Ellie Carter, from Great Torrington, Devon, is the youngest solo pilot in England. She’s 14, and has been flying since she was 9. And from saving up her pocket money to buy flying lessons she’s now sponsored by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic programme. Filmmaker Jake Cauty is aiming to tell her story.
Film the Writer with No Hands is definitely controversial. So controversial in fact that it has eschewed – or been eschewed from – traditional distribution methods, opting for a run of non-cinema venues, culminating in an iTunes and Amazon release.
It’s really fun when film festivals open up new worlds for you, especially if that new world isn’t a million miles away, as the crow flies. And Plymouth Film Festival is opening with a documentary from the Rame Peninsula, ‘a beautiful, sleepy and forgotten corner of Cornwall’. The film is The Last Fisherman and is accompanied with a Q&A from producer Leo Kaserer.
‘It’s a privilege to do something you love, and not many people get to do that…’ It’s the first line of Jake Cauty’s ice hockey documentary, Panthers, but you also get the idea that it’s something that he feels about filmmaking too.
Because he says Donald Trump is an asshole and also bigs up Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You book of short stories, we figured we’d include the trailer to and info about Max Joseph’s new film series, beginning with the film called ‘Dicks’.
Director George Griffiths has ‘become infatuated with the creative process of documentary film making’. We got in touch and asked why, and to find out more about his Exeter Phoenix RAW Film Commission documentary, The Visions in the Dark, about people with Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
An inquisitive eye and the sense of a good story are ideal attributes for a filmmaker, and Luke Hagan displayed them both as he unearthed (which sounds so much nicer than ‘stumbled on’) the story of one of the world’s top designers who lives and works in Exeter.
Trumbo (eOne) is the colourful true story of Dalton Trumbo – at one time Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) stars as the title character, one of a number of important film industry players who were blacklisted from Hollywood and jailed in the 1940s due to their Communist sympathies. Marginalised by figures as diverse as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott, JAG), Trumbo is cast aside by all of the major Hollywood studios for 13 long years. However, after serving his prison sentence, Trumbo hatches a plan to insinuate himself back into the movie business by teaming up with B-movie producer Frank King (an excitable John Goodman) to write under a pseudonym, alongside his blacklisted buddies.
Trumbo’s story is undeniably compelling, even if the fall-and-rise narrative curve gives the film a shameless Oscar-bait type dynamic. Cranston – who was indeed nominated for an Academy Award for his role – hams it up to within an inch of his life, but his committed performance is still gripping regardless, and he keeps the film on track, even when the whiff of narrative phoniness threatens to engulf the story. Buoyed by an eclectic supporting cast – including the likes of Louis CK, Diane Lane and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – the film is extremely watchable throughout. If you can overlook the occasional episodes of narrative clunkiness, Trumbo is great fun.
Boulevard (Kaleidoscope) tells the story of Nolan (the late Robin Williams in his final onscreen role), a married, middle-aged banker, whose life has congealed into a grim, unfulfilling dirge. One night, driving home from work, Nolan does something impulsive, and picks up a young male hustler Leo (Roberto Aguire, Pretty Little Liars) – just to talk to. A relationship quickly develops, not based on sex, but on Nolan’s loneliness. However, as he becomes more attached to Leo, he puts his marriage, and his career, in jeopardy.
Williams gives a tremendously restrained performance as a meek man finally trying to be true to himself after a lifetime of living a lie, but the film lapses into understated dreariness and ultimately underwhelms. Dito Montiel’s directorial career has been characterised by his penchant for macho crime movies (Fighting, The Son of No One, Empire State), and I was surprised to see his name on the credits here. Interestingly, it is only really in the sporadic flickers of aggression – courtesy of Leo’s pimp Eddie (Giles Matthey, True Blood) – when the film actually comes alive.
The fact that it is Williams’ final role definitely gives the movie added poignancy, but Boulevard never really rises above its fairly simple premise, and flatters to deceive. It may be an unpredictable end to a sometimes unpredictable career, but Boulevard is destined to rank as a footnote in Williams’ career, rather than a genuine swansong.
Based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith (and another book by, erm, Jane Austen) Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (Lionsgate) unfolds in 19th century England, where a mysterious plague has emerged, and the land is overrun with the undead. Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella) is a master of martial arts and weaponry. Casting aside personal and social prejudices, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, Control) must come together on the blood-soaked battlefield to rid the country of the zombie hordes and, inevitably, discover their true love for one another…
Despite its funny – for a while at least – premise, and its excellent ensemble cast (also including Charles Dance, Lena Headey and Matt Smith), Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a seriously awkward movie, and loses its way as it trudges towards the end of its 107-minute run-time. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is comfortably better than the previous Seth Grahame-Smith adaptation, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and although this assessment doesn’t count for much, it feels like it is worth pointing out regardless!
This is an aimless zombie of a movie – more dead than alive – stumbling blindly down narrative dead-ends in search of laughs that never really materialise.
Also Out Now:
The Seventh Fire (Metrodome) is an intriguing documentary about the Native American gang problem. When Rob Brown, a charismatic gang leader on a remote Minnesota reservation, is sentenced to prison for a fifth time, he is forced to confront his role in bringing violent drug culture into the heart of his beloved Ojibwe community. Running in parallel, Rob’s 17-year-old protégé, Kevin, dreams of becoming the most powerful dealer on the reservation, and seems destined to follow in his older friend’s drug-ravaged footsteps. It may be uneven – and some of the attempts at imbuing the desolate landscape with a lyrical quality fall strangely flat – but The Seventh Fire feels grim and authentic throughout. A fascinating, troubling glimpse into an environment rarely chronicled on film.
If you’re stuck waiting for public transport, what better way to spend your time than to work out new film ideas. That’s exactly what Simeon Costello did and it bagged him the Exeter Phoenix documentary bursary.
Exeter Phoenix film commissions have a track record in invigorating the Devon and South West film scene. Here’s some information about their Devon Documentary Short Film Commission. Read on, and get your application in!
80’s B-movies, superhero self-indulgence and Sean Penn on the warpath – the latest DVDs reviewed.
Electric Boogaloo (Metrodome) is the colourful true story of two Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who produced more than 120 films in 10 years. With a back catalogue that encompassed everything from low-brow crowd-pleasers to high-brow arthouse fare, Golan and Globus were risk-takers on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, one of their favoured tactics was producing eye-catching posters for unmade movies, and hawking them to interested parties at the Cannes Film Festival. Whichever ‘films’ generated the most pre-sales were then turned into actual movies, and delivered on schedule to the cinema chains that provided the original financial backing!
Director Mark Hartley previously struck B-movie gold with 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood, which scrutinised the ‘Ozploitation’ movement of the 1970s and 1980s. The Cannon Films back catalogue offers up a similar treasure trove of retro delights, and Hartley has weaved together a cracking tale about two men whose ambition and ingenuity saw them rise to the dizzy heights of mainstream Hollywood before sending them crashing back down to earth. While Cannon is probably best remembered for launching the careers of action stars such as Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, it is interesting to learn that Golan and Globus also produced work by luminaries such as Franco Zeffirelli (Otello), John Cassavetes (Love Streams) and Barbet Schroeder (Barfly) – when no one else was willing to back them.
Littered with great anecdotes and crammed with eye-opening clips, Electric Boogaloo is riotous fun. While you may not be keen to revisit many of the films themselves, Hartley’s documentary is a well-judged retelling of a story that seems scarcely believable in hindsight. Overall, one of the most enjoyably trashy documentaries that I have watched in recent memory. Highly recommended.
Although the original was released on DVD back in November 2014, X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut (20th Century Fox) represents a new cut of Bryan Singer’s most recent entry in the ongoing superhero saga. For anyone yet to encounter the film, the plot sees characters from the original X-Men film trilogy join forces with their younger selves – via a time-travelling Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in his seventh appearance as the much-loved mutant) – uniting to battle the murderous Sentinel robots that have been created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones) to identify and wipe out mutants everywhere.
First things first: X-Men: Days of Future Past is great fun – a quirky, compelling addition to the franchise. After 2013’s lacklustre The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s iconic character is given a meaty storyline to sink his adamantium claws into, and carries the storyline well on his bulky shoulders. The plot may sound mind-meltingly complicated, but after a chaotic opening the film quickly ignites, and Singer blazes his way through a number of memorable set-pieces. With a seriously strong cast and an epic storyline to match, Days of Future Past is vivid and energetic and offers a worthwhile bridge between 2011’s X-Men First Class and the original 2000 movie.
But what about the re-cut version, I hear you ask? That depends on how much you love the X-Men universe… The insertion of Rogue (Anna Paquin, True Blood) – which gives the new version its extended title – is the key difference here, and the ‘new’ footage is fairly easy to spot. While the link Rogue offers to the original trilogy is a nice touch, it feels surplus to narrative requirements and it is easy to see why the scenes were ditched in the first place. That said, if you are feeling jaded by the proliferation of superhero movies being churned out left, right and centre, Days of Future Past comfortably bucks the trend. In conclusion: great movie, inessential remix.
Eight years after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo following his assassination of the country’s minister of mining, The Gunman (StudioCanal) follows former hitman Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) as he finds himself on the receiving end of a murder attempt. Terrier flies to London to find out who wants him dead, and his search leads him to an impromptu reunion with his ex-girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca, Romanzo Criminale), who is now married to his dodgy former acquaintance Felix (Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men).
Directed by Pierre Morel – the man responsible for Taken – The Gunman would have probably been better if they had stripped away the geopolitical intrigue and just let Sean Penn run amok with a gun. The narrative is flabby and drawn-out, and Penn’s star power and impressively sustained intensity struggle to keep the film afloat. Not the utter disaster it has been portrayed as elsewhere – the action scenes are generally excellent – The Gunman still feels like a wasted opportunity.
Fresh from her superb career-making performance in Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike pops up in the under-the-radar thriller Return To Sender (eOne), as a small town nurse who gets brutally attacked in her own home by a mysterious stranger (Shiloh Fernandez, Red Riding Hood). Following his arrest, she starts to write to him in prison, but the letters all get returned unopened. Determined to confront him, she starts to visit him regularly in prison, and seemingly befriends him, against the express wishes of her protective father (Nick Nolte, Warrior).
Uneven and ultimately nonsensical, Return To Sender wastes a committed performance from Pike and a respectable supporting turn from Nolte. It’s sad that Pike blotted her copybook so quickly after Gone Girl, but hopefully the movie will turn out to be a blip, rather than a sign of things to come.
Accidental Love (Arrow Films) follows Alice Eckle (Jessica Biel, The Tall Man), a naïve roller-skating waitress in a small Indiana town, who is about to get engaged to her trooper boyfriend, Scott (James Marsden, The Box). When Alice is accidentally shot in the head with a nail gun, her lack of health insurance leaves the nail lodged in her brain, prompting bursts of erratic behaviour. After her fiancé has a change of heart, Alice travels to Washington DC to meet the charming but clueless Congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch) who has vowed to petition for the introduction of a new health care bill.
Original director David O. Russell left the film in 2010 due to financing issues, and the film was subsequently completed without his involvement and credited to ‘Stephen Greene’. Despite the talent involved, Accidental Love is a complete misfire on pretty much every level, and given the plaudits heaped on The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, it is easy to see why Russell wants this movie scrubbed off his CV. Regardless of who was behind the camera, Accidental Love seems like a poor idea, badly executed. One to avoid.
Torquay’s Norman McNamara took the world by storm with his Purple Angel Campaign, which raises awareness about dementia related illness. Now a new documentary aims to take the message further, and there’s a kickstarter campaign you can contribute to.
The Many Romances with Rosemarie is a charming documentary about the Cornish-built motor yacht Rosemarie, who provided a comfortable home as a houseboat on the Penryn River for 40 years, and there is a special edition DVD now available.
Nick Cave, Jim Jarmusch and, erm, Elijah Wood – October’s oddest DVDs reviewed.
It’s Battle of the Bands in this documentary double-dip: The National Vs Pulp
Matt Berninger is the lead singer of critically adored US rock band The National. Meanwhile, his younger brother Tom is a likeable thirty-something slacker, who lives at home, listens to unfashionable ‘80s heavy metal and makes low-budget horror movies on the side. The night before The National are set to embark on their biggest tour to date, Matt invites Tom to join them as a roadie, and Tom seizes the opportunity to bring his trusty camera along for the ride. Mistaken For Strangers (Dogwoof) is the result.
As the hapless Tom tries to uncover what makes the band tick by lurking behind-the-scenes, he quickly starts aggravating the band, as well as making a hash of his responsibilities as a roadie. The experience prompts an existential meltdown in the happy-go-lucky younger brother, and he muses on the pressure of living in his successful big brother’s shadow – before vowing to knuckle down and weave together his footage to deliver a documentary that Matt can be proud of.
After enduring the torturous art-fart that was 2008’s documentary A Skin, A Night, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to hear that The National was the focus of another offbeat, potentially indulgent film project. Thankfully, Mistaken For Strangers is a far more fully realised endeavour. Goofy younger brother Tom is the star of the show, and his neuroses are laid bare in charming fashion. Matt Berninger proves to be a great sport too, even if the two brothers often seem like they are playing exaggerated versions of themselves, rather than giving a true depiction of their relationship.
Despite seemingly being aimed squarely at The National fans, Mistaken For Strangers sheds little in the way of new light on the enigmatic band and its creative processes. That said, it’s a sweet-natured, quirkily entertaining depiction of sibling rivalry, and definitely worth a look-in.
In 2012 Britpop heroes Pulp returned to their hometown of Sheffield for what seems likely to be their last ever UK concert. Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets (Soda Pictures) examines the band’s homecoming, and mixes live footage with the band’s musings on their idiosyncratic career. Also included are contributions from a number of disparate Pulp fans who have been buttonholed by the director in and around Sheffield city centre. Suffice to say, the latter interviews are the worst segments of the film, and generally feel either unconvincing or uncomfortable, and add little to the narrative.
Frontman Jarvis Cocker is credited with the ‘concept’ of the film, although he sought out New Zealand-based filmmaker Florian Habicht to direct proceedings, after enjoying his 2011 art-house movie Love Story. Unfortunately, the duo’s obsession with hammering home the affection that locals have for Pulp undermines the film, and some of the aforementioned ‘freak-of-the week’ talking heads backfire badly.
In their hey-day Pulp were a genuinely fascinating band – with a great story to tell – and it’s unfortunate that so much of their career is given short shrift in Life, Death & Supermarkets. For example, we hear very little about how the era-defining Different Class catapulted them to fame twelve years after the release of their inauspicious debut album It. Similarly, the dark fallout that prompted 1998’s follow-up This Is Hardcore is more or less ignored, leaving fans none the wiser about the issues that derailed the band’s dominance of the indie scene.
In truth, with so much of their career merely skimmed over, Life, Death & Supermarkets feels like something of a wasted opportunity, and in many ways a slightly more traditional approach may have yielded a more satisfying end-product. That said, the unexpected scenes in which locals break into song – particularly the café full of elderly people singing ‘Help The Aged’ – definitely hit the spot. All in all, a mixed-bag.
The relationship we have with undertakers is one of contradictions. It’s one of intimacy and distance; and it’s a service that is for both the living and the dead. Ed Emsley‘s documentary The Undertaking, which has been shortlisted for an award at the Celtic Media Festival, focuses on the inner-workings of independent undertakers to see what makes them tick.
My Stuff, the debut feature from Finnish director, Petri Luukkainen, is a quasi-documentary and we join Petri – director and subject – as he embarks upon his experiment to forgo his possessions for one year.
Tom Leins reviews Filth and This Ain’t California in this week’s DVD round-up.
Filth (Lionsgate) tells the story of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy, Welcome To The Punch), a corrupt, drug-addicted cop who finds himself in line for an unlikely promotion and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Tasked with solving a brutal murder, Bruce is more concerned with engineering the downfall of his similarly hapless colleagues, and avoiding the suspicions of his unwitting boss Chief Inspector Toal (John Sessions). As his drink and drug intake spirals out of control, Bruce finds himself plagued by hallucinatory, animal-themed visions, and begins to come unstuck in the demented web of deceit he has weaved.
Ti West’s newest film, The Sacrament, was screened in the Cult section at the 57th BFI London Film Festival. I sat down with the director over tea and scones to discuss his latest film, semantics, Eli Roth and whether he has ambitions to direct beyond the horror genre…
Totnes filmmaker Ben Boyd-Taylor is on the look out for help with his feature documentary about a school in India, which gives deprived children a chance in life.
Two recent documentary releases make for an interesting comparison – and both are already candidates for best film of 2013.
To Say Goodbye, the forgotten story of story of the Spanish Civil War, is in the running for Best Documentary at the Euskal Bobina awards.
Tom Leins casts a critical eye over this week’s most compelling DVD releases.
Critically acclaimed documentary The Imposter (Revolver) is the feature-length debut from TV veteran Bart Layton, who is best known for directing/producing late night TV staple Banged Up Abroad.
Check out The Life of Brians, a documentary following the everyday philosophical thoughts and opinions of six men called Brian.