Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Blue Jasmine - Review

"Woody Allen is back” “The best Woody Allen movie since, insert a Woody Allen movie you liked usually from the 80s” is what I keep hearing and reading about Blue Jasmine, the new movie from the above mentioned movie mogul. To me, however, there is little that Woody Allen can do wrong and even duds like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger or the embarrassing Whatever Works, can be forgiven when there are ManhattanBananasBullets over BroadwayMelinda and Melinda, I can go on. Note that I didn't mention Annie Hall.  

Let me be clear, Blue Jasmine is an excellent movie, indeed one of the greater Woody Allen movies, but so were Match PointCassandra’s Dream (to be fair, I think I'm the only one who liked this movie, particularly in the UK) Vicky Christina Barcelona and has everyone forgot the critical gushing over the excellent Midnight in Paris only two years ago? Statistically, when a moviemaker is as productive and plentiful as Woody Allen is, there’s a chance not all movies would be to everyone’s liking. As the man himself said in the recent documentary about him, he goes for quantity rather than the quality with the hope that out of many movies at least a few will be good, by his standards. More than a few have been excellent by my standards.   

But whether his movies are brilliant or weak the way he makes them has always been one of the main reasons I have and always will admire the man. He started out funding his own movies from money he made from stand up and acting and he has become an independent voice separated from the rest of the American movie industry. Even now, working within “the system” he never pay star rates and yet they all want to be in his movies, and if America won’t give him money for his movies, he would and has gone to the many European countries that would. It is as if Hollywood can’t touch him and if the movie business would suddenly ceases to exist, Woody Allen will find a way to make his movies no matter what. Such an innate commitment to moviemaking is awe inspiring in itself.  

So what makes Blue Jasmine so much better than other Allen movies in the eyes of others? Perhaps it is the deviation from his more cheerful comedies to a sadder kind of movie. Or maybe it is the echoes of Streetcar Named Desire that give Blue Jasmine some kind of an intellectual seal of approval. Whatever the reason is, it seems that Blue Jasmine has brought back the love for Woody Allen and that is always a good thing.

In a welcomed departure from the breathy speaking Gabriel in the never-ending and forever tiresome Lord of the Ring movies, Cate Blanchett in her most superb performance yet in my opinion (yes, better than her Katharine Hupburn), plays Jasmine, a New York high society woman who loses everything, including her mind, after her husband was revealed as a rotten crook and then commits suicide in jail. Now Jasmine is forced to move in with her sister Ginger (lovely Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco and start over. Whenever Woody Allen movies in an American city that isn’t Manhattan, it feels strange almost less present, unlike his movies in European cities that always marvel at them, San Francisco feels almost out of place, as I presume Allen feels.

Blanchett becomes the obligatory Woody Allen character when he is not in the movie, but she is the sadder version of this character, like Terry (Colin Farrell) in Cassandra's Dream. There are not enough adjectives to describe just how amazing Blanchett is as the heartbreaking and blue Jasmine. The supporting cast doesn't fall behind either. Alec Baldwin is wonderful as the devilishly handsome Hal, Jasmine’s former husband, Sally Hawkins, lovely as always, is Ginger, Jasmine’s less successful sister and Bobby Cannavale beautifully draws from Marlon Brando’s Stanley, in his portrayal of rough on the outside soft on the inside, blue collar boyfriend of Ginger, Chili. Sprinkled with great appearances from Louis CK (Am I the only one who thinks CK and Hawkins should be together in real life?), Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg as the creepy Dr. Flicker.

Desperate to bury the past, but incapable of letting go, Jasmine’s mental decline is heartbreaking and tragic. And while the Streetcar Named Desire resonance is loud and clear, I found Blue Jasmine also a little bit reminiscent of Cassandra’s Dream, where Terry’s (Farrell) mental decline takes a similar form, talking to one self, as that of Jasmine as well as the money issue, which has been a theme in several Woody Allen movies. While the reason for Terry’s breakdown is clear, the cause of Jasmine’s deterioration is revealed more subtly and slowly. Cassandra’s Dream relates to Crime and Punishment and Greek tragedy and therefore the plot is at its centre. We only hear of Terry’s talking to himself from his girlfriend (also Sally Hawkins), Blue Jasmine’s connection with Streetcar Named Desire, puts the title character and her mental state at its centre and Jasmine’s sudden drift into a weird self-talking monologues is uncomfortable as well as compelling.

There were some parts in Blue Jasmine where I couldn't help wondering whether there was also some personal Woody Allen element to the movie in relation to his famous ex-wife Mia Farrow. Not that Jasmine is Mia, but she was an extreme version of women Farrow played in the past Allen movies, and the several comments on adoption made in the movie, Jasmine and Ginger are both adopted, Jasmine adopted a child and there are other mentions of adoption throughout the movie, I admit, tickled my nosey gossipy mind. Only I have to say, while I love Mia Farrow, Cate Blanchett is the better actress and perhaps not being involved with her director helps.

With a brilliantly simple and breezy storytelling, Blue Jasmine is yet another beautiful movie to add to the evergrowing wonderful Woody Allen movies, Blue Jasmine is the kind of movie that makes going to the movies all the more joyous.

Blue Jasmine opens at cinemas on Friday September 27

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

BFI London Film Festival- Overview

The London Film Festival is coming, 9-20 October 2013. It is a wonderful celebration of films in which filmmakers, stars and film lovers mingle, have fun and watch a hell of a lot of films. While there is a competition, it is less present than the Cannes, Berlin and Venice festivals that precedes The London Film Festival and the general feeling is that people come to enjoy cinema rather than judge it. The BFI London Film Festival also puts an emphasis on education and offers several educational events and Masterclasses

The programme for the 57th BFI London Film Festival has been announced and a preview of the upcoming films was shown to BFI members, which I am happy to be one. So many films, so little money. Of the many fantastic films worth seeing in this year's festival here are my top ten highlights. 

Opening Night Gala: Captain Phillips
October 9

Rated: 12A
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Billy Ray (screenplay), based the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea by: Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Running Time: 134mins
Language: English

This year Tom Hanks is the Festival's favourite and he stars in both opening gala film and the closing gala film. He’s expected to be at the Festival. Well, with this kind of attention, he better be.  
From British director, Paul Greengrass, United 93 and two of the Bourne films, come this true story of the hijacking of US container ship and its captain (Tom Hanks) by Somali pirates. 

Personally I prefer Tom Hanks in comedies, where his truly superb yet less appreciated talent lies. Therefore, though Captain Phillips looks like it might be a good action film with tension and thrills, I would probably like Hanks’ closing night gala film better. 

 Closing Night Gala: Saving Mr. Banks
October 20

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Ferrell, Paul Giamatti.
Running Time: 126mins
Language: English

After resisting Walt Disney for twenty years, PL Travers (Emma Thompson), writer of Mary Poppins, comes to Hollywood to take part in the adaptation of her book to what would become the magical classic musical. 

Tom Hanks looks like an excellent choice to play the eternal child that Walt Disney seems to have been. It is in this kind of roles that Hanks shines in. And who else, but Emma Thompson can stand her ground, resist Hollywood and be amazing? The cast list, which include the excellent Ruth Wilson (Luther, Anna Karenina) and Paul Giamatti, seems promising and visually it looks quite beautiful and full of Disney magic. Saving Mr. Banks is definitely on my festival wish list this year. 

The red carpet for the closing night gala and the film will be shown around the UK via live satellite. 

American Express Gala: Philomena
Wed Oct 16, Thurs Oct 17 and Sat Oct 19

Director: Stephan Frears
Writers: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. Based on the book: The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by: Martin Sixsmith
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Michelle Fairley.
Running Time: 98mins
Language: English

After the hilarious Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Coogan turned to the adaptation of this book, based on a true story. Anyone who has seen Coogan in The Trip knows that he can do drama as excellent as he does comedy. Directed by Stephan Frears, The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Launderette and many more, this story is about an odd relationship between a washed up journalist (Coogan), forced to find a story with a “human interest”, and an Irish Catholic mother (Dench) who decides to find her son fifty years after she was forced to give him up, because she wasn’t married. With Frears’ sensitive touch, together with Coogan and Dench this looks like it is going to be a beautiful film.

American Airline Gala: Gravity
Thu Oct 10, Fri Oct 11

Rated: 12A
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonas Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney.
Running Time: 90mins
Language: English     

I have now seen three trailers for Gravity and each one has had me gasping and holding my seat for dear life. The trailer, at least, is definitely one of the best trailers that I have seen in a long time. It gives very little if any away and keeps you desperate to watch it and find out what the hell happened. How trailers should be, but haven't been for a long time.

Writer and Diretor Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men and the best of the Harry Potter films: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, has already become a name to look out for in the film world and now he’s back with what looks like an exhilarating adventure in space. Like the magnificent Moon, Gravity, looks real, like it could be happening right now. 
I can’t wait to see it. 

Centrepiece Gala: Inside Llewyn Davis
Tue Oct 15, Thu Oct 17, Sat Oct 19

Writers and Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Running Time: 105mins
Language: English

A new Coen Brother film is always something I want to see. Set in the sixties and telling the story of early 60s folk music, Inside Llewyn Davis looks deliciously funny and musically rich. I wish the Coen Brothers would make a musical one day, their films often look like they could be musicals and that is something I would love to see.

Laugh Gala: Don Jon
Wed Oct 16, Thu Oct 17, Sun Oct 20

Rated: 18 (woooooo….)
Writer and Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and, can you believe it? Tony Danza (Yes!!!)
Running Time: 90mins
Language: English 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has not only grown up to be one hell of an actor since his TV days as Tommy Solomon, the frustrated genus alien stuck on earth in Third Rock from The Sun, but he has also become a pretty amazing and talented guy with brilliant initiative and genuine love for the field. His pioneering collaborative production company, hitRECord is a brilliant creative network that has produced music video, short films, a book and currently working on the first TV series. 

Between his successful acting career and the flourishing and constantly growing of hitRECord, Joseph Gordon-Levitt found time to write and direct his début feature film, what looks like a clever and confident comedy with porn!

Cult Gala: Only Lovers Left Alive
Sat Oct 19, Sun Oct 20

Writer and Director: Jim Jarmusch.
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt
Running Time: 123mins
Language: English 

While the idea of Hiddleston, Swinton and Jarmusch doing vampires sounds amazing on paper, I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed with the trailer. Hiddleston in a wig looks like a terrible imitation of Gene Simmons/Alice Cooper and nothing in the trailer made me want to see it. 

Part of the cult section at the London Film Festival and fitting with the BFI Gothics theme this year, Only Lovers Left Alive looks like Jarmusch’s musings on gothic mythology. While this sounds promising and very interesting there’s something about this film that antagonises me. Maybe it's because I am not as in love with Tom Hiddleston as the rest of the internet seems to be, maybe it’s the feel of pompousness that the trailer gives and the decision to call the two lead vampires Adam and Eve (really? I think I vomited in my mouth a little), or maybe because it looks humourless, for whatever reason Only Lovers Left Alive doesn’t excite me as a new Jim Jarmusch film usually would. I'd still like to see it though. Therefore I’m left with mixed feelings  and hope that the good ones would win.

Sonic Gala: We Are the Best!
Sun Oct 13. Wed Oct 16, Sun Oct 20

Director: Lukas Moodysson
Writers: Coco Moodysson (comic book), Lukas Moodysson.
Starring: David Dencik, Mira Barkhammar, Live LeMoyne
Running Time: 102mins
Language: Swedish

Based on his daughter’s graphic novel of the same name, We Are the Best! seems to be Moodysson’s return to his triumphant earlier, full of anarchistic idealism and optimism, style that characterised his excellent films Together and Show Me Love (Seriously??? Fucking Ǻmǻl” was translated to Show me Love?? OK).  

We Are the Best! Is set in the 80s and tells the story of two girls who refuse to accept that Punk is dead. They decide to start a band and since none of them know how to play an instrument they turned to their classic trained friend for help. It looks lovely, and if it is indeed a return to what Moodysson does best, I expect this film also have everything needed to restore faith in humanity.

The Journey Gala: Nebraska
Fri Oct 11, Sat Oct 12, Tue Oct 15

Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Bon Nelson
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb.
Running Time: 114mins
Language: English  

Alexander Payne, Sideways and The Descendants, brings us another journey film, this time father, who is convinced he won a million dollar prize and must travel to collect it, and his son, who claims the contrary. In beautiful black and white widescreen, Payne sensitively portrays, not only a father and son relationship, but also a picture of Midwest America. Judging by his previous film I expect sadness mixed with humour and affection.

The Double
Part of the official competition. 

Director: Richard Ayoade
Writers: Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine, based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn.
Running Time: 93mins

Ayoade adapts Dostoevsky, wow! That sounds very good indeed. IT Crowd geek star Ayoade’s first film Submarine was a beautiful and sensitive coming of age story. This time Ayoade turns to the classic Russian writer to tell the story of an insecure office clerk who has a double, who is better than him. I am looking forward to this film from Ayoade, who seem to grow into a fine filmmaker. 

In addition The London Film Festival programme also presents more galas, films and events including: gala of The Invisible Woman directed by Ralph Fiennes, the gala of new animation film Foosball, Steve McQueen’s new film 12 Years a Slave. The Official Competition, the First Feature Competition, Documentary Competition bring many more films. Like last years the programme is divided into the categories of Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult Journey, Sonic, Family, Experimentia and Treasures, which include some magnificent BFI restorations featuring the extraordinary documentary The Epic of Mount Everest. There are excellent events, film talks, Masterclasses and unique performances.

And on Thurs Oct 17th. The suspense moments before and the thrill of discovering as the first shot appears on screen, the Surprise Film has always been an exciting highlight at the London Film Festival. A few years back it was the owe inspiring The Prestige, which was a HUGE and wonderful surprise. Last year it was the lovely Silver Lining Playbook, what will it be this year? The Fifth Estate is one guess, could be Ender’s Game, or maybe the new Hunger Games film? It could be anything really. One can only hope it would be a surprise that will wow us indeed.         

Friday, 6 September 2013

Rush and See!

Rated: 15
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl. Olivia Wilde
Running Time: 123mins
Language: English

Ron Howard, what can I say, I have a bit of a soft spot for the guy. Perhaps to me he will always be a little bit Richie Cunningham, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but as film and TV maker, Ron Howard is a bit of an oddball and his work is uneven, yet he managed to take me by complete surprise me more than once. I haven’t  seen Apollo 13, but now I’m kinda curious, I didn’t really like A Beautiful Mind, it’s not my cup of tea and the only time I could stand Russell Crowe was in Man of Steel, don’t even get me started on the Dan Brown based films, the books don’t even warrant the words I’m typing now. But then there was Splash and he produced the little television gem that was Arrested Development in its first three seasons, and his collaboration with scriptwriter, Peter Morgan has produced the wonderful Frost/Nixon and now the exhilarating Rush. One can’t help but wonder if Richie Cunningham has an evil twin.

Peter Morgan is known for writing excellent bio-dramas about big personalities in the big moments of their lives. The Queen, The Damned United, The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon, which started as a theatre play, and now Rush are all such stories. The last three as well as The Special Relationship, about the relationship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, showcase a fascinating theme of power battles combined with friendship and/or mutual appreciation, between two unique and public men.

The circumstances in which Morgan’s stories take place are always dramatic, the death of Princess Diana in The Queen for example and they become as present and as strong as the characters they surround. In Frost/Nixon the television, the close up and the art of interview were as part of the theme as was the actual interview/battle between David Frost and Richard Nixon.

Car racing is as foreign to me as the world of films is to Niki Lauda, as it turned out in the Q&A with Peter Morgan following the screening of Rush. I was happy when Morgan confessed he knows very little if at all about car racings or Formula 1, not that it comes across in the film, but when he was asked to write a script about car racing he found this story and used the Formula 1 setting to enhance the drama and the thrill.  

And the story he found is of the famous rivalry between the British flamboyant playboy race driver, James Hunt and Austrian perfectionist and practical driver, Niki Lauda, which reached a dramatic climax at the 1976 Formula 1 championship. The differences in these two champions’ personalities and life styles are reflected in their driving, Hunt, a wild card and a risk taker, whose dangerous daring is the thing that made him a great driver, and Lauda patient and careful, whose perfectionism and excellent technical knowledge is what made him the great driver he was. They pushed each other’s button and at the same time brought the best out of each other. 

Both Chris Hemsworth, whose, though wears the 70s quite well, nudity in the film was much appreciated, as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda, shine and give most compelling performances, which Howard directs with great sensitivity and at the same time great ease to create brilliant characters that are a real joy to watch. 

Like in Frost/Nixon, the circumstances play a big part in the film. The racings, the cars, the Formula 1 setting and Lauda's famous accident, don’t just add to the thrilling pace and flow of the film, but they become instruments in the portrayal of these two legends, their differences and their relationship. I enjoyed the technical details of the driving, the gear changes, the use of the pedals and the different way in which each of them trained contributed to their character and the drama between them. 

And so Rush is not just a thrilling race movie, but also a brilliant drama, full of humour, joy and suspense, yes even with history that is known Howard and Morgan manage to create wonderful suspense and thrill and suddenly, for 123 minutes, car racing is the most interesting thing in the world. 

Rush opens in cinemas September 13th