Monday, 24 March 2014

Sundance Festival London 2014 Schedule Announced

Check out the London Sundance Festival. Linked to the Sundance Festival in the U.S., the London Festival promises a huge line-up of cinema and music for every film aficionado out there. The festival starts on Friday 25th April and runs through until Sunday 27th April, and will show the cream of the independent cinema crop as well as panels and talks. Tickets are still on sale here, but they look set to go like hotcakes, so get there quick. Also, budding film-makers have the chance to purchase the Shorts Workshop package which is a Sunday seminar with advice, discussions and practical lessons. There are also tickets available for the Opening Night Party, so why not get yourself down there?

For more information on the Sundance London Festival and ticket information go here

Friday, 6 December 2013

Celebrate Woody Allen's Birthday with Woodystock

Woody Allen celebrated his 78th birthday this month, and that means it is time for Woodystock. This special event is held on Saturday 7th December at the Hackney Picturehouse cinema in London and is organised in association with the LOCO London Comedy Film Festival. Woodystock has become the annual celebration of Woody Allen's comedy and this year will be playing one of Woody Allen's classic movies, as well as live comedy from three young stand up comedians and Woody Allen-themed cocktails with live jazz. So if you are in the Hackney area, why not get yourself down there for some laughs and self-deprecating comedy? For more information, visit here.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sweden To Offer Bechdel Test Cinema Rating

Every state, province and country has a cinema rating system. This system is usually based around controlling the lower age limit of the audience and monitoring films so that they
remain appropriate. The ratings system in most territories is self-regulatory and there is usually an independent body of people to vet each movie and make the appropriate decisions. In the UK this job falls to the British Board of Film Classification, and these decisions are mostly based on the incidence of bad language, nudity, sex and violence within each picture.

However, in Sweden, some cinemas are going to introduce a new rating system alongside the one for age that will advise whether the film passes the Bechdel Test. They will be the first in the world to do this. For those who are unfamiliar with this test, it is a marker of the incidences of women on screen. The test is simple. To pass the test a film must contain a scene in which two named women have a conversation that is not about a man and does not involve a man. If you are new to this test, you will be surprised at how few films actually pass.

The Bechdel Test started as a joke in a comic strip by a woman called Alison Bechdel. The joke was that two women wanted to watch a movie, and one of them refused to watch any movie without the criteria of two women having a conversation that is not about men. The joke was that the only movie they could find had been out for five years.

The comedic roots of the Bechdel Test have been used to disparage its findings, but these findings cannot be denied, and they make a serious point for the cinema-going public. In fact many valid points have been raised through humour, and comedy is often the most subversive outlet available.

It has been noted that many films with strong female roles would not pass the Bechdel Test. This is true; for example, the recent release Saving Mr Banks would not pass and yet it contains a brilliant female lead character. However, the idea that this should be an issue is preposterous; the Bechdel Test is not there to make sure that only female representation is available but to highlight the severe lack of films that address women in a fair and equal light. This means all movies, not only the ones that are about women. Bear in mind that the film only need contain one scene in which two women have one conversation that does not discuss or involve a man. These are very small criteria to fill and yet film after film fails.

This is also not to say that every film should pass the Bechdel Test. There should be movies that are male centred and fail the test but this should be in an environment of a more rounded representation of both male and female in film.

Lets take a look at the current UK top ten movies and see how many pass the test.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Pass
Gravity -  Fail
Thor: The Dark World - Pass
The Butler - Pass
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 - Fail
The Family - Fail
Turbo - Fail
The Counsellor - Fail
Captain Philips - Fail
Blue is the Warmest Color - Pass

As you can see, more than half the films did not make the grade, and this is for ONE conversation between two women. Moreover, Thor: The Dark World only just scraped in. This is a sore under-representation of women and, sadly, this is an unusually good week with more films passing than is often found.

Unfortunately this is a cycle that is fuelled by the nature of the film industry. When financing a movie a film maker has an idea and pitches this to the studio. The studio executives decide if they think this movie will make money and then start the project. This is where part of the problem begins.The studio needs to be sure of a financial return for the movie and the financial return is judged upon past box office receipts. Put simply: did another film like this one make us money? And there is the rub. It has become a myth that films about women don't sell; that only young, white men go to the cinema and watch movies because these films have traditionally made money for the studios. However, this is somewhat false in and of itself because these blockbuster movies are the ones which have the marketing money spent on them, creating a self fulfilling prophecy of success. If they are the ones with the most marketing budget then they are the most likely to gain success, despite the subject matter or audience tastes.

Add to this problems of distribution. This is also something that is controlled by the studio, as they decide the distribution of the movie. If the studio decides it is a 'smaller' film then the distribution is very limited as they are not keen to spend too much money. Therefore, the movie can only be seen by a small number of people and the box office sales will be lower. I for one have often wished to see a movie at the cinema, only to find the nearest one playing the film to be over 50 miles away.

So here is the problem. The film industry needs to wake up to the fact that other films can be profitable given the chance; one only has to look to the success of the film Bridesmaids to know that representation of women can be entertaining, funny and very financially successful. Yet there was a sense of surprise at the success of Bridesmaids; one that wasn't shared over the success of The Hangover, which is a very similar, yet male centred, movie.

So, why was Bridesmaids' success unexpected? Because it had a small budget, was about women, and had very limited marketing. It was word of mouth and the quality of the product that sold the movie. If many of the male-centric blockbusters had to do that, there would be a huge change in what we see at the multiplex. So, maybe all cinemas should employ the Bechdel rating and let the viewing public have a bit more awareness about what they are seeing. After all, a wider variety of films and a larger audience for the film makers can't be all bad. Who knows, maybe the Swedish people are on to something here.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Carrie Review - Spoiler Free

Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Genre: Horror
Running time: 100 minutes
Certificate: 15

In all honesty, if you have seen the 1976 Brian DePalma directed Carrie, then there is really no need to watch this remake. As remakes go it is very good, but it follows the original very closely. Where this version does stray it makes very little difference to the overall film. For those who have not seen either version Carrie tells the tale of Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz), a high school student in her senior year who is horribly tormented at school and lives with a maniacally religious mother. However, Carrie is starting to realise that she might be more powerful than she once thought.

Carrie has a good pedigree as it is adapted from the novel of the same name by Stephen King. Moreover, this version has the acting skills of Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as Margaret White, Carrie's mother. Both Moretz and Moore are very good in their respective roles. As a fan of Moretz, her acting ability is not in question, but when Spacek took the role in 1976 there was a physical fragility about her that adds to the character and this is something that Moretz simply does not have. Julianne Moore is intense as the scary Mrs White, and the remake is as entertaining and heartbreaking as the DePalma version. However, watching an almost identical remake does seem a redundant exercise. With Spike Lee's remake of the cult classic Chan-Wook Park film Oldboy due to hit the cinemas soon, it is time to ask:
why have remakes at all? But that is a question for another day. If you have not had a chance to catch the DePalma version it is highly recommended and a three and a half star movie. Alternatively, if you are a horror fan, you haven't managed to watch the DePalma version, or you have an aversion to films made before 1980, then catch this while it is at the cinema and you probably won't be disappointed.

Three stars. Well made, well performed and entertaining, but not quite up to DePalma's classic.

For more information on Carrie visit here.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Saving Mr Banks Review - No Spoilers

Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti
Director: John Lee Hancock
Genre: Drama
Running time: 125 minutes
Certificate: PG

It seems to be habit for a lot of critics to sneer at films that are given to sentimentality but, as Alfred Hitchcock pointed out, audiences should be emoting or the film is not doing its job. Saving Mr Banks can be accused of being knowingly sentimental but this is what makes it so good. The film tells the story of P L Travers (Emma Thompson), the stern, no nonsense author of Mary Poppins. Travers has been pursued by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) for twenty years for the rights to make the movie of her book. Horrified by the idea of letting go of her creation but desperately in need of money, Travers travels to Los Angeles to discuss the rights with Disney.

This film is unexpectedly funny and captivating from the start, and the time in the screening flew as the film was totally engrossing. Emma Thompson truly shines as P L Travers, a character that could so easily have been overblown or caricatured. Thompson brings subtlety, fragility and vulnerability to the performance and genuinely brought the room to tears without saying a word - nice work Ms Thompson. Paul Giamatti's performance as the chauffeur is touching, and Tom Hanks is his usual class act portraying a benevolent but determined Walt Disney. On this note, however, it seems that reality is not high on this film's agenda. Saving Mr Banks is classified as a true story, and in 1961 a protracted negotiation was indeed entered into by Travers and Disney, but it is clear that this movie must be both a simplification and Disneyfication of the true story, particularly when the film is a Disney production. Don't expect this to tear down the walls of the Disney corporation or perform a gritty investigation of its major characters, but it is enchanting, enjoyable and often funny.

Four stars: Funny, entertaining, captivating and genuinely moving. Go see it, you won't be disappointed.

For more information on Saving Mr Banks visit here.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


A quick heads up: if you are in London between the 24th and 30th November, it is not too late to take in some great films at the London Feminist Film Festival. 2012 saw the first ever London Feminist Film Festival and this year looks set to follow the groundbreaking trends, with many films being premiered at the festival, along with panel discussions and even a classic or two thrown in. There are still some tickets available for the events that are taking place at Picture House in Hackney, and the awards ceremony will be held on November 30th. To take a look at the programme of events click here and for more information about the festival take a wander through this link. So, for a good film that will definitely pass the Bechdel test, why not support the festival and catch some interesting films in the process!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – No Spoilers Review

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Action, adventure, sci-fi
Running time: 146 minutes
Certificate: 12A

The Hunger Games was the runaway success of 2012 making an instant icon of Jennifer Lawrence's
incarnation of the already iconic character, Katniss Everdeen. The movie of the second book in The Hunger Games series has been hotly awaited, and now it has arrived, how does it measure up?
In truth it is good, but not as good as the first. As with all 'second in the series' movies it suffers a little from not being a stand-alone film, and there is a lot of plot exposition that is somewhat cumbersome. However, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is produced to the same high quality with excellent acting from the whole cast. As expected, this movie picks up where The Hunger Games finished. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are living in the Victors' Village dealing with the aftermath of their experiences in The Hunger Games, but as a rebellion is rising, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has new plans for Katniss.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire certainly keeps the same pace as The Hunger Games and is entertaining throughout. Plenty of plot twists are partnered with lots of action and tortured decision-making to help while away the time. The same cast return for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with the addition of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who incidentally is the only one to wear ordinary clothes throughout the movie. It is almost as if he refused to join in with the rest of the cast, but hey, it's Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He can pretty much do what he wants and remain awesome.

The action is much as the first movie, but new twists and a different emphasis give enough plot and character development to make the movie worth a watch. As there are two more films, and yes, there are going to be another two films from the last book in the series (on a personal level, why do they keep making two movies out of the final book in every series? Oh yes, money. Excuse the cynicism), this film is obviously the middle of a wider story arc but it holds its own in spite of this. The film looks amazing (the Director of Photography has done a beautiful job) and it is seamlessly directed. On the whole, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a well executed, fun movie with a kickass heroine and a riveting plot.

Three and a half stars: The Hunger Games is a four star movie and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is pretty close but no cigar. If you liked The Hunger Games then go check it out, you won't be disappointed.

For more information on The Hunger Games Catching Fire visit here.