My Films of the Week #6: Borat 2, Office Space and More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
(Jason Woliner, 2020, USA)

Probably better than it deserved to be. Yet, despite its best intentions, its a pale imitation of the incendiary original Borat movie, complete with a forced conclusion.

Up in the Air
(Jason Reitman, 2009, USA)

Despite its contemporary aspects, some of which feel directly inspired by early 21st-century American recession, this is a standard revisitation of traditional mid-life romance narrative tropes. However, its standards are considerably elevated by George Clooney’s charming lead performance.

Bare
(Aleksandr M. Vinogradov, 2020, Belgium)

A documentation of eleven naked dancer working on an ambitious choreography. Remains a visually stimulating document of the link between observation and voyeurism, though it lacks narrative focus and generally doesn’t dare enough.

The Last Hillbilly
(Diane Sara Bouzgarrou, Thomas Jenkoe, 2020, France/Qatar)

A poetic insight on the American hillbilly culture driven by a charismatic protagonist, who acts as his community’s spokesperson and dictates the energy of the documentary. Almost inadvertedly becomes a profound portrayal of Trump-era stereotypes.

Office Space
(Mike Judge, 1999, USA)

Cartoonish satire on life as an office worker. Inspired by male frustration an aware of an underlying societal repression, the film certainly benefits from its surrealist vein though it lacks big-hearted laughs. It has most likely picked up vintage bonus points as a document of the immediate pre-internet era.

Idiocracy
(Mike Judge, 2006, USA)

Interesting satirical spin on the time travel movie, also partly recalling zombie movies. Fun, despite its inconsistencies and imperfections, and definitely not as sharp as it probably thinks.

Extract
(Mike Judge, 2009, USA)

Mike Judge continues to draw inspiration on societal repressions in this story about a middle class small company owner. As usual, he does it without enough bite. As such, the entire affair appears as severely lacking in energy.

Bad Words
(Jason Bateman, 2013, United States)

Popular funnyman Jason Bateman’s directorial effort about an obnoxious adult entering a children’s spelling bee contest. Suffers from general lack of intention and finally disappoints despite its interesting original subject.

Horrible Bosses
(Seth Gordon, 2011, United States)

A famous addition to the childish, repressed average white men, who come up with a plan to murder their abusive bosses. The leading trio’s chemistry and Kevin Spacey’s turn as the obnoxious baddie is worth the price of the ticket.

Ziyara
(Simone Bitton, 2020, France/Morocco)

A documentary celebrating Muslim’s guarding of Jewish culture in Morocco. As well as its historical and political importance, Ziyara is enhanced by the pure aesthetic delight of its documentation of older religious artifacts and places.

My Films of the Week #5: Totally Under Control, True Mothers & More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Faithful
(Hélier Cisterne, 2020, France/Belgium/Algeria)

A tale of love and revolution set in late colonialist Algeria. Beautiful cinematography enhances the poetic power of what could also be considered an alternate take on the theme of terrorism at large.

The Shift
(Alessandro Tonda, 2020, Italy/Belgium)

Despite being content with dealing with the theme of terrorism in quite a superficial way, this thriller features a nice contrast of frantic rhythm and claustrophobic space, as most of it takes place within the confines of an ambulance.

True Mothers
(Naomi Kawase, 2020, Japan)

A relatively unoriginal adoption drama plagued by narrative clumsiness. The typical mediocre Naomi Kawase movie.

Climbing Iran
(Francesca Borghetti, 2020, Italy/France)

Fascinating documentary on an Iranian woman defying social and natural obstacles as a free climber. Redefines the meaning of the term “trailblazer.”

Il Cielo da una Stanza
(Virginia Valsecchi, 2020, Italy)

Almost unbearable ensemble documentary portraying the lives of a different people in Italy during lockdown. May become more valuable with time.

Totally Under Control
(Alex Gibney, 2020, USA)

A worrying investigation on Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID crisis. Released during the pandemic, manages to be quite clear-headed and frighteningly revealing.

‘Til Kingdom Come
(Maya Zinshtein, 2020, Israel/UK/Norway)

An investigation of the controversial link between U.S. Christian Evangelicals and Isreali Jews, and the political implications of said link. Reveals a hidden truth but does so in a ponderous and refreshingly respectful way, rather than aggressively.

Long Live Love
(Sine Skibsholt, 2020, Denmark)

Up close and personal documentation of the relationship between a mother and her health-ridden, rebellious teenage daughter. Warm and honest, speaks universal truths.

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5 New Podcast Interviews on Film You Need to Hear (October 2020)

Here is a roundup of some of my favourite interviews that I conducted for FRED Film Radio, the international online talk radio on all things cinema, this month (October 2020). Interviews are drawn from this month’s episodes of my weekly radio show, Big FRED Tuesday, and the extensive coverage of the 2020 Rome Film Fest for the radio that I was part of.

Roberto Salinas
director of Cuban Dancer

A conversation with the director of a passionate coming-of-age ballet tale, danced between Cuba and the United States, in a time of change.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/roberto-salinas-cuban-dancer-alicenellacitta/

John Waters
Filmmaker

John Waters was a special guest of the 2020 edition of the Rome Film Fest and I recorded a short chat with him on the red carpet.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/john-waters-romaff15/

Steve Massa
author of the book Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle

A chat with film historian Steve Massa, who recently wrote a book on early slapstick comediat “Fatty” Arbuckle that turns the attention back to his films rather than focusing on the huge scandal that continues to taint his career to this day.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/steve-massa-rediscovering-roscoe-the-films-of-fatty-arbuckle/

Tomm Moore
director of The Secret of Kells

My interview with Irish animator Tomm Moore, co-founder of Cartoon Saloon, whose Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells was selected as part of the inaugural program of the EU-supported online film literacy platform, European Film Factory.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/tomm-moore-the-secret-of-kells/

Gabriel Range and Johnny Flynn
director and actor of Stardust

A chat with the director and actor of Stardust, a film inspired by a formative period in the early career of a young David Bowie.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

My Films of the Week #4: Beer League, Stardust & More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

All Cats Are Grey (Savina Dellicour, 2014, Belgium)

Witty comedy drama about a young girl who begins to suspect that a local private investigator is her father. Enjoyable and featuring moments of warmth but ultimately lacking in ambition.

Artie Lange’s Beer League (Frank Sebastiano, 2006, USA)

Childish and even a bit tasteless. You may not find it in any “best of” lists any time soon, yet there is something about it that recalls old slapstick comedies and makes it a wild and fun watch.

The Jump (Giedre Zickyte, 2020, Lithuania/Latvia/France)

An inspiring tale from not too long ago of when the United States protested for the immigration of a Soviet man. Aside from the interesting story it tells, it is cinematically constructed in a gripping and exciting way.

Stardust (Gabriel Range, 2020, UK)

Inspired by the lack of David Bowie, this independent film lacks any noteworthy independent spirit. Typical, standards, coming-of-age drama. Hardly worth the time of any of the iconic music star’s fans.

My Name Is Francesco Totti (Alex Infascelli, 2020, Italy)

First-person insight into the life and career of one of the most acclaimed football players in Italian history and a symbol for the city of Rome at large. At times, it feels almost Macchiavellian.

Tigers (Ronnie Sandahl, 2020, Sweden/Italy/Denmark)

Based on the true story of a promising football star, Tigers provides insight on mental illness among football youth league players. However, its penchant for traditionalist melodrama counters a promise for realist bite.

Cuban Dancer (Roberto Salinas, 2020, Italy/Canada/Chile)

Coming-of-age documentary telling the tale of a promising young Cuban ballet dancer emigrating to the U.S. with his family. Lacks a truly eventful, pivotal moment but is saved by its noteworthy human warmth.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

My Films of the Week #3: Kill or Cure, The Devious Path & More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Where Lights Are Low
(Colin Campbell, 1921, USA)

Starring and produced by Sessue Hayakawa, who was a huge star at the time and whose contribution to Asian-American film history continued to be undervalued. A noteworthy vehicle about Chinese human trafficking, tasteful despite slight stereotyping.

Kill or Cure
(Carlo Campogalliani, 1921, Italy)

Kill of Cure shows there was more than epic movies and Maciste productions to the Italian silent film era. This is a comedy adventure with a surrealist edge and one of six films to star Carlo Campogalliani who, for a while, was called “the Italian Fairbanks.” Clever and highly entertaining, inspired by the burgeoning psychoanalytic scene of the time, which it takes a few shots at.

The Apaches of Athens
(Dimitrios Gaziades, 1930, Greece)

Originally Greece’s first sound film, survives only in a silent version. Inspired by a popular operetta of the period, this romantic comedy is noteworthy for its depiction of social class disparities and for its images of the streets of Athens, where most of the film was shot.

The Devious Path
(G.W. Pabst, 1928, Germany)

A lesser-known masterpiece by G.W. Pabst, somewhat less grand than other works of his, yet continuing to affirm him as one of the masters of Weimar Republic cinema. A glorious exploration of sin and morality, driven by a central cabaret scene that is exciting from start to finish. Wonderful performances all around and an uncanny attention to detail that will have you revisiting it again and again.

Showbiz Kids
(Alex Winter, 2020, USA)

A series of conversations with child actors and the Hollywood studio system. It’s interesting but widely appears to fail to add any new information regarding this specific topic.

Unjustly Accused
(Holger-Madsen, 1913, Denmark)

The story of a theater actress forced to quit her acting career upon marrying. Misses an opportunity to be seen today as a feminist flick ahead of its time. It has its moments of visual delight and uses interesting, early cinema effects. Yet, the most delightful thing about the movie remains the lead performance by Rita Sacchetto.

The Serenade
(Will Louis, 1916, USA)

An early flick starring Oliver Hardy that, like many second-rate slapstick shorts of the time, shows inconsistencies, carelessness and finally ends up feeling like a disjointed series of gags.

The Rent Collector
(Norman Taurog, Larry Semon, 1921, USA)

Larry Semon, mostly forgotten today yet one of the major motion picture stars of the time, at his best. A wild collection of gags it may be but somehow, it all holds up together and never misses a beat. Sure, despite the impoverished setting it lacks any semblance of social awareness and is definitely not Chaplin’s Easy Street (1917). But its pace is remarkable — think Harry Langdon on cocaine — and unlike some of Semon’s lesser works from the time, it is consistently fun and amazingly inventive.

Detained
(Joe Rock, Scott Pembroke, 1924, USA)

An early flicks starring Stan Laurel, set in the prison. Has a surrealist edge that makes it noteworthy, including a showstealing hanging scene. Yet, in retrospect, is more valuable as a document of Laurel still in the process of finding a distinctive comedic persona.

Moonlight and Noses
(Stan Laurel, 1925, USA)

Moonlight and Noses is directed by, but does not star, Stan Laurel. A spoof on the mad scientist genre, this is a macabre comedy with good intentions but poorly executed and hardly a standout.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

My Films of the Week #2: Diego Maradona, The Fisher King & More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Diego Maradona (Asif Kapadia, 2019, United Kingdom)

The third instalment in Asif Kapadia’s trilogy of docs on child wonders, whose touch turns everything to gold. Gripping, dramatic and exciting, continues to affirm its director as one of the most influential figures in modern documentary filmmaking.

Gascoigne (Jane Preston, 2015, United Kingdom)

The story of football player Paul Gascoigne. Unlike the aforementioned Diego Maradona, Preston’s approach is more straightforward and its nostalgic touch slightly annoying. Luckily, Gascoigne’s story is interesting enough to carry the film forward.

An Honest Liar (Justin Weinstein, Tyler Measom, 2014, United States)

A documentary on trickery and truth, An Honest Liar may have slipped under the radar ever so slightly but it’s well worth re-evaulating.

Tickled (David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, 2016, New Zealand)

An online tickle competition unravels deeper, darker truths. Tickled appears quirky at the start but then becomes a downright frightening reveal of the dangers of the internet and the manipulative, powerful people behind it.

The Tickle King (David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, 2017, New Zealand)

An addendum to the original feature film Tickled, documenting the tumultuous screenings of the original film by its reluctant protagonists. To some extent, I wish more movies had an accompanying short film like this one.

Deep Web (Alex Winter, 2015, United States)

Another film that aims to reveal truths about the internet and revolutionary ideologies behind it. However, despite narration from Keanu Reeves, Deep Web feels rather dull and slow-paced compared to other more gripping similar movies.

Talk Radio (Oliver Stone, 1988, United States)

Satisfied my fascination with movies about obsessive, self-destructive men quite well. It’s also as good a film about shock jocks as, I believe, we are ever going to get.

The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, 1991, United States)

One of the best movies Terry Gilliam has ever written. Aside from its characteristic style, the film is entertaining and carries a charming romantic core that never quite gets overbearing. Great performances by the cast all around, Amanda Plummer in a supporting role steals the show.

Penrod and Sam (William Beaudine, 1923, United States)

Initially appears like a feature-length Our Gang-like movie but later reveals itself as a much more deeper, honest exploration of boyhood. Surprisingly contemporary and mature in its depiction of play as serious business for children, and in its general avoidance of stereotypes.

National Customs (Luo Mingyou, Zhu Shilin, 1935, China)

One of the few surviving Chinese New Life Movement propaganda films. It’s not a very impressive film and kind of falls apart with its ending but remains noteworthy, particularly for being Lingyu Ruan’s final film before she took her own life at 25.

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Limited online edition of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival

A limited edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, also known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, will take place online on October 3-10. This will hopefully and most likely be the only time in history that the most passionate silent film festival in the world will take place entirely online.

Aside from restored and rediscovered gems of early cinema unearthed from film archives from all corners of the globe and screenings accompanied by stellar music, there will be such parallel events as panel discussions, workshops, book presentations and other events.

You can get a pass for 9.90 euro and it could really be a life-changing experience for anyone. That’s because nothing is quite as visceral and poetic as early silent filmmaking. Nothing is quite as ugly and beautiful…nothing is quite as violent and gentle at the same time.

Register and find out more here https://www.mymovies.it/ondemand/giornate-cinema-muto/pass/

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

My Films of the Week #1

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Les Unwanted de Europa (Fabrizio Ferraro, 2018, Italy/Spain)

Fabrizio Ferraro imagines the final days of Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin, as he escapes collaborationist France across the Pyrenees in 1939. At the same time, a group of Catalan Republicans attempt to escape Spain’s Fascist regime after the Spanish Civil War along the same pathway. A solemn meditation on the history of unwanted people on the Old Continent, complete with black and white photography enhancing the idea of the repetition (or mechanical reproduction?) of history. An apt film to have been released on the eve of a European migrant crisis.

Topside (Logan George and Celine Held, 2020, USA)

An intense feature debut by Logan George and Celine Held, and a story of people living on the edge of society. A mother and her five-year-old girl have occupied a Manhattan underground tunnel as their home. There, they live until they are forced to move out, running away from authorities one cold winter night. Fuelled by urgency and suspense, Topside is a portrait of modern-day desperation. The underground setting offers a fascinating backdrop for a compelling and new exploration of what it means to be a mother, as well as what it means to be a mother’s child.

The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, 2009, France/Belgium/Ireland)

On the eve of a bloody warfare, a young boy named Brandon is recruited by a revered illuminator to complete a book that may save his village by way of completing a series of dangerous, magical tasks. The Secret of Kells is inspired by Celtic mythology and the origins of The Book of Kells. However, both the narrative structure and the eclectic style of animation reveal multi-cultural influences that enhance the message of the movie. In fact, the film is just as adventurous as it is a universally appealing coming-of-age story driven by the powerful message that the pen is mightier than the sword.

We Can’t Go Home Again (Nicholas Ray, 1973, USA)

Nicholas Ray’s final major project, We Can’t Go Home Again, is a semi-fictionalized account of his relationship with his film students at Binghamton University. The film is experimental in nature, pioneering the use of the video synthesizer. Though it was never truly finished, constantly re-edited by the filmmaker in his final years, its incompleteness enhances the Brechtian power of the project’s eclecticism. We Can’t Go Home Again also feels like a deeply personal reflection on such themes as generational gap and loneliness, and captures an essence of counter-cultural times in the United States. It may even be taken as an autobiographical reflection on his status within the then-new generation of filmmakers, which heralded him as a hero but was reluctant to integrate him.

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5 of my interviews from the 77th Venice International Film Festival (VIDEO)

For the sixth year in a row, I covered the Venice International Film Festival for FRED Film Radio, the online talk radio about all things cinema that I have collaborated with for a long time. There, I interviewed several guests, including directors and producers who presented movies within the program of the festival, which was the first of the major international film festivals to hold a physical edition.

Here is a selection of five of the video interviews I conducted at the Lido di Venezia.

Director Hilal Baydarov on his film In Between Dying, presented in competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival.

Director Julia von Heinz talks about And Tomorrow the Entire World, presented in competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival.

Actress Isabel May talks about her role in Run Hide Fight, presented out of competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival.

Director Ann Hui talks about her latest film, Love After Love, presented out of competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival. The director was also honored at the festival with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

Director Ana Rocha de Sousa talks about her feature debut, Listen, presented in the Orizzonti section of the 77th Venice International Film Festival.

More of my interviews from the 77th Venice International Film Festival are available on fred.fm/.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

77th Venice International Film Festival: My top 5 films

For the past 10 days, I have been covering the Venice International Film Festival on the Lido di Venezia for FRED Film Radio. During this time, I watched about 40 movies presented within its program. Here is my personal top 5, compiled out of the films that I have watched across all sections of the festival.

5. LISTEN (Ana Rocha de Sousa, UK/Portugal)

Listen explores the seldom represented subject of forced adoptions. This is a fevered drama of two expats, down and out, living in Britain, whose lives go from bad to worse after their children are taken away from them. Enriched by narrative attention to detail, Ana Rocha de Sousa’s modern realist feature is focused, effective and at times downright frightening. It reveals horrible truths about society and human nature in a way that evokes the films of Ken Loach and John Cassavetes.

4. DEAR COMRADES! (Andrei Konchalovsky, Russia)

Andrei Konchalovsky revisits a page in Soviet Union history, when authorities opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in the early ’60s. He does so by following the travails of a female authoritative figure whose staunch Communist beliefs are shaken by the event. Tense and compelling, Dear Comrades! is equally praise worthy for its style, which evokes such films of the period as The Cranes Are Flying and Ballad of a Soldier, complete with black and white photography.

3. IN BETWEEN DYING (Hilal Baydarov, Azerbaijan/Mexico/USA)

In Between Dying is an epic, meditative journey on the nature of existence, the likes of which have rarely been seen since Pier Paolo Pasolini. Beginning in the modern times and fading into timelessness, Hilal Baydarov follows his lead character, a young man on a scooter and his encounters with women along the way, which will lead him to an existential conclusion. Added point for the sheer delight of the landscapes, which the cameras revel in documenting.

2. SUN CHILDREN (Majid Majidi, Iran)

A cross between the films of Francois Truffaut and The Goonies. This is socially committed cinema that is unafraid to also be gripping and entertaining. The central theme of Majid Majidi’s film is that of child labour and the story is that of a young boy who enrols into school just to dig up a buried treasure for an exploitative mobster. Engaging and engaged.

1. RESIDUE (Merawi Gerima, USA)

A powerful and heartfelt portrait of Black life and gentrification in the United States. A cinematic poem that manages to be both tough-skinned and tender, both determined and melancholic. Residue feels like the essence of the rise of a new Black American cinema shake-up and, given that this is the feature debut of Merawi Gerima, the beginning of a very promising filmography.

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