Showing posts with label Pierre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pierre. Show all posts

23 November 2013

Review - Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess

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Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 92 mins
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Cast: Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Patrick Riester, Robin Schwartz


A work as sublime as it is surreal, Computer Chess is the latest microbudget oddity from independent filmmaker Andrew Bujalski. Set at the advent of personal computing (sometime during the early 1980s), it follows a group of programming hobbyists over one weekend as they compete in a friendly machine-vs-machine chess tournament. The aim: to engineer a piece of software that can not only out-think another computer, but ultimately out-think a human.

Its form is as idiosyncratically retro as its content: Bujalski chose to film on some of the earliest commercial video cameras, both for the vintage authenticity and to add "a transcendental character to the image," that would, according to cinematographer Matthias Grunsky, "help express the sometimes unexplainable things that happen between man and computer." True enough to the imperfect and unpredictable technology of the time, bright lights burn trails in the lens and people blur through fuzzy grey matter; like the characters, we chase glimpses of ghosts in the machine.

The search for higher artificial intelligence gives rise to some unexpected philosophical inquiries, but the socially-aloof nerd herd are often too short-sighted to grasp what anything could, or will, mean—a big part of the comedy comes from knowing that these hapless dorks will one day inherit the Earth (for an age of technological enlightenment, things are almost comically unexciting.) But what really is driving these computer-obsessives, tinkerers and scientists? What is happening between man and computer—or more worryingly, who is driving who? As we watch characters struggle and fail to break out of their own unconscious grids and behavioural loops, it becomes clear that the quest for a machine with a soul is far less pertinent than the quest for the soul in man.

Comedic elements ebb in and out of the rambling narrative: a New Age self-help group are also occupying the hotel, and the inevitable clashes between the emotionally-cold geeks and the self-loving hippy-types offer genuinely cringe-worthy laughs.

But the most arresting moments happen when Bujalski breaks the rules of his own carefully procured aesthetic: the black-and-white documentary beats that open the film eventually give way to stranger, more anarchic forms, as the video begins super-imposing on itself, reversing, slowing down, splitting in two, and for a brief moment even switches to colour. The film ends up being strangely psychedelic, but also alive to the possibility of one small thing: Change. Much of Computer Chess seems to be an attempt to grapple with that one pet theme.

Bujalski also slyly reflects the rise of independent filmmakers (his debut feature, Funny Ha Ha, helped launch the early-aughts 'mumblecore' movement) and the birth of his own child in the narrative, gifting the film with a surprisingly autobiographic tone, and the criss-crossing lines between hobby, obsession, love and family stealthily work their way into the fold without any explicit foregrounding.

Four features in, Mr. Bujalski continues to be one of American cinema's most distinct voices, and much like the unassuming pioneers at the heart of Computer Chesswho also focus on the wide implications of imperceptibly small actions—his influence may be greater felt in the years to come. Forget the singularity; as a filmic experience Computer Chess is itself, singular.

★★★★½

Pierre B

18 April 2013

Thoughts on Spring Breakers

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Harmony Korine has finally made his pop movie and it might just be the most definitive piece of art made about this sweaty, writhing, ritualistic mass of American grotesquery known as spring break.

What goes on at places like St. Pete Beach is a truly surreal subcultural phenomenon ripe for documenting, and Korine does this sun-kissed Sodom and Gomorrah justice by not only surveying its obvious seductive hedonism, but also the complex moral implications of those who willingly participate. His four female leads act almost as Dantean test subjects, descending further into the dark heart of spring break until only those who prove amorally pure can subsume the true mantle of “Spring Breaker”.

Korine frames this the only way he knows how, through a heightened form of reality whose guiding mantra dictates: “Just pretend it’s like a videogame; like it’s a movie”. In what may be his only transparently drawn social critique, he flattens the moral landscape in accordance to its perceived value. The iconography of Scarface and flashy boardwalk arcades bleeds through the hyper-saturated neon, and in true videogame fashion there is a final boss and an orgiastic gun-battle finale, which takes place at a Tony Montana-styled criminal fortress.

But are the Breakers who emerge from the bloodbath victorious to be celebrated or reviled? This is where Korine shows surprising amounts of restraint, unwilling to deem the gat-toting avenging angels as either fallen souls or empowered saints outright. The real answer is somewhere between the two. The Breakers’ telephoned check-ins with mum and dad in the closing scenes are hilariously deceptive; a possible indication of their ultimate disillusionment from reality. But they also read like the calming assurances of girls who have made peace with the monster within. The girls who manage to shoot their way to the finish line do so out of free will and determination, and considering the materialistic and nihilistic lifestyle they fought to defend, that’s as scary as it is admirable.



It’s a stroke of genius not to have all the girls be four parts of the same whole; an agency-robbing hive mind. Selena Gomez’s Faith quickly finds that what was initially sold to her as a spiritual quest has indeed led to spiritual destitution, where rooms are rife with skeezy guys asserting their male gaze in uncomfortable, genuinely threatening ways. That pool hall scene simmers with enough racial/sexual subtext to fuel its own movie (we’ll leave it to Larry Clark to tackle that one). Her hasty departure from the group subsequently feels completely justified—that point is probably where most sane people would yell “Stop the ride. I want to get off.” Unfortunately for her, spring break isn’t for sane people—and that’s where Korine’s fascination begins.

Korine’s ambiguity, or rather his non-committal stance towards moralising, allows the film to toe a tricky line between relish and repulsion: the adrenaline rush of a crime spree or an occasional drunken hotel fuckfest isn’t denied. Yet there’s no escaping the self-destructive pall that hangs over the mounting excess.

“Look at all my shit,” I imagine the film saying to us. “Redistribution of phallic symbolism y’all. Undressing the hedonist fantasy up on screen, y’all. Pretty lights in every colour, y’all.” This collective dream of the MTV generation, powered by sexual and societal liberation, which adheres to its own warped logic and holds its cherished cultural signifiers dear, is an endlessly fascinating, quintessentially American concoction. Essentially a designated window for primal transgressions that somehow snuck up the ranks to become a legitimate rite-of-passage, spring break is loud and obnoxious and bizarre and singular and I can’t look away.

★★★★

Pierre Badiola

19 December 2012

Official Trailer to Zero Dark Thirty

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Currently enjoying its fair share of critical praise and controversy here and across the pond, Zero Dark Thirty heads to UK cinemas on the 25th of January, and Universal has just released a new trailer to tide us over in the mean time.

In it we're introduced via brusque and chilly voiceover to Jason Clarke's character, simply named 'Dan', who appears to be addressing a terrorism detainee in a cell. "I am bad news. I am not your friend. I'm not gonna help you. I'm gonna break you. Any questions?" we hear him say, presumably foreshadowing one of the film's more controversial plot elements: systematic and US government approved torture.

Indeed, there has been a bit of a hubbub brewing over the film's handling of this sensitive subject, with some critics arguing that the film inadvertently validates the use of torture through its results-getting depiction, though just as many others have been quick to rise to the film's defence, reinforcing Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal's dense, detailed and thrilling approach to the material.

Heated moral debate around the film always seemed a given, considering the immense severity of the subject matter. Opening with reconstructed emergency calls from 9/11 and charting the ensuing investigative hunt that led to Bin Laden's cathartic demise, Zero Dark Thirty seeks to be a comprehensive document of a tumultuous and generation-defining time in American history, and as such is unavoidably emotionally charged. We'll report back with our full review of the film come January, but until then check out the new trailer below:



The hunt for Osama bin Laden preoccupied the world and two American presidential administrations for more than a decade. But in the end, it took a small, brilliant team of CIA operatives to track him down. Every aspect of their mission was shrouded in secrecy. Though some of the details have since been made public, many of the most significant parts of the intelligence operation-including the central role played by that team-are brought to the screen for the first time in a gripping new film by the Oscar®-winning creative duo of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal.

Their account of bin Laden's pursuit and capture, vivid yet faithful to the facts, takes the viewer inside the hubs of power and to the front lines of this historic mission, culminating in the special operations assault on a mysterious, suburban Pakistani compound.

8 November 2012

Kim Ki-Duk Double Bill comes to UK DVD

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If, like me, you missed out on Kim Ki-Duk's critically praised Arirang during its limited theatrical release, you'll be pleased to know that the Cannes Un Certain Regard winning documentary, supposedly made as "self-administered therapy", will come to UK DVD on 12th November though Terracotta Distribution.

But that's not all, as Kim Ki Duk fans will also get treated to his 1996 directorial debut Crocodile, which will come bundled in the 2 disc DVD. This will be the first time the film has seen a release in the UK, so it's sure to be a treat for those who wish to revisit the Korean filmmaker's roots.

Read the official press release below:

This 2 disc DVD set will include CROCODILE, Kim Ki Duk’s rarely seen 1996 directorial debut which has never been released in the UK; the grittiest of his early work which led the path to series of intense and highly acclaimed features. 
And ARIRANG, the director’s long anticipated documentary about his self-imposed exile, Winner of “Un Certain Regard” Award at Cannes Festival 2011. 

Crocodile: South Korea / 1996 / 102 Mins / Cert 18 / Drama / In Korean with English subtitles
Arirang: South Korea / 2010 / 100 minutes / Cert 15 / Documentary / In Korean with English subtitles
RRP: £19.99

DVD RELEASE DATE:  12th November 2012

Director Unlike most directors and writers, Kim Ki-duk turned to filmmaking without any prior experience or training.Born in 1960 in South Korea, Kim Ki-duk returned to Korea after studying art in Paris and began his career as a screenwriter. He made his directorial debut with a low-budget movie, CROCODILE, in 1996. Since then, he has been hailed by both critics and audiences for his hard-to-express characters, shocking visuals, and unprecedented messages. He continued on making internationally acclaimed films such as SAMARITAN GIRL which won the Silver Bear Award (Best Director Award) at the 54th Berlin Int’l Film Festival.Kim Ki-duk just won the top award Golden Lion at the 69th Venice Film Festival this year, with his new film PIETA. Selected FilmographyCrocodile (1996), The Isle (2000), Address Unknown (2001), Bad Guy (2001), The Coast Guard (2002), Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003),Samaritan Girl (2004), 3-Iron (2004), The Bow (2005), Time (2006), Breath (2007), Dream (2008), Pieta (2012).

Synopsis CROCODILE Kim Ki-duk’s stunning debut CROCODILE is a study of violence in South Korean society and seemingly unlike any other Korean films made before it.It depicts the life of violent thug, Crocodile, who lives with a peddling boy and an old man by the banks of the river Han in Seoul, a popular suicide spot.Homeless Crocodile makes a living by robbing the dead bodies of those who commit suicide by jumping into the river.One day, he saves the life of a suicidal young woman from drowning but only to use her for sex. Keeping her there, he develops an abusive relationship and, despite his temper and violence, a bond soon forms between the four of them. Starring: Cho Jae-hyeon (Wild Animals, The Isle, Bad Guy, Address Unknown, Sword in the Moon, The Kick)

ARIRANG ARIRANG marks Kim Ki-duk’s triumphant return to cinema after an absence of three years. ARIRANG offers audiences a unique and indiscreet look at the man regarded as one of Korea’s greatest living directors.While shooting a suicide scene for his last film, DREAM, in 2008, the lead actress nearly perished and the incident triggered an emotional and creative breakdown for the director. As an act of self-administered therapy, ARIRANG takes playful liberties with the documentary form as Kim Ki-duk traces his experiences and mindset during this period of crisis. Arirang is a folk song and, according to some sources, Korea’s unofficial national anthem. While ostensibly a love song, its theme of parting and sorrow provides a potent metaphor for Korea’s suffering as a nation and its enforced division at the end of the Korean War

Arirang is the ultimate work of auteurist cinema” – Empire

This startling, fascinating and bizarre film is in some ways the strangest arthouse event of the year.” - The Guardian 4/5 stars

"a rare insight into a controversial director who's as divisive as the 38th Parallel." -Total Film

“Arirang is quite simply Kim Ki-duk's best film to date.” – Hangul Celluloid





30 March 2012

Review: Tiny Furniture

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★★★☆☆

Mumblecore may have grown up and moved out, but its vestiges of post-collegiate hang-ups and foibles still remain in Tiny Furniture, the low-budget sophomore effort from 24 year-old New York writer/director/actress Lena Dunham, new out this week.

A paper-thinly veiled autobiography of sorts of Dunham’s own recent life starring Dunham herself, the film follows the first few post-graduate weeks of 22 year-old liberal arts major Aura, an endearingly frumpy aspiring creative, who, jobless and relationship-less, returns to the comforts of the family nest—a modernist-boheme, interior design dream loft in Tribeca. Whilst welcomed back nonchalantly by her sister Nadine, played by her real life sister Grace Dunham, and mother Siri, played by her real life mother and art world photographer Laurie Simmons, Aura’s presence soon becomes a bit of an anchor for all those involved.

Stuck in the water, Aura soon gains impetus after discovering her mother’s journal from when she was Aura’s age, and finds out that she then had a bevy of relationship issues, sex with different men, esoteric interests; in essence, a life. What kind of life Aura wants to carve out for herself during this formative period becomes the central question, and when standing in the shadow of a successful artist mother and burgeoning success-story sister (an athletic, award-winning 19 year-old poet in the film, and in real life), it proves an overbearing one.

Though this may sound like a carbon copy ‘my woeful life on screen’ vanity project on paper, Aura’s quest for sexual, societal and creative significance taps into the anxieties of a very real and thriving 20something subculture —one that barters in 21st century buzz-terms like ‘hipster’, ‘mumblecore’ and ‘unemployed’— though Tiny Furniture is well equipped to deal with any anti-apathy epithets you may want to throw at it: Aura gets a job within the first 20 minutes, it’s rather sharp and incisive in its portraiture, and Dunham is by far her own worst critic, painting Aura as a somewhat pathetic sympathetic. Tiny Furniture is not about a social outcast, at the mercy of the job market and scummy men, but rather a confused and flawed young adult, desperately seeking that ‘next step’ and succumbing to a few pitfalls on the way.

One of those pitfalls is amusingly embodied in Aura’s destructive pre-school friend Charlotte, who ends up reconnecting with Aura at a house party. Played with minx-like relish by Jemima Kirke, supposedly channeling childhood friend Paz de la Huerta, Charlotte’s engorged sense of entitlement, trust-fund lifestyle and wild personality is both a comedic crutch for the director and a cautionary warning.

Other warnings flare up in spades, such as when Aura meets minor YouTube celebrity Jed (Alex Karpovsky), and eagerly offers to let him stay at her place after he half-heartedly convinces her that he’s in town for meetings with television executives citing a possible development deal in the pipeline. This, of course, is fooey, but his manipulative worming is evident to all but Aura, who’s just lonely and desperate enough to pursue a relationship, even after he outrightly refuses.

Aura’s emotional nadir is driven home in one surprisingly poignant moment late in the film, in which we see her naked in the shower after an embarrassingly awkward sexual encounter designed to make the audience laugh. In the scene, shot from outside the bathroom door peering voyeuristically in, we watch her re-assume the sexual position she had just been in moments earlier, as if trying to relive the moment. It’s a sad and private revelation that helps reign in the film’s emotional core, with laughter subsiding to reveal the human tragedy underneath, and succeeds in setting up the enigmatically ambiguous ending — an ending which, I must say, provides a subtlety and artistry so unassuming, it sheds a refreshingly mature light on everything that comes before.

Reviewer: Pierre Badiola
Release Date: 30 March 2012
Director: Lena Dunham
Writer: Lena Dunham
Cast: Lena Dunham, Grace Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Jemima Kirke, Alex Karpovsky

18 January 2012

REVIEW: Haywire

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You’d be right to be dubious about Steven Soderbergh’s latest globe-trotting spy-thriller Haywire, given the story behind film’s genesis. Supposedly when flicking through channels one night, the director came across an MMA fight featuring mixed martial-artist and ex-American Gladiator Gina Carano, which left such an impression he decided to write a picture centered around her physical strengths right then and there. Hardly grounds for much excitement if you ask me. However, while this raison d’etre exposes a certain airheadedness, the end product’s lean and efficient operation delivers on it’s modest ambition with a cool confidence, utilising a slew of fantastically choreographed action sequences that span rooftops, diner cars, city streets and picaresque beaches.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a government operative for-hire, ex-Marine and daddy’s girl, who becomes embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when a job in Dublin goes bad, forcing her to flee from her superiors under fear of a set-up. It’s a rote story arc of government conspiracy, betrayal and revenge that favours function over believability, and screenwriter Lem Dobbs’ doesn’t make any attempts to fetter his characters with subplots or independent lives outside of their jobs. The main draw after all is Carano herself and the fists and kicks she wields, why spoil it with exposition? That may be why the screenplay’s central schema is a series of fill-in-the-blank flashbacks, each crafted in such a way that the audience is only handed the information it needs at that given moment. Nothing more, nothing less.

An introductory face-off with an ex-beau (Channing Tatum) sets the pace for the fight scenes within the film, which rarely deviate from the format of: quiet build up, explosive close-quarters confrontation and swift getaway. Nevertheless, unlike much of the current action-genre landscape with it’s bevy of homogeneous shaky-cam headaches, each instance plays off with creative verve, usually employing the various settings as a means to differentiate: a rooftop chase through the grey streets of Dublin offers glimpses of parkour, the snowy forests of North America gives way to car chases, a hotel room spat with a fellow government agent (Michael Fassbender) resorts in a sexually charged wrestling match. And Carano impresses throughout -- despite the first-time-actor label and the daunting responsibility of having to carry an entire feature on one’s shoulders, there is not one scene in which her feats feel forced or out of her comfort zone, which makes watching her all the more pleasurable. Even when not kicking someone in the face her acting is surprisingly robust, as evidenced by her ability to go tete-a-tete with Fassbender’s suave secret agent in one particularly magnetic scene of psychological foreplay -- although her voice can tend towards the monotone (but to be honest, I wouldn’t expect a stocky ex-Marine to be the most expressive of talkers).

Though Carano is indeed an attractive action-heroine --and Soderbergh’s insistence on photographing everything with a soft, romantic glow attempts to leverage that allure-- the film itself has about as much sex appeal as a married Catholic couple assuming the missionary position. So clearly rooted in the Oceans Eleven series’ methodical proceduralism, the camera is fastidiously obsessed with patient wide-shots, calculated rhythms and muted palettes, which can be stifling considering the fast-paced and vibrant nature of the combat. Kill Bill-esque relish and exuberance you won’t find here.

One editing flourish during a third-act confrontation between Mallory and a partner (Ewan Mcgregor), which cuts up one piece of action between 3 or 4 ‘180 degree rule’-breaking angles all at once is a notable stylistic achievement, and reminds you of the kind of visual invention so sorely lacking in the 70 minutes prior. But otherwise we’re left with an able-bodied, if rather staid, piece of genre-filmmaking. Carano supplies the muscle.

Movie Rating: 3/5


Reviewer: Pierre Badiola
Release Date: 18 January 2011 (Out Now)