All posts by Gareth Negus

Edinburgh Film Festival 2015

Matthew Turner, Gareth Negus and Sam Osborn take a look at the highs and lows of the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The Mostly Film team in Edinburgh. L-R: Sam, Matthew and Gareth
The Mostly Film team in Edinburgh. L-R: Sam, Matthew and Gareth

Continue reading Edinburgh Film Festival 2015

London Film Festival 2013: Early Doors

The LFF opens to the public on Wednesday. Gareth Negus introduces a few films showing in the first week

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

Written and directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, this, like their debut Amer, is an art film that plays with the imagery of the giallo – the Italian horror sub-genre whose best known exponent is Dario Argento. If you’re unfamiliar with the form, this film may well be a bit baffling.  If you are, then … it might still be a bit baffling.

The apparent plot centres on Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange), who returns home to find his wife missing. His efforts to find her lead him to a room on the seventh floor, where a mysterious woman tells him this is not the first disappearance in the building. Things get progressively weirder, involving childhood flashbacks, and numerous murders.

The apartment building with hidden secrets recalls the sinister complexes of Argento’s Inferno; I also spotted visual and narrative references to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red and Tenebrae (those better versed in Italian horror can doubtless list many more). But while many Argento films have a loose grip on such trivia as logic and character motive, they do have actual plots behind their elaborate murders and lavish images; Strange Colour seems uninterested in such things. Cattet and Forzani frequently cut abruptly between scenes, often with a character waking up in a manner to suggest the preceding events could have been a dream. (Indeed, the film starts with the camera closing in on Kristensen’s closed eyes, as though to suggest the whole film may be taking place inside his head). As a lead character, he is frustratingly blank; it is impossible for the audience to feel much empathy, or even interest, in his bizarre plight.

Clearly, narrative is not the point in a film like this; it’s purely an art film, a visual and auditory experience that isn’t designed to be watched for the story. I don’t mind being baffled by a film, but by the halfway point I reluctantly concluded that I was also really quite bored. It is stunning to look at, beautifully designed and lit, and the directors come up with numerous images as impressively wince-inducing as anything in Argento’s back catalogue; but it feels like little more than a clever, elaborate tribute act.

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears screens on Friday 11, Sunday 13 and Sunday 20 October. Continue reading London Film Festival 2013: Early Doors

Sorted for Teens and Wizz

by Gareth Negus

There are different kinds of teen movie: the kind aimed at teenagers, and the kind that are about teenagers but aimed at adults. Then there’s the kind that fall somewhere between the two. The Way, Way Back is one of those.

The film stars Liam James as 14-year-old Duncan, reluctantly dragged on holiday for the summer with his mom (Toni Collette), his mom’s hectoring and unlikable new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent’s daughter. After spending some time moping around being miserable, Duncan chances across the Water Wizz amusement park, where the manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) takes him under his wing.

Miserable 14-year-olds are no fun to hang around with (even most miserable 14-year-olds would agree with that, if they ever spoke) and not much fun to watch on screen. So it takes a while to engage with the film’s protagonist, and the situation isn’t helped by the fact that we suspect we could be having more fun watching Collette, or Allison Janney who plays the oft-sozzled divorcee next door.  Instead, we get to watch the adults through Duncan’s eyes, as they drink too much, and lie to themselves and each other – a narrative device also seen recently in What Maisie Knew. Fortunately, the film, like its lead, opens up and becomes somewhat less awkward once it spends more time at the Water Wizz with Rockwell, who naturally provides some helpful life lessons under his happy-go-lucky, man-child style of management. Naturally, this also helps him befriend the pretty girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb). Continue reading Sorted for Teens and Wizz

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Ranger

The Lone Ranger was a megaflop almost before it hit the screen, but Gareth Negus still lives in hope it might actually be good. 

'Why the long face?'
‘Why the long face?’

You can see how it must have looked like a good idea.  Resurrect a semi-superheroic duo – The Lone Ranger and Tonto – familiar to a couple of generations.  Get the team behind Pirates of the Caribbean to make it.  Throw a ton of money at the screen.

But Disney’s reinvention of The Lone Ranger opened to disappointing ticket sales in North America, becoming almost as big a flop for the studio as John Carter last year.  It’s perhaps the highest profile would-be tentpoles that have underperformed domestically this year, joining After Earth, White House Down, Pacific Rim and The Wolverine.  It’s not unusual for one of the year’s megabudget productions to disappoint the studio accountants, but it’s less common for a whole string of them to meet with audience indifference, while more frugal productions like The Conjuring enjoy a healthy return. Some of these films may yet be saved by their international take, but until that happens there’s a temptation to think that audiences are finally tiring of formula filmmaking. It’s more likely, however, that there are just too many of these things being released in a short space of time . It’s hard to look like an event movie when you’re offering the same pleasures as three or four other things playing in the same multiplex.

The omens were there: westerns aren’t exactly big box office these days (but then, neither were pirates before Pirates).  The Lone Ranger is a famous character, but does anyone much under 40 really know or care who he is?  (A problem that also affected John Carter).  And the idea of Johnny Depp playing Tonto did feel slightly odd, even if Depp is part Native American, sort of, possibly (in the film’s production notes, he hedges “I was told at a very young age that we have some Indian blood in our family… who knows how much — maybe very little, I don’t know.”).  There was also a level of weariness at the prospect of another mannered, deliberately eccentric Depp performance, the freshness of his first appearance as Jack Sparrow having lost its shine after three dull sequels and the flop of Dark Shadows.  But is The Lone Ranger just suffering from the competition, or is it actually a bad movie? Continue reading The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Ranger

Edinburgh Film Festival 2013

Gareth Negus, Matthew Turner and Sam Osborn report from the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Leviathan
Leviathan

Gareth Negus

The 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival followed a successful first year for Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara.

Perhaps I ended up seeing the wrong films (with 100+ features and short programmes, it really wasn’t possible to see everything) but I felt the programme was a slight disappointment after last year.  A lot of this was down to the underwhelming opening and closing films.  It’s clearly not easy to select the perfect films for these slots: they need to balance commercial appeal with star quality for the red carpet press photographers, while maintaining a degree of artistic credibility.  So Breathe In, the opener, probably seemed like a good bet: co-star Felicity Jones available for pictures, from the director of the well-reviewed Like Crazy, and an accessible subject matter. Unfortunately, though well photographed and nicely played by Jones and Guy Pearce, the story – middle aged musician and family man finds his mojo revitalised by a younger girl – was a very familiar one, and the film did nothing new or interesting with it.

Continue reading Edinburgh Film Festival 2013

Before Midnight

By Gareth Negus

1995
1995

“How long has it been since we just wandered around bullshitting?” wonders Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Midnight. The correct answer, though it doesn’t come, is nine years: the period of time since we last saw Jesse and Celine (Julie Delpy) in the 2004 film Before Sunset. Before that, it was nine years again, when the couple first met in Before Sunrise (1995).

It’s a long way from being the year’s biggest threequel, yet in some circles, Before Midnight is surely the most anticipated.  Directed, like its predecessors, by Richard Linklater, co-written by the director and his two stars, it now completes one of the most satisfying trilogies in cinema.

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Wedding Hells

Gareth Negus gets drunk at weddings.

Abandon hope.
Abandon hope.

Maybe it’s the fault of Bridesmaids. Maybe it goes back further, to Four Weddings and a FuneralMy Big Fat Greek Wedding should probably take some of the blame. Either way, there has been a plague of wedding-based comedies at the cinema over the past 12 months or so, and they all have one thing in common: they’re crap.

There’s nothing wrong with the basic idea.  Weddings have lots of attractions for a comedy writer: they’re universal (most people have been to at least one, if only as a guest), there is ample opportunity for humorous mix ups and exaggerated characters, both of which can plausibly be fuelled by drink. Add the in-built happy ending (assuming the happy couple manage to sort out their differences at the last minute), something we all need more than ever in These Difficult Times, and it’s easy to see why there are so many of things being made.  If only they weren’t so terrible.

Continue reading Wedding Hells

The Look of Love

By Gareth Negus

Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond
Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond

Paul Raymond was London’s King of Soho, an entrepreneur and publisher who made a fortune out of what he called erotica, and plenty of others called pornography.  Raymond was an astute businessman who worked his way up to a fortune, and something of a pioneer in his own field; there are plenty of stories to tell about a man like that. Michael Winterbottom’s new film, The Look of Love, opts for one: a tragedy about a man who had everything, yet lost what was most important to him.

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Mad Love

Gareth Negus reviews the new biography of Doctor Who producer, John Nathan-Turner

jnt-final.600

Becoming, and more particularly remaining, a Doctor Who fan in the 1980s was – with hindsight – an odd and sometimes uncomfortable experience.  Of course, some might say being a Doctor Who fan at any time was rather odd, but the 80s were the decade during which the programme fell from public favour and was regarded as an embarrassment by the BBC.

A biography of John Nathan-Turner,  the man who produced the series throughout that decade, would seem to be about as niche as niche publications get.  It’s easy to imagine a book on Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat on the Waterstones shelves, but Nathan-Turner was known for producing Who and pretty much nothing else.  BBC lifers – of the sort which Nathan-Turner had apparently thought he would be – might enjoy the gossipy anecdotes and tales of the inner workings of Television Centre in decades past, but that’s probably not a large enough group to make a bestseller.

Yet Richard Marson’s new book, JN-T: The Life & Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner has had a fair bit of press coverage.  Unfortunately, that’s largely thanks to the chapters detailing the sexual exploits of Nathan-Turner and his partner, Gary Downie, which – though not, by any stretch of the imagination, in the Saville league – occasionally sound dodgy enough that you think people should have been disciplined, if not fired. The pair regularly propositioned Doctor Who fans for sex, including many who were under the then age of consent for homosexuals (though they would be legal under today’s laws).  One incident, described on page 194 of the book, is a clear case of sexual assault experienced by the author himself.

Continue reading Mad Love