Apr 21, 2011

24FPS Alternative Summer of Cinema: Part 1

'Summer' at the movies now lasts about half of the year, from April (it kicked off in earnest with Zack Snyder's repellent Sucker Punch) to the end of August or the beginning of September. It's a bad time for people who love movies; cinemas become choked with blockbusters, the mainstream squeezing out the smaller, and usually much more interesting, films more each year. But you don't HAVE to go and see the latest superhero movie.

So, rather than telling you about Thor (again), 24FPS now presents its guide to the interesting alternatives coming your way in blockbuster season. In this first part we'll cover releases up to the end of June, and we'll return with a second installment in a few weeks time, when there are more confirmed releases for July and August.

The comments on each release are either by me (in bold type) or by Mike Ewins (in italic type).

The Big Releases: Scream 4, Red Riding Hood

The Alternatives...
Peter Bogdanovich's second film gets a remastered 40th anniversary release (in director's cut form). It is starting with a run at BFI Southbank, but thereafter it is likely to play arthouse locations around the country. I can't wait to see this re-release; to be back in the company of these vivid, real, characters; to feast my eyes on the beautiful black and white cinematography (chosen by Bogdanovich as a shorthand way to convincingly evoke the 50's) and to be drawn in, once again, by the expert performances from the ensemble cast.

This is one of my favourite films of all time, and if you only go to the cinema once all summer it should be to see this.

Kelly Reichardt's film made my Top 10 and Mike's Top 5 films of 2010. It's an absorbing and beautifully shot Western that uses the dry, near featureless, expanse of Wyoming desert in which its main characters become lost as the film's ever present antagonist. Reichardt demonstrates the visual mastery of a Terence Malick, as well as a firm grasp on both performances (Michelle Williams is particularly outstanding) and tone.

Some people won't warm to the film's bleak and abrupt ending, but for me it works perfectly, indeed it's one of the main reasons this film has been going round in my head since the London Film Festival.

It's not often that you get a feminist mumblecore Western, so you should really make the effort to check one out when it comes along. It recalls the novels of Paul Bowles (especially 1950's 'The Delicate Prey') in its story, themes, and utilization of landscape, but as Sam says, this is also deeply reminiscent of the works of Terrence Malick. Tensions boil underneath sand-swept veneers as the characters verge more and more off their track... it all leads up to one of the best endings in years, and think this is a film which will endure the test of time.

The Big Releases: Arthur, Fast and Furious 5

The Alternatives...
Russian cinema is producing some really interesting films at the moment (not least 2006's The Lighthouse, recently released on DVD) and How I Ended This Summer looks like a fine example. Set on an isolated island in the cold Arctic Ocean, the film charts the relationship between Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) and Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) who spend months together on a meteorological polar station. It looks like a stark and intense thriller with some incredible landscape shots, and its evolution into a thriller should be fascinating. I was very sad to miss this one at LFF but can't wait to catch it now and uncover the mystery.

Yes, that is a pig flying overhead, and yes, I am recommending a 3D film. I have no rhythm. I can't play music, I can barely keep time while clapping, and I certainly can't dance, but since seeing The Red Shoes for the first time about four years ago I have become fascinated by dance. Pina Bausch, who died just before this film entered production, forcing a radical overhaul of its form, was one of the most famous and best regarded modern dance choreographers, and I'm sure it's going to be a joy to see her work brought out into the open, as Wim Wenders has her company stage this work in public spaces. I'm also intrigued to see how the 3D will be implemented.

Well, this one won't be for everyone, but as someone who is always keen to see where the boundaries lie in terms of censorship I'm interested in the uncut re-release of Frank Ripploh's extremely controversial autobiographical 1980 film about his experience as a gay man living in Berlin. It is apparently unflinching (to the point of indulging in hardcore sequences).

I'm not sure I'll go and see it, or pick up the uncut DVD which follows this cinematic run, but this is another happy and notable turning point in the liberalisation of UK censorship for an audience that has been more marginalised than most by censorship policy.

The Big Release: Thor [3D]

The Alternatives...
Having seen this a year ago at a Q and A screening I can faithfully report that it is a very absorbing and extremely well acted 70's style spy thriller. The pace may be leisurely, but the story (which is based on real events) is genuinely tense. The film has Guillaume Canet as an initially unwilling spy, Alexandra Maria Lara as his concerned wife and director Emir Kusturica as Canet's handler. It's also got a fine clutch of character actors in supporting roles; Willem Dafoe, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Dina Korzun. It's not perfect, but if you want to see a film that suggests they do make 'em like they used to then it comes recommended.

I have been deliberately staying away from information on South Korean director Kim Jee-woon's revenge thriller, which stars his frequent collaborators Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik. All I know is that it is long, and by all accounts extremely brutal (so much so that it had to be cut for cinema release in its home country, something virtually unheard of).

Kim is one of the most interesting voices in South Korean cinema, and has been at the forefront of their new wave with films like A Tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life, combining his talents, those of Oldboy star Choi and Korean megastar Lee, and a genre I'm a huge fan of already makes this one of my most anticipated of 2011.

I've been a fan of Toby Kebbell ever since I saw his outstanding turn in Shane Meadows' bleak revenge picture Dead Man's Shoes (2004), but he's also survived such craptastic films as RocknRolla (2008) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010), coming out as the best thing in them. I'll be honest - The Veteran doesn't look very good. The trailer showcases awful dialogue and obvious imagery, but if handled correctly the idea of turning London into literal warzone - infested with street gangs sporting AK47's - could be an interesting one. And after all, Kebbell will surely be terrific in it.

The Big Releases: Hanna, Water for Elephants

NB: It's worth noting that we at 24FPS are hugely excited for Hanna, but it is a large mainstream release, so doesn't qualify for this preview.

The Alternatives...
I'll be bringing you an early review of this soon (still under embargo). What I will say is that Takashi Miike has outdone himself here. 13 Assassins, shorn of 20 minutes since its festival screenings but still an epic undertaking, is a relentlessly exciting film packed with great action sequences and solid performances, to say nothing of bags of style. Watch this space for more.

This'll be the first Malick film since 2005's The New World, which was something of a terminally boring letdown after the sublimely beautiful war essay The Thin Red Line, released to acclaim in 1998. This looks like his most ambitious and personal project yet; an emotional epic which straddles the line between life and death, this world and the next. The trailer reveals stunning shots of the galaxy and planets colliding, but there are also rumors abound of dinosaurs, which hints at a spectacle even grander than we've been expecting. I'm fascinated by this film and if nothing else it'll be an unrivaled visual spectacle this summer.

The Big Releases: Priest [3D], Attack the Block

The Alternatives...
The true story of a young Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn being lured into the drug trafficking industry at the end of the 90s? Yeah, count me in. It doesn't sound like everyone's cup of tea but Holy Rollers, while also being quite dark, is executed with humour and style, helped no end by Jesse Eisenberg who in the wake of The Social Network has become one of the most interesting actors of his generation. It's a slick little crime picture not without its share of flaws, but if you're looking for a drama which underplays its thrills this unique independent oddity will surely appeal.

Last year's London Film Festival titles continue to leak out to UK cinemas, and this was one of the best. Katell Quillevere's debut is a thoughtful and personal coming of age film about a 14 year old girl (the remarkable Clara Augarde) experiencing both a sexual awakening and a loss of faith in the run up to her confirmation ceremony. Like most European teen movies this isn't a rose tinted look at adolescence; it has more complex and realistic things on its mind than whether the heroine can get that perfect dress and date for the prom.

Quillevere draws wonderful work from the young leads and directs with a sure, sensitive and unobtrusive hand. This is a film to make time for and a filmmaker to watch out for.

35 years on from its initial release, Scorsese's masterpiece returns to cinemas in a brand new remastered print. From the trailer it seems as though the remaster will look astounding, and the performances of Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Kietel and even Cybill Shepherd, to say nothing of Scorsese's direction, are likely to remain undimmed in their brilliance. I can't wait to finally see this where it belongs; at a cinema.

The Big Release: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [3D]

The Alternatives...
Good documentary filmmakers open up worlds to us, and it has often interested me how things that I would ordinarily find dull can become fascinating through a good documentary. This film, about the legendary West Indies cricket team of the 70's and 80's, was a nice surprise during the London film festival, and though I'm not a cricket (or really a sports in general) fan it held my interest all the way through, thanks largely to the big personalities on show during the interviews. The film also does a fine job of providing social and political context to the team's achievements, and remains entertaining and engaging throughout.

The Big Release: The Hangover Part 2

The Alternatives...
This film is likely to split audiences as it did at the London Film Festival last year (my good friend and colleague Eoin maintains it's the worst film he saw in 2010). I reached a split decision on it; parts are infuriating, it's overlong, has some truly hateful characters and there is a whole section of the film you could cut and lose nothing as a result. But Xavier Dolan's screenplay can also be brutally witty and sharply observed, there are some great performances, and the young director's use of music and editing is outstanding. It's a promising work from a 21 year old auteur.

I've been wanting to see this film about a young soldier who returns wounded from Iraq, and is then assigned to the casualty notification team, handing out bad news, for some time now. The cast is eclectic and intriguing; Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi and Brendan Sexton III all feature, as does one of my favourite young actresses; Jena Malone. here have been a lot of films about the fallout of the war on terror, and this looks to be a promising one, hopefully it will be serious minded without being preachy, and showcase a lot of fine performances.

The Big Release: X-Men: First Class

The Alternatives...
This looks like being a fun little comedy drama, featuring Gerard Depardieu as a man about to retire who goes in search of missing documents when it comes to light that co-workers haven't filed the right paperwork for him to receive all his retirement benefits.

I wanted to see this at LFF last years, but missed it, if nothing else it ought to be worth a look for the cast which, aside from Depardieu, includes Isabelle Adjani, Yolande Moreau, Philippe Nahon and Anna Mouglalis.

Charlotte Gainsbourg's in it you say? I'll see you at the cinema then. I'm also intrigued by the idea behind this film, which is about a family dealing with the death of the father, and the young daughter believing that a tree, which may need to be cut down as it threatens the house, now contains her father's soul, and that he speaks to her through the leaves.

This could be a magical and moving film, but it will need a careful directorial hand from Julie Bertucelli to ensure that it doesn't become cloying and sickly.

The Big Release: Kung Fu Panda 2 [3D]

The Alternatives...
Kaboom finds promiscuous auteur Gregg Araki returning to his old school apocalyptic sex-em-ups of the 90s (films such as Nowhere, 1997) - marked out by bright colours, underground conspiracy and a plentiful dollop of teenage flesh. He matured with 2004's outstanding Mysterious Skin but this is by no means a regression - Kaboom is a gleefully silly end-of-the-world romp with more sex than you can shake a stick at; it's not explicit either, just really playfully OTT. It's also visually impressive, glossier than we're used to with Araki but at least he's abandoned the grit of the antagonistic The Living End (1992). Solid adult entertainment.

Hot on the heels of the remake of his fine thriller Pour Elle comes this new film from French director Fred Cavaye. It doesn't seem like a huge departure, revolving around a male nurse whose wife is taken hostage after he treats a thief whose gang want to spring him from hospital. That said, Cavaye showed with Pour Elle that he's got a good handle on the mechanics of the thriller, and he's got a decent cast to assist him here, this will probably be quite generic, but hopefully it will also be a bit of a treat.

The Big Release: Green Lantern

The Alternatives...
It has been a long wait (16 years) for Jodie Foster's third directorial effort, and I'm hopeful that she won't disappoint. Foster also features as the wife of Mel Gibson's character, who suffers a break with reality and begins communicating exclusively through a beaver hand puppet. The film has had a bumpy ride to cinemas, the production stalled several times before getting underway and Gibson's personal problems put the release back from 2010. I'm really looking forward to seeing the end result in this case.

I saw the latest from my favourite working filmmaker, Francois Ozon, a couple of months ago at a short festival, and it's another change of pace and another near perfect film. This time it's a tart comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu as old flames on opposite ends of an employment dispute.

Ozon's colourful 70's styled visuals are fun, and Deneuve and Depardieu seem to be having a wonderful time (Depardieu is more animated here than he's been for years). It's a light film, but one that still has something to say (though the political comment may get a little lost for British audiences), but most of all it's just a wonderfully, effortlessly entertaining confection.

This, for me, was one of the more interesting surprises of the London Film Festival. It's based on a novel about a (then) fictional underground Muslim punk movement in Buffalo, New York. By the time the film was made the book had already spawned a real movement and real bands, many of whom appear in the film.

As well as being refreshing, if only because it's a film about Muslims that almost entirely ignores questions of extremism, terrorism and September 11th, it's a politically intelligent and engaged film, and a sharp comedy. There are stand out performances from Noureen DeWulf, playing a young woman with an unothrodox interpretation of Islam, who nevertheless wears a bhurka at all times and the charismatic Dominic Rains as muslim punk Jehangir. At the very least, you won't see another film like this one in 2011.

The Big Releases: Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids

The Alternatives...
The new documentary from Lucy Walker (Waste Land, 2010) focuses on the escalating dangers of the possibility of nuclear war, as the arms race draws us ever closer to world annihilation. Walker is too smart to make a hyperbolic propaganda film, and equally she wouldn't pander to fear mongering, so this ought to be an insightful documentary and a more terrifying prospect than any horror film released this summer. The film is sure to take an anti-war stance and I have no doubt that it'll present an argument for disarmament, but as long as it's not heavy-handed it's a message I'm ready to get behind.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this years Oscars, this war-torn family mystery looks like a gripping adventure - packed with intelligence and emotion, and reflecting the current situation in the Middle East. I've been wanting to see it for a long time now as the trailer is a wonderfully ambiguous masterpiece unto itself... I don't quite know how the mystery of a supposedly dead father and unknown brother will pan out, but hopefully it won't fall into to cliché (many family secrets can be led back to WWII). It would be great to find an exciting thriller which also left the intellect with something to chew on.

See you in a few weeks with July and August.

1 comment:

  1. Kaboom and I Saw The Devil are my favourite films of the year so far.
    Toby Kebbell deserves a credible starring role already. He was excellent in DMS and as Rob Gretton in Control. I originally thought he wouldn't measure up to Paddy's turn as Rob in 24HPP but he was great.
    Holy Rollers has captured my interest, despite the fact that I was underwhelmed by The Social Network.