Towards the end of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill is confronted with the following statement from a contemptuous defence attorney in court: “People call them rats because a rat will do anything to survive. Isn’t that right, Mr Hill?” In Scorsese’s film, the viewer follows Hill across several decades of involvement with an Italian-American crime syndicate, up to the point that various complications of his Mafia career collide in a disastrous fashion. Convinced that he and his family are marked for certain death, Hill eventually decides to become an informant for the FBI, testifying against his former friends and then entering the federal Witness Protection Program.
“Rats” and informant characters are not uncommon in crime movies, though in cases where they may be the protagonist you will often find them serving the part of a double agent or mole. They may be an undercover FBI employee infiltrating the mob, such as in Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997). In Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), and Scorsese’s subsequent American remake The Departed (2006), you even have informants on both sides of the law: an undercover cop, deep in the criminal underworld, trying to smoke out a mob mole lurking in the police department.
In mob movies where the lead eventually turns informant after some pressure, this will traditionally happen in the third act after a few hours of transgressive highs of the lifestyle leading to destructive lows. A rarer commodity is a film mostly set after the mobster’s choice has been made to spill the beans. After all, the derogatory term “rat” is used to denote that such a person is the lowest of the low in an environment that may posit the notion of honour among thieves. The perceived wisdom may be that audiences won’t want to follow such a character for a whole film; one that would, by its very nature, skimp on some of the glamour and success Mafia tales usually show before things go terribly wrong. But that is exactly what revered Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio has made with his subversive spin on the mob movie, The Traitor, in which the title character heads down the informant path within the opening half-hour…
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The concept of time has changed entirely during the coronavirus pandemic, but yes, it really has been just three (3) months since Parasite’s game-changing haul at the Oscars. The South Korean film, directed by Bong Joon-Ho picked up four awards, including its historic win for Best Picture. It remains the only good thing to have happened in 2020.
But while Parasite’s Oscars breakthrough came as a welcome surprise, Bong’s back catalogue has long performed well with audiences in the US and the rest of the Western world; he’s been directing films for two decades. Two of his earlier Korean language films, monster movie The Host and thriller Mother, both did numbers commercially and racked up great reviews. He also directed and co-wrote two English language movies that saw him work alongside a number of major Western actors: the Netflix-backed pig-hippo caper Okja, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and Snowpiercer.
Snowpiercer a dystopian thriller, lavished with critical acclaim and bolstered by an all-star cast that includes Chris Evans, Parasite’s Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer. But the film was, at one point, destined to become a footnote in Bong’s back catalogue. Shortly after it wrapped filming, The Weinstein Company acquired the rights to distribute the film in a number of countries including North America and the UK, which is where the production’s troubles began…
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Thanks to Disney’s acquisition of the 20th Century Fox back catalogue, one of the big selling points of Disney+ is access to the entire library of The Simpsons. Well, almost. The Michael Jackson-featuring Season 3 opener, “Stark Raving Dad”, was pulled from circulation in 2019 – you can currently only get that episode legally on the existing DVD box set of that season.
Additionally, most of The Simpsons’ 30-plus seasons are currently presented on Disney+ in an incorrect, cropped aspect ratio, something that is reportedly going to be amended in the next few months. But any easy access to The Simpsons is good access, even if conventional wisdom is that only an increasingly small fraction of the output is worth accessing…
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This year’s Glasgow Film Festival constantly faced the prospect of major disruption amidst the global outbreak of COVID-19, as major overseas events, most notably SXSW, fell to advance cancellations while this year’s GFF was still taking place. The organisers managed to pull off a complete edition before the axe fell, with the Scottish government now scaling back public gatherings in the days since its closing night. The virus has now been assigned pandemic status, and even more spring festivals in the UK and globally have since indefinitely postponed before any government intervention, including Tribeca, Belfast and the now independent Glasgow Short Film Festival…
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Now in its fifth year, Fokus: Films from Germany (running from November to January across the country) presents an exciting, eclectic snapshot of the contemporary film scene in Germany. The festival is a partnership between the Goethe-Institut in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, but the two-month tour of Scotland also incorporates screenings at Byres Theatre in St Andrews, the Hippodrome in Bo’ness, Dundee’s DCA, Ayr Film Society and Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse, plus the GFT as an extra venue in Glasgow.
The opening film – which screens at Filmhouse on 21 Nov before making its way to the other participating venues – is the UK premiere of Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus. The documentary, funnily enough, explores the history and lasting influence of the Bauhaus period of art, design and architecture at the time of the school’s 100th anniversary…
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From some of the cream of the Cannes crop to restored classics and mainstream hits, the French Film Festival is a much-appreciated annual event for the UK’s Franco-cinephiles. The 27th edition is packed with new works from heavy hitter directors like Bruno Dumont, Céline Sciamma, Quentin Dupieux, Arnaud Desplechin and Christophe Honoré, which feature such onscreen favourites as Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Léa Seydoux, Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel and Fabrice Luchini.
The entire programme’s worth checking out, but here are five we’re particularly keen to see…
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An annual celebration of Japanese animation that takes place at Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, the Scotland Loves Anime festival reaches a milestone 10th edition in October 2019. “It always feels like we’re younger still,” festival director Andrew Partridge tells us. “My, how time flies when you’re stressing about running a festival!”
Regularly showcasing the best new animation from Japan, alongside restorations of established classics and the occasional live-action adaptation of an anime or video game, the festival has gone from strength to strength in terms of audience, reach, influence and programming coups. What was once just a relatively modest attempt to get more Scottish cinema showings for anime – that aren’t just from Studio Ghibli – has become one of the key European animation events on the calendar…
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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?
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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…
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Founded in 1946, Switzerland’s Locarno Festival is one of the world’s longest-running film festivals, known for its arthouse-favouring programming, extensive retrospectives and nightly open-air screenings in the Piazza Grande, which can seat 8000 spectators. The latter is by no means the only venue, but it’s the one most associated with the festival. Having attended for the first time last year, we often recall the memory of seeing Ethan Hawke’s directorial effort Blaze amid a rare torrential downpour in the otherwise scorching town.
Taking place by Lake Maggiore at the southern foot of the Swiss Alps, Locarno can be quite pricey to attend because almost none of the food on offer is cheap, but the very welcoming atmosphere makes up for a lot. The intermingling of public, industry and press attendees every night, particularly at select pubs open until 3am, is unlike any other festival we’ve experienced. Where else might you see Béla Tarr exit an otherwise amicable-seeming conversation with Pedro Costa with a “fuck off” before getting in a car? Hopefully that’s how he says goodbye to everyone…
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