Category Archives: Film

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Enfant Terrible: Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken isn’t a name you come across often in the mainstream world of photography. Partly because he steered clear of commercial work and partly because of his reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ (loosely translated as the troublesome child). Like a lot of great artists, he refused to play by the rules, photograph nice people and pretty landscapes, instead he aimed to photograph all aspects of reality – the best and the worst of human nature.

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“I report on young, rebellious scum with pleasure … I rejoice in everything. Love. Courage. Beauty. Also blood, sweat and tears.”

Born in Amsterdam, der Elsken started off his career with the intention of becoming a sculptor before moving to Paris and discovering ‘la bohemes’ of Saint-Germain-de-Prés who would become the focus of his photography. Though much of his work purports to be documentary, it remains closely intertwined with the theatrical and surreal reflecting on the drug hazed bohemian society in which he lived. That said, the pictures are clearly rooted in the everyday rather than the transcendent, recording ‘characters’ in their intimate daily routines of drinking coffee, dozing and daydreaming. These are people who really existed despite polite society’s attempts to believe otherwise…

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der Elken also made a pretty hypnagogic film, Death in the Port Jackson Hotel, which features the star of the artist’s most famous photography series, Love on the Left Bank, Vali Myers, and is worth a watch if you can handle drawn out interviews with doe eyed hippies and bizarre sequences of toads mating.

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Film Review: Prince Avalanche

I’m a big fan of Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd so a film starring both of them is exactly the sort of film I like. Throw in some exceptionally beautiful shots of natural landscapes and that’s the sort of film I really like.

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Prince Avalanche has sort of side-stepped the big paper reviews, which is strange considering the hollywood names attached to it. It caught some attention when it was revealed Joyce Payne was given an impromptu cameo role when the film crew stumbled across her hunting through the rubble of her house, which had been destroyed six months earlier in the worst wildfire in Texas history in a wide brimmed red sun hat. But the film itself was little mentioned. Sadly this is probably due to the fact that it’s classed as an ‘indie flick’. Not enough sex, not enough blood, not mainstream enough for headlines.

The film is a new sort for the director of blockbuster, gore and drug filled Pineapple Express. It’s quiet, calm, gentle, solitary. An meditation on the friendship between two disparate men employed to repaint the yellow road lines in a Texas state park that’s been wiped clean by wildfires. It’s slow to start and unusually silent. My friend commented it made her ‘ears hurt’ straining for a sound. But it doesn’t need to be fast, this isn’t an action packed thriller. This is an exploration for director, cast, crew and audience. The camera lingers on the astounding views and the achingly sad wreckages of lost homes, allowing your mind to wander and contemplate the material destruction compared to the continuation and rebirth of nature.

As you can probably already guess it’s not the most uplifting of films, at least not at the start. Alvin (Rudd) has escaped into the wilderness to deal with his depression, whilst Lance (Hirsch), the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend, is an adult trapped in a teen’s body, who cries about not getting laid on his weekend away. There are humorous moments but they’re underlined by the tragic realisation that both characters are trapped in their own delusions.

The story is simple, real. No plot twists, no gasps. And unbelievably touching. It won’t win any oscars, but it will stay with you.

Give the trailer a go:

 

 

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Wes Anderson’s Masterpiece: The Grand Budapest Hotel

After seeing Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom (twice in the cinema), I felt that nothing would ever top them, but I was wrong. ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is, in the words of Monsieur Gustave H., just wonderful, darling.

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It’s a mixed bag of genres tearing pages from romance, tragedy and comedy to create an elaborate hybrid that is as clever as it is ridiculous. The visuals are beautiful illustrations, the most memorable of which is the Grand Budapest itself as the very epitome of luxury. However, the pastel colours are slowly unpeeled as the plot thickens to reveal much darker shades of nostalgia, loneliness and corruption – as always with Anderson, the laughs are rimmed with sadness.

Without giving anything away, the film works as a continuous flashback, with the exception of one or two interruptions from the present, telling the tale of the hotel’s newest employee, lobby boy Zero. Under the close watch of the infamous concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) Zero learns about love, loss and above all, effective client handling. However, it is Fiennes who really captivates, shedding his typically villanic costume for that of a dandy. Gustave H. is more of an aristocrat than a servant, reminiscent of Oscar Wilde in his extravagance and effeminacy, striding through the hotel with perfect posture, sleeping with the guests and leaving behind the distinct smell of aseau de panache (his particular cologne).

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Inviting though his ornate world is, the narrative soon rips him out of the golden microcosm and deposits him, along with the ever-willing Zero, into a world ridden with greed, deception and violence. In a desperate attempt to bring about justice and to honour the reputation of the sacred Grand Budapest, the two embark on a chaotic and intensely comedic journey to discover the final will of an elderly millionairess, one of Gustave’s blond haired, insecure mistresses. They are met along the way by the usual gang of odd, but endearing eccentrics and one or two knuckle-duster wearing thugs who violently assail anyone standing in the way. It is more graphic than many of Anderson’s previous films, but graphically humorous rather than replusive, even when a character’s (let’s leave him unnamed so as to keep the suspense) fingers are sliced off in a closed door.

I could go on writing about it for pages, but due to lack of time I’ll just say this if there’s one film you watch this March make it the Grand Budapest. It somehow manages to make you feel happy, plaintive and rather clever all at the same time. Oh, I do love Wes Anderson.

Click play to watch the trailer. Then go buy your cinema tickets, sharpish:

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Review: American Hustle

Great cast, great trailer, great name. Anything involving scandal and dodgy dealings tends to grab the public’s attention and I have to admit the glamorous world of money, art (fake of course), low-dipped dresses and high risk is extremely appealing.

The plot is loosely based on a true story from late-1970s when a handful of FBI agents enlisted an infamous New Jersey conman to help entrap corrupt politicians by offering them bribes from a ‘fake shiekh’. Dodgy dealings indeed. What results is a series of hilarious mind games between four characters who simultaneously hate and despise one another, living in constant suspicion of being conned. Christian Bale shines as the balding, heavy waisted idiot come genius Irving Rossenfield who owns a string of dry cleaners, dabbles in counterfeit art and gives out non-existent loans to desperate businessmen. $5,000 for $50, 000. His mistress, partner and love of his life, Sydney Prosser aka “Lady Edith” (Amy Adams) uses seduction as her form of persuasion, mincing around the screen in outrageously revealing outfits whilst putting on a fake English accent to lend their company respectability. Adams is less irritating than normal, giving a fairly captivating performance which makes her pleasantly watchable.

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The two are ensnared by the over zealous, curly haired (the product of hundreds of tiny rollers) federal agent, Ritchie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who forces them to work for him in return for immunity. He also, no surprises here, falls hopelessly in love with Sydney who claims to be stringing him along for future use. The situation goes from bad to ridiculous as Ritchie becomes more and more power hungry on his quest to get the ‘bad guys’. This involves Irv and his highly-strung wife Rosayln (Jennifer Lawrence) wining and dining the genuinely honest, but misled Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), which inevitably leads to all sorts of jealousies as Rosayln and Sydney begin to move in the same spheres. Throw a gang of mobsters into the mix and it all becomes a bit Goodfellas.

It’s a fun watch for the costumes and hair alone, but one can’t help feeling it could have done with a bit more cutting here and there. Coming in at over 2 hours long (that’s a good chunk of your evening), it seems a bit self-indulgent at times. You’re probably best advised to buy this one of DVD so you can pause for loo breaks and more snacks. The premier seats at the cinema are never as comfortable as they claim to be.

 

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Film of the week: Blue Jasmine

It’s been a while since my last film of the week (‘of the week’ is more of a tagline than a truth), but that’s less to do with a scarcity of material and more to do with a lack of time. In fact, it’s been an exceptionally good couple of months for me in terms of watching… so to kick things off, one of my favourites and one of Woody Allen’s best, Blue Jasmine.

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Allen’s latest films have been slightly disappointing. ‘To Rome with Love’ was okay, ‘Midnight in Paris’ was just down right dull (and that’s coming from an Owen Wilson fan), but luckily ‘Blue Jasmine’ popped up just in time to prove the old man hasn’t lost his edge. Unlike the latter two, ‘Blue Jasmine’ leans more towards the side of tragedy. That’s not to say it’s without it’s comedy – there are several scenes worthy of a smirk – but even those are underlined by pain and desperation. This is not a criticism, however, but rather one of the film’s great strengths. It gives it consistency and allows for a deeper character exploration. Cate Blanchett demonstrates this beautifully as the former New York socialite, Jasmine whose life has collapsed after her husband’s imprisonment. Jasmine is forced to restart her life in San Franciso, living with her adoptive sister who she was previously so ashamed of. The story flits between past as present as Jasmine struggles to shape herself a career and formulate any type of social-relations whilst her mental instability becomes increasingly apparent. Trapped in a state of constant anxiety, Jasmine is emotionally exhausting to watch as she continues on her destructive path. Relief from Jasmine’s intensity however is provided by her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) whose kindness is all the more admirable in contrast with such extreme self absorption. You can’t help, but pity Jasmine though in her desperate, frantic state and despise her slime ball of a husband, played by the master of the role, Alec Baldwin. After all, how much trauma can one person withstand?

VERDICT: It requires concentration, but the acting is phenomenal and the narrative ingeniously interwoven to create a startling and deeply saddening image of one women pushed to the very edge. Perhaps Allen’s most powerful film yet.

Hit play to watch the trailer:

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Film of the week: Beasts of the Southern Wild

I hate it when a film receives a lot of hype. I know it shouldn’t have this effect, but when somebody tells me to watch a film because ‘it’s the best thing they’ve seen in years’, I become instantly wary. With a statement like that, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is one such film. Released in 2012, with 4 Oscar nominations and an unusually enticing title, it certainly had a reputation to live up to. And live up to it, it most certainly did. It may not be ‘the best thing I’ve seen in years’, but it’s definitely one of the most truly original, stunning films I’ve ever seen.

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‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is an eccentric and wildly magical tale of life seen through the eyes of a six-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), living on the margins of America. Adapted from a one-act play by Lucy Alibar, the story takes place in a remote region of Louisiana where Hushpuppy lives in a ramshackle trailer with, or rather next to her unpredictable father, Wink . This is a community where children feed, wash and teach themselves, but with the imminent destruction of her community (rising waters will flood the bayou) and orphanhood looming (her dad is ill, her mum dead) Hushpuppy finds herself in a position of terrifying independence. Suppressed emotions (crying is absolutely forbidden in ‘the Bathtub’) manifest themselves in extraordinary imaginings of melting ice caps, avalanches and ferocious pre-historic beasts as Hushpuppy’s world looses stability and she learns to survive life’s struggles. 

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Beautifully poetic and colourful, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is fun, fantastical and as gritty as a hard-hitting documentary. The acting is phenomenal – Wallis is well deserving of her oscar nomination for best actress – and the cinematography pretty top-notch too (the film is shot on grainy 16mm – nice!). If you have time to watch one film this week make it this – if it disappoints, I’ll eat my hat.

Hit play to watch the trailer. I’m excited for you.

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Film of the week: Y Tu Mamá También

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First things first, don’t get put off by the fact it’s in Spanish. Yes, you have to follow the subtitles and yes, that does require a fraction more concentration than an English film, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a strenuous watch. To the contrary,  ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ is about as easy as watching an episode of ‘Friends’, but about 100% sexier and without an ounce of Hollywood commercialism.

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Directed by Mexican-born, Alfonso Cuarón ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ is a road movie (not to be confused with ‘The Road’, there’s no pretentiousness around here) about two best-friends whose girlfriends have gone travelling leaving them to look forward to a Summer full of drink, drugs and sex. Typically, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) spend their first few days of freedom getting high, passing out and drooling over anything in a skirt, including the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, Louisa (Maribel Verdu, Mercedes in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) who they invite to come on a road trip to invented paradisal beach, Heaven’s Mouth. To their delight, Luisa agrees to join them on their trip to escape troubles back home and ends up sleeping with both of them (they’re Mexican what can you say?  It’s all about the free love, man). Even though it’s the scenario every teenage boy dreams of, Tenoch and Julio’s friendship becomes increasingly strained as secrets are revealed and boundaries are drunkenly crossed.

VERDICT: Hotter than a jalapeño.

DOWNSIDE: It makes you want to take a road trip to Heaven’s Mouth, which, let’s be honest, probably doesn’t even exist. 

Hit the jump to watch the trailer:

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Fresh Guacamole, Western Spaghetti and Roof Sex

Unlike the title of this post suggests and perhaps disappointingly, this is not a blog post about recipes and sex, but a post about the work of PES. PES, or Adam Pespane as he’s lesser known, is an American director and stop motion animator of numerous short films and commercials. Instead of using actors and actresses, however, he uses chairs, hand grenades and dice (amongst many other inanimate objects). In his highly imaginative scenarios, influenced by Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer he manipulates every day objects to make cookery videos or in the case of roof sex, a rather raunchy video of two chairs having sex. Fresh Guacamole is his latest offering, released in 2012, and is the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar.

Hit the jump to watch ‘Fresh Guacamole’. Make sure your sound is turned up, as the sound effects really make it:

Most of PES’s films can be found on YouTube.

WATCH THIS SPACE: Rumour has it PES is currently working on his first feature film.

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Film of the week: Blue Valentine

Premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Blue Valentine is a powerfully sad exploration of marriage and the sometimes transient nature of love. The storyline is simple: Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet as teenagers and fall hopelessly in love despite their different backgrounds – Cindy is a college student with hopes of being a doctor whilst Dean dropped out of high school and is working for a moving company. Years later (when the story is largely set), the couple are married and have a daughter, Frankie, but it is apparent that they have grown steadily apart. In a spontaneous attempt to rekindle the passion of their youth, Dean takes Cindy to a hotel for the night, but this only highlights their present unhappiness in contrast to their elated past.

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Directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, who disturbingly resembles Gosling’s character in the film, Blue Valentine maintains a beauty despite the heavy and pervading unhappiness of the characters; Cindy’s impromptu dance as Dean sings Ink Spot’s “You Always Hurt the One You Love” is an example of such beauty and is, in the words of  The Observer’s Philip French, ‘almost unbearably poignant’. Both Gosling and Williams give outstanding performances and where the story could meander aimlessly, they give it direction and purpose.

VERDICT: totally absorbing, beautiful yet plaintive. This is not a film to watch if you’re on the verge of a break up or if you’re with your parents (there are a couple of very raw sex scenes).

UNEXPECTED HIGHLIGHT: Ryan Gosling gets naked – if anyone can pull off a receding hairline it’s Ryan.

Hit play to view the trailer:

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