Latest from Catherine Bray

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Cannes 2016: 10 picks

14 Apr, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

Catherine Bray runs her eye over this year’s line-up and selects ten films she can’t wait to watch at the 69th Cannes Film Festival

The official line-up is now locked and loaded, so time to have a rummage and work out what we’re keenest on seeing at Cannes this year. Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week have yet to announce, and as ever, it’s undoubtedly the case that I’ll walk away after the festival with favourites that came nowhere near my radar at this stage. Equally, it’s possible and indeed probable that some of what I’m currently salivating over will belly-flop spectacularly. Therein, of course, lies the excitement…

Sasha Lane as in American Honey

Sasha Lane in American Honey

American Honey dir. Andrea Arnold

In Competition

American Honey is a Film4-backed film, and perhaps since you’re reading this on the Film4 website you may be able to work out that we have a stake in this one, but I’d be excited even if that wasn’t the case: Arnold is quite simply one of the UK’s most gifted filmmakers. Word has it she has marshalled extraordinary performances from her young ensemble (including Sasha Lane, pictured above) in this director’s first US-based drama.

 

It’s Only the End of the World dir. Xavier Dolan

In Competition

Love or loathe Xavier Dolan (and there are certainly plenty who fall into the latter camp), his filmmaking is always undeniably arresting, whether it’s for a 1:1 aspect ratio, unconventional take on sexual tension or costume design fit to make established designers retire in despair. The Marion Cotillard-starring It’s Only the End of the World marks Dolan’s second film to premiere in Competition at Cannes, and, following a shared Jury Prize for Mommy in 2014, could be a good bet for a prize in 2016.

 

Apprentice dir. Boo Junfeng

In Un Certain Regard

A prison drama from the Singaporean director Boo Junfeng may not sound all that exciting on a first read, but the rumour is that this will be one of those films where we critics reel out clutching our pearls. Fingers crossed.

 

Sierra-Nevada dir. Cristi Puiu

In Competition

With a formidable tally of around 50 international festival prizes for his second feature film, The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (including the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes), expectations are sky-high for Romanian auteur Cristi Puiu’s family drama Sierra-Nevada.

 

The Handmaiden dir. Park Chan-wook

In Competition

As a passionate defender of Park Chan-wook’s Wentworth Miller-scripted Stoker (whose semi-camp, semi-serious, all-delicious sensibility certainly didn’t click with everyone), I can’t wait to see what the man who brought us Oldboy has in store for the Croisette this year. Lashings of the old ultra-violence seem the likeliest call.

 

Elle dir. Paul Verhoeven

In Competition

Paul Verhoeven (Spetters, Showgirls, RoboCop) is a filmmaker capable of everything but good taste, and pairing him with one of our greatest living actors, Isabelle Huppert, is surely a recipe for dramatic fireworks. When the Verhoeven-directed erotic thriller Basic Instinct played Cannes in 1992, it generated controversy aplenty; it could be time for history to repeat itself.

 

Personal Shopper dir. Olivier Assayas

In Competition

Kristen Stewart is shaping up to trace one of the most interesting career trajectories of any of her contemporaries, leveraging her promising early childhood roles and subsequent Twilight exposure into career choices that speak to a genuine engagement with world cinema, assisted by directors able to look beyond the vamp-loving shadow of Bella Swan. Credit for a major part of that assist goes to Oliver Assayas, who cast her in Clouds of Sils Maria, resulting in the first ever win for an American woman of a Cesar award.

 

Money Monster dir. Jodie Foster

Out of Competition

Jack O’Connell tore up the screen with Starred Up and ’71 in 2014, so it should be fun to see him as a sort of Rupert Pupkin figure opposite George Clooney, who plays the host of a television financial-advice program taken hostage by O’Connell’s character.

 

The Neon Demon dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

In Competition

I wasn’t personally a fan of Only God Forgives, which took a divisive bow in Competition at Cannes in 2013, but Nicolas Winding Refn remains a filmmaker of considerable style (leaving aside for a moment those Grey Goose vodka ads), and as a self-confessed genre fan, I’m keen to see what the billing “Los Angeles-set cannibal film about models starring Elle Fanning” adds up to in the hands of the man who brought us Drive.

 

Staying Vertical dir. Alain Guiraudie

In Competition

Alain Guiraudie set pulses racing in the Un Certain Regard strand in 2013 with homoerotic killer-thriller Stranger by the Lake and, on that basis alone, I’m here for whatever he wants to show us next.

 

Berlin 2016: Strike a Pose

20 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray finds Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s doc about Madonna’s Blond Ambition-era dancers moving and enjoyable

madonna-dancers

Look around everywhere you turn is heartache
It’s everywhere that you go
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know

These oh-so-familiar lyrics, from one of Madonna’s all-time bangers, ‘Vogue’, serve as a compressed description of the lives depicted in documentary Strike A Pose, though like the song, there’s a lot more fun to be had here than the literal angst these words suggest.

Goodness know how many documentaries, from the respectable to the cheap TV cash-in, have been made about Madonna. Strike A Pose, from Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, instead smartly takes as its focus the less-documented subject of her backing dancers from the Blond Ambition era.

At their most prominent in the ‘Truth Or Dare’ video (featuring an unscripted gay kiss, radical at the time), over which some of the dancers subsequently sued Madonna, they have largely faded from the limelight since. Even at their height, for many fans, they were viewed collectively, rather than as individuals. This film aims to correct that.

Since the dancers are virtually all gay, virtually all classically trained, and boast an intimate familiarity with the New York drag-ball scene, the chap who initially stands out is Oliver Crumes III, who never trained as a dancer, instead growing up dancing to hip-hop, and, as he admits, scorning gay culture. A flamboyant dresser, one of the other dancers recalls wondering at the time of this odd-man out: “How can you be homophobic? You look like a parrot.” His adjustment to being the only straight in the village makes for a heartwarming journey.

Indeed, heartwarming journeys are the order of the day, as each dancer gets their moment in the spotlight, 25 years on from their heyday, to connect with the camera and share their memories and an update of where their lives have gone since.

Tragedy is abundant – not everyone survived, and some are coping with illness, or have had to fight addictions – and yet the tone is also sweetly comic. That’s largely due to the charm of these open-hearted former peacocks, now chastened by life post-fame, but still able to flash the charisma that secured them the gig in the first place.

Formally unadventurous, the film is largely comprised of talking heads and archive footage, until arguably the most moving scene, where the lads are reunited, a couple of decades after they all drifted apart. The absent figures of dancer Gabriel Trupin, who died of AIDS at just 26, and of Madonna herself, are felt, but in the case of Madonna it feels right that she is not present – we sense the absence of this mother figure in their lives more keenly than if it all ended with contrived hugs and smiles.

 

 

 

 

Berlin 2016: Kate Plays Christine

17 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Documentaries, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray is gripped by a blend of documentary and fiction exploring an anchorwoman’s on-air suicide in 1974…

Kate Plays Christine

Kate Plays Christine

Boy, is this a film that could have gone very wrong indeed. A risky subject matter (suicide), combined with a formally risky approach (half-fictional, half-documentary, all high wire act), combine in writer-director Robert Greene’s exploration of the 1974 on-air suicide of anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck, via the device of an actor, Kate Lyn Sheil, preparing to play her in a cinematic re-enactment.

With almost irritating finesse, Greene pulls it off, wavering occasionally in a manner reminiscent of a tightrope walker whose wobbles are part of the performance. But perhaps that unfairly suggests the film is a stunt – it’s much more than that.

In other docs, the pertinent opening act information about Chubbuck would have been largely expositional – here, we’re watching Sheil react to the information in real time as a natural consequence of her research process. What we’re experiencing feels human, rather than like a forensic analysis, but confers the same benefits as a forensic analysis in terms of imparting information, with added layers of emotional richness. And that’s the film in microcosm.

With less intelligent handling, this approach could easily have crashed and burned. We never know quite how much of what we’re seeing is scripted, or rehearsed reality, or improvisation, or straight documentary, and that disorienting mixture feels intentional. This is non-fiction film-making with the stabilisers taken off.

Sheil’s performance is a big part of this success. It’s a role that could have been overly “actress-y” or affected, as she searches for commonalities and points of difference with what tabloids would call the “tragic figure” of Christine Chubbuck. The film plays sly games with our desire to both see and not see what happened, pushing and pulling in different directions and needling at our obscure sense of guilt: why are we drawn to such lurid subjects?

Greene doesn’t offer easy answers, but does interrogate the role of the camera in such transactions, which is why Chubbuck’s case is such an apt one – this was a performative suicide, informed by the presence of the camera, the rhetoric of her last words hand-crafted in the language of the newsroom: “In keeping with Channel 40′s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.”

The detail Kate Plays Christine pulls out of this statement that I’ve found myself returning to most since watching the film is the word “attempted”. The precision of her choice of words is chilling; she didn’t know whether she would succeed and was therefore accurate to the last, a macabre piece of journalistic pedantry.

Robert Greene is the first ever winner of the writing prize at Sundance for authoring a film classified as a documentary, and the award is significant in recognizing the capacity of docs to go beyond ripped-from-the-headlines polemics or putatively objective reportage. It is to be hoped that the honour also helps distributors (Dogwoof are handling in the UK) in drawing the audiences this film deserves to cinemas.

See other coverage from the Berlin Film Festival

 

 

 

 

Catherine Bray’s 20 London Film Festival 2015 recommendations

The 59th BFI London Film Festival runs 7th – 18th October – here are Film4 editorial director Catherine Bray’s 20 top picks.

Including fiction and documentary, there are 238 features playing at the 59th London Film Festival – and a quick leaf through the programme reveals what promises to be a bumper crop. Dig deeper and there are plenty of  treats and treasures lurking outside the boundaries of the feature film – from live action and animated shorts, to interviews, live Q&As and experimental presentations.

The team here at Film4.com are raring to dive into the festival and no doubt discover some new favourites, but we’re also hazarding some recommendations and picks in advance. Here are mine, and do look out for choices from site editor Michael Leader and editorial assistant Beth Webb, coming soon.

In alphabetical order…

 A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton (in her third feature-length project with director Luca Guadagnino) plays a rock star reportedly amalgamating David Bowie and Mick Jagger. There’s nothing not exciting about that. Throw in Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts and Ralph Fiennes and you’ve got a potentially heady brew.

Book for A Bigger Splash

Arabian Nights

This is really three recommendations in one, since Tabu director Miguel Gomes’s 381 minute epic is screening in three parts. I loved this when I saw it at Cannes – if you can get past the intimidating investment of time, this is one of those films that you will remember forever: a sweeping tapestry something like Moby Dick or The Canterbury Tales in scope, patch-worked together from pop/doc scraps.

Book for Arabian Nights

Beasts Of No Nation

I’ve had my eye on director Cary Fukanaga since hosting him in Q&A for his striking directorial debut Sin Nombre in 2009, so it’s thrilling to see him at the vanguard of the current strain of ambitious, high-value VoD projects – there’s simply no Netflix proposition with more buzz about it right now than this timely child soldier drama, featuring Idris Elba.

Book for Beasts Of No Nation

Bone Tomahawk

Three of my favourite actors are Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins and Patrick Wilson – and wouldn’t you know, all three appear in this apparently ultra-violent genre-fusion of Western and horror from writer/musician S Craig Zahler, making his directorial debut in the LFF’s always brilliantly programmed Cult strand (as the strand’s Gala screening, no less).

Book for Bone Tomahawk

Carol

Patricia Highsmith’s classic age-gap love story about a shop assistant who falls for an older woman was received with justifiably wild enthusiasm when it bowed in Cannes earlier this year – I loved it and can’t wait to see London audiences swept off their feet by this modern classic, which Film4 are proud to have backed.

Book for Carol

Couple In A Hole

Some films intrigue because of the director’s past work, others because of a favourite actor, or a particular head of department whose name always augurs quality. In this case, the premise is the draw. A middle aged middle class couple living like feral animals in a hole in the ground? Sold.

Book for Couple in a Hole

The End of the Tour

The gifted novelist David Foster Wallace has been practically deified by his loyal fans since his untimely death, meaning that the howls of outrage over the casting of Jason Segel as Wallace should have been anticipated. Less predictably, those howls have since been somewhat tempered by rave reviews rolling out of Sundance, praising Segel’s performance as definitive and the film itself as a riveting road trip – I can’t wait to see for myself.

Book for The End Of The Tour

The Forbidden Room

A world first, this Experimenta Special Presentation at the IMAX promises to be a completely bananas head-trip defying all description, as we lurch through the choicest cuts of over 4000 hours of rushes captured at live “happenings” around the world as part of director Guy Maddin’s interactive Seances project.

Book for The Forbidden Room

Green Room

A classic home invasion siege set-up is relocated to the cramped green room of a heavy metal club as a gang of likeable punk kids find themselves targeted for elimination by Neo-Nazis in Jeremy Saulnier’s brisk, punchy follow-up to Blue Ruin – I caught this in Cannes and can’t wait to see it again.

Book for Green Room

High-Rise

Early buzz on Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s Film4-backed big screen adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopic classic High-Rise is strong and the casting is a dream: Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons… here’s hoping for a hit.

Book for High-Rise

Krisha

A lively, compassionate and impeccably edited look at middle class functional alcoholism rendered all the more emotional for being shot like a horror movie, I was surprised when Trey Edward Shults’ sizzling debut Krisha didn’t lift the top prize in the Critics’ Week strand at Cannes – fingers crossed for a nod in London.

Book for Krisha

Live From New York!

It’s difficult to underestimate the influence of Saturday Night Live on American comedy over the forty years since it first aired – from the early days of Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner to latter-day leading lights like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, so here’s hoping for insider anecdotes, smart analysis and classic clips.

Book for Live From New York

Love and Peace

The only predictable thing about a Sion Sono film is that is will be unpredictable, so if you’re feeling jaded about all the respectable awards season fare come October, this should be just the punkish underground tonic to jolt you out of your ennui. We hear there are talking turtles involved.

Book for Love and Peace

Lucifer

lucifer-movie-circle

Filmed within a circular frame (“Tondoscope”), Gust van den Berghe’s Lucifer promises formal experimentation based on an ahead-of-its-time book written by 17th-century Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel (thirteen years before Milton’s Paradise Lost shook up the worlds of both poetry and theology).

Book for Lucifer

Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Film

suffragettes-09

As the female written/directed/produced dramatization of the Suffragette struggle opens the festival, spare some time for a look at this canny piece of parallel programming: 21 short films, ranging from contemporary newsreel to early comedies, all of which revel in that quintessential equal rights strategy of making more noise.

Book for Make Some Noise

Men And Chicken

This apparently pitch-black Danish comedy clearly isn’t anything like NBC’s Hannibal, but for those suffering Mads Mikkelsen withdrawal since the cannibal shrink had his final old friend for dinner, Men And Chicken should fill the gap until his hotly anticipated turn in Star Wars: Rogue One.

Book for Men and Chicken

My Scientology Movie

Scientology would be an endlessly fascinating phenomenon even if Tom Cruise and other celebrities were not involved – as is, and with a documentary fronted by the ever-charming Louis Theroux, it’s one of the essential can’t-look-away subjects of the 21st century.

Book for My Scientology Movie

Screen Talk: Saoirse Ronan

Since becoming one of the youngest Academy Award nominees of all time following her knock-out performance in Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has gone from strength to strength: it’ll be a treat to hear the story of her career told live in her own words.

Book for Saoirse Ronan

Son Of Saul

I was pretty wiped out when I saw this utterly immersive Holocaust drama towards the end of Cannes this year, but even in my bleary state I could tell that I was in the presence of a towering achievement all the more impressive for being the work of a first-time feature director, Hungarian helmer-to-watch László Nemes.

Book for Son Of Saul

Trumbo

There are too many prestige biopics made these days and it’s impossible to get excited about all of them, but one exception is the prospect of Bryan Cranston playing blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the complex and admirable Hollywood Communist whose life was as rich in drama as many of his screenplays.

Book for Trumbo

Click here to explore the rest of the London Film Festival 2015 programme.

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh preview: 12 must-sees

31 May, 2015 Posted in: Edinburgh, Festivals

With a new artistic director at the helm, the Edinburgh Film Festival is back for a jam-packed 2015 edition. Catherine Bray picks 12 highlights (in alphabetical order)

Andrew Haigh's 45 Years

Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years

1. 45 Years, dir. Andrew Haigh

Winning Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for star Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years is director Andrew Haigh’s follow up to the acclaimed Weekend. Film4 are proud to have backed this moving exploration of a relationship in its 45th year.

 

2. 54: The Director’s Cut, dir. Mark Christopher

A curio for all those ’90s kids who kinda-sorta liked Mark Christopher’s 1998 Ryan Philippe vehicle 54 but always wondered what might have been, welcome to the director’s cut, at 106 mins (in contrast to the original’s 93 mins).

 

3. Amy, dir. Asif Kapadia

Fresh from its triumph at Cannes, where it was feted as a “stunningly moving” (The Guardian), “deeply felt” (Variety) and “wrenching” (The Telegraph), Senna director Asif Kapadia’s exploration of the troubled life of Amy Winehouse is a film that Film4 are proud to have backed. Click here to read more reviews.

 

4. Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream, dir. Grant McPhee

Featuring scene mainstays Norman Blake, Bobby Bluebell, Jo Callis, Allan Campbell and Edwyn Collins, this doc is set to unfold the story of Fast Product, a predecessor to Rough Trade and Factory Records.

 

5. Chuck Norris vs Communism, dir. Ilinca Calugareanu

In Communist Romania in the 1980s, black market imported Hollywood movies on VHS were some of the hottest cultural contraband around. Ilinca Calugareanu’s documentary, receiving its European premiere at Edinburgh, documents a videotheque resistance.

 

6. Dope, dir. Rick Famuyiwa

A John Hughes-style coming-of-age tale about growing up geeky in “the hood”, Dope has attracted heartfelt praise and comparisons with Superbad at premieres in Cannes and Sundance – this is a first chance for UK audiences to see the film.

 

7.  Fritz The Cat, dir. Ralph Bakshi

Counter-culture classic Fritz The Cat was the first animated feature to be given an X-rating, for its sexual, political and drug content, and this is going to be an extra special screening with a post-screening Skype Q&A with iconic director Ralph Bakshi.

 

8. Maggie, dir. Henry Hobson

Following in the footsteps of Life After Beth, Warm Bodies  and other undead denizens of the heartfelt indie end of the zombie movie spectrum, Maggie sees Arnold Schwarzenegger paired with Abigail Breslin as a father and daughter fending off zombies, police and military, and there is nothing about that pairing that doesn’t sound promising.

 

9. Malcolm McDowell In Person

From early roles in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Lindsay Anderson’s If… to recent work in small screen hits like Community, Entourage and Heroes, who wouldn’t want to hear cult icon Malcolm McDowell speak live about an extraordinarily varied career?

 

10. Misery Loves Comedy, dir. Kevin Pollak

Featuring Lisa Kudrow, Tom Hanks, Matthew Perry, Judd Apatow, Steve Coogan and Larry David, this doc sees Kevin Pollak interview comedians to attempt to get to the heart of that old chestnut: are comedians all emotional screw ups?

 

11. Remake, Remix, Rip-Off, dir. Cem Kaya

In the 1960s and 1970s, the long arm of Hollywood copyright law hadn’t quite reached Turkey, resulting in a lawless land of illegal mash-ups of Hollywood products. If you want to see what an evil Spider-Man wearing The Phantom’s mask and Superman’s cape looks like – and we certainly do – this is the doc to see.

 

12. Stand by for Tape Back-up, dir. Ross Sutherland

Originally based on a stand-up/spoken word set, in Stand By For Tape Back-up performer/director Ross Sutherland asks the question: “How can Ghostbusters connect us to people we’ve lost?” Time Out said of the original live version “It’s quite hard to convey how well it works, because Sutherland manages to wrench such tremendous feeling out of such silly source material.”

 

 

 

by Catherine Bray

Catherine is a film journalist and Editorial Director of Film4 Online. She is also the producer of feature documentaries Beyond Clueless and Fear Itself and short film Blackout.

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