Tag Archives: 2014

Review: THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)

To start, it would perhaps be notable to point out that The Duke of Burgundy is not a BDSM film with lesbians. That is to say, though The Duke of Burgundy is a tale of two female lovers in a physical and emotional power-struggle, it cannot be reduced to such an apparently sensational sound-bite. Though the film is decidedly ‘queered’ by the contemporary film-goer, the story exists in a world where everything is female; a homogeneous fantasy world.

British director Peter Strickland returns after the ambitious but divisive Berberian Sound Studio (2012) with another tense drama which explores the dark side of human interaction and intimacy. The all-female cast is led by Sidse Babett Knudsen (you’ll know her from the excellent Borgen) and Berbarian Sound Studio’s Chiara D’Anna: they dominate every scene, slowly turning page after moth-eaten page in the saga of their relationship. Cynthia (Knudsen) is a butterfly professor (there’s a posh name for it probably) living in an ivy-entombed hideaway mansion, while Evelyn (D’Anna) is her maid, at the beck and call of Cynthia’s petulant whim. While Cynthia click-clacks around her library in ‘power-suits’, pencil-lined and precise, she belittles and directs a timid Evelyn. It soon becomes clear that the two women are fiercely entwined in a role-play which subverts our first meeting with these characters.

Shocking and strange, The Duke of Burgundy is a peep-hole view of a warped relationship which seems more preoccupied with the projection of love rather than love itself. It becomes more and more obvious that Evelyn’s sub-domination is what is keeping these two women together, for better or for worse. As Cynthia’s increasing suffocation (not the erotic kind) propels the film into a kaleidoscope of madness, cumulating in an extended sequence of butterfly mirages and strange hallucinogenic montages, reminiscent of the darker moments of Berberian Sound Studio.

The unfortunate shame of this film is that it will probably be best remembered in years to come as the lesbian ‘Fifty Shades’, especially when it makes the rounds on late night television. The triumph of The Duke of Burgundy however, is that it is so much more than that. From its crackly soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes (which, by the way, is bound to be the must-have film score on vinyl…or whatever your format of choice is), to the brave and daring performances by Knudsen and D’Anna, it deserves to become a landmark in erotic cinema. Even if you don’t find any of it remotely sexy.

Review: BIRDMAN (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Widely praised by critics, Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has finally landed. The closing film of the 29th Leeds International Film Festival last year, this crazy, swooping joy-ride of movie directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu has been on the lips of critics everywhere ever since its UK premiere.

Michael Keaton returns to our screens as the titular ‘hero’ once more, playing Riggan Thomson, a former winged-superhero movie star trying to rebuild his reputation by starring, adapting and directing a Broadway play. He is joined by an impressive cast, all in someway connected to his ill-fated adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. Zack Galifianakis is his best ever, shrugging off his perpetual hangover-days and unveiling a frustrated neurotic producer, desperate to save the play at whatever cost. The excellent Andrea Riseborough is Thomson’s put-upon actress girlfriend who is increasingly fascinated by the leading lady, Lesley played by Naomi Watts. Watts adds shades of her former role in Mullholland Drive (2001)- a woman dreaming of her ‘big break’, even as the world around her collapses.  While Ed Norton stirs up the tension as man-child maverick thesp Mike Shiner and hilariously embodies the rampant narcissism that is so easy to imagine in the personality of an actor.  Emma Stone once again holds her own as Thomson’s neglected daughter and personal assistant. Fresh from rehab, she rudely awakens Thomson to the responsibilities of fatherhood and the nature of celebrity in the age of social media.

Seemingly shot all in one take with some expert cuts, the continuous shots and long takes wonderfully recreate the confined pressure-cooker environment of a small theatre leading up to the opening night. Conversations in hallways, behind curtains or up in the rigging are uncovered and laid bare for us to listen in on. The narrative is structured into segments concerning the hurried preparations for each preview before their residency begins, each one as disastrous as the other.

As the trailer suggests, the film pays special attention to its wondrous special effects which are made all the more magical since you’re never really sure if it is all a whimsy of the protagonist. Thomson battles with his inner demon; an alter-ego taking the form of his most popular role, Birdman. Struggling to sleep, to hold his anarchic production and his crumbling family together, Thomson is at times a pitiful character, desperate to be taken seriously whilst also enjoying a penchant for self-destruction. His need for legend-status is granted in a way we least expect, highlighting the absurdity and bizarre nature of fame.

Of course, critics don’t get off lightly in this story. Nor should they. Lindsay Duncan has a small but memorable role as a powerful theatre critic who has the power to destroy or resurrect careers with the quick flourish of her pen. Acidic and acerbic, it is a terrifying insight to the love/hate relationship between the artists and critics on Broadway, and indeed in any hierarchical cultural society deemed capable what deciding what is worthy and what isn’t. Even when Raymond Carver, Thomson’s boyhood hero offers his review, it is arguably wholly disingenuous.

Strange, funny, surreal and at times awe-inspiring, Birdman is deserving of the buzz surrounding it. A film to talk about, to laugh and to wince at, Birdman is most certainly is an ‘event film’ with an impressive ensemble cast to boot. It is wonderful to see Michael Keaton on our screens again, reminding us just how charismatic of a performer he can be. When Thomson loses his temper, I did jokingly wonder if someone had uttered ‘Beetlejuice’ three times.

Highly recommended.

Review: Holmfirth Film Festival 2014

Two weeks after the end of this year’s Holmfirth Film Festival, I found myself cycling through the serene valleys of the Pyreenes, just near the border to France and Andorra. Between staggered breathing and shaded-tree hoping, I thought back to just days before as I sat in a darkened Picturedrome, watching a cycling movie called Breaking Away (1979). Never did I expect these two disparate experiences to intertwine, but just as a jersey-clad, bare-legged mob of cyclists zoomed on ahead of me, I was reminded of the dynamic and exciting attractions I enjoyed in a small, rain-sodden village in West Yorkshire.

IMG_0006

Having finally arrived to Holmfirth (not the easiest of tasks for a Bradfordian resident who must rely on public transport), I made my way to the Holmfirth Picturedrome rightly assuming it was the place to start my cinematic journey across the Holme Valley. Reassured that I had not indeed missed the start of the next attraction, I settled down in a seat to enjoy a double bill of the classic French animation The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and the aforementioned Breaking Away (1979). The programme promised free entry to those who braved the beating rain to arrive on their bicycles and I was surprised to see that many actually did. The film itself is a feel-good, coming-of-age ride which tells the story of four high-school graduates leading working-class lives in a growing college town. One character in particular played by Dennis Christopher is obsessed with cycling and worships the Italian cycling team- so much so that he learns Italian by listening to operas and shaves his legs in his parent’s bathroom, much to the chagrin of his blue-collar father. What eventually follows is a bike race between the rich college-attending elite and this inexperienced, restless band of young friends who call themselves ‘The Cutters’ after the former stone-cutting workforce who dominated the region of Bloomington, Indiana. With fantastic sweeping shots of the area; the blissful open roads and the final race itself, Breaking Away is a simple story with a good heart which could turn any cycling un-enthusiast into a gear-changing fanatic by its end. A career-starting performance by Dennis Quaid as a troublesome, chain-smoking lamenting teen was also a joy to watch, especially considering the Hollywood heartthrob persona he went on to embody.

IMG_0005

A wonderful time was also to be had that very night in the Picturedrome for ‘A Night at the Movies…’ by the Holme Valley Orchestra. Many gathered to hear James Morgan conduct well-known and much-loved film scores and songs with dazzling film clips to distract you from staring too intently at the talented musicians who were seated at quite close proximity to an eager audience. Cinema screen by day, auditorium by night, the first weekend alone demonstrated just how versatile the Picturedrome can be, as well as highlighting the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers and workers who helped to make the festival possible.

After securing a drink at the fabulous Gonzo bar and catching a few local musicians making good advantage of the festival guests in town in need of a quick refreshment (try anything by the Summer Wine brewery, good local tipple!), I travelled to the Southgate Theatre in Honley, a nearby village. Initially perturbed by the distance between locations (thankfully, on this particularly day, I was not dashing about on foot), the festival proved to be a wonderful opportunity to discover the local neighbourhoods not usually explored by those speeding through the valley to visit the famous village of Holmfirth. The Southgate Theatre is a delightful venue, home to many an amateur production and local meeting and quite clearly the heart of the Honley community. After being helpfully directed to the exits in case of a fire by a friendly lady, I enjoyed the Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013). An addition to the programme which further highlighted the superb range of films offered during this week of cinema, this poignant account of the backup singers of some of the best singers and bands of the last fifty years was a joyous romp. Revealing everything from iconic musical clips to amazing on-stage performances as well as some shocking and heart-rending stories, the film gives a voice to those always just beyond the glare of the limelight.

Fast-forward a fortnight, and I have unwisely stopped cycling halfway up a hill in the Spanish mid-morning heat. A man pedals by in a Tour de France yellow t-shirt, and I quietly blame the Holmfirth Film Festival for whipping me up into Le Tour Yorkshire fever. I think next time I’ll just stock-up on popcorn instead of razors and bike pumps…

All photos taken by Evangeline Spachis.

Preview: Holmfirth Film Festival 2014

I’ll be reporting from the 4th Annual Holmfirth Film Festival this weekend on behalf of the lovely people at The Culture Vulture!

Use this link to read my opening preview on The Culture Vulture blog and follow all my adventures in the iconic Yorkshire village of Holmfirth via my Twitter @EvieSpachis!

Preview: Holmfirth Film Festival 2014

 

Review: LOCKE (2014) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

Steven Knight’s new film Locke, starring Tom Hardy was premiered on the closing night film of the 20th Bradford International Film Festival. However, GIRL ON FILM decided to save this review until the week of its release in the UK. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, here’s the place to be!

locke-movie-poster-570x427

Much of Tom Hardy’s career could be characterised in much the same way as a coiled spring. A brute with the cinematic machismo of young Marlon Brando, Hardy has excelled playing dangerously unpredictable characters such as the notorious prison inmate Charles Bronson, the larger than life and nearly indecipherable Bane in the latest Batman franchise and was even perfectly cast as the wild Heathcliff in a flawed television adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

In Locke, Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction worker who, confined within his car throughout the film, conducts various phone calls as he drives through the night to London. Unlike many reviews of the film which have been released over the Easter weekend, I shan’t go into too much detail about the plot, but much can be taken from the BIFF director, Neil Young’s description of Knight’s second directorial effort as being a “small film” in terms of its cinematic scope and its surprising narrative dilemma which plays out over 80 minutes. You could be forgiven in assuming that this was Hardy’s own Drive, the film which rendered Ryan Gosling mostly speechless as he drove through a night time landscape and battled demons of his own. But this is a different vehicle altogether (pardon the pun), despite the initial surface similarities. Often discussed as having a radio play format, Locke is a portrait study in which the character sees his life fall apart for apparently undramatic and not-so-film-worthy reasons. No, his daughter hasn’t been taken hostage and no, his family are not trapped at the top of a building on Christmas Eve, this is simply a man who is determined in his decisions and certain of the path he must take in order to correct the mistakes he has made. Excellent voice appearances during the many back and forth phone conversations are superbly handled and acted and leaves much of the exterior scenes and plot contrivances to the viewer’s imagination. We too are only able to ‘hear’ the effects of his actions, both personally and professionally, and we become all to aware that the man who started the car journey at the beginning of the film is no longer the man who would potentially finish it.

Thematically, Locke works in much the same vein as Eastern Promises, the David Cronenberg film which Steven Knight also provided the screenplay. Like Locke, Eastern Promises is a film which unfolds into something which might not be immediately clear from the set-up. Described as a Russian mob film set in London, it slowly becomes more concerned with how corrupt society can have the deepest effect on the family and issue scars that will have life-long consequences. Eastern Promises is at its most surprising as a domestic drama, following one woman’s fight to save a child and understand the circumstances to which it was born. Locke has similar home-grown concerns and it is in those moments where Locke speaks to his children as he drives further and further away from them that the film really reveals its true allegiances in terms of genre. That’s not to say of course that the film isn’t supremely tense, at times threatening to send Hardy’s bedraggled and bearded protagonist to insanity as he struggles to break free from the patterns of his very nature.

Locke is a brave and yet reassuringly familiar sort of film, mixing elements film fans will recognise to create a new sort of beast entirely. The road movie with heart, it is schizophrenic in its ability to genre-hop and yet is decidedly one-tracked in its limited-setting format. Poignant and funny, tense and heart-stopping in the unlikeliest of moments, I think it’s Tom Hardy’s most approachable and grown-up performance to date.

Review: THE LUNCHBOX (2013) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

As the Media Museum doors opened last night for the 20th Bradford International Film Festival once more, film fans and media types (I think GIRL ON FILM can count as one of them now, right?) bustled in from the rain to be greeted by a glass of wine and a cheery band. It was these many little touches that made the evening a special one and launched the programme so delightfully. Speeches from the Museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch and the festival co-directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young made the appropriate thanks to the right people and reminded us just how much hard work goes into creating the festival year after year.

The opening film itself The Lunchbox (2013), was a triumphant choice to kick start the festival. Staring Irrfan Khan (who, we learnt as we sat down, had just won another award for his performance in this film) and Nimrat Kaur as two equally lonely inhabitants of Mumbai who begin a touching correspondence after Saajan (Khan) accidentally receives the lunchbox intended for Ila’s (Kaur) husband at work. Saajan is so thrilled with his unexpected meal that he sends a note of thanks back and so begins a journey of self-discovery for two unassuming and world-weary characters.

the_lunchbox_26006360_ps_1_s-high

The film is full of charm (and as the audience demonstrated last night, full of laughs) and filmed with such vibrancy that the smells and colours of Mumbai exude from the screen and awaken your senses. Watching Saajan consume Ila’s food is both mouth-watering and compelling. Ila and Saajan’s days are transformed by the ritual of preparing food and sharing it with love. Lured by her cooking skills and her unique letters accounting her daily life, Saajan is brought back to life, leaving his stale existence as simply a ‘widower’ behind. Without giving too much away, Ila too, is transformed.

The film is filled with journeys both literal and personal. Saajan’s journey to and from work act as a marker for his blossoming familiarisation with life once again. Ila watches the Dabbawalla man who distributes her home-cooked food from her window. She oversees her daughter’s journey to school from her apartment and receives care-packages from her Aunt who lives upstairs via pulley (the interactions between these two characters are also a joy to behold). Though her journeys are more confined, the impact of her food magnifies the significance of the importance of food to engage. Whereas before her culinary efforts where ignored by her inattentive husband, Saajan’s appreciation brings Ila’s world to life and allows Ila to venture literally and emotionally beyond the street where her lunchbox is attached to the delivery man’s bicycle for transportation.

The Lunchbox is a wonderful film and it is easy to see why Neil Young personally selected it for the opening night after first seeing the film in Cannes. A joyful, heart-rendering drama and plenty of belly-laughs to boot, The Lunchbox is a perfect example of the sophisticated and crowd-pleasing cinema which is coming out of India outside of the Bollywood machine. Director Ritesh Batra brings out fantastic performances from his leads and a special mention has to go to actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui (who looks curiously like an Indian Tony Curtis) in a brilliant supporting role as Shaikh, Saajan’s bumbling yet well-meaning work colleague.

There’s another chance to see The Lunchbox during the festival on Monday 31st March and it is certainly a must-see addition to the programme.

The festival is now underway, here’s to more wonderful discoveries!