Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Austin to Boston ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Part of the Sonic section of this year's London Film Festival, Austin to Boston is a delightful documentary vignette of a higgledy piggledy three thousand mile road trip around several US states as a bunch of up and coming musicians from London's Communion artist-led community pile into five VW Campers and take their talents for a two week jolly in venues dotted around America. The friendship shared, the music joined, the weather endured and the talent realised becomes the romantic mantra for what would otherwise be a bog standard tour doc.

The cinematography is a mixture of quality and quirk and a bit hit and miss. The quaint seventies 8mm inserted footage ties in with the intention to show 'a modern tour done the old fashioned way' but actually I'm not sure how much relevance that idea truly holds for a film audience today who prefer to see real above reel footage. What's far more captivating than grainy picture and purple tinged wistfulness is the way the film has tapped into the artists themselves, the craft and the intention behind the music they make. This is illustrated best through the musing moments captured en route, the good offs and games and via the deep bear-like narration of Gill Landry delivering through all a poetic rendition about life on the road.

The journey is repetitive as long stretches of road string out between performances that repeat, what creates a through line that keeps the film moving forwards is the sound mix that carries us from live performance, to jamming in vehicles, campsites and parties as a single piece of film, and we get a sense not of one tour or one collection of people but this encapsulated window into the life of musicians. That the music is deeply beautiful, heartfelt and comes from complimentary artists is helpful too. As we see people have fun we're encouraged to know that they do this mad touring thing because it's crazy fun and I'm sure that's true, but there's a missed opportunity here that didn't show the real challenges of modern musicians, didn't fully explore the tensions or negative aspects of a bunch of people stuck together (perhaps the trip was too short or they all too nice for that to become an issue) and only touched on the really interesting insight about artists who've joined a collective to lead their own careers, even if that does mean they're crammed into ancient VW's and headlining intimate sheds on their own terms instead of supporting bigger artists in bigger air conditioned tour busses.

What's nice at the end of the film is a long section of photojournalistic stills that gives us further sense of the territory covered both in terms of distance and experience but also of companionship and current culture. I suddenly wanted to make a film with these people when they're really old, looking back on what they did here and the indelible memories they'd created and telling us what they thought of it in hindsight. Maybe one day (and despite what would be my much greater age at that point) I'll do just that!

Regardless of any of it's limits and shortcomings the film exceeds it's PR intention to showcase new talent and instead gives a short tour a timeless quality, making the journey seem far longer than it's two weeks. It's warm and easy viewing and pleasant people trying, what it misses in risk it makes up for in earnest happiness. James Marcus Haney, Ben Lovett, Ty Johnson, Ben Howard, The Staves, Nathaniel Rateliff, Bear’s Den, Ben Lovett, Gill Landry, they're all nice people. Nice people, doing cool things, because they like it, and because practicing craft collectively works and has meaning for us all. At a brief 72 minutes what's not to like about seeing a bit of that!

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Perhaps more suited to television than the big screen this documentary about the brothers behind the Cannon motion picture company and their extraordinary success and failures with exploitation film is a snappy zappy switcheroo that tries to grab your attention every ten seconds swipes between star studded black screen interviews, archive footage and movie clips that will make most of us cringe.

If you're the sort of person who loved the fun of  those cheap exploitation flicks then you'll probably enjoy the warts and all story of how they came to be. If you're not a fan there's still some interesting stuff to find out but the shiny delivery slathered on sensationalism about both the grossness and the audacity of the subjects will likely feel less like shine and more like schizzle.

For all that Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus had a brassy spirit and in many ways set precedents for pre-sales, foreign markets and the way movies made profits and engaged audiences with high amounts of action, sex and violence, they were unable to make their own enterprise flourish either artistically or in the end, financially proving their lack of relevance in the overall picture of film history. The more the documentary tried to illustrate both the cheeky chappy 'character' side of the Israeli immigrant cousins the more it sort of clanged on my sensibilities and I rather wondered whether these hustler guys and what they'd 'achieved' even deserved a documentary. A huge bunch of talent seemed to think otherwise though and had turned up to deliver ample amounts of anecdote that is only marginally interesting coupled with footage that has been seen before and discussed ad infinitum already. Winner's thoughts on the Death Wish sequels I did not ever need to see again! I decided in the end that maybe this documentary did have purpose, but only so these awful movies and the practices that surrounded them never become repeated.

The crudeness of the Cannnon brand seeps unwittingly into this film too and I was left with a rather icky stain on my filmic soul from it. However, as a major power at one time behind Thorn EMI, owners of Elstree Studios and other UK film interests, to which they managed to owe something like $80M in debt in the long run which would have had significant impact in this smaller film sphere, I can see how the documentary found it's place at the London Film Festival. However it's not the film I would like to have seen, it's a cheap, brash TV version. My advice, is if you bother to watch it at all, do so on the telly while you chop veg for supper of something. This isn't a story that requires your full attention or a film that can hold it.

Monday, 20 October 2014

10,000 km ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Perhaps my favourite film of this year's London Film Festival 10,000 km deals with distance both physical and emotional and the role technology plays to both join and divide us.

Directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet the film follows the relationship of Alex and Sergi as they put pause to their life and traverse the difficulties of a long distance relationship. Melded into the storyline of separation the film is a wonderful window into our current times, Alex and Sergi are planning a child but economics mean there's not work or opportunity enough in Spain for them to both live fully. When they agree to put their plans on hold so that Alex can take pursue an opportunity to establish her career in LA while Sergi remains in Spain to secure his teaching future in Barcelona. The intention is to weather the separation with as much contact as they can muster over such distance and join forces in Barcelona again with stronger prospects in a mere nine months, but with the strong physicality that bonded them missing the two find that Skype, text, email and phone conversations hold them back from moving on with either their relationship or their lives outside of each other and things begin to stagnate and sour as hurts real or imagined overshadow their bond.

With extremely smart cinematography and tight direction the film creates two worlds and two cultures out of two tiny apartment locations and two actors and is a quintessential example of how independent films can be wonderful exactly because of their limitations. Technology is portrayed with movement of camera and situation with long static shots that show the movement (or lack thereof) of the characters within their space. What's truly lovely are the moments we see of the characters that the devices they're communicating through don't pick up. Warmth, love and emotion touch us through sound and music that blend with the light and dark and a tiny amount of exterior view is utilised well at each location to open out the story landscape considerably. This is a skilled, precise production that could have been claustrophobic but instead is made enveloping. The film delivers well on it's themes and is clear and authentic in it's message. It's also packed to the gills with feeling and has a human allure that's sublimely engaging.

Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones) is wonderful and versatile as Alex and her incandescent womanhood is balanced well by the warm and earthy sexuality that David Verdaguer brings to Sergi. These two veteran actors bring real craft into the subtle relationship turns and errors and we feel for and with them all the way.

A truly wonderful Spanish language film, 10,000km screened as part of the 2014 London Film Festival where I can tell you it has been well loved and respected by it's audiences and where for once, technology, recession and the distance of language did nothing to diminish the flow of connection. A lovely treat to watch. See it as soon as you can.

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Indie writer/director Josephine Decker has achieved an extraordinary feat by achieving acceptance in more than one international A list film festival for not one, but two of her first feature films who have shown in tandem at Berlin and London this year. I only saw her latest of the two productions but it certainly left an impression.

Set in remote Kentucky farmland Thou Wast Mild and Lovely begins as farm hand Akin (Joe Swanson) comes to work the summer for farmer Jeremiah and his daughter Sarah (Robert Longstreet and Sophie Traub). Things begin with an undertone of secrecy, sadism and sexual tension as passive Akin hides the fact he's left some family secret and a wife and child behind, Jeremiah provokes mischief but only if it's nasty, and Sarah flaunts her sexuality to manipulate emotional crescendos in those around her.

Told with mostly inspired cinematography (bar far too much of my pet peeve that is back of the head shots) the impish camera style takes us a step back from the action to voyeur happenings from within the surrounding landscape, sometimes from the point of view of a cow. This technique allows us to separate ourselves from the expectations of people and reduces our tendency to judge the characters as humans but to observe them as objectively as we observe the other animals we encounter in the shots. Free of the responsibility to judge as humans, the camera frees us also to indulge our own depravity enough to enjoy the baser psychosexual aspects of the film. And there are some deep and ugly themes to this production, that are somehow portrayed with more elegance and understanding than they might otherwise deserve.

The actors too add a great deal to their characters ability to transcend our dislike and seduce us into the inner spaces of ordinary humans and how selfish and tortured that inner world can be. As the action plays out the third act becomes not only more intense in terms of action and depravity but does so because this action echoes the inner needs of the people it involves. Jeremiah needs to wound and degrade others, Sarah needs to manipulate and control, Akin needs to remain blindfold and indulge sensuality over sense. The end comes unsettlingly back to a bruised reality that seems uncomfortable at first and kind of flat afterwards but is evidence that we've been to areas of our psyche we wouldn't normally find reason to delve into.

The sound is good quality and atmospheric, there's a nice lilting song toward the end, but overall the score becomes invasive and grating and I found myself wanting to break stringed instruments over musicians heads on several occasions. The films story is similar, there's a lot of quality here but it's too many feelings splurged out into too many directions to have real impact. There's an intermittent voiceover from Sarah that's interesting and pregnant with elegiac prose, but overall the film remains quite impenetrable in terms of meaning. Sarah's words do lend a small clue to us at the end with urgent pleading she asks us us to not be afraid, don't fear. What I think we're not to fear is the nature of our passions, that they are often urgent, seething, ugly, violent and that ultimately they are forgivable and worth it. Though I liked it well enough once, this isn't a film I'd watch twice and I've seen better indie films with takes on the same themes but there's certainly a seed of worthiness to this production and those involved with it are I think well worth our attention.

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely screened as part of the London Film Festival 2014.

Monday, 13 October 2014

HERE WE'M BE TOGETHER ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Dwyle flonking and other pastimes are among the fascinating tales of England's Norfolk Broads as told by local, Ken Allen a characterful fruit & veg seller brimming with stories.

Through the reminiscence of Ken, plus some beautiful natural visuals and sounds from the surrounding broads and landscape that surround his well known shed/shop we are transported to a region of England that has stood since ancient times and will stand for generations of local characters yet to come. Not too long to watch but long enough to get a feel for a life lived, filmmakers Rob Curry and Tim Plester have put their finger on the pulse of a locale just enough for us to feel it's vital rhythm.

The experience of this production is like having one of those brief golden conversations one gets to have once in a while with a real local character that helps you love a place better because they've lived so mired in the local landscape that they've become a living breathing part of it. Its a joy that leaves you wanting more and as documentary shorts go, one of the nicest slices of life I've experienced.

Here We'm Be Together forms part of the Summer Days Drifting Away short films programme in the Journey section of the London Film Festival.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Kelly & Cal ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Juliette Lewis performs as an intelligent mother who's ever crying progeny and blinkered husband fail to recognise her maternal efforts. Struggling to evolve from her punk chick roots into suburban mommyhood she befriends Jonny Weston's Cal, a young neighbour struggling with his own evolution into life as a paraplegic. Isolated from their peer groups and both defined by the things they've lost, Kelly's former and Cal's current cockiness find attachment in each other.

Aside from one hideously obvious wig that's not supposed to be a wig, the film has nice production standards, some interesting cinematography set ups and a bucket load of intense and meaningful story. A wonderful and varied soundtrack punctuates intimate moments and in fact, sound design all around creates a lot of the dramatic structure upon which the scenes hinge. Amy Lowe Starbin's screenplay hit's just the right notes to highlight each character's charm and ridiculousness creating a lot of likability in these people, I'd have liked a stronger ending but it wraps up sweetly and retains a moral backbone of sorts. Juliette Lewis and Jonny Weston have true chemistry and shine out against an impressive supporting cast that includes Josh Hopkins and Cybill Shepherd. All are well directed by Jen McGowan. Overall, the film is a condensed character study about the ways life changes and how we all sometimes fail to adapt well.

For all of it's quiet insular storyworld the small film still manages big heart that's largely actor led but it's beautifully done. And in many ways for me, this story of adults coming of age only in painful stages mirrors the career of Juliette Lewis herself, who I've enjoyed watching since she was very young and who has managed in all her roles to retain a core of the unique quality she brought to her early work instead of folding into the mundanity that many female roles pigeonhole women toward as they grow older. Any writer or director who can come up with stories that are multi-faceted for both male and female characters will get my vote every time. I'll look forward to seeing future work from everyone involved in this production.

Kelly & Cal showcases at the London Film Festival from today.

Biophilia Live ~ London Film Festival #LFF

Recorded live at Alexandra Palace in 2013 Biophilia Live is not merely a concert film but a wonderful exploration of the biological nature of sound and how through sound (among other things) we nurture our urge to affiliate with other life forms.

Part of a more enveloping multimedia project by Björk, the film co-directed by Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland showcases the huge mastery of this artist and her collaborators performing and we see them as equally exotic creatures to wonder at alongside the powerful nature visuals of  sea life, bacterium and wonderful landscapes of Earth and our universe. Visuals of sound itself are represented and specially engineered instruments remind us that we are unraveling the very DNA of the sound landscape in order to better communicate. And I guess we can ponder ourselves what this means to us in a world that is stretching technologically and sometimes overwhelmed biologically.

Björk herself is the rarest diva, the witchdoctress who leads us into thoughtfulness about our place in the evolving technological and biological universe. Almost as alien and certainly as deep in craft as the fictional diva from The Fifth Element, she's also as understandable as the girl next door who casually wonders at the magic of the moon on her way out to a party. She finds in her music, lyrics especially, the symbiotic relationship between the ordinary and the extraordinary. That, alongside her command of craft, is her great gift.

The experience of this film is emotional. I freely admit that I tend toward the Quentin Crisp school that all music is noise and as a rule and I only listen to any music on a rare rather than regular basis. However while I might not understand the whys of it, music has as much an effect on our body chemistry as a vitamin or virus. Our cells use it to change us somehow and perhaps the same is true of all sound as a vital part of nature and all it's processes whatever type of organism you happen to be. I may not be any more musical now than when I began watching but I feel like I understand sound better for viewing this film and the wonderful artists who blossom in it. Nature, music and technology become conjoined and it's perhaps only an echo of times to come and always most affecting are the incredibly powerful human voices joined in song.

I heard the film compared to an opera but there's something far more tribal and very down to earth about it. As a film piece it reminded me greatly of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisquatsi and equally powerful, although with perhaps quite the opposite message, one of a mutuality. On that note (pardon the pun) it's a cinematic sound experience well worth sharing with friends.

Björk: Biophilia Live screens at the London Film Festival from today. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Taking a Break From All Your Worries...

I'm always a little surprised when people read my blog so it would not surprise me in the least if nobody had noticed that for some time now, I haven't been writing on it, or indeed anywhere else. I think I got to a point where I was no longer writing for myself, I was feeding an internet machine, a sort of obligation or habit that was no longer personally satisfying. I'd run out of the desire to write. I never thought that would happen to me. I wasn't blocked. I just had nothing more to say. I watched movies and felt no need to comment on them. I wasn't relating to the written word or perhaps I was no longer relating to myself. So I took a break. A long one. And I've continued to do some social networking but I took the pressure off myself to be an interesting, entertaining or useful voice. If indeed I ever had been any of those things.

Gradually I thought the urge to write would come back. When it didn't I realised there was another urge there in it's place, the urge to be normal, to be nobody, to be without expectation or demand. And things have come in to fill that normality, nothing vastly exciting, but things turn up for me to do each week and it didn't seem to weigh on me as much that I wasn't being artistically 'productive' in any way.

Then last week over brunch with some of the people who began my journey into writing and making film I had some conversations that put my absence of motivation into a different perspective. One of my friends who moved back to Australia got married there this year and this was a celebratory reunion of his nuptials and a rare opportunity to catch up with others. We reminisced a little about what we'd all achieved in the years we'd been completing projects in London before he moved away and my friend mentioned that we'd probably have been better off not spending as long planning and executing each project, but if we'd just been prolific and made more things together more often and if we had, we'd maybe be in different places now. He had a point, but talking further we both came to another realisation about making stories... none of of us around the table were doing anything like that at the moment and it is because we are busy just living life, connecting to the people we love and care for, and spending time with them and that's as much as we want to manage right now because making projects incessantly, while it looks great from the outside and can make you proud, can also really take away from achieving depth of meaning in your own internal life story and ultimately, when that happens you run out of having anything you feel is worthwhile to say until you fill that well of experience again. 

It's an important lesson to learn in a society obsessed with success, productivity and achievement that what really matters both in life and in art is that it is sustaining. The things we do, the things we are should have the full breadth and depth of human experience to feed ourselves as well as our audience and that doesn't come easily and isn't fed by simply continuing to do what you did before without growth or change or rest. Whether you are prolific or a perfectionist comes second to what you ultimately produce and how it connects us to the world and each other. It's easy to splash about in the shallows being impressive but to really become a swimmer you ultimately have to find deeper waters.

And so there I sat among friends with whom I'd grown and changed and achieved. We're more apart nowadays than we were at one time but those people, I realised, will always be an indelible part of me and my life experience. I could sit at this table, devoid of current projects to brag about and yet if I wanted, I could write on a napkin the experience of eating a fluffy perfect plate of couscous among these cherished folk in this happy place, and it would convey in a few sentences a wealth of connection that years of churning out 'good ideas' to these same folk never had. With time and perspective on my side I had the awareness to sit back and just appreciate this moment. I could have, but didn't write on any napkins, I just absorbed a place and time and people along with a huge plate of heavenly sustenance with the texture of a cloud, and talked and listened until our fond gathering became a moment in my soul. I could understand and be able to convey in future, truths that if I'd been busy bragging about my latest great new idea I'd probably have been far too distracted and self absorbed to even appreciate.

So yes, I've been taking a break and I don't have much to say for myself and the movies and writing and may not for some time. And if that's a boring thing for those who would prefer to be entertained by me, if my life and my blog isn't very worthy of attention right now I will just suck up the mundanity of my existence. Because the other thing I'm sucking up is perspective, and with that time for silence taken, my Voice will eventually, I hope, become infinitely more resonant.

Until then..... the world is full of ordinary stuff to be touched and amazed by.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Is it what you meant to say, really?

So many screenwriters and filmmakers I know (and I include myself in this) have difficulty editing their work after we've created it. Whether we're editing down from a first draft or tightening a rough edit the urge is to hang onto the bits we feel are worth something. This might be because they please us, they look or sound good, they cost us something to create or that in and of themselves they possess something we feel is or could be of value to our story. The proof of the pudding however is in the eating and you wouldn't just chuck chocolate on your sausages because chocolate and sausages taste good individually, you'd want all the aspects of a meal to work together, that doesn't mean you can't have chocolate and sausages (if I were forced I'd make a mole poblano sauce) it just makes it more unlikely to work for more than your particular pallette unless those elements blend together to form a sensible whole up upon the senses of others.

One of the things I say to people when giving screenplay feedback is to ignore the things I say to them if it doesn't help them tell the story that they want to tell. Ultimately that goes for the story elements too, if they're not helpful to you they're not helpful to include. I can like a line or a look as much as it's possible to like something but if it isn't helping me tell the story I want to tell then it's useless and morover it's most likely getting in the way of me including something that will. I have to be super unconnected to individual elements when editing or re-writing my own work and focus on my intention so if something doesn't tell me something about character or plot or move those things forward, if it doesn't create a much needed atmosphere then it's useless junk that I'm probably valuing for the wrong reason and at the expense of including something better.

What's also worth asking yourself about a scene is what's missing? What detail, background information or richness can be included or excluded to clarify what you're already saying or trying to get accross. Perhaps a phrase or view can be subtly inserted to reveal something pertinent to your story intention for that scene, or re-inforce a message. Have you included enough to fully engage your intended audience. Have you focussed sufficient weight on what we need to know? Are we deliberately diffusing the audience's eye in order to clarify it later or do we need to do something like that? Or have we obscured with excess elements something essential to our plot that should be clear at this point? Is there a better way to reveal information.

Consider then the pace, is it right for this piece, will this piece fit into the pace of the larger whole well or does it need to be pulled to one directon or another to add conformity or variety to your film. Is the tone right? Have you expressed your own voice in the way you've conveyed your idea so that it's your own unique eye we see this scenario through. Stories have a life of thier own, they need to be told and when you're telling a story with your own voice, people are listening to you and your methods of delivery will excite or dissappoint them as much as the story will.

There's more, there's always more that can and should be done, but remembering, always remembering what it is that you Truly Want To Say will ultimately help you to say it and say it well be that with words on a page, images on a screen, sounds in our ears. Make every iota count.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Intelligence that supercedes man, closing the human/machine divide, there's a lot of thought to be given to the science of singularity but sadly, very few of those thoughts make it into the film that is Transcendence and wading through star studded mud is still wading through mud in my opinion.

For all it's high falutin basis, the screenplay is very weak. Focussing on the narrow perameters of a handful of characters, (who aren't even too likeable) and leaving larger humanity in the dark makes the concerns of  a species that should draw us into the film pretty petty. There are no good guys, there is no growth, there is nothing for us 'ordinary folk' to relate to because we, you see, are left out of the story, we're the baggage the writer couldn't work out how to include. Nothing for us here, move along world.  Even were that not the case, storywise, things happen without any rhyme or reason that I could discern. It makes a basic sense but it doesn't move or implore me. And for a film based on an actual branch of science that likely will dramatically and unpredictably change our lives and evolution, within our lifetimes, there's very little science or scientific debate in it. 

What remains is poorly directed melodrama with nothing to give but the vague uneasiness of the ignorant as we tread old ground with a lack of fresh perspective. Even the protagonist is vague, is it Paul Bettany's Max, who ambles through his own concious objections to his field, maybe he shoulda worked out where he stood on that before yunno, writing the source code to reinvent evolution, or is our focus Johnny Depp's Will who's tragic persecution by terrorists makes him a rather compelling anti-hero rather than the villan he's miscast as, or perhaps it's his wife Evelyn for whom it's all done, played by the usually vibrant Rebecca Hall who here in this character is so lacklustre that the most postivie thing I can say is that she has nice hair and loves her hubby.  Oh.. and there's Morgan Freeman of course being wise because he's always the wise dude, apparently. It doesn't help because lack of thought or reason in these people of science is perhaps the most astounding thing about this film. Frankly Cillian Murphy might not have bothered turning up as the sole embodiment of law, government and populace point of view (because of course the same FBI agent who checks out a random terrorism act goes on to represent all) were completely irrelevant. Also there's some dissenting chick on her high horse despite being the actual cause her worst fears to emerge in the worst way and who, despite living on a mountain and unable to use the internet still secures a regular enough supply of peroxide to keep her hairdo more over bleached than Myra Hindley. These are the things I noticed because There Is No Story Or Point Here!

On top of everything else Wally Pfister doesn't quite pull anything in the right direction on the direction front, focusing intelsely on the wrong bits of story and making the action great but utterly unconnected to anything relevant. He creates delicious background to fancify underdeveloped characters. Somebody's cognitive function needs enhancing here surely? A nano enhanced dude lifting a heavy something is shown at least three times, whereas the ending of the whole film is kinda skirted round in just over a minute with some sappy flowery nonsense.. quite literally flowery as it involves regenerated sunflowers in the one place on Earth where they are not supposed to be able to regenerate?Ummm.. right.. whatever.. by that point I didn't really care, I just wanted out of the auditorium or to be shot by a radiation coated bullet.. anything but try and make sense of this grue calling itself sci-fi.

Frankly the thing flopped for me in a big way, I haven't been so disappointed in a movie since Rocky 4 and the biggest oposition to technological advancements Transcendence has given me is that someone stupid might put a Hollywood exec in charge of chosing my brain's future entertainment content. Here, a rookie screenwriter and a rookie director have been thrown some very large budgetary bones which stuck in their throats and prevented them speaking anything remotely worth hearing with their rookie voices. It looks great of course, the cinematography and vfx is fabulous, superb and meaningless. The sound is enriching, and does a lot but not enough to bolster the plot, the cast have much talent, but it's unused and without the solid foundation of story, meaning and execution this house crumbles to dust at the first puff of the big bad wolf that is common sense. Pffft to Transcendence! The real science of AI creation is a topic with more depth, integrity and intelligent fears than this lot is capable of giving.

Variety.com - Film News