Until going up the jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) and now into deep space with Ad Astra, the films of American director James Gray – from Little Odessa (1994) to Two Lovers (2008) – all told stories of New York, with many focusing on immigrant families. His 2013 ode to classical melodrama, The Immigrant, was the culmination of that interest.
Set in 1921, it sees Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of Manhattan burlesque and prostitution as she tries to fund the release of her ill sister, who has been confined to Ellis Island. She also finds herself caught in a toxic love triangle between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the charmer pimp who got her there, and his chivalrous magician cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).
Featuring contenders for Cotillard and Renner’s career-best performances, reliably magnetic work from Phoenix, and cinematography from Darius Khondji that simultaneously evokes 19th-century painting, silent cinema and the 70s highpoints of Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, The Immigrant is a beautiful and devastating slow-burn drama. Its closing act, particularly the lingering final shot, must count among the finest American filmmaking of this decade.
So, why was the film never released in the UK?
Full feature for the BFI
Having already helmed Tom of Finland in 2017, Finnish director Dome Karukoski continues his penchant for biopics about creative people with Tolkien. With Nicholas Hoult in the title role, the film presents the trials and tribulations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s life up to putting his first draft of The Hobbit to paper. These include his orphaning at a young age, a strong bond with a group of classmates at school, a burgeoning romance with his future wife, Edith (Lily Collins), and his experiences in the First World War.
Tolkien is a handsomely mounted production with an endearing pair of performances at its centre, but it never overcomes the problem at the core of David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford’s screenplay: the reductivism concerning the artistic process. Considering that Tolkien himself was a man who resisted allegorical readings of his work, particularly when it came to the influence of war on his output, there’s a degree of irony to this biopic presenting the most literal-minded interpretation of how The Hobbit – and parts of The Lord of the Rings – came to be…
Full review for VODzilla.co
In a short documentary available on Netflix, titled The Modest Heroes of Studio Ponoc, producer Yoshiaki Nishimura says that makers of short animation films are often asked: “Why do you make short films?” But he wonders why they never ask the question, “Why do you make feature films?” He suggests that short films are often viewed as a stepping-stone of sorts for people who can’t yet make feature films, but that this does a disservice to the form. As he says, short animation films have their own form of expression: “If the creator fully understands the idea, they can create great work… we create short films because we believe they have a value in and of themselves”
Nishimura is right to point out this unfair view towards shorts films. And it is admirable that Studio Ponoc’s second release, which clocks in at under an hour, should be an anthology collection of short films, rather than a traditional narrative feature, such as their 2017 debut, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The good news is that this three-film collection does a strong job at illustrating the range of the studio’s talents, helping them emerge from the shadow of Studio Ghibli, for whom many of their staff used to work…
Full review for VODzilla.co
British writer-director Shola Amoo’s second feature, The Last Tree, is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film set in the early 2000s. It centres on a young boy named Femi of Nigerian descent who’s being fostered by a white parent, Mary (Denise Black), in Lincolnshire. As Amoo explains: “The story starts when his biological mum (Gbemisola Ikumelo) picks him up, takes him to south London to live with her, and we follow his trials and tribulations as he tries to find his identity within a new culture in a multicultural London.”
“There are elements of the film taken from my life,” Amoo says of his connection to the narrative, which charts the journey of Femi into his teens. “The rest is amalgamated with other experiences I’ve heard around foster care, and friends who’ve dealt with this idea of double-consciousness: being of one community and living within another. It’s all woven together.” That sense of struggling with the values and culture of an unfamiliar community also extends to Femi’s experiences of visiting Lagos, where his biological father lives…
Full interview for the BFI
Since his debut feature, Human Comedy in Tokyo, in 2008, Kôji Fukada has steadily become one of the most interesting filmmakers working out of Japan in the last decade plus. Many of his features can be characterised by a protagonist or family unit’s apparent stability being upended by one event, a plot development that illustrates how easily and turbulently lives can spiral out of control. In his sophomore feature, Hospitalité (2010), this was played for laughs. In that film, a family printing business is gradually taken over by a former associate who talks his way into a job, moves into the building, and invites more and more people, with increasingly tenuous connections, to live with him in the cramped space.
Harmonium (2016), Fukada’s international breakthrough in terms of distribution and awards recognition, presents his darkest take on that theme to date. Winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at that year’s Cannes, it sees a man invite a friend with an unsavory past back into his life, offering him a job in his garage workshop, only for the kind act to have devastating effects on him, his wife and their young daughter.
A Girl Missing (2019) is not Fukada’s direct feature follow-up to Harmonium, with The Man from the Sea (2018) having premiered in between, but it is both a reunion with one of Harmonium’s stars, Mariko Tsutsui, and a return to a mode of storytelling that contains a significant time jump. But in contrast to Harmonium, the two narratives of A Girl Missing play in parallel…
Full interview for Filmmaker
3D boom that launched the decade is in its dying days. While many blockbusters still open with 3D versions, and James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar sequels should give the format a major boost, the numbers back up the decline. Eye-popping images aren’t the sell they were in 2009.
What’s lost as 3D fades into cultural irrelevance? Numerous directors, from Martin Scorsese to Wim Wenders, extolled the virtues of the visual gimmick, but the format also reshaped actors — or could have if given the room to evolve. In the first decade of 3D blockbusters, big names like Will Smith or Sandra Bullock were strapped into what were essentially theme park rides, the technique more of a marquee attraction rather than a lens through which to navigate around performances. We never got to the moment where 3D became a tool for actors.
There is a notable exception, however, and it concerns two films that exist in a specific subgenre: Nicolas Cage driving dangerous vehicles after escaping from hell…
Full feature for Polygon
“I never wanted to do cult,” John Waters says in reference to his filmography in light of the question of whether genuine cult films are still possible in the current age of new distribution strategies. “People liked it and it lost money. A few smart people liked it, the [financiers] want thousands of dumb people to like it!”
Speaking of thousands of people, if not necessarily all dumb, we’re speaking to Baltimore’s self-described ‘Pope of Trash’ a day ahead of him receiving an award at the Piazza Grande of Locarno, Switzerland, which hosts open air screenings for 8000 people each night as part of the Locarno Film Festival. For its 72nd edition, which took place in August, the festival honoured Waters with the Pardo d’onore Manor award for career achievement. Recipients of the Pardo d’onore at previous festivals have included Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach, William Friedkin, Jia Zhang-ke, Werner Herzog, Agnès Varda and Todd Haynes…
Full interview for The Skinny