Film Review: 'White Bird in a Blizzard'

★★★☆☆
"In a blink, my virginity disappeared just like my mother." This line of voiceover dialogue, spoken with teenage cynicism by Shailene Woodley's Kat, perfectly encapsulates the primary dynamics of Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard (2014). An adaptation of Laura Kasischke's novel of the same name, the film almost disregards the mystery at the narrative's centre in favour of exploring the intertwined sexuality of Kat and her mother, Eve (Eva Green), who walks out on husband (Christopher Meloni) and daughter at the film's opening. The setup is summed up in eloquently economical prose by the protagonist. "Just when I was becoming nothing but my body, she stepped out of hers and left it behind."

Film Review: 'Still Alice'

★★★☆☆
It's impossible to pinpoint the first memory embezzled under Alzheimer's rampage through the tangled web of neurons and chemical pulses of the human brain. Since even the healthiest of minds can find itself prone to moments of absent-mindedness the illness looms large over all of us, especially in an ageing society that clings to individualism. In Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's adaptation of Lisa Genova's novel Still Alice (2014) this increasingly prevalent fear is confronted head-on, sidestepping the well-trodden route of similar dramas and choosing to inhabit the deteriorating world of the sufferer, played in this instance by recent Academy Award winner Julianne Moore.

Film Review: 'Sea Without Shore'

★★☆☆☆
The endless oceans of love and grief are plumbed in esoteric and emotive fashion in André Semanza and Fernanda Lippi's flawed and ambitious art film, Sea Without Shore (2015). Coming over a decade after the duo's first feature collaboration, Ashes of God (2003), it sets out a similar stall, seeking to fuse together interpretive dance and formally experimental cinema into cogent and affecting visual poetry. Whilst the result on this occasion is certainly striking, it ultimately fails to elicit the desired effect on the big screen. Rather than working as a film in its own right, it feels like a short stretched that little bit too far, or a hypnotic sequence in a longer denser film.

Film Review: 'Hyena'

★★★☆☆
Opening films at festivals are often easygoing curtain-raisers that provide a bit of glamour before guests scatter into all manner of inevitable industry after-parties. But guests at last year's 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival stumbled out of a violent, cerebral, police noir. It was a brave choice, that never quite convinced as the right fit (it appears to have no relation to Scotland and its film industry) but Hyena (2014) is a cut above the average London gangster flick all the same. Gerard Johnson's sophomore feature might look on the outset like the type of London crime thriller usually populated by Jason Statham, but it's more emotionally complex than its outset gives it credit for.

Film Review: 'Dreamcatcher'

★★★★☆
The lives of women in prostitution trying to survive in Chicago and young girls at risk of taking the same path, is revealed with compelling sensitivity in Kim Longinotto's latest documentary, Dreamcatcher (2015). The film follows co-founder and executive director Brenda Myers-Powell as she works and volunteers tirelessly for the Dreamcatcher Foundation to help the lives of women and girls whose lives so closely resemble her own past. Early on in the film, Brenda tells the story of a child who was raised by her grandmother, was abused from the age of four, and who, having observed the women standing in the street, just wanted to be as glamorous as they.

Film Review: 'Difret'

★★★☆☆
Zeresenay Mehari's directorial debut Difret (2014) is a captivating story about a revolutionary period of feminism in Ethiopia as the battle between traditional sacraments and modern ideologies climax over a murder trial and a young girl's right to self defence and freedom to choose. Based on a true story, tensions become calamitous in Ethiopia when a 14-year-old girl, Hirut (Tizita Hagere), murders the man who abducted and raped her. Not only is such abduction widely accepted as a grand romantic gesture, but it's openly encouraged for considerably older men. According to tradition, the woman must accept being taken, held with little food and water, and be prepared for her future husband to rape her.

Film Review: 'Appropriate Behaviour'

★★★★☆
Neurotic self-analysis and a growing sense of entitlement have become a staple of the New York comedy scene. From Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) to Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture (2010) the city that never sleeps would appears to be tossing-and-turning over a deep-seated sense of insecurity. Desiree Akhavan (creator of the cult web series The Slope) is the latest voice for these hordes of irreverent twentysomethings with Appropriate Behaviour (2014) an endearingly frank, and bittersweet self-portrait of life as a bi-sexual Iranian-American Brooklynite. "The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else."

DVD Review: 'The Judge'

★★☆☆☆
On more than a few occasions during the big screen promo trail for The Judge (2014), star Robert Downey Jr. cited the character-driven US films of the 70s as his inspiration behind the project (a labour of love for the actor; his wife Susan has a producer credit). What might have looked promising on the page (although some of the overwrought dialogue can't have been too easy on the eye) fails to translate successfully to screen. The potentially dynamic tête-á-tête between Downey Jr. and on-screen father Robert Duvall has to compete with a flabby running time and a wrong-footed approach to material which, in the right hands, could have transformed a conventional pot-boiler into a solid mainstream drama.

Glasgow 2015: Dispatch #2

The joy of any film festival lies in the sheer breadth of cinematic dishes from which one can pick the tastiest morsels. These might be pictures that are never going to see the light of day in British cinemas, or gems awaiting imminent release that will likely remain under-appreciated. In the latter half of CineVue's sojourn to this year's Glasgow Film Festival we were lucky enough to sample of a wide range of things, with no two films resembling each other much at all. One minute we were dealing drugs with Italian academics, next we were evading a devilish killer clown, before appreciating a incredibly rendered documentary trip to war-torn Poland with Warsaw Uprising (2014) - six hours of restored propaganda footage shot by cameramen on the ground.

Glasgow 2015: 'Warsaw Uprising' review

★★★☆☆
There are a number of dichotomies at the heart of Warsaw Uprising (2014), a new film directed by Jan Komasa and masterminded by the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The most pronounced of these is its blend of documentary and fiction, and the effects of both. The former comes through six hours of footage mined from the Polish Propaganda Bureau which has been painstakingly colourised, and an immaculately accurate soundscape added, to provide a frankly astonishing visceral reportage account of the titular Second World War combat. Juxtaposed with it is a overcooked fictionalised narrative, told through voiceover, detailing a trio of cameramen capturing the action.

Glasgow 2015: 'Force Majeure' review

★★★★☆
The awkward skirmishes of a growing marital rift are the thrust of Ruben Östlund's hilarious and deadpan Swedish satire Force Majeure (2014). Snow-laden peaks are often the setting for cinematic peril and disaster, but in Östlund's latest - which understandably picked up the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival - the director is far more concerned with travails on the inside of a pinewood ski resort than the surrounding slopes. A filmmaker interested in perception and characters' fears of judgement for their actions, he navigates familiar terrain with impeccable precision, sending up a well-heeled family as resentment is fostered during a vacation.

Glasgow 2015: 'Electric Boogaloo' review

★★★★☆
From 1979 to 1989, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were cinema's premier purveyors of low-budget schlock. "It's hard to say the words 'Cannon Films' without laughing" says one commentator at the very beginning of Mark Hartley's documentary history of the company, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014). That is proved correct by a look at the inexorable rise of these two wannabe moguls whose dream was to be successful all over the world and who very nearly made it. Filled with affection, insight, and no little humour, it's a hugely entertaining film that will prove popular with Cannon fans and those of moviemaking in general.

Glasgow 2015: 'The Dead Lands' review

★★★☆☆
There's much to be said for genre films that strip things back to their fundamental elements and hit the ground running, shorn of all contrivances and elaborate special effects. Whilst much is going on in Toa Fraser's The Dead Lands (2014), it is primarily a lean and undeniably brutal actioner that claims to be the first film to truly showcase Maori martial arts. This is the case to a certain extent; it forefronts bone-crunching combat as it follows a young warrior through dangerous territory. Though it can feel a little one-note as times, spectacular landscapes and a drop of mysticism elevate this slick tribal thriller that calls to mind Mel Gibson's heart-pounding Apocalypto (2006).

Glasgow 2015: 'Clown' review

★★☆☆☆
Coulrophobia is a fear ripe for exploitation in horror movies, most famously done in Tommy Lee Wallace's adaptation of Stephen King's It (1990), which transformed colourful clowns into sheer terror for a generation. It's perhaps a deeper and darker anxiety that is actually at play in Jon Watts' Clown (2014), though, which eschews the maniacal jester archetype utilised in Pennywise in favour of a old myth about child abduction from Scandinavia. Giving its title character the kind of treatment that Santa Claus received in Rare Exports (2010), this droll but largely limp horror-comedy uses its demonic antagonist as a catalyst for the story of a father struggling against the desire to hurt his child.

Glasgow 2015: Ann Hui on new film 'The Golden Era'

Ann Hui's voice is an uncommon one in world cinema. Probably the most acclaimed of the Hong Kong New Wave directors, Hui began her career in the late 1970s in a film industry then dominated by kung fu movies. She continued to make films in Hong Kong for over thirty years, striking an almost impossible balance between art, politics and commercial success. She has been described as an 'innovator within the mainstream', working on relatively low budget productions with Hong Kong stars such as Andy Lau and Chow Yun Fat, and even bringing the legendary Deanie Ip out of retirement to star in her recent film A Simple Life (2011). Her latest The Golden Era (2014), a period film about the Chinese writer Xiao Hong which screens at this year's Glasgow Film Festival.

Glasgow 2015: 'The Golden Era' review

★★☆☆☆
Biographic films are always difficult beasts to tame. Filmmakers can often be torn between integrity and dramatic licence in bringing a real life to the big screen. Ann Hui's The Golden Era (2014) is no different; a lavish, lengthy period piece depicting the life of revered Chinese writer Xiao Hong. On one hand it strives for an impressionistic tone but this is at constant odds with a narrative attempting to encompass an entire, eventful life. The result is an oddly paced whistle-stop tour that is handsome but muddled, never quite bringing its subject into clear enough focus. Delicate character work was at the heart of the director's superb A Simple Life (2011) and it is one of the elements vying for consideration in this film.

Glasgow 2015: Dispatch #1

One of the most interesting things about picking out a viewing schedule at a film festival is the emergence of unexpected trends. Something that was easily apparent on the first two days of our trip to this year's Glasgow Film Festival was the array of quality independent cinema on show by female directors. Gender imbalance is quite rightly a major talking point in a lot of discourse surrounding the medium at the moment - indeed, it was raised in a Q&A with Carol Morley on Thursday evening here - and it's refreshing to see such a variety of striking cinema as the selection on offer at the festival. "Strong and alone," is the mantra employed by Marieme (Karidja Toure) the protagonist in Celine Sciamma's wonderful Girlhood (2014), who falls in with a female gang from school to escape the oppressive atmosphere at home.

Glasgow 2015: 'The Voices' review

★★★★☆
Ryan Reynolds is something of a revelation in Marjane Satrapi's twisted black comedy The Voices (2014). In his defence, he is often to be found doing solid work in shaky environs, but this is a performance of exceptional nuance in a role that undeniably warrants his A-game. In her graphic novel Persepolis there's an exchange in which the young Satrapi comes to understand the value of laughter in holding back the tears. This notion is taken to new extremes in her assured handling of Michael R. Perry's blacklisted screenplay which twists giggles from psychosis and murder, in a world constructed of coping mechanisms. It's a heightened and super-stylised world from the opening moments.

Glasgow 2015: 'My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn'

★★★☆☆
Liv Corfixen's My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014) starts from the unfortunate position of being wide open to comparison with another behind-the-scenes peek, Eleanor Coppola's Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991). Where that film followed the incredible disasters that befell Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) shoot, this documents the far less eventful making of Danish enfant terrible Refn's Only God Forgives (2013). While Corfixen's film - clocking in at just under an hour - is little more than a DVD extra, it's also an intimate look at her husband's struggle with artistic satisfaction and her own with a life indentured to his blossoming career.

Glasgow 2015: 'Second Coming' review

★★★★☆
The feature debut of playwright Debbie Tucker Green, Second Coming (2014) opens with a shot of a murmuration of starlings. Their symbolic meaning - and particularly their endlessly beguiling flight - is often interpreted as purporting to familial relationships and improved communication. Both are vital elements of this terrific British drama that places God in the kitchen sink. Ostensibly a high-concept premise, what transpires is a scintillating psychological drama that explores the effect of an unexpected and unannounced pregnancy on an Afro-Caribbean family in London. The immaculate nature of the conception just adds further tension.

Glasgow 2015: 'The Falling' review

★★★★☆
Carol Morley's follow-up to the lauded Dreams of a Life (2011) shares a thematic through line with its predecessor. That documentary investigated the story and circumstances of a young woman who was found dead and alone in a North London flat in 2006. Morley's new film once again mines a central mystery, this time a fictional one based on real life phenomena. The Falling (2014) is a slowly beguiling drama that revolves around an unfathomable spate of collapses occurring in a girls school in leafy 1960s England. It's a singular and enthralling work that may have flaws, but overwhelms them with a palpable atmosphere both alluring and strangely disconcerting.

Film Review: 'White God'

★★★★☆
It's entirely fitting that Kornél Mundruczó begins his latest film with a dedication to the late Miklos Jancsó. Not only would the famed Hungarian auteur have had an enormous impact on his compatriot, but the latter's White God (2014) wears those influences proudly on its collar. Jancsó's preoccupations with the abuse of power are clear to see in this surreal and compelling new work, though Mundruczó has re-jigged the allegory from the oppression of the Communist regime of decades past, to that dished out to the marginalised in modern society. In this instance, the victim is a dog who decides that enough is enough, and leads his canine companions in brutal rebellion.

Film Review: 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'

★★★☆☆
As the sequel to a film that hinted at a follow-up in the first outing's final scenes, John Madden's The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015) offers just as much joy, heart and chuckles as its hugely successful predecessor. With director John Madden once again at the helm, the core cast is back to once again wend their way through a bustling Jaipur, dealing with new careers, young love and fresh beginnings in their twilight years. The audience is dragged into a world even more technicolored than before; one brimming with light and music, designed to evoke the eternal charm of India more prominently than ever.

Film Review: 'It Follows'

★★★★★
With It Follows (2014), David Robert Mitchell has delivered one of the best horror films of the decade. A beautifully rendered vision of the teenage psyche in the 21st century, it's a stylish, intelligent and densely textured masterpiece. While there are traditional scares and a familiar antagonistic force, the fear at the heart of the picture is terrifyingly human. We not only see the fragility of our younger selves reflected in its myriad horrors, we are confronted with the realisation that the nightmare of our teenage years is not ephemeral - it will haunt us throughout our lives. It Follows is the very essence of horror; sex, death and the bruising shackles of youth.

Film Review: 'Hinterland'

★★★★☆
Harry Macqueen's impressive directorial debut, Hinterland (2014), which he also scripts and stars in together with folk singer Lori Campbell follows two childhood friends who reconnect in their late twenties and go on a road trip to Cornwall. Lola (Campbell) is back in London after working for some years in America as a singer- musician. Harvey (Macqueen) picks her up in the city and drives her to his family's holiday home where they had spent much of their youth. Over one weekend they try to capture some of their childlike exuberance for simple pleasures. They take a boat trip, attempt to fish, walk along the windswept Cornish coast (it's February and desolate), sit around a fire, talk and drink.

Film Review: 'Focus'

★★☆☆☆
Heist movies are meant to be sexy and slick, where the underdog comes out on top thanks to their cunning and skill. Immediately we think of the sparkling smile of Robert Redford in 1973's The Sting, the undeniable charm of Clooney's Danny Ocean or the tenacity of De Niro's Neil McCauley. However, with Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's Focus (2015), starring Will Smith as cock-sure conman, feels like a limp imitation. Focus glides along too comfortably, far more interested in the authenticity of the terminology and on the practicalities of street level swindles. It might be accurate, but it's at the expensive of structure and is too wrapped up in the idea of conning the audience, culminating in underwhelming grand reveal.

Film Review: 'Catch Me Daddy'

★★★★☆
Daniel and Matthew Wolfe's music video for The Shoes' Time to Dance starred Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal as a unaffected serial killer preying on Dalston's swelling hordes of hipsters. Unsurprisingly the promo went viral and gained them instant notoriety. Their debut feature Catch Me Daddy (2014) is a film that engages in a far more pertinent aspect of contemporary culture, combining British values and Islamic beliefs under a shared canopy of greed and dominant masculinity. Ostensibly a Western set within the rolling Yorkshire dales, the Wolfe brothers' naturalistic approach is tinged with flashes of alchemy; an abstract fairy tale for a society we've become tragically apathetic towards.

Film Review: 'The Boy Next Door'

★☆☆☆☆
The inclusion and modern interpretation of literary classics like Homer's The Iliad and tales of Oedipus the King juxtaposed with the detrimental dialogue present throughout the entire film is just one of many reasons as to why Rob Cohen's The Boy Next Door (2015) will be remembered as one of the worst movies of the year. The sub-par acting, overdramatic cinematography and horribly predictable shock value of the film makes it all the more difficult to sit through without laughing at the ludicrous production or checking a cellphone to gauge how much torture one is expected to sit through before it finally ends. Worst of all, however, is the warped desire to sexualise the misogynistic actions of the lead sociopath.

Film Review: 'A Dark Reflection'

★★☆☆☆
When it comes to passion projects and coherent filmmaking, there are sometimes odd disparities. There are pitfalls when a director or writer becomes so entrenched in the material that they fail to create a concise or cohesive work. For Tristan Loraine's A Dark Reflection (2015) the passion that comes through from his credits as writer, director and producer is present but it appears to have clouded the ability to present the audience with a story that is full of faulty wiring and stilted performances. Our heroine is Helen (Georgina Sutcliffe), a journalist recently returned to England from an assignment gone awry in the Middle East.

DVD Review: 'Serena'

★★☆☆☆
'Tis a pity: given the star power and promises of period drama, Serena (2014) fizzles onscreen very quickly. Through casting switch-ups and an extended production window, the hope of a solid product would naturally be quite high. Even with the bankability of of its lead actors firmly in place, and an acclaimed helmer in Susanne Bier, it bows under the pressure of high expectation. Although it is a beautiful film to look at, the heartlessness soon shines through, exposing problematic constructions within a thematically intriguing story. Caught in the throes of the Great Depression, logging baron George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is awash in debt and worry.

DVD Review: 'Pictures of the Old World'

★★★★★
"You should have come when I was in bloom," says one of the people interviewed by Dušan Hanák in his beautiful and staggering documentary, Pictures of the Old World (1972). A series of stills by Slovak photographer Martin Martinček were the inspiration, and Hanák seeks to capture the lives of the same elderly Tatra villagers in his own chiaroscuro collage. He begins utilising the same verdant metaphor as his aforementioned subject, asserting that the people he is presenting are rooted in the soil they came from, unable to be replanted for fear of perishing. While death is a very real element of this poignant tapestry, its underlying concern is life.

DVD Review: 'Fury'

★★★★☆
The second film of director David Ayer's increasingly prolific career to be released this year following groggy Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot em' up Sabotage (2014), Fury (2014) is an epic Second World War action drama that - like each of his previous works - looks to examine the inner workings of violent men in violent circumstances on an even grander historical scale. Executive produced by leading star Brad Pitt and written by Ayer himself, the film is a bravura depiction of the harsh brutalities of war that, though monotonous, is an entirely rousing entry in the annals of great WWII cinema. Set in the spring of 1945 during the last month of the European Theatre of war, Pitt plays sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier.

DVD Review: 'Effie Gray'

★★★☆☆
Euphemia 'Effie' Gray was just twelve years old when esteemed Victorian art critic and writer John Ruskin wrote a novel for her called The King of the Golden River. It was a fable and the fairy tale looked like having a happy ending when some seven years later, Ruskin and Effie married, but things were not to turn out well. Due to an intense aversion to his young wife's body – an infamous case of Victorian repression – the marriage was never consummated and began to slowly decay until Effie made the courageous step of seeking an annulment. Richard Laxton's Effie Gray (2014) is a straightforward and somewhat televisual retelling of the oft-told story from a script by co-star Emma Thompson.

DVD Review: 'Doc of the Dead'

★★★☆☆
There was a time when the zombie was considered the less illustrious horror stablemate to the sexier, more outwardly alluring vampire. The shift in popularity has risen significantly of late, and given the increasing prominence of the zombie mythos in mainstream entertainment, Doc of the Dead (2014) is both a welcome and long overdue look into the history and cultural impact of the humble flesh-eater. With the added movie geek credential of being co-produced by popular online cinematic commentator RedLetterMedia, director Alexandre Phillipe has carefully put together a documentary which appeals to both dyed-in- the-wool George A. Romero devotees and newer, Walking Dead-era converts.

Film Review: 'Birdman'

★★★☆☆
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has toyed around with the elasticity of the medium before, most notably in the daringly non-linear 21 Grams (2003). With Birdman (2014) he once again attempts to turn the format on its head, concocting a visually exhilarating commentary on the pitfalls of celebrity and the process and art of performance. Presented as one continuous shot, it is a dizzyingly immersive experience to behold - jumps in time and between scenes are masterfully blended together. This is also the film's Achilles' heel, though, with the technique endlessly threatening to overpower the emotional content.

Oscars 2015: Iñárritu's 'Birdman' wins Best Picture, Best Director

Something of a surprise success story on the night given recent results, the two biggest accolades of the 87th Academy Awards were reserved for Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, the recipient of both Best Picture and Best Director Oscars as well as Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Best Actress went to Julianne Moore for Alzheimer's weepy Still Alice and Best Supporting Actress to Patricia Arquette for her wonderful turn in Linklater's Boyhood. Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel found itself restricted to the technical awards but still managed a haul of four Oscars, whilst Damien Chazelle's Whiplash finished on three gongs, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons. Finally, Eddie Redmayne picked up Best Actor for The Theory of Everything.
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