Manchester by the Sea USA 2016

manchester-by-the-sea1Saturday March 4th and Monday March 6th

It is good to have another opportunity to see this film, the best new release so far of 2017. That said, the first two months of the year have been fairly undistinguished: a number of good films but a lack of masterworks [Moonlight (2016) will hopefully remedy this]. This film garnered Lead Actor and Original Screenplay Awards at the recent Academy. I do still worry that a mislaid envelope may turn up and scupper either of these.

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler is superb and fulfils the promise displayed in his earlier films. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent. I was especially struck by Michelle Williams as Randi Chandler. She has a brief but powerful scene with Casey.

The film also fulfils the promise shown by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan in his previous films. He heads a fine production team and I was particularly struck by the cinematography by  Jody Lee Lipes, with some  beautifully executed exteriors on the North Eastern Atlantic coastline. And the  Film Editing by Jennifer Lame  is very fine, handling a complex set of flashbacks that fill out the story and the drama. Note, the actual town is ‘Manchester-by-the Sea’: odd that the title is different in all release versions as it suggests something else.

This is a film that deals with memories and loss that colour and inhibit the present. The powerful drama delves into these and the accompanying relationships with care and compassion. It is a long film, 137 minutes, but the characters and settings render that timescale completely absorbing.

Fences, USA 2016

Daily, Saturday February 18th through till Thursday February 23rd.

fences-2016-david-gropman-design

The two leading players in this film, Denzel Washington and Viola Davies, have both been nominated for Academy Awards. Viola Davis has already won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress. This, like the Academy Award, nomination, should really be for Best Actress as whilst her screen time is less than Washington her character and performance are equally essential to the film.

This is an actor’s films with both Washington and Davis reprising roles that they played on Broadway in 2010: Troy and Rose Maxton. And another player in this production Stephen McKinley Henderson as Jim Bono is part of a fine supporting cast.

The film is adapted from a play originally written in 1983 by August Wilson. He died in 2005 but had already written a screenplay on which this film is based. Wilson, whose early experiences of US racism informed his work, wrote a cycle of seven plays about Afro-American life and experiences. He insisted that this play, if adapted for cinema, should be directed by an African-American, and Washington both stars and directs.

The play fits into what is almost a genre of African-American life on film, harking back to A Raisin in the Sun (USA 1961), another play adapted first for television then cinema. In fact this film displays its theatrical origins both in structure and settings. It also has lengthy dialogue scenes but the delivery by the fine cast make these compelling and convincing.

The film is set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and moves onto the early 1960s. These times are an important backdrop to what is essentially a family drama. And the title, as Rose explains to Troy in one powerful scene, is itself a metaphor for the emotions and contradictions dramatised in this absorbing film.

T2 Trainspotting, UK 2017

Daily from Friday February 10th until Thursday February 16th

t2-trainspotting

This is a sequel twenty years on from the popular and well received original.  I suspect that the pleasures of watching the film will depend on how much you liked the 1996 title: this is clearly an exercise in retro-pleasure, even nostalgia. The original cast are all there; Ewan McGregor as Renton; Robert Carlyle as Begbie; Ewan Bremner as Spud; John Lee Miller as Simon. Kelly MacDonald also returns as Diane, but only in a brief walk-on part. She does tell Renton that the new romantic/sexual character Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) is ‘too young for you’.

The film also returns with familiar settings and tropes from the original: including toilets and the great Scottish outdoors. The new film also has the same certification as the earlier title, 18. However, from memory, I would say that this has slightly less violence and drug-taking and a little more sex.

The film uses extracts from the 1996 film, more frequently than I thought was justified or necessary. But it also shows the characters’ lives before the plot of 1996 and we get to see on-screen the meaning of the title of both films. At the same time it brings the story up-to-date in terms of changed mores and social settings. Thus we have Veronika who is from Bulgaria. And the ending of the film moves on from  that of 1990s Edinburgh.

The production values, including the cinematography and editing are very well done. However the film is circulating in  a 2K DCP which I think does less justice to the visual than the 35mm of the original. But probably as Renton proposes, ‘choose  Trainspotting 2′.

 

 

Toni Erdmann, Germany, Austria, Romania 2016.

Daily from Friday February 3rd till Thursday February 9th.

tonierdmannweb3

This film won the Best Film and two acting prizes at the European Film Awards 2016. It is also being considered for the Academy Awards and the UK BAFTAS. And it is one of three titles in line for the European Parliament’s Lux Prize.

The film was screened at the closing night of the 2016 Leeds International Film Festival. It is a long film, running for 162 minutes. It also has a very open narrative: the resolution is ambiguous and there are aspects of character and situation that are unexplained and/or unresolved.

“…it’s full of surprises, very warm and touching and frequently hilarious.” (LIFF Catalogue).

It does hold the interest, partly because of the central performances of Peter Simonischek as Winfried alias Toni and Sandra Hüller as his daughter Ines.  The film moves from Germany to Romania and from the comic to the dramatic and back and forth between these modes. Writer and director Maren Ade generally handles this very well though at times I found the opacity of the narrative slightly problematic. Ade includes a strong set of social themes, which I think is one reason for the film’s critical success. Sight & Sound placed it first in its top twenty films of 2016.

Definitely to be seen but prepare for a possible challenging two and half hours.

European audiences could vote for the film for the Lux Prize [including British citizens as we are still in the European Union]. There are two other finalist films; My Life as a Courgette / Ma vie de Courgette (France 2016), an animated film which was late addition to the Leeds International Film Festival programme; and As I Open My Eyes / À peine j’ouvre les yeux (Tunisia, France, Belgium, United Arab Emirates 2015). Unfortunately My Life as a Courgette seems to only have had the LIFF screening so far. And there is no sign of As I Open My Eyes at all. Final straw, the voting ended on January 31st!

 

 

Jackie

Showing daily from Friday 27th January
Jackie

“She remembers the roses. Three times that day in Texas they had been greeted with bouquets of yellow roses of Texas. Only, in Dallas they had given her red roses. She remembers thinking, how funny – red roses for me; and then the car was full of blood and red roses.”

This stylised and unconventional film about the experiences of first lady, Jackie Kennedy, in the wake of the assassination of her husband, takes it’s inspiration from a literary/journalistic source; an article written by Theodore H. White for the December 6 1963 edition of Life magazine entitled For President Kennedy, An Epilogue.

The interview White conducts with Jackie Kennedy Onassis at her home in Hyannis Port provides the framing device for the fractured narrative in which we look at the events that took place after the assassination, in particular, the funeral service in Washington D.C. and the changeover of presidency and occupation of the White House to Lyndon B. Johnson.

There are some great stylistic elements at play here. The White House set (filmed in a studio in France) is impressive, and the film was shot on super 16mm by regular Jacques Audiard DP, Stéphane Fontaine. It is also framed in the 1:66 aspect ratio, giving a convincing period feel, which beautifully recreates vintage newsreel footage.

Natalie Portman gives a strikingly un-melodramatic central performance as a self-possessed woman, struggling to appear strong and composed in the public eye, and angry at what she believes is the bad hand her husband had been dealt.

I also have to mention the great orchestral soundtrack, performed by Under the Skin composer, Mica Levi, which swells and threatens to overpower the images in parts.

Jake’s Top Films Of 2016

Following on from Keith’s Favourites from 2016 I commented and including my own list, here it is again in case you didn’t see it.

1. No Home Movie
Belgian artist and film maker, Chantal Akerman, revisits familiar themes here. A tough, yet beautiful piece of documentary self portraiture, that ranks with her greatest work.

2. The Assassin
A rigorous experiment with the themes of classical Chinese Wuxia films. Contemplative, with sparks of blunt aggression. The film Refn’s Drive (2011) wishes it could have been.

3. Fire at Sea
Verité document of Lampedusa (setting of this years La Piscine riff, A Bigger Splash, there couldn’t be a more different film). The cinematography and editing here is top notch, and highlights a fascinating microcosm reflecting larger global issues.

4. Court
I was completely knocked out by this Mumbai-set absurdist gem. An elderly dissent poet/singer is brought into court on trumped up charges of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide. The resulting case, and the efforts of both the defence and prosecution to bring it to a conclusion, creates a film that brings to mind the films of Ruben Östlund or possibly Roy Andersson.

5. Cemetery of Splendour
An ex-nurse and young soldier suffering from a mysterious sleeping sickness become friends as he drifts through different states of consciousness. Another wistful and gently funny magical realist masterpiece from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

… and the rest:
6. Little Men
7. Love and Friendship
8. American Honey
9. The Pearl Button
10. Louder than Bombs

La La Land, USA / Hong Kong 2016

Daily from Friday January 13th

la-la-land

This film challenges the conventional wisdom that the Hollywood romantic musical is dead or moribund. Deservedly the film has won awards at the recent Golden Globes, as has writer and director Damien Chazelle; the two stars Ryan Gosling (Seb) and Emma Stone (Mia); and the composer Justin Hurwitz. But praise is also due to the cinematographer Linus Sandgren; editor Tom Cross; and production designer David Wasco. I should add a special mention for choreographer Mandy Moore as the two stars are not experienced dancers, nor are they as skilled as Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, who receive a homage in the film. But the songs, dances and presentation are all completely engaging.

Apart from the homages to the great 1950s Hollywood musical the film also has parallels with Jacques Demy’s Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) and Martin Scorsese’s own foray into the genre, New York New York (1977); the latter was presumably an influence on the title. And as with Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash (2014) we can also enjoy references to the world of jazz.

The film is a bitter-sweet affair. Whilst the ‘Lighthouse Café’ [seen in the film] can still be enjoyed the ‘Rialto Cinema’ [another actual setting] is sadly closed. However, this film is so good I think we can expect to enjoy a further musical.

Favourites from 2016

arrival-movie-still

So we enter the Award season and the moment when we reflect back on the previous year. I thought a good year, but not a great year for film: but there were some great movies. Of the new releases that I watched at the HPPH I was especially impressed with:

Arrival (USA but also Canada 2016). Denis Villeneuve has directed the most interesting sci-fi in years and Amy Adams offers a sterling performance.

The Pearl Button / El botón de nácar *France, Spain, Chile, Switzerland 2015). Patricio Guzmán provided a documentary that was moving, analytical and both looked and sounded great.

Son of Saul / Saul fia (Hungary 2015). László Nemes produced an intense and revelatory treatment of an often overworked subject.

Taxi / Taxi Teheran (Iran 2015). I prefer film to video but Jafar Panahi can make an impressive film with any sort of cinematic technology.

Our Little Sister / Umimachi Diary (Japan 2016). The latest film by Hirokazu Koreeda is a simple tale of four sisters: and goes into my list of the top films of the century so far.

still-ourlittlesister2

We also enjoyed a lot of classics from times gone by. The best in a competitive field for me was:

Eternity and a Day / Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (France, Italy, Greece, Germany 1998). Theo Angelopoulos’ rich and complex film was screened in a good quality 35mm print.

2017, 100 years on …

soviet-directors

So welcome to the year in which we celebrate the centenary of the Great October Revolution. One enjoyable form of celebration will be to watch some of the masterworks of Soviet Montage Cinema. One obvious candidate is Sergei Eisenstein’s film of the historic event, Oktyabr (Ten Days That Shook the World, 1928).

Other key films that we may hopefully see this year on 35mm [four with live music) would be:

The New Babylon (Novyy Vavilon, 1929) directed by Grigori Kozintsev and  Leonid Trauberg. A powerful dramatisation of the historic Paris Commune of 1871: a forerunner for the October revolution.

Mother (Mat, 1926)  directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin. Set during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and based on the 1906 novel ‘The Mother’ by Maxim Gorky.

The Girl with a Hatbox (Devushka s korobkoy, 1927) directed by Boris Barnet and starring Anna Sten. The film satirises the ‘Nepmen’, entrepreneurs who were allowed to conduct commercial business during the New Economic Policy of the 1920s.

Earth (Zemlya, 1930) directed by Alexander Dovzhenko and dealing with the process of collectivization and the hostility exhibited by the Kulak landowners.

Enthusiasm (Entuziazm / Simfoniya Donbassa, 1931) directed by Dziga Vertov. A film celebrating Socialist Construction in the Don Valley of the Ukraine. Needs to be seen with its original soundtrack rather than with live music.