Jauja

Long takes, still camera and minimal dialogue. It’s all a bit Tarkovsky, but left me asking what and why, which generally isn’t the case with the Russian director, who is clearly a massive influence here. It has also has a definite Western vibe (yet another in 2015 – see here for others) and is framed like images on those View-Masters we had as children.

This film was on the most anticipated list, but left me disappointed. I wonder if Viggo Mortensen thought this was the film he was actually making?

Southpaw

Surprisingly, this film doesn’t contain a training montage to the soundtrack of an Eminem rap.

Naahhhhh, only kidding – of course it does. You didn’t expect anything else, did you?

I’m not a fan of boxing, or the boxing movie genre, so I can’t tell you if this is good or bad in the long line of such films.

I can tell you that it’s too long and very episodic. Just when you’re thinking that no more horrible things can possibly happen to Billy Hope, Forest Whitaker appears like some strange Yoda-type guru spouting all kinds of motivational guff, half of which I couldn’t actually decipher.

However, the reason I went to see this was Jake Gyllenhaal. He was excellent given what he had to work with, and the scenes with him and Oona Laurence, who plays his daughter, were probably the best thing. They were totally believable together, and I even think I had something in my eye on a couple of occasions.

Gyllenhaal won’t get his Oscar for this because the film isn’t good enough. But it’s only a matter of time.

Magic Mike XXL

I’d put off going to see this because I had really liked MAGIC MIKE, and had heard that this was a different type of experience.

And to be honest, it is different, but that’s not a bad thing. Whereas the first film was more soul-searching and melancholy, this one has a lighter tone. The plot is minimal – it’s a road movie with some stops along the way for a bit of a dance – but what makes this a great couple of hours to watch is the camaraderie among the guys and the lack of judgemental attitude towards either each other or the women watching them.

I had read this beforehand and couldn’t imagine how this would work. But actually it did. I left the cinema feeling a whole lot better about myself which may sound strange, yet it’s true. Thanks Channing, Joe et al.

 

In the footsteps of the Corleone Family

 

 

There’s a village near Palermo in Sicily called Corleone, which would lead you to believe that scenes from The Godfather films were shot here.

However, the actual location for these scenes in on the other side of the island, shared between two different villages – Savoca and Forza d’Agrò. Fortunately, I was staying in the town of Taormina, not too far from either, so a trip was in order. Forza d’Agrò is the place where we see young Vito being hidden in a cart outside the church before escaping to New York in The Godfather II (you can compare in the video clip below).

This was fun, but not as much as getting to Savoca. That’s the home of Bar Vitelli, where Michael meets Apollonia at her father’s bar, and also the church where they are married, and the square where the wedding party takes place.


Here’s me, sitting in Al Pacino’s actual spot outside the bar, having walked up the side street just like he does in the film. There are a few more plants around the bar than in the film, but then … tourism, eh.

The village also has a tribute to Francis Ford Coppola, recognisable by his silhouette – see the gallery under the video for a few more shots.

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Ant-Man

My first thought, knowing nothing at all about this character or his story, was “Ant? Man?” pretty much like Peter Kay here:

The idea was bewildering. And I don’t like insects, and I’m not a great fan of Evangeline Lilly, so it wasn’t looking good.

But actually, I had fun with this. It seemed to take a while to get going, and there did seem to be a bit of generic plot-rehash from Iron Man, oh and don’t get me started on the female characters …

But I liked that it was able to step away from the city-smashing global-destruction dynamic, and go, well, small instead of big. It was funny in the right places without trying too hard, and had enough MCU references to keep me interested.

More Michael Peña, por favor.

 

 

Elser – 13 Minutes

Isn’t it funny how the way a film’s title is translated can give a totally different impression of what the film is going to be about?

I knew the premise of the film – in 1939, a plot to assassinate Hitler failed by the titular 13 minutes. I hadn’t even paid attention to the film’s original title; I had just assumed it was 13 Minuten. But the film isn’t about those 13 minutes, it’s about the person behind the assassination attempt – Georg Elser, whose surname is the film’s German title.

And so the story is this man’s story, of how his life under the burgeoning Nazi regime in the 30’s eventually led a rather ordinary, flawed individual to attempt such a potentially world-changing action.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (whose German-language films are better than his English-language ones, in my opinion – check out Das Experiment if you haven’t seen it) had me fascinated by this man almost from the outset. The use of flashbacks mostly worked for me, although on a couple of occasions I was so wrapt his back story that I didn’t want to be jolted back to the present just at that precise moment …

Not always easy to watch, but it does make you think. Not only “what if”, but also “how do these German actors feel about playing Gestapo officers”?

Love and Mercy

Interesting choice to cast two different actors to play the same person 20 years apart. It was clearly the best thing to do, but I’m just not quite sure that the choices made were the right ones.Paul Dano’s awkward brilliance was perfect, but although John Cusack wasn’t bad, I think he was the wrong selection.

Brian Wilson’s story is a fascinating one; much more complex than I had realised. The soundtrack is sublime (in addition to The Beach Boys’ own work, the score by Atticus Ross is mesmerising) and the credit sequence pulls it all together much better than the section towards the end which tries to join up the various incarnations of Brian Wilson.

It may be a little churlish to suggest it was a tad too long, but one thing’s for sure – I’m off to revisit Pet Sounds in a hurry.

Home School Film School 1st Films

I joined the guys at Film Dispenser looking back at first films from notable directors. I created a list of the chosen films over on Letterboxd, where I also share my opinions on each of the films after I’d seen them, and I ranked them at the end of the event.

It was a really interesting exercise, and a great choice to look at early works of established directors. What’s striking in many cases is how much of their future style or focus is clearly visible even at this early stage – with Michael Mann’s Thief and David Gordon Green’s George Washington being the most obvious. It’s also a blessing that the directors under consideration did mature and develop as their careers progressed, and that someone gave them a chance to do so.

However, Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water is unbelievably accomplished for a young, first-time director in 1960s Poland.

Amy

Much as I enjoy a good documentary, in the past few years I have struggled with them as I’ve felt manipulated by a number which others have rated really highly (Stories We Tell and Mistaken For Strangers to name two).

Asif Kapadia and his team seem to have found a way around (most of) this for me, as in both this film and Senna, he tells his story using original archive footage, avoiding the intrusion of talking heads and editorial questioning.

Clearly the editing can still be manipulative, but the way Kapadia puts things together, I can live with that.

What’s striking about Amy Winehouse’s story is that, even from a young age she is clearly a troubled and vulnerable soul who needs a firm guiding hand which she herself admits she didn’t get.

As her fame (and wealth) grows, self-serving individuals appear and make decisions for her which seem to largely revolve around her income stream (which they can now tap in to), and it’s difficult to see how they were doing this in her best interest.

We know how it all ends for Amy, and so it’s heart-breaking to see her demise described and documented from the various points of view of her friends and family.

The thing I struggled with most was the amount of paparazzi footage used – they clearly added to her troubles, we know that, but watching those sections left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable, and wondering why those around Amy didn’t do more to shield her from them. It also made me wonder if there is any ounce of humanity in a person who would push others out of the way to take a photo of a vulnerable, mentally ill young woman when she is clearly suffering.