Monday, 17 July 2017

R.I.P. George A. Romero

Heard the sad news this morning. The legendary director George A. Romero has died at the age of 77. One of the great icons of Horror and American Independent cinema, I've been a huge fan of his work since my teenage years. He made many great films starting with his extraordinary debut, the classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its various sequels.

Subsequent features include the suburban witchcraft tale Season of the Witch (1972), paranoia/contagion chiller The Crazies (1973), the remarkable modern vampire tale Martin (1978 - my own personal favourite), cult oddity Knightriders (1981) - which he regarded as his most personal film, the EC comic-style anthology Creepshow (1982) on which he collaborated with fellow Horror legend Stephen King, suspense tale Monkey Shines (1988) and the revenge thriller Bruiser (2000).

His career had many setbacks. He had a fraught relationship with Hollywood studios over unrealised projects - including a Poe adaptation with Isabella Rossellini and rejected scripts for new versions of The Mummy and Resident Evil that would be eventually made by other hands. There was a long period of inactivity during the 1990s where he spent most of the decade in development Hell and would only make one feature (1993's The Dark Half) which created a frustrating gap in his filmography. Despite his fondness for the genre and his cult following he was never able to escape his being typecast as a 'Horror director', to his occasional frustration. His last 3 films (Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009)) were all returns to the zombie series that made his reputation. They allowed him the free-reign and creative control that he fought hard to maintain throughout his career.

I got a chance to see Romero in London at the UK premiere of Land of the Dead in 2005 and it was a huge thrill. I still feel that film has never got its due recognition and was ahead of its time with its focus on growing inequality and social divides in the 21st century. He brought humour, satire, thought provoking social commentary and a sharp and distinctive eye for human frailties to his films. Discovering his output in the early years of my cinephilia was a huge deal for me and more than any other filmmaker made me aware of the vast possibilities of Horror cinema. I really felt like I'd found a kindred spirit through his work.

A fearless maverick, an undisputed icon and a true inspiration. Thank you George Romero for the incredible body of work and the indelible impression it has left on me and countless other filmgoers.

R.I.P. George A. Romero (1940-2017)


Sunday, 18 June 2017

The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century

The New York Times published this list recently although I'm still uncertain what the justification was, besides being roughly 1/6 of the way through the current century. Needless to say it drew quite a response. A recent critics poll by the BBC also came under a lot of scrutiny. At least with that list I considered the top 2 films (Mulholland Drive and In the Mood for Love) to be sound choices.

With all the innovations that cinema has undergone in recent times and the rules changing about what constitutes a "film" I'm often disappointed by the conservatism of large parts of the critical establishment and movie going public. While I like quite a few of the titles that the New York Times chose (Spirited Away, White Material, The Gleaners & I, A Touch of Sin) much of the selection seems to have been made based on a rather rigid view of what constitutes great cinema.

As a response I put together a list of my 25 selections. For the sake of variety I only allowed one title per director as some of my favourite filmmakers (Michael Mann, Johnnie To, Terrence Malick, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) have produced several outstanding works in recent times that when combined could easily take up more than half the list.

1. Pulse (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
2. Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)
3. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick)
4. The Wind Rises (2013, Hayao Miyazaki)
5. Tomorrow We Move (2004, Chantal Akerman)
6. Lights in the Dusk (2006, Aki Kaurismaki)
7. Sparrow (2008, Johnnie To)
8. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)
9. Paprika (2006, Satoshi Kon)
10. Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang)
11. Lourdes (2009, Jessica Hausner)
12. Thirst (2009, Park Chan-wook)
13. Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)
14. Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
15. The Duchess of Langeais (2007, Jacques Rivette)
16. 20 30 40 (2004, Sylvia Chang)
17. Dredd (2012, Pete Travis)
18. Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne)
19. 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011, Abel Ferrara)
20. Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)
21. Things to Come (2016, Mia Hansen-Love)
22. Confessions (2010, Tetsuya Nakashima)
23. TRON: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski) - have to have at least one controversial choice in here.
24. Barbara (2012, Christian Petzold)
25. The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)

Monday, 29 May 2017

52 Films by Women - 2017

I heard about this campaign in 2016 and it seemed like a great idea. One of my film viewer resolutions this year is to see at least 52 films by 52 female directors. For whatever reasons, films directed by women still seem to be in the minority of general releases and perhaps more than any other other major position in the film industry it seems directing is the one role above all others that remains disproportionately low for women. Hopefully we're at a point where the contribution of female directors to cinema as an artform and entertainment is being more acknowledged and appreciated. Each year I find that many of the most exciting talents in film today are female directors and I hope the number of women behind the camera will grow in years to come. This viewing mission should allow me to discover more names and titles that I'd previously been unaware of as well as seeing lesser known works from established directors. I'll update this list throughout the year.

https://womeninfilm.org/52-films/

January
3/1/17: La chambre (1972, Chantal Akerman)
8/1/17: Madchen in Uniform (1931, Leontine Sagan & Carl Froelich)
20/1/17: The Last Mistress (2007, Catherine Breillat)

February
9/2/17: Love Crimes (1992, Lizzie Borden)
12/2/17: Men (1997, Zoe Clarke-Williams)
25/2/17: Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt)
26/2/17: Slitch (2003, Dianne Bellino), Mutations (1972, Lillian Schwartz)

March
21/3/17: The Apple (1998, Samira Makhmalbaf)
22/3/17: Glimpse of the Garden (1957, Marie Menken)
30/3/17: Faust and Mephistopheles (1903, Alice Guy)
31/3/17: At Land (1944, Maya Deren)

April
12/4/17: 20 30 40 (2004, Sylvia Chang)
17/4/17: Father of My Children (2009, Mia Hansen-Love)
25/4/17: Lourdes (2009, Jessica Hausner)

May
5/5/17: Bringing Up Bobby (2011, Famke Janssen)
10/5/17: The Life of Death (2012, Marsha Onderstijn)
The Falling (2014, Carol Morley)
29/5/17: The Black Dog (1987, Alison De Vere)
30/5/17: Lore (2012, Cate Shortland)

June
5/6/17: Gas Food Lodging (1992, Allison Anders)
8/6/17: Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962, Agnes Varda)
14/6/17: Orlando (1992, Sally Potter)
18/6/17: Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke)
Immer Zu (1997, Janie Geiser)
19/6/17: The Green Ray (2001, Tacita Dean)
21/6/17: Dark Touch (2013, Marina de Van)
24/6/17: Under the Skin (1997, Carine Adler)
25/6/17: A Simple Life (2011, Ann Hui)
28/6/17: Saving Face (2004, Alice Wu)

July
14/7/17: Jesus' Son (1999, Alison Maclean)
25/7/17: The Beguiled (2017, Sofia Coppola)

August
2/8/17: Top of the Lake: China Girl (2017, Jane Campion & Ariel Kleiman)
Sleeping Beauty (2011, Julia Leigh)
3/8/17: In a Heartbeat (2017, Beth David & Esteban Bravo)
9/8/17: Slums of Beverly Hills (1998, Tamara Jenkins)
15/8/17: Me and Me Dad (2012, Katrine Boorman)
16/8/17: The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig)
19/8/17: The Night Porter (1974, Liliana Cavani)

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Cannes 2017 watchlist

As the Cannes film festival draws to a close I thought I'd do a list for future reference of titles that have been screened at the festival that I hope to see over the coming months. If past trends are anything to go by it may take a while for some of these to reach UK screens.

Must-see:
Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Okja (Bong Joon-ho)
In the UK we're still waiting for a release of Bong's 2013 feature Snowpiercer. There were rumours that this would only be available via streaming on Netflix.
Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis)
Based on a True Story (Roman Polanski)


Special Mention:
Twin Peaks (David Lynch)
I've already seen the first 4 episodes of the new series and it has certainly confounded expectations. It's great to have Lynch back working on a major new project after seemingly abandoning feature films following Inland Empire in 2006. There's a lot I'm looking forward to in 2017, as you can tell from this list, but this could very well be the film/TV event of the year.


Promising Titles:
Blade of the Immortal (Takashi Miike)
This is apparently Miike's 100th film. I knew he was prolific but I wasn't fully aware until now of how much catching up I have to do with his filmography.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Lanthimos's transition to English language features (2015's The Lobster) managed to retain the dry, surreal, deadpan humour and satire of his Greek films so I'm eager to see what he does next.
The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)
Claire's Camera (Hong Sang-soo)
Visages, Villages (Agnes Varda & JR)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
In the Fade (Fatih Akin)
24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)
Alive in France (Abel Ferrara)
Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont)


Hopeful:
Happy End (Michael Haneke)
Haneke has been a Cannes favourite for some time now having previously won major awards for The Piano Teacher and Hidden and the Palme D'Or for The White Ribbon and Amour. After an extraordinary run of films in the early 2000s I've cooled a little on Haneke. His US remake of Funny Games was ill judged and the reserved and clinical Amour wasn't the revelation that I'd been led to expect. Like Kubrick his formal brilliance became too mannered. With his knack for challenging subjects (in this case the refugee crisis in Europe) Happy End will hopefully see the director regaining the edge and urgency of his best work.
Top of the Lake (Jane Campion)
I wasn't overly keen on the first series of this New Zealand set mystery drama. I'd much rather see a new feature film from Campion but I'll happily watch any new effort from her.


Curiosities:
Ismael's Ghosts (Arnaud Desplechin)
The opening film of the festival was lambasted by critics but this film has a dream cast (Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the hostile response actually piqued my interest.
You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
I may have been overly harsh on Lynne Ramsay. Her first two features (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar) announced an outstanding new talent in British cinema. Since then it's been a frustrating waiting game and after a 9 year gap her third feature (2011's We Need to Talk About Kevin) was a crushing disappointment. It seems she's now settled on making features in the US.
Barbara (Mathieu Amalric)
The Merciless (Byun Sung-hyun)
The Villainess (Jung Byung-gil)
Good Time (Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie)
Radiance (Naomi Kawase)
A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)
The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
I'm not sure what this new version of Don Siegel's 1971 classic can do to improve on its predecessor but the talent involved could potentially produce something interesting.
L'amant double (Francois Ozon)
Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Napalm (Claude Lanzmann)
How to Talk to Girls as Parties (John Cameron Mitchell)
Filmworker (Tony Zierra)
The Rider (Chloe Zhao)
Golden Years (Andre Techine)
Walking Past the Future (Li Ruijun)