It feels as something has been missing from big studio films in recent memory, at least when you ask general audiences. The kind of archaic, action-heavy and pathos-ridden blockbusters that usually draw many to the theatre, seem to have lost their appeal. In the exact moment where the cinema as an institution has gained a major rival in the form of streaming services, the films that usually gel so well on the big screen, with their opulent production design and their often CG-supported visual grandeur, seem have lost contact to their potential audiences, no matter how visually inventive or audacious they are. Some of these films get a push in the case of a positive critical reception or massive marketing campaigns, but in general, new franchises are hit hard at the box office. Recent examples are plenty and to be fair, many of these films are forgettable. But even films that truly stand out have to take major losses in their cinema runs.
One example is Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (2014), an action film with a star-studded cast, a talented crew and stellar reviews. It concisely mixed genre conventions into big entertainment — but despite the quality on display and the accessibility in the film’s storytelling, the general public wasn’t interested in seeing it. And while they didn’t get away with a positive critic’s consensus, flopped films such as the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) have gained a community of fans, who admire them for their courage to be original in their vision of spectacle and who prevent their names from being forgotten in the flash flood of the contemporary blockbuster landscape. It’s a slightly different story with Mortal Engines — but not all too different.
Mortal Engines (2018) – directed by Christian Rivers, all right reserved to © Universal Pictures
The base setup of the film is one that seems to be, in theory, a safe bet: produced and co-written by Peter Jackson, who used to be the biggest name of the industry in relation to the type of filmmaking in question, Mortal Engines somehow managed to completely bomb at the box office. It is actually quite a shame, because the film keeps its promise of – big – and manages to possess much more vigor and excitement than the average blockbuster film.
Continue reading “‘Mortal Engines’ Slaps — But No One Wants to See It”
German sneak previews can be fun. You pay a fixed amount of money for a ticket and get to see a movie ahead of its official theatrical release. The actual gag of that concept is that you obviously never know which movie will play, and while it’s possible to narrow down the possibilities based on upcoming releases, there’ll still be a broad range of films that have a chance to be shown. In conclusion: It’s as likely for a studio comedy to screen as a Cannes competitor — quality, genre and degree of audience compatibility are completely variable factors. The only right way to play this game is to leave your expectations under the doormat. Additionally it doesn’t hurt to bring someone with you. Since the surprise and the challenge to keep an open mind is injected into the premise, it doesn’t even need to be someone who is much of a cinephile — either way, the event is even more fun in the presence of good company.
It happened to be that just a few days before Christmas, I found myself in one of these sneak previews. The German release of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters was imminent, so a sweet tingle of hopeful delusions swelled right before the screening and was restlessly shattered as it became clear, that the movie shown was going to be Instant Family, a Mark Wahlberg/Rose Byrne-led comedy about an American middle-class couple adopting three children after finding their lives in a dry spell. On first glance, it sounds like an appalling, class-insensitive expression of a white-savior narrative, one that is still so widely accepted that it would hardly come as a shock if the film turned out to be exactly that. The actual shock came gradually with the realization that the film doesn’t only possess truly effective comedy in realms of absurdity I had never expected, but also manages to pull off a surprisingly sensitive dig at its narrative, which never goes the route of the melodramatic and offensive hell I feared.
Continue reading “‘Instant Family’ is Hilarious and Has Its Heart In The Right Spot”
Jim Cumming follows a lot of people on Twitter. In fact, as I’m writing this, about twenty-two thousand of them. I am not one of them, but a good friend of mine is, who decided to visit me over the course of the Film Festival Cologne. He told me about a very short, likeable social media interaction with Cummings and his interest in the now fully-fledged feature film Thunder Road after seeing its short film prototype of the same name – a brilliant one-take tour de force. Sure, I had heard about the film’s buzz from Sundance, but the consideration to actually go see it after spotting it on the festival lineup, came only by then. American independent filmmaking is tough, but Cummings found his own way to spread the word by actively sending out screeners and interacting with people. It’s likely a lot of work, but it paid off. And it did not pay off for a letdown – from a cinematic standpoint, Thunder Road is an impeccably crafted standout of recent American independent film.
Continue reading “Film Festival Cologne ‘18 Review: ‘Thunder Road’”
Selva walks down a hallway in a permanent shift of horror and disbelief that makes her both scream and laugh. She finally ends up at a peaceful wall painting of a forest lit in warm daylight. She is struck by it for a second, then bends back her body to scream into the void. Played by a truly unchained Sofia Boutella who finally gets to showcase her entire range of artistic expression, Selva is a dance choreographer, who agreed to train a small circle of students assembled in a remote school building for some sort of winter dance camp. It seems barely hours prior that she was less existentially disturbed and in possession of severely more chill. The same counts for the rest of the now completely deranged group of dancers.
Continue reading “‘Climax’ Is the Most Well-Adjusted Shot of Acid Gaspar Noé Has Ever Rammed into Your Eyeballs”
In perhaps the most striking scene of Claire Denis’ debut Chocolat, we see Proteé – the “houseboy” of a French civil servant in the colonialized Cameroon of the late 50’s – working on a generator in a small hut. After a while, he notices that someone is observing him. It’s France, the infant daughter of the civil servant. There is a somewhat hard emotion palpable in the air. France asks Proteé if one of the parts of the machine is hot. Without stirring an emotion, the man presses his hand on a tube. France tries to do the same but cries out as she realizes the tube is in fact incredibly hot, and leaves her hand burned. Proteé’s hand is burned to a much more severe degree, but he doesn’t flinch. He just looks at her. There is nothing more to say. He leaves into the night and never comes back.
This scene is a crucial component to understanding Claire Denis’ cinema, which has separated itself from the majority of European auteur cinema and moves on its very own heady and uncompromising path.
Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: Claire Denis Doesn’t Show Us the War, but the Aftermath”
This piece is part of a series called Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink – here we try to bring films, that have been overlooked during their time, or were (despite their distinctive and timely nature) somehow forgotten, back onto the radar. It’s an attempt at reaching into the dusty niches of time and fishing some true gems out of there. We hope to peak your interest towards some of these films, so they can be reintroduced into today’s film discussion.
There is that kind of film that I love to return to when I feel like my day is reaching a feel-bad peak, often connected to a still image of my room’s ceiling. These wonderful and yet rarely praised films are light, trope-heavy, easy to follow, inherently dramatic and ready to beat up the tearjerk button – all set for a slightly manipulative and cathartic escape from reality, while always having some sort of honest, emotional thread that connects with you and lifts you up. One of my very favorite films of that genre are the two Mamma Mia! outings, both heavily escapist and yet emotionally compelling at the same time. It’s a very hard task for filmmakers to hit that sweet balance and for many cine-dependents like me, the further search for these films never stops. It was a pleasant surprise when Sunny, a film that was a box office smash hit in Korea, yet in the west was almost exclusively known by the loyal followers of Korean cinema, landed on my radar after a good friend recommended it to me.
After the death of one of her old classmates, Na-Mi, a woman stuck in her unsatisfactory role as a middle-aged housewife, sees a chance to gain a new purpose in fulfilling latter’s dying wish and tries to reunite her old school clique. The film intercuts between the tumultuous school days of these girls and Na-Mi’s quest to convince her old friends to reunite for one more time. It’s a premise that seemingly gets re-interpreted by the month, but Sunny is somehow very distinct from them.
Continue reading “Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink – ‘Sunny’ and the Pleasure of Being Emotionally Manipulated”
When Andrew Bujalski released his debut Funny Ha Ha in 2002, it was not evident yet that he would forever change the face of an entire subgenre. The film spawned a movement that is often not particularly adored, but whose spirit is undeniably injected into the majority of modern American independent films – the Mumblecore.
Most films of this genre, heavily shaped by their feeling of structural spontaneity, rejection of conventional storytelling beats and DIY-aesthetic (in the same vein as the Berliner Schule and the Dogma movement), focus on creating a feeling of extreme realism and intimacy. Bujalski, less successfully, repeated that formula two more times with Mutual Appreciation (2005) and Beeswax (2009), until he showed his will to experiment with the Mumblecore form. With his refreshingly weird and insanely original Computer Chess (2013), a niche masterpiece that feels somehow isolated (for the lack of a better word) in its attempt at cinematic storytelling, he created a wholly original subversion of the genre – an absurd period piece about a programming tournament with the goal to create a computer, which is able to beat a human being at chess.
In 2015, Bujalski got a shot at Results, a somewhat bigger project, starring Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce. It was the first step of a departure that aimed to reach a broader audience and which finally hit a climax in the newest project of his rich and inventive filmography. Unfolding over about 24 hours in the life of a working-class woman, Support the Girls is a vital, entertaining and accessible film that fits into the rare bridge between auteur filmmaking and mainstream delight.
Continue reading “‘Support the Girls’ Is a Vigorous Triumph Both as a Mainstream and Auteur Effort”