‘American Gods’ Season 2 (spoilers)

American Gods’ difficult sophomore season concluded better than it began, with its melancholic Mad Sweeney-focused penultimate instalment being the best of the whole eight-episode run. It was also the only episode that was wholly satisfying in terms of atmosphere, direction, story, character development and performance working together towards a coherent vision – or as coherent as American Gods, which now regularly seems to be opaque just for the sake of being opaque, can be…

Full review for VODzilla.co

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Joe Penna on ‘Arctic’, Mads Mikkelsen, polar bears and YouTube

Arctic is a survival thriller in which Mads Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the Arctic Circle waiting for rescue, only for a helicopter that finds him to crash, killing the pilot and forcing Mikkelsen’s character to have to tend to a severely injured passenger while barely keeping himself alive.

It’s visceral, absorbing stuff. What is particularly noteworthy, though, is that director Joe Penna’s background is as a YouTube content producer for over 12 years – his main channel, as MysteryGuitarMan, has nearly 3 million subscribers and has racked up around 400 million video views.

How does someone goes from the culture of YouTube influencer to making their directorial debut (an on-location survival thriller in harsh terrain, shot in Iceland in under a month) with a major international star in a close to wordless performance? And not only that, but managing to get that debut feature to premiere at Cannes last year? We sit down with Penna to talk Mads, polar bears and more…

Full interview for VODzilla.co

‘Beats’: Brian Welsh on his 90s rave scene banger

Set in Scotland in 1994, Beats follows two teenage best friends, Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), heading out for one final night together at an illegal rave before life takes them in different directions. Johnno’s family, encouraged by his de facto stepfather Robert (Brian Ferguson), are due to move to a newly built house in the distant suburbs. Spanner’s prospects, meanwhile, look next to zero in the context of local poverty and his relationship with his abusive criminal brother, Fido (Neil Leiper).

Directed and co-written by Brian Welsh, Beats is adapted from Kieran Hurley’s acclaimed one-man stage show, which presented converging stories in the wake of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’s impact on rave culture. Section 63 of that act gave law enforcement the power to stop any gatherings of more than 20 people in open air settings when listening to music, “Wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

There’s an end of an era quality to the film’s portrayal of the 90s scene, and while raving didn’t disappear after 1994, the rest of the decade saw a form of it move into the more corporate club scene, heavy on brand image, where the experience, as influenced by those changes in the law, became more homogenised…

Full interview for the BFI

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman, 2019)

With his background in CG animation, Goosebumps director Rob Letterman makes sense as a choice to helm the live-action translation of one of the 90s’ most enduring media properties. The best parts of this adaptation of the Pokémon games, based on 2016 spin-off Detective Pikachu, are the textures of its reimagined designs of beloved creatures from the series, which vary from cute to unsettling. If you don’t yet know what a Lickitung is, you might not forget after this.

Then again, maybe you will, because when it comes to making a story to engage a wider mass audience beyond the admittedly large established fanbase, the filmmakers don’t seem to have been that concerned with catching ‘em all…

Full review for SciFiNow

Capturing Emotion: The Making of “Living the Light – Robby Müller”

The highly respected Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller died in July 2018, after living with vascular dementia for several years. Just two months later, Living the Light – Robby Müller, a film essay tribute to the man and his work, premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

Having worked on over 70 feature films, it is Müller’s cinematography with the likes of Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Lars von Trier that most influenced a generation of filmmakers in terms of his framing, evocation of emotion in his shots, and his use of light. Living the Light intertwines clips from Müller’s oeuvre with footage and images from his extensive personal archives. With the blessing of Andrea Müller, Living the Light director Claire Pijman — a friend of the couple and a cinematographer of nearly 30 years herself — was granted access to thousands of H8 video diaries, set photos, Polaroids, and more that were shot throughout his career; from his earliest days with Wenders to the final few films on his resume…

Full interview for Kinoscope

A Keanu Reeves film festival promises a most excellent adventure

With the third John Wick due in cinemas soon, a new event on the film calendar shines a spotlight on the multifaceted career of its star, Keanu Reeves. Taking place at Glasgow’s CCA, KeanuCon is Europe’s first Keanu Reeves film festival. It comes via Matchbox Cineclub, an independent exhibitor that’s already had success with the actor-focused festival format across two instalments of Cage-a-rama, alongside cult film festival Weird Weekend last year…

Full feature for Little White Lies

Loro (Paolo Sorrentino, 2018)

A partially fictionalised portrait of Silvio Berlusconi in the years leading into his final stint as Italy’s Prime Minister, Paolo Sorrentino’s latest project was released in his home country as two separate features, with a truncated mash-up version making its way to the UK.

About an hour of material is lost in this combined cut, and while this review comes from a place of having only experienced the shorter edit, it is very evident after a certain point that many storylines and arcs established early in Loro will receive next to no pay off…

Full review for Little White Lies

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams