Eiffel (Martin Bourboulon, 2021)

Eiffel isn’t so much a biopic of French engineer Gustave Eiffel (played here by Romain Duris), but rather a work of fiction inspired by certain historical facts. It posits why exactly Eiffel had a sudden change of heart in becoming involved with the metal tower project that would adopt his name after initially abstaining…

Full review for Little White Lies

‘Men in Black’ at 25 and the end of the practical effects era

Centring on a secret organisation monitoring extraterrestrials on Earth, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black (1997) may have spawned three wildly inferior sequels, but the original endures as a sci-fi comedy triumph, thanks to storytelling and production methods largely absent from the blockbuster landscape that followed.

While there was a considerable marketing blitz (see Will Smith’s inescapable tie-in single), the fact that Men in Black became summer 1997’s biggest hit domestically (and close worldwide) is surprising in many ways. Even in comparison with the same era’s TV mega-hit The X-Files, it boasts a very cynical worldview. Most alien invasion narratives incorporate some kind of sense of wonder (see Smith’s hit of the previous year, Independence Day), where a close encounter of the third kind is treated as the biggest thing to happen to our species. With Men in Black, it’s the opposite.

Smith’s rookie agent aside, everyone in the organisation maintains the perspective that everything happening on Earth is ultimately irrelevant. Tommy Lee Jones’ agent K delivers one particularly fun line about our place in the universe’s pecking order: “Human thought is so primitive, it’s looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies. That kind of makes you proud, doesn’t it?” Positing that mankind doesn’t really matter – and is a minuscule part of a much grander story of the universe – is still a pretty unique driving concept for a movie aimed at getting millions of bums on seats. Yet somehow it worked…

Full feature for the BFI

Death of a Ladies’ Man (Matt Bissonnette, 2020)

Since the early days of his recording career, the late Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has played a key part in some of film and TV’s most spellbinding moments. Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) is so inextricable from the three Cohen songs that recur throughout – ‘The Stranger Song’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and ‘Winter Lady’ – that it’s hard to believe they weren’t originally written for the sequences in question (they’d appeared on Cohen’s debut album four years earlier). Atom Egoyan, a compatriot of Cohen, has cited the song ‘Everybody Knows’ as intrinsic to the tone and ideas of his own puzzle-box drama Exotica (1994), while that same year, Olivier Assayas made beautiful use of Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ in the extended party set-piece of Cold Water, where it scores the long-gestating first kiss between two close teenage friends. This isn’t to mention the various covers of Cohen that have made their way onto soundtracks: new generations were introduced to the man through recordings of ‘Hallelujah’ by John Cale and Jeff Buckley, in Shrek (2001) and teen drama series The O.C. (2003-07) respectively.

With all this in mind, any filmmaker producing a fiction feature based entirely around Cohen songs – bar original score compositions and the occasional diegetic background tune – is setting themselves up for potentially unfavourable comparisons. That’s what writer-director Matt Bissonnette has on his hands with Canadian-Irish co-production Death of a Ladies’ Man (2020), named after Cohen’s 1977 studio album and incorporating seven songs from across his career: ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Bird on the Wire’, ‘Memories’, ‘Why Don’t You Try’, ‘Heart with No Companion’, ‘Did I Ever Love You’, and Cohen’s rendition of ‘The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien errant)’, a mid-19th-century folk song. Cohen’s poem ‘The Music Crept By Us’ also gets recited during one of the film’s many fantastical flourishes, while chapter cards quote his lyrics…

Full review for Sight & Sound

François Ozon on his assisted-suicide drama ‘Everything Went Fine’: “The film is like a thriller”

French writer Emmanuèle Bernheim died from cancer in 2017, a few years after the publication of memoir Tout s’est bien passé (Everything Went Fine). That book chronicled how she and her sister, Pascale, handled the instruction from their 85-year-old father, André, for an assisted suicide in light of paralysis following a stroke. As such actions remain illegal in France, they looked into getting him to a specialist clinic in Switzerland.

Bernheim’s work has previously been adapted for cinema by Claire Denis, who turned her novel Vendredi soir into a feature in 2002. But her most frequent screen collaborator was the prolific François Ozon, with whom she co-wrote screenplays for his Under the Sand (2000), Swimming Pool (2003), 5×2 (2004) and Ricky (2009). Now, Ozon has honoured her memory in adapting Everything Went Fine, with Sophie Marceau playing Emmanuèle, André Dussollier as André, Géraldine Pailhas as Pascale, Charlotte Rampling as her mother, Claude de Soria, and Hanna Schygulla as the Swiss clinic representative.

As Everything Went Fine is released in the UK, we spoke with Ozon about tackling this complex subject and his past flirtations with other controversial content…

Full interview for the BFI

Men: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear on Alex Garland’s nightmare ride

Men, writer-director Alex Garland’s spooky follow-up to Ex Machina and Annihilation, blends body and folk horror for an enigmatic mood piece.

In the aftermath of her husband’s death, Harper (Jessie Buckley) takes a solo vacation in the English countryside, only to be plagued by various male aggressors, all portrayed by Rory Kinnear in multiple guises.

We spoke with Buckley and Kinnear about collaborating with Alex Garland…

Full interview for SciFiNow

a-ha: The Movie (Thomas Robsahm/Aslaug Holm, 2021)

American YouTube reviewer Todd in the Shadows has a regular series called One Hit Wonderland in which he takes a look “at bands and artists known for only one song”; exploring their history before and after the big hit. His first video in this series was on Norwegian synth-pop group a-ha’s ‘Take On Me’, in which he fully acknowledges that a-ha’s members are absolutely not true one hit wonders just because ‘Take On Me’ was their only enduring hit in the United States.

The band has reportedly sold over 55 million records worldwide. They’re among the best-selling Scandinavian acts ever. A 1991 gig at the Rock in Rio festival earned them a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for drawing the largest paying rock concert attendance (198,000). They still fill stadiums. They did a James Bond theme.

But Todd’s criteria for inclusion isn’t entirely inaccurate. It’s not controversial to call ‘Take On Me’ one of the best pop songs of the 1980s, while the accompanying music video by director Steve Barron justifiably remains a titan of the form. No matter the sales figures of subsequent singles and albums, ‘Take On Me’ inarguably defines a-ha’s legacy…

Full review for Little White Lies

Firestarter (Keith Thomas, 2022)

During filming of The Thing in 1981, Universal offered John Carpenter the gig to direct a movie version of Stephen King’s novel Firestarter, about a pyrokinetic girl on the run from a secret government agency with her also super-powered father. After The Thing underperformed financially, Universal dropped Carpenter, replacing him with Mark L. Lester for the perhaps overly faithful 1984 adaptation that King reportedly hated.

Carpenter got his own swing at King for another studio with Christine. And four decades on, he’s now involved with a new take on the one that got away. His score for the 2022 Firestarter, co-written with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, is by far the best part of director Keith Thomas’ adaptation of a text that no one can quite seem to crack…

Full review for SciFiNow

Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

Alex Garland’s Men shares DNA with David Bruckner’s recent Rebecca Hall-led The Night House. Both see widowed women navigating an isolated haunted house, each also concerned with the fallout of a husband’s suicide, that trauma weaved into the thematic underpinning.

But while Hall’s character is plagued in her own home, Men’s Harper (Jessie Buckley) is on a solo vacation in the English countryside. Another crucial difference: The Night House’s instigating suicide is presented as sudden, but in Men, Harper both witnesses husband James’ (Paapa Essiedu) apparent jump from their building and is explicitly told he’ll take his own life if they divorce, in an explosive flashback confrontation involving assault – where cinematographer Rob Hardy lights their apartment in appropriately fiery hues…

Full review for SciFiNow

Vikings don’t cry: Thomas Daneskov on his off-grid comedy ‘Wild Men’

Dark comedy Wild Men opens in wintry Norwegian mountains, their visual majesty disrupted by a soundtrack of sobbing. Cut to a man, draped in furs and carrying a bow and arrow, crying his eyes out. Pulling himself together, he tries catching a ram in nearby woods. He appears to wound it, but it escapes. Unable to find further prey, he clubs a frog to death, cooking it that night. The next morning, he’s throwing up. 

Then, this apparent Viking finds a chocolate bar wrapper that’s floated upstream, revealing that we’re not in fact watching a period piece in the vein of Robert Eggers’ The Northman (2022). The man journeys to a gas station, attempting to buy groceries and cigarettes but forgetting his debit card.

This is Denmark resident Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), a husband and father who, experiencing a midlife crisis, has abandoned his family to live in a huge Norwegian forest, adhering as closely as possible to the lifestyle of his ancestors a thousand-plus years ago. It’s only been 10 days in the wilderness, and wife Anne (Sofie Gråbøl) still thinks he’s just away on a work trip…

Full interview for the BFI

Director Laura Wandel Discusses Her Schoolyard Drama ‘Playground’

Premiering to acclaim at Cannes in 2021, Playground, the full-length debut of Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel, deservedly later won the Best First Feature award at the London Film Festival.

Running at only 72 minutes, it’s a compact, confident work, with creative visual and aural devices impressively realised throughout. The film’s images are conveyed entirely from a child’s point of view, the camera’s position staying at the height of its young lead (Maya Vanderbeque). Meanwhile, the soundtrack lacks any musical score, and reflects only what the protagonist can hear from her perspective…

Full interview for Curzon Journal

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams