Category Archives: Film

10 great debut films by music video directors

From David Fincher to Jonathan Glazer, some of the most acclaimed modern directors began their careers making music videos. Here’s what their first films looked like…

Full feature for the BFI

I Blame Society (Gillian Wallace Horvat, 2020)

Gillian Wallace Horvat’s 2015 short film Kiss Kiss Fingerbang, a Grand Jury Award winner at SXSW, was the kind of distinctively dark calling card that might ordinarily lead to ample directing offers. At least, going by the success stories of so many genre-inclined filmmakers (most of them men), that’s what should have happened.

Judging from interviews supporting the release of I Blame Society, the micro-budget film that has ended up being Horvat’s debut feature, this is not what happened – and her pitch black, metatextual mockumentary certainly feels like a response to this. Crucially, it’s not a case of a filmmaker demanding that we worship the artistic genius that The Man failed to recognise, through the medium of a didactic feature-length performance art-criticism hybrid.

What it does do is explore the various microaggressions that are rampant within American film production, on both the independent and studio sides, that can lead to marginalised voices being denied the same seat at the table as their (predominantly) white male peers, despite the supposed efforts of those already at the table to be more inclusive. Oh, and I Blame Society is also a serial killer movie…

Full review for Little White Lies

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers: Stardust Melodies

Originally published as a print-exclusive in SciFiNow #167, in January 2020

In 1985, a legend was born. Except, in the western world, it’s a legend you never encountered. And, to be fair, it wasn’t encountered much in the eastern world where it originated. 

Released in Japan that year, The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers is a terrific musical comedy, with horror and sci-fi trappings, that premiered to not-so-terrific critical notices and box office, seeing virtually no release outside of East Asia. In the 30-plus years since, the film has developed a cult following, to the extent that its writer-director was able to make a semi-sequel, The Brand New Legend Of The Stardust Brothers, in 2016. Thanks to the efforts of distributor Third Window Films, the original Legend is premiering on UK home media in a dual format, region-free Blu-ray and DVD set, having undergone a full restoration.

Director Macoto Tezka has gone on to a career of further live-action films, animation and teaching, but in 1985, he was primarily known for being the son of Osamu Tezuka, the man considered the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. Tezuka’s best known manga series include Astro Boy, Black Jack and Kimba The White Lion

Full interview for SciFiNow

20 years on, Josie and the Pussycats is a meta, zany pop time capsule

Time has been kind to Josie and the Pussycats. Long before the fictional rock band featured in TV’s Riverdale, their Archie Comics source material was brought to the big screen in 2001. Writer-director duo Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait) were at the helm, with Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid cast as band members Josie, Valerie and Melody, respectively, and the glorious scenery-chewing pair of Parker Posey and Alan Cumming as antagonists. But there was a twist.

While operating perfectly well as a sincerely heartfelt tale of friendship in the face of growing fame, the film is also a feature-length jab at the industries behind its existence, skewering consumerism, subliminal advertising, and the very notion of adapting a comic into a movie. Josie is an indelible early 2001 time capsule, but it also feels of a piece with the later meta stylings of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie also walk a fine line between enthusiastic adaptation of an intellectual property and more cynically questioning their very existence. Comparing it to closer contemporaries, it’s something like Spice World meets Zoolander

Full feature for Dazed

Stray (Elizabeth Lo, 2020)

A celebrated director of documentary shorts, Elizabeth Lo makes a compelling leap to features with Stray, a concise ethnographic film that’s presented from a nonhuman perspective. Filmed mostly in Istanbul between 2017 and 2019, with an occasional detour to slightly further afield, the film uses the city’s interesting and complicated history with stray dogs as a means to explore life on the peripheries of human society, free of status and security.

The Turkish state has attempted widespread annihilation of stray dogs since the 1900s, resulting in mass killings of the street dog population. But while campaigns to drive non-pet dogs from towns and cities still gain a little traction now and again, widespread protests against these killings have allowed Turkey to become one of the only countries where it’s currently illegal to euthanise or hold captive any dog without an apparent owner. Meanwhile, dogs that don’t appear to be a human’s property are integrated into the fabric of urban existence with relatively minimal backlash…

Full review for Little White Lies

Sex, Magic and Anarchy: Ten Highlights From Berlin Film Festival 2021

Traditionally the biggest European film festival in the calendar year’s first quarter, the Berlinale unsurprisingly had to shift to an online-only model for its early March incarnation in 2021; one that was only open to industry professionals and buyers, plus journalists reporting on the premieres. (The organisers are planning to host a later in-person repeat of the programme in the summer so that the public can experience the films on the big screen, vaccine rollout permitting).

Nevertheless, it was an impressive line-up. Although much smaller than in a more normal edition, this year’s programme has widely been deemed one of the most exciting in terms of overall quality. In alphabetical order, here are ten of the best features we caught that you should keep on your radar, some of which already have UK distribution lined up…

Full feature for AnOther

A Socially Distanced Berlinale’s Socially Distanced Films

A year on from the World Health Organisation declaring the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, film production has continued across the globe with increased safety measures in place; for shoots interrupted last March and later resumed, or productions that had their start delayed finally beginning filming. We’ve also had projects that were not only conceived during early lockdown stages (depending on where the filmmakers have been based), but also those that have already gone into production since. Some have even managed to be released already, albeit mostly directly to streaming services or video on demand in light of the crisis facing theatrical exhibition in a majority of the world’s major markets…

Full feature for Frameland

Limbo (Soi Cheang, 2021)

Ben Sharrock’s 2020 Limbo concerns refugees waiting for asylum approval while housed on a remote Scottish island, the film’s title referring to the logistical circumstances setting its plot in motion. In contrast, Soi Cheang’s 2021 Limbo allows for some interpretation with its choice of title.

Presented in particularly bewitching black-and-white, this grisly Cantonese noir flirts with various genres and is full of characters dealing with very different forms of abandonment, each waiting to move on with their lives. And spinning off from the title’s biblical connotations, there’s one lead who’s essentially made to be a martyr, then facing a form of Hell on Earth…

Full review for Little White Lies

Tides (Tim Fehlbaum, 2021)

A German-Swiss co-production with Roland Emmerich among its executive producers, Tides is an atmospheric sci-fi anchored by an engaging performance from Nora Arnezeder. Although computer-generated vistas are employed for the presentation of a dystopian Earth, Tim Fehlbaum’s film benefits greatly from the tactility of the sets and real-world locations he employs, particularly the mudflats of Northern Germany…

Full review for Little White Lies