The spirit of Polish poster design is alive and well with this, the one-sheet for the final film from art-horror master, Andrej Żuławski. The director of 1981’s marital freak out, Possession, as well as 1996’s scandalous drug and sex laced Szamanka passed on this year at 75, but not before completing his final film, Cosmos who passed on earlier this year. It may look simple, but there are some nice details in this design, the branches of the trees looking like both dendrites and constellations, the woman’s face who is looking heavenward with one eye, but at us the the other. And the tiny bird token hanging from the branch about the title and super condensed credit block. This poster is a work of art.
We all, at one point or another, would love the luxury of escaping; from our personal problems, our physical woes, our responsibilities, our history, or our future. The wealthy elite have this ability, at least in theory. They flit off to their villas and cabins, their homes away from home, where they might recuperate at their leisure. Such is the case in A Bigger Splash. The troubled celebrities of our story find themselves in hiding, yet incapable of escaping their past woes, or those of the world. Despite their best efforts, no one, no matter their wealth, can escape reality.
Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love follow-up, A Bigger Splash, showcases this escapism while touching on complex issues such as gender performativity, sexuality, and international conflict with subtle, understated grace and simultaneous volatility. It’s a slow burn, the kind of film that improves on each viewing, and reveals new depths the longer it stews in the foreground of your mind.
Splash focuses on aging rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton). A gender-swapped David Bowie, she’s in recovery-induced hiding with her lover and companion of six years, documentary filmmaker Paul de Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts). She recently had vocal chord surgery to help regain her failing voice. The result is that she cannot speak, both out of physician-mandated recovery instructions, and an actual inability to produce sound.
Enter Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s ex and a major music producer, and his newly discovered nubile daughter, Penelope Lanier (Dakota Johnson). The two impose themselves on Paul and Marianne’s recovery away from the world, while Harry plays on Marianne’s impetuous nature, urging her to sing and live hard despite her limitations. The result is an explosive clash that thrusts all manner of normalcy into a surreal atmosphere of loss.
A Bigger Splash is an erotic drama, a thriller of sorts that uses its intricate character study to fuel its intrigue. We are pulled in by the sexual escapades of our leads, as opening scenes set the tone with nude sunbathing, and silent pool-side orgasms. As Harry and Penelope arrive, the silence is broken, predominantly by Harry, who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. The majority of the film’s dialogue is left to the men, who speak on behalf of Marianne, the mute, domesticated rock star, and Penelope, the nubile sexpot whose power is in her eyes and her hips.
But this representation of gender is conscious, depicting an exhilaratingly problematic depiction of contemporary gender roles and performativity. We are given two women left to portray the entire spectrum of female presence in society; Marianne, the ageing rock star with no voice or conceivable role in society other than to be adored, and Penelope, the youthful beauty who must use her body to get ahead, and has no concept of consequence. Her millennial approach to life seeps into the lives of her father, and his friends, poisoning things from the outside with a subtle glance and a grin. Would you like to know more…?
We’re joined this week by long time friend and fan Justin Thiele – who brings us plenty of reasons why LAST ACTION HERO is not worthy of the title of BEST SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER FILM. That’s right, folks, it’s time for another battle episode and we’ve got some great movies to talk about. Jon defends PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL but can’t say the title right. Bryan makes a scary-good case for JAWS. Chewie whisks us away to nostalgia-town with TWISTER. Ryan dons the fedora and defends RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. So, which movie wins? Just going to have to listen to the episode and find out!
Not content with being the go-to label for cult and classic American and European cinema, Arrow Video have started to mine the more obscure depths of Japanese genre movies recently, in particular gangster/crime films. After releasing a shiny new disc for Seijun Suzuki’s relatively popular Branded to Kill and the full Battles Without Honour and Humanity collection, as well as a couple of vaguely known titles like Massacre Gun, they surprised everyone with a set of little-known crime dramas under the Nikkatsu Diamond Guys banner. This has now been followed up by the expansive Outlaw: Gangster VIP The Complete Collection, a series of violent Yakuza dramas, also produced by Nikkatsu and based on the writings of real life ex-gangster Goro Fujita.
Go on the IMDB and you’ll find little information on the six films in this set (although due to my review being a little late, some more might have accumulated by now). So it’s great to see a Blu-Ray/DVD label daring to venture into unknown territory like this. Of course, being genre films, there’s always a bit of a safety net and the Japanese gangster angle was what sold the set to me, but I’m glad to see films that would otherwise be lost get the treatment they deserve.
The films in the series are Gangster VIP, Gangster VIP 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger and Kill!. My thoughts on the individual films follow:
Back on track with Shane Black. The boys are able to reconvene this week with not one, but two main theatrical reviews for your spoiler pleasure. We start it off this week with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in a good old fashioned buddy-cop, action/comedy The Nice Guys. It really ties the room together.
Next up is Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English language film, The Lobster. This one is a little bit more difficult to parse out. It stars one Colin Farrell and one Rachel Weiss among others; it is a twisted and comedic (deadpan?) look at love, relationships and dating in a world painted like only this particular director can portray. Kurt and Andrew attempt to hash out what it all means. Kurt revisits the glory days of Saturday morning cartoons and Andrew just wishes he had seven bowls of Captain’s Peanut Butter Crunch.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
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Director: Sebastian Schipper
Based on a Story by: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz
Starring: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski
Running Time: 138 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Hype can be a dangerous thing. When you hear too much praise for a film you’re almost destined to be disappointed. Very few films can live up to the expectations mounted through countless five star reviews and personal recommendations. Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is one film I’d read several glowing reviews for and heard friends rave about surrounding its cinematic release here in the UK. With Curzon Artificial Eye releasing the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, I got my hands on a screener to finally watch the film for myself and I can safely say it has lived up to my very high expectations (although I think I might have given the film 5 stars if I’d have watched it ‘cold’).
Victoria follows (quite literally) the titular character (Laia Costa), a young Spanish woman living in Berlin, as she leaves a nightclub and befriends Sonne (Frederick Lau), a ‘native’ Berliner. Blatantly flirting with her, Sonne shows her the after-club night life with his three male friends. Victoria is a fairly innocent ‘good’ girl, but these boys are wild and mischievous, breaking into cars and stealing beers. Victoria seems to enjoy joining them and embracing this ‘bad boy’ attitude, but as the crimes they’re involved in suddenly get much more serious, she realises she’s in too deep, but is forced to go along with it.
If you’ve read anything about this film I imagine you’re aware of the fact that the film is presented entirely as one long, unbroken shot. It seems to be the film’s main selling point, particularly as this is no ‘hidden’ cut job like Birdman. No digital trickery made this merely look like a one shot, real time experience. It was all done for real. Supposedly it took 3 attempts, but the crew eventually managed to keep everything working as it should for the fairly hefty running time of the film.
Director: Alan Clarke
Screenplay: Al Hunter
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Philip Davis
Running Time: 67 min (broadcast version) 68 min (director’s cut)
BBFC Certificate: 18
TV has been enjoying a new golden age over the last 10 years or so with a wealth of talent coming from and moving back to the format. There are plenty of classy, genuinely great series being produced around the world, from popular high budget HBO productions like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, to classy British offerings like Sherlock and slick Scandinavian crime sagas like The Killing. The TV movie however, still has some stigma attached to it. The more recent big TV events have all been longer format or at least mini-series. Few one-off features have made waves recently as not many seem to get made. I think too many people are of the mind that if a film is any good, why didn’t it get released in theatres or at least get a good home release before being streamed to our regular channels at no extra cost.
In Britain though, there was once a long tradition of classy feature length television drama. Known largely at the time as ‘television plays’, series such as Armchair Theatre and Play for Today, running from the 50’s until the 80’s, would present audiences with an original one off film/play in each ‘episode’. Two time Palme d’Or winner (as of yesterday) Ken Loach made a name for himself in this format with the 1966 television play Cathy Come Home and fellow Cannes favourite Mike Leigh also made a number of plays, including Abigail’s Party. The television play format fizzled out in the mid-eighties though as series became more popular.
Between 1985 and 1994, the BBC tried to keep the flame burning though, with Screen Two and Screen One, which brought back the idea of one-off original TV features, this time shot on film. Previously, television plays tended to be studio-shot affairs, more like live plays. One of the directors contributing to this series was Alan Clarke, who had made a number of controversial TV films and a couple of theatrical features since the mid to late 60’s. He died from cancer at only 54 years old but his last production was released on Screen Two, the football hooligan drama The Firm, which courted controversy again, but has held a strong reputation over the years and is now being released in a special collector’s edition Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK by the BFI, packaged along with another of Clarke’s controversial films, the short Elephant.
Sundance hit, and brilliant act of cultural re-appropriation, The Birth Of A Nation got a striking ‘sepia-flag’ styled poster in both still form, and (below) motion form. This is the first time I’ve heard the concept of a motion poster expressed as a ‘living poster.’ Not sure if that is a construct of the marketing department here, or if this is a wider change in language for an advertising concept that has yet to truly take off. Either way, this is perhaps the best execution of a motion poster to date.
Still form or ‘living’ form, both focus on how things go from a single act of rebellion or idealism to a full blown movement.