Five shorts from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015

30 Jun, 2015 Posted in: Festivals, Opinion, Review, Short films

Anthony Ing rounds up his top five shorts from the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival 2015.

Dear Araucaria

Dear Araucaria

Apparently tackling something of a cosy subject, Dear Araucaria’s intial focus is The Guardian’s celebrated crossword setter Rev. John Graham. But the gradual revelation of his illness, as communicated through his craft, soon submerges us into an unforeseen emotional space.

Starting Point

Starting Point

A beautifully shot intimate documentary portrait of a Polish woman who went to prison for a murder she committed as a teenager, Starting Point has the arc and atmosphere of a fiction short. It would be moving as such, but its basis in reality makes it unshakeable.

Preserving Lonesome George

Preserving Lonesome George

Preserving Lonesome George is a fascinating account of the combined science and art of taxidermy, with the nostalgic vibe of something you might have watched on a school trip to the Natural History Museum and wished you’d paid a bit more attention to.

Generation Right

Generation Right

For politically engaged Brits over a certain age, this outline of Thatcherism probably won’t be considered particularly insightful. But for those of us who weren’t alive during her leadership, Generation Right provides a concise and informative account of Thatcher’s controversial decisions and their lasting impact on the country.

The Brick Collector

The Brick Collector

The Brick Collector is a two minute film about an old man from Leeds who collects bricks. It is as charming and endearing as that sentence suggests.

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.”




Chicken plays Edinburgh

29 May, 2015 Posted in: Edinburgh

We’re always pleased to hear of the ongoing success of Film4 talent, so were delighted to be sent news of a new film featuring Yasmin Paige, who first caught audience’s attention with a compelling lead performance in the Film4-backed Submarine and went on to a characterful smaller role in the Film4-backed The Double (both directed by Richard Ayoade). This year she appears in Joe Stephenson’s Chicken, which stars Scott Chambers in the lead role of Richard, a gentle soul whose way of life is threatened when a wealthy family buy the land he lives on with his brother (Morgan Watkins).

Yasmin and Scott

Chicken will premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival, alongside Film4-backed films including Andrew Haigh’s Berlin prize-winner 45 Years and Asif Kapadia’s Cannes smash hit Amy, and it looks like we’re not the only ones excited about the film, its new poster and trailer:

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A personal top eleven at Cannes

24 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals

Across all categories and strands, Catherine Bray picks eleven must-sees from Cannes 2015.

Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales

Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales

I feel kind of guilty writing this piece, for two reasons. The first is that although I saw 31 films at Cannes, it is nevertheless impossible to see everything, so I am certain to be missing some brilliant films in this list. In particular, I regret not catching Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, which won the Competition’s directing prize, and Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Years, which won the SACD Prize out of Director’s Fortnight and is reputedly excellent.

The second reason I’m feeling bad is the dominance of English language films in the following eleven picks. It was an English language heavy year, and it happens to be the case that the films which wowed me the most were mainly English language. Sometimes that’s just the luck of the draw.

1. Carol, dir. Todd Haynes
Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy managed to put together a Competition entry that, for once, united critics (if not the Coen brothers’ Jury, who split the Competition award for best actress between Carol’s Rooney Mara and Mon Roi’s Emmanuelle Bercot). In virtually every review, the superlatives flowed like the champagne undoubtedly uncorked that night by producers as five star verdict after five star verdict rolled in. It is a ravishing film, every frame beautifully composed, and yet it never suffers from the lack of air that can oppress precision period work – the world of 1950s New York feels entirely lived in, and the melancholy thrill of the romance between Cate Blanchett’s eponymous older woman and Mara’s shop assistant feels as fresh as any depiction of falling in love on the silver screen.

2. Arabian Nights parts 1, 2 and 3, dir. Miguel Gomes
Miguel Gomes entranced cinema-goers in 2012 with Tabu, a dreamlike piece of lyricism that was part romance, part pastiche. He’s on even more ambitious form here, with a six hour plus tapestry woven in imitation of the form of the Arabian Nights, and delivered as a triptych, but taking the effects of the financial crisis on Portugal as its loose theme. The result is a remarkable achievement in cinema, by turns gripping, illuminating, tiring, sublime and funny.

3. Krisha, dir. Trey Edward Shults
Sometimes, size really doesn’t matter. Krisha was filmed in just 9 days on a single location with a cast made up of performers drawn almost entirely from the director’s own family, for around $100,000. That’s about as small as small potatoes get in narrative cinema, and yet the resultant story, in which an estranged 60-something woman attempts to reconnect with her family at Thanksgiving, is more emotionally impactful than many a more anticipated or expensive effort. It perhaps threatens to undermine the old Anna Karenina maxim (“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”) in that, although this family’s specific issues may not be identical to your own, they’ll surely strike universal notes for many, illustrating the similarities, and not the differences, in pain inflicted by loved ones.

4. Son of Saul, dir. László Nemes
This is an extraordinary film by any yardstick, but it’s all the more impressive in its status as a directorial debut. Hungarian director László Nemes hasn’t set himself an easy task, either – many first-timers have stumbled tackling subjects far less complex and horrifying than the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. His decision to keep the film’s perspective directly locked in to that of protagonist Saul Ausländer is a smart one, resisting the instinctive urge in films on this tragic subject to attempt to convey horror through scale, and instead conveying with precision one man’s nightmare among millions. This is a hugely deserving Grand Prix winner – higher honours would have been equally welcome.

5. The Lobster, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
A film whose second act key change seems to have baffled some critics, The Lobster is a film broadcasting on a very particular wavelength. If the brutal absurdity of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s break-out Dogtooth mixed with the sensibility of various dark British comedies satirizing the extremes of social stereotype (The League of Gentleman sprang to mind at certain moments) sounds like your jam, make sure you bag a ticket for this one.

6. Macbeth, dir. Justin Kurzel
A film that seems to have connected better with UK critics than US, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the daring visual poetry of this highly cinematic treatment of one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Burying much of the dialogue under bold, disorienting sound design and naturalistic delivery, this ain’t your GCSE English teacher’s Macbeth. Justin Kurzel has forged a formal experiment that heeds Lady Macbeth’s own advice to her vacillating husband: be bloody, bold and resolute.

7. The Shameless, dir. Oh Seung-uk
A slick and seductive Korean neo-noir from Oh Seung-uk, The Shameless takes the point of view that where atmosphere is concerned, it’s best to go big or go home. Almost every scene is riven with tension, sexual or otherwise, as a seedy cop and seedier bar hostess team up to comb various nightspots in search of enough MacGuffin to MacGuffin the MacGuffins. This is a film about the looking, the longing, and the shifting quicksand of any given character’s motivation at any one time. Plot? Forget it, Jake, it’s neo-noir.

8. Green Room, dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Spot the odd one out: Green Room is the film on this list about which you can’t make too many high falutin’ art-house claims, but you can say it’s among the most viscerally exciting viewing experiences of the lot. It’s not dumb, either. A simple, smartly executed exercise in genre thrills packed with likable kids that we’re sorry to see die bloody, the premise is a basic home invasion riff relocated to enemy territory, as a punk band holed up backstage at a dodgy venue attempt to survive a concerted effort to slaughter them all, supervised by Patrick Stewart having fun playing the ideological opposite of his X-Men gig: a grim-faced white supremacist.

9. Our Little Sister, dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
As previously blogged, I wasn’t sure about this film as it unfolded. To put it bluntly, basically nothing happens. But it’s been a big grower for me since, with its simple reliance on the quotidian pleasures of domestic rhythms, commonplace interactions and the passing of the seasons blossoming into a minor but sweetly heartfelt work celebrating the little things in life.

10. Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller
In Mad Max: Fury Road, life is a tale told by a maniac, full of sound and fury, signifying everything. As previously blogged, it’s fabulously experimental for a tentpole release, in terms of its image system and structure, and also in its equal opps gender vibes (though it’s depressing that this facet counts as an experiment). I won’t say too much more about Mad Max, since it’s already on general release, but it seemed equally perverse to deny it a spot altogether for that reason.

11. Tale of Tales, dir. Matteo Garrone
It’s got Salma Hayek eating a sea serpent’s heart. It’s got Toby Jones rearing a giant flea. It’s got Vincent Cassel accidentally shagging a 100 year old trickster crone. What’s not to love?







Cannes reviews round-up: Macbeth

23 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals

Featuring a one-two punch of powerhouse performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cottilard, we reckon Macbeth is a muscular and raw imagining of Shakespeare from director Justin Kurzel (whose uncompromising Snowtown impressed in Directors’ Fortnight in 2011). But don’t just take our word for it – these critics were also captivated by the bloodily bleak world of the Scottish play.



Robbie Collin for The Telegraph:

“Justin Kurzel’s blistering, blood-sticky new screen version of Macbeth unseams the famous Shakespearean tragedy open from the nave to the chops, letting its insides spill out across the rock underfoot. Kurzel’s chilling debut feature, the 2011 true-crime thriller Snowtown, suggested the then-37-year-old Australian filmmaker was a talent to watch. But this towering, consistently ingenious film establishes him as a director to cherish.”

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Guy Lodge for Variety:

“The Scottish Play hasn’t enjoyed significant bigscreen treatment since Roman Polanski’s admirable if tortured 1971 version. The wait for another may be even longer after Justin Kurzel’s scarcely improvable new adaptation: Fearsomely visceral and impeccably performed, it’s a brisk, bracing update, even as it remains exquisitely in period. Though the Bard’s words are handled with care by an ideal ensemble, fronted by Michael Fassbender and a boldly cast Marion Cotillard, it’s the Australian helmer’s fervid sensory storytelling that makes this a Shakespeare pic for the ages”

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Jessica Kiang for Indiewire

“Brooding, dense, and consistently magnificent to an almost self-defeating degree, Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth” is a bloody, muddy, mighty adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s mightiest plays. Kurzel, whose only previous film, the excellent but confined “Snowtown” gave us no real idea that he was capable of such tectonic gravitas, does not offer a reinterpretation of the text so much as a head-first plunge into its depths, dredging up whole chunks of Shakespeare’s verse and raising them aloft like he’s ripping the beating heart from a mastodon.”

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Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian:

“This is a deadly serious Macbeth, with fascinating moments and shrewd, sharp insights, though often the pace is conducted at a uniform drumbeat. There are slo-mo battles, stylised blood-spouts and bellicose roaring, perhaps influenced by Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.”

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Leslie Felperin for Hollywood Reporter

“With its foregrounded class conflict, horror-movie spookiness and — most importantly — use of brutal violence, it’s an adaptation that has a much better chance than most Bard-based works of crossing-over to audiences beyond the arthouses. The play’s evergreen popularity in high-school syllabi should help that along, as will the growing box-office draw of Michael Fassbender, sexy, charismatic and later poignant in the title role, opposite a surprisingly cast but completely persuasive Marion Cotillard as his manipulative wife.”

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