Blu-Ray Review: Napoleon (1927)

Director: Abel Gance
Screenplay: Abel Gance
Starring: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daël
Country: France
Running Time: 332 min
Year: 1927
BBFC Certificate: PG


Abel Gance’s Napoleon is a late silent feature that is famed for being a masterpiece of cinematic invention, but it has endured a troubled history. You should look it up to get the full story (or watch the well stocked set of features included with the Blu-Ray/DVD), but basically, although Gance had high hopes for his epic film (9 and a half hours long in its fullest form), planning on it being the first part of a 6 film series, it performed poorly on its initial release and pretty much disappeared for many years. In the 50’s and 60’s some reels were found and released, but it wasn’t until the late 70’s, when film historian Kevin Brownlow presented a restored version, that interest was reignited. He’d bought a couple of reels of Napoleon as a boy and had been obsessed with it ever since. His work didn’t stop in 1979 either, he’s continued to work to reconstruct the film as fully as possible and now we are finally presented with (probably) the most complete version of the film we’re ever likely to see. The BFI have screened this at festivals and special screenings over the last few years and now it is finally being made available on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK.

As you might imagine, the film is a biopic of the French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Being originally intended as part of a six part series though, the film focuses solely on his early years, beginning with Napoleon as a boy, leading a large scale snowball fight and being bullied for his stony countenance. It follows his movement up the ranks in the military and politics during the birth of the French Revolution, up until he is put in charge of the French army of Italy and advances towards taking the country for the French.

I mentioned Napoleon’s reputation as a cinematic masterpiece and this is largely down to the extraordinary volume of groundbreaking techniques Gance throws into the mix. Multiple exposures are used for various effects, including creating a split screen kaleidoscopic look a few times. There’s some wildly kinetic camera movement aided by a substantial number of handheld shots, which were little used at the time. There’s some stunning editing on display too, from rapid cutting techniques, thrillingly fast paced action scenes & some striking use of intercutting. The best example of the latter sees political upheaval cutting with Napoleon on a small boat in a mighty storm (which utilises a French flag as a sail).

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: Martin Scorsese’s Silence

For this Thanksgiving, we are thankful that Martin Scorsese can still make these kind of pictures. The director has been working at getting Shūsaku Endō’s novel, Silence turned into a film for decades, and now it is here. Set in the seventeenth century, the story involves two young Portuguese Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and spread Christianity. Things do not go well, as Japan was in an era of deep isolation, and Christianity was illegal to practice in this time period. The Japanese had however been working on ‘Water Crucifixion’ (Mizuharitsuke) for a while, and certainly strung up a few worshipers – images that appearance in this trailer.

Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsuakmoto(!), and Ciarán Hinds star in the film which is getting released on December 23, 2016.

Get Your Cast to Mars – Pre-Enactment

Get Your Cast To Mars was originally a three part (+ bonus episode) micro-podcast focusing on the planet Mars in the movies. Matthew Brown and Kurt Halfyard considered the red planet as an image, an idea, and a somewhat rare place visited in the cinema of the past 100 years.

We are back for a second season focusing on Mars on Television – specifically, the Ron Howard/Brian Grazer produced six part mini-series that began airing on National Geographic and FX in November 2016. We are sticking with the three part format again for the purposes of this podcast, looking at the series in pairs. Here we look at the unusual nature of the show (hybrid doc/fiction) and its aspirational tone.

As always, please join in the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section and again, thanks for listening!

 

The Complete First Season of Matt and Kurt getting their Cast To Mars:

 
 

The Second Season:

 
 
Would you like to know more…?

32nd Annual Independent Spirit Award Nominations

So it appears I have some catching up to do this year. In the past, I’d seen about everything by the time the nominations rolled out. I’m certainly not complaining however; quite the opposite in fact. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of this stuff that either hasn’t been released or my schedule didn’t allowed for it.

The Film Independent Spirit Awards stand for something much deeper: championing creative independence in visual storytelling and supporting a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision—a mission that is more relevant now than ever before.

So today we’re honored to announce the nominees for the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards, revealed at a press conference this morning at the W Hotel in Hollywood by presenters Edgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty, Joy, Carlos) and Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, The Secret Life of Pets). This year’s Spirit Award nominees are yet another esteemed group of diverse, outspoken and boundary-pushing performers and filmmakers, representing the very best and most vital independent movies of the past 12 months. So without further adieu, let’s get to the nominees!

 


Sizing up the nominations:
American Honey = 6
Moonlight = 6
Manchester By the Sea = 5
Jackie = 4
BEST PICTURE
American Honey
Chronic
Jackie
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

BEST DIRECTOR
Andrea Arnold, American Honey
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Pablo Larraín, Jackie
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
David Harewood, Free In Deed
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Jesse Plemons, Other People
Tim Roth, Chronic

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Sasha Lane, American Honey
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Shia LaBeouf, American Honey
Craig Robinson, Morris from America

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Edwina Findley, Free In Deed
Paulina Garcia, Little Men
Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Riley Keough, American Honey
Molly Shannon, Other People
Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Hired Hand

Director: Peter Fonda
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15


Any regular readers will know I’m a big western fan and may or may not know I’ve got a soft spot for 70’s American cinema too. So when I was asked if I’d like to review Peter Fonda’s 1971 western The Hired Hand I didn’t have to think twice, even though I’d never heard of the film before being handed the press release.

In the film, Harry (Fonda himself), his friend Arch (Warren Oates) and a young man are cowboys roaming from town to town. Upon reaching a dead end town, his associates decide to move on to the California coast, but Harry, fed up of the nomad life, decides to head back home to his estranged wife and child. Arch, who’s been travelling with Harry for several years, at first decides to let his friend go alone, but when their young companion is ‘accidentally’ killed by a man named McVey (Severn Darden), he decides to go with him. Once there, Harry’s wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) isn’t too happy to see him though. It’s been many years and she’d assumed he was dead and told their daughter as much. Harry talks her into letting him stay as a hired hand on the farm though, with a hope of reconciliation over time. When he finds out Hannah has been sleeping with the hired help whilst he’s been away though, the relationship becomes even more strained. This and the spectre of the cowboy life hanging over Harry, not helped by Arch’s presence, cause a slow and uncertain path to rebuilding his family.

As this brief synopsis shows, The Hired Hand isn’t your typical western. It’s one of the revisionist or anti-westerns that began to emerge in the 60’s. They sought to steer away from the stereotypes of the classic westerns and deconstruct the myths of the wild west. The Hired Hand shows the cowboy lifestyle to be an unglamorously dangerous, lonely and miserable existence; with poor food, little comfort at night and far too much time spent unwelcome in tiny, middle of nowhere towns. Harry’s young companion for instance, who is full of enthusiasm for his travels to the coast, comes to a grisly, unromantic end for little to no reason (though we never quite find out the truth behind it).

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams – Criterion Collection

Director: Akira Kurosawa, Ishirô Honda (uncredited)
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Akira Terao, Mitsuko Baishô, Toshie Negishi, Martin Scorsese
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 1990
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m not a huge fan of anthology films. This is partly down to the fact that they can be a mixed bag, with some great short films mixed with some not-so-great ones. It’s also because I’ve never been all that interested in short films in general. Animated films are the exception to this – I love a good animated short, which might explain why Memories (1995) is probably my favourite anthology. For whatever reason though, I rarely get excited about short live action films so I’m equally unenthused when presented with a few of them in the package of a feature film.

However, when I came across Dreams, an anthology film directed by Akira Kurosawa (although IMDB claims Godzilla’s director Ishirô Honda lended a hand) I was instantly interested. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how Kurosawa is the director I’ve found most consistent in terms of quality. I’d seen 8 of his films prior to Dreams and loved them all, so if I see Kurosawa has directed any genre of film or subject matter, no matter how unappealing it may be to me, I’m always going to be more than willing to give it a shot.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Nocturnal Animals

For the engaged cinephile, right from the opening credit sequence of Nocturnal Animals, you will know you are in good hands. Hyper-glossy and daringly un-commercial in the same breath, it puts some fine Lynchian bonafides on the table early. Then the camera pulls back from this tone-setting overture to reveal that these seemingly context free images (which will remain unspoilt by me, but might prevent the film from playing in a multiplex near you) are very much present, and in fact are part of the gala launch of a Los Angeles art gallery.

The curator and architect of the exhibit (but, tellingly, not the artist) is Susan, played by Amy Adams in heavy make-up, and chunky jewelry. The deep lighting makes her red hair stand out like smoldering coals in the dark. Forget for the moment director Tom Ford’s penchant for enhancing surfaces, Adams delivers an understated inner-performance entirely with her eyes and posture. Mere seconds on screen and you can immediately deduce she is unhappy with the not only the exhibit but with her many if not most of her life choices.

Later that evening, Susan is abandoned to stew in her own juices by her husband (Armie Hammer) who is the kind of high-stakes businessman that is required for a cross-continental flight upon a moments notice. Nocturnal Animals is a film about we process our thoughts when alone, versus reacting in the company of others.

It is also a master-class in ‘show-don’t-tell’ filmmaking. A brief domestic conversation, prior to her husbands exit from the film, is practical and efficient. We learn that their glass and concrete mansion and designer lifestyle is on the verge of bankruptcy, but again, the body language and framing suggest that money, in and of itself, is the least of their problems, matrimonially.

The very same evening, Susan receives a package in the mail from her previous husband, whom she has not spoken to in nearly two decades. The manuscript of his soon-to-be published novel is included with a personal note thanking her for the inspiration (and life experience) provided finally write something significant. The book shares the name of the film, but the film is adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan.”

Tony is the name of the character in the book that Susan reads, a man whose family is threatened and jeopardized on a lonely West Texas highway by a gang of good ol’ boys led by an extraordinary effective, and completely unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has come a distance from Kick-Ass and wins the Tom Hardy award for chameleon-like disappearance into a part.

It is exceptional that Ford has made a film about a woman that spends the bulk of the runtime sitting on her couch (or bed, or in the bath) reading a book, into one of the most compellingly ‘lean-in’ films of the year. Half of the film is devoted to the novel, which is anchored by a Zodiac or Nightcrawler calibre performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, and a scene-stealing Michael Shannon as a cancer stricken Texas Sheriff who is endearingly funny, and yet, simultaneously scared the absolute shit out of me. The remainder is split equally between Susan’s languorous present, and flashbacks to her optimistic courtship with her first husband and youthful writer, Edward; also played by Gyllenhaal.

The cross-cutting and transitional matching shots (note a certain red couch, for instance) provide an invigorating road-map to what the movie is actually about. The editing in this film, the fimmaking in general, is among the best films of the year. And, it is in a genre, the psychological thriller, that is so radically absent, presently, that make this is a breath – a gale? perhaps a tempest – of gloomy air.

Would you like to know more…?

Friday One Sheet: Rogue One (Japanese Character Posters)

A handsome set of blue-white character posters for Star Wars: Rogue One has been put out for the Japanese market. And while the design is somewhat ‘floaty heads’ (or at least floaty torso and up), one cannot help be consider just how damn good Ben Mendelsohn looks as an Imperial Director. Also, the Star Wars marketing team has gone ‘all in’ on the tropical beach imagery for this advertising campaign, both in Japan and in the USA.

You can find the rest of the posters over at ImpAwards.