Tag Archives: Film

10 great films with DIY special effects

Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney’s Strawberry Mansion is set in the near-distant future, where a surveillance state conducts audits of people’s dreams in order to collect taxes on the populace’s unconscious existence. One government agent (Audley himself) heads to a remote farmhouse to audit an eccentric elderly artist’s lifetime of dreaming. Made on a scant budget, it’s an independent film heavily reliant on a DIY aesthetic: a virtual reality helmet resembles a bin lid, VHS tape recurs throughout, and its masks and stop-motion animation have an appealingly crude quality to them.

Given the limited budgets usually involved, independent genre fare and experimental cinema are often host to creative effects, both practical and digital. You can still get professional makeup artists and special effects wizards to help your dream project reach fruition, but when it comes to achieving that key visual component lingering in the back of your mind, there’s something to be said for giving it a go on your own: be it depicting a journey to outer space or turning yourself into a metallic monstrosity.

To mark the UK release of Strawberry Mansion, here are 10 key films that rely on what we’ll broadly label ‘DIY effects’. With one notable exception, this list sticks to films with no major-studio-backing during initial production, and, where budget information is available, nothing with a reported production budget exceeding $1 million…

Full feature for the BFI

The Forgiven (John Michael McDonagh, 2021)

A logical point of comparison for John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven is Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s sweeping 2006 narrative of interwoven stories. While this sticks to one country, and is less ambitious in its scope, the dramatic catalysts in both films concern tragic accidents involving white tourists and local young men colliding in the deserts Moroccan.

Babel is a film which focuses on concepts of miscommunication and globalisation, while The Forgiven’s thematic meat is instead the recklessness of the condescending rich, alongside Western influence on the Arab world. All with writer-director McDonagh’s trademark provocative and caustic humour – previously seen in The GuardCalvary and War on Everyone – bolted on to inconsistent effect…

Full review for Little White Lies

Director Cécile Ducrocq Discusses Sex-Worker Drama ‘Her Way’

Coming from a largely female creative team, writer-director Cécile Ducrocq’s Her Way is a sex-work-positive drama that’s anchored by a very fine performance from Laure Calamy (My Donkey, My Lover & I [2021], Call My Agent! [2015-2020]). But although Ducrocq deliberately sought to make a cinematic portrait of sex work that’s more balanced and nuanced than audiences are perhaps used to, she’s keen to emphasise that Her Way is, at its heart, a family story.

‘For me, the film is not about a prostitute,’ Ducrocq says of her debut feature as director. ‘It’s about a mother-and-son relationship, and the love she gives to her son. She will do anything and everything for him. And she refuses that social determinism that because she’s a prostitute, her son cannot have a good life. I think this idea can be shared with everybody. The film talks about education, what you can give to your children, and, of course, how it’s easier if you have money’…

Full interview for Curzon Journal

Special Delivery (Park Dae-min, 2022)

Glancing at its cast list, one might assume that Park Dae-min’s Special Delivery was cannily intended to capitalise on the success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019): it reteams Parasite star Park So-dam with that film’s youngest ensemble player, Jung Hyeon-jun, for a smart thriller. But Special Delivery reportedly began principal photography the same week that Bong’s film was released in Korea, and beyond the gory climax, Park Dae-min’s film is rather a different beast, taking its cues from high-octane car-chase movies à la the Transporter trilogy (2002-2008) while drawing on the character dynamics of John Cassavetes’s Gloria (1980)…

Full review for Sight & Sound

10 great British films of 2002

Looking back on a nation’s output for any artform 20 years removed, there’s a risk of rose-tinted glasses misrepresenting the quality or wider health of the medium at the time. But while certain contemporary commercial successes should perhaps remain left in the past (Ali G Indahouse and The Guru, to name two), a not insignificant portion of the British films of 2002 have endured with audiences in the decades since.

In terms of acting talent, 2002 saw the release of breakthrough films for actors who are still major names 20 years later, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris, Sean Harris, Benedict Wong, Nicholas Hoult and Martin Compston. Regarding early career directors, Lynne Ramsay proved Ratcatcher (1999) was no fluke with her second feature, Morvern Callar. Another key Scottish filmmaker of the last few decades, David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Starred Up, Hell or High Water), also had his debut feature as director – the thriller The Last Great Wilderness – premiere this year. And actor-director Peter Mullan won the Golden Lion prize at Venice for his second feature, The Magdalene Sisters, which explores three teenage girls’ experiences of Ireland’s infamous ‘Magdalene laundries’. 2002 also saw premieres of key films in the careers of Ken Loach, Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears and Michael Winterbottom.

While not all of the same quality as Boyle’s 28 Days Later…, 2002 was a particularly interesting year for British genre cinema. Neil Marshall’s ambitious debut feature Dog Soldiers transplanted the formula of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) to the werewolf movie; Jamie Bell followed up Billy Elliott (2000) with First World War supernatural tale Deathwatch; westerns influenced Shane Meadows’ Once upon a Time in the Midlands; and ouija board horror Long Time Dead made solid earnings worldwide. The American-set British thriller My Little Eye is very dated in some ways, yet its story of an online reality show experiment with a deadly twist makes it a crucial text for how internet-rooted horror would later develop.

With a new restoration of Dog Soldiers surfacing on physical media, here – in the order they premiered – are 10 of the best films made in Britain that fertile year…

Full feature for the BFI

Eiffel (Martin Bourboulon, 2021)

Eiffel isn’t so much a biopic of French engineer Gustave Eiffel (played here by Romain Duris), but rather a work of fiction inspired by certain historical facts. It posits why exactly Eiffel had a sudden change of heart in becoming involved with the metal tower project that would adopt his name after initially abstaining…

Full review for Little White Lies

‘Men in Black’ at 25 and the end of the practical effects era

Centring on a secret organisation monitoring extraterrestrials on Earth, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black (1997) may have spawned three wildly inferior sequels, but the original endures as a sci-fi comedy triumph, thanks to storytelling and production methods largely absent from the blockbuster landscape that followed.

While there was a considerable marketing blitz (see Will Smith’s inescapable tie-in single), the fact that Men in Black became summer 1997’s biggest hit domestically (and close worldwide) is surprising in many ways. Even in comparison with the same era’s TV mega-hit The X-Files, it boasts a very cynical worldview. Most alien invasion narratives incorporate some kind of sense of wonder (see Smith’s hit of the previous year, Independence Day), where a close encounter of the third kind is treated as the biggest thing to happen to our species. With Men in Black, it’s the opposite.

Smith’s rookie agent aside, everyone in the organisation maintains the perspective that everything happening on Earth is ultimately irrelevant. Tommy Lee Jones’ agent K delivers one particularly fun line about our place in the universe’s pecking order: “Human thought is so primitive, it’s looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies. That kind of makes you proud, doesn’t it?” Positing that mankind doesn’t really matter – and is a minuscule part of a much grander story of the universe – is still a pretty unique driving concept for a movie aimed at getting millions of bums on seats. Yet somehow it worked…

Full feature for the BFI

Death of a Ladies’ Man (Matt Bissonnette, 2020)

Since the early days of his recording career, the late Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has played a key part in some of film and TV’s most spellbinding moments. Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) is so inextricable from the three Cohen songs that recur throughout – ‘The Stranger Song’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and ‘Winter Lady’ – that it’s hard to believe they weren’t originally written for the sequences in question (they’d appeared on Cohen’s debut album four years earlier). Atom Egoyan, a compatriot of Cohen, has cited the song ‘Everybody Knows’ as intrinsic to the tone and ideas of his own puzzle-box drama Exotica (1994), while that same year, Olivier Assayas made beautiful use of Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ in the extended party set-piece of Cold Water, where it scores the long-gestating first kiss between two close teenage friends. This isn’t to mention the various covers of Cohen that have made their way onto soundtracks: new generations were introduced to the man through recordings of ‘Hallelujah’ by John Cale and Jeff Buckley, in Shrek (2001) and teen drama series The O.C. (2003-07) respectively.

With all this in mind, any filmmaker producing a fiction feature based entirely around Cohen songs – bar original score compositions and the occasional diegetic background tune – is setting themselves up for potentially unfavourable comparisons. That’s what writer-director Matt Bissonnette has on his hands with Canadian-Irish co-production Death of a Ladies’ Man (2020), named after Cohen’s 1977 studio album and incorporating seven songs from across his career: ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Bird on the Wire’, ‘Memories’, ‘Why Don’t You Try’, ‘Heart with No Companion’, ‘Did I Ever Love You’, and Cohen’s rendition of ‘The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien errant)’, a mid-19th-century folk song. Cohen’s poem ‘The Music Crept By Us’ also gets recited during one of the film’s many fantastical flourishes, while chapter cards quote his lyrics…

Full review for Sight & Sound

François Ozon on his assisted-suicide drama ‘Everything Went Fine’: “The film is like a thriller”

French writer Emmanuèle Bernheim died from cancer in 2017, a few years after the publication of memoir Tout s’est bien passé (Everything Went Fine). That book chronicled how she and her sister, Pascale, handled the instruction from their 85-year-old father, André, for an assisted suicide in light of paralysis following a stroke. As such actions remain illegal in France, they looked into getting him to a specialist clinic in Switzerland.

Bernheim’s work has previously been adapted for cinema by Claire Denis, who turned her novel Vendredi soir into a feature in 2002. But her most frequent screen collaborator was the prolific François Ozon, with whom she co-wrote screenplays for his Under the Sand (2000), Swimming Pool (2003), 5×2 (2004) and Ricky (2009). Now, Ozon has honoured her memory in adapting Everything Went Fine, with Sophie Marceau playing Emmanuèle, André Dussollier as André, Géraldine Pailhas as Pascale, Charlotte Rampling as her mother, Claude de Soria, and Hanna Schygulla as the Swiss clinic representative.

As Everything Went Fine is released in the UK, we spoke with Ozon about tackling this complex subject and his past flirtations with other controversial content…

Full interview for the BFI

Men: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear on Alex Garland’s nightmare ride

Men, writer-director Alex Garland’s spooky follow-up to Ex Machina and Annihilation, blends body and folk horror for an enigmatic mood piece.

In the aftermath of her husband’s death, Harper (Jessie Buckley) takes a solo vacation in the English countryside, only to be plagued by various male aggressors, all portrayed by Rory Kinnear in multiple guises.

We spoke with Buckley and Kinnear about collaborating with Alex Garland…

Full interview for SciFiNow