A Beginner’s Guide to John Ford

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When asked about who his favourite American directors were, Orson Welles replied: “I prefer the old masters; by which I mean: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.” Ford is often painted as a contradictory fellow, hard to pin down. But his body of cinematic work – and to him, directing movies was a “job of work” – tells a different story. His films present a cohesive whole, a clear vision of the world with each new film in dialogue with the ones that came before.

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She’s Funny That Way (2014): Man Screwballs Woman

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She’s Funny That Way might mark the return to cinema of Peter Bogdanovich, but the director knows well that to reach the screwball comedy heights to which he aspires, it’s the cast that has to shine, not the man behind the camera. And this cast might just be one of the greatest ensembles gathered in front of the same camera for any film made this decade, or even this century. Continue reading “She’s Funny That Way (2014): Man Screwballs Woman”

While We’re Young (2014): America Eats its Young

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As the grim realities of diminishing life and unfulfilled promise hit home, Josh (Ben Stiller) retreats into his young adulthood, or rather his young adulthood as appropriated, reimagined and repackaged by a real life, present day young adult. As Josh’s wife Cornelia (Nicole Kidman) observes – her reaction symptomatic of the film’s dialogue’s observational wit – “It’s like their apartment is filled with things we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” The “their” refers to Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), the young documentarian and his ice-cream making wife whose enthusiastic otherness awakens something dormant in Josh and – to a slightly lesser extent – Cornelia. Continue reading “While We’re Young (2014): America Eats its Young”

Falling In & Out of Love with a Narcissist in Listen Up Philip (2014)

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Listen Up Philip opens with the eponymous character (Jason Schwartzman) demonstrating his unlikability through exaggerated, unreal, separate meetings with people from his past. These two characters, an ex-girlfriend and a former college ally, play no further part in the film. They exist to facilitate Philip’s narcissistic approach to social relations. Both scenes are soulless battlefields. Philip uses attack as his form of defence; the person that’s not Philip soaks up the pressure until either retaliation or withdrawal can be avoided no longer. Continue reading “Falling In & Out of Love with a Narcissist in Listen Up Philip (2014)”

The Two Faces of January (2014): Theseus or Oedipus or Somewhere In Between?

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“Take a look at that view. Spectacular, isn’t it?” Yes, Greece is spectacularly beautiful – the 1960s period details enhance the excitable Mediterranean sheen, undoubtedly. It’s just a shame that someone involved in the making of The Two Faces of January didn’t suggest paying as much attention to the rest of the film as has unquestionably been paid to the locations and the lens flares. Continue reading “The Two Faces of January (2014): Theseus or Oedipus or Somewhere In Between?”

An Interview with Udo Kier

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Once he’s finished talking to me, somewhere on a ranch in Palm Springs, California, Udo Kier will visit his horse Max (named after Max von Sydow) and plant the trees he bought the day before. “I have a lot of land in the desert and I’m much happier working in the garden planting trees and watching animals than being in some stupid commercial film.” And with the quickest glance at his CV, it’s easy to tell he’s not lying – as long as you let his role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective slide, it’s a sea of weird and wonderful arthouse films for as far as the eye can see. Nowadays though, Kier tells me he just wants to have fun when he’s making movies. Continue reading “An Interview with Udo Kier”

Bad Lieutenant (2009/1992): 2 Films, 1 Thin Blue Line

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A snake swimming through post-Katrina floodwater opens Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant. Abel Ferrara, director of the original Bad Lieutenant (1992), led his cop (played by Harvey Keitel) through a spiritual crisis on the streets of New York. The Catholic Church was at the forefront of proceedings as Keitel went through the motions of sinning and absolution and sinning and absolution. Continue reading “Bad Lieutenant (2009/1992): 2 Films, 1 Thin Blue Line”

Two Days, One Night (2014): Liberté, Égalité … Fraternité??

The Dardenne brothers – Jean-Pierre and Luc, the Belgian masters of mythical realism – have always placed survival and class struggle at the forefront of their cinema. With The Kid with a Bike (2012), the writer-director duo pushed their themes deeper into the forest of fairy tale, and there they’ve stayed. Continue reading “Two Days, One Night (2014): Liberté, Égalité … Fraternité??”

F for Fake (1973): You Can’t Kid a Kidder – Or Can You?

Having got bored of making (or rather, not making) narrative films, Orson Welles made F for Fake with the intention of creating an entirely new kind of film-making that would be picked up and carried on by other directors. Instead, the film failed financially and critically, only relatively recently receiving the attention it demands. F for Fake is a film obsessed with itself, it tells the story of its own creation, narrated and presented by the master manipulator himself, Orson Welles. The man who once convinced the East coast of America that Martians were invading Earth here deconstructs the idea of fakery; as he tells us: “I didn’t go to prison, I went to Hollywood.” Opening on a train station platform we see the bearded and caped Welles performing a sleight of hand trick for a small boy, dazzling and delighting him, ultimately lying to him. For the next 85 minutes or so we will be that child – he tells us we’re going to hear the truth, pulls a few tricks, captivating us anew with every frame, lying to us until we don’t really care what’s true or false, and leaving us all the happier for it. Continue reading “F for Fake (1973): You Can’t Kid a Kidder – Or Can You?”

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975): Some Kind of a Last Supper

Salò exists as a departure for Pier Paolo Pasolini. But only in how he treats his themes, the themes themselves are the same as they always were: art, sex, politics and religion. The crossover between them – and this was not always the case with Pasolini – is seamless, with the film standing as one of the most unified and coherent he ever made. This may sound contradictory when you consider the reputation of Salò; a film at constant war with the censors; a film that many respected critics refused to even give a chance to; and a film that may even have contributed to its director’s murder. Ignore all that nonsense though; Salò is Pasolini’s crowning glory. Continue reading “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975): Some Kind of a Last Supper”