Anna Biller’s kitsch debut is a camp, witty, feminist faux-giallo, which looks beautiful, is occasionally very funny indeed (witness the two male police officers who discover a used tampon in a jar and have no idea what it is) and is well-acted, with all of the cast members successfully tapping into the spirit of the piece by delivering deliberately wooden performances. Biller also designed and made the costumes, which are superb, and the sets, which are evocative of late-60s America. Bright, breezy and simple, and also very enjoyable, providing you’re willing to buy into the lovingly-recreated retro style and tone.
Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winner was presumably going to get a ‘part 2’ at some point, or rather the ‘chapitres 3 & 4’ that the original French title promise. Having finally caught up with the long first installment of this French realist drama I would love to see what happens next to its main protagonist, and am hopeful that we’ll get an expansive, Truffaut-esque serial, though given apparent on-set troubles between the filmmaker and his cast and crew it seems sadly unlikely at this stage.
Controversial upon release in 2013 because of those rifts but primarily on account of its graphic sex scenes, most of which feature teenage student (and later teacher) Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and slightly-older art student Emma (Léa Seydoux), Blue Is The Warmest Colour is more about Adèle’s life than the pair’s relationship – though that’s still a big part of the story – with Seydoux taking more of a back seat during the first and final acts. When we first meet Adèle she is at school: quiet, a little bit shy, but still managing to experiment with girls and boys as she explores her sexual identity. She has changed by the end, in the sense that she is now a professional teacher, who wants children of her own, and she has been in love with a lesbian; her identity as a bisexual woman is seemingly more clearly-established, too, the writer-director teasing a possible burgeoning relationship with actor-turned-estate agent Samir (Salim Kechiouche) during the final moments. If I can conveniently leave personal clashes and stories about working conditions aside for a moment, Kechiche is a fine director, using the titular colour well throughout, and working several recurring motifs into the narrative – hair, food, for example – that subtly reveal personal development and shifts in time. It’s superbly acted by all the cast members, but particular mention must go to the two leads, who bravely tackled the sex scenes and deliver believable, complicated characters, helped though they are by an excellent script. Even if we do not get to see any more of Adèle in the future, at least the two stars have made their names, and at least this film exists. (****½)
I was just in the mood for a 70-odd minute-long slice of camp 1950s American sci-fi, and although no-one would seriously try to suggest that Nathan Juran’s Attack Of The 50ft Woman is a good film, it certainly deserves its cult status because of its cheap-but-inventive effects and its playful subversion of the various ‘giant male’ films that preceded it. Anyone partaking in any activity that might be considered morally dubious at the time (drinking! dancing! philandering!) finds themselves punished by the end of the screenplay, in some way or other, and of course there’s fun to be had in trying to figure out whether the strange ball that floats around the American countryside – or indeed Allison Hayes’ titular mutated lady – are somehow representative of Atomic Age fears and the growing, combined voices of independent women, respectively. The panicked men of the area respond with gunfire, gunfire and more gunfire, rather predictably. (**)
For those who do not follow football, the George Best story is a sad one. The Belfast Boy’s life is routinely separated by the media into two distinctive parts: first his rise as an inventive winger while playing for Manchester United in the mid-to-late 1960s, culminating in a starring role in his club’s first European Cup win and the kind of press profile shared only by a Beatle or two; and, secondly, the way that his subsequent playboy lifestyle derailed his career, with the remainder of Best’s life defined by a struggle with alcoholism that would eventually lead to his early death at the age of 59. It’s a shame, then, that this new documentary fails to present much new insight for those already familiar with George Best, despite the presence of loved ones who knew him intimately (ex-wives, but not his son) and former team mates and friends who spent years in his company (Paddy Crerand being one example). The film covers his career and all the damage he caused away from the pitch in a competent fashion, mixing its talking heads with the expected archive footage; the problem with the latter is the relative paucity of live football recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, compared to today, meaning that anyone who cares will have already seen Best’s showreel of great goals dozens of times already. (**½)
Few people went to see (or were able to see) this Jim Jarmusch film, and it doesn’t seem to have picked up an audience on the small screen either, which is a shame as long-term fans will find much to enjoy. The story is slight, the narrative sticking with Isaach de Bankolé’s near-silent hitman as he follows a series of instructions in Madrid and Seville that will eventually lead him to his target, but there are so many of Jarmusch’s idiosyncrasies it’s hard to take against the film too much, despite its frustrating, deliberate simplicity. Messages are delivered in beautiful old matchboxes, regulars like Tilda Swindon, Bill Murray and John Hurt show up and scene-steal, the director’s obsession with coffee resurfaces and there’s a nice, dreamy ambience to the whole affair – as well as some object fetishisation – that carried on through to Only Lovers Left Alive. Not his best, but good. (***)
Typically insightful feature-length BBC4 documentary featuring comedian Rich Hall, who has now made several of these films about various aspects of the US (usually relating to the American South in some way or other), and spat out in his trademark belligerent, no-time-for-idiots style. This one covers the history of country music, and although country aficionados may find they know a lot of the facts and info presented, it’ll be illuminating for anyone who’s dipping in to this vast and varied genre. I could watch Hall for hours. (***)
Though it does nothing to dispel the long-standing notion that ‘it’s grim up north’, Clio Barnard’s 2013 debut is nevertheless an extremely gripping and superbly-acted tale, concerning two young lads negotiating their way through life in a run down area of Bradford. The Selfish Giant deserves the many plaudits it received upon release, as well as its positive associations with Ken Loach, most obviously Loach’s 1969 drama Kes: this is a grim and gritty film, though there are these faint notes of optimism and humour too, and you end up liking the two poor, put-upon main characters so much you find yourself sitting there wishing they could experience many more lighter moments. It’s set partly within a school, partly within the home, but mostly within the scrap metal trade, an industry that seems at once ancient and strangely modern: scrap collections are still made by horse-drawn cart and men stand around burning oil drums, but there’s lucre to be made by stealing brand new, superfast copper telecom and power cables (even, as in one case, as they’re just about to be laid). Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas give terrific performances as hyperactive Arbor and horse-loving best mate Swifty, while there are also excellent turns by Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Ralph Ineson and Steve Evets in supporting roles. But be warned: Barnard’s film will break your heart. (****)