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: '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: '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.

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.

It soon becomes apparent that Harvey is in love with Lola. Less clear are her true feelings for him. We learn that Lola only returned because her father has left her mother for another woman. She is nonchalant about her career and her cynicism about relationships is reinforced by her father's desertion. Often Ben Hecking's camera just rolls, seamlessly capturing the characters' shifting, but unspoken, emotions and, in particular, Harvey's inner turmoil. The close-ups of Harvey and Lola are beautifully contrasted with exterior shots of London's iconic sites, desolate moors (complete with ponies), and narrow country lanes leading to the windswept coast and roiling sea. Macqueen has been likened to Andrea Arnold (director of 2009's Fish Tank) but there's also more than a passing nod to Mike Leigh.

It's most evident in the use of social realism and Hinterland's political resonance and improvisational quality. Macqueen's attention to detail is also memorable. Before we even see the characters we learn something about them from the mise-en-scène. Opening with the ringing of a phone, the camera pans around Harvey's home – on a piece of paper stuck above a messy desk are the words "We are the children of Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher". In his calendar the name 'Lola' is scrawled and underscored. As he drives into London, the radio debates the problems faced by twenty-somethings - newly out of university, unable to afford a mortgage and with crippling debt to pay off,- rooting us firmly in time and place. Hinterland is low budget, just 78 minutes long, the performances are deliberately understated and nothing very much happens. But it is clear that a lot of love and care has gone into the composition. It is some measure of the two central performances, Hecking's cinematography, Alice Petit's editing and Macqueen's tight scripting that the film conveys so much in such a short time.

Lucy Popescu

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.

Oscars 2015: Main award predictions

Later this evening (and into the early hours for those of us in the UK), the 87th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre, with director Richard Linklater's Boyhood going up against Alejandro Iñárritu's Birdman and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel for most of the main awards including Best Director and Best Picture. British hopeful Eddie Redmayne will go head-to-head for the Best Actor Oscar, while Julianne Moore is hotly tipped for the Best Actress gong for her turn in Still Alice. Elsewhere, in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette lead the race for their respective roles in drumming drama Whiplash and Linklater's well-represented Boyhood respectively. Here are our predictions for the main awards.

Oscars 2015: Nine nods for 'Birdman' & 'Grand Budapest'

Following hot on the heels of last week's Bafta nominations in London as well as the weekend's telling Golden Globe results, at 1.30pm GMT today the list of nominees for this year's 87th Academy Awards were broadcast across the globe. With presenting duties split between J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón, as well as Chris Pine and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, it was Alejandro Iñárritu's Birdman and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel that were the two stand-out performers, with both receiving nine nominations each including Best Picture and Best Director. Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (six), Richard Linklater's Boyhood (also six) and British offerings The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything also picked up nods in key categories.

Glasgow 2015: 'Phoenix' review

In Hiroshi Teshigahara's mysterious and metaphysical The Face of Another (1966), notions of identity both personal and national are explored through the story of man whose face is irrevocably scarred in a terrible accident. The indelible image of his bandaged head is brought to mind in the opening reel of Christian Petzold's latest offering, another interested in the rebirth of nation after the Second World War, his Glasgow Film Festival offering Phoenix (2014). Built around a devastated and devastating central performance by the director's muse Nina Hoss - who gained rave reviews for his last feature, Barbara (2012) - Petzold's Phoenix is a high-concept premise executed as a heart-wrenching character piece.

Glasgow 2015: 'Clouds of Sils Maria' review

Meditations on art, mortality and performance are the lofty thematics explored in Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), a discursive drama from French director Olivier Assayas which features two exceptional performances from Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. Binoche plays Maria Enders, an established and world famous actress who, twenty years prior, was made famous by her role in a play (and then film) as young seductress Sigrid, who destroys the life of her older lover, Helen. As the film opens, Maria is introduced to the audience on a train heading to Zurich to collect a prize on behalf of the writer of the play. She's ably abetted by her American personal assistant, Val (former Twilight star Stewart).

Glasgow 2015: 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'

Tragedy says "We all die", whilst comedy says "Ah, but life goes on". The winner of last year's Golden Lion, Roy Andersson's first feature film in seven years - the brilliantly titled existential comedy A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) - is essentially a tragi-comedy which says "We all die and life goes on". A compendium of sketches and tableaux, running jokes and even musical numbers, Andersson packs his film with thought-provoking deadpan humour: think The Fast Show, but Swedish and obviously not particularly pacey. Just to get things rolling nicely, a number of people drop dead. A corpulent man suffers a fatal heart attack while uncorking a bottle of wine (pictured below).

Glasgow 2015: 'Altman' review

With 39 features to his name, each as unique and innovative as the next, there are few American directors who come close to matching the prolific career of Robert Altman. Ron Mann would go one step further, describing Altman's films as distinctively "Altmanesque", a term he spends 95 minutes attempting to define in his latest documentary, Altman (2014). An affectionate exploration of Altman's life, Mann invites a wealth of this maverick filmmaker's best known collaborators and contemporaries to discuss his legacy, including the late Robin Williams, The Long Goodbye star Elliot Gould and Inherent Vice (2014) director Paul Thomas Anderson - who simply describes Altman with one word: "inspiration".

Glasgow 2015: 'Blind' review

Hidden deep within this year's Glasgow Film Festival programme, Blind (2014) - the debut feature from Norwegian screenwriter turned director Eskil Vogt - imbues cognitive visualisation and the mechanics of storytelling to achieve what many have tired and failed to do - successfully insinuate what life without vision might be like. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) turned blind in her thirties. As soon as her husband leaves the house to go to work, Ingrid sits at the window and imagines the world outside. Determined to maintain her ability to recollect images from her past, she constructs narratives for her memories to inhabit. It's within these imaginative fabrications that she introduces us to Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt).

Glasgow 2015: 'Black Souls' review

Francesco Munzi's Black Souls (Anime Nere, 2014), which premièred at last year's Venice Film Festival and now makes its way to Glasgow, is a grimly serious family tragedy centred around the feuds within the Calabrian equivalent of the Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta. The drama begins in Amsterdam where a business deal is going down between mob boss Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and some Spanish, or South American partners. It doesn't really matter which as this proves to be largely an irrelevance to the rest of the film. In fact, the story has a couple of false starts and seems to stumble into being, but this also might be a way of subverting our expectations. Luigi is one of three brothers whose father was murdered by the local boss back home.

Glasgow 2015: 'A Second Chance' review

Danish director Susanne Bier has made a career of heightened but poignant drama that depicts broken relationships, familial tensions and personal catastrophes. One of her last films, Love Is All You Need (2013), was just that. They tend to be the kinds of films that are heartrending and raw if you have bought into them, but can feel trite and overwrought if not. Sadly her latest, A Second Chance (En chance til, 2014), which plays at Glasgow 2015, falls firmly into the second of those camps. It features probably the most extreme situation that she has tackled yet, and unfortunately, in forging forward with its unconvincing premise it lacks the authentic foundation upon which to build the emotional turmoil.

Glasgow 2015: 'A Little Chaos' review

For his second feature as director - following on from the Emma Thompson-starring The Winter Guest (1997) - Alan Rickman brings audiences the period folly A Little Chaos (2014), a film as mildly diverting and inoffensive as its title suggests. Based on a true story and adapted from ex-Casualty star Alison Deegan's debut screenplay, the film tells of a most ostensibly mundane period of King Louis XIV's tenure at Versailles, doing so in an entirely lightweight and likable manner that, though befitting a casual ITV costume drama, is saved by a wealth of assured hands both on and off screen. Set in 1682, Academy Award winner Kate Winslet plays widowed, green-fingered landscape designer Sabine De Barra.

Weekly Round-up: 'Blackhat', 'Burgundy'

Welcome to our regular weekly round-up of the best DVD, Blu-ray and cinema releases over the past seven days in the UK. We'll also strive to keep you updated on upcoming festivals, events and the latest trailers from across the web. Come back each Friday to see what our talented team of writers are recommending and catch up on all the week's new releases. As an independent film site, our aim is to reach out to the largest audience possible, whilst also highlighting and championing some of the more diverse and less known new releases from the world of cinema. We can only do this with your help and support, so please feel free to add your comments and let us know what films and events you'd like to hear more about. For regular updates or to continue the conversation, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Interview: Peter Strickland disrobes 'The Duke of Burgundy'

"It's a love story, really," says Peter Strickland when we caught up with him in London late last year and asked him to tell us about his latest film, The Duke of Burgundy (2014), a wonderfully kinky exploration of a sadomasochistic relationship. "It's a domestic drama that has fallen out of the hands of a sleazier genre, perhaps. But really, it's circling these ideas of consent, compromise and coercion and observing two people having very different intimate needs and is it possible to make it work." It's a more intimate beast than his previous two works, Katalin Varga (2009) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012), and it riffs on the sexploitation films of the seventies. Burgundy began life as a commission from Andy Stark and Pete Tombs of Rook Films. They wanted him to helm a remake of Jess Franco's Lorna the Exorcist (1974).

Glasgow 2015: 'Wild Tales' review

One of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award hopefuls, Argentinian director Damián Szifron's Wild Tales (2014) is an exuberant, obsidian-black comedy of violence and vengeance. Divided into a series of isolated sketches, each one tells a short story about how quickly madness can rip through the vestiges of civilisation with the appropriate provocation. The opening and most successful sketch involves a passenger airliner, wherein the passengers gradually realise that they're all acquaintances - classmates, ex-girlfriends, teachers, psychiatrists - of one specific person, Gabriel Pasternak; an individual who has a bone to pick with all of them and has plotted an elaborate, all-inclusive revenge.

Glasgow 2015: 'New Girlfriend' review

Another year, another film from prolific French director and festival regular François Ozon. After the (intentional) inscrutability of the lead in Jeune et Jolie (2013), his latest film The New Girlfriend (2014) is thankfully a far deeper exploration of its two equally complex central characters. Based on a Ruth Rendell story - though inflected with considerably more humour by all accounts - it explores a burgeoning relationship between a widower and his departed wife's best friend on a sliding scale of gender and sexuality. Ozon's inconsistency of tone is once again present, but on this occasion he just about carries it off, crafting a thoughtful comic drama led by a pair of fine and nuanced performances.

Glasgow 2015: 'Red Army' review

If you thought ice hockey was just Canadians and punch-ups, then Gabe Polsky's documentary Red Army (2014) may come as a cool eye-opener. Featuring candid interviews with the surviving members of the Soviet Union team, as well as chunky 1970s-80s footage with some slick graphics thrown in, Polsky paints a vivid picture not only of this dynamic sport but also of a country in the throes of seismic changes. Having queued for hours, Viacheslav Fetisov failed his first audition to enter one of the most prestigious academies of ice hockey, but returning the next year was accepted and recruited into the army at the age of eight in order to be trained as an ice hockey player.

Glasgow 2015: 'Catch Me Daddy' review

If Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant (2013) was a fairytale set in 'It's grim up north' territory, this year's Glasgow Film Festival offers up a Yorkshire western in Daniel Wolfe's bleak, windswept thriller Catch Me Daddy (2014), which unexpectedly broods over the multicultural integration of northern Britain. British-Pakistani Laila, played with conviction by non-professional actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, and Aaron (Canor McCarron), are two teenagers in hiding. They live in a trailer park out of town, arguing about whether they can go out at night. Laila wants to meet her mate from work at a local nightclub, but Aaron barks urgently at her not to because it's too dangerous. He's right to be worried.

Glasgow 2015: 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' review

Cowardice, treachery and bloody murder coalesce in director Diao Yinan's Golden Bear-winning Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), a tonally erratic noir that blends the aesthetics and absurd comicality of Johnnie To with a mainstream cop procedural. The apathy and social malaise of Northern China's contemporary heartbeat provides the rhythm for Yinan's ostentatious detective drama - a story that delves beyond mere motive and cause in search of the origin to this collective sense of melancholy. In a northern Chinese coal mine (circa 1999), a factory worker discovers the remains of a body. Reports then begin to surface of similar occurrences in other parts of the region as a pattern emerges.
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