BFI Flare 2020...Our Virtual Coverage...
by David Anderson Cutler
Sadly [and quite rightly], Flare 2020 has been cancelled...but, the good folks at the BFI have sent us a few of the films that would have been screened...so, we're going to have a 'virtual coverage' of the festival...as a token of our respect for all their hard work [it ain't easy organising a festival of this size]...and, of course, much gratitude to all the filmmakers who have allowed their films to be viewed via the digital platform. We thank you all.
Ask Any Buddy
by Evan Purchell
Review coming soon...
Pain & Glory
by Pedro Almodóvar
It took a while...but, the wait is finally over...Pedro Almodóvar is back...with - without a shadow of doubt - inarguably, his best [and most mature] film [to date].
It happens to everyone, when we reach a certain age...those moments of reflection and recollection that continually [and gently] lap into your consciousness. Memories, part forgotten, always remembered...of lost lovers, faded friends, youthful mistakes and temporary triumphs. Oooh...the pain...that has acquiesced into a tolerable regret. Aaah...the glory of those yester-happy-days, feasts for thought...with side dishes of smiles and tears. Life...what a wonderful, arduous journey it is.
Señor Almodóvar captures it all and covers it all...with cinematic glory. This is a beauty to watch. A gem to listen to...and, a bitter-sweet thrill to experience. When autobiography is mixed with tragic fiction...those lines [of truth] become [all] fuzzy with feeling. Flashbacks to the idyll of childhood pitted against the reality of the now...Penélope Cruz [simply] dazzles, Antonio Banderas [ruefully] embraces...the memories, the decline, the here-and-now...with drug-addled dignity, suffering and suffrage. This is a performance not to be missed, this is an actor's finest moment.
Both human and inhumane...compare and contrast, the ravages that make life so hard-line and fine...this is what Señor Almodóvar has achieved.
The highest [really, the pinnacle] of praise.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
by Céline Sciamma
As delicious as it gets! This is direction!
Céline Sciamma's back catalogue is mightily impressive, especially her writing. But, with this portrait, this [daring] auteur leaps out of her comfort zone and jumps into the world of period drama and romance...
And, breathtakingly, reveals her alarming [an enviable] artistry...too few films have, too many directors forget [or, are incapable of]...the artistry. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is paint-by-emotion...
This is a film to watch and feel. There are no deafening abstractions, there are no unnecessary words...all that there is...is craft, precision and delicacy. It just seems so effortless...and, as a result, becomes as immersive as any film can be.
What's more startling...this is a political film...without the throat-ramming politics! This is feminism...without the adjunct aggression. But...there is anger...and, as resigned as it is...it's there, knee-deep in the futility of the situation. This about familial expectations and reluctant acceptance...this is about love...unmentionable, unexpected, intolerable, intricate love. Nothing last forever...but, as long as it lasted for a time...no-one can take that away. This bittersweet, cinematic memory.
A tear-inducing beauty.
You Don't Nomi
by Jeffrey McHale
Definitely...a film for a small niche market...to be part of the intended audience:
1. You have to have seen Showgirls.
2. You have to have either loved, liked [or - at least - appreciated] what Paul Verhoeven was trying to say!
3. You have to be able to - willingly - digest absolute fantasy...courtesy of Adam Nayman and his book: It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls - without which, this film would probably never have been made.
The big question is: Does Jeffrey McHale's [almost] academic reappraisal - of one of the worst films ever made - manage to change hearts and minds? No, it's a simple as that!
No amount of analysis, re-analysis and proselytizing will change the fact that Showgirls is...garbage. Apart from some archive footage, Paul Verhoeven does not take part...shouldn't the man - himself - defend his own film instead of these two flunkies?!?
Without his input, You Don't Nomi is reduced to nothing more than mere [flunkey] fandom...and, just like its inspiration, is laughable...for all the wrong reasons. Still, there's no getting away with the massive amount of work that went into this...an obvious labour of love!
by Claire Oakley
Review coming soon...
And Then We Danced
by Levan Akin
Where [exactly] did tradition get us? Absolutely nowhere, that's where! Okay, okay...a slight concession [for the purists]...it's a good place to start [evolution] from! Evolve...we must.
Levan Akin's film is startling...in its view of [toxic] masculinity within a context that turns its back against any form of toxicity...the world of dance. But, in Georgia...a country landlocked by tradition, constrained by conservatism and dominated by religious devotion...dance is manly, dance is tradition. Dance does not deviate from its origin.
This is a country that sits on a geographical crossroads...and, as Western influences unrelentingly flow in, the strict orthodoxy is being challenged...by the youth...and, by the President who has declared his desire to join the European Union. In 2000, Georgia adopted the Council of Europe's standards relating to the decriminalisation of homosexuality. However, homophobia is a major cause for concern...the Georgian Orthodox Church does not shy away from expressing its [absolute] revulsion of homosexuality.
So...this is where a young, gay, talented dancer finds himself...quite literally, stuck between a rock and a hard place. He finds [requited] love, a [reviled] community and [repressed] expression...he is the 'new' Georgia...with an unenviable fight on his hands.
That fight is expressed through a sensational dance routine...a dance that pays homage to the tradition while daring to evolve. It is dazzling.
And Then We Danced is not an easy watch...but, it is absolutely gripping from start to finish. There are moments of joy, of cruelty, of anger, of frustration, of heartbreak and sadness...of determination...by a determined young man. Levan Gelbakhiani, a professional dancer, in his first film role, simply excels in the vast array of emotions that his character is forced to face, manage and, possibly, conquer.
Levan Akin's film is the voice of the disgruntled. It's bold and brave and beautiful. Easily, one of the finest films of the year.
by Olivia Wilde
Deat oh dear...oh dear!
Booksmart seems to have divided the camps...what's not to like about this jolly, light-hearted teen romp?
The dissenters have compared it to being a female version of Superbad - is that such a bad thing?!? Is geek-dom the sole domain of the geeky boy? Of course it's not!
Where Superbad was - and will always remain - cruel, loathsome and misogynistic...Booksmart is bright, likeable and entertaining. And, it's not as wholesome as you may think...two best friends with differing sexualities...have realised they have [seriously] missed out with their all-work-and-no-play ethos...well, the time has come for change. Their virginities are going...just as soon as they find out where the party-of-parties [actually] is!
Cue a few mad moments and a few mad encounters - Noah Galvin is sociopathically hysterical - but, will all their dreams come true?
Olivia Wilde rattles through each scenario, adding [unnecessarily] a few goofy bits here and there...however, the laughs come aplenty...with one particularly brilliant guffaw...and one 'oh my'!
Behind all the silliness, there are a few stabs at the 'Snowflake' generation, judging a 'book' by its cover...and, taking life [just a bit] too seriously.
It's not exactly a wake-up call..nor will it melt a few Snowflakes...it's semi-wholesome entertainment with a subtle [sexy!] edge.
All in all...rather delicious.
Matthias & Maxime
by Xavier Dolan
Xavier, Xavier, Xavier...where have you been?
After a cacophonous and dissenting win at Cannes with the divisive It's Only the End of the World [although we loved this film]. And, following the full-on flatulent disappointment of The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Monsieur Dolan [thankfully] returns to what he does best...with one almighty problem!
That 'problem' is none other than that old chestnut itself...being too close, doing too much. The importance of a script editor can never be exaggerated...M&M desperately needed one to shave off all the unnecessary bristle. In John F. Donovan, Monsieur Dolan infamously cut Jessica Chastaine from the entire film [he lost quite a few Hollywood Brownie points with that manoeuvre]...if he had employed that same tactic with M&M, by cutting out the entirely unnecessary scenes with Harris Dickinson...and, by listening to and acting on a script editor's advice, M&M would have been a far better film than it is.
Saying that...M&M is [still] a fine film...with so much heart and wounded soul. Boys born on different sides of the tracks...friends with aspirational benefits, friends destined to become so much more. Monsieur Dolan infuses his character with a decent, deep-down delicacy...he is everything that Matthias is not and vice versa. Yet, they fit. Their relationship is as lovely as it is frustrating to watch...with their histories concluded and their futures yet to be decided...this is all about will they or won't they.
All Matthias & Maxime needed was a closer shave to be more of a marvel than it already is...!
Jack & Yaya
by Jen Bagley & Mary Hewey
Review coming soon...
by Kelly Walker
Review coming soon...
Our Dance of Revolution
by Phillip Pike
Review coming soon...
A Dog Barking at the Moon
by Lisa Zi Xiang
Winner of the prestigious Teddy Award' with a few other trophies to keep Ted company...and, inexplicably, regaled - by some - as an outright masterpiece!
Throw a dollop of paint onto the nearest wall and watch it dry...there, that's just as interesting/entertaining as watching 107 minutes of this slow, painfully repetitive, practically static, unnecessarily muddled dirge to/comment on traditional Chinese family values and Chinese society as a whole...told by one diasporic auteur.
This is Lisa Zi Xiang's first film...more homily than homegrown. Present...are all the usual suspects, the mother with anger issues, the doormat father, respect and shame, matching and marriage...and, the kind of 'why-did-you-marry-that-foreigner' racism that seems to [always] avoid criticism. The 'foreigner' in this instance is Thomas Fiquet's Benjamin, the husband...as impotent a character could ever be and - quite possibly - one of the most ineffectual performances ever to disgrace the big screen. Fortunately, Thomas Fiquet's screen-time is limited, saving him from complete embarrassment...sorry, but acting ain't your thing. Or, is it a case of bad direction? Whatever...the character of Benjamin serves only as a wasted opportunity.
As does that of the father...again, minimum screen-time and the crux of the story! Discovered by his wife...fumbling with a [much] younger male student! Indeed! Well, as you would imagine, the proverbial hits the fan...only, in this instance, the proverbial misses the fan [completely] and lands sloppily on the floor...to be trodden on, over and over again.
Yes...there is a great premise here...tradition, homosexuality, communism, religion [with modernity and migration having their say too]...they all go together like oil and water! Explosive ingredients...the only problem is Lisa Zi Xiang...with her [infuriatingly] static camera, she focuses on her [yes, this is autobiographical] mother's immersion into a Buddhist cult. The 'gay' father barely gets a look-in, apart from the mother refusing to divorce him [all that family shame] and declaring him to be [frustratingly for her] impotent for years! Erectile dysfunction is no laughing matter...but [especially with the little blue pill in existence], this should have been the joke of all jokes...there's nothing wrong with his willy, it's you! And, yet one more wasted opportunity...his homosexuality: Nature or [spousal] nurture? Discuss!
Add to all these wasted opportunities, moments of directorial madness, Lisa Zi Xiang takes her [now long lost] audience out of the [presumed] reality and into the theatre...of the absurd. You couldn't make this stuff up...and, she didn't...this is her autobiographical, theatrical whimsy...and, the biggest wasted opportunity of all...is that of her mothers' - she had the biggest secret, she held the story in the palm of her hand...and, sadly, her daughter let it slip through her [inexperienced] directorial fingers!
But, hey, what do we know? Winner of the prestigious Teddy Award'...and, regaled - by some - as an outright masterpiece!
by Oliver Hermanus
When a filmmaker hits the nail on the head, capturing an experience, a memory, something that will resonate deep within...that is a filmmaker who demands and deserves attention.
This goes out to all the 600,000+ boys and men who were conscripted during the South African Border War which lasted for 23 years, 6 months, 3 weeks and 2 days.
This goes out to all the men who remember their first instances of same-sex attraction...Oliver Hermanus captures that moment with harrowing perfection and precision.
Way before the nude-infested internet, a naked man rarely [mostly never] appeared on screen. Swimming pool changing rooms were the place where young [gay] boys could - furtively - glimpse at a mature naked man. It was thrilling, dangerous, heart-thumping...and, breath-taking. Being 'caught' was unimaginable...because, we really did not know what we were really doing...but, we knew it was [somehow] wrong. It was an amalgamation between looking, wishing, hoping and desiring. It was curiosity and innocence all rolled into one...it's all here, in Moffie.
And...this goes out to all those boys and men who ended up in Ward 22. A 'hospital' where gay and conscientious objectors were 'treated' by Aubrey Levin...a man most foul.
Here's to the survivors of that war and of Ward 22...and, here's to the dead on both sides. It's time for your stories to be told...Christiaan Olwagen's [exceptional] Canary brought South Africa's contemporary history to a new audience. Oliver Hermanus continues the story...two very different films, different voices...both, mighty fine films of the same inexhaustible story.
Easily, one of the best films to come out of 2019.
And, finally...here's to all those who opposed Apartheid. Let your voices and stories continue to ring out!
Two of Us
by Filippo Meneghetti
Perfectly laid plans crushed by reluctance, secrets and circumstances [and people] beyond your control...this is Filippo Meneghetti's [mighty] debut feature.
This is poised and elegant film-making. A film that will rip at your heartstrings and make you consider the bigger picture...if this was you, what would you want? When decisions are taken away from you...what else have you got left?
Life is all about choices...you pick and choose, rightly or wrongly, rejoice or regret...and, with age, there is the opportunity to take stock, to reflect, to smile, to grimace...perhaps, even, to make amends.
Two of Us delivers many a potent message...
Don't dilly-dally, grab the bull by the horns...before it's too late. Because, you never know when it's too late!
Be prepared for the unthinkable...because, sad but true, the unthinkable invariably [and eventually] happens.
Respect your mother, her life, her wishes, her past, her secrets, her wishes.
And, finally, respect those who love those you love.
This is a monumentally mature piece of work...graced by two precise and comparative performances. Opposites attract and the hand fits perfectly inside the glove...this is love...in all of its joy and terror.
This is immaculate and heartbreaking film-making...merci pour cela.
by Hong Khaou
Story-telling takes on many forms, Hong Khaou has his own style and voice...infused with delicacy and, surprisingly, [considering the many themes explored] serenity. Quite easily, Monsoon could have slipped into a melodramatic deluge of emotion...thankfully, it doesn't. Instead, we are given room to think, moments just to watch a process of exploration and self-realisation. This is a carefully constructed mood, a thoughtful sense of being. The three tenses are given a voice...past, present, future...as are the conditionals...what could/should/would have been/be...as for the future...well, that all depends on the here and now...those 'ifs' - this all sounds terribly complex and that is the innate beauty of this film, Hong Khaou manages to demystify the complexity...via a gentle and poised performance by Henry Golding...
Monsoon may [or may not] sweep you away emotionally...but, it will linger...asking - politely - where are you? Where is your place? Where will you end up? Not many filmmakers are bold enough to ask such questions...Hong Khaou does, politely.
A lovely, careful film.
Rescue the Fire
by Jasco Viefhues
Review coming soon...
Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story
by Posy Dixon
Review coming soon...
Don't Look Down
by Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau
Odd...strangely compelling...but, definitely odd...in an absurdist sort of way.
Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau seem to be channeling Jean-Paul Satre, there's a whiff of his 'No Exit' surrounding Haut perchés - so, you wouldn't be wrong in thinking that an existential vibe permeates throughout this peculiar offering. Not everyone's cup of tea and - quite possible - not everyone's cup of coffee either...it is a challenging bit of work that would have benefited more from the few [rather bizarre] scenes of levity...the 'flossing' scene is an instant, weirdly and insanely out-of-place [in a good way] classic. The film just needed a bit more of that insanity.
Saying that...this is an insane film...and, considering there is only one set [an apartment with a rather lovely Parisian rooftop view], the cinematography is slick and colourful. The performances...each character has their moment...and, can't be faulted. It's an interesting, technically accomplished film...it [too] has its moments, it just needed more of them and, perhaps, a few less words.
by Valerie Bisscheroux
Review coming soon...
by Romas Zabarauskas
As they say, practice should always allow room for improvement [if it doesn't, it's time to give up]...this is Romas Zabarauskas' third feature...and, as a filmmaker, he has improved...exponentially. But, as they say, there's always room for more improvement...when an auteur finds their cinematic voice, it's time to dispense with those [film-school-ish] gimmicks...let that voice be heard without the bells and whistles.
The Lawyer will resonate and ruffle [quite a few feathers]...Mr Zabarauskas is - hallelujah - not afraid to give the 'snowflake mentality' a bit of a slap across their collective chops...whether it be trans issues, identity, gay4pay, bisexuality, migration...basically, all those hot topics à la mode - he presents quite a feast of controversy...all served [deliciously] without [even a hint of] indignant melodrama. Well done!
Nothing is quite what it seems...nor, is anyone quite who they seem. On the surface, there are clear [and cloudy] motives...but, are they so cut-and-dry? Who - really - is pulling whose strings? This really is a rather splendid game of understated cat-and-mouse...obviously, the lawyer is perceived to be the puppet master. But, his 'refugee' puppet is poised and prepared to cut those strings at the best [most beneficial] time. This is intrigue and intriguing to watch...but, when beauty-and-brains are involved [Dogac Yildiz's character has each in abundance], it becomes a powder-keg waiting to explode. The ending does suggest that Mr Zabarauskas has not finished with this story...will there be a sequel?
If there is...keep the intrigue, keep the magnificent use of music, keep the cinematographer, keep the actors. Get rid of the filters, that black-and-white [nonsensical and eye-jarring] gimmick and all those superfluous storylines and scenes...make it more about the puppet and the master, who is who...and then, Mr Zabarauskas, you will have a mighty fine conclusion to your already tantalising story.
Pride & Protest
by Blaise Singh
Review coming soon...