55 – Buddy is kidnapped while Noah is purchasing ice cream.

01:10:48 – Buddy steals the diamond. In their haste, one of the bad guys triggers the alarm.

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01:12:43 – Buddy makes a break for it. While in pursuit, one of the crooks snatches a small child's micro scooter.

01:13:11 – Buddy manages to outmanoeuvre the perps at the now abandoned Fernfield Summer Fair. He ensures they are apprehended and formally detained before hightailing it to the beach.

01:17:12 – A vintage display from Buddy leads the Timberwolves to an emphatic victory over the Riverside Rats. The team celebrates by jumping off a nearby jetty. Buddy looks on apprehensively.

01:19:39 – Air Bud is my Colonel Kurtz.

01:20:46 – Andrea and Tammy reunite in Malibu, where Buddy scores the winning point in a professional women's volleyball game.

01:23:26 – It's... over. Sweet Marley's ghost it's over! Cujo, Digby, Hooch, Toto, Uggie, Old Yeller... your boys took a hell of a beating!

01:26:40 – In spite of obvious budget cuts and a complete absence of nuance, Spikes Back is something of a return to form for the Air Bud series. That said, it's not a patch on the original, though in all honesty everything beyond that blurred into a seemingly never-ending aversion therapy session.

 

Final Ranking

And so we emerge on the other side of our Air Bud marathon, a little groggy but unbowed. Here are the all-important final scores:

1. Air Bud
2. Air Bud: Golden Receiver
3. Air Bud: Spikes Back
4. Air Bud: World Pup
5. Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch

Next week, Wishbone revisited...]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 12:23:46 GMT Adam Woodward The Air Bud Franchise Ranked LWLies goes deep on one of the great canine/sports hybrid franchises in American cinema history. David Robert Mitchell David Robert Mitchell

The writer-director David Robert Mitchell describes his second feature, It Follows, as a remix of his first, 2010's rhapsodic teen hangout movie, Myth of the American Sleepover. That film followed a group of teenagers navigating through puberty and dealing with those first pangs of physical attraction. This one catches up with similar characters but, per Mitchell's own description, "throws them into a nightmare." LWLies met the director to talk about the trials of getting genre movies made and his big plans for the future.

LWLies: How's things been since Cannes?

David Robert Mitchell: It's been good. It's been crazy. I went to a few festivals, not as many as I did with Myth of the American Sleepover. I'm trying to not do as much. I've been focusing on trying to get my next movie going. It Follows has played a lot of really great festivals and it seems that people are liking it.

When you do the festival circuit, do you use that as an opportunity to make deals for new movies?

Well yeah. When I was going around with Myth, I was trying to put together a drama that I'd written. A lot of people really loved it, it's just I couldn't get enough money for it. It probably would've eventually worked out, but it was taking so long that became frustrating. So I set it aside. I had written It Follows after Myth, along with a bunch of other scripts. I had planned for It Follows to be my third film.

Do you know what's going to be fourth and fifth?

I have my ideas. But then again, who's to say it's going to work out that way? It's already not working the way I imagined. I had intended to do Myth and then this movie, Ella Walks the Beach. That movie is about a young woman in her twenties and it's more of a drama and it's probably a little closer, tonally, to Myth. So I thought it would be fun to do two "pretty" dramas, and then to a horror film after that. I moved it up and did it because I just wanted to make a film.

I think that transitional impact is still there. 

I mean, that kind of thing is fun for me.

What could you do next that would throw people the most? Do you have a costume drama ready to go?

I have a bunch of stuff that's written and ready to make, and it's all different types of stuff. I have one I'm really pushing to do next. I have two others that could work. It kinda depends what comes together. The one that I'm pushing to do next is also… very unique. As for horror, I would like to make another one, but probably not right now.

David Robert Mitchell on the films that inspired It Follows

Would it be fair to say that It Follows isn't a horror movie?

I think it is horror. But I can also understand that there are other aspects to this film and that it's other things as well. It's playing for several different audiences. Which is cool. In making it, I just did what felt right to me. It's not so much about trying to subvert things. I really like horror. I genuinely do! This is just my version of a horror movie. If I were to make another genre movie, it would be my idea of what that is. That's the point of it all. It's always a challenge to put something together, but the reason to do it is because it wouldn't be in the world if I didn't do it. It's not just about being a filmmaker and making something, it's about coming up with something that's not there. Again, I'm just a big film lover, and I just a lot of different kinds of movies I feel it would really be fun to make. It's really where it comes from for me. Kubrick made a horror film. Bergman made a horror film.

You're in good company.

Ha, I'm not comparing myself to those guys, I'm simply saying there is a history of all kind of directors jumping in and making them. And yeah, it maybe doesn't happen that much, as people tend to work in the horror space or not in the horror space. But I think if you can do that, you can also do all kinds of things. It's about wanting to try.

Were you nervous about making this? 

I wasn't scared going in to this one, but then when I got there I did think, 'Oh shit, this is pretty hard!' It didn't even cross my mind that someone would question my being able to do a horror film.

Did someone actually ask whether you were up for this?

I don't think anyone did that. I think the people I worked with genuinely thought I could do it, but there was a moment or two where I would have that feeling. Remembering that I hasn't actually done that. It is kinda tough… I'm just glad it worked out. It was more of a risk than I anticipated.

Did you feel that horror was the type of genre film that you could get made quickly and easily?

I already had the script and I intended to make it, but yeah, I guess that I thought I would have an easier time getting people to back this. I didn't write it or make it because I thought that, but when I had it, I was thinking that if I was struggling to get money for a movie, maybe this will be one that won't be too bad.

Are you now thinking there are certain types of films you feel you have to make so you can make other, possibly less commercially viable types of films?

I have a tonne of scripts that I have written, some of which need rewrites before I would share them, but some are ready to shoot.

Do you have any massive, ambitious, Southland Tales-type movies that would potentially take a lot of risks?

I mean, I don't know if I'd like to align the project I might be talking about with that description, but do I have bigger and more expansive things? Yes, I have them. And I intend to make them. But I think there are things that people wouldn't expect me to make too.

Is it a misnomer that people with money in Hollywood are on the specific look-out for filmmakers with these billion-dollar ideas?

I do have one film that could be a really big tentpole movie, but it's not something I can share at this point. In terms of the types of films people want to put money into, I think outside of a known property, people don't want to put much money into anything. People are willing to put money into small genre films that are likely to pay off. That's my gut feeling. But there are producers and financiers who do want to put their energies behind things they connect with personally. Those people are there, but there's a tendency for people to want to make movies that are like things that have already been done. Movies as household cleaning products.

You have your rigid plan, but would you make a movie for hire if the opportunity came along? Cool directors like Rian Johnson and James Gunn are increasingly doing that.

It's a hard thing to say yes or not, as you don't know what you'd really do. I don't know. That's the honest answer. Maybe not? I could see myself not wanting to do a really big established thing if it could be me or twenty other people who could be doing it. But there could be a situation where that would be really cool. I tend to be difficult about that.

Would you be happy for another director to make an It Follows 2? 

I mean, honestly, yeah I probably would be. But I have a bunch of ideas for things to do with it. I would definitely write it. I'm not going to say I won't do it… I guess we've got to wait and see what happens with this, see what kind of a response it gets. I'm not opposed to the idea of doing something with it, but not just at this moment.]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:36:28 GMT David Jenkins David Robert Mitchell LWLies talks sequels and the consolations of genre with the director of horror classic-in-the-making, It Follows. David Robert Mitchell On The Films That Influenced It Follows David Robert Mitchell On The Films That Influenced It Follows

For his incredibly effective frightener It Follows writer/director David Robert Mitchell has distilled some of the all-time horror classics of the last century to come up with a truly original and scary film.

It has the mood and music of John Carpenter’s seminal 1970s slasher Halloween, the sex horror of David Cronenberg’s Shivers, and the pass-the-parcel suspense of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, yet It Follows manages to be very much its own creature. Here the director discusses some of the films that It Follows may, or may not, have followed…

Carrie (1977)

Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel about the traumas of being a teenage girl isolated by the fact she is ‘different’ — there is something not quite right about Carrie White — takes place in an idyllic suburban town with wide streets and tidy houses, a setting David Lynch would amplify in 1986’s Blue Velvet, where something nasty lurked behind the peaceful facade. It Follows opens on just such a street on an innocuous summer evening. The peace and quiet lasts all of about a minute.

David Robert Mitchell: “I’m a huge De Palma fan — Carrie is amazing. Blue Velvet is one of my favourites for sure. That opening shot wasn’t a conscious thing. These films are all in the back of my head, so little pieces of them come out — but they come out in a way that feels unique to me. I can spot references in the film where I’m mirroring things from other films — a slightly altered version — so although I’m aware of it, but it wasn’t me trying to emulate one of those films.”

Cat People (1942)

Val Lewton’s black-and-white classic is all about what lurks in the shadows, and in Mitchell’s film you’ll find yourself peering nervously at empty doorways and the corners of the screen with a sense of dread. Both films are about a fear of sex — in Cat People a woman worries that consummating her marriage will spark an ancient, deadly curse. Cat People’s famous sequence occurs at a deserted indoor swimming pool. It Follows makes splendid use of a similar location.

DRM: “I rarely did a shot where I was thinking, ‘This is a reference to this’. Most of the time I was going for the general feel of something. But with the swimming pool scene I was definitely making a reference to Cat People — that one is very specific.”

Friday the 13th (1980)

It became something of a staple joke in the heyday of the American slasher film that any young people having pre-marital sex would get chopped up by the killer — in Friday the 13th two randy camp counsellors are slaughtered before the opening credits even roll. It Follows takes the sanctity of sex message to the next level — here, you don’t die in the act, but the killer will come after you, relentlessly, sort of like a fatal STD that just won’t quit.

DRM: “I watched all the Friday the 13th movies growing up. There’s a couple I really enjoy, but they weren’t my model for this in any way. The scene at the pool is a play on what happens in those films, the idea of a big plan to destroy the ‘thing’ — if it was for real, based on teenagers, it would be a disaster! Can you find a practical, logical way of destroying a nightmare? It’s not possible.”

Read our full interview with David Robert Mitchell

The Hidden (1984)

Jack Sholder’s underrated sci-fi horror see an alien come to Earth to use unwitting humans as host bodies… only showing itself, as a revolting slug entity, when moving from one host to the net. The only clue that someone has been taken over? They start acting out of sorts: for example, a portly, middle-aged businessman starts listening to heavy rock and shooting people. It Follows, in one scene, suggests the parasite, or virus, moving from one person to the next, has some otherworldly connection. But it is never explained, which somehow makes it even more sinister.

DRM: “I haven’t seen The Hidden in a long time, but I love that movie. That was an alien, right? Is the ‘It’ in It Follows from outer space? I don’t know if I was hinting at that… I think it’s about stylising the disturbing nature of that moment, but that’s a fun read on it. But I would never want to say no!”

Nosferatu (1921)

One of the first horror films ever made sees a young woman relentlessly pursued by the vampire Count Orlok. In It Follows, ‘It’ — whatever it is — comes after 19-year-old Jay, played by Maika Monroe, it is unstoppable and extremely persistent, much like Orlok.

DRM: “I was definitely looking at Nosferatu before I was making the film, and I’m also a fan of the Werner Herzog seventies version. Nosferatu’s a film I’ve watched a lot and I love, and that’s why I think it comes through in It Follows.”

Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Mitchell employs Polanski’s finely-tuned technique of gradually enveloping the audience in a blanket of paranoia, as in the director’s urban paranoia chillers Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, where the female leads start to disintegrate and think everyone is after them. Now see if, after you’ve watched It Follows, the crowd on the street appear to be somehow different from you.

DRM: “We gave Maika the Catherine Deneuve Repulsion hair — that’s when I’m being very direct about the reference. When I was writing the script, I was imagining how that paranoia felt — and how to build that emotionally.”

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s sci-fi remake has Kurt Russell is dealing with a shape-shifting alien thawed out of the ice that has taken over someone, or something, at an Antarctic research station. The problem is, who, or what? Posters advertising The Thing said: ‘Trust no-one’. This sage advice can be applied to It Follows. You can’t trust anyone. Your best friend, your neighbour, even your dad. And especially not the nude guy standing on the roof of his house for no apparent reason. But then again, you wouldn’t trust someone who did that in the first place. In It Follows, the most innocuous person might be after Jay — and the very ambiguity makes for deeply unsettling viewing and a guaranteed sleepless night afterwards.

DRM: “There’s one scene in It Follows, where there’s a girl in the distance, just walking… and it could be just a student, walking along… you see her way in the background, very small. I put it in there, to have it noticeable, but not overly obvious. People enjoy that feeling of anxiety, or dread, experiencing something terrible in a safe environment, and then they can step away from it. But what happens is, you step away, and that feeling might stay with you. I’m sorry if it gives you sleepless nights, but that’s the desired effect!”

It Follows is in cinemas nationwide 27 February and is the featured film in this week's Little White Lies Weekly.]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 01:09:37 GMT David Hayles David Robert Mitchell On The Films That Influenced It Follows From Carrie to Carpenter, the American writer/director reveals which horror touchstones inspired him. Daniel Wolfe Daniel Wolfe

Starring two impressive newcomers in Sameena Jabeen Ahmed and Connor McCarron, playing young lovers on the lam who become caught up in a bitter gangland feud, Catch Me Daddy is the first feature film by Daniel Wolfe, who co-wrote the script with his brother, Matthew. Set against the smoke-and-fog-blanketed Yorkshire Moors and exquisitely lensed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, it's one of the most atmospheric and intriguing British debuts in years. LWLies met up with Wolfe recently to chat about the making of his haunting western, and how he convinced Jake Gyllenhaal to go on a hipster killing spree.

LWLies: We can't help but notice you're wearing a lilac jumper, which is a prominent colour in the film...

Wolfe: Yeah, well it's actually my favourite colour. The story behind the lilac is we did a test for Film4 and because we didn't have time to wardrobe Sameena we just went to her house that morning and she had a lilac knitted jumper which she ended up wearing. The stylist really loved it, and Sameena had pink hair, so that was that.

How did you come to cast Sameena?

I'm always looking for interesting faces. I'm  interested in what a person's energy is like. We had this clip of Sameena and within 30 seconds of watching it Robbie [Ryan] just walked off just saying, 'You've got the girl'. She was beautifully photographic. She's got an almost silent movie star look. We saw literally 800 girls and loads of them were really great actors, but I believe in street casting and Sameena just had an amazing attitude straight away. When she came to the second casting within a few minutes she burst into tears and when we asked her what's up she said she'd had this dream that she didn't come to the casting. We worked with it and she was totally open to that, so we did a couple of scenes with her in that state and she was amazing. She was working as a cricket coach at the time and she's got that sports mentality, so she's incredibly tough too and she responded really well to being pushed.

Did Sameena and Conor spend much time together before you started filming?

Quite a lot. Someone said it's Romeo and Juliet but to me it's not, it's meant to be a bit shit. I mean, the film has a dream-like quality and there's moments of beauty in it, but they're living in a caravan and he's doing codeine every night. There's a friction there. I didn't want anyone to rehearse, I didn't want anyone to see the script, and I wanted to shoot sequentially, so to do that I used what was scheduled as rehearsal time to do bonding. There was a real chemistry between them, but then they started hanging out more and it became like a real relationship. We sent them off to Oldham to buy props for the caravan so it felt like theirs, you know. Bits of their own personalities definitely came out.

Their chemistry definitely stands out, though it's interesting that it's not a particularly physical relationship.

In an earlier incarnation of the script it was more physical, but it always felt like too much of a statement. Like, a sex scene between a British-Pakistani girl and a British lad felt taboo or whatever. My brother and I were a lot more interested in the chasteness and the beauty that came out of that. Teenage love, you know, what is it?

You mention it's not Romeo and Juliet, but to us it felt like a film full of archetypal struggles.

Yeah, I was definitely interested in the struggle between father and daughter. It's about control. But, to us, it was less an exploration of a relationship and more about the repercussions of individual actions. This is not a pure quest. It'd muddied with finance, with thugs. It's a western. Some people may see it as black-and-white, but it's about a group of broken people on the margins of society who are all in it for different reasons. At the heart of it, Sameena is being treated as chattel, you know, being passed around.

What's the significance of the Yorkshire Moors to you?

I just love that landscape. I was at the Arvon Centre, which is Ted Hughes' old house, doing a writing retreat there, and was doing a lot of walking in between writing. I remember very clearly at the station picking up a copy of the Bradford Argus and reading about an honour crime. That was the beginning of Catch Me Daddy, really, that story, which I mentioned to my brother. Our grandmother is from Oldham, and you cross from Oldham through Saddleworth into Yorkshire. So straight away we thought that was interesting, and all the opening scenes focus on the urbanisation of Oldham. From there we started to think about the War of the Roses, the history of the Lancashire/Yorkshire houses. We don't play with that too much in the film — I think there's a white rose mug in the hairdressers. But it's a clash of two landscapes. And we wanted to reappropriate a landscape that felt god for a western, in the same way the Coen brothers use American landscapes in their films.

People are categorising Catch Me Daddy as British social realism. Do you agree with that?

Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of social realism, but this film isn't that. It's dream-like, but it's drug-induced. You know, they're wasted a lot of the time. My brother and I chatted a lot with Robbie about how to make the Moors a character, and that plus the sound design plus my brother's score created this feeling.

The first work by you we saw was The Shoes: Time to Dance video with Jake Gyllenhaal. How did that come about?

I'd done stuff with Plan B and Miss Dynamite before that, but I always wanted to tell stories and music videos don't always allow for narrative storytelling. We had a draft script for Catch Me Daddy about three months before we shot the video with Jake and we were going round the usual suspects gauging interest. That video had a good response which I suppose was partly down to star power. But the story there is a few years ago I was in Cannes and met Duane Hopkins, and through his cinematographer I met a woman called Lynette Howell who produced Half Nelson, Blue Valentine, and we kept in touch. Suddenly she calls me and says, 'Look, you might get a call from Jake.' Basically he had a script called 'The Accountant' — which is currently being made with Ben Affleck — and he'd seen and liked the videos I'd done for Plan B. So I get a phone call from Jake asking if I'd read this script, which I had to be honest and say I wasn't really into. Then The Shoes' track came in and me and my brother thought of Jake. He was coming over anyway so it just worked out. I spoke to him fairly recently and hopefully we'll end up doing something together at some point.

What are you currently working on?

My brother and I are writing another screenplay for a film called Sapphire. It's about a British snooker player in China. It's an existential man-on-the-edge thriller in the spirit of Takeshi Kitano and Paul Schrader. We're really excited about it.

Catch Me Daddy is released nationwide on 27 February.]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 09:35:41 GMT Adam Woodward Daniel Wolfe The British writer/director discusses the making of his atmospheric feature debut, Catch Me Daddy. A Brief History Of Dogs On Film A Brief History Of Dogs On Film

When Jean-Luc Godard famously said that all you need to make a film is a gun and a girl, he was obviously overlooking the value of putting a cute dog on-screen. Just ask Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, whose latest film, White God, is released in the UK on 27 February.

Ostensibly, the film looks like an art-house Incredible Journey. A small girl adopts a scruffy little mutt, only for her mean-spirited father to abandon it, setting Hagen on a journey to be reunited with his adoring owner. But instead of the uplifting tale you might be expecting, the film takes a dark turn, and Hagen ends up leading a canine rebellion against humankind. Before long, an army of strays are tearing through the streets of Budapest, attacking humans in scenes of beautifully-shot anarchy. It's like Lassie with a bloodlust.

The first movie to capture the magic of dogs on screen was a six-minute British short from 1905 called Rescued By Rover. Essentially Taken only much shorter and in black-and-white, it’s a simple story of a baby kidnapped by a crazy old woman and rescued by a dog called Rover (played by a collie called Blair). The film is considered a landmark work in the development of cinema editing, combining individual shots to tell a story instead of just single-takes. Yet despite its simplicity, the film still holds up today, and that is mostly because of Rover. Blair the dog became a household name, and the film's enduring popularity is supposedly the reason why Rover became a common pet name.

It wasn't long before other filmmakers caught on. In 1906, a female border collie called Jean became known as ‘The Vitagraph Dog’, sidekick to ‘Vitagraph Girl’ Florence Turner, back before film actors were even credited. Charlie Chaplin had his tramp team up with a pup named Scraps in 1918’s A Dog’s Life. A German born police dog named Strongheart moved to the US in the 1920s and became a star. His success opened the door for another German Shepherd called Rin Tin Tin, who was rescued from a World War One battlefield to become the first canine megastar, appearing in 27 features between 1922 and 1932, even starring in his own spin-off franchise, resulting in the heartwarming The Search for Santa Paws.

From Benji to Beethoven, dogs are now a staple of family cinema. Rummage through any supermarket bargain bin and you’ll find countless straight-to-DVD flicks that get by on the virtue of having a cute dog on the cover. (If you're in the market, we strongly recommend Sherlock Bones: Undercover Dog and Bone Alone, the latter of which is a lot more innocent than it sounds.) Disney's Air Bud series, about a basketball playing dog, generated four sequels in which the eponymous hound tries his paw at various sports (see: Golden Receiver and Air Bud: World Pup).

Shameless kiddie bait aside, putting a dog in your film virtually guarantees making your lead character likeable and relatable. Witness Will Smith’s family dog diving John McClane-style away from explosions in Independence Day. Or Jim Carrey’s cheeky sidekick Milo in The Mask. And let's not forget the '80s trend of cop-dog buddy movies. Increasingly, even independent movies are feeling the puppy love. Recently we've had The Artist, Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers and Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy.

The thing that separates White God from the pack is the way it gets to grips with our relationship to dogs. The film's title is a nod to Sam Fuller’s superlative race allegory White Dog. Hugely controversial upon its original 1982 release, Fuller's film focuses on a white German Shepherd trained by white supremacists to attack African-Americans. Despite the furore the centred on the film's representation of racial politics, it is actually a parable about intolerance and how attitudes can be changed.

But the notion of man’s best friend being a neo-Nazi was so incendiary that it was buried in the US and has only recently been re-evaluated by Criterion, who gave the film its first ever home video release in 2008. Less worthy, but also worth highlighting is The Doberman Gang, a bizarre piece of '70s grindhouse about a group of Doberman Pinschers trained by criminals to rob banks.

Perhaps the most interesting examination of dogs on screen takes its influence from the most embarrassing, lowest common denominator kibble available. Everything Is Terrible are an online collective who seek out weird found footage on old VHS tapes — terrible movies, public access TV, self-help videos and the like — and edit them into hypnotic new shorts. More recently they've moved into feature-length compilations, and while their first two were essentially mixtapes, their third film, Doggie Woggiez! Poochie Woochiez! is something else entirely.

Billed as a remake of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (even though it’s nothing of the sort), it combines footage from the likes of Snow Dogs, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Karate Dog, along with other weird dog-related videos, into a beguiling, abstract and absolutely hilarious loop of clichés. Evil dog wardens shake their fists in unison, tails wag en masse, howls sync up and everything comes together to do for dog movies what Thom Anderson's Los Angeles Plays Itself did for LA noir.

Will White God give rise to a new wave of dogsploitation? We kind of hope not. Still, it’s fascinating to see that the pulling power of pooches continues to evolve beyond cheap and cheerful family movies.]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 10:33:05 GMT Wil Jones A Brief History Of Dogs On Film With gritty pooch parable White God out this week, Wil Jones investigates a curious canine compulsion. LWLies 58: The While We're Young Issue LWLies 58: The While We're Young Issue

For our March/April issue we've taken inspiration from While We're Young, the catty and sharp new comedy from American writer/director Noah Baumbach and his follow-up to the beloved Frances Ha. We spoke to one of the film's stars, Adam Driver, about the experience of playing a hipster filmmaker and how the character relates to his own life.

Also in the issue, we look back at each one of Baumbach's directorial projects and expand on a single element from each, we talk to Baumbach himself about making movies on the lam and his love of Brooklyn, and we also canvas memories and tall tales from the cast of his brilliant 1995 debut feature, Kicking and Screaming. All wrapped up inside Norwegian illustrator Bjørn Rune Lie's gorgeous cover.

Cover

All that plus, in our reviews section: Ryan Reynolds hears The Voices, Keanu Reeves kicks ass as John Wick, Alain Resnais experiences the Life of Riley, Ryan Gosling sails the Lost River, Viggo Mortensen searches for the lost utopia of Jauja, Shailene Woodley catches a White Bird in a Blizzard, Julianne Moore is Still Alice, Cara Delevingne has The Face of an Angel and Studio Ghibli return with the enchanting The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

There's also exclusive interviews with Xavier Dolan, Kim Longinotto, Isao Takahata, Gregg Araki and Marjane Satrapi, plus all the best home ents releases from the UK and US and reports from the Rotterdam and Sundance film festivals.

LWLies 58 hits newsstands 2 March and is available to pre-order now from our online shop. Subscribers will start receiving their copies later this week. Tweet or Instagram your copy when it arrives to @LWLies.]]> Mon, 23 Feb 2015 03:41:17 GMT David Jenkins LWLies 58: The While We're Young Issue For our 10th anniversary issue, LWLies gets acquainted with Noah Baumbach's uncoming-of-age comedy. Are British Cinema Audiences Emotionally Repressed? Are British Cinema Audiences Emotionally Repressed?

Sweden is a country with a lot of good ideas. Gender equality in parenting, making salt-coated liquorice an inexplicably delicious thing, putting open flames on the pavement in front of every bar so patrons will think they’ve descended into the seventh circle of hell. Yet, as the Nordic winds carry the last echoes of this 2015 Gothenburg Film Festival out to sea, what’s left is the realisation that Sweden may even have cracked the code of movie theatre etiquette.

From our vantage, what the festivalgoers at Gothenburg possessed was something that could only be described as wondrous: an openness which saw them so enraptured, so present in the moment that they lost themselves utterly to the darkness of the auditorium. Gasps rippled across the room when the detective leading Susanne Bier’s A Second Chance discovered a neglected infant covered in its own faeces. In that moment, we were all forced to confront the cruelty mankind can inflict upon its most innocent.

The eccentric hermit-woman dwindling in the desert caves of Lisandro Alonso's Jauja, on the other hand, was welcomed onscreen to the sound of soft eruptions of laughter. In that moment, we were all trying our best to decipher her endless string of riddles. During Peter Flinth's Beatles, a more wholesome comedy about four friends who style themselves on Liverpool rock deities, a snake on the loose sent both on-screen characters and audience into chaos. In that moment, all were just trying to avoid getting bitten.

Harrowing drama, visionary art film, crowd-pleasing comedy: each were met with the same level of unfiltered, ecstatic engagement. From our experience, audiences in the UK seldom allow their emotions to enter into the public domain. Which is a real shame. When did cinema culture here become so sterilised, so repressed, so internalised, so austere? We’ve gone from audience members allegedly clambering over their chairs in fear of being hit by the arrival of a train at La Ciotat Station, to an atmosphere where anything more than a single tear running down a cheek is met with a toxic glare of disapproval.

Train

Yes, let’s not forget the battle raging behind theatre doors. The fight for respect: an end to text tones and glaring screen lights. An end to the scraping sounds of ice lingering at the bottom of soft drink buckets and the barely muted conversations on what Dave did on the work night out. Those inorganic distractions which reach through your cinematic dreams and pull you out like the screech of an alarm clock.

They are the real horror. But there’s nothing inorganic, nothing inherently disrespectful in someone who’s fallen so far into the universe opened up to them by the silver screen that they’ve surrendered control of their primal emotions. It’s easy to turn your nose up at someone cheering on Jonah Hill as he miraculously makes the leap from rooftop to helicopter in 22 Jump Street, but that’s a person who’s invested themselves so fully in this character that seeing them triumph is now basically akin to seeing their oldest, dearest childhood friend win the Super Bowl. Isn’t that what the magic of the movies is about?

Granted, there at least still exists the space for audience expression in the broader strokes of comedy and horror, but only for it to be met with the derogatory dismissal which labels it as a kind of plebeian unruliness. Basically, scream too loud at The Woman in Black and you’re no better than the crowd of Romans baying for blood in the gladiatorial ring. We now associate horror cinema being advertised on the back of its audience reaction as something reserved for the mindless teenage thrills of the Paranormal Activity franchise or whatever marks the latest in the line of budget-produced webcam party massacres. Yet, back when The Exorcist was first released, we were inundated with proclamations of audience members fainting in the aisles and handed barf bags as we silently filed into our seats. They weren’t selling The Exorcist as just a movie, they were selling it as an experience.

What happens when it comes to so-called esteemed works of art? Well, forget about it. Unless you’re prepared for an existence of perpetual fear that you’ll become the social pariah of the room for laughing at the “wrong” bit of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie. That you’ll be deemed crude and undeserving for recognising Freddie Quell’s “do you want to fuck?” note from The Master, the smiley face being the clincher, as nothing more than the retro “send nudes LOL” text. While those insufferable snorts of derision which are so carefully timed to ensure fellow audience members that “one is not enjoying this movie” continue to be cinema poison, we could really do with elsewhere killing the idea that there ever is indeed a “wrong” time and “right” time to laugh at the cinema.

Bluevelvet

Life, even in its most sinister moments, always seems to reveal itself to possess some level of unfazed irony. It’s only in the realising that does the world suddenly become very, very funny indeed. Dennis Hopper’s infamous helium-huffing in Blue Velvet may be one of the most disturbing things ever put to screen, but even Lynch supposedly spent much of its filming giggling away to himself from behind the camera. It’s all a matter of perspective. Unexpected laughter may seem strange or even frustrating if you’re engaged in total earnestness, but there’s a value there in embracing the way a slight tilt of the head can turn a rabbit into a duck and a tragedy into a comedy.

Yet, unfailingly, what seems almost universally wheeled out in the conversation of cinematic etiquette is the analogy of film as religious experience. Cinema as church, but as defined wholly through the practices of personal worship. The long, reverent walk down the echoing stone nave of a medieval cathedral, not the joyous gathering place for the flock drawn together by a common love. Why is it that the cinephile whose battle-cry remains “cinema as church” leaves no consideration for the core concept of community?

Cinema as church isn’t reservation, it isn’t austerity: it’s the experience of sitting with five hundred strangers like those who gathered at the screenings of the Gothenburg Film Festival, impenetrable and unknowable except for that moment of total unification felt through a single uproarious laugh, a sharp intake of breath, or a triumphant cheer. Let emotions burst out like prayers, devotions to the movie gods. Let’s respect cinema not through wordless judgement and austere, oppressive silence. Let’s respect it by celebrating what it does best — bringing people together.]]> Mon, 23 Feb 2015 11:28:38 GMT Clarisse Loughrey Are British Cinema Audiences Emotionally Repressed? Swedish audiences are leading the charge in the field of expressing vocal satisfaction for movies. The Octopus Project On Making The Soundtrack For Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter The Octopus Project On Making The Soundtrack For Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter tells the true-ish story of a despondent young Japanese secretary (Rinko Kikuchi) who finds a VHS of Fargo in a seaside cave, and — after watching the film —journeys to the titular North Dakotan tundra in order to claim the cash bounty that Steve Buscemi’s character buried in the snow. Clearly, Kumiko is a bit confused, but the movie never judges her for it (as LWLies’ David Jenkins put it in his review: “is Kumiko clinically insane to want to achieve this goal or is her odyssey any different from anyone seeking personal validation through some random achievement?”). The film is utterly so spellbinding in large part because the Zellners found a way to balance their heroine on the knife’s edge between valor and madness.

Of course, they didn’t do it on their own. Kumiko is by far the biggest movie that the Austenite brothers have made thus far, and pulling it off required a little help from their friends. Enter The Octopus Project. Actually, it would be more accurate to say Re-enter The Octopus Project. Also hailing from the bluest bastion of the Lone Star State, the enigmatically named electronica foursome (Josh Lambert, Toto Miranda, Yvonne Lambert, and Ryan Figg) first collaborated with the Zellners on Kid-Thing back in 2012, and the morbidly forceful synth score they’ve written for Kumiko is key to how the off-kilter film is able to stay on course. Alternately dreamy and doomed, the music perfectly captures Kumiko’s mania without ever instructing the audience what to feel about it. In other words, there’s a damn good reason it nabbed a Special Jury Award for Musical Score at Sundance last year.

The Kumiko score may run a touch darker than the songs that populate The Octopus Project’s five studio albums (the group has toured with the likes of Devo and Explosions in the Sky, and their intricate instrumental pop jams often land somewhere between those two influences), but it’s clearly the work of a band who are unafraid of venturing into the unknown. In advance of the score’s digital release on March 10th (with a limited-edition vinyl version set for later this year), LWLies got in touch with Josh Lambert and Toto Miranda about collaborating with the Zellners and writing the soundtrack for someone losing their mind.

LWLies: How did you guys first cross paths with the Zellner brothers?

Lambert: I think we met the Zellners in 2003 or 2004. We had mutual friends who felt like we'd get along nicely, and of course we did! The first film we worked on together was a short of theirs called Flotsam/Jetsam, but we've done music for some of their other shorts since and they have in turn done a couple of music videos for us. Kid-Thing was the first feature we worked on together.

How early in the process did you come aboard Kumiko? 

Miranda: We got to see what I think was the first rough cut just after it was assembled…actually it was just the first half of the movie, the Japanese half. We talked about overall tone, things they wanted to avoid and things they wanted to accentuate with the score, and then we started compiling musical ideas.

Was the film shot with your music already in mind, or did you guys see a rough cut and work from there?

Lambert: Before they shot the film we had discussed a bunch of different musical ideas. They didn't shoot it with our specific music in mind, but we all had a pretty clear idea of what we were going for thematically. They used the word "doom" a lot when describing the mood they wanted. About halfway through their edit they gave us a super rough cut and we started working from there. We started by writing a ton of music and dropping it in different spots to see what would stick — which ended up being pretty surprising sometimes.

What sort of guidance did David and Nathan provide? Did they just play things by ear, or are they the kind of directors who can actually "speak" music and give their composers more precise requests?

Miranda: They’re hands on in the best way — we threw in all the initial musical ideas, but once we were in the thick of it they would request very specific changes. They also did a lot of work re-combining elements from our initial pieces, overlapping sounds in ways that totally surprised us sometimes. The line between score and sound design got very blurry as well, little bits from our score were mixed in as ambience and they gave us sound design elements to use in the music. The whole thing was very collaborative, which was a lot of fun!

Kumiko is a pretty unusual character, especially in so far as her mental state doesn't really fluctuate that much over the course of the movie – she knows what she wants, and she's going to everything in her power to get it. How do you write music for that, but still find ways to avoid it being monotonous?

Lambert: Working with folks like David and Nathan was super helpful in this respect. They knew exactly what they wanted to get out of a scene and would guide us. The story has a pretty natural arc, so we were using that as a template of what the music should feel like. We just followed the story and that kept the music moving as well.

Were you guys essentially tasked with trying to figure out what it might sound like for someone to lose their mind?

Miranda: I think we were trying to match the gravity that her quest has in her head – the movie is so closely aligned with her perspective, and I don’t think she sees herself as losing her mind. She may be compelled to pursue a dangerous, difficult path, but she’s not crazy.

Was there one particular thing about Kumiko as a character that you always had in the back of your minds when writing the music?

Lambert: I can completely relate to the Kumiko character. Whether you're looking for a buried treasure, making a film or recording an album, I can empathize with that naively determined delusion.

To what extent did you take your cues from Fargo and try to riff on the score that Carter Burwell wrote for that film? It sounds like the DNA of that movie's theme made its way into the "Bunzo" track… 

Miranda: I haven’t seen Fargo in a while, but I just now looked up the score and you are right on about the similarities in that track! It’s not a deliberate nod, but Fargo certainly has the some of the same high-drama vibe we were trying to achieve in our own way. Without referencing that film’s music at all, I guess we arrived at some of the same central ideas about snow-based tragedy. Not that we’re in a league with Carter Burwell of course — dude is amazing!

Speaking of things that may have found their way into the music, I get a real Popol Vuh vibe from 'Ice,' and 'Library' reliably takes me back to the theme from Halloween. What kind of stuff, if anything, influenced you on this project (and did classic horror films make their way into the mix?). Did you find that any of the musical influences you used dovetailed at all with the cinematic influences that the Zellners were using?

Lambert: Popul Vuh was/is a huge influence on us. The Aguirre, The Wrath of God soundtrack is one of my all time favourites. We talked at length with David and Nathan about scores they/we like — Tarkovsky's Solaris came up a bunch. Even 10cc… David really loves lots of voices! I'm pretty sure he sent around the making-of video for 'I'm Not In Love' as an inspiration. But, we trade music all the time so we're all on pretty much the same page when it comes to what we like.

There are long stretches of the movie without any of the score… did you have to account for that in writing the music, to make sure that it wouldn't be too jarring when the music suddenly returned?

Miranda: I think the idea to keep the soundtrack on the lean side was there from the beginning, although some scenes that were supposed to have music ended up being better without and vice-versa. Since most of the music was written without specific scenes in mind, making the pieces fit was much more about arranging the cues to match (or play against) the dynamics of a particular scene.

With a small handful of exceptions, the music mostly appears when Kumiko is alone… was that a choice that was made to isolate Kumiko in the world of her imaginary quest, or did the Zellners just prefer to have the dialogue scenes without any underscoring?

Lambert: We did actually talk quite a bit about keeping the music out of the dialogue scenes. None of us ever felt like it was necessary. The scenes were playing really well on their own and didn't need any extra dramatic cues from the audio. It was a super simple choice.

Each individual track obviously has its own purpose within the context of the movie, but was there a guiding principle that you were going after with the score as a whole?

Miranda: The Zellners didn’t weigh in on the interior/exterior question, but I do remember one of the initial notes was 'Epic Doom'… that sounds like the inside of Kumiko’s head to me! We definitely wanted to avoid any kind of musical commentary that would make her seem odd, or — god forbid — 'quirky'. Her perspective is deadly serious and that perspective feels like the heart of the movie.

When you set out to write a movie score, is it hard to put aside whatever headspace you guys happen to be in as a band at the time? Do you have to completely change the way you guys operate and interact, or is it a pretty seamless transition?

Lambert: Working on scores is actually a pretty seamless thing for us. It's funny you ask… When we were working on Kumiko we were crazy busy with normal band stuff. We started the score just before our last record came out and were working on it while we were on tour — playing crazy, loud shows at night and making weird, ambient tracks in the van during the day. Thankfully, we've been working together so long it's easy to jump back and forth between the two. And, despite the music being completely different, the approach is essentially the same — we'll trade tracks back and forth until we get something we're all happy with.

Pre-order the soundtrack on iTunes]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 04:05:50 GMT David Ehrlich The Octopus Project On Making The Soundtrack For Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter The Austin-based indietronica band describe the experience of making songs for movies. The Duke Of Burgundy And The Mysterious Language Of Love The Duke Of Burgundy And The Mysterious Language Of Love

Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy is many things: sensual erotica; progressive LGBT cinema; even romantic comedy. But the most powerful story it tells is about two individuals and their opposing languages of love.

Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) live together in a ridiculously opulent house in an unspecified European village populated only by women. Strickland doesn’t touch upon explanatory details. His focus is pure and heightened and fixed on the way the two women interrelate.

Their specific dilemma is how to reconcile Evelyn’s masochism with Cynthia’s more traditional tastes. Their struggle isolates the ongoing issue that individuals within couples face: how to please both themselves and their lover. A poignant but humourous scene shows a declaration of love impatiently shot down in favour of dirty talk. There is a point to which this type of clash is inevitable and a point to which it is gratuitously painful and a klaxon call for parting. Strickland brings to life a relationship where the love is not gone but pain — in and out of S&M role-play — is an ongoing undercurrent that constantly reframes our understanding of how these women are coping.

Strickland uses a specific, cinematically rewarding and sensual type of domestic set-up to explore power, but the struggle between generous love and personal need is universal. “The nature of life is there's always something that has to be sacrificed…. When I think of people that I know there's always someone who has to compromise,” Strickland said in a recent interview with LWLies.

Strickland has cited German new wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder as an inspiration, specifically his 1975 film Fox and his Friends. “When Fassbinder brings his boyfriend to dinner his parents don't even question it,” explains Strickland. “In the late '70s it was always about acceptance when you bring the boyfriend over for dinner. But in Fox and His Friends it was just like bringing your girlfriend for dinner. They spoke about other things." The Duke of Burgundy has taken the lead of its inspiration. It is so earnestly at the core of a love quandary that it is not about the particulars of sexuality.

Read the LWLies review of The Duke of Burgundy

Another German named Rainer eloquently expressed a solution to disconnection in couples. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “Once the realisation is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvellous living side-by-side can grow up for them.” While this is a salve for a certain level of benign separation, there is a type of distance that lends itself more to pain, doubt and madness than anything like marvel. The communion-separation balance has to be determined by individuals, rather than a couple hive-mind. A couple can only function when two people are in harmonious accord over the state of their togetherness. In The Duke of Burgundy the camera lingers on the women’s faces separately as frequently as it photographs them together, searching stoical performances for clues as to personal happiness.

Sidse Babbett Knudesen’s soft voice imbues Cynthia with melancholy as she fulfils her role and orders her sub to perform domestic chores. She sits alone at a typewriter or alone in front of a mirror, never fully convinced by her task, huge eyes flitting restlessly and unseeingly. As Evelyn, Chiara D’Anna also seems caught in reveries. Evelyn washes Cynthia’s elegant satin underwear hypnotised by the rainbow patterns that dance across the suds. She is slacking off her flesh and blood partner in favour of personal fantasies. Despite the women being each other’s sole human contact, imagination nudges them apart.

The power imbalance here is that one woman is acting for herself while the other acts for her loved one. The film is a slow submergence in the question of whether Cynthia will accept power balance for the sake of Evelyn. What happens when inequality is accepted in the name of love and desire? Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey explores the same question from two conflicting points of view. Talking about his formative years as a ‘sub’, Christian Grey says, “When I gave up control I felt free from responsibility and decision-making. I felt safe.”

Submission bequeathed him a cocoon away from the storms of society. Anastasia Steele is not as convinced of the benefits of abandoning her free will. The strength of her identity is protection for her and a phenomenon for him in that it offers a departure from the familiar patterns of S&M power play. It is terrifying for him to go off-script, off-cue and simply follow feelings. Her power is his weakness and vice versa. When sexual tastes are in opposition, love becomes a battle for dominance. As for who will come out on top, Fassbinder offered the following view:

“The one who loves or loves more is obviously the inferior one in the relationship. This is to do with the fact that the one who loves less has more power, obviously.”

Strickland’s style is gentler and more abstract than his German forebear. Cynthia and Evelyn try to sidestep power issues in order to live side-by-side. They cycle together, sleep together and fuel lepidopterist obsessions together. Amid the dusky light and decadent furnishings of their mansion, Nicholas D Knowland’s sensual cinematography captures the shared life they try to snatch from the jaws of their warring predilections. Cynthia inches her skirt up as Evelyn kneels at her feet. We hear the cloth scratching against her stockings, Strickland framing the point of friction in intimate close-up. This is the camera’s way of evoking Cynthia’s sensitivity to the sharpened focus of her lover’s charged gaze. S&M never seemed so merciful and compassionate.

Evelyn is either not willing or not able to be as flexible with love’s language. She is a slave to her desires, child-like and id-driven, whispering her disdain at a butterfly lecture and susceptible to another woman who shares her bedroom tastes. (Could streamlined taste be more of a determiner of coupledom than attachments forged on emotional grounds?)

Sometimes Cynthia’s role seems more like a care-giver than a lover. The narrative progresses to Cat’s Eyes’ otherworldly sounds and engagement with the abstract realm of emotional decisions heightens. Will she surrender her identity to serve her lover’s insatiable sexual appetite? Or are the forces of self-preservation more powerful than love? And if wilful love can’t keep people together, what on Earth can?

Read our interview with Peter Strickland exclusively in the latest edition of Little White Lies Weekly. Download the free app at weekly.lwlies.com]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 12:09:44 GMT Sophie Monks Kaufman The Duke Of Burgundy And The Mysterious Language Of Love Despite its lesbian and lepidoptera themes, Peter Strickland's relationship drama is anchored by universal truths about domestic role-play. Painting In Perpetual Motion: Art, Film, TV And David Lynch Painting In Perpetual Motion: Art, Film, TV And David Lynch

Celebrating the life and work of cult film icon and visual polymath David Lynch, Painting in Perpetual Motion: Art, Film, TV and David Lynch is a new symposium that will explore Lynch’s practice and his legacy at the crossing point between art and film.

Held at various venues across the north east throughout February and March, the programme includes conversations, workshops, screenings, discussions and commissioned writing developed and produced by Northern Film & Media and mima, to coincide with mima’s exhibition David Lynch Naming.

As well as special screening of Blue Velvet at The Empire in Middlesbrough, Martin Testar, Director of Photography for Jane and Louise Wilson’s The Toxic Camera will be running a cinematography workshop, while award-winning artist and director Shezad Dawood will be in conversation. And it wouldn't be a David Lynch symposium with a guide to drinking in Twin Peaks.

LWLies spoke to exhibition curator Brett Littman, who personally collaborated with Lynch on the David Lynch Naming exhibition:

"What a lot of people might not realise is that David trained as a visual artist and has been making art alongside his films for many years. But the art world has been very suspicious of David. There's been this perception of, 'Oh look, here's this famous filmmaker dabbling in art.' David is not his own best editor, when it comes to his art work he likes to make a lot of things and then show it all. So there hasn't really been that much process or critical thought put into putting on shows of David's artwork.

"In June of 2012 I went out to LA and spent a couple of days working alongside David. It was a pretty fascinating situation. He lives in the Hollywood Hills in this house that he's had painted pink — it looks like a bird house — which has a studio attached to it. He also has these bunker buildings which are attached and it's all connected by these dirt tracks set below the main house. He sits up in the house all day smoking and drinking coffee, painting and meditating.

f8qLC82RiP87CS0Id4qiOqtwVXbvN-fZGjlhTyGdDOs,u5-N9hR00l5x-gByIxjNOHOWyhc2YF4SSIIcwN49Ovg,CYrNCybXfBug8OVv44Z8vsy9h0rhGO9HOUk9aPtN93w,DufRJL1ttpl1ynK0-alwJ18qrVa8fK_1fVpTM2eT9LM,8UU5lNO_bNbYn_eGeFR9htnvp5OKteCTr20kzzH2jKA,CzZghWGtZsFMyzHCXwCAR1OBeyZL0d

"The environment was intense. The conversation we had was complicated, David is not someone who likes answering questions. He's very elusive, he has no interest in the meaning of the work. He's very interested in the present, he's not interested in looking back at the narrative arc of his career.

"We went through about 500 works on the first day. The first thing that jumped out was that there were all these works that had text and image, and I found that relationship really interesting. David didn't necessarily agree, so we ended up circling around a few concepts for a while. We looked at a lot of spiritual texts and that excited David, because he's very involved in transcendental meditation.

"He began to understand that I was trying to figure out what his creative spark is, and it seemed like, to me, he sees something in his mind and wants to bring that into the world, through whatever medium he decides best suits the image. I hope that people will see that in the art."

For more information and to book tickets, visit projects.northernmedia.org/lynch]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 10:16:26 GMT Adam Woodward Painting In Perpetual Motion: Art, Film, TV And David Lynch Ahead of a major new symposium of his work, LWLies gains first-hand insight into David Lynch's creative process. The Duke Of Burgundy The Duke Of Burgundy

Love can be a cruel mistress, as British director Peter Strickland so exquisitely illuminates in this startlingly beautiful piece of Euro erotica. The shifting nature of long-term relationships is explored through a couple with a fetish for butterflies and S&M and it’s a sumptuous, spellbinding, sensory experience. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) inhabit a sequestered abode in an unnamed European town which is occupied only by women. They spend their days playing sex games, studying butterflies and cycling to a grand etymology institute where they listen intently to lectures.

Seductive and sensitive by turns, Strickland sinuously studies Cynthia and Evelyn’s pairing with elegance, style and a frank emotional honesty. He places their activities under a microscopic lens, switching perspectives, opening up their bond for dissection and digging deep into their fantasies and feelings. They appear to be forever shackled to one another in an isolated autumnal conservatory which cages them in an eerie universe. Strickland applies the same level of precision and dedication to vigorously studying their kinky routines as a Lepidopterist does to investigating the fragile wings of a butterfly.

Read our interview with director Peter Strickland exclusively in Little White Lies Weekly

Strickland’s previous feature, Berberian Sound Studio, played with giallo tropes through sound. In The Duke of Burgundy, the director once again subverts expectations with the teasing of flesh exposing underlying woes. We first meet the couple as they are engaged in a servant and master ritual which provides an unnerving glimpse into their lifestyle. Evelyn peeks through keyholes at her lover undressing but just as in Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour there is no actual nudity. Instead, the many layers of their relationship are peeled away to reveal universal truths which surface through their unabashed role-play.

Evelyn’s inexhaustible appetite for masochistic pleasure weighs heavily on Cynthia’s mind, with her aching guilt and dissatisfaction eventually piercing through the eroticism. Role-playing is occasionally replaced with reality, but compromise for this couple proves to be a delicate and uneasy affair. It’s not all heavy petting and deep emotional turmoil, however, with Strickland underpinning his rich and rewarding meditation on love with a mischievous sense of humour. Absurd visual jokes are dotted throughout; look out for the randomly placed mannequins in the lushly designed lecture halls and the credits sequence which lists “Perfume by Je Suis Gizella.”

In terms of attention to detail and intensity The Duke of Burgundy recalls Walerian Borowczyck’s much maligned La Marge and proves to be just as mesmerising and melancholic. The dreamy, intoxicating aesthetic is complemented by the feverish and otherworldly soundtrack provided by musical duo Cat’s Eyes. Strickland cites Jess Franco’s erotic cinema as a visual influence, and that’s clear throughout, even though his vision is far more sophisticated and striking.]]> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 03:34:52 GMT Katherine McLaughlin The Duke Of Burgundy Peter Strickland's sumptuous, all-female S&M fable is the director's greatest film to date. Blackhat Blackhat

In box office terms, what Michael Mann's Blackhat did in the US early in 2015 was equivalent to swan-diving into a swimming pool that didn't contain any water. The pulpy mess was hosed away quickly and quietly, causing some commentators to suggest that this would be the last time Mann would be able to command such a serious budget. As such, the fanfare surrounding its UK release is muted to say the least, the sound all-but drowned out by omnipresent award season gabbing. Over here, it's less a pool, more a shallow puddle.

Yet there's a strange paradox at the centre of Blackhat. On one hand, the film offers ample pleasures to those willing to pick at its complex design schematics, specifically its innovative use of digital photography which reflects Mann's connoisseur-like abilities to select the right tool for the right job. On the other, its archly dismissive attitude towards conventional plotting and stock showmanship make it tough to decipher whether Mann views his movies as portable museums to house a breathtaking collection of style tics, or whether the job of fulfilling audience expectation is just secondary for him.

Alternatively, is Blackhat's commercial failure in actuality a veiled victory for sensorily-inclined aesthete Mann, or was there an intention for the film to slot neatly into the cash-grabbing neo B-thriller template forged by Liam Neeson and the Europacorp jet-trash? If Mann were no longer able to command top-end budgets, would that really be such a bad thing for the people he appears to be making movies for?

During the Sony hacking scandal of late 2014, it was noted that the orbiting furore was possibly/probably more interesting that the subject that caused it, the button-pushing comedy feature The Interview. This stranger-than-fiction occurrence ended up being the stuff of shadowy '70s-style conspiracy thrillers, and the intricacies of who won, who lost and who was even playing the game remain opaque to this day.

In the same way, Blackhat is less interested in handing us a cackling Joker-style villain and observing a wily game of cat-and-mouse than it is leaving us to ponder exactly who or what is the malevolent force causing all this wireless destruction. It's a film which is interested in spectacle, but only within the context of reality. Oftentimes, reality is the spectacle, depending on how we look at it. Computers mean that we no longer know who the bad guys are, or that bad guys don't have to have a public (and by extension, cinematic) persona, and movies that paint in those crude shades are simply wrong. Yet even though computers are shields, they can be penetrated.

One criticism levelled at the film is that it contains too many shots of people sat down at computers and typing. Which, without meaning to generalise, would seem a somewhat hypocritical judgment. It's true, the film does contain shots of keys being tapped, code being forged, monitors flashing with abstract, two-tone compositions of character formulations and frames within frames. If anything, these moments are what make Blackhat feel entirely relevant and contemporary, a statement on the large-scale atomisation and mechanisation of human processes.

Where a traditional heist — such as those that made for breathless centrepieces in films like Heat and Public Enemies — would've once involved bodies and bullets, crime is now characterised by banality, ease and progress bars. Electronic synapses have replaced guns, but the latter still do come in handy, and are still very loud. Another criticism is that Mann has reached a point where he's Xeroxing his own work, and if that is indeed the case, then there's a certain poetry in the idea of a filmmaker resorting to the Apple-C, Apple-V function at the service of a thrilling commentary on absolute digital consummation.

When it comes to shooting on digital, Mann could be seen as something of a pioneer. The gripe that it “doesn't look like film” has bypassed him completely. He accepts what it does look like and duly attempts to capture images that synch up with digital's singular visual constitution. On occasion the film resembles blocky video art, with the compositions verging on the abstract. Although Mann embraces these qualities, Blackhat also concerns the ultimate fallibility of technology, with its combustible final image leaving a question mark over how far the medium has to come to attain perfection (perhaps also suggesting that, while many are happy to allow their lives to hang in the balance of the internet, there's still hope if we want to get the hell out).

There is a heist sequence in Blackhat, though it doesn't involve any people. Mann imagines what a heist would resemble in a world where the physical has been displaced by the digital. It initially recalls so many ancient Intel PC TV advertisements in which the goal is to depict the manifold functions of the microchip and somehow emphasise its world-conquering properties. The "camera" begins its journey by hovering in the stratosphere, surveying a planet verily a-glow with golden communication tendrils. Then it dips down into a Chinese nuclear facility, through the waters of the cooling tank and then down into the motherboard of a vital component: an electronically powered pump. It soon becomes clear that the camera isn't there to survey the mechanical innards, but to follow the course of a malware programme uploaded by some unknown cyber terrorist. It's a masterclass in visual storytelling, with barely a word of dialogue uttered until meltdown is duly instigated.

Enter Chris Hemsworth and his monster bangs, on lockdown for a cyberhacking rap and filling the hours doing gravity-defying knuckle push-ups. He's given conditional release because a Chinese investigator (and old college pal) believes he's the only one who can track down the mystery hacker. The film then stacks up the set-pieces which are linked with fuzzy GoPro interludes and the customary neon-grilled night vistas. Hemsworth gets to snuggle with Tang Wei, while from the sidelines, Viola Davis casually walks away with top acting honours for her hard-boiled FBI stooge whose government-mandated supervision gradually takes a turn for the Stockholm-y. It's easy to dismiss Davis' character as peripheral — a plot crutch — for much of the time she's on screen, only for her to eventually appear in the film's most nakedly moving shot prior to the final act showdown. It's not possible to say what it is, but rest assured: it's devastating.

Maybe it's too cute that Mann would reach his digital apotheosis in a film about cyber terrorism, but he proves this technology is still in a state of flux, waiting to be amply harnessed. Blackhat suggests that the world could be crumbling and we wouldn't even notice it, with billion-dollar battles fought via text message and GPS satellites showing exactly where the sniper should perch for the cleanest, easiest shot. When the day finally feels like it has been saved, Mann then flashes up that haunting final shot, reminding us that we're just a one burnt-out microchip away from total annihilation.]]> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 03:34:03 GMT David Jenkins Blackhat Michael Mann returns with a majestic B-thriller which offers a sharp commentary on the mass digitisation of communication.