Category Archives: Film

Munich: The Edge of War (Christian Schwochow, 2021)

A tricky aspect of films based on real-life historical events with globally-impactful consequences is maintaining any tension when the viewer already knows the outcome. In some cases, the protagonists we’re following are those thwarted, such as in Valkyrie, a dramatisation of the failed 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Adapted by playwright Ben Power from a Robert Harris novel, Munich: The Edge of War faces a similar challenge with tension. Similarly to Valkyrie, it depicts an attempted termination of Hitler’s power, though here before World War Two started. In 1938, British PM Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons) is eager to find a peaceful resolution to Hitler’s proposed invasion of Czechoslovakia…

Full review for Little White Lies

Where to begin with Shinji Somai

Critic Shigehiko Hasumi once suggested that Japanese filmmaker Shinji Somai – who died young aged 53 in 2001, after directing 13 features – “is the missing link between the end of the studio system of Japan and the rise of independent filmmaking”. In their compassionate depictions of loneliness and alienation, you can certainly see the influence of Somai’s films in the works of several younger directors who followed, including Shunji Iwai (All About Lily Chou-Chou) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse).

So why is Somai relatively unknown in the west? It’s all down to the mysteries of international distribution. For whatever reason, none of Somai’s films got released in the UK, with opportunities to see them relegated to festival appearances or one-off repertory screenings. Even a particularly high interest in contemporary Japanese cinema in Britain in the early 2000s – the time of the J-horror boom – didn’t result in distribution for Somai’s final features, Wait and See (1998) and Kaza-hana (2000).

In recent years, the Edinburgh International Film Festival showcased a full retrospective of his work in 2012, while Moving (1993) was part of the touring programme in support of Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film (2013). At the time of writing, we’ve just seen the first ever home-video outing for any of Somai’s features in the west: Arrow Video’s Blu-ray of Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981). It’s hopefully a sign of good things to come, as Somai’s CV includes some of the finest Japanese films of the 1980s and 90s…

Full feature for the BFI

25 years on, Mars Attacks! is the ultimate Main Character Syndrome comedy

When re-evaluating critical or commercial disappointments, it can happen that artists’ work goes underappreciated because of trends and tastes at the time of its original release, only for the film, album, or artwork to age like fine wine as the world changes its sensibilities. Case in point: Tim Burton’s gleefully chaotic Mars Attacks!, in which humanity at large is incredibly stupid and short-sighted in the face of a potential extinction-level event. Sound familiar?

Mars Attacks! opened to largely middling reviews in December 1996 and commercially bombing domestically. It was unfairly and unfavourably compared by many to Independence Day. The two projects have little in common beyond alien invasion plots, big ensembles, and the same year of release. Independence Day had opened five months earlier, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time. It was a no-win situation for Mars Attacks! opening that Christmas season, coming across like a rushed, snarky response to its supposed counterpart film, despite the established (and then still fresh) brand of Burton and a much more star-studded cast…

Full feature for Dazed

An Introduction to Indie Film Darling Adrienne Shelly

“I was going for a tone where you can find what’s funny in what’s painful, which has always been my kind of strategy anyway in life,” says Adrienne Shelly through archive footage in a new HBO documentary, Adrienne (2021).

An actor, screenwriter and director, Shelly broke through in the early 90s as the luminous lead of indie maverick Hal Hartley’s first two features: The Unbelievable Truth (1989) and Trust (1990), which were key early texts in a wave of independent films that helped define the stylistic directions of a considerable number of American movies that decade…

Full feature for AnOther

Dénes Nagy on Natural Light

When it comes to film adaptations, directors and screenwriters sometimes opt to take only the barebones of a source material’s premise in order to explore their own thematic or narrative interests; Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 sci-fi novel Under the Skin is one recent notable example. But it’s likely few adaptations could be called as loose as that of Natural Light from Hungarian writer-director Dénes Nagy, based on Pál Závada’s 2014 novel of the same name. The reason: it’s based on roughly one per cent of the book…

Full interview for Curzon Journal

Army of Thieves (Matthias Schweighöfer, 2021)

A non-horror prequel to a horror movie, where zombies are relegated to news reports and dreams, Army of Thieves is a film where the logic behind its existence is ultimately more interesting to think about than anything presented on screen. That said, this spinoff of Army of the Dead is somewhat fascinating as an example of playing in the Zack Snyder sandbox without the same stylistic imprint…

Full review for SciFiNow

Thieves like us: Zack Snyder and co. on their Army of the Dead prequel

It’s unusual enough for a prequel to arrive barely five months after the original film, yet alone for it to be in a different genre. Such is the case with Army of Thieves, a non-horror spin-off of Zack Snyder’s zombie action movie Army of the Dead, greenlit and shot before the first film was even released by Netflix. “Because it’s a different genre than Army of the Dead,” producer Snyder tells SciFiNow, “it gave the film a freshness and uniqueness I think transcends the normal traps you can get into with a sequel or prequel…”

Full interview for SciFiNow

Ten Must-See Films from This Year’s London Film Festival

Although presenting a smaller programme than found in any recent pre-pandemic instalment, the 65th London Film Festival still offered up hundreds of new features and shorts, panels, restorations of classics, VR works, and big screen previews of prestige TV series (e.g., season 3 of Succession). It was a relative return to normalcy, made most evident by the plentiful red-carpet ceremonies and almost every programmed feature getting screened across the central London venues. That said, the increased accessibility of last year’s smaller, largely digital edition wasn’t completely abandoned: a decent amount of the features could be rented digitally from anywhere in the UK. And select cinemas in other British cities had their own screenings of some of the higher-profile titles.

In alphabetical order, here are ten of the best titles from LFF 2021 worth looking out for; some on their way to screens big and small soon…

Full feature for AnOther

Martyrs Lane (Ruth Platt, 2021)

The spectre of unprocessed grief looms large in writer-director Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane, an effective British ghost story with religious undertones. Told almost entirely from a child’s point-of-view, it sees a devout minister’s daughter invite a believed angelic presence into her family’s home, only for the guest’s intentions to gradually turn sinister…

Full review for Sight & Sound