Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams & Kylie Gallner
Dear White People is one of the best debuts of recent years and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Although it has been out in the US for nearly a year now, and finally being released in the UK this summer, it’s one of the few films that might get better with each viewing when one considers its representation of racial tension in the Obama era.The film follows several students at Winchester University. One of which is Sam White (Thompson), a film major who causes an uproar by hosting a local campus radio broadcast called ‘Dear White People’ that confronts white people and their pre-conceived notions of black people based on stereotypes and negative portrayals in the media. This does not sit well with many of the students, nor the Dean and the President of Winchester. This leads to a growing amount of racial tension among the students who not only start to challenge how they perceive others but how they view themselves.
Everybody involved, especially the cast, should be on every ‘up and coming’ list. However, the biggest star of the film is writer/director Justin Simien. Many have discussed how well Simien has managed to handle the subject matter, which is rather taboo Hollywood territory, in his debut film. However, very few have commented on how or possibly why he’s been able to achieve such a difficult task that even the most experienced of filmmakers would find hard to explore. Simien’s film does not solely deal with race but rather identity and how one affects the other. Close-ups, direct questions to the audience and literary devices all add up to a good mix of cinematic and theatrical elements while referencing contemporary filmmaking influences.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence & Rhys Ifans
Kind words were few and far between for Susanne Bier’s latest Serena, when it was released last October which came as no surprise considering its troubled production and distribution problems. The film started filming in early 2012 and took a year and a half to complete. During this time Bier had directed two other projects and cast members Cooper and Lawrence had already starred in two other successful films together, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, in addition to becoming household names in Hollywood. The question is does Serena fare better on DVD or are the problems that plagued the production of the film still holding it back? Well yes and no.
George Pemberton (Cooper) is struggling to keep the future of his timber business afloat in Depression-era America. In order to secure a better future for his business his loyal business partner Buchanan (David Dencik) decides to make some illegal business deals and alerts the already suspicious local Sheriff McDowell (Toby Jones). Things become even more complicated when Pemberton falls in love with and marries the eponymous Serena (Lawrence), who is not what she seems and becomes depressed when learning that she cannot bear children.
Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell & Mark Ruffalo
We’re all familiar with films revolving around enlightened characters helping the underprivileged from their plight in order to reach their goal, whether it be getting good grades or winning the school championship. Many are based on fictional characters. However, what if all of these familiar conventions were turned on their head?
Foxcatcher tells the true story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), an Olympic Gold Medal winner who feels overshadowed by his supportive brother Dave (Ruffalo) who receives more accolades for his wrestling leadership and achievements. Mark is requested by a mysterious millionaire John Du Pont (Carell) to leave home and move to his estate and train for the 1988 Olympics. Mark agrees and tries to persuade Dave to do the same thing who refuses due to his family commitments. As coaching begins, Du Pont starts to show his darker side and influences Mark for the worse making him self-destructive and more distant from his loved ones. This becomes a major concern for his loving brother Dave which all builds up to a disturbing end for everybody involved.
“I said $25,000. It was the biggest number I could think of” is one of the most telling and revealing lines of Foxcatcher. Initially one may believe this is due to the fact that it informs the viewer of Schultz’s intelligence. However, it shows how sadly oblivious he is to the world he is about to enter. His limits may restrict him in life but due to his naturally good-natured heart they also protect him from people like Du Pont that pray on his success in order to manipulate him. Although Du Pont is the father figure that Schultz has been searching for all these years he also makes up for bringing out the darker vulnerable side of Schultz by being present in his life and providing but emotionally distant and a constant reminder of his disappointments.
This is also why silence, as opposed to dialogue, is just as much a character in the film as others where many speak in a slow, subtle tone. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) uses awkward silences effectively at specific moments of to evoke emotions of concern and sometimes emptiness characters feel towards one another. In one of the more comical yet somber scenes, Du Pont’s snobbish unwell mother Jean Du Pont (Vanessa Redgrave), who looks down upon him for the profession he chose to pursue, appears unannounced at a training session. Du Pont readily makes himself out to be the principal coach by taking over the duties. As John struggles to keep up the basic front of impersonating a coach, swiftly running out of breath and ideas, mother Du Pont simply sits still without saying a word looking right through her son’s transparent soul as if he is not there.
Tatum stomps around in a vulnerable, sulking manner with an emotionless face throughout the whole duration. However, his mental state is still apparent due to his animalistic movements. Tatum is both restrained yet physical. Carell in his first dramatic role excels beyond expectations and perfectly captures Du Pont’s creepy unsettling persona while portraying traits of that reflect those of his prey Foxcatcher may prove to be too emotionally draining for some, but it remains one of the best dramas in recent years.
Starring Agyness Deyn, Lenora Crichlow & Christian Cooke
Electricity is the much talked about low-budget British drama film that impressed many at this year’s London Film Festival. One of the things that viewers found unique about the film was its dealing of a subject matter rarely portrayed in cinema, epilepsy. Marking his second film feature, director Bryn Higgins also casts many promising up-and-coming actors including model-turned actress Agyness Deyn in the lead role.
Finding Vivian Maier continues the recent trend of documentaries about inadvertently influential individuals. Similarities between this documentary and A Band Called Death, Beware of Mr. Baker and Seaching for Sugarman are ripe but whereas some retrieved about said artists, Vivian Maier was truly a mystery even to those that knew her.
Doing research for his book director John Maloof ends up winning a box of old negatives at a local auction. After going through all the contents, he realises how amazing the pictures are and searches for information on the artist but literally finds nothing online about the photographer. Maloof then decides to build a dark room and present the pictures in their best form to be exhibited at museums, but none respond successfully. After posting online and asking for any information on Maier eventually he was able to find family members, friends and associates. The audience gets to witness his journey in coming across an unknown innovative street photographer and explore her mysterious character.
Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist & Paul Reiser
Ambition, dedication, determination. How far will people go to achieve their ultimate passion in life? It’s a question raised in many films but in such a conventional manner that one just tends to forget about it and concentrate on the other aspects. When it’s made the main focus though, that’s when the true verification is present. Sometimes something as simple as drive or ambition can prove to be just as intense as the use of violence or action in a film. Whiplash is a great example as to why.
Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a promising young Jazz drummer who enrolls himself into a competitive music school because according to him it’s the best one in the world and he wants to be the best Jazz drummer that ever lived. He also wants to impress tough-to-please music instructor Fletcher (Simmons) who initially inspires Andrew but pushes his students to the limit to reach their full potential.
Starring Jack O’Connell, Killian Scott, David Wilmot and Sean Harris
‘71 tells the story of Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), a young British soldier that is left behind by his unit in Belfast after a small riot. We follow hook’s survival to return back to his barracks before he is captured by ruthless Provisional Irish Republican Army members.
Yann Demange is a person that should be on everybody’s ‘directors to look out for’ list. It may come as a surprise to many after viewing ’71 that it is Demange’s cinematic debut (he also directed a large chunk of Channel 4’s acclaimed Top Boy) His great sense of intense urgency is one to be recognised, the sophistication and confidence conveyed in the handling of the material is that of a veteran filmmaker. Demange manages to achieve the near impossible, of creating an informative action packed adrenaline induced film while upholding the political intent and awareness without becoming preachy. The characters are so well developed that they seem to drive the action forward rather than the other way around.
Jack O’Connell’s portrayal of the young, oblivious but determined everyman Gary Hook is one of the best of the year, O’Connell almost makes it seem effortless in going smoothly from naivety to dismay, reflecting Hook’s shocks and revelations through subtle facial expressions and realistic reactions to the horrors and corruption of war.
Hands up anybody who knows who Violette Leduc is? Anybody? Nobody? Calm down you in the front, you’re the only one with your hand up, be patient. Luckily one can still watch the film with limited knowledge of its subject matter and still take a lot from it.
Violette Leduc (Devos) is living with writer Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py) during the later years of the Second World War. Despite her forceful, desperate advances Sachs is not attracted to Leduc which contributes to her low self-esteem stemming from being an illegitimate daughter and very critical mother. Sachs eventually runs away but encourages Leduc to be an author, which she pursues. After developing a relationship with fellow writer Simone de Beauvoir (Kiberlain), who introduces her to other intellectuals such as Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé), Ludec starts to fall for Beavoir which starts to affect her work as she struggles to gain confidence and tries to come to terms with her own image and identity issues.
The film is an intriguing, sometimes overwhelming, character analysis mainly consisting of Leduc suffering with many artistic demons that a modern audience would possibly associate with creative people today. However, these very same traits made Leduc out to be an outcast and unusual among her peers at the time. Dealing with unstable reservations about the quality of her work, being open about her sexuality, pushing the boundaries of French feminism among other struggles affected Leduc physically and mentally.
Director Provost portrays these character flaws in what appears to be an ordinary but actually quite sophisticated approach, using literary techniques such as chapters to introduce different turning points in Leduc’s life and emphasises the subject matter. Provost’s knack for concentrating on narrow, awkward spaces is an intelligent effective technique that reflects Leduc’s troubled psychological moods of somebody only feeling at ease through their work and praise from fellow peers. One could say using these visual aspects, Provost at times seems to channel the past work of other directors such as Oliver Stone. It should be noted that Devos captures these slight nuances and characteristics perfectly in a strong performance that makes the audience yearn for Violette to find the satisfaction she so deserves no matter where it comes from.
This aspect is however, a double-edged sword as what was a highlight eventually becomes a glaring flaw. A formula is formed in which we see Leduc faced with a dilemma and try to overcome it a number of times, the film starts to feel too episodic and one can almost guess what the forthcoming scenes entail.
Violette is a memorable film due to the excellent performances which and high point of the film. Emmanuelle Devos in particular excels, embodying Leduc’s mannerisms and persona. Cinematography is visually engaging for the most part and has a delicate coldness to it. It slightly seems to drag towards the end and while the subject matter can be heavier than expected at times, within reason, it’s managed well by the Provost with some humorous moments to lighten the mood.
Using my usual approach to watching something new, I avoided nearly every review or write-up of Polanski’s Venus in Fur and wanted to uphold an element of surprise. Once I popped in the DVD and realised that the whole film would be set in the theatre with two characters I was even more intrigued. Being a fan of contained single-setting films such as Robert Altman’s Secret Honour or overlooked seventies drama Inserts I was excited to see how Polanski, similar to his masterful Knife in the Water would deal with the familiar subject matter and limited setting.
When we first meet struggling actress Vanda (Seigner) she embodies a desirable but exhausting energy, in contrast to the anxious but still laid back writer-director Thomas (Amalric). Thomas is screaming in frustration on the phone about all the terrible actresses he has seen that day for the main role in his new play as the ambitious Vanda seeks her way into the theatre. Persistent that she is perfect for the role against Thomas’ wishes, he finally gives in and lets her audition. He realises that she is indeed the actress he is looking for; she knows all the lines by heart and understands everything about the character. Throughout the last minute rehearsals Thomas starts to obsess over Vanda, who may or may not be what she says she is.
Starring Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg and Alan Ford
Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is about to be turn 100. His retirement home has organised a huge party to celebrate his Birthday. Allan escapes from his room, accidentally takes possession of a ruthless gangster’s millions, gathers up a group of people just as peculiar as he is who decide to go on a unique journey with him.In a series of flashbacks narrated by a casual Allan we see how he has become this outgoing, zany character.
Based on the successful Swedish novel by the same name, the initial comparison to Forrest Gump is expected. However, as I sat and watched Allan go on his exciting adventures with a unique, nonchalant outlook on life the more I was reminded of Woody Allen’s under-appreciated classic Zelig. Allen plays Zelig who, similar to Allan, meets various dictators and notorious historical figures but has a chameleon like attribute where he can perfectly mimic anybody he is around. In this case however, Karlsson has no desire to mimic anybody in order to fit into society. Early on we learn that Allan has a knack for blowing things up due to his infatuation with dynamite. This trait doubles as not only his drawback but talent by both putting him in and getting him out of serious situations. In a strange twist, I felt as though the film almost plays out like an accidental homage to Michael Bay’s approach of filmmaking in a playful manner.