10 most anticipated films of the next 3 months

I’ve had varying success in watching my last 10 most anticipated films. I’ve so far managed to see 7 of them – Jauja was only around for a short time and work kept me away so I’m awaiting it on DVD.  The Dead Lands hasn’t actually made it to a cinema near me yet, so I’m heading DVD-ward for that too.  And Miss Julie looks like it’s had its release date pushed to 8 July for some reason.

Anyway, I’ve had a look forward to the next three months, and I found it hard to find 10 to anticipate, what with summer and all. But I persevered, and here’s what I finally chose.

The Year of the Alternative Western?

Note: These musings contain mild spoilers for El Ardor (The Burning).

It’s the darndest thing.

I’ve just watched Gael García Bernal’s latest film El Ardor. It’s set in the Argentinian rainforest but towards the end I found myself thinking of two other films I’d seen recently – Slow West, starring Michael Fassbender, and The Salvation, with beautiful Mads Mikkelsen.

It took a second or two to figure out why, but then the penny dropped.

In the past two months, I’ve seen three films that are westerns. But westerns with a twist.

The Salvation‘s plot is fairly standard revenge western fare, but it focuses heavily on Scandinavian immigrant families, with the bad guys being the longer-standing settlers with the accents we would now recognise as American, but nary a glimpse of a Native American.

Slow West is the bounty-hunter western, and this too is very much the view of the outsider. It’s the combined work of Scottish director John Maclean, Irish/German Fassbender, Australians Ben Mendelsohn and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and was shot in New Zealand. During the trek we also come across immigrants from other places, which all highlight the fact that at this period in time, no-one is actually American, everyone is a settler. This film does briefly feature a Native American character, and there is mention of how the colonisation of their lands affected their situation.

And then there’s El Ardor – not strictly a western, but with a very definite shoot-out denouement and Sergio Leone-style camera and sound. The bad guys are, yet again, incomers trying to take land from the natives or settlers who have worked the land for a long time, but it’s only in the last third that it begins to feel like a western.

I’ve never really understood the appeal of westerns, and even with these three films, the pull to see them was the actors not the plot.

So what is it about alternative westerns in 2015 – or am I imagining things? Is it a genre that’s making a comeback? Is there something about the western that suddenly has relevance? And if so, what am I missing? Don’t forget Quentin Tarantino’s next film The Hateful Eight is also a western …

Edit: see also Jauja (31/7/15)

Anyway, here’s an excuse to look at Mads Mikkelsen again.

El Ardor – The Burning

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that Gael García Bernal can generally be relied upon in my view to provide high quality, thought-provoking films on a regular basis.

For some reason though, this one fails to reach those usually high standards.

Don’t get me wrong – Bernal himself is good particularly in the first two-thirds where, with very little dialogue, he manages to create a complete, interesting character who is intriguing yet grounded.

But for some reason, the final act of this rainforest-set film is a western. Not ‘like a western’. A western. Bernal has gone from being an ethereal, mysterious being who emerged from the water to a gun-toting, scarf-wearing, duel-shooting law-keeper and it’s just darn peculiar. I have no idea why this was necessary, other than the director fancied showing he could do it. And it’s not even homage; it borders on parody.

Very odd.

The Look of Silence

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, for all itsgruesomeness, was one of my top films of 2013.This is a companion piece to that, but the emphasis is on the victims rather than the perpetrators.

While not quite as punch-you-in-the-face as The Act of Killing (although maybe it would be if you haven’t already visited Oppenheimer’s previous film), a couple of things are quite remarkable. One is the Silence of the title – Oppenheimer is content for there to be numerous, lengthy silences throughout, leaving the camera on individuals so that it is evident that words are only half (or sometimes not at all) the truth.

The other is the total courage of the protagonist Adi. He surely must be putting himself and his family in danger all over again, but his simple insistence on forcing people to face the grisly truth is brave beyond anything I can imagine.

I only hope Oppenheimer hasn’t left him high and dry.

A Brief Encounter at Milford Junction

Listening to Radio 4’s The Film Programme podcast recently, I was surprised and excited to learn that Carnforth railway station – which played Milford Junction so well in David Lean’s Brief Encounter – is not only a working station, but has a Heritage Centre celebrating the location filming of the Palme d’Or winning film.

Carnforth is only 90 minutes from Manchester by train (we could have driven, but it seemed more appropriate to arrive by train) so my friend and I set out to see what was to be seen.

Arriving at the station, we first had to make our way to the correct platform, which meant that we immediately found ourselves here:

The underpass where Laura and Alec have their tryst.
The underpass where Laura and Alec have their tryst.

It doesn’t look as good in colour with the electric lighting, I admit, but it does retain that grubby feel that Laura experienced in her assignations with Alec.

Following the red railings up the slope, brings you here:

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Starting to look familiar?

The Heritage Centre is fascinating – not just for lovers of the film, but also if you are interested in the history of railways – for a long time, Carnforth was a major junction on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and there are plenty of displays and video installations to delight the train buff too. It was selected as the location because it was far enough away from major cities to be able to get around the blackout rules during the war. And when you watch the film, you’ll notice that the platform scenes are all at night – this was to avoid having to close the busy station during daytime.

Some railway stuff
Some railway stuff

There are lots of railway-related artifacts from the past, including this fire extinguisher which I have to admit prompted a few giggles with its instructions (sorry).

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There’s a tiny cinema area which shows Brief Encounter on a constant loop, and you can sit for as long as you like and watch the film before buying your souvenirs in the little shop.

“Are you happy?” “Not very.”

You can also see the commemorative plaque, for some reason located right next to the ladies’ loo …


But the real highlight is the Refreshment Room, which, with the exception of the espresso machine, looks exactly as it did when Trevor Howard removed that speck of grit from Celia Johnson’s eye.


Of course it was necessary to have a cup of tea.


We had a lovely couple of hours in the calm environment of the station, and if you are a railway enthusiast, or if you love Brief Encounter, then it’s well worth a visit.

Here’s a selection of pictures from the visit.

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