Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 has been a big year for me in a number of ways, but perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most relevant here, has been my development as a viewer/consumer of cinema. This has been the first year in which I've totally given myself over to my instincts (i.e. watching the things I want to instead of the things I feel I'm obliged to) and found some kind of vague, viscous idea of what cinema means to me - a necessary foundation for an appreciation of anything, I'm sure. This points to a new year of continued refinement and discovery, which, while impossible to aim at with any kind of certainty, is something I'm very excited about.

Looking back over 2015 has reminded me of a number of things I appreciated this year. The arrival of both a half decent cinema within driving distance and a car to drive to it with has improved my life to no end (although as is obvious from the notable absences from my year end list I still have a long way to go when it comes to actually seeing new releases). I learned how to make multiple rental lists on Lovefilm so finding myself stuck with two random movies from an unruly list of more than 1000 is a thing of the past. The London Film Festival was a blast as always, thanks to new and old faces. And I've seen as much rep as is financially feasible for a farm boy in the English countryside. So, yeah, a very good year, all told.

New Releases (2015 premieres, missed a few big ones)

- Blackhat (Michael Mann)
- Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
- Journey To The Shore (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
- Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
- Carol (Todd Haynes)
- In Jackson Heights (Frederick Wiseman)
- Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
- Mia Madre (Nanni Moretti)
- Happy Hour (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
- Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)
- Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
- Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)
- The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
- James White (Josh Mond)
- Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang)
- Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro)
- Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme)
- Love & Peace (Sion Sono)
- The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
- Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari)
- One Floor Below (Radu Muntean)
- The Intern (Nancy Meyers)
- The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu)
- Office 3D (Johnnie To)
- Schneider vs. Bax (Alex van Warmerdam)

Repertory/Exhibitions (ordered by date seen, formats as listed at screening)

Albert Serra: Divine Visionaries and Holy Fools Tate Modern
- Story of my Death (2013) - 35mm
- Honour of the Knights (2005) - 35mm
- The Lord Worked Wonders in Me (2011) - Video

Abderrahmane Sissako: Poetry, Politics, and the New African Cinema - BFI Southbank
- Life on Earth (1998) - Video
- Waiting For Happiness (2002) - 35mm
- Timbuktu (2014) - DCP (on general release but screened as part of the season)

Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien - BFI Southbank
- A Summer at Grandpa's (1984) - 35mm
- Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985) - 35mm
- The Green, Green Grass of Home (1983) - 35mm
- The Boys From Fengkuei (1983) - 35mm
- Daughter of the Nile (1987) - 35mm
- Good Men, Good Women (1995) - 35mm
- Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) - 35mm
- The Puppetmaster (1993) - 35mm
- Flowers of Shanghai (1998) - 35mm
- Millennium Mambo (2001) - 35mm
- Three Times (2005) - 35mm

Chantal Akerman: NOW - Ambika P3
NOW (2015)
In The Mirror (1971/2007) 
Maniac Summer (2009)
- Maniac Shadows (2013)
- A Voice in the Desert (2002)
- D'Est: au bord de la fiction (1995)
- Tombeé de nuit sur Shanghai (2007)

- Once Upon a Time in America (Director's Cut) (Sergio Leone, 1984) - DCP
- In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000) - Video
- The Crucified Lovers (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954) - 35mm

Best First Time Viewings (one per director, mostly seen at home)

- Bitter Victory (Nicholas Ray, 1957)
- How Green Was My Valley (John Ford, 1941)
- Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
- The Crucified Lovers (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)
- The Bridges of Madison County (Clint Eastwood, 1995)
- Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1998)
- Carlito's Way (Brian De Palma, 1993)
- The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer, 1986)
- Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)
- The Story of Marie and Julien (Jacques Rivette, 2003)
- Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)
- Journey To Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)
- An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, 1962)
- The Unfaithful Wife (Claude Chabrol, 1969)
- The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang, 1998)
- L'intrus (Claire Denis, 2004)
- Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano, 1999)
- Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986)
- Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991)
- The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, 2010)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Bridges of Madison County | Clint Eastwood, 1995

A man in love with a married woman stands in the street in the pouring rain, soaked to the skin, looking at her for the last time; a married woman looks back at the man she loves but can't have, also wet from the rain but sheltered in her husband's truck, knowing that when her husband returns she'll never see this man again. This brief love affair will live with them both forever, and perhaps her choice of shelter is a sensible one. But life is more beautiful out in the open, where you don't have to settle for just seeing the rain. You can feel it, too.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

This review was originally published on my Tumblr just over a year ago. I read it again recently and was reminded of why I love Takashi Miike so much - a director I've fallen out of love with to some degree over the past year or so. In celebration of this remembrance, I thought I'd republish a slightly edited version of the review here.

During the first court case in Takashi Miike’s Ace Attorney, the witness testimony is visualised: Miike recreates an interpretation of a crime and presents it as a truth, as it would be perceived in the context of a courtroom - the suspect is shown committing the crime. Then, the defence lawyer finds the flaws and contradictions in the story (a lamp that couldn’t have been where the witness says it was, a wall blocking sight-lines from the hotel room opposite, a clock modelled after Rodin’s The Thinker that couldn't possibly be mistaken for a clock), and the visual testimony is updated accordingly, systematically eliminating all traces of doubt and proving the inaccuracy of the original narrative. Is the witness lying, or has their memory distorted the truth? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that their story has been proven wrong, and the defendant can no longer be considered a suspect.

With Ace Attorney, Miike exploits the idea that visual accounts are inherently more truthful than verbal or written ones to plant a seed of doubt in everything he tells (or shows) us, forcing us and the characters to disregard conjecture and opinion to rely solely on irrefutable evidence when developing our own theories on the crime. This conflict between fact and assumption dominates the film, as defence attorney Phoenix Wright fights a series of uphill battles to prove that his client, rival attorney and former classmate Miles Edgeworth, is not a murderer, even as the supposedly concrete evidence stacks up against him.

Due to the record-high number of crimes being committed, the court system is under severe strain, and has been retrofitted for maximum excitement and efficiency: fought in open court, the prosecution and the defence are given just three days to prove one way or the other whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty before the judge delivers a verdict. Tickets are sold for each trial, and there are no empty seats; hologram boards displaying evidence can be thrown around the courtroom; and huge confetti canons are set off to celebrate the verdict. Attorneys are superstars, fighting off crowds of reporters when entering and leaving the courthouse. This is criminal justice as a spectator sport, favouring speed over diligence and profits over verdicts. Miike enhances the crowd-pleasing side of the process further by positioning the witness stand in the centre of the courtroom, shooting characters head-on with an enthralled audience dominating the background. This contrast suggests the spectators are as important, if not more so, than the fairness of the process, which, considering the excitement surrounding each case, would understandably create a situation of bias - one character, who assumes the defence is “on the criminal’s side,” explicitly states the reason she fabricated her testimony was due to her excitement at being a witness in a murder case.

But, in spite of all the chaos, every lie told in the film is exposed by the frantic investigations of Phoenix Wright. A couple take a self-timed photo together in front of a lake. As the photo is taken they hear a loud noise behind them, and as they check the photo they see what looks like a giant tentacle crashing into the water. The picture is picked up by the media, creating a sensation, and hundreds of people flock to the lake in the hope of seeing the monster - a monster later revealed to be the flailing, deflating arm of a giant, punctured samurai balloon. Images can be deceiving. Fact trumps assumption.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Lady of Musashino | Kenji Mizoguchi, 1951