Movies by Mills (November 2013)

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Issue 7

November 2013



EDITORIAL Welcome to this special edition of MbM celebrating the th 57 BFI London Film Festival. What a spectacular festival it has been! th In this the 7 issue of this magazine I shall be reviewing seven films which MbM strongly recommends as examples of great cinema: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Spectacular Now, Labor Day, The Past, Salvo, and Saving Mr Banks. You be able to eavesdrop on interviews with directors James Ponsoldt of The Spectacular Now, and with Antonio Piazza & Fabio Grassadonia of Salvo. Walk the red carpet with Kate Winslet at the opening of Labor Day and be in the front row at the Press Conference of Saving Mr Banks with Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson and Colin Farrell. There is also Film Fest Follower which looks at the Rome International Film Festival, selecting films to see, the highlight of this festival and one of the most original and important films coming to our screens is HER. It has a cinematic pedigree which is awesome: directed by Spike Jonze of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson and Olivia Wilde. The film was premiered at the New York Film Festival in October. Extras takes a look at the Chinese film Mystery available from Artificial Eye. The film will be seen some time next year in arthouse cinemas in the UK. Last year the London Film Festival was the first one under its new director Clare Stewart who was replacing Sandra Hebron who had served most successfully in preceding years with exciting programmes. When Clare came in she changed the set-up of the programme and listed the films under emotions and themes which not everybody liked, including MbM, but it has worked because the new format brought the attention to a whole new audience of over 30,000 cinemagoers that had not been to the LFF before. I would like to give thanks to all the staff of the London Film Festival and particularly the volunteers who play a major role in a film festival. Acknowledgements to the following distributors: Sony Pictures Releasing International, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Pecadillo Pictures and the Artificial Eye Film Company. Finally thanks to Paul Ridler for designing the look of MbM and of course you, the reader for sharing this labour of love. Enjoy the read.

Brian Mills 3

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS It is established in the first few moments that Richard Phillips is a family man as he bemoans to his wife that there is too much pressure on young people nowadays. So many chasing one job, things have changed, it never used to be like that. His observations are made while on the way to his latest assignment, captaining a container ship. It is an ironic precursor to what is to follow when his ship the MV Maersk Alabama is hijacked by Somali pirates off the Somali coast. For Greengrass, it is a comfortable-slipper’s ride. For the audience, it is heart pounding stuff. He has honed his craft on specific techniques that are easily recognized as his own: a handheld camera shoot and action-packed sequences liberally spread with embedded emotion: the testosterone trilogy of Damon starrers: The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone greased the pathway for what was to come – and here it is in all its sweaty glory: a hijack on the high seas with a ransom dangling over the life of the captain. From his super 8 beginnings Paul has learnt a lot about filmmaking and so have we. By showing the back-story of how the young men live and are recruited to take to their small boat to seek out the huge vessel that could bring them riches and change their lives forever is a way of understanding their reasons for risking their lives; the director 4

makes us see and have empathy for the pirates rather than just seeing them as ruthless killers. Tom Hanks has long reached the status where he doesn’t have to wish to be Big anymore – he is, but this film really engraves his name in the Hall of Fame for a performance that is at times agonisingly painful to witness. Towards the end of the film when Captain Phillips is being medically examined, he finally succumbs to his emotions when he realizes the cruel ordeal he has been put through and that he has survived it. It is a scene that reminded me of another magnificent movie moment in Lawrence of Arabia when Peter O’-Toole as Lawrence walks into an officer’s bar after suffering month after month of what the scorching desert and warring tribes threw at him and asks for two lemonades for him and his servant but is refused and it is that point that Lawrence can no longer tolerate the situation and finally snaps, slamming his fist on the bar and with a voice rising from a whisper to a stentorian command says that they will be served. The leader of the pirates Muse is played by Barkhad Ali, an actor unseen by western audiences as are the rest of the Somali cast and therefore all the more convincing. He stands toe to toe with Hanks in acting honours and when he says to Captain Phillips “Look at me. I’m the captain now,” it is a statement that is totally credible: the man exudes power and a nervous energy that if not respected could trigger a bullet into your heart. Choosing a film to open an international film festival is not easy because like an opening line of a book it must grab your attention and inveigle you into the chapters that will follow it. Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, who bookends the festival with Saving Mr Banks, is a perfect opener to what is now one of best film festivals in the world. 5




Spoiler Alert I can’t breathe. Do you hear? Do you copy? This is Mission Control. Abort mission. Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) a medical engineer, is adrift in space attached to Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney)an astronaut on his last mission before he retires. On a routine spacewalk their shuttle has been hit and destroyed leaving them floating in approaching darkness and trying to dodge the space debris that is hurtling towards them like silver bullets. Their only solace comes from still being able to hear each other’s voices. You must detach. You need to focus. I can’t see you anymore. Do it now! I’m trying! Kowalski quips and keeps Stone’s mind away from the impending sense of doom by asking her questions. Where’s your home Dr Stone? Lake Zurich, Illinois. You have anyone down there looking up thinking about you? I have a daughter. 8

Gravity is the nearest you will get to actually being in space. You will see shots of outer space that are so metaphysically beautiful; the DP is Emmanual Lubezki, Terrence Malick’s cinematographer. At last 3D is used perfectly and like the film’s heroine Dr Stone, it will have you gasping for breath with disbelief as you feel yourself levitating through space. Sandra Bullock spent six months physically training for her role. One of the major elements and a crucial part of her performance is her breath, dictated by her emotions, her stress, and lack of oxygen. She created moments that seem spontaneous but were arduously rehearsed and choreographed. Not many actors could pull this off but she did. Her performance is guaranteed to win her an Oscar nomination. One of the major concerns was the visual effects. For the spacewalk scenes they decided to shoot the actors faces and create everything else digitally. To do that they needed to light the faces to match the all-digital environment they’d be put into. The facial light would have to be a perfect match for the Earth, sun and stars in the background. Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer, suggested folding an LED screen into a box, putting the actor inside, and using the light from the screen to light the actor. Instead of moving either Bullock or Clooney in the middle of static lights, the projected image could move while they stayed still and safe. This “light box” became the key to the spacewalk scenes, but it was only a nine-foot cube, just big enough for one actor only. The film has so far been a great success in the USA out grossing its budget. It will be released across the UK on November 8th. 9




“You are not the joke that everyone thinks you are”. Sutter is a walking impediment, an eighteen year old high school senior who spikes his sodas with whiskey, his sentences with ‘awesome’ and lives in the now, even if that is a little blurry. He is on a downhill ride to failure both academically and romantically as he has just foulmouthed the girl he loves and lost her in the vapour of his breath. Surfacing from his stupor, Sutter finds himself sprawled out on a lawn of a house squinting up at Aimee Finecky, a cute and smart-wise co-ed planning to attend college in Philadelphia. The sweet-natured kid who has never had a boyfriend goes for a walk with the guy who camouflages his seriousness with irresponsibility. Though superficially opposites they enjoy each other’s company a lot. Aimee helps Sutter with his geometry, and he teaches her the taste of hard liquor. She is accommodating to his wants; he takes her to the college Prom, introduces her to his friends, and when they do make love it is quite subdued and beautiful. They make a pact to stand-up to their mothers. Aimee will not do her mother’s paper-run without payment and Sutter will insist on knowing where his father is. Sutter discovers the truth about his father and about himself and his philosophy about the present. Aimee finds her strength and character. 12

The film is scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber co-writers of the excellent 500 Days of Summer and directed by James Ponsoldt. The leads are played by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, roles which deservedly earned them a Special Jury Prize for acting at Sundance. I spoke to its director James Ponsoldt at the London Film Festival where his film was being screened and asked him about shooting the scene when Sutter and Aimee first make love and they were meant to feel about it. JP: It is probably very awkward and funny and it is probably not very good and it is important that they don’t hate each other but they are trying to make each other happy and trying to connect, so what is important to me is two people having intercourse but again we tried to create the atmosphere on set, so that day it was all locked down and there were few people on set, only those who needed to be there, one holding the camera and those needed. I asked him about the importance of marketing the film and not running out of money for this important part of the budget. JP: There are a lot of American independent films in a festival. Many of my friends make wonderful films, ones you would have never heard of because they have been playing regional festivals, festivals around Europe and they don’t have distribution because distribution is very expensive and it takes people with smaller films that are incredibly passionate about their films. A lot of filmmakers put distribution and marketing in the budget when they produce a film early on which is smart but it’s tough because most people are struggling with putting every dollar up there on the screen and it is hard to put aside say $30,000 for marketing. It is important to do it early because you can’t count on someone else. Fortunately for The Spectacular Now, Disney was behind it and that has been a definite plus. 13



LABOR DAY A close encounter in a supermarket between a woman and a man leads to an awakening for both of them. Two people cross paths, one escaping from physical imprisonment, the other trapped in emotional imprisonment. The former is Frank (Josh Brolin) who is on the run from the law after jumping out of a prison hospital. He is menacingly dangerous and persuades Adele (Kate Winslet) a woman who lives with her son Henry, after his father left them. Frank cajoles Kate to take him in for a few hours so that he might rest his injured leg. He has his hand on the back of Henry’s neck. All Adele wants to do is for him to let go of her son and she agrees to let him in. The boy, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) is very protective of her mother and is wary of the man who claims he wants nothing more than a little help. Adele is worried for the safety of her son. Since her husband left her she has become a recluse and agoraphobic, going out only occasionally and always with Henry. These rare outings are arduous and scary so when she is confronted by this strange man she is mortified and goes along with his wishes because she is scared not to. 16

She learns from the news bulletins that Frank is very dangerous and is wanted for murder. As the police hunt for Frank intensifies his stay grows longer and he becomes a handyman around the house Gradually Adele’s fear of this man turns to trust, admiration and love. And it is this part of the plot that many may find quite incredulous. How could a woman trust a man who is a criminal and is living in her home and is not only putting her life at risk but her son’s too? No one has ever been able to fathom the reasons why one person would choose the most unlikely people to love but they do. And Adele has been without a man in her life for years and has almost forgotten what it is like to be close to one. Blinded by love she may be, but nevertheless she sees qualities in Frank that would not appear on his criminality record. There is a kindness, warmth and gentleness about him and that is what endears her to him. Jason Reitman, director of the film explained how Kate Winslet bonded with young Gattlin Griffith who told her that he was terrified of playing his part, but Kate was wonderful in helping the boy and told him that everyone was terrified too, Jason, Josh and herself. There were times said Kate that I didn’t understand why Adele did things and I still don’t understand but I accept them. I simply pray and live the situation as it was. Josh Brolin too, stated at the Press Conference, that critics claim that the film is unreal and it couldn’t happen. So, Jurassic Park could? Which brought a great deal of laughter from the delegates? I must add a comment on casting, often the unsung heroes of a film, as the documentary Casting By shows. Young Frank is played by Tom Lipinski and you could be forgiven if you think it was a young Joss Brolin they look so much alike. UK Release date: February 7th 17



THE PAST “Since he has come here, I don’t remember you anymore”. Samir to Marie. The Past has a complex narrative about the repercussions when Ahmad(Ali Mosaffa) returns from Tehran to the suburbs of Paris to finalise his divorce from his French wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and meet with her and her daughters from a previous marriage. Marie has not prepared for his stay because he has frequently said he was coming and never showed. She asks him to speak to her traumatised daughter, Lucy, which he said he will do. His wife is now in a relationship with Samir an Arab who has a son and a wife who is in a coma. Prior to the court proceedings, Marie tells Ahmad that she is pregnant with Samir’s child. Ahmad attempts to investigate the events of the past four years and discovers bedrock of belligerence, lies, and contempt, but really he is the only calming force among them and seemingly has the ability to unravel the most complicated situations. Marie lives with three children, one of whom belongs to Samir from a previous marriage. Her relationship with her older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has deteriorated almost beyond repair because the daughter believes her mother is to blame for Samir’s 20

wife’s condition and blames herself and Samir for her attempted suicide. Amir’s son, Fouad, is confused, angry and rebellious with an uncontrollable temper, all fuelled by his painful loss of his mother. It is a cleverly multi-layer script that somehow manages to bring all the scattered pieces of this emotional jigsaw puzzle together. We want them all to move on with their lives but before that happens they must confront the debris that their mistakes have left. The acting is at his best particularly *Bérénice Bejo’s vitriolic brilliance which won her the Best actress award at Cannes. Expect to see her as you have never seen her before as electrifyingly dramatic. Many will want to compare The Past with Asghar Farhadi’s divorce drama A Separation which some critics are still applauding. My advice is to let this film stand on its own merits of which it has many. Like a thriller the plot is a cinematic corkscrew of twists, each one as surprising as the next but none more so than the culminating scene which is beautifully played by Tahar Rahim, an actor like Bejo who just keeps getting better all the time. Ali Mosaffa one of Iran’s finest actors is magnificent as Ahmad. Farhadi has once again written and directed another memorable drama and like his actors one anticipates his next project with unrestrained enthusiasm. *Currently filming The Search, directed by her husband Michel Hazanavicius. 21




Spoiler Alert A mafia hitman, Salvo, is out to get the killers sent to kill him and find the one man who gave the order. It opens explosively with Salvo being ambushed. Before he executes one of the henchmen, he gets him to tell him the name of his boss and where he can find him. Upon locating the Sicilian’s hideout, he discovers that he is not alone but he has a sister, Rita, who is apparently blind. He kills her brother but cannot bring himself to kill her so takes her hostage. We do not see the killing but hear the agonising cries as the camera remains on the face of Rita as her joy turns to petrified fear. When Salvo first spies Rita she is singing to herself, it is a popular Italian song: Arrivera by Emma & i Moda. It contrasts with the fate that is to befall her. The scene is one long Steadicam shot by the excellent DP Daniele Cipri, without dialogue, just watching in a room darkened by shuttered windows and low lighting, Rita counting money and singing. It is uncertain how much Rita can see until the p.o.v is changed from Salvo to her and we see through her eyes vague outlines of a figure. As their relationship begins to change and Salvo begins to warm to her, Rita’s sight seems to improve to the point 24

that a miracle may have taken place. One is left guessing. Though a thriller, it has strong elements of a western. The wide open landscapes, the confrontational shoot-out, reminiscent of a spaghetti western. I was interested to know about the casting of the two leads, Saleh Bakri and Sara Serraiocco. The screenwriters and directors of the film, Fabio Grassadona and Antonio Piazza, themselves Sicilian, told me that they wanted Bakri after seeing him in Salt of the Sea and sent him the screenplay which he liked. Casting Sara was one of the hardest tasks they had. They were looking for an unknown, a face that people would not recognize. After a long audition they found their Rita. Remarkably not only is it Serraiocco’s first film but she has never acted before. The result is mesmerising. The ending of the film is wonderfully executed and cannot be predicted, but stayed on the screen of my mind long after the credits faded. The film won the critic’s prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, deservedly so. If this is Grassadona and Piazza’s first feature one can only imagine what these skilful filmmakers will do next, but they assured me that it would be shot again in Palermo Sicily. Originally Italy did not want to distribute the film despite winning its award at Cannes. What finally convinced them was an enthusiastic write-up in the Italian press. At present the film awaits a UK release. 25




Mary Poppins didn’t come to save the children; she came to save Mr Banks. This is the story of the persistence of two strong-willed people with opposite goals: Walt Disney who wanted to keep a promise to his daughters and make a film of the successful children’s book Mary Poppins, and P.L. Travers the author of the book who refused time and again to sell the screen rights to Mr Disney. Neither would back down; Walt determined to obtain the movie rights and Pamela Travers who was equally adamant that she would not sell her beloved book to the Hollywood impresario. In 1961, Mrs Travers is reluctantly persuaded by her agent to go and meet with Disney and hear his plans for the adaptation, because her book is no longer selling and money is short. During those two weeks in L.A. Walt pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards, uplifting songs from the Sherman brothers, P.L. Travers listens but does not budge. She dislikes everything about America, about the people and their lifestyle and the Disney studio and the films that they make. Disney realizes that it is going to take something extra special to move the immovable P.L. Travers. It is only when he looks into his own childhood that he discovers the kingpin to her problem in not wanting to sell: the ghosts from her past and the adoration for her father. Disney and Travers are two storytellers, one who has created and written a magical story and the other who wants to recreate that magic in another medium – film. 28

You could not imagine anyone who could play P.L. Travers better than Emma Thompson, a role that she loved playing, as she said “You rarely get the chance to play a character that can vent all the things that you hate”. Tom Hanks as Disney “I don’t look or sound anything like Walt Disney. In addition to growing a moustache and parting my hair, the job at hand was to somehow capture all that whimsy that is in his eyes as well as all of the acumen that goes along with that. You can’t do an imitation of Walt Disney”. Colin Farrell plays Travers Goff the troubled father of Pamela; the childhood sequences told in flashbacks. It is about his total bonding with his daughter and despite his alcoholic weaknesses, she adores him. “It was a character that I felt was very different from anything I’ve ever approached or been asked to do. I would have been very upset if this one didn’t work out for me. I really love this film; I’m so over the moon to have been a part of it. I think there’s so much heart in this film”. Paul Giamatti plays the role of P.L. Travers’ friendly limousine driver, Ralph, the only American Emma Thompson’s character likes in the film. “They have a nice relationship. You see another side of her. You see a lot of her difficult side and you see her be less difficult with Ralph. She’s completely blunt with him but he gets right away who she is, and he understands”. But undoubtedly the discovery of the film is 11-year old Australian actress Annie Buckley. For director John Lee Hancock it was a difficult bit of casting because the little girl is in every flashback scene and has to carry the day. “There was something about Annie, so natural and unspoiled, so guileless and innocent, that I felt if we could capture that quality on screen the audience would forgive the older Pamela Travers everything. To see such openness, trust and hope let down by those she loves, and watch as she puts an iron case around her heart to never get let down again would make us weep for Pamela instead of judging her”. 29



FILMFEST FOLLOWER MbM RECOMMENDS 8th November-17th November at

Rome HER Directed by Spike Jonze.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix.Amy Adams. Rooney Mara. Olivia Wilde. Scarlett Johansson. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely writer living in a world where technology has taken precedent over human connection. He falls in love with his newly purchased operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that’s designed to meet his every need. After it’s critical success at New York Film Festival, this film has the highest expectations of being a classic movie. UK release: 10th January.

ANOTHER ME Directed by Isobel Coixet. Starring: Sophie Turner. Jonathan Rhys Meyers. A supernatural thriller from Spain about a beautiful girl who is haunted by the ghosts of her past.

OUT OF THE FURNACE. Starring: Christian Bale. Zoe Saldana. Casey Affleck. When Russell Baze’s brother disappears and law enforcement fail to take action, he takes mattersst into his own hands to find him. UK release: 21 January.

THE SCAPEGOAT Starring: Raphael Personnaz & Bérénice Bejo. Benjamin Malaussene is an older brother of a family with a horde of kids. When incidents begin to happen, it becomes a matter of life and death to discover who is interested in ruining his life.

GODS BEHAVING BADLY Starring: Alicia Silverstone. Sharon Stone. Christopher Walken. Greek Gods living in modern-day New York intervene in the lives of a younger couple. 32




Directed by Ye Lou Starring: Hao Lei. Eric Quin.


Lu Jie has no idea her husband is leading a double life until she sees him entering a hotel with a younger woman. A few hours later the younger woman dies beneath the wheels of a car and the police refuse to believe her death was accidental.


Released by Artificial Eye.


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