Little White Lies Magazine http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk en LWLies 56: The 1994 Issue LWLies 56: The 1994 Issue

On the occasion of our 56th issue, we decided to look past the theatrical release schedule that typically dictates our choice of cover film — 20 years past, in fact, all the way back to 1994.

For this special edition, we asked ourselves the question: what would LWLies have been like had it existed back in 1994?

What would it be about? What would it look like? Who would be on the cover? What cultural trends would be discernible? What films would we write about?

Inside this 1994 time capsule issue, we award Jim Carrey the title of Man of the Year, due to him appearing in the year's most popular comedies: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber. Check out Timba Smits' ssssmokin' cover art, which captures the essence of these three iconic characters.

p.01_Cover_54.indd

Elsewhere we examine one of the year's noblest failures in Adam Resnick's salty comic odyssey, Cabin Boy; speak to young Kiwi actor Melanie Lynsky about playing a murderer in Peter Jackson's dream-like horror/fantasy, Heavenly Creatures; Jacques Gites reports back from the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, taking aim at a silly little film called Pulp Fiction; we talk to director John Dahl about his modern take on classical noir, The Last Seduction, while also profiling the film's astounding lead, Linda Fiorentino; cinematographer Christopher Doyle gives us the inside track on the making of the great Chungking Express; we deliver a post-mortem on one of the year's most timely and innovative comedies, Rusty Cundieff's sublime hip-hop satire Fear of a Black Hat; investigate why baseball-themed movies were a big draw in '94; and ask where next for the Police Academy franchise after a disastrous Mission to Moscow.

John Candy died of a heart attack in April of 1994, so we takes a look back at his career to argue that he wasn't just a liquid-centred funny-man, but one of the create comic actors of the modern age. We also dish the dirt on the film-watching tastes of America's most controversial president, Richard M Nixon, who also passed away in April.

And, as ever, we review the latest theatrical releases: Hal Hartley gets Amateur; Andie MacDowell is one of the Bad Girls; Arnie gives birth to Junior, Krzysztof Kieślowski paints his Three Colours: Red; Wes Craven tells us his New Nightmare; Edward Furlong gets a Brainscan; Nanni Moretti writes Dear Diary; Christopher Lambert gets his Scot on for Highlander III: The Sorcerer; Alec Baldwin gets lost in The Shadow; Sly and Sharon blow things (up) in The Specialist; and Emilio Estevez says God bless America in D2: The Mighty Ducks.*

LWLies 56 is available to pre-order now from our online shop. Subscribers will start receiving their copies on Monday 27 October and the magazine will be available in shops from Tuesday 28 October.

Subscribe today and get every issue of LWLies delivered straight to your door, wherever you are.

*Every UK theatrical release for Nov/Dec will be reviewed right here on littlewhitelies.co.uk]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 01:57:18 GMT LWLies LWLies 56: The 1994 Issue Party like its 1994 with LWLies 56: cover reveal and pre-order inside! Margaret Brown On The Great Invisible Margaret Brown On The Great Invisible

Margaret Brown didn’t set out to make one of the definitive socioeconomic studies of the contemporary American south, she just wanted to make a documentary about the effect of the Deepwater Horizon explosion on her Alabama hometown. But, as she began to explore the local effects of the biggest oil spill in the country’s history, she quickly realised that this massive marine tragedy had far-reaching implications for the entire region and beyond. The Great Invisible is the tender and illuminating film that ultimately resulted from her efforts, and while it’s nominally about the the disaster and the lives it directly effected (such as that of Deepwater Horizon’s chief mechanic, Doug Brown), Brown’s sweeping documentary subtly illustrates how interconnected our society is, and how the stubborn myopia that prevents us from seeing that is often directly responsible for our greatest catastrophes.

Having already crafting a pair of finely detailed portraits of turbulent private lives (Be Here To Love: A Film About Townes Van Zandt) and troubled public celebrations (The Order Of Myths), Brown is preparing to release her biggest work yet. The Great Invisible premiered at this year’s SXSW, where it won the prize for Best Documentary (full disclosure: the author of this piece served on the jury), and now it joins Laura Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR in the fall rush of urgent and staggeringly good non-fiction cinema. LWLies sat down with Brown recently in New York City.

LWLies: When you first began working on The Great Invisible, you were knee-deep in another project and then decided to pivot because this movie was taking over your life. Could you ever really commit to a film of this scale if it didn't take over your life?

Brown: No. Films take a long time to make, so it has to be encompassing. But this is a problem for all creative people: how much do you let it take over your life, and is there room for anything else? I get pretty obsessive, so it's hard for people in my life.

Was there a particular moment that galvanised your need to make this movie? 

There were layers of things. The first thing was that my dad sent me a series of pictures of our house on the water that had this orange boom around it so that oil from the spill couldn't get to the beach and get up in the marsh. There's wetlands preserve right by where my parents live, so people were terrified. My dad told me that all these workers were down there by the house, and I was just like, 'Are you kidding me? What the fuck is going on?' My dad was telling me that he didn't know what was going to happen, and that everyone was depressed. I think I was living in Ecuador at the time, and I came back to the States and it felt like something I had to do. But at the beginning I thought it was going to be this smaller film about my community, and not this larger look at the apparatus of petroleum. So there was this second moment where I started to get curious about how we're connected to this factory under the Gulf of Mexico, and I was like, 'Well, can I make the movie a lot bigger?' And that was a big decision, because I knew that the movie would be this totally different thing than I had told my funders it would be. People liked it, people went along with it, but it totally changed the movie.

Was it daunting for you to realise that you were suddenly going up against this absolutely massive industry?

Yeah! This was a very expensive experiment, and I wasn't ever sure that it was going to even work.  But I thought it was worth it to try, because I felt that was the story. It's looking at the South through the lens of the spill, but also looking at the spill through our connection to oil. Everyone always says a movie has to be about just one thing, so I was like, 'Will this even work?' But I always feel good films have layers, so I went for it.

The explosive prologue of the film ends with a title card stating that BP declined to participate in the making of it. How did they rebuff you?

They rebuffed me with complete silence. But not at the beginning. At the beginning, when we were first down there in Alabama, the PR guy for BP in the early days of the spill was someone who had gone to high school with my cousin, John. And he was real funny, he used to work for George Bush and tell us all these crazy stories, and I got kind of obsessed with getting him in the movie, because he was such a weird Republican character. I don't think he ever would have been in the movie, but it looked like he might be able to get us someone. I had people helping me, different reporters who had gotten people from BP to speak to them for articles, but as the years went by and we started making the movie, it was more like... you know.

What would someone from BP even have to say that wasn't just a boilerplate corporate attempt to save face?

I mean, Ken Feinberg talks to us, and he can be seen as someone working for BP. But he also says that he made a mistake, so I think he feels disconnected enough from the event to be able to say something like that.

One of the sublimating motifs in the film is that, when it comes to environmental disasters — both past and ongoing — even the best-intentioned of people can be complicit. There are a lot of scenes in which people are bemoaning the future of the environment while behind the wheel of an SUV. How did you navigate that idea of involving the audience in this problem without ramming it down their throats?

It was hard, because the more I made the movie the more I felt like, 'I like hanging out with these oil guys, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey!' But the problem is us. I remember when I started making the film, people would say to me, 'Go down there and get BP!' And the more time I spent making the movie, I realised, 'Okay, it is BP. They have a terrible safety record and they should be held accountable, 100%. But the real issue isn't that, that's the smokescreen. The real issue is that we depend on their product, we keep asking for it, and we keep valuing convenience over our planet.' That sounds so activisty, but making the movie really made me realise that we're looking in the wrong place. Hopefully, watching the movie, you feel compelled to start to have a conversation about what the right place might be.

It's hard to imagine how you spent four years there and still came out of that experience feeling hopeful.

I definitely feel hopeful. People at Q&As after the movie are always like, 'What can we do?' There are 1,000 things you can do. One of the reasons I partnered with Participant is because they're engaged in social action. Radius has also been thinking about it. The first thing you can do is just to talk about it, I don't think people necessarily have to go to a website to get started. I just saw CITIZENFOUR, and I felt like that movie didn't need a website.

CITIZENFOUR really reminded me of The Great Invisible, in how it confronts our national myopia. Not through preaching, but in revealing the extent to which the modern person can't see the world beyond their nose. 

I definitely think there have been moments in my life when I've been galvanised to be political. Growing up in Alabama I don't think I even knew the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, no one talked about it. I remember I went to go see U2 with my friend Tara, and there were Amnesty International and Greenpeace booths in the lobby, and that was the first moment that I became political. I thought their music was kind of political, and I was kind of into punk rock... but now, you think, 'Oh, that's so stupid, Greenpeace is so mainstream.' But at the time... you just never know what's going to influence someone to see outside their own world, and I hope the movie might. I do like the fact that I have a website where people can go, but I do also trust an audience to figure things out for themselves.

There's an inherent maleness to the oil industry that seems self-evident, but becomes impossible to ignore over the course of your film. During the time you spent down there, did you find any unexpected connections between the maleness of the industry and the behavior with which it operates?

Yeah. I mean yeah, people are always making army references to compare what it's like to be on a rig. You're a marine and they say, 'Go over the hill' and you go. That's what the culture is like on a rig. You listen to your boss and you don't question. And a lot of the people who work on rigs come from a military background. Not everybody, but there's a little bit of that macho world going on. One guy says in the movie that he stayed up for six days, like he was proud of it, not thinking about the terrifying implications of someone who's been awake for that long running one of these massive things. How safe is that? I went through all of the training to go offshore, because a lot of the people in the movie — especially the executive types in the cigar scene — were concerned that I would get it right. So this diver who worked for Shell told me that, even if they wouldn't let me offshore, I had to do all the training and hang out with everybody. So I got all my certifications and I hung out with everybody, and it was all dudes. The only other woman was a nutritionist from BP.]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:02:17 GMT David Ehrlich Margaret Brown On The Great Invisible The documentarian reveals the truth about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On Set With John Carpenter: The Photographs Of Kim Gottlieb-Walker On Set With John Carpenter: The Photographs Of Kim Gottlieb-Walker

It would be almost impossible to overstate how essential Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s new book is for John Carpenter fans. 'On Set with John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker' isn’t just some glossy collection of production stills from some of the most iconic American films of the late '70s and early '80s, it’s a palpably intimate look at the working life of a master filmmaker, as warm and comprehensive a portrait of the village it takes to make a movie as Almost Famous was of the classic rock music scene.

Gottlieb-Walker is a rather legendary photographer (before meeting Carpenter, she had already spent time as Bob Marley’s personal shooter), but it’s not just her eye that makes this book so remarkable, it’s that her images cohere into more of a family album than a random assortment of behind-the-scenes shots. Gottlieb-Walker was the unit still photographer on Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and Halloween II, and her pictures — which are annotated with all kinds of fascinating insight from Carpenter’s collaborators — truly capture the feeling of an amazing time gone by, and not just the famous faces that defined it.

LWLies recently spoke to the photographer via email about being part of John Carpenter’s family, and what it’s like find yourself in Kurt Russell’s eye-line in the middle of a shot.

LWLies: In the acknowledgements, you mention that fans from all around the world have sent you stills, negatives, and press kits. Can you talk about that effort?

Gottlieb-Walker: The entire outpouring of fan support for this project was overwhelming. Larry New from down under actually found and bought a single strip of b&w negative on eBay that I had shot of Nick Castle goofing around with the Dr. Pepper that had been donated to the crew, and sent it to me! Gregg, in San Diego — who doesn't even own a computer — sent me press kits and even a gorgeous model of Christine. A fellow in Japan sent me shots of the shape stabbing. And Paul Morris, also from across the world, sent me dozens of files. You will not find a more supportive and appreciative group than John Carpenter's fans. And Malek Akkad, whose father, Moustapha Akkad executive produced the entire Halloween franchise (and was killed by terrorists many years ago), made all his files available to me.

Does set photography feel like a lost art in the age of Instagram and stolen set footage? 

There are still amazing unit still photographers out there taking gorgeous, wonderful stills — take a look at Jaimie Trueblood’s fabulous work on The Amazing Spider-Man, for example. No smart producer would make a movie without one... but since the advent of digital cameras, the still photographer's job has become much more difficult. Now, everyone on the set has a cell phone camera or pocket camera and set security has fallen apart. The producer and director no longer have a way to protect and create the image he or she is trying to project for their movies and TV shows, and a whole lot of truly awful pictures get uploaded to social media. The actors get so fed up with being photographed, they end up losing patience when the real pictures need to be taken. It has become necessary for production managers to write "no personal cameras allowed" on the daily call sheets — even when they sometimes do it, too.

When I worked for John, he truly understood how important the stills were and made sure I could always get what I needed. Developing and proofing film was expensive, so shooting with film meant waiting for the right moment, not shooting hundreds of shots in the hopes that one would be good. It also meant controlling every aspect — shutter speed, aperture, film speed, point of focus...and then waiting a day or two to get the proofs back to see if you captured the moment you were hoping to preserve. Some of my favourite shots were taken at such low light levels that I had to guess at all the settings and pray, and it wasn't until I got them back that I saw that they worked!

I'm fascinated by the idea of John re-staging scenes so that you could shoot them. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

Since I had no soundproof blimps when we shot Halloween, I often had to wait until the scene was in the can before I could shoot, so my clicks wouldn't ruin the take. So when John said "Now do it again for Kim" I would get to shoot what the movie camera had just gotten. In some cases, like Annie's death in the car, it could only be shot through the car window and was very dark and shadowy. So when it was my turn, I had to make sure the angles were right so you could see the blade, the hint of the shape's face and Nancy's face clearly, which a simple reenactment couldn't provide, so some minor positioning and direction was needed. And when I saw the image of Annie's face after being killed, sliding down the inside of the steamed up window, it was a shot I couldn't resist. It looks so abstract until you realise what you are looking at... and then it sends a little chill up your spine. That really captures the horror mood.

Jamie Lee Curtis

Was there a defining characteristic of John's sets?

John truly loved and respected every member of his cast and crew for their contributions to his films. Even though he knew exactly what he wanted, shot by shot, and knew how to communicate that to everyone, it never felt like there was a pecking order — it always felt like friends working together towards a common goal — and that goal was John's vision of what the final films would be. He never raised his voice, was always good humoured, loved to play silly tricks on people and was incredibly precise and efficient at getting exactly what he needed.

Do you remember anything about young James Cameron? 

I didn't even know his name! He was just the assistant effects guy, who did a damn fine painting of the NY skyline on glass that we could line up with the horizon at the Sepulveda Dam, and shoot through it to turn it into Central Park. He was just another kid on the team.

Were you ever afraid that your presence would be disruptive?

There was only one time anyone was even momentarily uptight. It was during the scene where Kurt lunges at Lee Van Cleef's throat. Kurt told me to get out of his eye-line, which I promptly did. After the shot, John rushed over to me to find out if I was okay, if Kurt had upset me. I reassured him that I was fine and that it was no problem. My presence was completely accepted and I even had John and Dean Cundey "trained" to point at something when nothing else was going on, because that made a better shot than just standing. You can see Adrienne Barbeau breaking up as John points out things on the set to her on the Fog, for my benefit. And one if my favourite shots is when John and Dean, sitting on the camera dolly on Escape, spontaneously pointed for me, but in opposite directions.

Kurt Russell

Did the time you spent shooting Bob Marley in any way inform how you shot these film sets? Was there ever a moment where you caught yourself applying a particular lesson you had learned?

Shooting Marley was photojournalism with occasional posing — though Bob hated to pose (except when we shot the High Times cover with the kilos of herb on the coffee table). On a set, the scenes are lit beautifully to capture the mood, the action can be predicted from the script so you know what key shots are you're trying to capture. Very different situations, but both required the trust of the subjects and free access to shoot.

What was your favourite film to shoot?

Halloween was my first feature to ever be released and was so much fun. Escape was a bit more of a challenge, but also incredibly fun to shoot. The Fog was on location, which in itself was fun, but fog is a temperamental subject to work with. Christine was great because Keith Gordon was such a sweetheart and so eager to learn – and learning from John made him into a wonderful director (he directed the opening episode of Homeland this season, and directs many other excellent TV shows). Halloween II was not fun, although the actors were wonderful. As I said, the director sets the tone.. .and various circumstances made it a more difficult shoot.

Was becoming a mother what prompted you to hang up the camera for a little while, and not join John up in the frozen wilderness for The Thing?

I would gladly have gone off to the frozen north with John to shoot the Thing, but the union stopped me. Back then, there was a rigid seniority system, and having just gotten in on Escape, I had no seniority. But all those guys froze their asses off, so maybe it was just as well. At that point I had started working on TV shows — I shot all the stills for Cheers for nine years! And at the insistence of Rhea Perlman and Gary Goldberg (producer of Family Ties — which I worked on for five years), Paramount built a childcare center on the lot. So I was able to keep working. Very few young mothers have such fortunate circumstances. I was really lucky. And my daughter's first five years were spent as a Paramount kid and she is still close friends with Kit Steinkellner, whose parents were writer/producers on Cheers — my next book will be the untold stories from the writers's room on Cheers paired with my photos from behind the scenes as their "family photographer".

Are you and John still close? 

I rarely see John, but it was lovely to sit down with him and stacks of photos to collect some of his memories. I asked him to write whatever he wanted as a preface to the book — he's generally more comfortable roasting people than praising them, so I had no idea what he would write. I was very touched with the result.

'On Set with John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker' is available now. More of Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s work can be found on her website and her tumblr.]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 10:17:00 GMT David Ehrlich On Set With John Carpenter: The Photographs Of Kim Gottlieb-Walker John Carpenter's long-time set photographer talks to LWLies about her amazing career. Nas: Time Is Illmatic Nas: Time Is Illmatic

In one of the most tragic scenes in Nas: Time Is Illmatic, Jabari Jones looks over a photograph taken for the cover of his brother Nas' seminal 1994 album, 'Illmatic'. As he reels off the fate of each face staring out from the picture: killed, charged with murder, life without parole, etc, we realise that Nas and his family survived a social catastrophe that is still playing out to this day. The documentary reveals Nas’ skill in turning this urban nightmare into high art and argues a strong case that 'Illmatic' is one of the one of the most eloquent critiques of the African-American experience.

The film’s co-directors, music journalist Erik Parker and artist One9, grew up embedded in hip hop culture, in New York and Washington DC respectively, and felt Nas was the first to give their generation a voice. Despite their clear passion for the album, they avoid a common music documentary pitfall: overstating 'Illmatic's influence, although we’re left in no doubt it was a groundbreaking record whose echoes were felt far beyond hip hop.

The documentary digs deep into Nas’ troubled upbringing, surrounded by drug dealing and tit-for-tat violence, which set the stage for 'Illmatic', and boils down the crack-era chronicle into a tale about how failures in American institutions — such as the school and prison systems — have particularly affected young black men.

The film constantly tries to broaden its scope beyond music, by unpicking Nas’ family history and exploring the many themes discussed on the album, such as inadequate housing, incarceration, a dysfunctional school system, lawless police and urban violence.

Through interviews with his father, trumpeter Olu Dara, the film traces Nas’ musical roots back to Natchez, Mississippi in the segregated Deep South. After serving in the Navy, his father settled in New York and Nasir Jones was raised in the Queensbridge public housing project in New York — which had become ghettoised after the white flight to the suburbs. The young rapper came of age as the arrival of crack cocaine lit the touch paper and turned the deprived neighbourhood into a nightmare of drug violence.

The documentary conjures a vivid picture of the forces that shaped Nasir Jones’ development, the themes that found their way into his masterpiece 'Illmatic' and succeeds in doing so with such a wide-ranging approach that allows the story to appeal beyond just the hip hop heads.]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 10:04:58 GMT Alex King Nas: Time Is Illmatic An essential celebration of the New York rapper's groundbreaking 1994 album. Serena Serena

Not all car crashes result in a spectacular and visceral wreckage; some cause untold and lasting damage with next-to-no fireworks at all. Susanne Bier's Serena is one such modest disaster, a movie whose resounding failure might, for some eagle-eyed viewers, get lost between the edits, only then to surface days or weeks later. Generally, identifying "badness" in cinema is a case of relativity: bad things look worse when they're contrasted with good things. The issue with Serena is that it's a case of lots of bad things clustered tightly together, making the act of critical judgement an extremely tortuous one.

Tedium is perhaps the overarching charge you could level at the film, as it takes a whole lot of time to say a whole lot of nothing. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper come across as uneasy from the off, as if they wandered on to the wrong studio lot en route to American Hustle and decided to just keep up a façade instead of getting while the getting was good. Their dressing-up-box costumes fit them, but they don't fit them, if you catch our drift?

The film is about violent male potency, inferring that the desire to bare a child often trumps the need to maintain a romantic relationship. Cooper is the wily George Pemberton, foreman of a Depression-era North Carolina logging camp and who's looking to make a quick mint so he can retire to the earthly nirvana of… Brazil. Spotting her at a strange, equestrian-based society soiree, George is instantly smitten by fence-leaping filly, Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), even after he is portentously advised she is something of a wildcat with a sordid past. His first words to her are a simple introduction. His second are a proposal of marriage. It's that kind of movie.

Yet when they arrive back at logging HQ following a whirlwind montage of steamy sex in luxuriant chiffon-based environs, George must contend with his past, notably a son he has sired with one of the dowdy maids on the camp. It seems unfair to go into the gory details, but the inevitable escalation of this predicament is how the film plays out, taking in a breathtaking number of silly twists, random coincidences, character u-turns, mystic blood pacts and unfortunate medical conditions on the way.

Lawrence's Serena is intended as a brassy tomboy ready to take on work-place machismo and the tobacco-spittin' rubes under her paye, but that initially interesting idea – like so much in this film – peters out as quickly as it's formulated. A lack of “relatable” characters also seems prophetic in this case, as even though George and Serena are presented as romantic idealists whose intense love is dashed by their sorry situation, there reaches a point (about half way) where it's tough to care what happens to them next. That we don't like them should not be at all linked to the quality of the film as a whole, but it's more that Bier orchestrates the dramatic beats in a way that accepts her leads as heroic and tainted, but essentially loveable.

Indeed, the film plays a game of emotional bean-counting, where one good act supposedly negates a bad one. George seems to believe this too, pin-balling around the moral vacuum while desperately trying to self-identify as a Good Man. It's perhaps a gauge of filmmaking greatness to hoodwink an audience into sympathising with the devil, and, on this evidence, Bier very much does not possess that greatness.]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:23:10 GMT David Jenkins Serena Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are plucked from the shelf in this Depression era romance which plays like bad Mills & Boon. This Is Where I Leave You This Is Where I Leave You

Jane Fonda's silicone-injected breasts are just about the only convincing thing about This is Where I Leave You, a distinctly off-colour black comedy from director Shawn Levy (The InternshipDate Night). The film boasts an all-star cast, although judging by the stark absence of chemistry it doesn't appear the actors spent more than five minutes in the same room together prior to filming. Which means that while Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll spend plenty of time enthusiastically bantering and bickering as on-screen siblings, the affectionately dysfunctional family dynamic that's supposed to anchor the film feels completely phoney.

The basic plot centres around a Jewish family reunion, though in terms of cultural specificity, nothing feels right. It comes across as if the director and the ensemble have adopted a very broad, even clichéd version of screen "Jewishness" that's executed for purely comic ends, and no-one involved achieves anything close to authenticity. This would be a minor gripe were it not for the fact that, for the duration of the film, the characters are constantly required to do, you know, Jewish stuff.

In fairness, from the outset this self-absorbed brood show little interest in sitting shiva to mourn their late father. And why should they? They've never been completely sold on the idea of faith anyway, so there's no need to suddenly start concerning themselves with such trivial matters as ancestry and affiliated religious customs. Besides, being housebound for seven whole days isn't half as fun as getting loaded at the local bar and bitching about how crap your life is.

Suitably enough, Fonda's immodest matriarch is the only thing holding Levy's shallow adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's novel together. But even her perky performance isn't even to save the film from mediocrity. Because aside from its superficial flaws, This is Where I Leave You has nothing to say about either family or the grieving process (whatever your beliefs).

Whenever two or more characters are found engaging in a moment of genuine tenderness, Levy eschews pathos in favour of the kind of cheap situational humour you'd typically expect to be accompanied by a laugh track. It's almost as if he's consciously trying to avoid conveying an authentic family for fear that the audience might feel a twinge of empathy towards this miserable, self-loathing rabble. Mining tough subjects like death, infidelity, infertility and mental illness for laughs is all good and well, but this film is about as funny as a funeral.]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:22:31 GMT Adam Woodward This Is Where I Leave You The death of a patriarch kick-starts and awkward family reunion in Shawn Levy's slapdash ensemble comedy. The Babadook The Babadook

As you might expect from something so firmly ensconced in the trappings of horror, The Babadook is riven with grief. Amelia (Essie Davies, in a fiery, transformative performance) is a single parent coming to terms with the death of her husband Oskar following a tragic car accident. She blames herself, having been at Oskar’s side at the time, en route to the local hospital in order to give birth to their son, Samuel.

When the film picks up their story, Samuel is six years old and a bit of a miscreant. An amateur conjuror, he warns his agnostic mother about a sinister and demonic manifestation that haunts his dreams and skulks around in the shadows. Meanwhile, a disturbing pop-up book called Mister Babadook has mysteriously taken residence on the shelf in Samuel’s bedroom, foreshadowing terrifying events that will change both of their lives forever.

The eponymous monster at the heart of director Jennifer Kent’s effective and ultimately profound creature feature is no wee, timorous beastie; it’s a pristine and unnatural presence that lives in the walls, hides in the basement and lingers in the darkest recess of a vast wooden closet. Nothing is safe from this ghastly boggart, not even the dog. At least, that’s what this talented new Australian writer/director would have us believe. Frankly, Kent’s distinctly creepy debut is a little too interested in the duplicity and trickery of magicians to be taken entirely at face value.

Ambiguity fuels the terror, and The Babadook is all the better — and scarier — for it. How admirable for a movie like this to completely sidestep easy answers and tidy resolutions. Effective, too. Kent’s grim fandango takes its cues not from more recent (and banal) Western chillers like The Conjuring or the dry ice pageant Insidious, but from the nostalgic primalism of directors like Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu. The film eschews pedestrian shocks in favour of slow-burn dread before finally cranking everything up for a witty and unexpected finale.]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:20:25 GMT Chris Blohm The Babadook 'Tis the season for great horror movies, so don't miss this creepy corker from Australian director Jennifer Kent. Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

If you happen to be having a particularly crummy day, you'd be best advised to give this hokey adaptation of Judith Viorst's 1972 children's book of the same name a wide berth. It's not that director Miguel Arteta's film is terrible, horrible, no good or, indeed, bad, but chances are it won't get you out of your funk. Because bad days — truly godawful days — don't look like this.

This is the Disney version of a bad day, where things not really going your way amounts to (to give just a few examples) embarrassing yourself in front of your grade school crush, failing your driving test and getting on Dick Van Dyke's bad side. Annoying, sure. But hardly cataclysmic.

Our companions on this odyssey of adversity and woe are the Coopers, a middle-class American family who always seem to have an answer to whatever life hurls at them. Except, that is, for 11-year-old Australia-obsessed Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), who despite inheriting his parents' plucky optimism is convinced he's cursed with wretched luck. That all changes on the eve of Alexander's birthday, when he makes a wish that for just one day his family could know what it feels like when the world is against you. Wholesome fun ensues, but Arteta and screenwriter Rob Lieber fail to adequately flesh out the 32-page source material, and as a result the laughs quickly dry up.

The main problem here is that the characters are all so plain. Steve Carell is by turns benign and bland as the stay-at-home dad (note to Lieber: "fommy" — "father-mommy" — is never going to happen), while Jennifer Garner extends her stay in typecasting purgatory as Mommy Buzzkill. Completing this cardboard cut-out of a modern family are Kerris Dorsey as the diva sister and Dylan Minnette as the cocky older brother, both of whom bring plenty of pep to proceedings despite not being given a lot to do.

This is just about inoffensive and entertaining enough to appeal to its target audience, but it lacks the charm and wit of the John Hughes classics it's so clearly trying to emulate.]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:19:54 GMT Adam Woodward Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day As films about bad days go, this breezy family comedy isn't quite in the same league as Falling Down. Jimi: All Is By My Side Jimi: All Is By My Side

How much can we ever expect a biopic of a cultural icon to be true? Directors tend to cherry-pick from a person's mythology then run off with their own themes. To put it more evocatively, they visit the star-spangled donor clinic, collect a sample and combine it with their own matter to form a creative mutant. In the case of Jimi: All Is By My Side — written and directed by 12 Years A Slave scribe, John Ridley — this is emphatically not a for-the-record Jimi Hendrix expose. The Hendrix Estate refused use of original Jimi Hendrix songs but even more controversially....

The film builds towards an act of violence perpetrated by Jimi on his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, which the real Kathy Etchingham has made an online crusade out of refuting. She says that her ex-boyfriend was never violent towards her. For the purposes of clarity, the woman-beating Jimi, played by Outkast rapper André 3000 (credited here as André Benjamin) shall be referred to as Jimi 3000. Are there reasons to partake of The Jimi 3000 Experience? That depends on your interest in powerful men and their struggles to measure up privately to publicly recognised qualities.

The Jimi 3000 story begins in 1966 with a pre-fame Jimi playing the Cheetah Club in NYC. Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) — girlfriend to Rolling Stone Keith Richards — sees and is transfixed by his set and the pair bond over drugs and their gentle souls. A strange editing style incorporating freezes to allow character introductions and abruptly cutting between scenes is initially baffling. Inclusion of Hendrix quotes are worryingly self-conscious, as if John Ridley is more interested in standing on the shoulder of a giant and marvelling at the view then in telling a story.

Yet in its own breezy, rollicking way, Ridley’s film becomes a compelling character portrait. Jimi 3000 is a man apart from the humdrum buzz of normal concerns. People dash around him, organising him a manager and a record deal in England while he stays groovy. Benjamin channels a kind of delighted inscrutability, able to appreciate help from his champion, Linda, and later his manager, without switching focus from the ideals that inform his music and — so it seems — his character. He drifts around, clean in his convictions, with a big white smile, "you can be cool and broke... better than just being broke." Speech rhythms inject old words with new power. "Cool" just means calm. He seems like a real peach. The film takes the shape of a respectful tribute to an empowering fella.

But then events start to flip, along with Jimi 3000’s composure. He and his girlfriend, Kathy (Hayley Atwell), begin to fall out. Ridley presents a relationship that could be seen as unhealthy or — romantically speaking — as a rock 'n' roll Sid and Nancy style union. Jimi 3000 and Kathy's troubles coincide with his rising star power. "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace," he says in one scene concerned with civil rights. Yet rather than race-related subjugation, Ridley's film shows the most vulnerable creature as the woman in love with him. An uncomfortable scene towards the end of the film has Kathy, face still bruised from a battering, trying to persuade the man who did it to her to let her join him on tour. But her importance pales in comparison with the historic concert he has to play.

When events unfold around the magnetic talents of an immortal star, moral parameters shift. Excuses are made. Ridley has made a film that cuts through the bullshit and shows the human face of that wrong. He many have done so using Jimi 3000, rather than Jimi Hendrix, but he has done so nonetheless.

 

 ]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:17:51 GMT Sophie Monks Kaufman Jimi: All Is By My Side This controversial biopic has more to say about personality and power than its apparent subject, Jimi Hendrix. The Way He Looks The Way He Looks

Is it some kind of progress when a gay coming-of-age romance is just as thuddingly formulaic as any straight movie? Director Daniel Ribiero’s debut feature set in the world of a blind Brazilian teenager is sweet and scattered with charming moments. They nestle within the backdrop of a self-discovery narrative that doesn’t require second sight to predict.

Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) is an adolescent schoolboy living in sunny São Paulo. He is a placid house cat, content to let best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), be his companion at school and by the pool while protective parents take over responsibility as soon as he is home. Bullies tease him in class for the "bing" of his braille typewriter and mock his dependence on Giovana. They hit a nerve. That day after school, once Giovana has walked him home, instead of letting her do the honours as usual, he asks to use the key to enter his building himself. The key, get it? He wants to open his own doors.

Something else happens on the same day that facilitates Leonardo’s independence, although he does not recognise it as anything important at the time. A new boy arrives. Gabriel (Fabio Audi) has dark curls and no hang ups around disability. Ribiero doesn’t waste time in throwing the boys together for a school project. In one of the film’s stand out scenes, the boys skive off to go to the cinema together. We see the screen from Leonardo’s point-of-view. In other words: we don’t. Audio-only, with Gabriel’s comments ("the robot just a destroyed a church!") and their intimate giggles to create a cinematic experience showing the medium as a powerful romantic force.

There is no sexuality signposting in Ribeiro’s script and direction. Whether this is a design to create a mood of innocent bonding or simply down to the superficiality of the characters is a tough call. Maybe it’s the drowsy power of the São Paulo sun but Lobo and Audi seem to sleepwalk through their paces, secure in the knowledge that the story is constantly moving so they don’t have to. Amorim is poignant as the sidelined but ultimately loyal best friend also pining for the new boy. Her cooing tones are spiced with great feeling.

Just like the Belle and Sebastian song, There’s Too Much Love, that forms another narrative pinnacle and proves a signifier for Gabriel. The new boy brings the indie crooners to Leonardo who previously only had ears for Beethoven. It’s the second time this year the delicate sensitivities of Belle and Sebastian have improved an emotional slice-of-life drama — God Help The Girl being Stuart Murdoch’s directorial outing. The Way He Looks is no God Help The Boy however. Rather than perilous emotional spikes, it hinges on a contrived narrative that stifles characters who are too serene to survive its rigour.]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:17:03 GMT Sophie Monks Kaufman The Way He Looks This sweet, slight gay coming-of-age story from Brazil sticks closely to tried-and-tested narrative cues. Zabriskie Point Zabriskie Point

It's often said that the late Italian filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni, made films which explore the concept of alienation, but what does that actually mean? In L'eclisse, he looked at romantic alienation, with a young, fiery couple cultivating a relationship over the course of a feature, only to let it arbitrarily fizzle out in the film's haunting final scenes. In Red Desert, he looked at the alienation between humans and the landscapes they have built for themselves. In L'avventura, he looked at how alienated and detached we can become from our own personal histories and relationships. You get the picture...

With his 1970 masterpiece, Zabriskie Point, one of the great films of the '70s and the only film the director made on US soil, alienation is once more the theme, though there are times where it is delicately obscured from view. It's a film about disenfranchisement which artfully ponders how much the Youth of Today are entirely divorced from the political and corporate elites of America. The twist is, they also happen to be alienated from their own countercultural student activist cells, ready to splinter off at a moment's notice and forment their own personal rebellion in a stolen bi-plane.

In L'eclisse, Antonioni sunk his central theme into the formal make-up of the movie, so as the lovers drifted apart for no real reason, the style of the movie itself altered from heady, stylised realism to stark experimental tableaux. The same happens here, as Zabriskie Point begins as a faux-documentary, mutates into a neo-western, embraces Euro erotica (prefiguring the director's more Vasaline-lensed later work) and then climaxes as a strident, slow-motion video art blitzkrieg on consumer culture. It displays the same brash impulsiveness as the story's hero, Mark (Mark Frechette), as he is presented as a scrofulous, James Dean-like nomad for whom personal liberty is far more important than living by a water-tight code of ethics or following rules imposed upon him by Mayor Dooley et al.

The film says that alienation doesn't necessarily have to be a pejorative term, as it can be interpreted as a process of adaptation, progress, enlightenment, impulsiveness and taking direct action without the say-so of others. Mark scarpers from a campus protest when he witnesses a shooting and decides to cool his jets in Death Valley where he meets a girl, makes love in public, and then helps her to destroy a modernist show-home in the desert and thereby briefly jamming the wheels of progress.

At the time of release it tanked spectacularly and was widely slammed by critics for not making basic logistical sense, perhaps a failing by some to grasp that realism was never part of Antonioni's creative purview. These characters, lost in the landscape, seldom opt for verbal communication when they can say things through actions, movements and grand gestures. The courtship between Mark and Daria (Daria Halprin) is enacted as an erotic fly-by, and consummation occurs swiftly, in public and amid swathes of naked, dust-clagged hippies.

Though it's a work which does exemplify a certain place and a certain moment in history, its specificity and strangeness also imbues it with a sense of the universal. Mark is a simple guy who can't relate to people, groups, political factions or corporate interests, and so decides to go it alone. This idea of not wanting a specially selected elite to be the mouthpiece of a nation remains brutally prescient.]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:16:16 GMT David Jenkins Zabriskie Point The hippy dream goes sour in Michelangelo Antonioni's surreal desert odyssey about a man attempting to take leave from society. Love, Rosie Love, Rosie

You know things are bad when your romantic comedy skimps deliberately on the "rom" and fails spectacularly at the "com". Such is the fate of Love, Rosie, an outright failure from German director Christian Ditter. The movie is based on Cecilia Ahern’s novel Where Rainbows End, a title clearly so nauseating for a savvy, modern audience that it’s been jettisoned entirely in favour of its final, less colourful moniker.

Prospective punters should probably find something more productive to do with their time, like eating their own shame with a spork, for instance, rather than turn out for this anti-feminist, sub-Bridget Jones drivel. Never before has one script screamed so loudly for a Carrie Fisher rewrite; anything at all to inject a little wit, decency or soul. Weirdly, for a film so obsessed with the choices we make in life, it really only presents one possible option: basically, avoid like the plague.

At the centre of it all is Rosie (Lily Collins), who fails to kiss her best friend Alex (Sam Claflin) at a student party, thus sending her life spiralling into a vortex of unwanted pregnancy, absent fathers, terrible jobs, bereavement and general awfulness.

Misery ensues, as Rosie spends most of the film’s rather sluggish running time contemplating the future that could have been had she simply taken the plunge and devoted herself entirely to Alex. It’s really quite oppressive, in spite of the happy-go-lucky perkiness promised by the poster and trailer.

Anyway, while all that’s going on, the implausibly handsome Alex hauls ass to the USA, gets himself an amazing job, a glamorous wife and (later on) a super famous girlfriend. The absence of Rosie doesn’t materially affect his insanely successful life in any way, shape or form, but he pines for her nonetheless, like a selfish giant.

The film subjects Rosie to a number of horrors, kicking off with a dreadfully tasteless sequence in which a tentative attempt at casual sex results in Rosie’s hapless partner (not Alex, another guy) losing his condom inside her actual vagina. From this point forward, Rosie’s life is defined entirely by her relationships with men, whether it be her failure to take action and seize the fella of her dreams, or following in her father’s footsteps by getting into the hotel trade.

In fact, when the film finally deigns to give Rosie the merest whiff of independent success by letting her open her own business during the film’s convenient finale, it still finds one last opportunity for indignity: her very first customer is a callback character from the aforementioned condom incident at the beginning of the movie — a dude who overhears the gory details of Rosie’s prophylactic ingestion during an awkward moment shared in a lift. And with this, the loop is complete: Rosie’s shame comes full circle, her triumph diluted. That’s the real problem with the title. 'Love Rosie'? Nonsense. The film barely even likes her.]]> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 05:07:47 GMT Chris Blohm Love, Rosie It's hard to be a woman in Christian Ditter's oppressive anti-feminist 'rom-com'. 20 Things We Learned From The 2014 BFI London Film Festival 20 Things We Learned From The 2014 BFI London Film Festival

1. Everyone hearts Whiplash

It’s a drummer movie shot through with the adrenaline-fuelled intensity of a sports movie. It documents a creative relationship between an aggressive teacher (JK Simmons) and an ambitious pupil (Miles Teller) but ends up posing questions about abuse and monomania. The sheer nastiness of what initially seems like a conventional movie about creative industry has divided the LWLies office. Yet something in its intensity and rigour has captured the ardour of LFF crowds. The buzz that started in Sundance is still going strong.

2. Carol Morley dishes out detentions

Props to the director of The Falling, a film set in a girls school, for her thematically fitting style of berating late-comers to screenings. LWLies advises all future attendees of Morley’s mesmerising mass hysteria movie to be punctual. The alternative is having the woman herself telling you twice in a row that you have detention. Repeat after us: I must not be late for Morley, I must not be late for Morley, I must not, etc...

3. World War Two is so hot right now

The opening and closing films at the 2014 festival both chronicled the stirling efforts of lesser-known personnel during World War Two. Benedict Cumberbatch worked the crowd like a goddamn pro, offering a rousing paean to Enigma Code-foiler Alan Turing prior to the gala screening of The Imitation Game. Meanwhile, at the tail-end of the festival, Brad Pitt confirmed charming bastard status by introducing himself to the audience as simply "Brad" at the Closing Night Gala of David Ayer’s tank warfare epic, Fury.

4. Viggo Mortensen needs special tea for interviews

Okay, so "needs" might be too strong a word, but it seems that each time we speak to Mr Mortensen, he always has a very specific type of herbal tea to get him through the ordeal of junket interviews. He also, on this occasion, felt footwear was an impediment, which was novel. We discovered that his part in Lisandro Alonso’s extraordinary Jauja (released in the UK in 2015) is far more complex than what we see on the screen, as he chose to utterly immerse himself in the world of 19th century Danish colonists in Argentina, insisting that all costume and dialogue were period precise.

5. More film critics are defecting to the other side

Irrefutable evidence that being a film critic does not preclude one from taking the leap to becoming a filmmaker arrived in the form of two excellent medium-length works. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s Ellie Lumme sees the Chicago-based journalist and cinephile beautifully transposing his thoughtful, energetic critical prose onto the screen in a film about the human/romantic equivalent of an earworm. Elsewhere, Edward Lawrenson and Pia Borg offered a spectral indexing of a cachet of "outsider" art produced at the now-defunct Netherne psychiatric hospital in their superb film, Abandoned Goods, which mixes documentary, Chris Marker-esque essay-film and even a touch of gothic horror.

6. The western is not dead (But it may be sleeping)

The Salvation, Jauja, The Keeping Room, Far From Men, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night… Hold on to your 10-gallon hats folks, because it look like 2015 could herald the return of the western. Not really the traditional gun-slinging action romps of yore, but a more meta-textual, existential and ironic take on the genre.

7. Josephine Decker — remember the name

One of the most exciting and impressive young talents of 2014, and someone who has really put in the hard yards on the festival circuit, is actor/director Josephine Decker, who presented the eerie one-two punch of 2013’s Butter on the Latch and 2014’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely. FYI: These films are as great as their titles.

8. It really is hard to be a god

It’s also hard to watch Hard to Be a God, as walk-outs at a Sunday afternoon Ciné Lumière screening started around the 10-minute mark (of a gruelling 177-minute total runtime). Like being cattle-prodded through a crumbling army assault course on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, this singular, sense-pummelling swansong by Aleksei German defies all conventional explanation, but is the very definition of a satisfyingly difficult work.

9. We miss the Treasures of the Archives strand

One of the highlights of the festival programme of yore was the ability to scan through a side-pot of archive classics and restoration, but with the new themed-strand schema, these titles occasionally get lost in the background. Bringing back the Treasures strand would give them the pedestal they deserve as well as offering a hearty salute to all the great work being actioned by archivists, restorers and film preservationists worldwide.

10. Jean Luc-Godard can still pack 'em in.

Whoever had the idea of presenting Goodbye to Language 3D at the BFI IMAX, take the rest of the day off. You earned it.

11. Winners and losers

We were a bit sad not to be able to see Roy Andersson’s Venice-winning black comedy, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, at this year’s festival, but realise that it won its plaudits long after the programme was locked. We got a bunch of the winners from the on-the-up Locarno Film Festival, in the form of Lav Diaz’s From What is Before and Pedro Costa’s Horse Money. And we did get this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Winter Sleep, though its director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, didn’t manage to make it over from Turkey.

12. Not even the BFI is safe from hecklers

When Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood started 15 minutes late at an evening screening, one audience member let her peeved feelings sing out, heckling festival artistic director Clare Stewart with indignation over lateness. This was not a solitary event with audiences also griping over a slightly late-running screening of Serena. In the first instance, Stewart calmly directed focus back to the reason why everyone was there: the films. Indeed, if the audience member wished to blame anyone, it would have to be Xavier Dolan, whose Q&A had over-ran. Our bet is that her miffed feelings would melt away when confronted with the passion of a director who had flown across the world to answer questions of those interested in his work. Just as audiences for Serena were silenced by the arrival of Jennifer Lawrence.

13.The Rohrwacher sisters are here to stay

Cinematic siblings Alice and Alba Rohrwacher were in town on promotional detail for Alice’s The Wonders (in which Alba stars) and Hungry Hearts (in which Alba stars opposite Adam Driver). We’re fans. That’s all.

14. Pedro Costa is a master

LWLies hosted an on-stage Q&A with the Portuguese maestro following a screening of his long-gestating new feature, Horse Money, which melds dreams, fantasies, history and memory to tell the story of a Cape Verdean immigrant wandering the basement of a hospital which has been lit like a James Whale haunted house movie. One of the big highlights of the festival.

16. The LFF is a place where award-winners are born, apparently.

A cadre of Academy brass were posted to London this year to spot awards successes in their nascent state, and this was deemed a Very Important Thing by festival staff. This is the sort of thing that should be the pleasant by-product of a festival, not something that’s becomes an active rallying point.

17 David Robert Mitchell is making films in the wrong order

Surely destined to be one of the big genre success of 2014, It Follows will also likely launch its director, David Robert Mitchell, into the stratosphere and beyond. Speaking to Mitchell at the festival, we discovered that he’s a big forward planner, as he doesn’t merely have a stack full of scripts ready to go, but knows what order each has to be made in to attain maximum impact and surprise. But, with It Follows, he ended up making what was supposed to be his third film second, so he's got some major re-calculating to do.

18. Sign language is wonderfully cinematic

Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe unfolds at a boarding school for the deaf. No one speaks a word and no subtitles translate the furious signing that teenage residents use to communicate. Through violent events, graphic sex, heated interactions and elegant choreography, a new language is born. It is used to depict a brutal world with a finale that makes horrific use of everyday bedroom objects. The originality of the storytelling is such that even these bloody events make less of an impression than the formal brilliance.

19. Xavier Dolan wrote scripts about superheroes when he was a schoolboy

Just before Mommy played to impressed audiences, Dolan added fire to his precocious image by telling LWLies that he started writing scripts about superheroes around the age of 12. They are all saved to floppy disc. “I don’t know if there would be anything suitable for consideration but it could be funny,” said Dolan on the question of revisiting this early material. He was a dreamboat of an interviewee displaying the same challenging directness and emotional openness that chracterises his creative work. You can read our interview in full when Mommy is released in the UK in 2015. 

20. Desiree Akhavan is a one-woman new wave

Desiree Akhavan has been saddled with the marketing moniker of an "Iranian-American bisexual Lena Dunham", which is helpful shorthand for, 'Look! A funny woman!' but does little to convey the charm of her open-minded approach to sexuality, relationships and humour. Everyone is fair game in debut feature, Appropriate Behaviour, from the point of view of fucking but also from the point of view of joking. Sharp verbal shooting is all grounded by a serious melancholia for lost relationships and personal shortcomings. Wisdom, wit and worldliness combine for a heady cinematic tonic. Right, that's all we got for this year. Roll on 2015...

 ]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 03:57:50 GMT David Jenkins, Sophie Monks Kaufman 20 Things We Learned From The 2014 BFI London Film Festival The LFF is over for another year. But what did we all learn? LWLies reflects on a whirlwind 12 days of cinematic mayhem and revelry. CITIZENFOUR CITIZENFOUR

You could imagine Laura Poitras' extraordinary CITIZENFOUR making a great and very claustrophobic one-act play. Despite its central, pot-boiler drama taking place almost entirely in a cramped Hong Kong hotel suite, you're constantly made to feel the presence of insidious and unseen outside forces who are, to paraphrase the film's "hero", Edward Snowden, constantly on the verge of kicking down the door.

At one point, while Snowden is priming Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's laptop for clandestine comms, an unannounced fire alarm test occurs in the hallway — a moment of high tension that is immediately read as the game being rumbled before it has started. And in the spirit of its subject, CITIZENFOUR (Snowden's codename) feels every bit a film that's been made via cloak and dagger methods and then smuggled behind enemy lines to our cinema screens.

It's a simple filmed chronicle of how Poitras and the politically-minded Greenwald came into contact with a covert whistleblower who offered them (via a series of encrypted emails) the chance to land the scoop of the century. Those who have followed the drip-feed of revelations to come from Snowden's need-to-know payload will be aware of the basic structure of the story and will possibly even have decided whose side they're on. Yet in focusing entirely on the process of whistleblowing – the banality of the act – Poitras has produced a work that is at once politically empowering and an encapsulation history unfolding on camera.

The central revelation here is that we're given the first detailed character profile of Snowden as a person, at one time a punch-clock corporate stooge who was seconded by the NSA and handed the highest security clearance possible to be able to develop sophisticated new spy software, and now a bespectacled emblem of liberty who appears to be very comfortable with sacrificing his own life and privacy so the public might be able to retain some paltry semblance of theirs. It's foremost an extremely sad story, less due to what governments have been furtively sanctioning in the name of national security, and more that their machinations have reached a danger point where someone felt the need to step up onto a fiery podium and say enough is enough.

This is a film which upturns Le Carré-style classical conceptions of fuddy-duddy political activism and affirms that the new face of the enlightened left is under 30, prodigiously clever, hyper articulate and is in possession of an acute understanding of The Enemy and their tactics. Yet, with much modern technology produced with bugs and microphones ready-implemented into the design (part of an unfathomable and far-reaching corporate conspiracy, we're told), shady meetings in underground carparks to trade briefcases remains the safest form of communication. In essence, CITZENFOUR also acts as a guide for existing in a world where human beings are guilty until proven innocent and are essentially walking sources of metadata that can be handed, part and parcel, to corporate interests. The brilliant coda presents the joys of pre-digital communication while also offering a mocking satirical dialogue with anyone who might happen to be listening in.

By design, the film doesn't quite have the stamina for a long race, and after Snowden has been spirited away from Hong Kong and forced to spend 40 nights in the diplomatic purgatory of the arrivals lounge of Moscow Airport, we lose that sense of on-the-lam immediacy. There are still twists and turns, but personal safety means that they can't be depicted on camera, and so there are some more general discussions about the ramifications of what the government are doing.

Despite all that, perhaps the film's greatest coup is in framing Barack Obama as a leader with even greater moral turpitude than George Bush Jr, a staggering and depressing feat in itself. Plus, the film's very existence stands as testament to the fact that while we maybe cowering under the corporate jackboot, we still have the power of expression, and that's all we need to get the resistance moving. They may have the semantic doublespeak down pat, but we have the power, knowledge and tenacity to beat them at their own game.

CITIZENFOUR premieres at the BFI London Film Festival 17 October to 50+ UK cinemas with live satellite Q&A with director Laura Poitras. For more info visit citizenfourfilm.com]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:45:50 GMT David Jenkins CITIZENFOUR Laura Poitras' real-life spy thriller shows how and why Edward Snowden stepped up to blow the whistle on government spying. Fury Fury

The stench of death and diesel hangs thick in the air in David Ayer's Fury, a film that with grim relish provides a stark reminder (if ever one was needed) of the indelible horrors of war. It may not be a Dantean warning that's emblazoned along the barrel of the eponymous war machine, but from the outset it's clear in which direction we're headed.

April, 1945. In desperation Hitler has ordered every man, woman and child to defend the remaining Nazi-occupied strongholds at whatever cost. Leading the Allied charge is a US tank unit commanded by Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt), who by some small miracle, has so far managed to keep his promise and keep his crew alive. They began the War together killing Germans in Africa, then France, Belgium, now they find themselves in unfamiliar territory; killing Germans in Germany. Victory is within sight, but as Collier prophetically cautions, the killing's not done yet.

After the crew's assistant driver is killed in action, Collier is assigned an inexperienced young recruit named Norman Ellison (the excellent Logan Lerman), who's trained to change ribbons, not magazines. He's apologetic, unprepared and completely out of his depth. But this is no time for empathy and a kind word of encouragement. Not when there are so many lives still at risk. So Collier gives Norman a few harsh lessons in the realities of war, and the film gradually shifts focus to that well-worn war movie motif — the boy soldier forced to become a man on the battlefield.

Lucky for Norm, he's learning from the best. Years spent sealed inside this cold, steel casket may have taken its toll on the rest of the crew — Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal convincingly exhibiting early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder — but Pitt's no-nonsense Sarge remains an authoritative, stoic presence. Pitt wears his years well here, his soulful, battle-scarred face giving added gravitas to each chest-swelling monologue about honour and brotherhood. Essentially he's playing a straighter, less cartoonish version of his character in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, the witless chutzpah replaced by a paternal altruism that positions him as a more conventional goodie.

In examining camaraderie and spirit from this claustrophobic, pressure-cooker perspective, Ayer's film bears some resemblance to Samuel Maoz's Lebanon from 2009. The major difference being where that film eschewed action in favour of human drama, Fury boasts it in spades. Yet while we're used to watching scenes of grisly, gut-wrenching conflict unfold on the beaches and in the trenches, Ayer chooses to stage the bulk of the action inside and immediately around the tank. These notoriously cumbersome vehicles hardly lend themselves to high-tension spectacle, so it is to the director's credit that he manages to elicit such a visceral response to the film's action centrepieces. A scene in which our heroes' inferior M4 Sherman goes up against a mighty German Tiger in a mud-caked field is a triumph of cinematic technique.

Thrilling action aside, however, does Ayer actually bring anything new to the table here? Not really. Granted this is a well-mined subject, but when a film depicts an exhaustively studied historic event with ear-punching authenticity without making any attempt to add to or challenge the dialogue surrounding it, its agenda (and in this case its jingoistic subtext) becomes problematic. Most disconcerting of all is the passive manner in which the film complies with the Hollywood-approved custom of caricaturing all German soldiers as sneering, shadow-lurking gargoyles. "If you thought the Nazis were bad...!" As with his previous films, Sabotage and End of Watch, then, Fury proves Ayer to be an uncompromising, unprogressive filmmaker.]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:45:48 GMT Adam Woodward Fury Brad Pitt surveys the horrors of war from the helm of a busted-up tank in David Ayer's soulful if unoriginal tale of conflict and brotherhood. The Judge The Judge

A guide to reconciling your saints, The Judge is a film that manages to transpose cloying, cliché-ridden family drama into cloying, cliché-ridden courtroom drama in the most sanctimonious manner imaginable. Robert Downey Jr dials up the snark and leaves his charm in his other suit as shitbag big city lawyer Hank Palmer, who returns to his (fictional) hometown of Carlinville, Indiana following the death of his mother, only to begrudgingly extend his stay in order to rebuild burned bridges.

Robert Duvall is the estranged father, Vincent D'Onofrio the surly older brother, Jeremy Strong the simple-minded kid sibling and Vera Farmiga the flirtatious old flame — characters with interesting enough stories to tell but all resigned to playing long-suffering supporting roles in The Hank Palmer Show. (The Lawyer would be a more accurate title.) Duvall is particularly under-utilised as the veteran judge whose esteemed reputation within the local community is not-so subtly juxtaposed with his paternal shortcomings. For a man who has carried out his judicial duties with the utmost diligence and integrity during a career that has spanned more than 30 years, his inability to resolve personal issues (albeit highly sensitive ones) without emotionally alienating himself from the people closest to him makes him a tragic, authentically human figure. In this sense, Duvall is the film's saving grace.

The message here is that whatever path a person chooses, whoever they become, no one should have to face life (or death) alone. Even the stubborn and strong-willed among us need support in times of loss and suffering. A kind word and a shoulder to cry on. While that may ring true, however, it's a sentiment that is significantly dampened by director David Dobkin's glaring lack of restraint. He's got all the right ingredients at his disposal, but it's as if everything has been added in double-measures without any regard for what's actually required to do justice to the film's more challenging themes.

Seeing as asinine genre comedy (body-swap smirk-fest The Change-Up, seasonal fodder Fred Claus) is Dobkin's meat-and-bread, The Judge should at the very least be considered a step in the right direction. But the film's central father-son dynamic is too often neglected in favour of implausible, uninteresting subplots, while there's an over-reliance on Downey Jr and Duvall hitting emotional beats that generally speaking feel more forced than earned. And, at close to two-and-a-half-hours in length, it really drags in places. By the time Billy Bob Thornton pops up as a silver-haired prosecutor with a chip on his shoulder, there's every chance you'll already have moved for an adjournment.]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:44:28 GMT Adam Woodward The Judge Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall can't save this dysfunctional legal drama from sloppy scripting. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Hit it...

In a half shell, they're the heroes four. In this day and age who could ask for more? The crime wave is high with muggings mysterious. Our police and detectives are furious.

It is true. New York City is under threat from the Foot Clan, a name which, in the history of martial arts-based street crews, is down there with the worst. In the TV cartoon and computer game iterations of TMNT, members of the Foot Clan were robotic, a state which emphasised their mission as kill-crazy automatons, and also made them a genuine threat to humankind. They produced satisfying smashing sounds when one of the turtles tore them to ribbons.

The Wikipedia post on the Foot Clan adds: "The robot concept allowed the Turtles to destroy the Foot soldiers without any moral thoughts, allowing Leonardo and Raphael to use their weapons more offensively." With this "soft" re-imagining by Jonathan Liebesman (and producer Michael Bay), we're back to human beings, but strictly no bloodletting even though one of the main characters wields a Katana sword.

'Cause they can't find the source. Of this lethally evil force. This is serious, so give me a quarter. I was a witness, get me a reporter.

It's sad to see Megan Fox back with nasty Mr Bay after she publicly defected from the Transformers franchise because her only function in those movies was as misc eye candy. Here, she gets an even tougher break, playing wide-eyed pug reporter April O'Neil who stands in as a piece of human cargo dragged behind the amphibian juggernaut that is the wise-cracking Turtles. In this film, her editor is Whoopi Goldberg, who has no reason to be there apart from the fact that she is Whoopi Goldberg and reviewers need things to write about.

Call April O'Neil in on this case And you'd better hurry up, there's no time to waste We need help, like quick, on the double Have pity on the city, man, it's in trouble

The city is in trouble, but the evil master plan concocted by Master Shredder and corporate nabob Eric Sacks (ol' reliable William Fichner), is one of the worst ever. They aim to poison all of New York City and then come dashing to the rescue with a cure, in turn causing the American government to hand over all national health and defence contracts in slavish gratitude. Yet, they release the poison from the top of their skyscraper. With the Sacks name on it. And there's a big red cloud right there. Coming out of the skyscraper. Naff plan, guys.

We need heroes like the Lone Ranger When Tonto came pronto, when there was danger They didn't say they'd be there in half an hour 'Cause they displayed 'Turtle Power'

Due to their alien "otherness", one of the themes of the Turtles has been that they have to remain annexed from polite society, in this case, in a sewer that's been production designed using discarded ghetto blasters. Indeed, looking at the origin story of this film (which nixes the idea that they were wild turtles who wandered into a puddle of nuclear ooze in a sewer), it could have been ripe for an allegory on the ethical dilemmas of animal vivisection. But no. We have a bunch of running about and some bad puns.

T U R T L E power T U R T L E power T U R T L E power Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Now our Miss Reporter was hot on the trail Determined to put these crooks in jail She spied the bad guys and saw what happened But before she knew it, she fell in a trap and caught

Yeah, she was all alone With no friends, and no phone Now this was beyond her worst dreams 'Cause she was cornered by some wayward teens

It's quite uncanny how the plot to this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie can be spoiled almost entirely by just reading the lyrics to Parters in Kryme's 1990 hit, TURTLE Power. We promise we'll stop before we hit the spoilers.

Headed by Shredder they were anything but good Misguided, unloved, they called them The Foot They could terrorise and be angry youths And they mugged the people, who needed proof?

How do you solve a problem like Shredder? With his blade claws, husky voice and metallic samurai mask, he doesn't offer much grist to the CG mill. He's somewhat plebeian as an antagonist. In this new movie, we get a Shredder who has been kitted out with high-tech military hardware. It looks like a Freddy Kruger has laid with Optimus Prime.

Then from out of the dark came an awesome sound Shouted 'Cowabunga', as they hit the ground From the field of weeds the heroes rescued the flower 'Cause they possessed 'Turtle Power'

Make no mistake — this Turtles film doesn't hide the fact that it's supposed to feel like a spin-off from a Transformers movie. The aesthetics and the CG are almost identical, as is the script which requires the fleshpod characters to spend 20 minutes setting things up so as some cartoon figures can spend the remaining hour engaged in fisticuffs at the top of a skyscraper. But the thing that really allies these two franchises is the sound. There's a low, droning bass thump that is dropped at five-minute intervals in the Transformers film, and it's rolled out here too, possibly as way to evoke some kind of sonic brand awareness in its young audience.

T U R T L E power T U R T L E power T U R T L E power Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Do you stand for what you believe in? And find the strength to do what's right? That's 'Turtle Power'

If it wasn't clear already, this is not a good movie. Turtles nostalgists will be disappointed by its lazy subversions of TMNT lore, older audiences will be annoyed by the comedy-goofball characterisations of the turtles themselves, and young audiences will take in the cheap, loud spectacle, and little more. It's now a cliché to do a "dark" screen version of your popular comic book property, and considering the blueprints are there for the taking in Eastman and Laird's moody original comic strip, it seems a shame that the filmmakers here opted for such a vanilla telling of this beloved tale.

T U R T L E power T U R T L E power T U R T L E power Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

T U R T L E power T U R T L E power T U R T L E power Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

T U R T L E power T U R T L E power T U R T L E power Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

[Repete to fade]]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:18:45 GMT David Jenkins Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles It ain't easy being green, especially as the charmless CG stars of this lowest-common-denominator action-comedy. Palo Alto Palo Alto

The aching listlessness and the naiveté of the teen experience are united to exasperating effect in this stylish mood piece from newcomer director Gia Coppola which she has adapted from a novel written by James Franco. But be prepared to put aside your preconceptions of the unrelenting Franco content machine as Coppola does her level best with his distinctly average source material.

Influenced by her aunt Sofia, Gia casts a woozy spell via an assured aesthetic which superbly highlights the dreams and hopes of each of the kids we meet. A giant poster of The Virgin Suicides sits neatly on the wall of one of the bedrooms, were the family connection not clear enough. Though set in the present day, the rites of passage ring true on various multi-generational levels. There’s no specific revolution and nothing to fight against, but there’s still rebellion and angst a-plenty.

Coppola seems more interested in conveying the teen experience on a universal level and infusing those feelings with an everyday poetry. Yet, the characters are simplistically drawn and exist in a vague in-between world. April (Emma Roberts) is struggling to choose between an older guy, her football coach (played by James Franco who is extraordinarily creepy) and a boy her own age, Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val who also makes a brief appearance), who she smokes with at parties but is too shy to find out if he reciprocates her feelings.

Teddy is on a learning curve himself, and after getting a DUI he begins community service at a library and, later, at an elderly care home where he discovers compassion and enhances his drawing skills. However, he still insists on hanging out with Fred (Nat Wolff, turning in an extremely confident performance) who seems intent on self-destruction. Fred starts a liaison with Emily (Zoe Levin) who is shackled with the moniker of school slut.

It is disheartening that Coppola has chosen to assign her female characters with the reductive virgin/whore traits to symbolise personal growth, but this is rather a fault of the source material and perhaps indicative of the fact that girls are still sadly fighting this battle at high school. Coppola does, however, allow her female characters to have some fun, particularly in her involving and involved party sequences.

Meanwhile, the boys revel and learn through their doped up chats in cars and developing artistic expression, even though their paths are often at odds. The darkness and stylisation of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders creeps in through Fred with his wild yet deeply sincere ramblings reminiscent of Ponyboy.

Coppola’s depiction of the adult world is especially effective, with their loud, overbearing voices and opinions sneakily taking the viewer out of the haze of the contemplative teen state of mind. More than anything, Coppola impressively evokes the ennui and uncertainty of teen life and her exquisite world-building skills coupled with the atmospheric music provided by Dev Hynes and Rooney ensure this dreamy piece remains captivating throughout.]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:18:06 GMT Katherine McLaughlin Palo Alto Gia Coppola's debut about the teen experience has a lyricism that transcends James Franco's mediocre source. Björk: Biophilia Live Björk: Biophilia Live

Despite the incredible talent involved, this is one fantastically dull concert movie. Björk's half-cocked theatrical extravaganza is inspired by her recent Biophilia album which focuses broadly on biology, life sciences and the awe-striking magnificence of the cosmos. It's not that she and her creative team haven't concocted ways of giving ticket holders some bang for the buck, more that directors Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton haven't amply devised a way to capture that on film.

As with most album-based concert films, you're instantly cutting away all but the superfan contingent. The set-list manages to include one or two (hardly golden) oldies, but the music here sounds like Björk on furry-hatted autopilot, running through her snarling, loud-quiet-loud vocal gymnastics and kooky lyric-work with little wide-eyed abandon. Variation is not really a factor here, either in the music of the stage theatrics, and this 90-minute film is made to feel very long indeed.

As Björk flits around the stage, weaving in and out of the all-female voice choir who accompany her on every track, we get giant back projections of planets spinning, volcanos spurting lava and blood cells teeming through arteries. One major problem with the film is that all the multimedia additions are very naff, looking like Windows 95 screen-savers that have been left on in the background. The animations, too, are all glitchy and low-fi, adding little to the show and not really presenting anything more than a banally literal link to the subjects of the songs.

For a finale, Björk skips off the stage and into the crowd, and it's the best part of the film, one because we're finally getting something different than a static medium shot of the stage, and two, because we know that the end to all this tedium is in sight.]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:16:12 GMT David Jenkins Björk: Biophilia Live The Icelandic princess of alt-pop drops an absolute clanger with this "arty" high-concept stage show. My Name Is Hmmm... My Name Is Hmmm...

Never let it be said that French fashion designer and now director agnès b (who inexplicably opted out of her incredible birth name, Agnès Andrée Marguerite Troublé) has not been a force for good in the movie world. A longtime patron of the cinematic arts, she’s lent her money with the same care with which she’s designed her clothing lines, executive producing Harmony Korine’s films and providing completion funds for the likes of Claire Denis and Gaspar Noé.

Unfortunately, Ms b’s first narrative outing as a director suggests that she’s far more effective behind the scenes than she is behind the camera. The cloyingly titled My Name is Hmmm… begins as a flat slab of Gallic miserablism before abruptly switching gears to become a darkly whimsical coming-of-age story that could pass for the unformed student work of a young Catherine Breillat.

Introduced as the domestic portrait of a neglected wife (the flawless Sylvie Testud) and her chronically unemployed husband (Jacques Bonnaffé), the story meanders in a new direction when the couple’s oldest daughter (Lou-Lélia Demarliac) vanishes during a school trip. A precocious tween who can no longer endure her father’s sexual abuse, the girl — so desperate to relinquish her old identity that she refuses to give her name — absconds with a passing Scottish truck driver (Douglas Gordon) who’s trying to escape a tragic past of his own.

In theory, the film’s erratic and unformed style should be an ideal expression of its heroine’s journey away from herself, the young girl coming of age without a compass. My Name is Hmmm… has a teenaged compulsion to adopt and abandon styles whenever it seems convenient, but the result is a tale that evokes less genuine emotion with 10 different aesthetics than most films are able to inspire with one.]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:15:06 GMT David Ehrlich My Name Is Hmmm... A road movie with no direction from French fashionista-turned-filmmaker agnès b.