Saturday, 28 April 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed ★★★★☆

Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is the type of sweet, low-budget indie comedy with an intelligent heart that’s slowly become synonymous with the Sundance Film Festival. Starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson and mumblecore director Mark Duplass, Safety Not Guaranteed is a pitch perfect slice of contemporary American cinema with an intriguing sci-fi twist.

When Jeff (Johnson) a Seattle magazine reporter suggests a pitch about a peculiar classified ad in a local paper he's whisked off to investigate. The advert simply reads; "Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before." Desperate to find out more about this eye catching advert Jeff heads to the small coastal town it originated from accompanied by two interns; the plucky, yet dry humoured Darius (Plaza) and the bookish Arnau (Karan Soni).

The three attempt to get an interview with the writer of the advert (Duplass), however, his incredibly secretive demeanour results in them having to do some deeply penetrating investigative journalism to get their story. Unwilling to get his hands dirty and preoccupied with reacquainting himself with a schoolboy fling, Jeff uses Darius as bait in order to get closer to this eccentric inventor.


Chasing Ice ★★★★★

One of the most highly anticipated films to feature in this year's inaugural Sundance Londonprogramme was the National Geographic-funded documentary Chasing Ice (2012). Director Jeff Orlowski has painstakingly created a fascinating and powerful movie about climate change by presenting the audience with the globally important work of photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey Project - a film so eye-opening and socially important that it demands to be seen.

Acclaimed wildlife photographer James Balog openly admits he (like many of us) used to be 'sceptical' about climate change, however, his viewpoint changed dramatically when learning about ice core research. Despite attracting his attention to the man-made effects on the climate he still found it difficult to connect with scientific number crunching and attempted to use his skills of photography to capture some tangible proof of the devastating effects our carbon powered society is impacting onto the environment. Orlowski's documentary follows Balog as he set about positioning numerous static cameras around the glaciers of Alaska, Iceland and Greenland in order to use revolutionary time lapse photography to capture the true extend of the glacier recession as they disappear at an astounding rate.


Filly Brown ★★☆☆☆

From directors Yousser Delara and Michael D. Olmos comes Filly Brown (2012), a fictional tale of a promising Latino rapper trying to make it big in LA despite numerous domestic and professional obstacles. Starring Gina Rodriguez, Chrissie Fit and Lou 'Diamond' Phillips, this hip hop-infused drama sadly struggles to find its voice amongst its myriad of ill-advised sub-plots.

Majo 'Filly Brown' Tonorio (Rodrigues) is a sharp tongued street poet who's reluctantly found herself the matriarchal figure of her close knit family after her mother's incarceration for drug possession. Her mother has alerted her to the possibility of a re-trial, however with money scarce within the family Majo isn't sure how to raise the funds to finance these legal proceedings.

She gets her first big shot whilst appearing on an internet radio station where her lyrical dexterity attracts the attention of a local promoter who offers her the opportunity to make the money she needs to help out her mother - however, her politically loaded prose is an issue, with this small time hustler insistent that she 'sexes up' her act if she's to "make it big". Majo is suddenly faced with some serious decisions - torn between her passion for honest and evocative music and her mother's precarious situation.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Damsels in Distress ★★★★☆

US indie darling Greta Gerwig stars alongside Adam Brody and Analeigh Tipton in Whit Stillman's first film in 13 years, Damsels in Distress (2011) - an alternative take on the American frat movie that falls somewhere between a parody of middle-class contemporary social life and a high-browClueless (1995).

Violet (Gerwig) is an incredibly pedantic, presumptuous and borderline obsessive compulsive student at Seven Oaks College who strives to be remembered for creating something significant like a new dance craze - which she believes unlike education or medicine, is a far more meaningful and life affirming pursuit. She leads a trio of girls working in the university's suicide prevention centre who through a combination of tap dance and doughnuts are attempting to shake-up the college campus' male-dominated environment of 'operator playboy types' and rescue their fellow students from depression and their own self-imposed low standards.


Liberal Arts ★★★★☆

Liberal Arts (2012) is the sophomore directorial effort by Josh Radnor (most commonly known to UK audiences for his role in TV's How I Met Your Mother), a witty and incredibly sweet independent comedy that stars Radnor himself amongst a stellar cast which includes Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins and Zac Efron.

Jesse (Radnor) is a thirty-something "over articulate man boy who never grew up", who's found himself tied down to an uninspiring job in university admissions after majoring in English whilst minoring in History - a combination which he himself confesses has made him entirely unemployable. Shortly after his girlfriend dumps him, Jesse receives a call from an old college professor (Jenkins) who invites him back to his former university in order to give a speech. Jesse spends his time back at school reminiscing of a time when he was free to enjoy literature and converse with like-minded individuals. However, it's the introduction of Zibby (Olsen), a wide-eyed and innocent 19-year-old whose infectious optimism has yet to be deflated by the 'real world' which really makes an impression in Jesse's life.


The Queen of Versailles ★★★☆☆

Inverting the age-old 'rags to riches' dynamic, Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles (2012) takes an alternative perspective on the recent economic crisis to befall America by examining the Siegel family - a wealthy 'new money' household who made their fortune selling time shares before almost losing it all during the financial downturn of 2008.

Originally planned as a documentary following the construction of the Siegel's 90,000 square-foot mansion (which took the Palace of Versailles as its major aesthetic inspiration), The Queen of Versailles took a completely different route when the billion pound empire of patriarch David Siegel (president and CEO of Westgate Resorts) faced ruin after the 2008 economic collapse. Director Greenfield was lucky enough to capture these two varying states of the Siegel family, observing their lavish and care-free lifestyle before becoming witness to their difficulty adapting to a more frugal existence.


An Oversimplification of Her Beauty ★★☆☆☆

Perhaps the most unconventional film in this year's Sundance London programme, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012) plays out as director Terrence Nance's experimental ode to the girl that got away. Combining a multitude of styles, this multifaceted, non-linear documentary is likely to divide audiences despite its obvious artistic flare.

Essentially, Nance's film is a self-reflective rumination on a haunting experience of unrequited love. Split into two intertwining segments, the documentary is both a short entitled 'How Would you Feel?' sporadically interrupted by a feature length called 'An Oversimplification of Her Beauty', boiling down to two different viewpoints on the same relationship - one highlighting the crushing insecurity felt at the time and the second the recurring memories of what was lost.


The Monk ★★★☆☆

Gothic literature and cinema has often failed to enjoy the same glowing relationship that they did during the silent era, with sinister source material too often used to create a camp horror sub-category that lacks the dark, foreboding atmosphere of such films as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Vampyr (1932). Dominik Moll's medieval thriller The Monk (2011), a French adaptation of a Matthew Lewis novel, looks set to help reinvent this ailing genre.

On a stormy night in rural Spain a crying baby is abandoned at the gates of a monastery. The baby is adopted and brought up by the monks who inhabit this isolated commune. He grows up to become the orders most powerful and pious preacher - Brother Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel). His sermons are famous throughout the parish, with the locals receiving him with a mixture of respect and fear. However when Valerio - a young disfigured character who wears a mask to hide their burnt face - arrives at the monastery a series of devastating incidents begin to unravel which puts Ambrosio's spirituality to the test.


African Cats ★★★☆☆

Disneynature's latest film African Cats (2011) attempts to capture the magic and wonder which made March of the Penguins (2005) such a resounding success. Narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart (previously Samuel Jackson for the US release - it still remains unknown as to whether this switch was to make the film more palatable to a UK audience or because of how critically panned Jackson's original recitation was) African Cats combines cutting edge wildlife documentary techniques with a dramatic storyline that’s quintessentially Disney.

Focusing on two species coexisting in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, African Catsfollows the stories of two feuding lion tribes and a cheetah attempting to raise her cubs in this unforgiving terrain. The lions are locked in a territorial war, with two arch nemeses (Fang, an elderly protector of a close knit pride and the unfortunately named Kali - the film's malevolent villain) both intent on laying claim to the reserves numerous lionesses. Our single mother cheetah is named Sita and her story is perhaps the most engaging - trying her hardest to protect, feed and teach her five rambunctious cubs from the perilous wildness and its assortment of vicious predators.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Interview: Karl Markovics (Breathing)

Last week saw the UK theatrical release of Austrian actor Karl Markovics' debut film Breathing (2011) (read our film of the week review here). The film follows Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert), a nineteen year old boy who has spent the last five years in a juvenile detention centre, until a job opportunity working in a morgue slowly begins to help Roman find his way back towards the real world. CineVue recently caught up with Markovics in Central London to chat about his first excursion into directing and how he came to find himself sitting behind the camera after spending so long in front of it.

Patrick Gamble: I'm sure this is a question you're probably tired of hearing so let's get it out of the way. Why did you decide to move from acting to directing?

Karl Markovics: I was thinking about it for a long time but it took me a while to come up with the courage. However, I never thought the stories I was writing were ever strong enough for a play or a screenplay. At the end it was my wife who encouraged me to at least finish one story and then throw it away - not throw it away before I've finished with it. I showed Breathing to her and she encouraged me to continue with it.

PG: So for you what were the main differences between the creative process of preparing for a role to perform and directing?

KM: It was a different challenge but there weren't any surprises as it wasn't completely new to me as I was always thinking that one day I would do more than just acting. So when on the movie set I would be watching what the director does, what the director of photography would be doing and everyone else. When I started I began in an avant-garde mime theatre company in Vienna in the early eighties. It was great because as a mime theatre you could travel around Europe with out any restrictions. We did everything from helping with the costumes to unloading the truck so I was used to having to know everything which was going on - I was constantly fascinated with the whole process.


Monday, 23 April 2012

Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy ★★★★☆

During the 1980s - and as one of Spain's most influential directors - Carlos Saura moved away from his Franco-era political films such as Ana y Los Lobos (1973) and the sensational Cria Cuervos (Raise Ravens, 1976) to focus on his lifelong passion for flamenco. Saura created a sumptuous trilogy examining this quintessentially Spanish element of Hispanic culture, using flamenco's rigidly choreographed dance routines and vibrant music to depict the powerfully emotive themes of romance and unrequited love. The first film in the Flamenco Trilogy is Blood Wedding (1981), a rural Andalusian tragedy starring Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos and Antonio Jimenez which depicts a dance company performing a dress rehearsal of Federico García Lorca's play of the same name. An intense and passionate tale of arranged marriage and secret romance, Blood Wedding is a 'behind-the-scenes' expose of musical productions which not only captures the brooding emotions behind its subject matter but also allows a fascinating insight into the mechanics behind such stage performances. Read More...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Breathing ★★★★☆

Austrian actor Karl Markovics (best known to UK audiences for his starring role in 2007 Academy Award winner The Counterfeiters) has stepped behind the camera to make his debut feature film Breathing (Atmen, 2011), and in the process has created one of this year's most heartfelt and moving films.

Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert) is a nineteen year old boy who's spent the last five years in a juvenile detention centre. He'll soon be up for parole but will only attain his freedom if he can prove himself in the outside world by successfully holding down a job - a task that's impeded by Roman's powerful sense of guilt which, coupled with the devastating effects evoked by his mother's abandonment, leaves him struggling to reintegrate into society. However, a job opportunity working in a morgue slowly begins to help Roman find his way back towards the real world - that is until he's confronted with the body of a woman who bares the same surname as him, leading this wayward adolescent on an emotional journey to find his mother whilst simultaneously allowing him to truly understand his guilt.


Beauty (Skoonheid) ★★★★☆

Winner of the Queer Palm at last year's Cannes Film Festival, South African director Oliver Hermanus' sophomore feature Beauty (Skoonheid, 2011) is a devastatingly powerful story of obsession and sexual denial, which in itself acts as a powerful allegory for his country's continued transition from a nation of archaic beliefs and traditions to a more open and accepting culture.

François (Deon Lotz) is a devoted husband and father living the suburban dream thanks to his successful Timber company. However, despite this seemingly serene existence he struggles with an internal battle against his repressed homosexual desires. So far, François has managed to keep his sexuality hidden through the support of a weekly group consisting of other married men in similar situations. Despite engaging in all-male orgies together, they detest the thought of any 'faggots' joining their exclusive 'married men only' group. However, Francois' restrain is put to the test when he meets Christian (Charlie Keegan), the handsome son of a long-lost friend. Christian is too much for Francois to ignore - leading to him becoming dangerously obsessed with this engaging young man, and in turn threatening to tear apart the delicate family dynamic he's carefully fabricated.


Lockout ★★★☆☆

Before Guy Pearce ascends into the cinematic stratosphere with Ridley Scott's long-anticipated return to sci-fi Prometheus (2012), the former Neighbours star can be seen starring opposite Maggie Grace in James Mather and Stephen St. Ledger's Lockout (2012) - an adrenaline fuelled amalgamation of frantic thrill-per-minute action with the claustrophobic tension of a futuristic thriller.

MS One is a maximum security prison stationed in Earth's orbit, home to over 500 dangerous criminals - a horrific mix of murderers, rapists and the mentally deranged. The inmates are kept in an artificial stasis, an experimental approach to penal containment which has alerted the interest of the President's daughter Emilie (Grace) - a strong-willed idealist concerned that the prison is little more than an experiment to explore the potentially fatal effects of stasis hibernation on deep space explorers. However, when an unprecedented and violent mutiny breaks out, Emilie finds herself held hostage by a rag-tag band of psychopaths. Enter Snow (Pearce), a rebellious and loud-mouthed agent currently under investigation for a crime he didn't commit (!?), who's hired by the President to rescue his daughter and clear his name.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Interview: Eugene Green (The Portuguese Nun)

This week saw the release of Eugène Green's The Portuguese Nun (2009) (review here) - a fascinating, yet highly unconventional existential journey through Lisbon following an actress as she deals with issues of loneliness, love and divine will. CineVue were lucky enough to catch up for an interview with Green, a director with a clear and distinctive style, to talk to him about the film.

Patrick Gamble: The Portuguese Nun is a film with a myriad of different themes, how would you describe the film to someone who hasn't seen it and what would you say was your primarily focus when creating The Portuguese Nun?

Eugène Green: As you observe, it is a tapestry of interweaving themes. To describe it very briefly, it is about a young actress who, during a brief stay in Lisbon, discovers, through the mysteries of that city, certain things about the relationship between human and spiritual love, art and nature, myth and reality, leading to an epiphany which gives a meaning to her life.


The Gospel of Us ★★★☆☆

Michael Sheen stars in director David McKean's The Gospel of Us (2012) - a big screen adaptation of the groundbreaking National Theatre of Wales performance arts play The Passion which took place last Easter in Port Talbot. Consisting of a weekend long staged contemporary re-imagining of the last day's of Christ, the play also starred Sheen amongst 1000s of locally sourced extras and acted as a celebration of Port Talbot's close knit community and the resilience of this once prosperous Welsh town.

Distorting the original biblical text to relate to a modern day audience, Sheen plays The Teacher - a softly spoken individual whose disappearance for forty days has left him with no recollection of the town he used to call home. He returns during the Easter celebrations on Port Talbot beach where a suicide bomber has captured the crowds attention by staging a protest against the external influence of the I.C.U - a company masking their ambitions to drain the town of its resources through false charity and financial temptation.

The Teacher manages to prevent the terrorist from detonating his bomb and in doing so attracts copious followers who now see him as a focus point for the resistance. His presence is clearly a threat to the I.C.U who perceive him as a dangerous commodity and soon find a way to use him as an example of their tyrannical control over this small town.


Jitters ★★★☆☆

For all intensive purposes, Baldvin Zophoníasson's Jitters (Órói, 2010) seems like little more than an Icelandic interpretations of Channel 4's Skins - a coming of age drama full of rambunctious adolescent misbehaviour. However, whilst easy to pigeon-hole as a piece of teenage cultural trash, if you give Zophoníasson's nuanced film an opportunity you’ll discover a powerfully emotive and honest insight to the harrowing journey adolescence can be.

Upon returning home from a summer language school in Manchester, Gabriel (Atli Oskar Fjalarsson) discovers not much has changed in his sleepy hometown, however, the same could not be said for this newly liberated young man who now carries a heavy secret around his neck. It weighs on his conscious whilst become infuriatingly noticeable to his over controlling mother - an overbearingly smothering matriarch who it appears is prepared to go to great and often embarrassing lengths to reveal the origins of her son’s new found fondness for solitude and privacy.


The Portuguese Nun ★★★★☆

Leonor Baldaque stars in Eugene Green's The Portuguese Nun (2009), an unconventional adaptation of the 17th century text Letters of a Portuguese Nun - a collection of love notes which begin passionately before slowly filtering through varying conflicts of faith, feelings of despair and eventually tragedy.

French actress Julie (Baldaque) arrives in Lisbon to film a costume drama based on the aforementioned novel. She plays the titular nun, with her only other co-star playing the French naval officer who whisks her off her feet. She's already recorded the dialogue back home in Paris and all that remains is to shoot the visuals which will accompany her monologue, giving her plenty of down time to become acquainted with the city - leading to a series of bizarre, yet eye-opening encounters with various similarly lost souls.

Using the same epistolary format of its source material, The Portuguese Nun successfully feels like a collection of various episodes gentle sewn together to create one whole. It's remarkable to observe the film's protagonist slowly evolve into the character she's there to become, and thanks to this fractured approach Green is allowed to explore the novel's numerous themes without ever escaping the film's frame narrative of an isolated actress on a journey of self discovery


Las Acacias ★★★★☆

Winner of the Sutherland award at this year’s London Film Festival as well as the prestigious Camera D’or at Cannes, Pablo Giorgelli’s slow burning road movie, Las Acacias is an inventive, yet low key affair which whilst lacking in engaging dialogue is bustling with intriguing character development.

Truck driver Ruben’s (German de Silva) life is an isolated one, working long solitary shifts transporting timber from Paraguay to Argentina. He has agreed to carry a passenger across the border with him, a middle aged woman by the name of Jainta (Hebe Duarte) who’s searching for work in Buenos Aries. However, when she arrives to meet him at the rendezvous she’s accompanied by her five month old baby – something Ruben wasn’t expecting. Despite his reluctance to transport this screaming infant he agrees to take them both anyway – maybe out of a sense of decency or just to ensure he doesn’t spend another long haul trip alone.

Both characters begin as incredibly secretive individuals, sharing little in the way of conversation within the claustrophobic confines of Ruben’s truck’s cabin. However, despite the sparse dialogue, as the scenery passes them by and the miles on the clock increase they slowly start to open up to one another. This slow peeling away of these densely layered individuals builds a palpable degree of intrigue that’s seems foreign compared to the film languid pace and calculated approach.

Surprisingly its not the relationship between Ruben and Jainta that drives the film forward but rather the Baby (Anahi) who is the primary narrative device here. Her adorable youthful charms – especially how she begins to mimic Ruben’s expressions and actions – are what break this solemn lorry driver’s rigid fixation with the job at hand and slowly distracts from the mundane rituals of his life – a striking metaphor for how consumed our society is by working and how little time we take to enjoy the world around us.

Certainly not to everyone’s tastes, the tension which builds between the film’s two central characters fails to ignite in away that will reward those who can’t see past the tedium of being a backseat passenger to this monotonous journey through South America, however Las Acacias is a pensive character study which demands your patience if it’s to be truly enjoyed. Whilst the audience is given little in the way of details, it’s clear that these two lost souls share a connection and whilst there’s no Hollywood test of their budding relationship through some hyperbolic sentimental lesson at the end of their journey, what your left with is a deeply personal and effecting tale that resonates which much more gravitas.

Las Acacias is a leisurely paced, yet densely layered character piece that belies its simplistic facade – a beautifully constructed and naturally evolving tale that has a heart of gold behind its gritty exterior.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Black Biscuit ★★☆☆☆

Fabrizio Federico's Black Biscuit (2011) is the flagship film of the director's Pink8 Manifesto - a maverick new way of creating cinema based loosely on the principles of the Dogme 95 movement and the works of Harmony Korine but with a stronger focus on improvisation and breaking away from the linear foundations of narrative filmmaking.

Black Biscuit's fractured narrative loosely follows the life of Chet (Federico), a driven but ultimately lost soul who one day finds his true calling is to be a filmmaker. Working as a male prostitute Chet soon finds his dreams slipping away from him as he becomes accustomed to the comfort and money of working - albeit from an unconventional career