The Great Museum (2014) it was grounding when CineVue chatted to Johannes Holzhausen on Skype, sitting in what looked like a store room in his offices. He began by explaining how his path had reached the KHM and what makes this formidable place such a beacon. There does seem a certainty with making a documentary about the KHM when you've studied Art History at University. Johannes pauses and smiles. "Who knows why someone becomes something. There came a point when I realised all the students around me were so much cleverer than I was, and I would never reach the level in that field I would want to."
- Manakamana is an exemplar of observational cinema and one of the year's finest documentaries
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies proves a satisfying finale to Peter Jackson's prequel trilogy
- Electricity resembles Carroll's Alice in Wonderland - if Alice had stumbled through cliché after cliché
- The troubling The Green Prince never once attempts to contextualise the struggle in the Middle East
- Notions of childhood innocence and guilt through complicity play against one another in Wakolda
Man of Steel sequel. It's entitled Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015) and appears to be every bit a prequel to an eventual Justice League film. Here are the basics: Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer will direct and write, respectively; Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman), Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), and Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman) will comprise the bulk of the cast from a superhero perspective; Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and Amy Adams (Lois Lane) will also be a part of the project, and you can find the full cast and crew listings at IMDb.
★★★☆☆The ocean is vast and filled with peril, but it is the foolhardy resilience of men that proves the crux of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s cinematic voyage, Kon-Tiki (2012). Norway’s most expensive production to date, it was nominated for last year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and now receives a UK release with both Norwegian and English-language versions available (they were shot concurrently). Charting an explorer’s journey from South America to the South Sea Islands on a tiny raft, it is an admirable and handsome picture that peaks in moments of intricately crafted tension, but which never quite captures the adventurous essence of its subject matter.
★★★★☆Damon Runyon is often imitated but never bettered - we won't even hold it against him that he’s partly responsible (via proxy) for the gangster films of Guy Ritchie and his ilk. Runyon's portrayal of the New York underworld and it's denizens with their peculiar argot seems to sound familiar and strange at the the same time to modern ears, but when it arrived in his tales published in the late 1930s it shone a light on an epoch that previously had only been know via arch genre films. Now, of course, this world is mostly known from Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film version of Guys and Dolls (1955) that has been beautifully restored and re-released.
Annie (2014). Helmed by Will Gluck (of Easy A (2010) notoriety), this adaptation of the 1977 Broadway musical delivers on sights and sounds, but sadly, there is little meat on these bones. Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna and Gluck have updated not only to a modern New York City, but they have also tweaked the plot to near fallibility. Most noticeable is a more racially diverse cast, a musical score that has been sufficiently urbanized and a more whip-smart yet oh-so-doe-eyed Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis). Annie lives in foster care rather than a bustling orphanage and with only a few girls to keep her company.
Still the Enemy Within (2014) is barely recognisable, somehow further removed than either of the world wars. It's a representation of a path not taken – one of state ownership, care and intervention – as much as it is a historical record. Knitted together from extensively researched archive footage, contemporary interviews and luminous black and white photography, it unfolds with unhurried ease and vitality.
Nas: Time Is Illmatic (2014).
Filmmaker Anthony Wilcox embarks upon his first feature film in the director’s chair with a commendable amount of composure - an attitude presumably gained from experience further down the ladder on films such as Hot Fuzz (2007) and Brighton Rock (2010). The debut in question, Hello Carter (2013), ventures where many British dramadies tend to fail; extracting the best of British awkwardness and amusing politeness to great effect, without sinking fast amidst deflatingly unfunny quips. Despite the film's origins, the eponymous protagonist, Carter (Charlie Cox), has no floppy fringe; neither does he have a mockney accent, or a gun stashed somewhere about his person. It's thoroughly refreshing.
★★★★☆Last year, the Harvard Sensory Ethnographic Lab swallowed screens with their briny and disorientating fish-eye-view experience, Leviathan (2012). When their latest film, Manakamana (2013) opens in the pitch dark to the whirring of mechanical winches audiences may be forgiven for wondering if they should expect more of the same. However, light bursts forth and what follows could hardly be more different. Manakamana is an exemplar of observational cinema, consisting of around a dozen unmoving shots as a cable car traverses the Nepalese foothills. It’s meditative, beautiful, utterly fascinating, and one of the year’s finest documentary achievements.
★☆☆☆☆The Green Prince (2014) is the fantastical story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Hassan Yousef one of the founders of Hamas; who was an informant for the Israeli internal secret service Shin Bet for more than 10 years until his escape to America and a conversion to Christianity. Here lies an intriguing story that calls to mind John Le Carre at his murky best, yet what we are given is the self justification and propaganda of a trio of ideologues: Mosab Hassan Yousef, his handler Gonen Ben-Itzhak (a man who was fired from the Shin Bet years ago for lying and financial mismanagement, a topic conveniently not alluded to in the film) and lastly the Israeli filmmaker Nadav Schirman.
The way Bryn Higgins' sophomore feature, Electricity (2014), sees itself is perhaps an integral part of its ultimate failure. It considers itself as stylish, sexy, tough, visually inspiring and numerous other targets it misses by a country mile. In fact Electricity never gets close to any of these poised ideas. The production notes inform us that this is a modern day retelling of Alice In Wonderland, which would be true if Alice had stumbled through badly written cliche after cliche without stopping for breath to alleviate herself of the bald faced banality that consumes her. The single factor that keeps the audience alive with hope of some ‘wonder’ is the magnetic charisma and strong actuality of the revelatory Agyness Deyn.
1960 was a landmark year for scary movies. Among pioneering offerings by Bava, Franju, Hitchcock and Powell was Roger Corman and The Fall of the House of Usher - the first entry in what became known as the ‘Poe Cycle’. Like horror’s own De Niro and Scorsese, the Hollywood rebel and Vincent Price terrifed a generation with gothic tales based loosely on the works of author and poet Edgar Allan Poe. A new blu-ray Arrow Video collection under the banner Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, (presumably missing The Masque of the Red Death (1964) due to rights issues) features delightful blasts from cinema’s drive-in past.
It's extremely fitting that after Tom Hooper's star-studded version of Les Misérables (2012) has exited stage-left that Raymond Bernard original 1934 adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless novel should re-appear fully restored. The film was released as three separate features in 1934 but the Pathe-restored Masters of Cinema Blu-ray enables audiences to watch all 300 minutes of the film's torturous struggle in one go. The narrative of this French classic unfolds in an effortless manner moving from Jean Valjean’s (Harry Baur) release from prison and the orphan Fantine’s (Florelle) carefree days, to Valjean’s eventual adoption of Fantine’s orphaned daughter Cosette (Josseline Gaël).
The Birth of a Nation in 1915 provoked outrage from the American public. Archaic racial stereotypes were roundly condemned, and according to legend this reaction partly prompted the themes of his next film, the epic and ambitious Intolerance (1916). Subtitled 'Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages', it laid out the folly of humanity's historical prejudice and rivalry spread across two thousand years in a complex, cross-cutting multi-strand narrative. Now released on stunning blu-ray by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema collection, it has deservedly been hailed by some as the masterpiece of silent cinema.
★★★★☆The life of revered Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti almost feels too unwieldy and ambitious to fit into just one feature-length documentary, but Alex Gibney makes a good fist of it with Finding Fela (2014). The many facets of his career splinter off into a series of dramatically rich threads after an upbringing in an academic middle class environment with a mother who was a renowned feminist campaigner. Founder of jazz-funk infused musical movement Afrobeat, Kuti was a heavily politicised figure who was repeatedly arrested and savagely beaten by the Nigerian government, before finally being jailed for his outspoken views.
Director Ari Folman follows up the daring Waltz with Bashir (2008) with an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress, through which he explores the darker side of Hollywood and the human psyche. Robin Wright (playing a version of herself) is an ageing actress - in a world obsessed with youth, beauty and celebrity - given the chance to extend her career’s longevity in exchange for something very precious. The Congress (2013) is be mind-bending fare but the concepts are scarily feasible. Wright (the character) has made so many bad decisions in her career, that she is on her last chance. Her agent (Harvey Keitel) implores her to take one final job, a twenty year contract.
It’s hard to believe the film that launched a thousand talky, hipster-inflected indie movies and changed the whole face of the industry is actually twenty years old. The sophomoric effort of a young film geek who had greatly impressed critically (if not commercially) with his debut Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) has remained a lasting influence over a whole generation of cineastes in the way Star Wars (1977) did for a more populist audience two decades previously. But of late, the film seems to have lost a little of its lustre as the younger horde of Tarantino fans gravitate towards his later work.
St. Vincent (2014), Murray finds himself in the running for the industry's equivalent of canonisation; that holiest of holies - a Best Actor Oscar campaign. His role is that of the film's eponymous Vincent, a boozy, misanthrope that can be found in any of the bars, bookies or brothels of Melfi's broken America. He's joined by fellow comedians Melisa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd in this surprisingly upbeat depiction of our recession hit contemporary world.
Labor Day (2013) was a misstep, then Men, Women & Children (2014) is the director missing the step and falling flat on his face at the bottom of the stairs. A would-be state of the nation address, it's an embarrassingly cack-handed stumble for the zeitgeist. How hilariously perverse that a film about how we don't communicate any more has nothing to say. That it's armed with that magical cross-breed of indie and prestige Hollywood credentials makes it even worse; this is calamitous, inept filmmaking designed to look and feel "important". With its self-congratulatory, po-faced take on the technophobic topic du jour, it's a film of our times - just not perhaps in the way Reitman would like.
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