Tag Archives: Review

Amateur (Hal Hartley, 1994)

Breaking through with early features The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990) and Simple Men (1992), writer-director Hal Hartley was one of the key figures of the tail end of the 1980s/early 1990s boom of American independent cinema, alongside the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch, before that landscape became altogether different in the wake of the success of films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Clerks (1994).

Hartley’s early tragicomic dramas – which explore such topics as class, the nature of love, and foolhardy ambition in the face of absurd reality – are immediately recognisable through the specific deadpan cadence to the dialogue and his performers’ delivery of it, whereby emotional duress or ecstatic highs are largely conveyed with a relatively expressionless affect, outside of a few select scenes. Hartley’s regular actors around that time included such talents as Martin Donovan, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Bill Sage and the late Adrienne Shelly. Hartley can also attest to being one of the earliest directors to regularly employ Parker Posey’s particularly unique screen presence.

Amateur (1994) is a key transitional work for Hartley. For one thing, it’s a decidedly more violent offering than anything he’d presented before; while relatively free of actual onscreen blood, multiple characters are shot and one is tortured to near-death and driven mad. Secondly, while his later studio foray and prosthetics-heavy oddity No Such Thing (2001) likely cost more, Amateur certainly looks like the most expensive film of Hartley’s career at that point, thanks to use of varied New York City locations (Long Island was his favoured locale before this) and the mere presence of a particular actor (more on that in a moment). Among the production company credits in the gorgeous opening title sequence, set to the score by Jeffrey Taylor and Hartley himself (under the pseudonym Ned Rifle), are the likes of UGC and what was then Channel Four Films (now Film4 Productions), a reflection of Hartley’s growing status as a hot commodity in European arthouse markets…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) (Arie Esiri/Chuko Esiri, 2020)

The feature-length debut of directing brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri (the latter also writing the screenplay), Eyimofe – or This Is My Desire – is a Nigerian drama that acts somewhat in opposition to the country’s filmmaking output at large, both in terms of general perception overseas and the standard domestic models. Nigeria is among the world’s most prosperous film industries, putting out roughly a thousand productions a year. That said, many are made on extremely low budgets and shot within maybe a week at most. Few tend to travel outside of Africa through traditional distribution channels, nor do that many seem especially commercially minded, as it were. (For a sense of at least one major Nigerian studio’s offerings, UK viewers with Sky can watch Rok TV, which screens Rok Studios-produced films and television series 24 hours a day.)

All of this is necessary context for why Eyimofe feels so different as a project. In interviews and supplementary production notes both before and after the film’s world premiere at the 2020 Berlinale, the brothers Esiri have cited their wide-reaching influences as including Robert Altman, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Vittorio De Sica and James Joyce’s Dubliners – filmmakers and authors who notably, though not always, gravitate towards works that examine the larger spaces their characters inhabit, where the city or town itself is truly a character in the text…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas, 2012)

The French title of Olivier Assayas’ 2012 film, Après mai, translates as “After May”, referring to the famous uprisings in the country during May of 1968. It was a period of revolutionary zeal that is also evoked by the film’s UK title, if one recalls the lyrics of Thunderclap Newman’s 1969 hit single Something in the Air: “We’ve got to get together sooner or later, because the revolution’s here.”

Assayas is no stranger to the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s himself, and Something in the Air is semi-autobiographical. Rather than providing a historical exposé of the revolutionary ideals of the time, the film is instead a coming-of-age narrative set against that backdrop of demonstrations and fervour; it is more in line with a film like Dazed and Confused (1993) than any overtly politically charged work…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Tesla (Michael Almereyda, 2020)

Since breaking through as a writer-director in the 1990s, with oddities such as 1994’s post-modern vampire tale Nadja, Michael Almereyda has remained one of American independent cinema’s most unpredictable creative forces. What is consistent among his recent fiction efforts – he also dabbles in documentary – is playfulness when it comes to genre or adaptation, such as in housebound sci-fi Marjorie Prime or his 2000 take on Hamlet. The latter saw Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark become the son of the newly dead CEO of Denmark Corporation in New York City, with Ethan Hawke delivering the key “to be or not to be” speech in a Blockbuster Video store.

Hamlet leads Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan reunite with Almereyda for Tesla, a freewheeling biopic of inventor Nikola Tesla (Hawke) that focuses on his antagonistic interactions with Thomas Edison (MacLachlan); his scientific developments concerning the transmission of electrical power and light; his business matters with entrepreneur George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan); and his relationship of sorts with philanthropist Anne (Eve Hewson), daughter of dominant American financier JP Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz). Some of this narrative territory was also explored in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s recent The Current War, in which Nicholas Hoult, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon and Matthew Macfadyen played Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse and Morgan, respectively. But two more different takes on ostensibly similar material you are unlikely to find…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Bong Joon Ho, 2000)

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has previously said in interviews that he considers his 2003 sophomore breakout Memories of Murder to be something akin to his “true” debut feature. Whether or not that has anything to do with his actual debut feature, Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), underperforming financially in its home nation – and only belatedly being distributed in many international territories – is a question only the man himself, or possibly a therapist, can answer. In the US, distribution rights were only finally acquired in the summer of 2009, around the time when Bong’s Mother received rave reviews at Cannes. In the UK, Barking Dogs Never Bite played at the London Film Festival in 2000 but has otherwise never had an official release until now, a time when Bong’s star has never been higher after Parasite’s game-changing Oscars haul and global box office success…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)

Monsieur Lazhar was Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars ceremony of 2012, making it to the final five nominees but losing to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. On a surface level, that Monsieur Lazhar concerns a new teacher changing the perceptions and lives of a group of students may make it seem like an ideal, easy target to which the Academy might take a shine. Philippe Falardeau’s film, though, is a much different – and better – beast…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

Koko-di Koko-da (Johannes Nyholm, 2019)

On a day out in Denmark just before her eighth birthday, young Maja (Katarina Jakobson) tells her parents, Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund), that she wishes the day could last forever. The day will end up playing in her parents’ minds in perpetuity, though not for the reasons that the happy child intends.

And in Swedish writer-director Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di Koko-da, a literal never-ending quality will take effect for another dreadful day in the aftermath…

Full review for SciFiNow

Isadora’s Children (Damien Manivel, 2019)

Among the most influential figures in dance of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan faced a horrible tragedy in 1913 when her infant children both drowned while in the care of their nanny as their runaway car plunged into the Seine. During her grieving process, Duncan choreographed a three-part piece called ‘Mother’ as a means to express her heartbreak.

Written and directed by former dancer and acrobat Damien Manivel (who won the Best Director prize at Locarno in 2019), the delicate and deliberately-paced Isadora’s Children is cut into three distinct parts, each exploring how the lives of three sets of women – all of different ages and backgrounds – are touched by ‘Mother’…

Full review for Little White Lies

The Bigamist (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Alongside noir The Hitch-Hiker earlier that same year, 1953’s The Bigamist would be actor Ida Lupino’s final big screen credit as a director until the Hayley Mills family comedy The Trouble with Angels (1966) over a decade later, though she became a fixture of directing rosters for major television series of the time, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and The Untouchables. Lupino’s work as an actor in thrillers and comedies remains well remembered and regarded, but just as much of her filmmaking career was driven by a passion for writing, producing and directing. An independent production company she established facilitated much of this before it closed shop and the TV work started, and its existence outside the traditional studio system factored into the unique body of work produced…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

Special Actors (Shinichiro Ueda, 2019)

When your breakout feature as a writer/director is predicated on narrative twists and sudden aesthetic left turns, there can be pressure for your next film to retain a similar element of surprise. Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors is his solo follow-up to One Cut of the Dead (he co-directed another feature in-between), the independent Japanese zombie horror of sorts that earned more than one thousand times its budget back in its home country, and became a word-of-mouth hit overseas.

For the sake of those still yet to see it, this review will avoid explicit spoilers for One Cut of the Dead; suffice it to say that Special Actors was always going to struggle to live up to its predecessor. That said, the results are largely entertaining and inventive…

Full review for Little White Lies