Monday, May 31, 2010

Review - Eyes Wide Open (Einaym Pkuhot)

Aaron Fleischman (Zohar Strauss) is a good man, a devout man, a family man. He is an Orthodox Jew living in Jerusalem, and he has just inherited the family butcher shop from his late father. At the start of Haim Tabakman's courageous film, we see Aaron placing a 'Help Wanted' sign in his window, and shortly afterwards, a young stranger enters the shop to take shelter from the torrential rain. The relationship between Aaron and Ezri (Ran Danker) will form the heart of Eyes Wide Open, with their initial friendship developing – via longing glances and hesitant touching – into a forbidden romance. Of the two, Ezri is more comfortable in his sexuality, having travelled to Jerusalem in the first place to make contact with a former lover who no longer wants any part of their relationship. For Aaron, however, these feelings are all new, and the internal conflict he faces is written in Zohar Strauss' expressive, haunted eyes.

The struggle faced by Aaron and Ezri pits them against not only the codes of their society but also the codes of their own faith. Many scenes in Eyes Wide Open depict discussions of the Torah and of the way sin can present us with an opportunity to overcome and grow closer to God, and when Ezri makes his first advance, Aaron tells him to, "Restrain yourself. We have an opportunity to rise," but it is clear that he is fighting a losing battle against his own desires. The passionate (though chastely filmed) sex Aaron shares with Ezri is depicted as a marked contrast to the coy and mechanical coupling that takes place in the occasionally pushed-together marital beds he shares with Rivka (Tinkerbell, yes that's really her name), and he seems revitalised by the love he has found from this most unlikely source, even if he knows it goes against everything he believes. "I was dead before," he tells one accuser, "Now I'm alive," but as his behaviour changes and he starts staying later at his shop every night, scandalous whispers begin to spread through the community.

The society Aaron and Ezri live in is shown to be a harshly intolerant one by Tabakman. In one scene, Aaron is forced to join a group as they pay a visit to a young man who has been having an affair with an engaged woman, making dire threats of involving the notoriously uncompromising "modesty squad," and ignoring the victim's protestations of love. This environment will be familiar to anyone who has seen Sandi Dubowski's thoughtful documentary Trembling Before G-d, but the model for Tabakman's film appear to be Brokeback Mountain, with the film's passions being played in a low key fashion and the sadness of the central characters' thwarted love being allowed to develop slowly. Tabakman has a calm and sober style and he often shoots in long, quiet takes that give his actors the chance to display their steadily mounting desire for each other. They do this superbly, with both Strauss and Danker giving authentic and touching performances, but their relationship never quite sparks into life, or perhaps it's simply the case that the director doesn't allow it to. Tabakman's direction is a little too restrained and a little too understated for the grand passion Aaron and Ezri feel to be fully expressed by the picture. The film unfolds at such a consistently measured pace that the final scenes had little emotional impact for me, and as such, it ultimately felt rather underwhelming. Eyes Wide Open is a bold and commendable film, but while it left me with plenty to think about, my emotions remained untouched.

What's On in June

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is widely recognised as the film that introduced western audiences to Japanese cinema, and in June we will have the opportunity to enjoy that film once again on the big screen, as it will be screened in an extended run at the NFT. It is part of Kurosawa & His Influence, a season of films celebrating one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. Some of his greatest works will be shown, including Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Red Beard (frustratingly, there is no Ran, which I would love to see in a cinema), and there is also the chance to see how he made his mark on subsequent films, with pictures like The Virgin Spring, The Wind and the Lion and Last Man Standing taking their place alongside his own oeuvre. The NFT will also be honouring Grace Kelly in June in a season that complements the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition currently on display at the V&A museum, while Ray Harryhausen will be in town to celebrate his 90th birthday. John Landis will be hosting a BAFTA tribute evening to the legendary artist, while Harryhausen himself will introduce screenings of his own Jason and the Argonauts, and his favourite film King Kong.

The Roxy Extraordinary Film Season lives up to its title with screenings of pictures like Sátántangó, Stalker, Straw Dogs and El Topo, many of which will have the added bonus of introductions, live musical performances and discussion events. If those films aren't extraordinary enough for you, then head down to the Barbican for their Surreal Film House season, which includes the work of David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, Jean Cocteau and Hans Richter. The Barbican will also be celebrating the work of another director with a taste for the surreal, screening a number of Terry Gilliam films in their Directorspective, and Brazilian cinema will be highlighted at the end of the month with 10 films on show, many of which will be followed by director Q&A sessions.

Finally, away from cinema, I'd like to draw your attention to LIFT 2010, an international theatre festival that will run from June 23rd and throughout July. In particular, I'd like to highlight Hotel Medea, a six-hour interactive play performed by the amazing Zecora Ura group. Don't be put off by the fact that the performance begins at midnight and ends at dawn, because I attended the play when they staged it at the Arcola Theatre last year, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for, and it turned out to be one of the most extraordinary theatrical experiences I've ever had. Be bold and take a chance on this one. You won't regret it.

If you know of any upcoming film events that you'd like me to include in future articles, please let me know at

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review - Death at a Funeral

Frank Oz's Death at a Funeral had a potentially funny premise that was ruined by shoddy execution, so it's most disheartening to see this remake taking the same script and making the same basic errors with it. It seems that Chris Rock, who initiated this new version, thought the only thing that was wrong with the original was the fact that it wasn't quite hysterical and frantic enough. As a result, this take on the film sees a (mostly) new cast being asked to go through the same laboured situations, but to pitch it at a higher volume, as if loudness itself was the key to unlocking the nuggets of comedy gold hiding within. It doesn't pay off, and all we're left with is a tiresome retread of a movie that wasn't any good in the first place.

It has only been three years since Oz's film briefly appeared in cinemas, but when I tried to recall it prior to writing this review my mind mostly drew a blank. From what I can recall, this is pretty much a scene-for-scene remake, with entire plot being reheated and presented intact. The funeral of the title is for the father of Aaron (Chris Rock), who is beside himself trying to organise the day's events while his shrewish wife Cynthia (Loretta Devine) pesters him for a baby. The problems begin with a coffin mix-up that leads to some other corpse being delivered in his father's place, and when that hiccup has been dealt with, a pair of outsiders are responsible for the mayhem that subsequently ensues. Oscar (James Marsden) is the fiancé of Elaine (Zoe Saldana), and when he mistakes a bottle of hallucinogenic pills for valium he becomes a walking disaster zone. The other intruder on the family's grief is Frank (Peter Dinklage), who claims to know the dead man and who threatens to reveal some disconcerting secrets about him unless he receives a hefty payoff.

Aside from Dinklage – who plays the same role, albeit a little more aggressively – the cast here is entirely new, and it's filled with people who can be funny. Unfortunately, Chris Rock is effectively acting as the straight man here, a role that always leads to him giving a stiff and awkward turn, and Tracy Morgan's appearance only serves to underline just how reliant he is on Tina Fey's brilliant writing in 30 Rock. The only winner here is James Marsden, who has a lot of fun with his blissfully spaced-out role, while everyone else flounders with the thin characterisations and meagre material.

The key problem with Death at a Funeral – and one that crippled the original – is that Dean Craig's script is too obvious and schematic, and it never achieves the pace or sustained madness of high farce. Quite how the hiring of Neil LaBute (a filmmaker hardly known for possessing the Lubitsch touch) was supposed to remedy this fault is unclear, and the only real differences I can spot between this version and Oz's film is a greater emphasis on gay panic jokes, which hardly counts as a development. The comic set-pieces all occur in the same places – a naked man on the roof, a group of men wrestling a dwarf – and they all work about as well as they did before. One of the film's signature scenes sees an unfortunate soul getting his hand trapped underneath an old man (Danny Glover) as the latter takes a shit, and as I watched this I felt a sense of despair at having witnessed such a scene not once but twice. "I'm too old for this shit," Glover grumbles, and we're supposed to chuckle at the reference, but I just felt like nodding my head and saying, "So am I, Danny, so am I." Life is too short for bad comedies, and it's certainly too short to watch a comedy die twice.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper: 1936 - 2010

Two months ago, Dennis Hopper was honoured with a star on Hollywood's walk of fame. Such recognition was long overdue for a fine and often underrated actor, who spent much of his career on the margins of the film industry, before making a comeback every few years that reminded people just how good he could be. For those of us watching Hopper receive his place among the Hollywood elite, however, it was a more bittersweet day, as we saw how frail he had become in his fight against prostate cancer and realised that he surely did not have much time left. He finally succumbed to that disease today, dying at the age of 74, and leaving behind a large and varied body of work.

Hopper made his film debut alongside James Dean, taking supporting roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant alongside the ill-fated star. It wasn't until the late 60's that Hopper really made his mark on cinema, though. He collaborated with Roger Corman and Peter Fonda on The Trip, and later reunited with Fonda for Easy Rider, which they co-wrote and co-starred in alongside Jack Nicholson. The film is very much a product of its time, but in 1969 it proved to be a hugely influential movie, being cited alongside films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde as a sign of the New Hollywood that would transform American cinema in the 1970's. While Nicholson and Fonda went on to become stars in the next decade, Hopper struggled to repeat Easy Rider's success, and his second film as a director, 1971's The Last Movie, was a huge flop that baffled audiences and critics and effectively killed Hopper's aspirations as a filmmaker for many years.

We also lost many years of Hopper the actor during the subsequent years, as his personal problems and rampant drug use severely limited his opportunities. When he did emerge, he could often be brilliant, giving a sly and enigmatic performance as Tom Ripley in Wim Wenders' The American Friend, and enlivening Apocalypse Now's third act with his babbling performance as the hyperactive photographer. He began the 1980's by making his best film as a director, the fine cop drama Colors, and this was the start of his most fruitful period in front of the camera as well. Hopper finally entered rehab in 1983, and three years later he won an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Hoosiers, but the performance he should have received Oscar recognition for in that year was his career-defining turn in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. As the perverted, oxygen-sucking psychopath Frank Booth, Hopper gives a terrifyingly evil performance. He fully inhabits this chilling character – in fact, he won the part by telling the nervous Lynch, "You have to let me play Frank Booth because I am Frank Booth."

Hopper spent the 90's taking supporting roles and making cameo appearances that often turned out to be among the most memorable aspects of the film he was appearing in. Remember the classic scene between Hopper and Christopher Walken in True Romance? Or his performance as the criminal mastermind taunting Keanu Reeves in Speed? Hopper worked ceaselessly in the last twenty years – perhaps making up for the years he lost earlier in his career – and while he undoubtedly worked on a lot of terrible projects in that time, a few of them did allow him to display the vitality and spark that he possessed on his best form. His last appearance of note was in 2008's Elegy, in which he gave a strong and subtle performance. Once again, he took the opportunity to remind us of his too-often overlooked talents, but it was to be the last such display from this one-of-a-kind artist.

Review - The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

Oh, what a joy it is that Nicolas Cage and Werner Herzog have found each other. The project that has brought these individualistic talents together is a remake of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, but the new film is so different in style and tone it hardly seems appropriate to use the word 'remake', or a worthwhile exercise to compare the two. Both films focus on a corrupt, drug-taking cop, but that's where the similarities end. Ferrara's blistering 1992 film wallowed in depravity and Catholic guilt before offering the tortured protagonist a glimpse of redemption, but Herzog takes Cage in an entirely different direction. Their Bad Lieutenant – clumsily subtitled Port of Call: New Orleans – is a loopy, deranged riff on the same narrative from which Ferrara dredged up such anguish.

At the start of Herzog's film, Cage's Terence McDonagh is a sergeant in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina rages. When he and his laconic partner Stevie Pruitt (an under-utilised Val Kilmer) discover an inmate still trapped in a half-submerged prison, McDonagh makes the decision to jump in and rescue the desperate man, but not before they have weighed up the prospect of Terence ruining his $55 Swiss-cotton underwear in the process. Eventually, he jumps, and the result is a damaged spine that ensures he will be adding painkillers to his regular drug intake for the rest of the movie. For his bravery, McDonagh is promoted to lieutenant, but he is already caught inextricably in a downward spiral of vice.

In Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, the main character (he is never named) was given his shot at redemption when investigating the brutal rape of a nun. Here, McDonagh is tasked with solving the massacre of an immigrant family, with the finger of suspicion pointing towards local drug kingpin Big Fate (Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner). McDonagh ropes in his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) to help look after the sole witness, but this case is not the chief concern for Herzog or his screenwriter William M. Finkelstein. The slender plot is handled in a cursory, almost throwaway fashion (epitomised by the brilliant fashion in which said plot is wrapped up at the end), and instead the prime goal here is to push Nicolas Cage to new levels of eccentricity.

After too many bad movies, Cage has found a film perfectly suited to his talents and to a taste for over-the-top characterisation that has often been at odds with the generic projects he has tried to apply them to. Herzog creates an environment in which Cage can cut loose and prosper, and the result is often hilarious to watch. One scene in particular acts as the apotheosis of his character's madness. In a quiet nursing home, a sweaty and strung-out McDonagh appears behind a door, shaving his face with an electric razor, and stating: "Right now I'm working on about one and a half hours sleep over the past three days, and I'm trying to remain courteous, but I'm beginning to think that's getting in the way of my being effective." The two people he's threatening are old ladies, one of whom is in a wheelchair, and he doesn't think twice about holding a gun to their heads, or cutting off the infirm woman's oxygen supply until she gives him the information he needs. Not many actors could give this scene the kind of crazy comic energy that Cage injects into it, signing off at the end of the sequence with the classic line: "You’re the fucking reason this country’s going down the drain!"

Herzog prods his star throughout, pushing him ever further towards the edge of madness, but it's a much more light-hearted sense of insanity than that explored by Ferrara and Keitel in the original, even as the Bad Lieutenant performs awful acts. When Keitel stopped two girls in a car and subjected them to a verbal rape, the scene was appalling and difficult to watch, but when Cage has sex with the girlfriend of a guy he busts for carrying drugs, it's hard to not laugh. As bad as he may be, Cage makes it impossible to hate this lieutenant; he's just too much fun.

His director appears to be having a great deal of fun as well. Herzog shows little respect for the standard structure of the police procedural, and indeed, the flattest scenes in Bad Lieutenant are the ones in which he has to deal with pesky details such as the plot. The supporting characters never emerge as anything more than clichés, because Herzog isn't interested in them; he just wants to find surreal sights and sounds within the boundaries of the genre he finds himself in. So, we are treated to hallucinated iguanas ("What are these fucking iguanas doing on my coffee table?", "There ain't no iguana."), a meditation on whether fish dream, and a McDonagh ordering his cohorts to open fire on an already dead body because "his soul is still dancing."In truth, I could have perhaps done with more of these moments in a film that's undeniably overlong and slow in patches, but the moments we do have are good enough – and crazy enough – to be thankful for. Nicolas Cage has found his ideal director and Werner Herzog has found his ideal actor, and when their idiosyncratic impulses are working in perfect harmony, the results are irresistibly entertaining.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review - Agora

Agora is an epic production, handsomely mounted by director Alejandro Amenábar, but the film is at its most stimulating and compelling on an intellectual level, even if its ideas are often in danger of being submerged beneath the grand scale and the demands of the narrative. Set in Egypt in the fourth century, the film is a fascinating portrait of spiritual and philosophical conflict within the Roman Empire, using the real-life character of Hypatia as its basis. Hypatia (here played by Rachel Weisz) was a pioneering mathematician who lived in Alexandria and is considered one of the most influential female figures in the history of her field. At the start of Agora, Hypatia teaches a classroom full of aspiring philosophers by day and gazes at the stars by night. Her young male students hang on her every word, with one – Oscar Isaac's Orestes – obviously infatuated with his teacher, as is her doting servant Davus (Max Minghella).

These early scenes establish Hypatia as a warm and open character, driven by the pursuit of knowledge and willing to share it with anyone, regardless of their rank or stature. In one scene, she visits Davus' chamber late at night to tend to his wounds after he has been whipped by her father, and she is thrilled to discover a working model of the known solar system that he has constructed, a model she proudly exhibits in her class the next day. The restrictions of society's codes are meaningless to her, and with Weisz giving such a strong and charismatic portrayal, it's clear to see why she inspired such faithfulness and devotion in her students. Davus, however, soon falls under the spell of a different leader, when he is struck by the fervent performance of a Christian preacher (Ashraf Barhom) who he sees stirring the masses outside the city walls. Gradually, tentatively, Davus is moved to embrace this new religion, and when the Christians rise up against their Roman rulers, he is forced to choose a side for the ensuing battle.

Davus therefore becomes a vessel through which Amenábar can dramatise the film's central clash between knowledge and faith, between education and religion. When the Christians take the walled city of Alexandria, their first move is to destroy the library, as Hypatia and a few others desperately try to save as much of the accumulated knowledge contained within those scrolls as they can before fleeing for their lives. These themes are not the kind commonly tackled in cinema on this scale, and Amenábar deserves a lot of credit for the way he manages to articulate his ideas in a fashion that is cerebral but not hectoring or stodgy. The film's allegorical stance is also clear but not heavy-handed, and there's a real adroitness about the way the director handles the film's opening hour, not to mention the way he lets us luxuriate in the splendour of our surroundings. Agora is an extraordinarily beautiful film, with the dazzling, CGI-assisted recreations of the Roman Empire proving the drama with a consistently stunning backdrop.

The film's second half fails to maintain that early clarity and sense of ambition, though, and that's a pity. After a split in the narrative, the film moves on four years into a more political and – alas – more melodramatic place, with the drama growing murkier and less intriguing with every step. The characters or Orestes and Davus are not strong enough to shoulder the greater dramatic weight that Amenábar places upon them in these latter stages, and the final scenes feel disappointingly rote. Agora is a film that feels terminally at war with itself; Amenábar clearly has bigger things on his mind than an old-fashioned romantic melodrama, but such a compromise is required to give his $70 million movie some kind of familiar shape. It remains a fascinating film, and one that feels refreshingly out of step with almost anything else currently showing in cinemas, but what a shame Amenábar is so much more adept at exploring the mysteries of the universe and the nature of faith than he is at handling his own characters' emotions.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review - Valhalla Rising

Nicholas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising is a remarkable piece of cinema – vivid, intense and utterly uncompromising. Whether or not the film is actually any good is another matter entirely, but it's certainly a film that deserves to be experienced and discussed. Set in the Scottish highlands sometime in the early Middle Ages, the film is a strange Viking odyssey that defies easy categorisation. At its centre is an astonishing piece of physical acting by Mads Mikkelsen who plays the savage warrior One-Eye, so named for the injury that has left him partially blind. That disability hasn't hampered his skills as a warrior, however, and for some years he has been held prisoner by a group of Norse pagans, who use him to win violent fighting matches with men from other tribes. One-Eye is tethered to a post by a chain around his neck during these bouts, but he still manages to kill every competitor with brutal efficiency.

Refn is at his best when hitting his audience with the visceral impact of violence, and he doesn't pull any punches during these sequences. As his fighters grapple in the mud, Refn captures the breaking of bones in fine detail, with the amped-up sound design playing a significant role in proceedings. Throughout Valhalla Rising, Refn seems to come to life when depicting acts of violence, and later in the film he'll spare us nothing in depicting axes being plunged into flesh, throats being sliced, or a man being disembowelled. Having said that, you may be surprised to hear that such violence actually commands only a small portion of the film's overall running time, and Valhalla Rising is more of a spiritual journey, which is where the film's problems start to become evident.

When he kills his captors and earns his freedom, One-Eye sets out into the wilderness, with only a small boy (Maarten Stevenson) for company. As One-Eye is mute, The Boy acts as the warrior's voice, while he can offer the youngster protection in the dangerous hills, and soon they happen upon a group of Christian crusaders, who decide a man with One-Eye's fighting skills could be very useful as they embark upon their long journey to Jerusalem. They are driven by blind faith in the riches that await them as God's warriors, but in the land of the blind, Refn seems to indicate, the one-eyed man is king. The director takes great pains throughout Valhalla Rising to imbue his film with a sense of the mythical, the epic. The picture is divided into chapters, all given titles heavy with a sense of foreboding – 'Wrath', 'Hell', 'The Sacrifice' – and One-Eye is established as a kind of spiritual figure, prone to startling visions, shot in blood-red hues by the director.

That the film fails to live up to these highfalutin aims is down to a number of factors. The film stalls horribly during a long middle section in which the Christians, One-Eye and The Boy set sail for Jerusalem, and quickly find themselves lost in a dense and seemingly never-ending mist. There is much debate about whether this is some kind of curse that the two strangers have brought upon them, and when one of the Christians attempts to kill The Boy, One-Eye intervenes violently. But for the most part in this inordinately long sequence, nothing happens, and while Refn tries to stir up the atmosphere with a series of lighting effects, he can't enliven this stodgy passage. When the group finally disembarks and find themselves in some strange new world, the film starts to regain its footing, but it never quite regains the intensity of its opening chapters. The men fall into degradation and despair as their 'New Jerusalem' fails to materialise, and they find themselves hunted from within the jungle by unseen foes, but Refn lacks the ability of filmmakers like Malick or Herzog to really exploit the natural world around his characters.

Despite that shortfall, there's no question that Nicholas Winding Refn is a seriously talented filmmaker, and Valhalla Rising certainly bears that out on occasion. The harsh and moody cinematography is breathtaking, and Refn's strikingly imaginative compositions frequently produce some searing images. He does have problems with his pacing, though, and the lack of characterisation or context makes it very hard to endure the film's relentlessly grim tone. We know nothing of One-Eye or The Boy beyond what we see them do, and the Christian characters are similarly poorly defined – when one was killed in the mud late on, I thought it was another character who later turned up alive and well. Valhalla Rising, then, is a case of style over substance, but it does have a few unforgettable individual moments, and you have to admire Refn's determination to stay true to his own vision, no matter where it may lead him. If he continues to take such a bold and distinctive approach to all of his projects, I have no doubt there will be great films in his future.

Review - The Happiest Girl in the World (Cea mai fericita fata din lume)

"My name is Delia Cristina Fratila and I am the luckiest, happiest girl in the world." We hear that line a lot in The Happiest Girl in the World, but every time Delia (Andreea Busneag) recites it, we can see the sadness that her beaming smile struggles to hide. Delia certainly should be happy, having won a prize by sending off orange juice labels, and being invited to Bucharest to appear in a TV commercial for the juice, where she will receive her brand new car. But her parents have already earmarked her car for sale, with the cash being far more useful to them than a vehicle to their daughter, and as the long, sweltering day wears on, the task of reshooting the commercial over and over again takes its toll on the unhappy teenager's emotions.

So begins Radu Jude's wry and witty film, the latest in the new wave of Romanian films to explore the state of the nation some two decades after the fall of communism. In the conflict between Delia and her parents (Vasile Muraru and Violeta Haret), Jude sets up a clash between old and new values. Delia wants to be free and independent, and to have a car that she can share with her friends when she goes to college, but her parents take a more pragmatic view, planning to use the cash from the sale of the car to convert their grandmother's home into a guesthouse. In a series of long arguments between Delia and her parents, the screenplay, by Jude and Augustina Stanciu, lays out the pros and cons of the situation, with the sullen youngster refusing to budge. The deft writing ensures their dialogue feels natural and sharp, with both parties completely believing that they are in the right and growing increasingly exasperated with the other's inability to see their point of view.

As Delia, Busneag is a real find in her first film role. Jude frequently shoots in isolation, capturing her in moments of repose, and allowing us to see her grapple with her dilemma away from her parents. She has a great ability to display her character's conflicting thoughts and emotions in her face, and she has the snap and conviction of a real moody teenager in her more argumentative moments. She also has to suffer stoically through the indignities of shooting the commercial, with the executives from the juice company openly discussing how frumpy she is, before the shoot is held up when one of them notices a faint trace of hair on her upper lip. Jude's depiction of the business of making television, particularly the bureaucracy of the company behind it, is sly and cynical.

It's also very funny in places, with the director finding ever more absurd ways to disrupt the shoot. First of all, Delia is told she is not reciting her line quickly enough. Then there's some debate about her clothing clashing with the blue screen background, the discovery that she doesn't hold a driver's licence, before someone finally decides the juice isn't showing up well enough on the camera, meaning Delia – who has already downed pints of the stuff – will have to drink a mixture of orange juice and coke, and still look happy about it. As we watch Delia persevere through the tedious stop-start of the day, with the knowledge that she may not even get her car at the end of it, the irony behind this sardonic movie's title becomes increasingly clear.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Review - Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

When I first saw Dogtooth, I saw it under the most perfect conditions. I knew little about the film beyond the basic premise, and having been prompted to catch its London Film Festival screening by a friend who had seen it in Cannes, I settled down to watch Giorgos Lanthimos' intriguing unknown quantity. What I saw floored me, with Lanthimos unleashing a shockingly brilliant and completely original piece of work that confounds every expectation. It's a difficult film to review though, as I'm wary of spoiling too many of the surprises that make this picture such a constant delight. I recently watched Dogtooth for a second time and had a lot of fun observing the reaction the unsuspecting audience had to some of its most startling sequences. In the case of this film, ignorance is bliss.

Ignorance is also the state the young characters at the centre of Dogtooth find themselves in. Ever since the day they were born, the children of this unnamed Greek family have been trapped within a fiction created by their parents. The father (Christos Stergioglou) and mother (Michele Valley) have instilled in their offspring an overwhelming fear of the outside world, and the three young adults - two females (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni) and one male (Hristos Passalis) – have never travelled beyond the boundaries of their garden. The children are repeatedly told that they will only be ready to leave "When the dogtooth comes out" and in the meantime, only the paterfamilias is allowed to come and go. He drives off to work in his car every day and returns with the family groceries, having meticulously removed all of the labels from the tins first. Not a single hint of the world at large is allowed to penetrate this hermetically sealed environment. The lengths that the parents will go to in order to maintain their fantasy is remarkable; aeroplanes flying overhead prompt the mother to toss toy replicas into the garden – they are 'rewards' for the children's good behaviour – and a domestic cat who wanders into the garden is instantly identified as a potential threat.

Likewise, the parents have created an alternative language to compensate for any foreign words their offspring may have picked up. So, 'Motorway' means 'a very strong wind,' 'Zombie' means 'small yellow flower' and 'Pussy' is translated as 'big light' (leading to the great line, "The pussy was switched off and the room was plunged into darkness"). This attention to small details and the complete conviction of the cast allows Lanthimos to make us believe in his bizarre scenario, although the leap of faith required is perhaps not so great following the real-life Josef Fritzl case. The performances are mannered but authentic, with each of the young actors playing the children displaying their stunted educational development through a weirdly robotic demeanour and occasional primal emotional outbursts. Stergioglou is also outstanding as the father who will do anything to maintain complete control over his brood, including reacting with shocking violence to any destabilising forces.

The question Lanthimos never answers in Dogtooth is the one most viewers will be asking: Why? We never learn the parents' motivation for keeping their children confined under such circumstances. There is the suggestion that another brother escaped and is now living on the outside – the children sometimes throw food over the fence to him – but did he even exist, or is he simply another fictitious creation, whose fate is used as a tool to further frighten the youngsters that remain? What is not in doubt is Lanthimos' utter control of his material. He sustains a brilliant, darkly comic tone throughout, finding surreal humour and disturbing undertones in every situation. The film is stunningly shot by Thimios Bakatatakis, whose imaginative framing gives every scene a slightly off-kilter edge.

Lanthimos keeps the ultimate meaning of Dogtooth hidden from view, and ensures the film is ambiguous enough to work on whatever level we want it to work on. The film is effective as a black comedy or horror, as a parable of obsessive parenting or as a satire on state and media control achieved through an atmosphere of terror. He also keeps the conclusion of the film tantalisingly out of view. We have already seen that the parents' plot may finally be unravelling – with Christine (Anna Kalaitzidou), hired to satisfy the son's sexual needs, the catalyst for this change – but we are left to speculate on how this mesmerising story will end. Lanthimos closes on a shot heavy with meaning and wide open to interpretation, and he holds the shot for the perfect length before finally cutting away. As I watched Dogtooth, I knew I was watching something special, but it was when I saw this final shot that I knew I was watching a masterpiece.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review - Extract

Mike Judge's Extract may not contain as many laugh-out-loud moments as his earlier Office Space and Idiocracy, and I doubt it will achieve the same kind of cult status, but I think it might actually be his best film to date. By that I mean it hangs together in a more cohesive fashion than his first two films did, and it expands on Judge's favourite themes in a satisfying way. Starring some of the most ubiquitous characters actors in Hollywood, Extract takes place in a small food extract factory that was built from the ground up by Joel (Jason Bateman), an amiable fellow going through a minor midlife crisis. He's bored in his work and sexually frustrated, with a particular item of his wife's wardrobe having become his bête noire. Every night, Joel races home from work desperate to beat the nightly 8pm deadline, but if Suzie (Kristen Wiig) has changed into her comfortable sweatpants before he gets there, then sex is off the menu.

A few separate plot developments combine to disrupt Joel's flat existence. First of all, a major corporation takes the first steps towards buying Joel out, potentially giving him the opportunity to take his life in a new direction, but a ridiculous accident on the shop floor that results in a lost testicle and potential legal ramifications threatens that move. Secondly, Joel falls for a beautiful and flirtatious temp, unaware that Cindy (Mila Kunis) is a con artist who intends to take full advantage of the impending lawsuit, and finally, Joel has the bright idea of sharing his sexual woes with barman Dean (Ben Affleck on good form – he should do more comedy). A dispenser of both drugs and unsound wisdom, Dean convinces Joel to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife, thus freeing Joel of any sense of guilt and allowing him to sleep with Cindy.

From this setup, Judge spins an enjoyable comedy that never really gets out of second gear. It's the kind of film that makes you smile consistently throughout, and occasionally makes you chuckle, but never quite manages to hit the big laughs you might be hoping for. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however, and the consistency present in Extract is something that was sorely lacking in Judge's previous cinematic ventures. Office Space has some brilliant workplace observations in its first half which are unfortunately undermined by the weaknesses of the plot, and Idiocracy is a mish-mash of brilliant ideas that never quite gels into a whole (although the film deserved a lot better than its straight-to-DVD fate). Extract is a good deal less ambitious than Idiocracy, but that lower bar allows Judge to hit his targets with greater accuracy.

Judge has a keen eye for the banality of everyday life, and Extract has plenty of well-observed gags that ring true, with an irritating neighbour (well played by David Koechner) being a particularly fine creation. As Joel's right-hand man at the factory, JK Simmons has fun with some wry comments on the failings of the workers he watches every day ("That's his whole career, you know? Driving that damn forklift. You'd think he'd want to learn how."), while Beth Grant plays a busybody who spends all day complaining that nobody in the plant does any work but her. Judge is often guilty of relying a little too heavily on his actors to sell their roles, though. As written, a couple of them are little more than thin caricatures, but Judge does draw some cherishable performances from the most unlikely sources, with actors like Dustin Milligan (as a hilariously dim gigolo) and Gene Simmons (as a sleazy lawyer) having great fun with their supporting turns.

Sometimes, however, there's only so much an actor can do, and Mila Kunis barely registers here, given how bafflingly underwritten the role of Cindy is. Judge could have done with taking another run at his screenplay, in order to beef up some of the flimsier sections and tie off a few of the loose ends, which give the film a slack, lazy air. But Judge keeps us engaged and he eventually finds a sense of emotional depth in a couple of scenes, like Joel's conversation with the injured Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) or his final scene with Suzie, that help give this seemingly inconsequential film a sense of weight. Some longstanding Judge fans might be disappointed to see this talented satirist following up a film like Idiocracy with such a conventional, sitcom-style piece of work, but those of us frustrated by his earlier failings will take Extract as a sign of progress.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review - Life During Wartime

It has been over a decade since Todd Solondz directed Happiness, and in those intervening years his characters have changed – literally. In his belated sequel Life During Wartime, Solondz has brought back all of those figures who played key roles in his acclaimed earlier film, but every part is now being played by a different actor. So, for Philip Seymour Hoffman's lonely sex-pest Allen we now have Michael K Williams, the neurotic Joy is now played by Shirley Henderson rather than Jane Adams, and paedophile Bill, who was originally portrayed in a magnificent performance by Dylan Baker, now appears in the guise of Ciarán Hinds. As in Palindromes, Solondz's adventurous and colour-blind casting choices initially feel like a gimmick, but perhaps they also allow him to suggest that while time may change people externally over the years, the psychological and emotional problems that plague our past are not so easy to leave behind.

Solondz draws a clear link between Happiness and Life During Wartime with an opening scene explicitly mirroring the bad date that opened the earlier film, but for the most part Solondz establishes a different, more sombre tone in his latest effort. Happiness delighted in undermining its portrayal of American suburbia with sexual perversions, death and the blackest of black humour, but he seems less inclined towards such shocking tactics now. The new approach could be summed up by Hinds' haunted and haunting performance as Bill, who has been released from jail and who now stalks through the movie like a ghost. The level of empathy and mystery that Solondz achieves in this character's narrative is something new from the director, and Hinds brings extraordinary gravity to the part of a man who has paid the price for his past misdeeds, and who is seeking a second chance with his now-adult son, even if he himself doesn't believe he deserves one. Hinds also shares one magnificent scene with Charlotte Rampling, playing a lonely woman he meets in a bar one night. "Are you married?" he asks her. "Married, alone, it's the same thing" she dryly responds. "No" Hinds states, "Alone is alone."

Even if he only appears in a couple of scenes, the character of Bill is central to Life During Wartime, as Solondz's key theme here is the possibility of forgiveness. Trish (Allison Janney), Bill's ex-wife, is trying to start a new relationship but is troubled by the questions posed by her youngest son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) when he discovers the truth about his father, whom Trish had always told him was dead. All of the characters in Life During Wartime are burdened by the weight of the past, and the film is all about the challenges they face in coming to terms with what went before. Can they forgive those that mistreated them? Can they cut their ties with the past? In one case, even death cannot break the bond, with Joy being haunted by the ghost of Andy (Paul Reubens, replacing Jon Lovitz) who died in the first film.

Solondz's biggest flaw is that he often lets his screenplays collapse into a series of conversations around the main theme, and as funny as his writing often is, it can also feel forced and didactic. Mitigating that issue, however, is the superior craftsmanship on display here – with Ed Lachman's cinematography ensuring this is, by some distance, the most visually appealing film Solondz has made – and the director's ever-excellent work with his actors. Allison Janney and Michael Lerner are particularly strong in their scenes together, while Paul Reubens shines in his small role. Life During Wartime is flawed, and Solondz still can't resist going for cheap shots occasionally, but it is still the most coherent and accomplished film he has made since...well...Happiness. Perhaps it's these characters that bring out the best in the director. He clearly has an affinity for them that hasn't been present in any of his other work, but whether Solondz can find similar success away from this milieu remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review - Lebanon

"War broke out in June of 1982. When I returned, my mother embraced me, weeping and expressing her gratitude to my deceased father, to God and to all who watched over me and returned me home safe and sound. At the time, she did not realise that I did not come home safe and sound. In fact, I did not come home at all. She had no idea that her son had died in Lebanon and that she was now embracing an empty shell".
– Samuel Maoz in the press notes for Lebanon.

Lebanon opens with a scene of beautiful serenity, as we gaze upon a brightly lit field of sunflowers under a cloudless summer sky. Enjoy this view, because it is the last time we'll be allowed to bask in the open air for the next ninety minutes. Aside from the opening and closing shots, Lebanon takes place entirely within the cramped confines of a tank. Largely based on director Samuel Maoz's own experiences, the film takes place on a single day and allows us to share this small space with four young Israeli soldiers. They have been ordered to drive into a town that has already been devastated by an aerial bombardment and help the ground troops inspect and clean out whatever remains. The men are uniformly anxious and unsure of what lies in their path, and they are about to embark on a hellish odyssey that they'll never forget.

Stories of innocent young men being corrupted and traumatised by warfare are nothing new in cinema, but Maoz's telling of the story gives it fresh juice. In restricting the film to the inside of the tank the director has crafted a claustrophobic atmosphere that amplifies the terror of the young recruits' situation, frequently using tight close-ups that invite us to see the fear in his characters' eyes. The stand-in for the director himself is Shmulik (Yoav Donat) who has the task of manning the tank's gun, and Maoz makes us feel the full weight of responsibility that this role entails. Shmulik is forced to make life-or-death decisions at various points in the film and he freezes early on, when he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger despite the frantic cries of his commanding officer. His hesitation costs lives, and when he does pull the trigger the next time he is called to do so, he discovers that he has opened fire on a civilian vehicle.

Maoz is not above using such cheap ironies, and one would certainly not describe his filmmaking as subtle. He constantly returns to the same tactic of showing us events through Shmulik's gun sight and having someone stare directly back at him – and, by extension, us – with a reproachful glare: "J'accuse!" Another scene finds the director cutting from blown apart bodies to lumps of meat hanging in a butcher's window, but while Lebanon may lack nuance and elegance at times, the film makes up for it with its sheer visceral impact. Technically, it is a tour de force, with Maoz showing marvellous ingenuity in the way he directs us around his limited location, ensuring the film doesn't grow visually dull or stuffy. Arik Leibovitch's editing draws incredible tension out of the film's various set-pieces, but it is the sound design that is perhaps the film's most crucial and impressive facet. The obvious touchstone is Das Boot, and Lebanon similarly takes advantage of our restricted viewpoint to suggest a constant sense of danger lurking on the other side of the walls. Planes roar overhead, bombs explode, guns fire and people scream, and all the while, the tank moans and rattles as it chugs further into the breach.

Sharing such close quarters as we do with these four men, we get to know them a little, but not well. Characterisation is limited and set out in swift, broad strokes; alongside Shmulik there's Asi (Itay Tiran) their indecisive leader, the pragmatic missile loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen) and Yigal (Michael Moshonov), whose thoughts continually drift to his family. Others enter the group's tank during the course of the picture, including their tough, no-nonsense commander Gamil (a superb Zohar Strauss), and a violent Phalangist (Ashraf Barhom) who comes bearing a hostage. In a chilling sequence, he tells his prisoner how he is going to tear his body apart slowly as soon as he has him alone, talking to him with a smile on his face and in a language that none of the Israelis can understand. When the Phalangist leaves the hostage tied up inside the tank the young Syrian pleads for his life with the four enemy soldiers, each of whom is as scared and bewildered as he is.

That is the strength of Lebanon. It doesn't draw distinctions between the soldiers fighting on either side of this conflict – indeed, it isn't even a film about this particular conflict at all. Instead, Maoz has made a picture that offers a universal portrait of what happens to young men when they are handed a gun and told to kill for their country. They are not defined by their nationality, race or religion; they are defined by their fear, their desperate desire to survive and – as evidence in a touching scene of connection between Shmulik and the Syrian captive – by their humanity. Eventually, Maoz takes his camera back outside the tank in the film's closing scene and allows us to come up gasping for air once more. The setting is the same field that we saw in the opening shot, but the sunflowers are now wilting instead of reaching for the sky, and the young men climbing out of that tank have been changed irrevocably.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Review - City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!)

Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death is a remarkable film that confronts head-on the brutal human cost of warfare. Its subject is the 'Rape of Nanking', one of the most notorious episodes of the Second World War, in which Japanese soldiers, having seized control of the former Chinese capital, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the city's inhabitants and raped thousands of its women. The actual death toll has long been disputed, but the horror of what took place during the six-week occupation is inarguable, and Lu has set himself a herculean task in attempting to portray this horror on screen. As difficult as it may be, the director has met this challenge with artistry and grace, producing a vivid and often overwhelming epic that is perhaps the most powerful cinematic depiction of wartime atrocities since Elem Klimov's Come and See.

Filming in stark black-and-white, Lu structures his film roughly in two segments, with a large chunk of the film's opening half depicting the Japanese invasion of Nanking. He places us squarely in the crossfire as the city – brought to life through the film's outstanding production design – is blown to smithereens around us. It is chaotic and disorienting, and it feels utterly authentic, with the three-day siege unfolding as a relentless assault on the audience's senses. Lu directs this long battle sequence with astonishing confidence, orchestrating the explosive action with his dynamic camerawork and superb staging. He manages the trick of putting us in the midst of the conflict while simultaneously offering us a panoramic view of what took place, and this approach, of letting us share in the intimate experiences of his characters while never losing sight of the bigger picture, is one he utilises throughout the film.

There are a few key characters that Lu frequently focuses on in order to give his film a human resonance and to give us something to cling onto as we negotiate our way through the carnage. Some of these are real figures, such as John Rabe (John Paisley), the German businessman who attempted to protect the Chinese by establishing a 'safe zone' within the city, and American schoolteacher Minnie Vautrin (Beverly Peckous) who worked with Rabe to aid the city's female population. Alongside them stands Rabe's Chinese assistant Tang (Wei fan), who hopes that his status as a member of Rabe's inner circle will protect him and his family from the marauding Japanese. But Lu doesn't just give us a nationalistic view of events in City of Life and Death, and his decision to give balance to the Japanese characters has caused controversy in China. The Japanese viewpoint falls on Kadokawa (Hideo Nakaizumi), a young soldier horrified by his own actions, and Yuriko (Yuko Miyamoto), the 'comfort woman' he loses his virginity to and subsequently falls in love with.

Lu shifts his narrative between these characters, allowing us to experience events from a variety of perspectives. He casts nobody as the hero and nobody as the villain; they are simply a group of humans being forced to endure terrible pressures, and to make unbearable choices. One of these choices is the decision to ask one hundred of the Nanking women to 'volunteer' themselves as prostitutes for the Japanese, in the hope of preventing further bloodshed, and the sight of these women lining up to be raped is a haunting and horrible one. City of Life and Death is full of terrible images, and one particular moment of casual barbarism stunned me when I watched the film, and remains seared into my memory now. Nothing in the film feels gratuitous, though. Lu is never more explicit than he needs to be when showing us the violent acts that took place in Nanking, and he views them with a clinical, objective eye. The flow of violence and brutality that City of Life and Death consists of is often hard to take, but while we might find it difficult to watch at times, it's also impossible to look away.

And we shouldn't look away. City of Life and Death, like all truly great war films, asks us to examine the true nature of war and to face the depths that mankind is capable of plunging in these times. With its portrayal of large-scale massacre and its black-and-white aesthetic, the film will surely draw comparisons with Schindler's List, and the comparison is apt. Like Spielberg, Lu finds a balance between making a film that shocks us with its honest account of the event, while finding a human centre that helps us to endure the horror. City of Life and Death simply asks us to bear witness, and it already feels like a classic that will continue to stun, impress and move audiences for years to come.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Who Are the Most Influential Directors of All Time?

There are many ways to measure a filmmaker's influence. Has a particular director broken cinematic boundaries? Have they influenced whole generations of aspiring filmmakers? Have they established a filmmaking style so distinctive it is instantly recognisable as the work of a singular artist? The debate as to who exactly is the most influential director of all time is one that will undoubtedly rage on for as long as we watch films, but Michaël Parent over at Le Mot du Cinephiliaque is bravely taking a stab at answering that question. He has invited fellow bloggers to submit their own choices for the 25 most influential directors in cinema history, and he will be compiling the results after the voting closes on June 23rd. I've already submitted my own list, although it was an agonising task and as soon as I'd finished I thought of some glaring omissions, so I'm hoping to encourage others to follow my lead and help make this poll and wide-ranging and competitive as possible. The resulting list will be fascinating, and will surely spark even more debate.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Review - Date Night

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of the most likeable and reliably funny actors currently working, and they have both proven themselves in sitcoms that rely on sharp writing and tight plotting. So why on earth would anyone want to waste their considerable talents on a half-baked screenplay that feels like it has been gathering dust in some producer's drawer for two decades? Both actors are smarter than this script allows them to be, and at times you can feel the tension, with the pair – particularly Fey – seeming desperate for the chance to cut loose, and to be free from the straitjacket this generic movie has trapped them in. That doesn't just apply to the two leads either, as Date Night has a dream cast of comic talent lining up to fill even the smallest roles. There's a whole lot of potential being wasted here.

The thing about talented actors, however, is they're often good enough to raise the level of whatever mediocre material they're working with, and that's what buoys Date Night along for its first half at least. Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a self-described "boring married couple from New Jersey" whose relationship has lost the spark it once possessed. After their long days at work, and having taken care of the kids, neither has enough left by the end of the evening to make their spouse feel special, and even their 'date nights', which allow them to hire a babysitter and escape for some quality time together, have fallen into a drearily familiar routine. They are, in other words, a very ordinary married couple, and Carell and Fey have the chemistry required to make their situation feel real. There's still a lot of love and affection in this relationship, and I particularly liked their restaurant game of inventing silly backstories for their fellow diners, which displays the shared humour that has obviously kept them together, but they have simply allowed themselves to take each other for granted over the years.

The Fosters are shaken out of their ennui by the revelation that a couple of friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig, turning up for a one scene cameo and underlining this film's embarrassment of casting riches) are separating, deciding that they feel more like excellent roommates than a married pair. Phil and Claire are suddenly inspired to make an effort on their upcoming date night, and when Phil makes the rash decision to claim an absent couple's reservation at a swanky hotel their problems begin. Unfortunately, this is where Date Night's problems begin as well, with a case of mistaken identity plunging The Fosters, North by Northwest-style, into danger and adventure beyond their wildest imaginings. I have to admit, I was enjoying the Date portion of this movie a lot more than I enjoyed the subsequent action-filled Night.

Date Night has been directed by Shawn Levy, a consistently terrible hack whose dead hand fails to find any kind of rhythm or invention as Josh Klausner's increasingly silly screenplay unfolds. The plot has something to do with a flash drive containing incriminating evidence that the Tripplehorns – the couple the Fosters claim to be at the restaurant – have stolen, but the action they become embroiled in is unimaginative, never coming close to the unpredictable hysteria of something like After Hours. Date Night only has a couple of ideas to play with, and it tends to render them useless through repetition (a shirtless Mark Wahlberg; the frequent penis/vagina gags) or drag them out long beyond the point where they stopped being entertaining (a car chase sequence that Levy totally botches).

Throughout all of this, the cast keep things watchable. Aside from Wahlberg's mildly amusing turn, there are supporting roles for James Franco and Mila Kunis (both lively and funny), Taraji P Henson, William Fichtner, Ray Liotta and JB Smoove. Lord knows, these are people who know how to be funny, but Date Night doesn't take advantage of the comic ability at its disposal, and it left me wondering what place actors like Carell and Fey have in mainstream cinema. Date Night joins Get Smart and Baby Mama as another film that has taken these distinctive talents and smoothed their edges to fit the demands of a generic piece of comedy filmmaking. None of these films are truly terrible, but they all, to different degrees, feel like missed opportunities. As I watched Carell and Fey cavorting awkwardly on a stage in the film's terrible climax (it really goes downhill in the last twenty minutes), I was left feeling frustrated and depressed. These actors are so much better than this, but when will they get the chance to prove it?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

What's On in May

There are some artists whose work demands to be seen on the big screen, and Jack Cardiff is one of them. In May, the NFT will be celebrating the work of the great cinematographer who died last year, with a season of his beautiful films. It will offer us another opportunity to enjoy his legendary collaborations with Powell and Pressburger – in fact, I'm going to see The Red Shoes once more this afternoon – as well as highlighting a few of his lesser-known works. Chief among these if Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which is a film I have wanted to see for years and will be released in an extended run from May 14th. During May, the NFT will also be welcoming Nouvelle Vague legend Agnès Varda, who will be in town to introduce a number of screenings during her retrospective. Cleo From 5 to 7 will enjoy an extended run from this weekend, and she will also be introducing one of her own favourite films, Federico Fellini's Amarcord, as part of the Screen Epiphanies strand. Two other screen icons – Leslie Neilsen and Tippi Hedren – will be attending the NFT this month as well, with both taking part in on stage interviews after screenings of Airplane! and The Birds.

Animation fans should head down to the Barbican at the end of the month for Animate the World, a series of screenings and events celebrating the best in contemporary animation, from recent hits such as Fantastic Mr Fox and Up to small-scale and more diverse fare like Metropia and The Secret of Kells. There is also an intriguing Japanese double-bill comprising of Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars and a new take of Dante's Inferno, which has been created by a team of animation filmmakers from around the world. The Barbican will also be celebrating the work of Eric Rohmer throughout the month by screening five of the French director's films. Finally, the Apollo will be the setting for the London Sci-Fi Film Festival, while the Terracotta Film Festival will be showcasing great new films from the Far East at the Prince Charles cinema.

If you know of any upcoming film events that you'd like me to include in future articles, please let me know at