Film Review: 'A Promise'

★☆☆☆☆
It's been almost two decades since idiosyncratic French filmmaker Patrice Leconte delivered a near-masterpiece in the form of 1996's Ridicule, an opulent and hugely absorbing period drama of verbal sparring in the court at Versailles. It's safe to say that A Promise (2013), the director's first English-language foray, won't be knocking that aforementioned feature off the top spot any time soon. This stodgy Euro-pudding (German story, English adaptation, French director) was always going to run the risk of being a little uneven, but the end result is still disappointingly stilted and inert. Leconte directs this early 19th century love triangle with all the weight and depth of a leisurely ITV afternoon drama.

Film Review: 'Hide Your Smiling Faces'

★★★☆☆
Partially funded by Kickstarter, Daniel Patrick Carbone's Hide Your Smiling Faces (2013) arrives in selected UK cinemas this week having picked up a number of accolades from various film festivals across the pond. It's easy to see why. While it may meander a little on occasion, the film is full of small yet hugely revealing observations regarding the trials of adolescence. It comes off like a solemn version of The Kings of Summer (2013), where instead of those hazy months between school being packed with endless possibilities, they appear to signal an end of sorts. The film follows two teenage siblings struggling with the aftermath of the apparent accidental death of a local boy, a friend of the youngest.

Film Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

★★★★☆
When Marvel announced that the next characters they were going to introduce in 'Phase Two' of their ongoing saga would include a walking tree and a talking raccoon, eyebrows were raised. With Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), a substantial punt is being taken not only on characters less familiar to the public, but in firing their universe into the unknown cosmos. Fortunately, the gamble has well and truly paid off. Helmed by James Gunn, this intergalactic yarn is not only a refreshing addition to the space opera sub-genre, but also one of the studio's most enjoyable films to date. Abducted from Earth as an orphan, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has grown into the swaggering 'Star-Lord' out in deep space.

Film Review: 'The Deer Hunter'

★★★★★
Structures within the time frame of empirical perspectives have a tendency to unknowingly look in the wrong direction. Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978) overcomes this problem by focusing on an intensely felt portrayal of the characterisation within a closed community that allows us to see the universality of a doom-inflected generation that blindly followed the path shown by the state. Time allows the peaceful reign to negate the demand for instantaneous discourse and the setting up of ideological walls that soon become entrenched. Over 30 years since it was first released, The Deer Hunter has become what it always was: a deep-rooted immersion into American blue-collar life.

Film Review: 'Blackwood'

★★☆☆☆
The haunted house has become such a recurring trope in horror literature and cinema that it's now a bona fide sub-genre in its own right. From modern semis to labyrinthine old mansions, there's little that's more innately spooky than feeling unnerved in one's own home, while filmmakers have utilised that communal fear sublimely in offerings from The Haunting (1963) to The Innkeepers (2011). The latest British entry into this communion comes in the form of Blackwood (2013), the feature debut from director Adam Wimpenny, based on the first screenplay by artist J.S. Hill. It's a strange film with some interesting ideas that ultimately rest on perfunctory storytelling, leaving the piece short on tension.

DVD Review: 'We Are the Best!'

★★★★☆
Coco Moodysson's autobiographical 2008 graphic novel Never Goodnight related the delight and difficultly of forming a punk band, aged 13, in 1982. Along with two friends, and against the expectations of their peers and the adults around them, Moodysson created a dark and poignant tale of three friends who evince the spirit of punk at an age when change is painful, exhilarating and inevitable. Five years later the writer's husband, the director Lukas Moodysson, was looking for a new project. Following the death of Lukas' father, Coco felt a lighter, more upbeat film would be ideal. So, when he asked to adapt Never Goodnight, Coco's blessing was duly given to what would become We Are the Best! (2013).

DVD Review: 'Venus in Fur'

★★★☆☆
For Roman Polanski's latest, the now octogenarian director has adapted David Ives play Venus in Fur, which is itself based on the 1870 novel of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Taking place entirely in a theatre setting, the chamber piece sees a playwright, Thomas Novachek (Mathieu Amalric), who is directing his own adaptation of Venus in Fur, interrupted at the end of a long day of auditioning the lead role by Vanda Jourdain (Emmanuelle Seigner), an actor late for the reading who insists on being seen, despite Thomas' obvious disapproval of her appropriateness for the role. We then have two actors, Amalric and Seigner, playing the part of an actor and a director, themselves performing roles.

DVD Review: 'Unforgiven'

★★☆☆☆
Released to widespread critical and audience acclaim back in 1992, Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning revenge tale Unforgiven is fondly remembered as a valiant last stand by an American movie genre that had been slowly dying a death for decades. The West, as it transpired, had been well and truly won, despite several sporadic attempts to spur the old horse back into life (see Open Range, the Coen brothers' True Grit and, most recently, Quentin Tarantino's revisionist Django Unchained). Now, 22 years on from Eastwood's original offering, director Lee Sang-il presents Yurusarezaru mono (2013), a loose remake transposed to nineteenth century feudal Japan, with cowboys replaced by samurai.

Blu-ray Review: 'Too Late Blues'

★★★☆☆
John Cassavetes was the blue-collard labourer of American arthouse. Like the atonal timbre of jazz that tested musical conventions, the director excelled when left to experiment. Frequently, his movies appear as dummy-runs rather than finished products. His style stemmed from spontaneity, mistakes and impulse. His self-funded directorial debut Shadows (1959) was a lofty forerunner of independent cinema in the West. By saving the modest salaries he made acting in other director's films, Cassavetes had somehow breached himself from the suffocating constraints of Hollywood. Shadows was messy and barely received enough to reach critical acclaim.

Blu-ray Review: 'Rapture'

★★★★☆
Another forgotten gem given new life on DVD and Blu-ray here in the UK, John Guillermin's Rapture (1965) is a beautifully-made and challenging oddity. It's a film which undoubtedly sent the top brass at Twentieth Century Fox (the studio who first brought it to screen) into a spin when it was first released, but there's a much more to chew on other than the sometimes risqué content. Agnes (Patricia Gozzi) is a confused and unhappy teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood, living in a coastal farmhouse in rural Brittany. She gets little love and reassurance from her emotionally aloof father (Melvyn Douglas), tuning instead to the sexually-active live-in housekeeper (Gunnel Lindblom) for womanly advice.

DVD Review: 'Northwest'

★★★☆☆
The second crime thriller to come from director Michael Noer (whose previous film, 2010's R: Hit First, Hit Hardest, was a collaboration between himself and fellow Dane Tobias Lindholm), Northwest (2013) does little that's new but still does enough to grip and occasionally thrill over the course of its necessarily brief runtime. Taking place within the Nordvest suburb of Copenhagen, notorious for its high crime rates and relative poverty, Noer's dark tale of low-level drug dealers and seedy sex traffickers is at its best when at home with the film's two shaven-headed brothers, the eldest of whom quickly finds himself seduced by the types of luxuries a life of crime can offer a willing footsoldier with "balls of steel".

DVD Review: 'Noah'

★★★★☆
Let it be howled from the mountain tops that with his extraordinary Noah (2014), director Darren Aronofsky has crafted a bold, phantasmagorical interpretation of the Old Testament tale as we've never seen it before. In it, mankind - led by Tubal-Cain (British hardman Ray Winstone) - has spread like a cancer across the world, consuming all in their path and living in smoggy, ashen cities. "The Creator", in his infinite wisdom, decides to send a great flood to cleanse the earth of his creation and start anew. He does, however, choose to save Noah (Russell Crowe, on-form here), last patriarch of the antediluvian age, and his family, who must build an ark that will house two of every living creature.

Blu-ray Review: 'Jules et Jim' & 'Shoot the Pianist'

★★★★★
French critic and auteur François Truffaut's tone and style have been both successfully and unsuccessfully mined by numerous directors over the years, including the likes of Wes Anderson, Richard Ayoade and Shane Meadows. Never as knowingly hip and revolutionary as others, his cinema belongs to Renoir and Vigo, and is carried on by that doomed depressive Leos Carax. Truffaut claimed that if he walked into a casino, his first instinct would be to master the rules. Godard's first instinct, Truffaut added, would be to invent new ones. With his second and third films, Shoot the Pianist (1960) and Jules et Jim (1962) - both rereleased this week - we see a true master at work.

VOD Review: 'Happy Christmas'

★★★☆☆
Fresh off the back of last year's Drinking Buddies (2013), mumblecore forefather Joe Swanberg returns with Happy Christmas (2014), another modestly budgeted drama which he customarily directs, writes, produces and stars in himself. Where Drinking Buddies flirted somewhat with a conventional narrative - whilst remaining true to Swanberg's anti-mainstream stance - his latest returns to the more sombre tones of his earlier, younger works, where character interaction took precedence over clear plot machinations. Arriving in Chicago after an inflammatory breakup, Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves into her older brother Jeff's (Swanberg) basement while she figures out which direction to take next.

DVD Review: 'Behind the Camera'

★★★☆☆
E J-Yong's Behind the Camera (2013) is a doc-style film that offers an intriguing question; can an absent filmmaker direct a cast and crew over the internet via social media? The result is whimsical, amusing and more than a little disquieting. The premise is simple; E J-Yong (the character) has been commissioned to create a 10-minute short and decides to film a story about a director who will direct over Skype. In a satisfying twist of meta-proportions, E J-Yong the director does exactly the same, directing over Skype from LA. Starring a host of well-known actors from Korea such as Yoon Yeo-jeong, Kim Ok-vin and Oh Jeong-se, the film smartly utilises customary amateur aesthetics.

DVD Review: '20 Feet from Stardom'

★★★★☆
"Rape, murder. It's just a shot away." Merry Clayton's vocal projection pierce through at Gimme Shelter's most unsettling moment. Jagger presses on with playing the sex-crazed Pierrot as Clayton literally screams through a microphone. The story of Clayton's involvement has been allegorised frequently. Waking to a call in the middle of the night, hair in curlers, Clayton is requested at the Los Angeles recording studio where the Stones were finalising Let It Bleed. She delivered the most stirring vocals in only two takes. It was another successful turning point for the Rolling Stones and another notch to Clayton's exemplary reputation. Yet, as the Stones rolled, Clayton returned to the shadows.

Competition: Win 'We Are the Best!' on DVD

An adaptation of the graphic novel written by Lukas Moodysson's wife Coco, We Are the Best! (2013) revolves around three girls (Bobo, Hedvig and Klara) in 1980s Stockholm who decide to form a punk band - despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead. To celebrate the home entertainment release of Moodysson's winning crowd-pleaser this coming Monday (28 July), we have THREE DVD copies of the We Are the Best! to give away to our valued readers, kindly provided by the always generous folks at Metrodome Distribution. This is an exclusive competition for our Facebook and Twitter fans, so if you haven't already, 'Like' us at facebook.com/CineVueUK or follow us @CineVue before answering the question below.

Competition: Win 'Venus in Fur' on DVD

Based on the Tony Award-winning play by David Ives, Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur (2013) is a playful, highly intelligent and multi-layered examination of passion, perversion and the battle of the sexes from the acclaimed French director (Chinatown, The Pianist). To celebrate the home entertainment release of Polanski's latest offering this coming Monday (28 July), we have THREE DVD copies of the challenging and witty Venus in Fur to give away to our cultured returning readers, courtesy of the team at independent and world cinema distributors Artificial Eye. This is an exclusive competition for our Facebook and Twitter fans, so if you haven't already, 'Like' us at facebook.com/CineVueUK or follow us @CineVue before answering the question below.

Competition: Win 'Noah' on Blu-ray

Darren Aronofsky, the Academy Award-winning director behind Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010), takes the helm of this epic re-telling of the biblical tale, Noah (2014). Academy Award winner Russell Crowe stars in the film inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope. In addition, the supporting cast features such talents as Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman and Ray Winstone. To celebrate the home entertainment release of Aronofsky's bold take on a familiar tale, we have FIVE Blu-ray copies of Noah to give away. This is an exclusive competition for our Facebook and Twitter fans, so if you haven't already, 'Like' us at facebook.com/CineVueUK or follow us @CineVue before answering the question below.

Film Review: 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'

★★★★☆
Marc Silver’s award-winning documentary Who is Dayani Cristal? (2013), co-produced by and starring Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, explores the identity and tragic fate of one economic migrant after he attempts to forge a life for himself in the United States. Every year, thousands of Mexicans, Central and South Americans illegally cross the Mexican-US border in search of work and at considerable risk to their own lives. One of the most inhospitable terrains that the desperate migrants have to navigate is the Sonora desert in Arizona, known as 'the corridor of death'. Here, decomposing corpses or body parts are regularly picked up by the border patrol.

Film Review: 'The Lady from Shanghai'

★★★★★
Simplicity is often the conduit to a perverse complexity that grows more enigmatic the longer the gaze of the enchanted is maintained. Even in its present state of butchered grandeur, The Lady from Shanghai (1947) - back in UK cinemas this week - is a joy to behold. Like everything Orson Welles produced, there's an air of fractured menace in this film that resides outside the white noise that surrounds his presence as the poet of film maudit. Its possessed by an uneasy, frivolous wisp of a plot that ponders through the created anecdote whether our internal constructs are true enough to grasp. Welles plays wandering Irish sailor Michael O'Hara, a man too clever, too tough, but not too likable.

Interview: David Gordon Green on Southern noir 'Joe'

David Gordon Green is that rarest of directors - unpredictable and eclectic. He's directed gripping art-house dramas like his debut George Washington (2000), stoner comedies like Pineapple Express (2008) and the historical spoof Your Highness (2011) - which America's Salon Magazine somewhat hastily suggested might be the worst film ever made. In time, the latter may be remembered as a poor film made by one of America's true talents, a director who was once compared to Terrence Malick - who now seems to be inspiring others (see the films of Jeff Nichols and David Lowery). Wanting a change from broad comedy, he made the low-key but well-liked Prince Avalanche (2013) under the radar but now returns to his early form with Joe (2013), a Southern noir set in deepest darkest Mississippi.

Film Review: 'Joe'

★★★★☆
From the same director who brought us such eclectic offerings as George Washington (2000) and stoner comedy Pineapple Express (2008), David Gordon Green's rural noir Joe (2013) - based on Larry Brown's grit-lit novel - stars Nicolas Cage as Joe Ransom, a man who, in the words of Johnny Cash, "Won't back down". Joe leads a work crew clearing trees so the land can be cultivated, and spends his evenings slumped on his sofa, at local dice games or at the whorehouse. Along the way he befriends Gary (Tye Sheridan, previously seen in The Tree of Life and Jeff Nichols' Mud), a homeless stray who washes up at a derelict house with his sister, mother and abusive father, Wade (Gary Poulter).

Film Review: 'The House of Magic'

★★★☆☆
With the likes of Disney Pixar and DreamWorks Animation already riding high on a wave of critical acclaim, box office success and Academy Awards, European animation houses are starting to emerge with increasingly strong output. The House of Magic (2013), the latest 3D animated adventure from Belgium's nWave Pictures, illustrates this well. Unfortunately, for all the inventive visuals flourishes and distinctive characters it boasts, there's not much underneath. Abandoned by his owners on the sidewalk, Thunder (Murray Blue) takes shelter in a mysterious house, which turns out to be owned by Lawrence (Doug Stone), an old magician and his striking array of animals and lifelike contraptions.

Film Review: 'Hercules'

★☆☆☆☆
Hollywood has made quite the habit of reappropriating myths and fairytales, setting about debunking and demystifying them for modern audiences. The latest such icon to undergo this particular treatment of refinement is the son of Zeus himself, the mighty Hercules (2014). Dwayne Johnson might ably fill the demigod's armour but the story labours to fill in the man behind the legend, putting a tired modern twist on his famous adventures. Based on a graphic novel by comics scribe Steve Moore, this is an attempt to ground the character in historical epic. Sadly, director Brett Ratner actually devalues one of the most enduring of heroes, turning a potential fun fantasy thrill ride into homogeneous rubbish.

Film Review: 'The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden'

★★★☆☆
There's a legend on the South American Galapagos Islands that the famous tortoises that inhabit their shores have the power to stare into the souls of men. These enormous reptiles are said to judge each new arrival on their archipelago, and curse those that alight there with nefarious intent. The question is raised whether such a hex was placed upon a group of settlers in the 1930s, who are the subject of historical documentary, Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine's handsome The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013). A real-life whodunnit provides a riveting narrative backbone but despite some juicy melodrama, this languid doc never quite lives up the intrigue of its central conundrum.

Film Review: 'Earth to Echo'

★★☆☆☆
Earth to Echo (2014), director Dave Green's feature debut, admirably attempts to recreate the classic family adventure films of the eighties, but instead delivers an uneven mishap that comes up short on heart, soul and - in particular - originality. Forced to leave their neighbourhood because of a new highway construction project, best friends Tuck (Brian Bradley), Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) lie to their parents in order to spend their last night together. But when they start receiving unexplained message on their mobile phones, the trio set off into the desert to discover the source - a compact android called Echo. If any of the aforementioned sounds familiar, that's because it sadly is.

Film Review: 'Branded to Kill'

★★★★☆
After more than ten years and forty films at the Nikkatsu company through the 1950s and 60s, cult Japanese director Seijun Suzuki was fired - allegedly for making "incomprehensible" cinema. Known for visual panache, staccato editing and a particular dreamlike quality that eschewed narrative logic, he was hardly working against type. After repeated instruction to make his work more commercially accessible, the straw that finally broke the back of that particular production camel was the dizzying jazz noir of Branded to Kill (1967), back in cinemas this week ahead of DVD/Blu-ray. What makes the story all the more curious is that the film is, in fact, a stunning riff on gangster fare inflected with surrealism.

DVD Review: 'The Zero Theorem'

★★★☆☆
The latest mind-bending science fiction fantasy feature from American animator and director Terry Gilliam, The Zero Theorem (2013) depicts an admirable quest for higher meaning in the digital age, playing like a sadder B-side to 1985's Brazil. Detractors of the former Python's peculiar brand of fantastical whimsy will not find anything to convert them to the cause, but fans will find the picture to be a welcome compendium of his work to date. Gilliam, essentially a genre unto himself, mines his favourite thematic concerns, albeit with a modern slant. While it's unfair to call such an imaginative work predictable, there is a niggling sense that Gilliam is firmly operating within his comfort zone.

DVD Review: 'Visitors'

★★★☆☆
A trance-like meditation on humanity's relationship with technology, Godfrey Reggio's non-narrative documentary Visitors (2013) is an anthropological examination of postmodernity and capitalism's affects on human evolution. A poetic montage of intensely moving imagery, the profundity of Reggio's latest allows the audience to study themselves through the eyes of another, and in doing so attempt to understand the essence of our nature. Visitors is Reggio's first film in over a decade after his Qatsi Trilogy, concluding in 2002 with Naqoyqatsi. The trio wowed audiences, with their hypnotic sequences of time-lapse photography and slow motion coalescing beautifully with Phillip Glass' intense scores.
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