The ever-haunting Insiang (1976) introduced its director, Lino Brocka, to the world stage when it showed at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. Brocka had begun his career in 1970 making commercial genre films—domestic melodramas about marital infidelity as well as action pictures and comedies. But wanting to create independent movies that addressed more problematic aspects of Philippine reality, he shifted direction in 1975, with Manila in the Claws of Light, a powerful, dark, and sprawling film about country youth who come to the city, only to be ground down by urban poverty. (It was this movie that inspired Lav Diaz, today’s most prominent Filipino director—and one also given to telling expansive stories—to become a filmmaker.) The next year, Brocka made the equally provocative Insiang, which succeeded more fully than its predecessor by narrowing its focus and concentrating on one protagonist and one city neighborhood.
Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie offer an inside look into the sleek John Le Carré show
Before he was the pill-popping Dr. House, Hugh Laurie dreamt of playing a spy. Specifically, the noble hotel-manager-turned-secret-agent Jonathan Pine from John Le Carré‘s 1993 novel, The Night Manager.
“I tried to option the book. I was far too late, and the great Sydney Pollack had it,” he says. “The world turns, and 20-odd years later it comes back to life, by which point of course I’m far too old and creaky and bald to play Jonathan Pine, but we have to resign ourselves to these processes.”
Now, in a bit of role reversal, Tom Hiddleston—best known for portraying Avengers villain Loki in the U.S.—is starring as the hero in the BBC and AMC adaptation of the novel. And Laurie, a lifelong comedian from British shows like Jeeves and Wooster, is playing an arms dealer Richard Roper described succinctly by Le Carré as “the worst man in the world.”
A new year, a new batch of films. Perhaps more so than previous years, 2014 sees a slew of increasingly interesting, distinctive and twisted films. The most significant ones comes from seasoned directors attempting, and if the trailers are any indication, upstaging themselves like never before. 2014 already feels like a more promising and exciting year for films, so let’s get right down to it:
10. The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Before you yell at me for placing Wes Anderson so low, let me say that I am not a fan of Wes Anderson. I’ve watched all of his films, but always come out of them severely underwhelmed. However, Fantastic Mr. Fox was so amazing that I’ll always give Anderson another chance. The Grand Budapest Hotel looks charming as hell showcasing a more than impressive cast, even more colourful aesthetic and a humour that’s more twisted than cutesy. Plus, this is the first time in a while where I see Ralph Fiennes is genuinely enjoying himself in a performance.
9. Beauty and The Beast.
Full disclosure: I primarily want to see this film because it looks like the epitome of guilty pleasure, of so bad it’s good. The first trailer was a weird mesh between Alice in Wonderland and Brotherhood of the Wolf, which let’s face it is on a new level of weird. Perhaps it will great or not, but either way I need to see it now.
8. The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her.
I’m on board with this film on concept alone. The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby is a two-part film where each part is told from a different perspective, hence the “Him” and “Her”. This is one of those films that is clearly attempting something different and challenging our narrative conventions. With an excellent cast like James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, and a sea of praise from practically every critics, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her sure promises to be oustanding.
7. Under The Skin.
This is the new film from the director of Sexy Beast and Birth: two unique, fucked up and exceedingly compelling films. Under The Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien roaming Glasgow, and most of the reviews I’ve read hail Johansson’s performance as her best. Johansson’s is an actress whose recent choices have grown more and more interesting, and after blowing me away with Her I’m very excited and curious to see her here.
While director Denis Villeneuve has been quietly delivering great films, it wasn’t until last year’s excellent Prisoners that he became more renown. Enemy sees him pair once again with Prisoners’ standout Jake Gyllenhaal to deliver what critics are calling a brilliant thriller with Gyllenhaal’s career best performance. This is first of two films where the protagonists are playing opposite themselves.
I don’t know about you, but it has been years since I’ve enjoyed an Angelina Jolie film. She has been pretty inactive for the couple of years in terms of starring roles, but Maleficent promises the Angelina Jolie we all love: the bitchy badass villainous type. Playing a character so suited for her she practically was born to play, the last trailer finally showed the goods and potential of this film. I’ll admit that it looks a bit like Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but fuck it Angelina Jolie looks to be relishing the role and I for one cannot wait.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive.
I’ve only seen one film by Jim Jarmusch and that is Broken Flowers. Now that film is easily one of the best films I have ever seen in my life. The direction is excellent, the performances are memorable and affecting, and the soundtrack is full of awesome goodness. It’s a very distinctive film that break conventions, and Only Lovers Left Alive seems to do the same but for vampires. Although if we are being honest, the main reason we all want to see this is because of the genius casting combination of Tilda Swinton with Tom Hiddleston. These two seemed destined to be in a film like this and I’m sure Only Lover Left Alive will be extraordinary.
It feels like we’ve been waiting for this film for years now. With all the problems over the final cut Snowpiercer has had a troubled road towards premiering here in North America. Latest report state that the director’s cut will be utilized instead of the dumbed down version Weinstein wanted, but the catch is that it will now be on limited release. So if the film comes to a theatre near you, go watch the hell out of it. Directed by Bong Joon-Ho, Snowpiercer has a stellar cast and promises to be one of most memorable science fiction films in recent memory.
2. The Double.
As eager as I was to watch this film, it wasn’t until I saw the trailer that I felt genuine excitement. The Double is Richard Ayoade’s second film and it looks spectacular. Jesse Eisenberg plays two versions of himself and the film clearly sees Ayoade trying something new and even weirder. Seeing the trailer, made me feel like The Double was from a different era in cinema. Perhaps this is premature to say, but to me it already feels like a classic with its Starkovsky-esque visuals. Plus, the soundtrack sounds awesome.
Was there really any other choice? I’ve been a fan of Lars von Trier for a while now and with Melancholia being one of my favourite films in recent memory, I’ll gladly watch anything von Trier does. With Nymphomaniac, Lars von Trier has assembled his most epic, sprawling and ambitious film yet. A sex opus that apparently runs five hours long and starring a stellar cast from von Trier’s usual players to some new ones. This film further shows how unique, provocative and fucked up Lars von Trier is. Plus, who doesn’t love the sight of “naked” celebrities?
Honourable Mentions:Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Bluebird, Night Moves, The Wind Rises.
Candy laughed quietly from behind the video camera as she filmed Kentin sprawled out on the floor with their twin son and daughter. “Careful, don’t let the Tickle Monster get you,” she called playfully when Kentin lightly brushed their son’s foot, eliciting an excited squeal from the little boy. Kentin grinned towards the camera, his emerald eyes sparkling.
Armin held back his mischievous giggles while he held his index finger to his lips. In his free hand he held his daughter, who was looking just as deviously happy. “One,” Armin whispered, placing her down on top of her sleeping mother. “Two,” the little girl stood up, balancing precariously on the soft mattress. “Three!” With that they both lunged on top of Candy.
“That’s it, Princess, you’ve got it,” Castiel smiled at his daughter. The toddler beamed up at him from where she sat on the little yellow tricycle, furiously peddling with her short legs. “Go!” He laughed.
Lysander grinned while he watched his son gently tap his plastic xylophone. “That’s wonderful,” he said encouragingly, laughing at the boy’s triumphant expression. “You’ll be the next Mozart in no time. If you want to.”
“Come on,” Nathaniel smiled, stretching his arms towards his son who was looking panicked in Candy’s embrace, “Swim to Daddy.” The little boy looked behind him at his mother, who nodded encouragingly. “You can do it,” she said sincerely. Taking a deep breath, their son lunged into the clear blue water, kicking wildly. Nathaniel cheered when he swam into his awaiting arms, “That’s my boy!”
Jupiter Ascending & Mad Max - A Question of Narrative Discipline
If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, you need to - it’s frickin’ awesome. While I occasionally rag on WB for screwing up the Jupiter Ascending marketing campaign and deepening the production hell it went through (reshoots! Recuts! Release delays!), it’s very important to remember that WB is an unusually courageous studio when it comes to ‘risky’ pictures. Jupiter Ascending and Mad Max: Fury Road were both very, very risky propositions, yet WB funded and distributed both of them - for that courage, it deserves to be applauded.
Now, I bring up JA and MMFR here because the films have some striking similarities when you look at their broad-strokes. Both films establish strange and bizarre worlds quite distinct from our own. Both films feature all manner of weird and kooky elements (Fury Road serves up a fire-spewing guitar to JA’s royalty-sensing bees). Both films are female-driven sci-fi (irrespective of the marketing and the title, Furiosa is the true lead of MMFR), and I needn’t say how unusual that is.
Nonetheless, perhaps the most striking point of divergence between the films is how they’ve been received - while Jupiter Ascending was (generally speaking) rejected by audiences and derided by critics, Mad Max: Fury Road has been getting excellent word-of-mouth and rave reviews. So, how did Mad Max succeed when Jupiter Ascending failed?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s essentially a question of narrative construction - whereas Mad Max: Fury Road is highly disciplined and contained in terms of its narrative construction, Jupiter Ascending is sprawling and entirely undisciplined. One YouTube reviewer called MMFR a “lean, mean storytelling machine”, and that’s a perfect description - there is absolutely no fat on Fury Road. The narrative is very simple and propulsive, and while the world-building is highly imaginative and well done it all feeds into the narrative - the death cult (”Valhalla!”) bought into by the War Boys is what motivates Nux (Nicholas Hoult’s character) to chase the War Rig across the desert, taking the titular Max with him as a sort of living standard. In this way, MMFR is exceedingly elegant and well-constructed - you always know who wants what and why, and you always understand what’s happening.
Jupiter Ascending basically does the opposite. It’s extremely baggy in terms of its narrative, and many scenes exist to further/deepen the film’s themes, mythology and subtext rather than its story. It’s also heavily episodic - Jupiter Ascending is essentially Jupiter Jones going on a Wizard of Oz-esque adventure where she learns more about herself and ultimately achieves happiness and hope. At its heart, it’s a very small story of personal enrichment - it’s just that that personal growth is fuelled by extraordinary and expansive events that extend far beyond Jupiter herself. Jupiter Ascending also leaves many elements of its story and mythology obscure and unclear. Contrary to MMFR, you don’t always understand who wants what and why - that’s why we’re still discussing what exactly drove the film’s characters months after its release. It’s not that the characters lack motivations - they’re all clearly very motivated indeed - it’s just that we don’t always understand them. It almost requires the viewer to be something of a detective, picking up on scraps of information and finding parallels and connections between them.
I think this is perhaps the main reason why so many people have rejected Jupiter Ascending and act if it’s some kind of abomination - they feel flat-out alienated by it, shut out even, and don’t have the first idea of what it’s trying to do or why. Jupiter Ascending basically gives modern storytelling conventions the middle finger in favour of the fairy-tale ‘rule of three’ and a character arc last gobbled up by audiences in 1939. It also demands a lot of the viewer - you really need to be willing to dig into it (oh, it’s so very tasty!) in order to fully appreciate the film and how incredibly dense its world and mythology are. Most people were too baffled and put off by the storytelling choices to even begin to consider the film on those terms, which is why so many simply dismiss it as a “stupid” film when it’s nothing of the sort (it’s totally goofy and absurd in places, but that’s very different from stupid - the Wachowskis aren’t idiots).
In an ideal world, there would be space for both approaches. So we’d have immaculate and watertight films a la Fury Road and fascinatingly kooky and sprawling films a la Jupiter Ascending. Alas, I don’t think the world’s quite ready for the latter, unfortunately.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this film. Existential, sprawling, mythical and realist, it’s the epitome of good science fiction, both emboldening the genre and transcending it. It helps that it’s so beautifully shot, it’s visual effects standing the test of time some forty years later, and it’s representation of character is compelling and wonderfully teased out. It’s a pretty awesome film. 9/10.