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The Girl with a Bracelet (Stéphane Demoustier, 2019)

Adapted from the screenplay of 2018 Argentine film The Accused, writer-director Stéphane Demoustier’s The Girl with a Bracelet transplants the story to France for a colder tonal register. While its title may initially suggest either a period costume drama or a potboiler in the vein of Paula Hawkins, this is a modern courtroom drama and profile of a potential murderer, here a teenage girl. The bracelet of the title ultimately has another meaning, but it mainly references the electronic monitoring device attached to the accused’s ankle while under house arrest…

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The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019)

A slick country-hopping noir riff with bloody shootouts and occasionally lavish locations, The Whistlers would seem to be a rather surprising swerve into mainstream crowd-pleasing territory for writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu, one of the poster boys of the Romanian New Wave. But while some of his earlier features, such as 12:08 East of Bucharest and Police, Adjective, certainly fit the realist and/or minimalist mode of the types of Romanian films that have broken out internationally in the last decade-plus, the pattern of his career has been as eccentric as the onscreen tone and characters of his movies.

For one of the odder one-two filmmaking punches of recent memory, the movie he made directly before The Whistlers was Infinite Football, a documentary about a proposed reinvention of the rules of the beautiful game, which looks like it cost as much to make as one night’s rent at the motel in this film. Unlike Infinite Football’s civil servant, Porumboiu doesn’t seem to be looking to reinvent his chosen subject (noir) with The Whistlers, although it is still full of strangeness in line with his other works. For one thing, there’s its distinct hook for a crime movie, as hinted at in its title for English-speaking territories…

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Romantic Comedy (Elizabeth Sankey, 2019)

Elizabeth Sankey is an English multi-hyphenate whose work encompasses music, writing and acting. She’s likely best known as one half of the indie pop duo Summer Camp, who’ve released several albums to date, one of which was the soundtrack to Charlie Shackleton’s essay documentary on teen films, Beyond Clueless. In the realm of critical commentary, she has written for The Guardian, NME, Vice and other publications on all kinds of pop culture, with many of her pieces concerning deconstructions of media from her formative years.

Her feature debut as a director, Romantic Comedy, is a melting pot of all these creative interests: an essay film heavy on autobiographical relationships to the art and texts being discussed, for which Sankey, through Summer Camp, also provides songs – although Jeremy Warmsley also contributes a score…

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Corneliu Porumboiu talks ‘The Whistlers’

Following his breakthrough feature, 2006’s 12:08 East of Bucharest, Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu has become known for veering between similarly satirical comedies, meta-textual documentaries (The Second Game, Infinite Football) and ostensibly more traditional dramas (Police, Adjective). His most recent film, The Whistlers, which premiered in competition against Parasite at Cannes, is a departure from all of them.

With a touch of the Coen brothers in tone, The Whistlers is a comedic noir with a twist: it’s largely set around La Gomera, a Canary Island with an ancestral language, “El Silbo Gomero”, based around whistling. Cristi (Police, Adjective star Vlad Ivanov) is a cop who’s a whistle-blower for the mafia, under police surveillance himself in Romania thanks to his ties to a shady businessman. Tasked with helping to get that same mobster out of prison – and lead the way to a hidden €30m stash – Cristi ventures to La Gomera to learn the coded language, so as to secretly communicate across long distances and stifle police detection.

It’s certainly an interesting hook for a heist movie, and viewers acquainted with the Romanian New Wave can rest assured that, while certainly a more mainstream crowd pleaser, The Whistlers does not see Porumboiu drop his eccentric streak.

With the film now available on Curzon Home Cinema, alongside his previous feature Infinite Football, we speak to Porumboiu about more than if he knows how to whistle like Lauren Bacall…

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30 essential ‘Simpsons’ episodes to watch on Disney+

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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Bloodshot (David S. F. Wilson, 2020)

A cinematic debut for one of the flagship characters of the hitherto unadapted Valiant Comics company, Bloodshot may feature actors popular from 2010s film and television, but its atmosphere is very much in line with the comic book movies around during Valiant’s 1990s heyday. Back when, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Batman films aside, the live-action comic book films making it to the screen tended to be centred around comparatively obscure characters such as The Mask and The Crow, with relatively little fidelity to their source material and, with the odd exception, journeymen filmmakers simply making the most of mid-range budgets.

Though heavier on CGI than even The Mask, thanks to its premise of a regenerating super-soldier (Vin Diesel) enhanced by advanced technology, Bloodshot’s vibe is definitely that of a mid-1990s B-blockbuster throwback, rather than the overcomplicated mythology of your modern Marvel and DC movies. In this case, that is not a compliment…

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Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen, 2019)

“Ambulance chasing” is a term usually reserved to derogatorily describe personal injury lawyers, originating from the stereotype of them following ambulances to the emergency room in order to find clients. Luke Lorentzen’s fly-on-the-wall documentary explores the work life of the Ochoa family, for whom the definition of “ambulance chasing” could be expanded to include. They are the “chasing ambulances”, looking for the next injured person to take to the hospital. And they are just one set of hands behind the wheel in a sea of private ambulances patrolling the streets of Mexico City…

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First Love (Takashi Miike, 2019)

“Fuck. How many does this make today?” an exasperated, backstabbing yakuza says to himself, as he attempts to tie up yet another loose end in the fallout of a scheme gone disastrously wrong. He has no idea that the previous loose end he thought he tied up – i.e. someone he left for dead – is very much still alive, kicking and maniacally set on revenge. Welcome to Takashi Miike’s First Love, the Japanese icon’s 103rd film to date: a high-energy slice of pulp fiction with a dozen distinctive characters…

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Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018)

Arriving just before his new political thriller, Wasp Network, and just after his Kristen Stewart-led horror riff, Personal Shopper, Non-Fiction finds writer-director Olivier Assayas back in the witty ensemble story mode of earlier career highlights Summer Hours (2008) and Late August, Early September (1998), but merged with the industry satire of Irma Vep (1996). There, it was the film industry skewered with affection; here, it’s the world of novels. Non-Fiction’s original French title, Double Vies, translates to ‘double lives’, and the inherent narcissism found in concealing one’s infidelities while also profiting from them is of particular interest to the director…

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Kantemir Balagov talks ‘Beanpole’

Beanpole, the extraordinary sophomore feature of writer-director Kantemir Balagov, earned the young filmmaker the Best Director prize in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, where it also won him the FIPRESCI Prize for the section – his second in a row after Closeness in 2017.

Set in Leningrad after the Second World War, it follows a number of injured or, at least, traumatised survivors attempting to restart their lives anew any way they can. Although a number of compelling characters shine in subplots, Beanpole’s central relationship is that between Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a very tall, pale and softly-spoken woman, and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), a smaller brunette with a more outwardly fervent personality…

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