Film Review Round-Up: Oct/Nov Releases

The autumnal season is, historically, a joyous time for film-goers, anteceding awards season as it does and thus bringing with it a crop of critically-acclaimed cinema. And the last fortnight has been particularly fruitful in dishing up some of this year’s most highly anticipated movies.

So here is a round-up of thoughts on what I’ve seen recently.

N.B (Call Me By Your Name is reviewed in full here and has undoubtedly secured a place in my 2017 Top 10).

The Death of Stalin (released Oct 20)

Armando Iannucci, the creative genius behind The Thick Of It, In The Loop, and Veep turns his attention to Moscow in 1953. Stalin has died and his cabinet of excruciatingly incompetent cronies are climbing over themselves to take his proverbial crown. The stellar ensemble of said cronies includes Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin, and they clearly relish the chance to put on this absurdist pantomime, with gags and awkward moments aplenty. However it’s Jason Isaacs as the army general, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s son and Paddy Considine as a concert-hall attendant who steal the show, and sadly the laughs dry up whenever they’re off-screen.

Breathe (released Oct 27)

A touching tribute to Robin and Diana Cavendish, a British couple who when faced with Robin’s polio diagnosis, decide to liberate themselves from the condition’s constraints. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy are good, but never surprising, as the loved-up duo inspired to tackle any obstacle that comes their way. Andy Serkis’ direction is expeditious and proficient, if a little paint-by-numbers. And strangely, despite the heart-wrenching goodbyes, soaring music and hues of golden-brown that colour the titles and the Kenyan landscape where the Cavendish’ spent their early years, I was left feeling a little cold.

Take your mother, she will love it.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (released Nov 3)

Yorgos Lanthimos continues to hold the mantle as the most devilishly absurd filmmaker working today. Expectations were high after the critical success of 2015’s The Lobster and here he returns with humour even bleaker and blacker, and satire even more biting. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman (a duo I didn’t know I needed until Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled) are husband and wife, forced to make an incomparable decision when a strange boy (Barry Keoghan) exacts his revenge. This is perverse and unnerving cinema (the score, particularly, had the latter effect) and will likely rub a lot of people the wrong way. Still, Lanthimos has an impeccable ability to create bizarre, yet somehow believable worlds in which the stakes are never higher and however grotesque, you are gripped. The script, as with The Lobster, is acerbic and unerring, with lines that include “My daughter started menstruating last week” serving as cocktail party chatter, and the performances incredibly fine-tuned. I doubt it will have the same success as The Lobster, if just for it being less accessible, but it should never be said that Lanthimos doesn’t push the boundaries of cinema.

P.s. Don’t take your mother, she will hate it.

Thelma (released Nov 3)

Joachim Trier, whose name you might know after 2015’s Louder Than Bombs (starring Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg), is clearly a connoisseur of cerebral and muted cinema. Thelma sees his return to the Norwegian-language of his origins, and with it comes a more assured sense of place and mood. He breeds and builds a rattling disquiet, as a young woman with supernatural powers begins her first term at university, desperate to fit in, but prohibitively unique. Yet despite all the sinister symbols – snakes, shattered glass, perilous swimming pools – Thelma never manages to make a splash. It’s classy and intriguing cinema, with some tender moments between its two female leads, who embark on a tentative relationship, but I’d really love to see Trier go for it with his next directorial endeavour.

Murder On The Orient Express (released Nov 3)

A lavish reprise of Agatha Christie’s vengeful tale, which sadly, chugs along at a glacial pace and fails to ignite. More of an exercise in exposition than thrilling storytelling, and considering the main draw is its glittering cast, it’s a shame that they’re given little to do but glance around the train suspiciously and spew their backstories when convenient. Still, if you’re looking for grandeur and glamour in your undemanding entertainment, then climb aboard.

The Florida Project (released Nov 10)

Sean Baker, director of ‘the iPhone movie’ Tangerine, returns with a kaleidoscopic, kitschy and blistering tale of fantasy and poverty. 6-year-old Moonee and her barely-functional, if tenacious mother Halley live on society’s fringes, specifically in a colourful motel just outside of Florida’s Disney World, and are barely managing to get by.  In spite of their tough economic circumstances, the film never loses its vibrancy, nor is Moonee’s imagination ever blighted by these realities, and aside from the strikingly, garish set-design and cinematography, this is down to Brooklynn Prince’s rascal of a performance. Moonee and her merry band of mischief-makers are a joy to watch as they amble about the grounds of the motel, cursing, dropping water bombs on tourists, scamming money for ice-cream and generally causing mild mayhem for the motel’s manager (a compassionate Willem Dafoe). As Halley continues down a path of deviance, disenchantment threatens to prevail. But Baker, having explored this world through Moonee’s eyes, allows her innocence to survive for that bit longer.

It’s a world you don’t want to miss.

Ingrid Goes West (released Nov 17)

It’s particularly apt for a film about an Instagram-obsessive (Aubrey Plaza) who moves to Los Angeles to stalk/befriend a social media influencer (Elizabeth Olsen), to be so surface. Writer-director Matt Spicer doesn’t say anything particularly new about the loneliness and hollowness of a life lived online, and the ending feels more neat than authentic. It’s equal parts savage, sad and insightful, if ultimately forgettable. #basic

Coming Soon: Nov 17 – Good Time, Mudbound, Nov 24 – Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Dir: Luca Guadagnino. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel. Running time: 132 mins

★★★★★

A timeworn quandary that has haunted us all – to reveal a crush and risk the humiliation of it being unreciprocated, or not to reveal a crush and regret a missed opportunity – fuels the fire at the centre of this (surely?!) golden-statuette bound love story.

Luca Guadagnino, an Italian director, who forayed into English-speaking filmmaking with last year’s A Bigger Splash, further proves himself a maestro of sensual, simmering cinema with Call Me By Your Name, starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Based on Andre Aciman’s novel, this is the story of Elio (Chalamet), a 17-year-old living a placid, almost palatial existence ‘somewhere in Northern Italy’ with his affable, academic parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar), whose affection for their son is abound. In fact, everyone who encounters Elio appears to be smitten, including his on-off girlfriend Marzia. He’s a good-looking boy who transcribes piano concertos and plays them just as beautifully, and drifts around with a nonchalant sulkiness that’s like catnip to teenage girls. However his command is thrown off-kilter when a new student arrives to assist his father, in the form of Oliver (Hammer), a statuesque man of seraphic beauty. And little does he know, as he shows Oliver to his room, but Elio’s life is about to be transformed.

Timothée Chalamet has a natural liveliness onscreen reminiscent of Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, or Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now and certainly he deserves the same recognition granted to Lucas Hedges with his performance in last year’s Manchester by the Sea. His Elio is a hormone-fuelled fusion of braggadocio, playfulness and naiveté, and the more his fascination with Oliver grows, the more we are treated to a cornucopia of emotions, which Chalamet nails every time. He is an intensely watchable actor, and as the camera lingers on his face at the end of the film, in a moment of sheer distress, you sense that Guadagnino is equally aware of this fact.

At once nostalgic and stunningly contemporary, Guadagnino’s 80s aesthetic – hi-tops, Talking Heads t-shirts and Armie Hammer dancing emphatically to The Psychedelic Furs – never overwhelms to the point of pastiche, but instead flavours the film with a greater sense of taboo and restraint. Necessary too. If this had been set in the modern day everything could’ve been set in motion with the coy use of an aubergine, and then a peach emoji. And the film would’ve lost its sense of aching sadness, of precious time being frittered away in the to-ing and fro-ing of pride and desire embattled. Amplifying this heartache is the soundtrack, as supplied by Sufjan Stevens and his soul-baring strumming.

Indeed, language of the spoken and not the texted kind is of great importance to Call Me By Your Name. An early scene in which Hammer’s Oliver distinguishes himself as more than just a thoroughly American, borderline arrogant interloper – all chiselled abs and nonchalant goodbyes – involves the etymology of the word ‘apricot’.

And the film plays up the theme of language and speaking throughout a beautifully subtle script, penned by James Ivory. Elio’s father says “Remember, you can always talk to us”, signalling that both parents are wiser to their son’s maturation than perhaps he gives them credit for. Whilst Elio’s own mastery of French, Italian and English and his glissade between the three only serves to highlight the inability of language to sometimes express what we feel. Guadagnino skilfully depicts these moments of erotic silence; glances across food-strewn tables, glimpses between their adjoining bedrooms, snatches of possibility. Each of these moments is imbued with an almost suffocating intensity, until a crescendo to confession – a beautiful dance of scene, in which the truth is blurted and Oliver asks Elio “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

A rush of ecstatic discovery follows, as Elio and Olivier gorge on what they’ve denied themselves for the past few weeks. It’s thrilling, throbbing cinema, in which romance done incognito can only really achieve. And yet, their bond is less tortured and forbidden than gay romance might ever have been on film; secretive, yes, but with a lightness and joyousness that ripples across the screen like the Italian waters which feature so prominently.

This is genuine and generous filmmaking, in the sense that no one here is a villain capable of malice or even unkindness. The characters are human, sure, and with that come flaws and foibles, but there is a deep, warming feeling of goodness that ripens throughout the film and culminates in a tender scene between father and son. And just as you imagine that this a summer Elio will replay in his mind forever more, an apex in which leisure and pleasure coalesced to spine-tingling effect, this is a film you want to luxuriate in forever. If not just watch repeatedly.

Every frame is dripping with vivid colours and textures; the sticky juice of a peach, the oozing overspill of an egg yolk, the crimson deluge of a nosebleed, the cerulean splashes of the river. It is a world enriched by the halcyon glow memory, spellbinding in its every breath and kiss and quiver.

What with Carol, Moonlight, God’s Own Country and The Handmaiden, queer cinema is finally prospering, and proving to be some of the most romantic films of all.

Review: Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea, which had its UK premiere at the London Film Festival on Saturday night, is his mere third outing as a director. And his tertiary effort might just be his most mature, melancholic and majestic work yet. A story about a working-class Massachusetts family, to whom fate has not been kind, and the ubiquity of grief, Manchester By the Sea is the kind of subdued, sobering experience that doesn’t lend itself to mainstream attention. But seek it out and you’ll discover something of wrenching power and quiet, arresting beauty.

Casey Affleck, building upon a roster of roles he’s tackled with a tortured intensity, (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Gone Baby Gone) is Lee Chandler, a man whom life has chewed up and spat out and whom when we meet him is barely existing. Alternately abrasive and aloof, Lee is a competent if uncongenial handyman for 4 apartment buildings in Boston. Between the bar where he instigates fights with strangers to the one-bed squat where he falls asleep in front of the TV, beer in hand, there’s a sense of deadening routine which scarcely manages to distract from the deep-seated troubles which appear to plague our protagonist.

On a morning like any other, snow shovel looming mid-air, Lee receives a call that obliges his return to the humble New England hometown he vacated a few years previous. His affable, and well-liked older brother Joe (played by real-life Chandler, Kyle) has died of a cardiac arrest and bestowed guardianship of his 16-year-old son Patrick (a vibrant Lucas Hedges) upon a reluctant Lee. This abrupt, though not altogether unforeseen bereavement, forces Lee to confront a place and a past sheltering an unspeakable tragedy that splintered the community, and continues to reverberate amid these tight-knit people.

Seek it out and you’ll discover something of wrenching power and quiet, arresting beauty.

Lonergan, the eloquent mind and steady hand behind the handsomely-mounted, character-driven dramas You Can Count On Me and Margaret, continues to demonstrate an ear poetically attuned to the nuances of quotidian speech and the inadequacies of it in communicating our emotions. Manchester By the Sea is a richly textured tapestry of awkward moments, strained interactions and everyday encounters, coursing with authenticity and elevated by the electrifying humanism with which they are depicted.

As Lee drags Patrick through the requisite funereal proceedings, their interactions are at once endearing, comedic and searingly sad. Affleck and Hedges possess a chemistry that surpasses some of the most memorable romantic duos, their heated back and forth enlivening the morbid circumstances with pacy, familial rhythms. Both are desperate to get back to their fragile normalities. For Patrick this involves hockey and band practices, dating two girls at the same time and looking after his father’s boat. For Lee, that’s recoiling to his stony, siloed existence in Boston as quickly as arrangements dictate. Both must negotiate the ripples that this event has on their futures.

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As such, this story toes a familiar line, but with a seldom-seen ability to capture a smorgasbord of human emotion. Moments of wrenching poignancy are punctuated with a tart, caustic humour; from a freezer-induced meltdown to a bungled attempt at lovemaking, you’ll find the laughter catches in your throat as tears roll down your cheeks. As Lonergan invokes this melting pot of love, frustration, anguish, hilarity and clumsiness, he deftly eschews cliche and melodrama, instead leaving incisive, elegiac impressions, as his characters amble their way through the mire, clashing and compromising and composing themselves as well as they can.

Casey Affleck is given the lead role he deserves in Lee Chandler, and hits every grief-stricken note with painstaking aplomb.

Lonergan and his director of photography Jody Lee Lipes (who has done phenomenal work on indie movies such a Martha, Marcy, May Marlene and the underrated Bluebird), do a sensational job of capturing the stillness and sameness of the landscape. Lensed with a crisp elegance, the harsh winters and choppy waters are beautifully rendered, giving sense to a place and a people frozen in time. Less effective is the sound design, which sometimes threatens to overpower; especially when the other elements are so subtle and restrained.

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Still, it’s easy to forgive when the film is otherwise utterly engrossing. Lonergan continues to excel at coaxing naturalistic and heart-breaking performances from his actors. Casey Affleck is given the lead role he deserves in Lee Chandler, and hits every grief-stricken note with painstaking aplomb. Lucas Hedges, meanwhile, is a quick-witted and wilful screen presence, nailing the self-centred braggadocio of a popular teenager but with an impressive charm and sensitivity. Kyle Chandler is reliably rugged and paternal as the pillar of the Chandler family – it’s a talented actor who can really make you feel their absence when their death occurs before they’ve even appeared on the screen. Speaking of minimal scenes, Michelle Williams also gives a shattering performance in her all-too-brief role as Lee’s ex-wife Randi; effusing the kind of verisimilitude for which she was praised in Blue Valentine, and which should hopefully garner her supporting actress nominations come awards season.

Manchester By the Sea could be accused of dealing audiences an unsatisfactory ending, but it works in the context of a film that resounds with a muted ache and authenticity. I can’t stop thinking about it – in the way that all films possessed of this much wisdom, warmth and woe – leave you reeling and feeling fortunate to have seen it.

An Interview With Stephen Fingleton

Originally published on We Are Colony.

I sat down with Stephen Fingleton, BAFTA-nominated director of The Survivalist, and talked all things apocalyptic…

Pitch us your film in one sentence.

The Survivalist is about a man who survived the end of civilisation by any means necessary, who finds his life threatened when two women discover his weakness, which is desire.

Now tell us what is it actually about?

The film’s really about what people are like when you take civilisation out of the equation. Who are we? Because so much of our lives are based on our jobs, our names and the expectations placed upon us. What if you take all of those away and see what’s emergent? If all those hidden desires were at the surface…

“Everyone on-screen is a killer…we’re looking at the effects of that”.

How did you begin in creating the dystopian world of The Survivalist?

I began the film when I heard about “peak oil theory”, which is the idea that fossil fuels go into decline – not when they run out, when production slows – the economy’s need for continual growth will mean there’ll be a huge price spike and eventually it’ll lead to economic collapse and I thought it was fascinating. Our dependency on resources, whether it’s credit, which is just a financial instrument, or fresh water or fossil fuels, lead me to imagine how I would survive in such a circumstance.

The Survivalist is an act of fantasisation. If you look at most post-event films or series like The Walking Dead, to some extent they’re about wish fulfilment. We feel so constrained by our lives and by societal strictures that we like that idea that we could survive by our wits and be ourselves, truly, in a world which is “survival of the fittest”. There’s something exciting about that.

It’s about characters who have lost everyone they’ve ever known and they have been deformed by that process, they’ve had to kill to survive – everyone on-screen is a killer – and we’re looking at the effects of that.

Essentially it’s a suspense film about three characters in close proximity who don’t necessarily trust each other, but who begin to grow closer and that raises interesting questions about who they are and whether civilisation is something we agree upon as a functional way of organising things, or whether it genuinely reflects the kinship, that is in our genes, between us.

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What prompted certain stylistic choices, such as the absence of the musical score? Or the use of graphics at the beginning?

Primarily it’s about tension. How do you get an audience invested in what’s going on? In my experience, you treat them as adults and you let them do the investigation, you get them to look for clues, you get them to realise – just as in life – there isn’t a dramatic music cue before a car hits you. I was very interested in not editorialising, not providing the context, because the context isn’t relevant.

There’s very little dialogue – maybe 100 lines – again, you have to investigate the characters to work out what’s happening and hopefully the audience will be a lot more involved if they make that investment. In the first 15 minutes of the film, there’s a single character on-screen and it’s like an induction course – this is going to be the grammar of what we’re doing, this is going to be the journey. When a really interesting story emerges, it exceeds what the audience expects will happen.

The absence of the music came down to the fact this is a world without electricity, therefore music doesn’t really exist. People play acoustic instruments, but why would they do that, because it might attract attention? I do have characters in the film who play music on occasion, in their safe haven, but every time they play that music it reminds you of how much it’s fallen silent. So its presence emphasises its absence.

It also allowed us to focus on the sound design. Almost everything you hear on-screen was re-recorded afterwards. Every rustle of a branch, every creak in the floorboard, every bit of wind. My sound designer Jamie Roden and his team spent a huge amount of time creating that so we could control every element of the audience’s experience. We mixed the film in mono, and we tried to create a very heightened suspension of disbelief, it’s a very interesting experience in that regard. So much of the film is told through sound and because you can’t always tell where it’s coming from, it’s more tense. It’s an aural experience.

One critic has cited that The Survivalist is like “Interstellar Meets Cabin in the Woods”, were there any films, or filmmakers you drew from particularly in the making of this film?

That was my favourite comment. It got it down. It’s an expansive story in a small space.

I’ve always been influenced by Christopher Nolan and his making a micro-budget film and then a bigger film and a bigger film. This is my Memento… it was a twist on the murder-revenge story and The Survivalist is a twist on the Cabin in the Woods story. Typically it’s about a group of people discover a cabin and all is not well or there’s a strange man there. This film is told from that strange man’s perspective.

There are other influences as well, like Robert Zemeckis, who I’m a tremendous fan of. Marty McCann and Marty McFly aren’t so adjacent in terms of how likeable they are, even though they’re from completely different worlds.

And my big influence was Andrei Tarkovsky; a Russian filmmaker whose made some incredible films, including Stalker, which was a science fiction film but not really. It was all about the choices the characters made and I thought that was wonderful. It was so strange and spiritual and where The Survivalist really works as a film are some of its most spiritual moments and the moments I liked most in Tarkovsky are like that as well.

What was the biggest challenge of making this film?

The biggest problem with a lot of films is your cast; if you haven’t cast correctly or had the time and I made a decision in this that I was going to cast it right and get the time I needed on-set. And so I would spend a lot of time rehearsing on set with the cast. The process was so centred around them and that meant sometimes I ran behind because I was so focused on getting the best performance from him. So making sure they had the time to do that when you’re surrounded by a big production machine was one of the big challenges.

The other major challenge was creating the sound, which we were making from scratch. To make it sound realistic but totally controlled as well was the thing that took the longest out of any aspect of the movie.

Did your short films – one of which is a prequel to The Survivalist – provide a good starting point from which to direct your first feature?

Short films are essentially sketchbooks for oil paintings. We did a prequel to the movie called Magpie which was funded by the BFI as a trial run for how I would direct The Survivalist and I cast Martin in that and he was so good I cast him in the feature and we were shooting within a matter of months. It was a great experience – we had a lot of the same crew – it was fascinating beginning to establish the language of shooting a feature film. It’s a brilliant idea, if you get the chance to make 15 minutes of the movie you’re going to do you find out what works and what doesn’t work. In Magpie the performances are really good, but the one thing I didn’t like, if this is set in a world where everyone is starving, the actors look very well-fed. So I knew for The Survivalist they had to lose weight. So for 10 weeks prior to the shoot Martin began dropping his eating massively. We had a nutritionist who advised Martin (McCann), Mia (Goth) and Olwen (Fouere) on cutting back their diet. Olwen remained on the diet throughout the whole production. That’s something that came from the experience of shooting Magpie.

“The biggest lesson I’ve always taken forth with me – and it’s taken a long time – is that the actors tell the story”.

The film is a very lean, tense thriller, was that the case from the get-go or did you have to leave a lot on the editing room floor?

The premise was fundamentally suspenseful because you have three characters in a cabin and there’s not enough food for all of them. So whatever way you cut it, every scene should be full of tension. Every single scene. Anytime anything is happening on screen, one of the characters could die. I’ve sat through screenings with 300 people where nobody goes to the toilet because it’s so tense.

A lot of that as well is to do with my editor Mark (Towns; Lilting), who has a strong background in documentary and has won a BAFTA for it, and we’re very disciplined in making sure the audience have the best experience. It’s essentially a cable we’re running the audience along and the tighter that cable is, the better the experience.

What was your favourite scene to shoot?

There’s so many great scenes in the film because of the decisions the actors made. My favourite sequence is probably the arrival of the women through to the shaving scene and walking that scene through with the actors really added to the realism of it. When Martin takes the actors inside [the cabin], I didn’t tell the actors I was going to film that. I kept the camera rolling, so when Mia walked into the cabin for the first time it’s the first time she’s seen it. She’s looking around and the focus-puller is a bit caught off guard and he’s trying to keep her sharp. There’s a really magic to the first time you do anything. In fact in that scene one of the actors is wearing a microphone but you don’t notice because you’re looking at their faces. That was absolutely fantastic. It’s going to be rare for me to get the opportunity to work with three actors as talented as Martin, Mia and Olwen and have the freedom to do that on set. When you move to a bigger production, it’s more controlled, there’s less chance for improvisation and one of the special things about this is you’re rarely going to see a better cast given the space to make interesting choices.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a filmmaker?

They’re all really important. The biggest lesson I’ve always taken forth with me – and it’s taken a long time – is that the actors tell the story. When I got into filmmaking I was obsessed with the camera, with formats, dollies, cranes but I’ve worked for a long time with my editor and he says the most important thing is what you’re cast do. He says I can’t do anything if the cast haven’t given me something to cut with. And I had to make a lot of choices and compromises, as you have to with any low-budget film, in order to protect the actors so they could deliver their performances and it’s really reinforced that in the process because as long as the actors can tell the story, you’ll be alright.

The Survivalist is out now, alongside two more of Stephen Fingleton’s short films; Insulin and Away Days, only on We Are Colony.

 

6 Films To Watch After You’ve Seen The Survivalist

Originally published on We Are Colony.

In The Survivalist, BAFTA-nominated Stephen Fingleton creates an intensely realistic vision of a post-collapse world. The loss of modern luxuries and amenities force three survivors to collate all their wits and resources to avoid encroaching danger.

To celebrate its release in cinemas and on VOD, I recalled six other films that pit their protagonists against extreme circumstances and make you more than glad to be inside watching them…

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Mad Max: Fury Road (DIR. George Miller, 2015)

A post-apocalyptic movie on steroids, Mad Max is arguably last year’s most talked about film. Where The Survivalist is sparse and introspective, Fury Road is a ferocious whirlwind of CGI spectacle. Still, there’s a reason Indiewire labeled Fingleton’s debut “Mad Max in the countryside”. Each bring a vivid sense of detail to the ‘end of the world’ scenarios they have created to startling effect.

The Survivalist revels in the muddy minutiae of a post-collapse environment.”

Snowpiercer (DIR. Bong Joon-ho, 2013)

Set on a train trapped in an infinite loop around a frozen planet, the world’s dwindling resources inspire a group of ‘third class’ passengers – among them Captain America (Chris Evans), Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) and the Elephant Man (John Hurt) – to overthrow the oligarchs that power the engine.

Refreshingly different in its take on disaster, Snowpiercer is an absurdist piece of cinema. Visually it might not have much in common with The Survivalist, which revels in the muddy minutiae of a post-collapse environment, but it’s a stellar example of how to inject a bit of humour into what’s typically a sombre genre.

Equal parts suspense and horror, Snowpiercer is contemplative yet entertaining and where both films excel is in their ability to tell an expansive story in a small space.

The Road (DIR. John Hillcoat, 2009)

Speaking of sombre, John Hillcoat’s The Road is the often held up as a litmus test against which apocalyptic films are inevitably compared. As Viggo Mortensen shepherds Kodi Smit-McPhee across a ravaged, cannibalized America, it’s hard to recall a film that has so frighteningly depicted austerity.

The result is something remarkable and haunting, but which, at times, feels excessive. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s elegiac score orchestrates certain moments to detrimental effect and there are sequences where silence alone could be more fitting. The Coen brothers, in their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, left the soundtrack devoid of music, a choice which subsequently maximizes tension.

Indeed, where The Survivalist is most effective is in its absence of music; when pregnant silences and the threat that fills them, linger.

“Cuarón and Fingleton exhibit a flare for kinetic filmmaking, utilising tracking shots to explore a primitive landscape with poetic flourish”.

Children Of Men (DIR. Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

The world is a battleground in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men and Clive Owen must act as bodyguard to society’s last hope at regeneration. Now twice Oscar-anointed, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki demonstrates striking visual prowess. His recreation of a war-torn dystopia, where characters live in perpetual fear of being struck by a bullet or a bomb is astounding.
The Survivalist employs a similar aesthetic of dirt and drizzle, and both embrace a costume and production design that feels chillingly plausible. Likewise, Cuarón and Fingleton exhibit a flare for kinetic filmmaking, utilizing tracking shots to explore a primitive landscape with poetic flourish.

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The Rover (DIR. David Michôd, 2014)

Australian director David Michod’s follow-up to Animal Kingdom sees Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce exchanging blows against the backdrop of a desolate, dystopian society.
Perhaps most similar to The Survivalist, what separates both these films from the lesser iterations of their genre is the focus on the human condition as opposed to the context. The reasons for economic and societal collapse are for the foremost left a mystery, and in a world where supplies and a sense of order are scarce, The Rover and The Survivalist question what’s left of mankind when civilization and its organizing principles disappear.

“An immersive, intimate experience against the backdrop of a sublime and primal landscape”.

The Revenant (DIR. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)

The film that might finally secure Leonardo DiCaprio his long awaited Oscar, sees him take on a bear, a perilous journey and a Tom Hardy with an agenda. To say it’s deserving is an understatement.

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Whilst The Survivalist’s scale might be smaller, both films test the endurance of their protagonists as they are confronted by punishing situations that push their bodies and psychological strength to the limit.  In a world that is as exquisitely beautiful as it is brutal, the imminence of death seems omnipresent.

With little dialogue, our only window into the pain that DiCaprio’s vengeful frontiersman Hugh Glass suffers is the nuance of his performance and he more than delivers. In The Survivalist, Irish actor Martin McCann likewise has to experience the woes of maggots and using fire to self-heal, though he’s spared the grizzly encounter. In each film, the result is an immersive, intimate experience against the backdrop a sublime and primal landscape.

The Survivalist, alongside two exclusive short films, is now available on We Are Colony with behind-the-scenes extras: http://www.wearecolony.com/the-survivalist

5 Female Directors You Should Know…

The paucity of female filmmakers has almost reached the point of media saturation. It doesn’t take long to find statistics or editorials decrying the severe scantiness of a female perspective in the film industry. As well as being an all-white affair, this year’s Academy Awards are once again male-dominated, with zero women being nominated in the Directing or Cinematography categories. However, I would contend that it’s not because there is an actual lack of talented, insightful and masterful women helming films but rather fewer opportunities presented to them.

I was reading a piece in The Guardianthe other day about a film critic who is vowing to watch films only penned, or purposed by women. Her justification for including male-directed, but female-written film is as follows:

“A lot of times a woman will write a script and in order to get it made, she’ll need a male director. If she goes to a financier, as a female screenwriter with a female director, she will be turned down. But if you have a female screenwriter and a male director who has one or two films behind him – or even if it’s his debut – financiers are more likely to back a film by a man”.

And in that brief statement, Gates articulates the core issue. Gender discrimination in Hollywood is pervasive, and destructive. It’s like a community sitting atop a vast field of untapped oil, and being told it doesn’t exist – that those resources are somehow inferior, or less visible than the ones they have access to. That would be a massive squandering of potential, and quite frankly, ridiculous. Yet the difficulty women have making movies, or making money making movies, is often viewed as ‘just the way it is’.

Here to prove that point – that it’s not a lack of female directors, but a lack of opportunity – are 5 up-and coming or established directors who are doing their thing, and doing it quite brilliantly. Of course there are plenty more that deserve your curiosity, but these are the ladies currently capturing my attention…

5. KKat+Coiro+Case+Premieres+Tribeca+Film+Festival+a1ZquC2imW_lat Coiro

With three feature-length projects under her belt in as many years, Coiro is perhaps the most prolific director of my selection. Her films And While We Were Here, (which I review in my last blog post), Life Happens, and A Case of You, often focus on the difficult choices that women are faced to make, such as between career and family. The critical response to her films has been mixed, however her female leads are all intriguing, flawed but ultimately likeable people that don’t necessarily have their shit all figured out. Particularly interesting in A Case of You is how the male lead (playing by the affable Justin Long) is the one trying to change, and mould himself to lure his love interest, which is so often the other way around in romantic comedies directed by men. Her films are in turn delicate, nuanced, witty and beautifully realised. And While We Here particularly showcases an artistic vision and her potential as a director of great potency.

In_a_World_poster4. Lake Bell

If you haven’t see In A World… steal a friend’s Netflix password immediately. It’s hilarious and relevant, and reveals actress Lake Bell to not only be a great comedic performer, but also a very astute director. It’s a satirical piece that charts a young woman’s attempt to compete in the male-dominated world of voiceovers and Bell never misses a beat nor an opportunity to underscore the double-standarded nature of the entertainment business. In A World… is a pacy and well-crafted feature length debut for Bell, and one that has me incredibly, insatiably excited for her collaboration with Noah Baumbach for her next project The Emperor’s Children. 

Amma Asante3. Amma Asante

Belle might be better known for launching EE Rising Star nominee Gugu Mbatha-Raw into the spotlight, but behind her confident, multi-faceted performance is Ghanian-British director Asante. Tackling the slave trade – especially after awards-sweeper 12 Years a Slave – in an original and sensitive way, is no mean feat, but it is one that Asante achieves with the deft of a director considerably more experienced. This is her first big-budget film, after her smaller 2004 debut A Way of Life, which won a handful of awards and lots of praise. Powerful, poignant and intelligent, Belle is a mischievous, and much-needed divergence from traditional period costume-dramas and one that has me hoping it doesn’t take Asante another 10 years to release a film.

fid131102. Haifaa Al-Mansour

Al-Mansour is from Saudi Arabia, a country where extreme restrictions and limitations are placed on the female population; where they aren’t allowed to wear certain clothes, drive cars or compete in sports, let alone direct a groundbreaking and thought-provoking film. But against these curtailments of her freedom, that’s exactly what Al-Mansour did with Wadjda in 2013, a courageous, endearing and important film that picked up several awards nominations on the film festival circuit. Al-Mansour is to make the cross over to Hollywood with a Mary Shelley biopic, in which Elle Fanning is slated to star in the titular role. Let’s hope she continues to push boundaries upon arrival.

BN-FZ257_ava2_DV_201412111612591. Ava DuVernay

If there’s one name you should remember from this year’s awards season, its Ava DuVernay. Though she just missed out on a Best Directing nomination for her Martin Luther King biopic Selma, she has done something arguably much more admirable – broken through the glass ceiling. Historical films such as this are predominantly the reserve of a male director and it’s rare for a woman to be charged with detailing the events surrounding one of the most important victories for the Civil Rights movement, as spear-headed by the most important figure of the Civil Rights movement. And yet she does it in blistering, gutsy and and complex style. She’s got filmmaking verve by the bucketload, and shows great amounts of restraint and intelligence in her formal approach. DuVernay might not pick up any awards, but she should win herself a legion of fans and cement her position as a talent to take serious note of.

Filmmaking Trends Of 2014

Originally published by Raindance.

At the beginning of this year, Raindance took to the crystal ball and presciently published their filmmaking insights for 2014. So as the Christmas countdown begins and the yearly round-ups start to appear, here’s a retrospective on the trends that took flight and those that are delayed…

1. Mini Content Marketing

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Sitting comfortably at third position in the list of highest grossing movies of the year, is Warner Bros. The Lego Movie. A candidate arguably made for mini-content marketing, given that it stars, well, mini people; this is but one example wherein our prediction came true. With a budget of $60million, it made $9million profit on opening weekend in the US alone and did so with a content marketing campaign that has been labelled a triumph; remaining relevant and appealing to both children and adults.

The Lego Movie built a solid and engaged Twitter campaign, keeping a constant eye on its feeds and remaining personal to its audience. They also launched a ‘Fan of the Week’ competition across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine platforms, encouraging followers to upload photos and involve themselves in a dialogue with other fans, as well as continuing to upload their own animated content. By utilising short-form content and immersing themselves in the digital world, Lego brought themselves up-to-date and a larger audience along with it. Whilst the content itself may be quicker than a flash, this trend is certainly not a flash in the pan. Consumers and audiences have become accustomed to advertising that revels in immediacy, brevity and interaction and with a success story such as The Lego Movie’s, other brands would be foolish not to follow suit.

2. The Death Of Film

You don’t need powers of premonition to predict that celluloid, like the dodo before it, is on its last legs. Since 2010/11, the industry has recognised and acted upon, the benefits of digital filming. There are some filmmakers still clinging onto celluloid, meaning that a handful of future releases will still hark back to the golden age of cinema. Director Quentin Tarantino for instance, spoke at Cannes 2014 reiterating his disdain for digital projection and his intentions to continue shooting on 35mm film. But certainly, most cinema releases this year and undoubtedly in the years to come, are being filmed on high-tech and rapidly improving digital technology. Start practicing your ‘Funeral March’, because come 2015, celluloid could well and truly have kicked the bucket.

nexusae0_unnamed163. International Reach of VOD

Like the evil villain of the entertainment universe, one can envision the CEO of Netflix sitting in a black leather chair, stroking its pet cat and dreaming of world domination. Whether or not such lofty visions are realised remains to be seen, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Netflix is a game-changer in the way films are released and distributed.

 Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has claimed that “the current distribution model for movies in the US particularly, but also round the world, is pretty antiquated relative to the on-demand generation that [Netflix] are trying to serve.”

Our voracious appetite for instant entertainment has seen growth in the online streaming and VOD markets soar. Gradually evolving from a distribution, to an acquisition and production platform, Netflix is now worth more than some of the Hollywood studios that license movies to it and thus we predicted the supersession of the studio, rendered irrelevant to the process of getting content to consumers. However, Netflix has also made a sly business move that gives it an edge over streaming competitors in that it partners with established production studios to create it’s content. Therefore accruing the production know-how and efficiency of professionals, and distributing the finished product to subscribers whilst their rivals struggle to start the process from scratch. This signals that the middleman isn’t so much removed, as merged into the production process.

In Netflix’s aggressive pursuit of increased original content, however, there may be unprecedented pressure on studios, streaming services and broadcasters to acquire high-quality and innovative entertainment to differentiate themselves. Certainly, Netflix’s rise to power signals the dawn of a very different cinematic landscape. As a recent article on Forbes predicted, this changing landscape could result in “independent films [being] financed by pre-sales to Netflix, not the local distributors. Netflix may be a vibrant, important source of new financing that disrupts the studio system and bypasses standard distribution channels”.

4. Collapsing Windows

In keeping with the disruption of the studio system, Raindance predicted that the waiting time between the theatrical and home release of a film would disintegrate significantly. Whilst we have yet to see such drastic shrinkage between this gap, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg predicted earlier this year that theatrical windows would diminish to approximately three weeks in the next 10 years, indicating the industry’s awareness that they need to catch up with the demands of the internet age. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has also recognised that “the movie-going experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement”. People dragging their heels might argue that same-day release for on-demand and theatrical viewings would impede box-office totals. Hushing this puppy however, are two films acquired and distributed by Roadside: Margin Call and Arbitrage, as well as the more recent Bachelorette. They all used a multi-platform release strategy, which saw simultaneous availability in theatres and online, and which didn’t damage profits. VOD is more than the runt of the distribution litter, and whilst it may take a while for studios to come around, on-demand could begin to coincide with on-screen more and more.

 5. Cameo

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Cameo is an app that aims to do more than just let you shoot bite-sized video clips on your iPhone — its cloud video editing platform lets you turn those clips into two-minute long short films.Cameo sets itself apart from the competition by offering features like HD recording and collaborative editing, as well as the ability to record and share videos that are longer than what’s available to Vine or Instagram users and purports to be rooted in a storytelling experience that could be appealing to filmmakers. It has yet to take-off in the way Instagram saturates our lives, with just over 2,500 likes on its Facebook page, compared to Instagram’s 25,680,837. But there’s potential for growth, and 2015 could be the year it makes more than a cameo appearance.

6. Online Video

Raindance predicted that online video platforms such as YouTube would continue to grow has unsurprisingly been proved correct. Since it’s inception in 2005, YouTube has consistently undergone exponential growth in both uploads and views. In 2014, YouTube reported statistics that they received 100 hours of content per minute, and more than 1 billion unique users visits the site each month. Whilst the channels with the most subscribers are predominantly categorised under ‘film’ and ‘entertainment’, thus suggesting that this could be a primary and potentially, widespread platform for filmmakers to distribute their product.

However, it’s not necessarily a lucrative path to go down. Most people release their films via VOD platforms until sales begin to trickle and then move to the free/subscription platforms such as YouTube. To acquire advertisements and subscribers, you need people to return to your channel and uploading one film isn’t necessarily going to generate that level of interest, especially in a landscape in which the filmmaking process has been democratised and more films are available to audiences. One way to build up a fan base prior to the release of your film could be to share the filmmaking experience or tips learnt along the way in regularly updated snippets, like DVD extras but as a marketing technique, so viewers are invested the ‘making of’ before it’s been made.

YouTube requires dedication and consistency to make it a viable film distribution platform. You can’t hit upload and expect people to come flocking to your film, like they would a studio blockbuster on opening weekend. That being said, it remains a cheap and interactive way to garner feedback and a loyal fan base, as well as being a portfolio that could lead to something bigger – like a distribution deal. The launch of the YouTube Film Festival also signifies that this is a platform that could over time proliferate and it remains an underrated, and perhaps undervalued means of getting movies to the masses.

7. Crowd-funding

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Kickstarter is increasingly used by film-makers to raise finance for movies. In 2013, producers of the Veronica Mars TV show secured a staggering £3.70m to revive the detective series as a feature film. Whilst, the Charlie Kaufman-scripted stop-motion film Anomalisa raised a then-record £250,600. In 2014, Zach Braff’s crowd-funded film Wish I Was Here released to relative acclaim. Gap-financing was used, but it relied on Kickstarter for a good portion of its budget and rewarded donors with special screening, after-parties and the opportunity to participate in production.

Whilst I can’t see crowd-funding becoming mainstream, for independent films it provides another means by which to raise money and to have their voices heard. Ultimately, it gives fans and audiences greater control over their entertainment – as evidenced when the axed Veronica Mars got a new lease of life; as well as enabling filmmakers to push creative boundaries in ways that traditional funding or studio interference might curtail. As filmmakers are forced to become even more entrepreneurial, crowd-funding is a viable solution to the money problem.

8. Lytro

This August, Lytro released their Illium camera, marketed under the banner that this was the future of photography. With a lens that allows you to shoot from several perspectives, to focus pictures later or to view in 3D, as well as offering cleaner, brighter, higher-quality images, it promises technical wizardry like no other camera out there. But technically, it’s still got a way to go before being able to compete with the DSLR, and is currently hindered by its inability to shoot video. There are impracticalities and impossibilities in terms of its design, software and capabilities that it needs to iron out before it can even consider catching on. Sure, it’s a glimpse of the future, but one that’s not upon us just yet.

9. Customised Ratings

It was suggested that films might begin to include ratings according to its result in the Bechdel Test, i.e. a level of feminism rating, which could then snowball to encompass various other causes. However, film ratings more tailored to audience niches is something that has yet to really take flight. Arguably institutions such as the BBFC have worked for decades to give audiences an idea of the levels of violence, nudity, sexuality and profanity they can expect from a film and changing this system would take a lot of hard-graft. Nevertheless, the BBFC is increasingly active in the online realm, collaborating with the home entertainment industry, to offer guidance in a way that complies with public demand, so perhaps this a development to keep any eye one. 

14039080406_cf494dec35_z10. Enhanced Cinema Experience

 Rather than enhanced, I would contend that the cinema experience has become specialised, or spectacular-ised. One example from this year was the Secret Cinema screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which boasted a clandestine, and theatrical experience centred around the showing of Wes Anderson’s latest film. The event required guests to dress-up in 1930s style attire, to bring an alpine postcard or pink flowers, and for those going the extra mile, to learn how to waltz. The themed night brought an air of opulence and occasion to an already impressively stylish film. Tickets are steep, at around £50, but certainly it creates something more memorable than your standard cinema-going trip and the buzz surrounding the event indicates that this trend of immersive, exclusive cinema treats is likely to continue. Equally, outdoor summer screenings are more popular than ever, with more and more venues setting up a series throughout July and August. It seems entertainment venues are cottoning on to the notion they have to provide more than just popcorn and a movie to satiate audience’s growing expectations. Cheap dates we are not.

It’s clear to see that the cinematic landscape is one undergoing constant evolution. Changes and improvements might be incremental, but they are altering the way we make, watch and think about films that will have a dramatic impact for decades to come.