Cannes Film Festival – Full List of Winners

Palme d’Or
Jacques Audiard for Dheepan

Grand Prix
László Nemes for Son of Saul

Jury Prize
Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster

Camera d’Or
Cesar Acevedo for La tierra y la sombra / Land and Shade

Best Director
Hou Hsiao-hsien for The Assassin

Best Screenplay
Michel Franco for Chronic

Best Actress
Rooney Mara for Carol and Emmanuelle Bercot for Mon Roi

Best Actor
Vincent Lindon for La Loi du Marche

Short Film
Ely Dagher for Waves ‘98

Honorary Palme d’Or
Agnès Varda

Full list of posts

I’ve updated the list of posts I’ve done since I started this blog, so they’re easier to consume. Here you go:

https://sthh84.wordpress.com/list-of-reviews/

I may create a separate one listing them in chronological order (of the original release of the film). That’s something for another rainy day. Can you tell I’m unable to walk at the moment and stuck at home all day?

Screen 6… With Edith Bowman

If you’re in the UK and want something film-related that’s massively interesting to listen to in the office or on your travels – and free – then head over to the 6 Music website and download the Screen 6 podcasts.

Presented by Edith Bowman, each episode consists of an interview with some massive A-Listers from the world of film. This includes Quentin Tarantino, Simon Pegg, the Coen brothers, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson and, most recently, Christopher Nolan. They discuss in great detail the choices behind their greatest scoring and soundtracking achievements, inspirations and influences. It’s well worth a listen. The only limitation is that the songs are cut short in podcast format, though if you’re lucky you can get them on the iPlayer and get the whole show.

Every episode can be found here.

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)

Wow. I just left the cinema after watching Birdman and I was blown away. It’s easy to see why it has been so heavily rewarded in both the Golden Globes and BAFTA nominations, and I would be surprised if the Academy Awards doesn’t follow suit.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an ageing actor who has enjoyed massive cinematic success some twenty years prior portraying superhero Birdman. In a bid to reignite his waning career on a more critically reputable path, he is directing himself in the lead role of his own rewrite of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Also starring in it are Broadway newcomer Lesley (Naomi Watts), Riggan’s romantic-interest Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and late replacement actor and seat-filler Mike Shiner (Edward Norton in excellent form). Also in the mix is daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who is now working as Riggan’s P.A., and Zach Galifianakis as Brandon Vander Hey, Riggan’s lawyer.

It’s a film that’s hard to pigeonhole and I’m not sure I really want to. I’d hate to call it a comedy, only for someone to read this article and feel hard done by by the lack of belly laughs. Then again, it’s hardly a superhero film and you’d be bitterly underwhelmed should you think this is what you’ll be getting.

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One thing that will strike you when you watch it is the use of long single-shot scenes. Actually, the film is essentially edited to look like a complete one-shot, though there are some subtle cuts where scenes have been interlinked. Whilst this technique is something I favour (for a great example of this you should take a look at the excellent opening sequence of Orson Welles masterpiece “Touch of Evil”), it can also be used as a means to show off by a director. I’m a big fan of theatre, so since this film deals with the run up to the opening night of a play, on a basic level I can make a connection with the desire to not have a cut between scenes as they run into each other. That’s clearly not what the director is doing here though. For me, in fact, the purpose of these long takes is to build up the relentlessness of the pressure Riggan is under as portions of his life blur into one another and his less-than-clear thoughts are muddied by his unwanted past as a Hollywood superhero and furthermore by an unexpected pregnancy. It’s a really effective method of storytelling and they completely nail it.

I find the casting of Keaton in this role as a masterstroke of genius too. Whilst he was one of the first big-screen superheroes, his subsequent roles have never looked like troubling the box office as much as his turn in Tim Burton’s Batman, released in 1989. Only Christopher Reeve had been part of a bigger superhero success when he took on the role of Superman, and Keaton’s career trajectory ended up mirroring somewhat Reeve’s problematic career post-Kent. There have been a smattering of successes (Jackie Brown, Toy Story 3 and The Other Guys), but with this in mind I don’t think Birdman’s likeness to the 1989 Dark Knight is a coincidence. This all makes Keaton’s portrayal of a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown (or worse) all the more effective, as he struggles to find relevance amongst his peers. It is ironic that this film is doing exactly that for Keaton.

The real-life-to-character comparisons don’t stop with Keaton. Edward Norton’s Mike Shiner is a character whose talent is only marred by his reputation for being difficult to work with. It’s almost as if the Norton and the screenwriting team of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo are having a bit of a chuckle at our expense. Norton recently had another reflective statement when interviewed by NPR about his experience when pulling out of the Avengers series of films, which ironically was the reason he was able to schedule in this film (along with both Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel). Clearly the fear for him was that his life would be consumed by a cycle of filming and promoting, when he could instead be part of several films that are both critically successful and reputable. The feeling I got when watching Shiner develop as a character was they had written him as the person everyone thinks Norton is, rather than what he is really like. With both Norton and Keaton both seemingly playing characters criticising the downsides of the superhero film franchises they were involved with, I wonder how Emma Stone, and more so her boyfriend Andrew Garfield, feel about the underlying commentary.

I’m going to single out Zach Galifianakis’s performance as a highlight. People know him very well for his character Alan Garner in the Hangover trilogy, which he effectively reprised in Due Date and The Campaign, and I was a little sceptical of his casting here. Harking back to Keaton, this is Galifianakis shedding his skin as proving he can take of a serious role with great aplomb if given the chance. A great choice for him at this stage in his career.

Of course, this multilayered overthinking of all the characters is all well and good, but the film has to be good to justify it. Otherwise you end up with something like David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, which I will go on record as saying is one of the worst films of all time. Fortunately it’s completely not the case with Birdman.There are some brilliant moments of hilarity in here, some surprising and well-handled special effects and a few intensely emotional back-and-forths from actors giving their everything to their art.

This is the first truly great film I’ve seen this year. I can’t recommend it enough.

Birman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is out now at cinemas across the UK.

Thriller (West End, London)

Thriller, currently running on London’s West End, is a show covering the life and music of one of the greatest ever performers the world has ever seen – Michael Jackson. It was the worst professional show I have ever seen.

The performers, for the most part, looked like they didn’t want to be there and lacked enthusiasm. The singers continuously hit flat notes but moreover some of the performers’ energy levels felt too low to pull me into anything like excitement, especially on the big dance numbers. Out of the twenty or so songs that we got I think at the most five did the original songs justice. None of these were in the first 45 minutes. It’s a tall order to expect an audience to stick with it that long and by the interval we were seriously discussing leaving and asking for our money back, but how do you start that conversation?

At £82 for two tickets, we left feeling completely ripped off. It’s not the most expensive show but if you factor in the train tickets and hotel, the total price was £300. It’s sad that over a whole month’s expendable income has been wasted on this. It’s not something that we can do regularly and we’ll have to pick our shows more carefully in the future. The most ridiculous thing is that this show has survived for so long in the West End, whilst great shows like We Will Rock You and Spamalot have been closed. I’ve actually seen far better amateur shows in the last six months, and paid a quarter of the price.

If you want to enjoy the magic of Michael Jackson, I recommend watching This Is It, Moonwalker, any of his music videos, the various live tours that are available on home media, even Captain EO on YouTube or those Pepsi commercials. The West End show Thriller just doesn’t come close.

Upcoming Crowdfunded Films Preview Part Two: AVGN The Movie

I’ve been following the foul-mouthed ranting reviews of terrible old video games by the Angry Video Game Nerd (portrayed by James Rolfe) for many years. They’re one of my go-to videos on the net when I have 10 minutes to kill and want a sure-fire way to give myself a shot of humour. For someone who grew up with these infuriating games, seeing him struggle to play through Silver Surfer or Wayne’s World is a hilarious blast from the past and if you’ve not seen them I heartily recommend you check them out.

One thing you will pick up on if you watch his videos is just how much he knows about his subject matter, and it doesn’t stop at video games. I remember being blown away by his cross-referencing of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series with the classic horror films they were paying homage to. There is no way he could have looked any of these up; he just knows his stuff.

So when he announced he was doing a movie based on The Nerd, I was immediately excited. The subject matter – his quest to unearth the legendary hidden ET Atari cartridges in a landfill in New Mexico – is ideal. At the time the film started production, these cartridges were one of the biggest myths of the video game industry and the story had taken on a life of its own. Some believed it was a complete fabrication, whilst others were convinced they were buried somewhere. Nobody knew how many would be found if they were ever located, and many doubted the increasingly renowned story.

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What has been frustrating is the recent unearthing of the Atari cartridges, itself documented a the Zack Penn film to be released later this year. I personally thought it was a shame the myth was proven to be correct (to some extent), as it meant the speculation was over. It was terrible timing when the AVGN film was so closed to completion, but it hasn’t deterred Rolfe from powering through and completing his first big-budget feature film. Indeed, he posted a blog post on the week the cartridges were unearthed discussing how he felt about the excavation and he raises some interesting points.

It has been released in the USA already and has been receiving solid reviews. It looks like it’s aimed directly at his already vast fanbase. For newcomers it might be a little alienating, but staying true to his character is the most important thing here. The effects were something he has poured over and the team have done an excellent job with a comparatively low budget. So much love and care has gone into the film already and I can’t wait for the UK Blu-Ray release early next year [1].

The AVGN Movie is out now to stream from Vimeo via Cinemassacre, the home of AVGN.

[1] I’m a complete snob when it comes to picture quality and resolution. I know how much effort has gone into this film and I’m not about to short-change myself and the filmmakers by streaming over the internet. My connection is so bad (thanks BT!) that I know it would wipe out a whole evening waiting for it to load. I’d rather just wait. In the meantime, I’ve noticed he’s uploaded a new AVGN review (an increasingly rare event). In fact, this one (Tagin’ Dragon) is part of a series of reviews called “The Twelve Days of Shitsmas”, which promises twelve AVGN reviews over the next twelve days. Clocking in at over one hour of running time, Christmas really has come early!

Film review – Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance (Mark Kidel, 2013)

I’ll throw it out there – I’m a huge, huge Elvis Costello fan. I can’t pinpoint an incident that served as a catalyst to get into him. As a 30-year-old Brit, the only major hit of his I remember is the Charles Aznavour cover “She” from the Notting Hill soundtrack, which, I think it’s fair to say, probably isn’t a great representation of his fantastic and varied body of work. Yet somehow the songs seeped into my psyche and I now rate him as one of my favourite artists.

This documentary serves as a biography of sorts, albeit potted around some key periods of Costello’s life. Aspects covered include his upbringing, his hometown, the politics of his lyrics and a small selection of his songs. Some huge guests are interviewed, including Paul McCartney, Mark Ellen and Nick Lowe.

Each element that is picked out is tended to perfectly. In particular, the collaborations with Paul McCartney really ignited my enthusiasm to seek out more information. Kidel has managed to get all this contributors to talk really enthusiastically about their part in the Elvis Costello journey and I as a viewer found myself swept along with it.

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Unfortunately, the documentary length doesn’t allow too much delving into each topic, whilst the shear bredth of his career means that a lot of his life is skipped over. It’s an impossible balance to achieve because his life and background are both so interesting, and perhaps his story is instead worthy of a series. Or perhaps that’s just the inner fan getting the better of me and I should just make do with what I’ve got.

The one lasting impression you get after watching this film is that Elvis Costello is overly enthusiastic about everything he has done. Be it having a string of top 10 albums, releasing an album of jazz soul music with Allen Toussaint, collaborating with one of the greatest songwriters of all time or creating an ill-received classical string album with The Brodsky Quartet, he has continually done so enthusiastically and been hugely successful in a variety of ways with every genre he has tried his hand at.

If you’re willing to be enthused by one of Britain’s greatest ever songwriters then check this out. Otherwise, the limited storytelling might have you searching for a biography that has a bit more detail.

Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance is available on the BBC iPlayer in the UK until 20th November 2014.