Features and interviews
Ashley is a writer and film programmer from London, now based in New York. He has written for publications including The Guardian, Sight & Sound, Vice, Time Out, Reverse Shot, and Little White Lies; and he has programmed at venues including BFI Southbank, BAMcinématek, and Clapham Picturehouse. He has also appeared as a guest critic on BBC One’s film show.
Ashley is currently writing his first book, entitled 'Facing Blackness: Minstrelsy and the Media in Spike Lee's Bamboozled', to be published by The Critical Press in 2015.
Contact him at ashcclark1 [at] gmail dot com
Features and interviews
We sat down with the charming and candid Mangold in a particularly swanky London hotel to discuss his character-based approach, the film’s Japanese setting, and how the experience of making this blockbuster shared more in common with his low-budget early work than one might expect.
Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing as an American Epic
The revolution was not televised, but has it been filmed? With BFI Southbank screening a restored print of Herbert Danska’s Right On!, a powerful document of radical black politics in America at the end of the 1960s, Ashley Clark looks back over cinematic representations of Black Power.
Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Sébastien Japrisot, Iain Softley’s Trap For Cinderella is a twisty, Nouvelle Vague-inspired thriller. Transplanted to London from its original French setting, it tells the story of a young woman (Tuppence Middleton) suffering from amnesia who, after surviving the house fire that took the life of her childhood friend (Alexandra Roach), begins a tormented road to recovery. We sat down with Softley recently to discuss the film’s origins and his...
I wrote about Chimeras and The Great Hip Hop Hoax as part of Sight & Sound's Sheff Doc/Fest coverage
I wrote a few words about why I think Gimme The Loot is one of the best films of the year so far
Shun Li and the Poet is the beautifully observed story of a Chinese immigrant (Xhao Tao) who finds herself unexpectedly transferred from a textiles factory on the outskirts of Rome to Chioggia, a small Venetian fishing village. Lonely and concerned only with attaining the relevant documents to secure the safe import of her 8-year-old son, she strikes up a tentative friendship with Bepi (Rade Sherbediga), a friendly fisherman of Slavic origin. Their companionship sets off alarm bells among...
Recently the deserved winner of the Youth Jury Prize at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, God Loves Uganda is a revealing and frightening documentary focusing on the efforts of the American International House of Prayer [IHOP] to spread Christianity and promote the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which included the death penalty for gays and lesbians. We sat down with its director, New York-based Roger Ross Williams, for a chat.
To mark Lowe’s hilarious and frightening performance, here are ten films that dive into the weird, wacky world of plastic surgery.
An old-fashioned and ornate cinema in San Francisco's famous Castro District
When discussing actor Romain Duris, it’s a little tough not to immediately descend into a torrent of adjectival clichés. So we might as well get them out of the way early. Duris is, in no particular order: suave, charismatic, brooding, handsome, mercurial, intense, chiselled, and so very, very French
To the strains of rival cultural broadsides from Maria Miller and Steven Soderbergh, San Francisco’s venerable festival paid tribute to bygone visionaries and the power of art.
Veteran Irish director Neil Jordan returns this week with Byzantium, an odd and enjoyable fantasy-thriller which melds the sensual, female-focused imagery of his 1984 Angela Carter adaptation The Company of Wolves with the camp theatricality of his box-office success Interview with the Vampire a decade later. Set in a glum English coastal town, Byzantium focuses on two mysterious, refuge-seeking women, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton). When Eleanor reveals their dark secret...
On the rise at New York’s downtown film festival this year: post-Hurricane Sandy transmedia, robot documentarists, Vine, lolcats, Facebook-chat reconstructions, a crowd-boggled Paul Verhoeven, cross-format histories from the archive, a smearily digitised Charles Lane rediscovery… and three 35mm celluloid blasts from the past.
French director Olivier Assayas is one of the most interesting and versatile talents working in world cinema today. Formerly a film critic for landmark publication Cahiers du Cinéma, his subsequent filmmaking career has taken in everything from intimately observed dramas (Cold Water, Late August, Early September), technological thrillers (Demonlover) and even epic crime biopics (Carlos).
A vibrant tale of errant kids in the city, Gimme the Loot is the latest movie to fuse the irrepressible energy of youth with the teeming excitements of the Big Apple. Start spreading the news, here are our 10 great New York youth films.
Michael Winterbottom is one of the UK’s most prolific, yet difficult to pigeonhole film directors. As his latest – The Look of Love, starring Steve Coogan as Soho sex magnate Paul Raymond – opens in cinemas, Ashley Clark offers five pathways into Winterbottom’s wonderland.
Ashley Clark positions Ben Wheatley's Sightseers - available now on DVD - in a rich tradition of entertainment that represents the very worst of the English national character.
Sean Bobbitt is one of the highest profile cinematographers working in cinema today. A string of stunning recent work has taken him to the top of his field, leading to a collaboration with director Derek Cianfrance for ambitious drama The Place Beyond The Pines (in cinemas from Friday).
The title of 26-year-old Chilean Dominga Sotomayor’s quietly effective debut - family road trip saga Thursday Till Sunday - leaves us in do doubt as to which time period the film is set. And as we’re big fans of fierce literalism – not to mention relentless opportunists – we’ve accordingly compiled a Top 10 of our favourite films with days of the week in the title. What did we miss? Tell me on a Sunday. Or, more effectively, tell us in the comments section below.
The director of Birmingham gang-peace documentary One Mile Away talks outsider empathy, police harrassment and social-enterprise DVD giveaways.
These are heady times for our generation’s erstwhile teen heartthrobs. In Lee Daniels’ sweaty hodgepodge The Paperboy (out now), one-time High School Musical poppet Zac Efron well and truly graduates to big school, spending the majority of the film half-naked, and even getting urinated on by Nicole Kidman for his troubles
Seeing Indian cinema spreading its wings at the Marrakech International Film Festival.
There are hints of Sergio Leone in the revelatory work of namesake Sergio Giral, one of the greats of Afro-Cuban cinema, says Ashley Clark.
Into UK cinemas this week comes Robot & Frank, a charming and funny tale about a retired cat burglar (Frank Langella) who has a softly-spoken robot butler foisted upon him by his son. Inspired by this heartwarming film, we’ve picked out a handful of our favourite robots in cinema. Who did we miss? Tell us in the comments section below, and be warned, there are some spoilers around these here parts.
Arbitrage is a slick and engaging new thriller starring an excellent Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a New York hedge fund manager who finds his carefully ordered life coming apart at the seams following a disastrous incident in his personal life. We sat down recently to chat with the film’s young director Nicholas Jarecki to talk about the film, his past as a hacker, and his friendship with Bret Easton Ellis.
A host of challenging documentaries at this year’s Berlinale exploded the boundaries between author, subject and audience.
The festival’s ‘Journey into Indigenous Cinema’ strand found common ground (and tone) from Canada to New Zealand.
We've had the usual rotten start to moviegoing in 2013, but this Friday brings the first truly great film of 2013 in the shape of Pablo Larrain's "No."
UK-based viewers of the ultra-serious terror thriller Zero Dark Thirty (out now in cinemas) will be alarmed to discover that John Barrowman - a man famous largely for jazz hands-inflected light-entertainment, Saturday afternoon family TV, and having “gay-offs” on panel shows - pops up very briefly as an icy, high-level government operative named Jeremy. So, inspired by this wonderfully weird appearance, we’ve picked our favourite wild and unexpected cameos.
When Samuel L. Jackson pops up midway through Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Django Unchained, as house slave Stephen, you might be forgiven for doing a serious double take. Is it really him? That hairline! Those jowls! Those eyebrows! But it is, and that’s the power of make-up artists for you. While Jackson is just about identifiable, Hollywood history is littered with examples of actors who’ve disappeared under so much make-up that their billing at first seems a mystery. Here’s our pick of the...
BFI Southbank’s monthly African Odysseys programme continues with a screening of The Pirogue, a seagoing adventure drama which hints at a resurgence for a troubled Senegalese national cinema.
This week, the 29th annual Sundance Film Festival kicks off in Park City, Utah. Founded by actor Robert Redford in 1984, it’s long been regarded as one of the most important independent film festivals out there, giving a host of filmmakers their big break. Though it’s had its ups and downs along the way, it’s had a strong recent run and with a killer programme announced for this year’s edition (including new films from the likes of Richard Linklater, Park Chanwook and Shane Carruth),...
By now it’s a safe bet that many - if not all - of you will have worked yourself into a rabid froth of indignation over the latest batch of Oscar noms. “What do you mean The Master hasn’t been nominated for Best Picture”, you’ll scream. “How could they ignore Javier Bardem for Best Supporting Actor?”, you’ll holler. “Why is Seth McFarlane?”, you’ll weep.
The Marrakech International Film Festival, which took place in the spacious Moroccan city between 30 November and 8 December 2012, was a captivating mixture of high glamour, refreshingly diverse programming, and genuinely populist fervour. The festival, now in its twelfth year, is funded largely by King Muhammed VI, and is as opulent, well-organised and tourist-friendly as one might expect from an event with its roots in royalty.
I wrote about Holy Motors in this end-of-year round-up
Another cinematic year draws to a close, and it’s time to reflect on the performances that stood out above the rest. From sculpted sex addicts to grotesque shape-shifting limo-dwellers, with self-loathing grunge enthusiasts in-between, we’ve put together a list of top turns that seared themselves into our memory. For the sake of consistency (even though such definitions will always prove ambiguous), we’ve only gone for what one might describe as ‘lead performances’. Disagree with our...
Granted unprecedented access to Robert Mugabe for a new documentary, filmmaker Roy Agyemang provocatively questions whether the Zimbabwean leader is the demon that the western media portrays.
Anyone who’s been to the cinema in recent times will know the drill when it comes to trailers. Shortly after you sink warily into your seat, you’ll be hammered with a selection of slick, heavily soundtracked, pompously voiceovered and frantically edited promos for forthcoming fare that will likely be happy to give away at least half the plot in order to tempt you to part with your hard-earned cash. But it wasn’t always this way. Before the formula was locked down, a few films took a somewhat...
Ashley Clark roams the continent’s latest comedies, dramas and documentaries in this burgeoning London showcase.
David Ayer’s End of Watch stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as a pair of L.A. cops pounding the dangerous streets. It’s a down n’ dirty look at the day-to-day experiences of being on the beat, full of suspense and earthy humour based mostly on the guys’ racial and cultural differences. End of Watch is really notable for breathing life into the “buddy cop movie” template; a Hollywood formula that took off as a genre in its own right in the 1980s. Mixing action, drama and comedy, these...
The title of a film should be the icing on the cake of all the hard work; a catchy collection of words to capture the attention of the audience and sum up the essence of the work. Alas, it doesn’t always go to plan. Here are ten of our favourite crazy movie titles. Some are long-winded, some are hilarious, and others are just plain terrible. Enjoy.
For his follow-up to cult classic In Bruges, writer-director Martin McDonagh has assembled one of the best ensemble casts in years. Seven Psychopaths (out now in North America and a recent hit at both Toronto and London film festivals) is a tricky, Tarantino-esque tale of crime, movie biz in-jokes and shih-tzus (!) featuring great turns from Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abby Cornish and more. Such a roll call has got us thinking of some of the...
Out now in Canada, Paolo Sorrentino’s seriously odd This Must Be The Place follows the adventures of retired rockstar Cheyenne (Sean Penn), who is clearly based on The Cure’s singer Robert Smith. Unruly of hair, pale of face, and sad of mood, Cheyenne is pretty much your ultimate goth (we’re referring to the subculture that kicked off in the early 80s, by the way, not these guys). Our glum chums have a rich cinematic history, so in honour of Cheyenne, we’ve donned our lipstick and fishnets,...
Bringing crucial social issues to the fore, Call Me Kuchu is an absorbing and moving documentary which draws attention to the desperate recent plight of the LGBT community in Uganda, and their incredible efforts to make a difference. We sat down recently with director-producer team Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright to chat about how they approached such a tough subject, and how they got the film made.
New York filmmaker Ira Sachs chats to Ashley Clark about big city life and using the late Arthur Russell's music in his semi-autobiographical drama Keep The Lights On, which is released theatrically nationwide this weekend
Ashley Clark enjoys a new documentary comprising archive footage and newsreels shot in the Caribbean between 1922 and 1970 by British Pathé Films.
The Grolsch Film Works staff pick their favourite films from the 2012 London Film Festival
There’s a thread of documentaries in this year’s London Film Festival in which American filmmakers attempt to communicate some kind of truth about landmark crimes and injustices in their country. The best pay as much attention to the grey in-between as to the black and the white but all, to varying degrees, shed light on the intricacies of the US justice system, and examine the crucial role of the media in shaping perceptions of different cases.
Helen Hunt is an actress, screenwriter and director, best known for her Oscar-winning turn in 1997’s comedy As Good As It Gets, and long-running US sitcom Mad About You. In Ben Lewin’s The Sessions, she plays Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a professional sex surrogate who comes to the aid of polio-stricken poet Mark O’Brien, who’s on a quest to lose his virginity. We caught up with Hunt to discuss her brave performance, and the challenges she faced with the role.
American actor John Hawkes made a huge breakthrough with an Oscar-nominated turn in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. He followed this with an equally impressive performance as a charismatic cult leader in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. But in his new film, Ben Lewin’s The Sessions, he has his most challenging role yet. He plays Mark O’Brien, a severely disabled polio sufferer confined to an iron lung. All Mark wants to do is lose his virginity, and when he meets professional sex surrogate Cheryl...
Twenty-three year-old director Jeremy Teicher introduces his impressive first film, showing in the Dare strand of the Festival.
Lee Daniels’ lurid, sweaty Florida-set crime thriller The Paperboy stars Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron and John Cusack, and is out now in the US. It divided audiences sharply following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, but whatever its merits, it’s the latest in a long line of films to have made great use of the uniquely humid conditions of America’s Deep South. For some reason, this location seems to attract filmmakers who want to tell sleazy stories about lust and crime (though this...
As celebrated novelist, screenwriter and director Paul Auster prepares for an onstage interview at BFI Southbank to mark the publication of his memoir Winter Journal, Ashley Clark surveys the New Yorker’s shifting relationship with the cinema.
In Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard’s bruising new film, the director presents us with a masterclass in failing at fatherhood. Ali (Matthias Schoenarts), arrives in Antibes from Belgium with his angelic little lad Sam (Armand Verdure) in tow. With a fearsome physique and hair-trigger temper, Ali is vey much fighter first, lover second and father a distant third. Alas, he’s not the first crap dad cinema has ever seen. And he’s not the worst either. To make Ali feel a little better about...
L.A. native Paul Thomas Anderson had previously turned his camera on his San Fernando Valley hometown in '70s-set porn drama Boogie Nights (1997), but 1999’s Magnolia brought this vision up to date. Originally intended as a small, intimate movie after the sprawling Boogie Nights, it eventually morphed into a three-hour, multi-character drama – huge in scope and ambition – featuring at least five distinct storylines.
What makes a man? It’s a question that’s been asked down the ages, and we can all agree that somewhere along the line, facial hair must come into the equation. Moustaches go in and out of style, but they’re always guaranteed to provoke a reaction, whether it’s coos of admiration or howls of laughter. Up on the big screen, those ‘taches are bigger, better, and have a whole lot more impact. As a celebration of the moustache, we’ve picked out some of the greatest onscreen examples of all time.
From the moment he unleashed the shocking screenplay for Kids in 1996, Harmony Korine has built a reputation as an uncompromising, left-field creative talent. But surely his most controversial move yet is to furnish James Franco’s head with ridiculous, K-Fed-esque cornrows for the upcoming Spring Breakers. In response we’ve trawled the archives through to find ten of the craziest hairstyles in cinema history. Be prepared.
Wendell B. Harris' Chameleon Street is a gloriously strange one-off that deserves to be enjoyed by a new generation
Part music video, part absurdist road movie, "Hi Custodian" is a new short film from the band Dirty Projectors, which draws extensively upon their new album Swing Lo Magellan for its soundtrack. Directed by (and starring) band leader Dave Longstreth and shot by cinematographer Bobby Bukowski ("Rampart"), it features the rest of the band in a variety of hazily defined roles.
Maryam Keshavarz’ debut Circumstance (winner of the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award last year) focuses on two Iranian teen girls who slowly fall in love, and set about planning their escape from their families. In a society where women live under constant repression and homosexuality isn’t even recognized, that counts as pretty damn rebellious. But, to be honest, teens (and especially screen teens) haven’t tended to need that much provocation to rebel. It’s in their genes. And often...
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman burst onto the scene with dazzling, ideas-packed films like Being John Malkovich and the equally impressive Adaptation (both directed by innovative music video maven Spike Jonze). Other efforts like Human Nature and George Clooney’s directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind came and went, but his next project was his most ambitious yet. Michel Gondry - perhaps the only music video director to out-imagine Spike Jonze - took the helm on this complex...
Director Maryam Keshavarz received her MFA in film direction from NYU/Tisch and has been making shorts and documentaries for ten years. Her feature debut Circumstance won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and is now being released in the UK. LWLies recently caught up with her recently to discuss the process of putting together her feature debut, her influences, and how her personal experience influenced the film’s themes.
Filmed over five years across 25 countries, Samsara is a stunning, non-narrative visual meditation which seamlessly and fluidly transports the viewer to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders. (Here’s our four-star review.)We recently caught up with director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson to chat, and the pair were passionate and forthcoming on various issues including the film’s lengthy production, and the ongoing development of...
The Imposter is a thought-provoking documentary based on the bizarre true story of a Frenchman who convinced a grieving Texan family that he was their 16-year-old son who had been missing for 3 years. Grolsch Film Works recently met up with the film’s director Bart Layton, and the Private Investigator on the case, Charlie Parker, to find out more about this strange tale and how the film came about.
With The Expendables 2 grunting and hulking its way onto our screens, we’re seeing a dramatic resurgence of the meathead: nominally the musclebound action man at his happiest when fighting and shouting, but also a pretty handy description for anyone who thinks with their fists. Though the meathead had his heyday in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, he’s always found a way to bash his way into the spotlight at one time or another, sometimes in the most unexpected places. To celebrate, we’ve picked ten...
Set in 1973, Cameron Crowe’s long-awaited follow-up to the Oscar-winning Jerry Maguire (“Show me the money!” etc...) told the story of 15-year-old William Miller, (Patrick Fugit) a music nut who, despite the attentions of his overprotective-but-loving mother (Frances McDormand), finds himself on tour with hard-living rock group Stillwater. But he’s not just along for the ride; he’s been commissioned to write a feature on them for Rolling Stone. In classic Crowe style, the happy rubs shoulders...
With a big-screen biopic of Fela Kuti in the works, Ashley Clark examines the film legacy of the legendary Nigerian musician, including an intriguing documentary about Kuti’s 1986 visit to New York City.
We’ve looked at the best movie scores, and now it’s time to turn our attention to the best movie soundtracks. Getting it right is about more than just picking your favourite songs. A good soundtrack comments on the action and helps to move the story along. When a soundtrack really works, it becomes iconic. Here are ten of the best (with apologies to Quentin Tarantino for Pulp Fiction, which just missed the cut, and The Bee Gees for Saturday Night Fever, but I’m a woman’s man, and there’s no...
The staff writers of Grolsch Film Works picked their worst films of all time. I went for The Hangover Part II.
Throughout the ‘90s, Spike Jonze steadily made his name as a director of witty, innovative music videos for the likes of Weezer, The Beastie Boys and Daft Punk. In 1999 he wowed audiences and critics alike with his feature debut, an uproariously funny metaphysical Chinese puzzle of a film which featured a stunning Charlie Kaufman script, a host of fine actors playing bravely against type (is that really you, Cameron Diaz?), and one - the titular thespian - delivering the ultimate act of self...
After bursting onto the scene with She’s Gotta Have It in 1986, Spike Lee has forged an amazingly varied and surprising cinematic career, from dark dramas and crazy comedies to grand biopics and fascinating documentaries. Now, after a big screen absence of four years, Lee returns with a new Joint, Red Hook Summer, in which an Atlanta kid spends a long, hot summer with his super-religious granddad in the housing projects of a rough Brooklyn district. We’re glad to have Spike back, and we’re of...
Whether it’s accusations of a lack of new ideas, or concerns about debasing original material, few things seem to get film fans as agitated as remakes. The latest to get the makeover treatment is Arnie Schwarzenegger 1990 sci-fi classic Total Recall, this time with Colin Farrell in the lead role. Unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone seems to hate it (“There's something sadly poetic about a movie dealing with disappearing memories that vanishes from your mind while you watch it.”, says the New...
Synth music that dated 15 minutes after it was recorded. Mobile phones that looked (and felt) like bricks. Milli Vanilli. Yet the decade that taste supposedly forgot (or was that the '90s? Who knows anymore...) has been undergoing some serious cultural re-assessment of late and, let’s not forget, was responsible for some cracking, boundary-breaking cinema. Here, we’ve picked ten of the best. After some consideration, we’ve politely asked a few of the regular big guns (that’s you Raiders of...
Set against the backdrop of the 1988 Presidential race, Richard Kelly’s directorial debut told the beguiling (and sometimes confusing) story of its eponymous hero (Jake Gyllenhaal); a troubled teen experiencing chilling visions of an 8-foot rabbit named Frank.
The staff writers of Grolsch Film Works picked their favourite films of 2012. I went for Gareth Evans' The Raid
With its twisty-turny plot, cast of morally bankrupt (and worse, in some cases) characters, and altogether despairing view of humanity, William Friedkin’s latest, Killer Joe, is one of the very best neo-noirs to have emerged in recent years. To coincide with its Canadian cinema release, we’ve picked some of our favourite films that offer a more modern spin on the classic noir traditions (whether stylistic, thematic or otherwise) of the 1940s and 1950s.
Midway through the last decade, one might have been forgiven for thinking that the Coen Brothers - masters of the unsettling - had gone a bit soft on us. Although opening the 00s with the bleak The Man Who Wasn’t There, they drifted into uncharacteristic mediocrity (Intolerable Cruelty) and worse (The Ladykillers). But when it was announced they would be adapting Cormac McCarthy’s stark novel of border crime and punishment No Country For Old Men, it was clear they were getting back to the...
The last time we saw this dark, brooding presence in action, he was sporting shades and a straggly beard, and spitting ridiculous rhymes in the direction of a bemused P Diddy in Casey Affleck’s baffling mock-doc I’m Still Here (2010). Nobody could doubt his commitment, but sadly nobody bought tickets either. The Master marks Phoenix’s first time back on the big screen since that misunderstood masterpiece/total fiasco, and he’ll have a burning desire to prove himself. Expect his character...
Suave Texan Wes Anderson announced himself as a director of unusual comic vision with 1996’s Bottle Rocket, and built upon this promise two years later with Rushmore; a moving tale of a precocious teen awkwardly blooming into adulthood. His third film, The Royal Tenenbaums, was his most ambitious yet. The freewheeling story focused on a dysfunctional family of child geniuses thrown back together following the unexpected return of their rascally (and supposedly dying) father Royal (Gene...
Each week a writer selects their five favourite clips to illustrate a chosen topic, then next week comes back into the blog to select their top choices from those suggested by other readers.
Grolsch Film Works recently caught up with the chameleonic actor in London, where he's currently promoting his new thriller The Hunter. In an expansive interview, Dafoe talked about some of his classic roles, explained why he doesn't think of himself as a character actor, and told us why he got thrown off the set of Heaven's Gate by director Michael Cimino!
In a recent interview, Permanent Plastic Helmet found the charismatic director of classics like The Exorcist and The French Connection – and brilliant new thriller Killer Joe – in a playful but outspoken mood. Peering though trademark outsize glasses and looking unmistakably Hollywood (albeit from a different age), Friedkin elucidated on a number of topics, from his directorial process, to censorship, to typecasting. He also went in-depth on Killer Joe, a twisted, trailer-trash noir about a...
In a new regular feature, Grolsch Film Works picks out what we think is the best scene from a modern classic and takes a closer look at what makes it so special. This week, it's the exorcism from There Will Be Blood.
The imminent cinema release of (the possibly slightly revisionist) 3D action horror Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has got us thinking about our favourite screen Presidents of the United States of the America. The opportunity to play the so-called Leader of the Free World has offered a host of actors the chance to flex their scenery-chewing muscles, and we’ve decided not to discriminate between fictional heads of state and “real-life” portrayals. To be honest, when you see some of the...
In a new regular feature, Grolsch Film Works picks out what we think is the best scene from a modern classic and takes a closer look at what makes it so special. First up, it's Betty's unforgettable audition in David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.
The brash, lively first trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s new film Django Unchained was released last week to great excitement. A slave revenge tale featuring the considerable talents of Jamie Foxx, Leo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, it looks set to pay homage to the grand, varied tradition of exploitation cinema in which sensationalist subject matter reigns and conventional notions of taste often fall by the wayside. With the likes of Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds on his CV, Tarantino’s...
Although the Canadian master’s new film Cosmopolis has been released to mixed reviews, it still exhibits a fair few of the characteristics we expect from a Cronenberg picture, to wit: body horror, weird sex, psychological trickery and very black comedy. To mark this new release, we’ve taken a look over the charismatic director’s long career and picked our 10 favourites. Care to disagree?
With Cosmopolis about to be unleashed upon the world, we thought it was a good time to run through some of our favourite Canadian filmmakers.
As Kevin MacDonald’s exhaustive profile of enigmatic reggae legend Bob Marley hits screens internationally, it seems as good a time as any to cast an eye over the ever-intriguing genre of the music documentary. Whether you’re after genuine musical talent, pomp, circumstance, sex, drugs, or even murder, our five picks have got them all.
Each week a writer selects their five favourite clips to illustrate a chosen topic, then next week comes back into the blog to select their top choices from those suggested by other readers.
Footballers can be overacting show-offs, but very few make a decent play of it when given their chance onscreen
The Wild Bill star discusses his brief career so far.
The best antidote to the money ruining football is a little retail therapy spent on your fantasy league team
With its explosive mix of comedy, drama and racial politics, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) remains one of the most controversial and powerful films of the 80′s. Much of its enduring popularity can be attributed to an iconic aesthetic achieved through a combination of the writer-director-star’s expansive yet intimate vision, Ernest Dickerson’s glowing cinematography and – journalist Ashley Clark argues – Ruth E. Carter’s vibrant, expressive costume work.
I caught up with Simon (of Trevor and Simon fame) recently over a pint in a charming Forest Hill boozer to chat about his comedy career, his love of film and in what ways the cinema influenced his and Trevor’s inimitable brand of humour. What a lovely chap he was, too.
I wrote the programme note for a preview of Shame with Steve McQueen Q+A at BFI Southbank.
A new screening series brings cutting-edge documentary filmmaking to the fore.
The penultimate chapter in our Top Five Films of 2011 sees critic and blogger Ashley Clark discuss his personal favourites this year.
The British filmmaker reveals what drew her to the enthralling and tragic story of Joyce Vincent.
Garry Marshall’s new film New Year’s Eve throws up a number of challenging questions. Among them; what is the biological nomenclature for that silky auburn thing atop Jon Bon Jovi’s bonce? Wouldn’t it be funny if Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges’ job was actually building ludicrous, architecturally unsound bridges instead of turning up in terrible films every couple of years? And – perhaps most painfully – does this syrupy boondoggle represent the once-great Robert De Niro’s lowest ebb?
Each week a writer selects their five favourite clips to illustrate a chosen topic, then next week comes back into the blog to select their top choices from those suggested by other readers.
Author, programmer and all-round film expert Nadia Denton is behind the new book ‘The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success‘, which is available now as a download, and is a timely, practical resource that caters specifically for black content work. Permanent Plastic Helmet caught up with Ms Denton recently to discuss the book’s origins and key themes, as well as her fascinating views on the current landscape of black British filmmaking.
PPH caught up with The Story of Lovers Rock director recently at London’s BFI Southbank to discuss the origins of his new film, his career to date and his views on the challenges posed to black filmmakers trying to make it in the British film industry.
The second half is ready to kick off, as we turn our attentions to football violence, footballers-turned-actors and documentaries about the beautiful game.
Over the years, there has been a surprisingly voluminous crossover between football and film, with a number of movies taking the beautiful game on as a subject matter, footballers turning (often unwisely) to acting, and entire sub-genres being created in its honour. As a new documentary – The Referees – hits UK screens, and the domestic season finally gets underway again, Permanent Plastic Helmet would like to take the opportunity to lead you on a journey through football on film, revelling...
Ultimately, we’ll never see the likes of it again, which is a shame, because there isn’t a single Al Pacino film released in the last 15 years that couldn’t have been improved by a spot of light fisting.
With a new film in production and his influence apparent on the likes of Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn, it’s time to celebrate the career of an underrated action auteur.
Does the amoral male bonding in Todd Phillips' gross-out sequel signal that on screen male friendship is in decay?
Genuinely fresh and thought-provoking, Computer Chess is that rare beast: a true original. You’ll want to see it again and again to parse its myriad mysteries.
Schoolboys play mindgames in this intense and disturbing state-of-the-nation address from Sweden.
As Mickey, Tuppence Middelton is the standout – she has the flashiest and trickiest role, which she clearly has fun with. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Kerry Fox (generally a terrific actor – see Jane Campion’s An Angel At My Table), who text messages in her performance as the villainous Julia.
The ensuing road-to-vindication narrative is surely fitting territory for a director whose stock has fallen since the heady days of his ecstatically received debut, following a run of critical duds and barely released films.
A punishing account of the day-to-day existence of the middle-aged, devoutly Catholic Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter), it is, quite frankly, an ordeal, though one leavened ever so occasionally with a flash of mordant humour.
A competently shot but fatally flawed drama, Spike Island wants to be adored, but only the very undemanding will fall for its charms.
Jeffrey Schwarz’ vibrant, snappy biopic of the outrageous actor/singer/cabaret artist and transvestite Divine offers a wide-ranging portrait of a figure who remains best known in some circles for munching on a freshly laid sample of dog excrement in John Waters’ outrageous 1972 film Pink Flamingos. Let’s call this new doc ‘Behind The Dog Turd’
Mattila adopts an understated, observatory style distinguished by an abundance of clean, elegant framing. But Chimeras is by no means a cold film.
The last thing any genuine enigma will tell you to your face is that they are an enigma. Unfortunately, this is not a message that seems to have been picked up on by the supposedly ultra-perceptive paranormalist Uri Geller.
Though the film is frequently upsetting, there are flashes of dark, Book Of Mormon-esque humour which emanate from the cringeworthy antics of the younger evangelical Christians (some of whom confess they haven’t even bothered to read the anti-gay bill).
That Mirage Men spins an initially intriguing tale is undeniable, and moreover its peek into the bizarre machinations of American government intelligence is particularly timely in the present era of NSA surveillance controversy.
Ultimately though, what the director has painstakingly crafted is a lobotomy in film form that cowers timidly behind impenetrable levels of might-be irony. Perhaps on reflection The Bling Ring is a fitting monument to the spiritually bereft, wannabe culture it depicts.
In Zal Batmanglij’s humourless and fairly daft – but commendably gripping – thriller The East, co-writer Brit Marling stars as spunky former FBI agent Sarah Moss, now employed by slick anti-corporate terrorism firm Hiller-Brood
Whether or not Behind the Candelabra – a moving and harrowing account of the secret, 9-year relationship between Las Vegas entertainer Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his much younger chauffeur Scott Thorson – was rejected by Hollywood studios for being “too gay”, as its director Steven Soderbergh has suggested, it would seem that American cinemas have missed out on one of the most accomplished films of its creator’s career.
Fully committed, beautifully acted, well realised and genuinely unsettling.
It’s a haunting – even graceful – mood piece that deserves credit for wisely not attempting to bite off more than it can chew, even if it does at times feel somewhat undercooked.
Unremitting misery is the name of the game in grubby indie drama Sunlight Jr., Laurie Collyer’s turgid, if well-intentioned, follow-up to 2006’s breakthrough Sherrybaby.
The touching, hugely enjoyable documentary Mistaken For Strangers takes its name from a track on Brooklyn-based indie rockers The National’s album ‘Boxer’, and it proves to be a pretty apt title with regards to its shambolic director/editor/star/court jester Tom Berninger.
Undoubtedly a name to watch, Green has crafted a debut as fresh, intimate, and compassionate as Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher in 1999.
The Director is ironically titled, because for long stretches of time this glorified promo video feels rather like it doesn’t have one.
Comprised entirely of archive footage and cutely rendered Super-8 reconstructions edited together into a cascading image stream, Teenage takes the form of a kaleidoscopic collage attempting to answer the key question: where exactly did teenagers come from?
There’s no doubt The Look of Love is a someway enjoyable watch, but its lack of depth and drive means it must register as a missed opportunity to tell a more revealing and powerful story about this fascinating character.
Based on a 1984 New York Times article, Deep Powder, Mo Ogrodnik's first feature since 1996's Ripe, is a serviceable, if unremarkable, tale of doomed, cross-class love and criminal activity set against the remote backdrop of a New England mountain town.
If you’ll kindly excuse the physiological-metaphorical mix-and-matching, few actors can claim to have been as hamstrung, casting-wise, by their face as Paul Giamatti.
Its final words are, “Do you want to remember or do you want to forget?” It’s a brave move on the director’s behalf to leave an audience with such a question after having subjected them to a bilious box of tricks for 101 increasingly difficult-to-swallow minutes.
Rebellion, a fiercely impassioned, politically conscious thriller, sees director Matthieu Kassovitz returning to embrace the activist fervour that defined his 1995 breakthrough La Haine.
Yes, In The Fog is chilly and occasionally difficult, but more importantly, it’s deeply atmospheric and possessed of an undeniable emotional punch, not to mention a serious moral rigour.
Gentle, spacious and quietly effective, Thursday Till Sunday marks a hugely impressive debut for 26-year-old Chilean writer-director Dominga Sotomayor.
One of the most genuinely bizarre Hollywood products you’ll see this, or any, year, Dead Man Down is a Frankenstein’s monster of a film; part balls-out action movie, part sensitive family drama, part moody Euro psycho-thriller.
For all the reviews that’ll tell you it’s pleasantly inoffensive, it’s got a hell of a nasty, bitchy streak.
What could have been three separate, intimate dramas (and we know Cianfrance can deliver those) ends up as one frustratingly unwieldy and pointlessly bloated would-be epic.
Post Tenebras Lux is most effective as a mood piece. It’s hard to recall a film that has so effectively captured the creeping, shifting textures of dream logic since David Lynch’s one-two punch of Mulholland Dr. (2000) and INLAND EMPIRE (2006).
A sleazy, overstuffed and terribly directed mess. But never boring and occasionally jaw-dropping.
Winner of the prestigious Golden Bear award for best film at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, Caesar Must Die is a thought-provoking, beautifully shot meta-drama from veteran fraternal filmmaking duo Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
What’s that on the horizon? A dapper, silver-haired fiftysomething careering through the air, trailed by a spume of ocean spray? Yep, that’s right. It’s George Clooney, and he’s just been blown out of the water.
Nightmarishly surreal, endlessly thought-provoking and profoundly disturbing, The Act of Killing is a stunning piece of work which pushes documentary filmmaking into challenging new territory.
David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche, a remake of 2011 Icelandic film Either Way, represents a winning return from the Texan director to his low-key indie roots, following several mixed-quality detours into bawdy comedy (Pineapple Express, Your Highness).
Side Effects tiptoes into slightly far-fetched potboiler territory by the end, but it’s easily sharp and skilful enough to leave us wanting more from Soderbergh
Closed Curtain, despite flashes of interest and its nakedly personal nature, emerges as a cold, ultimately alienating intellectual exercise.
Despite the untrammelled menace of Friedkin’s film and the fairly sinister nature of what Matthews reimagines, Interior. Leather Bar actually winds up being a rather earnest and endearing piece of work.
Both Hawke and Delpy deserve immense credit for their subtle, understated work here. It’s a big ask to expect an audience to hang on their every word, and if they weren’t empathetic, truthful, real characters, the film would run the risk of being smug and unwatchable
Overall, its lack of a conventional narrative or easily discernible meaning suggests that Upstream Color won’t suit all tastes, but for enquiring audiences with just a little bit of patience, it won’t disappoint. Immersive, genuinely visually stunning and endlessly thought-provoking, it’s a film you’ll likely want to watch again, immediately.
What with Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls generating more buzz than a tazer in a wasp’s nest, these are salad days for shiftless, twentysomething hipsters in popular culture.
Sadly not a documentary about one-take wonder Russian Ark, David M. Rosenthal’s A Single Shot is instead a glum, plodding backwoods thriller that prominently features every single generic cliché in the book.
In this grainily-shot biopic, Amanda Seyfried (excellent, by the way) takes on the role of Linda Lovelace, a timid working class New Yorker from a repressive suburban family who shot to fame in 1972 by virtue of her starring appearance in Deep Throat, a wildly successful “adult narrative” pic.
Don Jon’s Addiction begins in a breezy, confident way and maintains this stylish jauntiness for the majority of its slim running time.
Set in 1988 and based upon real events, No is the third and final instalment of Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s trilogy exploring the effects of the Pinochet dictatorship and it follows the darkly comic one-two punch of Tony Manero and Post Mortem.
Somewhat predictably, events take a turn toward the formulaic in the final act, but that doesn’t stop Flight from emerging as powerful, entertaining and morally prickly mainstream fare that deals with the issue of alcoholism in a sobering manner.
He may be 103 years old, but that hasn’t stopped musclebound sneer-machine Sylvester Stallone (who’s crafted entirely of mahogany leather, by the way) from flinging himself into this violent action thriller (based on a French graphic novel) from veteran director Walter Hill.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that anyone will emerge from Zero Dark Thirty feeling upbeat and satiated. Instead, Bigelow’s film is an exhausting, disturbing and ambiguous exploration of the spiritual and moral cost of the search, as well as the methods used.
On paper, Sacha Gervasi - director of goofily bittersweet metal doc Anvil: The Story of Anvil - always seemed like a curious choice to take on the story of the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Sadly, on screen, there’s very little to disprove this theory.
In this modern day-set sequel to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a young woman, upon discovering she is adopted, travels to Texas with three friends to collect her inheritance, but discovers a mansion housing a chainsaw-wielding killer instead. Directed by John Luessenhop (Takers).
In director Eugene Jarecki’s youth, he was looked after extensively by an African-American nanny named, appropriately enough, Nanny Jeter. Finding later in life that her family had been ravaged by drugs, he endeavoured to find out why.
In this wacky, Quebec-set comedy, Patrick Huard stars as David Wozniak, a shiftless fortysomething who works (badly) for his father’s meatpacking company as a delivery driver. He’s $80,000 in hock to local gangsters, and then his on-off girlfriend announces she’s pregnant.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been remade (as a TV series, disastrously, in 1997), parodied, and recently inspired a documentary, Room 237, which explores various theories about its hidden meanings. But now this chilling film about a writer, Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson), gradually going berserk as the caretaker of the bizarre Overlook Hotel is being released theatrically in a never-before-seen 144-minute version (aka the ‘US’ cut).
Admit it, you’ve always wanted to see a thinly-veiled version of The Cure’s Robert Smith shambling slowly around America on the hunt for an elderly Nazi war criminal, haven’t you? Wait, what do you mean “definitely not”?
Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film as a writer-director has been his most eagerly-anticipated yet. Set largely in a post-World War II America, it’s an enigmatic, expansive drama which draws on (but doesn’t necessarily develop) familiar Andersonian themes of surrogate father figures, troubled young men, and chance.
A film as overburdened with ideas, characters and plot as its protagonist’s enormous nose is full of snot, Midnight’s Children is an ambitious adaptation of the much-garlanded 1981 novel by Anglo-Indian writer Salman Rushdie.
Call Me Kuchu is an absorbing and deeply moving human rights documentary which draws attention to the desperate recent plight of the LGBT community in Uganda, and their incredible efforts to make a difference.
Michel Gondry’s latest is an engaging drama set entirely on the last day of school in the South Bronx. Following familiar scenes of kids escaping their educational prison with unrestrained glee, they all leap aboard the bus to take them the hell out of there. Archetypes are swiftly established: the loudmouth bullies in the back seats; the preening-yet-insecure princess; the earnest musician types; the lonely, troubled girl (here in a bizarre Lady Gaga-esque wig); the arty nerd etc...
Brit director Sally Potter’s latest is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-ager which uses the backdrop of the Cold War and the growth of the anti-nuclear protest movement to underpin a tale of friendship and family coming apart at the seams. It’s full of dodgy accents, comfy knitwear, and, like most British films, Timothy Spall.
Winner of the Palme d’Or prize for best film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Michael Haneke’s Amour is a compassionate, rigorous and wrenching study of an elderly, retired married couple staring mortality in the face.
Focusing upon a brief period of sexual awakening in the life of severely disabled Californian journalist and poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), The Sessions is an amiable and largely enjoyable comedy drama. With its sturdy combination of moral compromises, character “learning journeys”, and occasional raciness, it largely cleaves to the bittersweet Indiewood template of stock Fox Searchlight fare (think Win Win, The Descendants).
From the disorienting, hand-held opening shots of a distressed Heathcliff (James Howson) repeatedly smashing himself into a wall, it’s clear that Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel is going to take a radical approach to material that’s been excavated in more genteel fashion countless times before.
Rust and Bone - the new film from French director Jacques Audiard - opens with Ali (Matthias Schoenarts) hitchhiking from Belgium to the Antibes with his angelic 5-year-old son Sam (Armand Verdure) in tow. Quickly finding work as a nightclub bouncer, Ali comes to the aid of the drunk and distressed Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) one evening. Soon thereafter, Stephanie - a whale trainer by profession - suffers an horrific accident on the job which results in the loss of her legs. In the...
Based on George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, Andrew Dominik’s first film since 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James is an atmospheric and extremely violent thriller with political pretensions.
Savages, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when a near-geriatric director with an insatiable addiction to whizz-bang stylistics attempts to make a sexy film for the yoof market. Like a spritzered-up granddad crashing your Super Sweet 16 celebrations, it’s initially quite funny and not without charm, but ultimately embarrassing and potentially dangerous.
London cop drama The Sweeney revolutionised the genre when it aired on TV in the 1970s, introducing audiences to gritty violence, moral ambiguity and extreme womanising as personified by detectives Regan and Carter (John Thaw and Dennis Waterman). The show now seems very much a product of its time, but arch nu-lad Nick Love has still opted to reboot this property for a new generation. The results are mixed.
On 2 April 2011, dance/post-punk band LCD Soundsystem played their final gig – an epic four-hour spectacular – at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden. Unlike most bands, however, their swansong was not provoked by creative putrefaction or intra-band tension. Rather, their leader James Murphy simply decided it was high time, after nine years and three critically acclaimed albums, to call it quits.
Commissioned by alt-rock group Angels and Airwaves (who also provide the widdly score), and inspired by Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot, Love is an earnest sci-fi drama that mines familiar themes of isolation and connection in its slow-moving tale of a stranded astronaut. Wearing its influences on its puffy spacesuit sleeve, Love doesn’t so much nod toward the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Moon as repeatedly grovel on the floor in blank reverence.
Shot in breathtaking 70mm in 26 different countries, and supercharged with some astonishingly innovative sound design, this follow up to director and cinematographer Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka is an immersive, non-narrative cinematic symphony which explores the links between nature, humanity and the cycle of life.
Winner of the Alfred Bauer prize for innovation at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu is a languorous, elliptical meditation on memory, love and colonialism, beautifully filmed and lit in black and white.
Winner of the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Maryam Keshavarz's impressive, immersive feature debut focuses on the clandestine relationship that develops between two spirited young women in modern day Iran. In this society, women exist in a repressive environment, while homosexuality is not even recognised. So it’s fair to say, the stakes are high.
Director Jennifer Lynch (yep, daughter of David) returns after 2008’s Surveillance with this initially intriguing but ultimately silly and oft-unpleasant serial killer horror. Chained is an unappetising stew of trashy cliches and unbelievable plotting which proves that she’s failed to inherit her father’s uncanny sense for producing cinematic dread and terror.
Evocative of Jeanie Livingstone’s landmark 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, sparky musical comedy Leave It On The Floor focuses its attention on the modern-day, LA-based voguing and ball underground community. Comprised largely of runaway, dispossessed gay and transgendered African-Americans and Latinos, these groups have come together after adversity to create a new subculture of dance, music, theatre and family.
A rare dose of docu-optimism arrives in the form of this generally upbeat examination into the future of electric cars.
Paul Harrison's The Black Flash attempts, through a combination of autobiography, oral history and the author's own observation, to unspool the tragic tale of Albert Johanneson. The South African-born Leeds United forward endured racism on and off the field, became the first black footballer to play in an FA Cup final (in 1965), and eventually succumbed to alcoholism and an early death in 1995.
Based on an award-winning novel by Sleeping Beauty director Julia Leigh, The Hunter is a haunting, effective thriller with an unusual ecological theme. It’s marked by a finely calibrated lead turn from the excellent Willem Dafoe, who shines in a rare leading role.
Musician and activist Harry Belafonte makes for a charismatic subject in this moving and educational doc
Finally emerging on these shores after filming wrapped in 2009, troubled World War II epic Red Tails offers a fictionalised portrayal of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American US Army Air Force soldiers who battled skepticism borne of racial bigotry to win nearly 100 distinguished flying crosses.
Those of you expecting a proper return to form from Sacha Baron Cohen after the patchy Bruno will be disappointed with The Dictator.
The intriguing directorial career of Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching The Void) continues with an exhaustive, expansive 2 1/2 hour documentary on Bob Marley, the reggae legend who died of cancer in 1981.
Odd, sweet and languid, but little to get your teeth into
2 Days in New York's biggest problem is that for a comedy, it simply isn't funny
A moving, engaging puppeteer doc guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
A spectacularly misconceived and fundamentally unnecessary adaptation of the Scottish author’s 1996 short story ‘The Undefeated’.
Ultimately in Payback Season, the commitment of the performers is undermined by the laziness of the film-making. You are left wanting a more considered portrait of the football world.
Footy-laced morality tale lacks resonance beyond its own narrow (and cliché-strewn) story.
Singular in style and impressively reflective of its protagonist’s nature. Universal in theme, but may struggle to find a wide audience.
Enjoyment of Red Dog will hinge upon one’s tolerance for extremely broad characterisation and relentlessly prescriptive soundtrack cues
Intermittently enjoyable but often dull. And too bloody loud.
Too silly and predictable to be suspenseful, yet there’s menace in the well-chosen locations.
Girl Model is hugely uncomfortable at times, yet it's essential, revelatory viewing.
It’s simply not resonant in the way that the best Shakespeare adaptations are.
Had the filmmakers been honest, they’d have called it The Darkest 89 Minutes.
While the characterisation is thin and delivered in broad strokes, by the time havoc breaks loose it’s unlikely you’ll care too much.
An important post-9/11 movie with its own troubled mythology.
Engaging and poignant from the first shot, Dreams of a Life is a bold, complex approach to documentary filmmaking.
Takes its audience for granted and consistently stoops to adopt the cheaply-earned emotional tactics and hoary clichés of barrel-scraping reality TV.
At a lean 83 minutes there’s no time to get bored, and Bhogal’s style marks him out as a name for the future.