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Ian Briggs » qft

Film Review: To The Wonder (dir. Terrence Malick)

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 25th February 2013 at 10:51 pm

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Where to start? Following on from Terrence Malick's 2011 film The Tree of Life, I thought I knew what to expect from To The Wonder. Or so I thought.

Tree of Life offered an ethereal view on the origins of life, including the now infamous scene of merciful dinosaurs. This was fine in some respects as the film also made a reasonable attempt at a cohesive plot to glue together the various scenes which punctuated the storyline. It felt as though the film had an overriding theme, and although it was undoubtedly strange, you could kind of understand what Malick was hinting at.

With To The Wonder, I felt Malick was following on where he left off two years ago. The ethereal feel to the film was very much in evidence. Throughout. Annoyingly so. Did the film have a theme? Well, yes, but it was difficult to see how all the random shots of people wandering through wheat fields added much to this story of love.

Filmed almost entirely at sunset, the film had a golden hue throughout, with camera flare appearing in almost every shot. This just became grating, and when added to the constantly moving camera, coupled with characters who couldn't walk in a straight line and had to meander and spin through life rather too obviously, it became an odd parody the longer it went on. It felt like a badly filmed Chanel advert at one point. You could hear people laughing and sighing every time another shot appeared of a child-like woman aimlessly spinning through a field! At least ten people walked out of the screening I saw; the most escapees from the cinema I have seen since Dogtooth, which was at least genuinely controversial.

And then you have the characters themselves. Emotionless, naive, they appeared almost as bored as the audience were. Ben Affleck had nearly a dozen words throughout as he staggered and stuttered through a remarkably wasted appearance which, most of the time, involved him staring sullenly or awkwardly using gestures instead of speaking.

Overall, the film had a feel of a concept piece: something which was artful in its own way, and which would probably stand up well as a piece of art. But there are numerous European directors who provide a beautiful, cinematic, artful experience as well as a damn good story, without being pretentious (Ceylan, Kieslowski and Tarr spring immediately to mind). To The Wonder was obnoxious in trying to deliver art for the sake of it.

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Favourite Films of 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd December 2012 at 10:36 am

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In what is likely to be my last post of 2012, and seeing as I have no plans to get to the cinema before the year is out, I thought I would do the same thing as last year and write a blog about some of my favourite films of the year. In alphabetical order:

Top films of 2012

Amour

The latest film from one of my favourite directors, Michael Haneke, was unsurprisingly brilliant. An emotional tour-de-force that extracted every ounce of skill from the two lead actors (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva), this was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year; it did not disappoint!

Argo

Usually, seeing Ben Affleck's name on the poster would discourage me from seeing the film. However, based on a glowing recommendation, we braved it and Argo turned out to be one of the best of the year. Tense, gripping and beautifully shot, this was a brilliant thriller that avoided most of the stereotypes associated with 'good-versus-bad' films and simply told a good story.

The Artist

Although technically released in 2011, I didn't get to see this in the QFT in Belfast until January 2012. What can I say except that it was stunning?! I loved the concept and it would be the only film I saw twice this year. On the second viewing, my enthusiasm remained high!

Good Vibrations

Local films have tended to be hit or miss over the last few years. Good Vibrations, however, was an absolute winner. Shown at The Belfast Film Festival in May, this was funny, politically charged and featured an excellent punk soundtrack. It gave a fresh perspective on The Troubles and avoided the usual clichés.

Le Havre

This film by Aki Kaurismäki was a real delight. Bleak, cold and poverty-stricken, the story provided the only warmth of the film. Darkly funny in parts, it was a nice visual continuation of Carné's stunning Le Quai des Brumes (in which Jean Gabin was wonderful), also set in Le Havre, which was shown at the BFI earlier this year.

The Kid With A Bike

The first Dardenne film I have seen, and it was a rather nice story of a boy who lost his father (and his bike) and ended up being cared for by a kind stranger. Some good moments throughout, which made up for the slightly soppy ending.

The Master

I didn't know what to expect going into this film, apart from something loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Joaquin Phoenix delivered a devastating performance but for me it was Philip Seymour Hoffman who stole the show. His character was perfectly played and his emotional, rage-filled outbursts were perfectly-placed punctuation marks for the pent-up aggression displayed throughout the film.

Tabu

I think I would describe this film as a 'sleeper'. Not many people saw it, but it was a film that was full of charm and told an interesting, well-crafted story. Told in two halves, it showed off some beautiful cinematography and the opening scene with the camera spinning round the main character was beautiful. The quasi-silent, historical second half was a nice counterpoint to the modern first half the film.

The Turin Horse

The interminable passing of time…and that was just watching the film! Slow, methodical and two-and-a-half hours long, but never a wasted scene. Supposedly Tarr's final film, it was full of his trademark long takes and featured even less dialogue than usual, underlined with a simple repetitive score. It felt like he was describing the end of time, and the end of his film-making with one profound full-stop.


Other notable films

La Grande Illusion

I saw this when it was re-released at the BFI in London, and it was a real gem (Jean Gabin again). One of the most incredible films I saw this year, it was beautifully composed, funny, and way ahead of it's time for a film made in 1937. A true classic!

Incendies

This film did not get great reviews: many complaints about the “contrived and even bizarre final revelation…” (Peter Bradshaw, Guardian) but to be honest, I still enjoyed the film. Yes the ending was too strange to be true, but this is cinema…it's not real!

Moneyball

With a story written by Aaron Sorkin, I was expecting this to be good. And thankfully, it was. A good, fun story, with 1000 words per minute, and decent performances from Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Shadow Dancer

This film by James Marsh was premiered at the Belfast Film Festival. I didn't like it as much as others did, and the reviews I've seen since are positively glowing. That said, it was still a decent attempt in the 'Norn-Irish-film-about-The-Troubles' genre, though I felt it painted a slightly rosy picture of the situation, apart from it's mock-shock ending.

Skyfall

Bond is back! Was exactly what I expected, which is to say: mindless fun. Bond meets Bourne with some action-packed entertainment and the return of the DB5.

Ted

I'm a Family Guy fan, so this film was always going to make me laugh. I liked Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and Seth Macfarlane was free to do all the stuff that was too rude for Family Guy! Easy watching, switch-off-your-brain fun.

The Third Man

I finally got round to seeing this and it went straight on to my non-existent list of favourite films! Welles was magnificent as Harry Lime and the photography was amazing: full of Dutch angles and a gleaming black and white print.

Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine's brutal film was another cracker, and Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman starred. Eddie Marsan as the sadistic husband was also impressively horrible.


Worst films of 2012

Amongst all these 'favourite' films, why not a section for some of the most dreadful tripe I saw this year? Here are a few of the notable 'worst' films I saw this year…

Les Infideles

“The players”, to give it it's English title featured Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin. I can say little more than it was lousy…except to say, ridiculous. In many ways. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it…

Sightseers

Billed as “Bold, and Blisteringly Funny” on the poster, the trailer for this was indeed quite funny. Unfortunately, the funny bits in the trailer were the only funny bits in the film. The rest was silly, contrived or just plain dull.

But the award for the worst film I saw this year goes to:

Elles

Such a shame that the usually-impressive Juliette Binoche was stifled by a rubbish story. Though she did her best to drag a good performance out of it, the film was genuinely awful and described by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian as “massively preposterous and supercilious” as well as “toe-curlingly predictable”. That just about sums it up.

 

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Film Review: The Story of Film – An Odyssey

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 17th April 2012 at 9:32 pm

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I’m just back from hearing Mark Cousins discuss his latest cinematic masterpiece “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” at the QFT in Belfast.

The last time I heard Cousins was at a screening of his last documentary film “The First Movie” which I wrote about here.  This was part of the Belfast Film Festival, at which Cousins also spoke at a discussion on censorship in film.  Having heard him previously, I was delighted to hear that he was appearing in Belfast again.

The evening started with a screening of a much-abridged version of the film (for it is not a TV series!).  This picked out some of the highlights of the 15-hour work and was followed by a wonderful discussion, with Cousins being questioned by fellow Belfast filmmaker Brian Henry Martin and members of the audience.

Isn’t it great to listen to someone talk so passionately about what they do?  This is exactly what we were treated to tonight, with Cousins speaking eloquently about content of his work, the difficulties and logistics of travelling the globe to film the movie, finding funding, and interviewing the directors, producers and actors who contributed to the footage.

Mark Cousins in discussion with Brian Henry Martin at the QFT

Mark Cousins in discussion with Brian Henry Martin at the QFT

He spoke about the great films that many of us won’t ever see: from Iran, Japan and Eastern Europe, and also touched on his interesting belief that every nation lacks belief in their own body of film; while we are quick to point out that most of what emerges from America is not high quality material, he says that many people from other countries say the same about their own national work.

On the subject of “The Story of Film…”, it was interesting to hear his response to criticism about his narration style (which I thought was great, and reflected the passion with which he created the film). It seems the less-than-favourable reaction was considerably less pronounced outside the UK. Sad that this should detract attention from the content of the film itself, containing over 1000 clips showing the history of innovation in cinema, which as Sukhdev Sandhu sums up perfectly in a comprehensive review in the Telegraph:

In a television landscape that fears international cinema or any movie deemed challenging or original, this selection deserves to be celebrated.

Ultimately the most enjoyable thing about hearing Mark Cousins talk about his work is his infectious enthusiasm about film. You get the impression that he could talk for days on the subject and not repeat himself.  It was great to see so many people turn out to hear and meet a brilliant local filmmaker.  A great evening, and the DVD box-set is on pre-order…

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Film Review: The Battle of Algiers

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 4th May 2010 at 2:27 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , | 2 comments

Set in Algiers between 1954 and 1960, this film tells of the struggle of the Algerian people to retake their city from the French colonials.

Having never seen it before, I didn’t go in to it with any real preconceptions, but it didn’t take long before I was hooked in to the drama that unfolded in an edge-of-the-seat kind of way.  The black & white format in which it was filmed only added to this.

Particularly pleasing were the musical motifs used to identify characters and stories through the film, and they were even used to highlight the differences in fighting methods between the Algerians and the French.

But perhaps the best thing about the film was the determination of the director to tell the story in a completely neutral way – the stories told were equally passionate and even-handed on both sides.

This film stands as a great piece of history – both in a political and film sense, that is as relevant today in all parts of the world as it was when it was made.

The Battle of Algiers (1966): 5/5

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Film Review: Double Take

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 27th April 2010 at 1:25 pm

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A difficult film to review here as right from the outset it doesn’t fit into a particular genre that well – it could just as easily be classed as a documentary, as it could a political thriller.

While there were many enjoyable moments, it seemed to strike an uneasy balance between providing lessons on history, paranoia, fear and politics; focusing particularly on the space race and the politics-of-fear culture present through the Cold War. For me it felt a little too pointed and even pretentious trying to draw parallels between Hitchcock’s fear of his double and the various pairings it drew attention to, including Nixon and Khrushchev.

Some amusing moments were created through the use of coffee adverts, though I’m still not sure if that was the intended reaction, and also Hitchcock’s introductions and apparent dislike (even fear) of television as a medium provided some light relief from the full-on political nature that the film developed.

I came out feeling that if I knew more Hitchcock films it would probably have helped; ‘The Birds’ provides the basis on which the story is built throughout along with multiple short clips from some of his other films. That said, it didn’t lose my attention even though I wasn’t familiar with all the quotes.

Without wishing to be particularly damning, I think it is well worth another view (if only to try and spot more of the references) but on an initial viewing left me feeling a bit dazed and confused as to what the film was trying to tell us, except that it was unmistakeably an odd and even slightly disturbing film about Hitchcock.

Double Take (2009): 3/5

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Film Review: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd April 2010 at 11:58 am

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Not knowing what to expect from this film, I was pleasantly pleased with what it turned out to be.

Filmed in 4:3 and black-and-white on a handheld camera, from the outset it had a feeling of a 1940’s musical – the score sounding brilliant and with periods of tap dance and beautiful, short songs in between the fairly sparse dialogue.

The musical scenes presented an intimate setting in various clubs and recording situations with trumpeter Guy and his small jazz ensemble playing some nice swinging tunes – again, complementing the period feel of the film.

As Guy descends into self-obsessed longing for his lost love, Madeline, his smoky music brilliantly echoes his feelings as does Madeline with her melancholic songs filled with desperatation as she tries to look on the bright side.

A simple story but lifted into a different class with a stunning orchestral soundtrack and jazzy interludes, it proved that modern films can still be full of moments reminiscent of the Fred and Ginger classics, mixed with a bit of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker of course.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009): 4/5

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Film Review: Racing Dreams

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd April 2010 at 11:55 am

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This documentary focused on three young kids, Brandon, Josh and Annabeth as they battled to win the World Karting Association’s National Championship and achieve their dream to make it big in NASCAR.

The story proved an unpretentious account of the lives (both racing and personal) of the three children as they and their families battled personal and financial issues to reach the top of their game. Filmed in such a way that it told the story beautifully without any direct interviews that so often over-power a documentary, it was a really nice film that appealed to even those who don’t like racing.

It perfectly highlighted the corporate nature of modern-day racing – the “I’d like to thank my sponsors, my tyre supplier and chassis builder” interviews with the race PA announcer that followed each win told how even ones so young knew the importance of the people giving them the money to race, and how desperate they are not to lose it.

An excellent story more about the kids than the racing, but with some real edge-of-the-seat action, coupled with a heart-warming personal edge makes this a truly spectacular film.

Racing Dreams (2009): 5/5

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Film Review: Mickey B

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd April 2010 at 11:48 am

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This Northern Ireland adaptation of Macbeth was set in the maximum security Maghaberry prison with a cast of serving prisoners, and was shot as part of a prisoner rehabilitation programme by The Educational Shakespeare Company.

While it is difficult to criticise a film based on good intentions, for me, on pure entertainment, the film did not succeed. The acting was understandably shaky, although one or two standout performances provided some drama, and the colloquial language helped break the feeling that the actors were uncomfortable with their lines. It was, however, an otherwise flat production, which even though it only lasted one hour still felt too long.

That said, the value of this film is in its ability to promote prisoner rehabilitation. Some may question the choice of Macbeth (and a particularly violent portrayal of it) as the correct film to produce in this situation, however the underlying story parallels the prisoners’ situation – choose violence as your method of getting what you want and you live and deal with the consequences.

While the production quality (the prison surroundings, the shaky camera work and the cold blue screen cast) could have filled the story with edgy drama and tension, the unsteady acting killed any atmosphere that may have been created and made the whole thing feel a bit corny.

Not the best film we’ve seen at the festival by a long way but nonetheless a worthwhile project.

Mickey B (2007): 2/5

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Film Review: Down Terrace

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 20th April 2010 at 12:35 pm

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For me, this turned out to be a real surprise at the Festival. Expecting another pointlessly violent, cockney, Guy Ritchie-style British gangster film, it proved to be anything but, with some brilliant acting from recognisable TV stars, in the first film from director Ben Wheatley.

The film itself swings from moments of hippy-esque, drug-fuelled calm to spontaneous brutal violence, but interspersed with deadpan, almost slapstick comedy and genuine laugh-out-loud moments (especially from Belfast’s own Michael Smiley), in such a way that the audience is left constantly thinking “what next?”.

Moments of real intrigue in the storyline and brilliantly delivered humour, combined with the fact that the whole thing is all put together so naturally, make this one of the best British films I’ve ever seen.

Down Terrace (2009): 5/5

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Film Review: Adrift

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 20th April 2010 at 12:32 pm

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This was an unexpected hit at the festival – mainly because the other film that was due to be showing was cancelled as it was stuck on a plane, unable to get to Belfast due to the volcano eruption! Nonetheless, it proved to be a solid feel-good film about love and separation.

The central character was a young girl (Filipa) who was witnessing (along with her siblings) the gradual demise of her parents’ marriage. She sees her mother pushing her father away and mirrors these traits when she meets a boy while on holiday.

A story of her struggles with coming of age as her parents finally split up, it progressed at a pace that kept the attention levels up and didn’t drag out anything unnecessarily.

The cinematography in particular stood out with some wide shots of stunning country really helping to immerse the viewer in the story, and used throughout to emphasise the characters having a moment of relection.

Overall, a nicely made film that didn’t take too much thought to stay with the story.

Adrift (À Deriva (2009)): 3/5

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