Film of the Week

Film of the Week
★★★★☆ Ewe'd be mad to miss director Grímur Hákonarson's award-winning tragicomedy Rams.

Film Review: Trumbo

★★☆☆☆
Director Jay Roach turns his attention to legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in the aptly named Trumbo, based on the biography by Bruce Alexander Cook. A noted communist who tirelessly fought for the rights of blacklisted writers in Golden Era Hollywood, Trumbo is a fascinating figure who is so ingrained in the fabric of tinsel town's century-old history, though exactly why his work was so highly regarded - and successful - is lost in the mire of this glossy, ham-fisted biopic that settles for surface-level summations. Seamlessly seguing from one colossal character - Breaking Bad's meth kingpin Walter White - to another, Bryan Cranston gives a typically studied, full-bodied and quite remarkable performance as the titular Trumbo, a man who wears his political beliefs on his sleeve and whose services are called upon to rescue flailing productions - as well as write award-winning scripts of his own.

Film of the Week: Rams

★★★★☆
Grímur Hákonarson's award-winning tragicomedy Rams is an affecting feature about sheep which also speaks reams about the human condition. Hákonarson focuses on two estranged brothers who share a passion for sheep farming. Set in a remote part of Iceland, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) own adjacent land but have not spoken to each other in decades. They keep to themselves and avoid any form of verbal contact with one another. Wandering ewes are wordlessly returned if they stray onto each other's land. When forced to communicate, Gummi's sheepdog is employed to convey their hastily scribbled messages.

Film Review: Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise

★★☆☆☆
Once in a blue moon, pop culture is delivered a figure cut from such a radical and innovative cloth that it hardly knows how to handle it. This figure achieves such a legendary status that they reach a cult-like standing in the consciousness of others. Such is the status of reggae producer and musician Lee Scratch Perry, who now lives in a rarefied state replete with mysticism, pontificating at length and at will to any willing listener on all he sees and believes and continuing to make some of the most intriguing and trippy music on either side of the Atlantic. Volker Schaner's documentary, Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise covers more than a decade of Perry's life.

Film Review: Janis: Little Girl Blue

★★★☆☆
"Take another little piece of my heart," Janis Joplin famously wails in Piece of My Heart. In Janis: Little Girl Blue, Amy Berg has lovingly reassembled those pieces, seemingly scattered over the most musically-critical decade in our recent history, and shaped them back into the bright star that was Joplin herself. While it is a documentary in the classic sense (talking heads, reels of historical footage, even a re-enactment of Joplin's letters), there is such a warm nostalgia for the subject that we do not seem to mind the familiar tropes. Berg brings us a softer, more vulnerable side to Joplin without trading on her name. There are some great nuggets: insightful anecdotes from former band members of Big Brother & the Holding Company as well as her family and archive footage help make this a wonderful portrait.

Film Review: Goosebumps

★★★★☆
"R.L. Stine. Whatever happened to that guy?" Rob Letterman's mile-a-minute, edge of your seat, raucously funny Goosebumps confirms that the 1990s (pre-He Who Shall Not Be Named) petrifier of children is alive and kicking. Donning dark horn-rimmed glasses, Jack Black is at his maniacal, magnetic best as the enigmatic writer in a wildly entertaining family flick that has enough spills and chills to delight young and old alike. Moving to a new town for a change of scenery after the death of his father, Zack (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (Amy Ryan) move in next door to less than welcoming neighbours. A tyrannical Black makes it clear that Zack is to keep clear of his daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush), but the butterflies of teenage romance are sent fluttering across the fence.

Film Review: The American Dreamer

★★★☆☆
Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson could hardly have better timed their thirty-day intersection with Dennis Hopper that formed the raw materials of the quasi-documentary The American Dreamer. They caught Hopper fresh from Easy Rider when he was a generational icon, high on his success - and just plain high - and boldly attempting to establish a reputation as a serious filmmaker. The film was shot and edited in early 1971, in the eye of the New Hollywood storm, but never received a release beyond as companion piece to Hopper's Easy Rider follow-up The Last Picture.

Rotterdam 2016: Préjudice review

★★★☆☆
Notions of marginalisation, responsibility and the ambiguities of nature versus nurture all collide in Antoine Cuypers' handsome and austere feature debut, Préjudice. The film is built around enormously compelling performances from Thomas Blanchard and Nathalie Baye, as an antagonistic son and mother. They take the leads in a taut chamber piece that pulls at the loose threads of a family with a precision for excruciating social tension and a refusal to offer easy answers to thematic waters which in turn beget labyrinthine ethical tributaries. Both compassion and frustration are easy to justify throughout the drama - but precisely who is deserving of which remains a far murkier question.

Rotterdam 2016: Garbage Helicopter review

★★★☆☆
What keeps running but never gets anywhere? This riddle is posed on a number of occasions during writer-director Jonas Selber Augustsén's head-scratcher of a debut feature. Gym-goers may answer slogging away on a treadmill but the principle could just as easily be applied to a film which is wickedly odd from start to finish. The overarching sense of stasis created by an immobile camera should not suggest that we remain in the same place, but the movement here is more cerebral than literal. Sure to distinguish festival circuit audiences for and against as clearly as the black and white of its monochrome images, The Garbage Helicopter is a beguiling, bemusing Nordic offering.

Rotterdam 2016: The Bride review

★★★☆☆
The bold and deeply felt symbolism of Federico García Lorca's famous matrimonial drama, Blood Wedding, makes it ripe for cinematic treatment. There are rich thematic veins to be opened in the writer's text and his beguiling visual motifs are screaming from the page to be fully realised on screen. Carlos Saura's flamenco effort Blood Wedding in 1981 is the most notably previous attempt to adapt the material and Paula Ortiz now has another crack of the whip in the form of the ravishingly beautiful and appealing, if somewhat unremarkable, La Novia - or The Bride.

Rotterdam 2016: As I Open My Eyes review

★★★★☆
How do you solve a problem like Farah? Principled, articulate but pig-headed, she is the whirlwind around whom Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid builds her remarkable debut feature. As I Open My Eyes is set in a very specific time and place: Tunis, summer 2010. It advocates the noble idealism, determination and exuberance of youth but equally acts as a warning cry against stubborn naivete at a point when the first waves of the Arab Spring were beginning to swell. By using the tropes of the coming-of-ager - a rebellious teen and the strained relationship with her mother - as the central touchstone, Bouzid subtly, yet efficiently paints the nascent days of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution as a force to be reckoned with.

Rotterdam 2016: Our top picks


The International Film Festival Rotterdam kicks off its 45th edition this evening with the world premiere of Dutch survival drama Beyond Sleep. Directed by Boudewijn Koole, it follows an ambitious geologist on a search for meteorites in Norwegian swampland. It will be followed by twelve days of eclectic cinema from all around the world ranging from myriad festival favourites from 2015 to lesser appreciated European fare. The festival runs through to a screening of Brady Corbet's stunning directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader on the evening of Saturday 6 February.

DVD Review: Godard: The Essential Collection

★★★★☆
Jean-Luc Godard's first feature, Breathless starts as the director meant to go on. With an effortless Gallic cool, Jean-Paul Belmondo, a Gauloises dangling from his lip, hot-wires an American car and accelerates off at high speed. He breaks rules and dances to his own tune all over town, and that is precisely was in turn to prove the director's own intention. For the last five decades, Godard has explored the ever more esoteric modes of celluloid expression, but with 1960's eye-catching debut - Breathless was the film that arguably defined La Nouvelle Vague - he kicked off a run of his most celebrated, accessible work. Those early years form the basis of StudioCanal's new Essential Blu-ray Collection.

DVD: Five Dolls for an August Moon

★★★☆☆
Gratuity is the watchword for Italian giallo cinema; blood, nudity and violence are all hallmarks of the genre. It is more than a little surprising, then, that Mario Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon is a rather tame entry in Arrow Video's latest slew of high definition giallo releases. 'Tame', of course, is a relative term, and while Bava's film can't quite boast the sheer volume of sex and gore of What Have You Done to Solange? or Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Five Dolls for an August Moon still retains an impressive body count, impossibly buxom cast and an Italian aesthetic of opulent excess.

Sundance 2016: Weiner review

★★★★☆
A fantastic quote from Canadian public intellectual Marshall McLuhan prefaces Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's absorbing campaign documentary Weiner. "The name of a man," he asserts, "is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." Its deployment in this particular context could hardly be more apposite; the tragedy of a man driven to build and live up to a name that ironically - or is that fatefully? - predicts his own downfall with a double entendre of twisted, malicious glee. There was a horrible inevitability to the fact that Anthony Weiner's career in the US Congress would end in sexual scandal, but watching him try to rejuvenate his flagging fortunes amidst a modern media circus is fascinating.

Sundance: Mapplethorpe review

★★★☆☆
"You can do it as a hobby, but what are you ever going to do with art?" This was the attitude of Robert Mapplethorpe's father, Harry, who never understood the desire of his mischievous, provocative artistically-inclined son. Robert would go on to become famous for his stylish black and white photography, often challenging in their brazen explicit sexuality. "Look at the pictures" chants an outraged senator spitting flames about this "known homosexual" during a public trail that appears as a bookend to Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures. Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat) are keen for you to do just that in this candid and absorbing documentary.

Sundance 2016: The Lure review

★★★★☆
As far as plot synopses go, a Polish-vampire-mermaid-80s-musical certainly captures attention. But debut director Agnieszka Smoczynska's violent, sexy fairytale The Lure is more than the sum of its parts; a luscious, strangely enchanting watch and terrific fun for those who'll launch themselves into it. Sirens Silver and Golden (Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska respectively) loiter on the shores of Warsaw in 1980s Poland, hoping to catch unwitting humans to take as food. But on this occasion, Silver refrains from dinner, instantly falling for a young guitarist (Jakub Gierszał) singing on the beach.

Sundance 2016: Love & Friendship review

★★★★☆
Whit Stillman's films are often concerned with the absurdities of human interactions. His latest, Love & Friendship, is no different - except that it's based on a Jane Austen novella. Yet Stillman, whose previous work like 2009's Damsels in Distress focuses in a skew-eyed perspective of modern America, is the perfect fit. Based on the Austen's epistolary Lady Susan, written in 1794 but not published until fifty years after her death, Stillman's period comedy centres on Kate Beckinsale's Lady Susan Vernon, a recently widowed socialite whose gallivanting around London since her husband's death has caused her reputation to plummet. She's a Machiavellian schemer who succeeds through arrogance and flirtation, wanting nothing more than a comfortable life but with the chance for some seduction on the side.

Sundance 2016: Kate Plays Christine review

★★★★☆
'Nobody sees anyone as she is, let alone an actress playing a troubled young woman forty years after her death. They see a whole - they see all sorts of things - they see themselves.' This is a flagrant bastardisation of a quote from Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room, but it perfectly encapsulates the needling interrogation that is central to Robert Greene's conflicted and engrossing docudrama, Kate Plays Christine. Its very definition as a documentary at Sundance is cause for scrutiny, playing perfectly into the hands of a director intent on a dialogue about the veracity of non-fiction filmmaking and the porous boundaries between apparently distinguishable mediums.

Sundance 2016: How to Let Go of the World review

★★☆☆☆
At the beginning of Josh Fox's breakout 2010 documentary Gasland, he stated that he was not a pessimist. Further along the same road of ecological activism that he embarked on in that film, his newest endeavour sees him presented with a very real challenge to his otherwise sunny disposition. Even before it's started, How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change) is foreshadowing the apocalypse with the aid of its Kubrickian title. Although it begins with Fox literally dancing for joy after a recent environmental win, he's quickly brought crashing down to Earth. For forty minutes he bombards the audience with unremitting doom before spending the following hour and half on an uneven and unconvincingly uplifting tour of the little guys still trying to tackle climate change.

Sundance 2016: Dream Is Destiny review

★★★☆☆
In the two and a half decades since his first feature film, Slackers, debuted at New Directors/New Films in New York, Richard Linklater has built an unlikely career out of humility and driven artistic ambition. Choosing to remain in Austin, Texas rather than racing blindly for the big lights of Tinseltown he's cultivated an enviable reputation as an indie auteur and the epitome of the mission at Sundance. In Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, a new film screening at this year's festival, Louis Black (the editor of the Austin Chronicle) and Karen Bernstein pay warm tribute to the filmmaker in what is a fitting ode to independent spirit more than a penetrating portrait.

Sundance 2016: Our picks of the festival


The sleepy Utah ski resort of Park City explodes into life once again as Hollywood and the world's press bombard its slopes. This is the Sundance Film Festival, which despite its modest indie circuit origins (as the Utah/US Film Festival in 1978) is now America's foremost film festival, perhaps in industry clout only behind Cannes and Toronto worldwide. Yet its credibility isn't based on big name stars and auteurs, but as the first stop for hot new American filmmaking talent. It's not just the legendary debuts made by Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh that maintain its star ranking for any Hollywood producer - more recent breakthrough films from Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) show momentum remains in the snow-tipped peaks of Utah.

Film Review: Youth

★★★☆☆
Youth vaunts itself as an unabashedly cinematic film. Paolo Sorrentino's latest offering knows just how sumptuous and clever it is and is in no way ashamed to flaunt rich colours, startling compositions and overwhelming talent to point a satirical finger at the glitz and glamour of stardom. Awash with admiration for the beauty of images on show, an audience is to lap up every glistening, perfect moment; to hell with modesty or self-deprecation. Savour certain moments you will but as the curtain comes down with a performance of its apparently Oscar-worthy song, the lasting impression is not a fulfilling one. Youth serves up delicately presented haute cuisine instead of a hardy pub lunch.

Film Review: Spotlight

★★★★☆
There's a sense of the years being rolled back in Tom McCarthy's gripping, Oscar-worthy journalism drama Spotlight. On the one hand, there's almost a nostalgia that comes with watching - and participating in - the craft of meticulous, urgent and dedicated long-form journalism. When there's talk of deadlines, it's all about whether the reporters can build a strong enough case in time; the modern medium is blighted by a clamour for clicks and the rush to publish. Fact checks be damned. On the other hand is the impressive feat of crafting such a superb example of fiercely intelligent, mid-budget, mature cinema, the likes of which is all the more rarely seen in this day and age and certainly not this accomplished.

Film Review: Shoah

★★★★★
Claude Lanzmann's monumental Holocaust documentary Shoah took 12 years to make. Compiling over 350 hours of footage, including interviews with individuals in 14 countries, the final cut clocks in at over nine hours. It's fascinating how the mind's immediate reaction to this seminal piece of filmmaking tends towards the numerical. Dehumanisation was a vital facet of the Final Solution, often through consideration of the 'Jewish problem' in mathematical terms. That human coping mechanism, towards the empirical, adds just another layer of psychological and emotional complexity to this staggering work.

Film Review: One and Two

★★☆☆☆
The richly shot opening images of Andrew Droz Palermo's debut feature hold much promise. Sadly, One and Two doesn't go on to deliver. From murky depths, light penetrates a body of water which is pierced by two figures. A boy and girl contemplate the stunning reflection of a twilight sky playing on its surface. The sound of birds and crickets is backed by a whimsical score that echoes and reverberates. Seen in long shot, the boy and girl, siblings Zac (Timothée Chalamet) and Eva (Kiernan Shipka), run across a field in front of a fenced forest. Full of intrigue and mystery, this opening sequence sets up an interesting premise which dully travels from nowhere to nowhere, bogged down by loose direction, an underdeveloped script and little more than surface characterisation.

Film Review: Innocence of Memories

★★★★☆
Fans of Terence Davies' heartfelt ode to his hometown Liverpool in Of Time and the City will be drawn to Innocence of Memories, from fellow British filmmaker Grant Gee. A slow-paced yet mesmerising documentary, it interweaves an epic romance and nostalgic love letter to Istanbul to shed light on the past, present and future of its setting. Part alternative travelogue, part meditation on love and loss, it explores the nature of a great city as a living, breathing entity and how memory is inextricably linked to time and place. Gee collaborated in the writing of his latest endeavour with Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who also features throughout.

Film Review: Dirty Grandpa

★☆☆☆☆
Dan Mazer's Dirty Grandpa sets up its stall as an irreverent and defiantly non-PC comedy vehicle for Robert De Niro. At least that's the idea and intention. And we all know what the road to hell is paved with, right? What actually unfolds across a hard slog 102 minutes is a dumb, mean-spirited and woefully unfunny dude-bro fantasy. After losing his wife of forty years to cancer, Richard Kelly (De Niro) just wants to, in his own words, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." He ropes his supremely uptight nephew, Jason (Zac Efron), into taking a road trip Florida, even though the lad is about to get hitched to bridezilla, Meredith (Julianne Hough). Before you can crank up the volume on your car stereo and yell 'Spring break forever, bitches!' the duo fall into a range of outrageous mishaps and drunken shenanigans.
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