Tag Archives: The Grandmaster

Failed Critics Podcast: World Cinema Special 2

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From quirky Bulgarian movies to Jordan’s Oscar nominations. From 1931 in Germany to 2013 in Hong Kong. From the poetic realism of France to the period dramas of Afghanistan. This week’s Failed Critics Podcast is taking a truly global slant.

We could think of no better guests for our second ever World Cinema Special than aficionados Monsieur Liam and Herr Andrew Alcock. Along with regular hosts Signore Steve Norman and Señor Owen Hughes, together the team take a look at films from all over the world in both What We’ve Been Watching and this week’s triple bill. The caveat this time is that the Failed Critics had to pick three films each from three different countries, with some surprising – and some not so surprising – choices from our crew!

Join us again next week as Steve and Owen are joined by Failed Critics founder, grandmaster, and all round spiritual leader, James Diamond, as we prepare to induct another great of cinema into our Corridor of Praise.

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Speaking in Tongues – the Foreign Language Oscar longlist

The GrandmasterThe Internet is often accused of shining too much light upon magic. No longer do blokes down the pub chat about the match without somebody flinging out their black mirror to quote every OPTA stat like an autistic vidiprinter. Stumbling over a potential classic read in a bookstore has become something of a minority interest sport, not just because bookstores are closing at a rate comparable to Working Men’s Clubs, but one quick scan of Goodreads gives you enough crib notes to appear as the most well-read member of your book club. With amateur YouTube accounts and news aggregator sites such as BuzzFeed and Cracked reducing everything from current affairs to album released into bite-sized cue cards, it’s little wonder that the pervasive opinion is that of the facilitation of diluted information somewhat reduces the anticipation, excitement and general thrill of how things used to be.

Partial credit for that view, as the drawing back of the curtain made possible by the Internet does have its positives points. What used to seem mysterious or oblique, such as the drawing up of nominated people in various award ceremonies, has become broadly open and available for comment. The ‘longlist’, so rarely mentioned before the expectation of transparency brought about by the Internet, is now part and parcel of the bauble giving process. No more is such openness exciting and, just perhaps, symbolic of the ‘window of the world’ ideal of on-line life, than the longlist for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (more correctly labelled by the august gentlefolk at BAFTA as ‘Film not in the English Langugae’, but who am I to suggest that our American cousins have an unfortunately skewed opinion of ‘foreign’.)

This year nine films from over seventy submissions have been put on the initial longlist, and I have endeavoured to find at least a trailer somewhere for a select few to chin-stroke for your delectation. In the spirit of the New Year, I will hand over to other Failed Critics to consider  those I have missed from both the longlist and unsuccessful others, out of a duty to be fair, and because I hope somebody else can stomach watching the entry from Thailand. No, I’m not doing it, watching it for research purposes was quite enough. Ask James. [I just watched it. Bloody hell. Do not click HERE – James]

From Bosnia-Herzegovina comes ‘An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker’ (‘Epizoda u životu berača željeza’). Low on laughs, this one. Director Danis Tanović explores what he considers to be the ‘omnipresent’ injustice in a country many years removed from the devastating civil war of the 1990s. A woman, Senad, falls ill during pregnancy, but has no means of paying for treatment when the child she is carrying dies. The trailer is unremittingly bleak. I recall watching Bosnia’s winning submission ‘No Man’s Land’ some years ago (it beat ‘Amélie’), so I know that their cinema has a somewhat downbeat side, and who could blame them? Stark and courageous as this clearly is, I think it’s not one for me to settle down of an evening to watch.

Similarly serious is the entry perhaps best known in the UK thanks to much broader distribution rights, Denmark‘s ‘The Hunt’ (‘Jagten’). This claustrophobic tale of mass hysteria in a small village beats particularly relevant drums in this country due to the ongoing concerns about paedophilia in the media and the well-known mob justice attacks on innocent people (including a disabled Iranian man earlier this year, and the infamous attack of a paediatrician.) As many fans of Nordic Noir will attest, ‘The Hunt’ speaks of shadow and light as close partners. It’s been a good time to be a Danish screenwriter, with ‘A Royal Affair’ making similar waves last year. The trailer for ‘The Hunt’ in its native language does look so much like ‘The Killing’, I’m just saddened by the lack of chunky knit jumpers.

I was taken aback by just how unexpectedly lovely ‘The Missing Picture’ looks. Already awarded the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, the third ever submission from Cambodia could well be the kind of film the Academy award themselves. Looking at the atrocities from the country’s dark past through a mix of animation and filmed segments, ‘The Missing Picture’  looks to be as much docu-drama as film, and is none the less compelling for that. The entire film can be found, without subtitles, on YouTube. From what I saw, this brave and moving piece would be a humbling and informative film and perhaps a companion piece to ‘The Art of Killing’, although not perhaps on the same night, or if you’re prone to emotional outbursts.

Hong Kong has made the longlist with ‘The Grandmaster’ (‘一代宗師’), a retelling of the story of Wing Chun grandmaster Yip Man. It is the first submission from the former British colony to make the January cut-off since 1993, and I can see why it’s been picked up for wider release. Slick, dark and beautiful in ways only East Asian martial arts films can pull off properly, ‘The Grandmaster’ is also notable for including scenes unique to whichever of the three edits you happen to find (original, European release and world-wide version). It could well follow in the ‘Crouching Tiger…’ tradition by crossing over into cult status if the mood is right, and I see no reasons why this isn’t possible.

These four take only but a sliver from the full seventy-odd entries from countries as diverse as Nepal, Italy and even The United Kingdom. I’ll await the results of the Academy’s considerations with interest. It’s worth the light being shone upon the world sometimes.

London Film Festival Diary: Parkland, The Grandmaster, and 12 Years a Slave

In the second installment of her London Film Festival diary, Carole Petts looks at the latest film looking at the JFK assassination, yet another film about the man who taught Bruce Lee how to kick Chuck Norris’ arse, and the hugely anticipated new film from Steve McQueen.

PARKLANDGreetings from the morning after the night before.  As I mentioned at the start of the article last week, the shortening of the LFF to under two weeks means that there is often an issue with fitting everything in, and this is illustrated by the fact that I haven’t had a proper meal in three days (I’d like to thank Nutella and satsumas for their support during this difficult time).

The tail end of this week has been fraught to say the least with seven screenings in 5 days, so let’s get going!

First up on Wednesday was Parkland, a film based on the novel Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the directorial debut of former journalist Peter Landesman.  The film captures the experiences of peripheral figures during what is one of the defining moments of modern history.  We follow several characters involved, from the Secret Service and FBI to the doctors who battled so hard to save JFK during his final moments.  We also see the incident from the perspective of the most famous home-moviemaker in history, Abraham Zapruder (whose film is the only recording of the assassination) and uniquely the Oswald family.

I think it speaks volumes that this film is still resonating so much with me after six other screenings.  The various stories are skilfully woven together, even if some are under-explored in the relatively lean running time.  This was a theme acknowledged by Landesman during the Q&A where he mentioned that certain characters could have had their own film.  Probably the most affecting strand is that of Zapruder – a relatively ordinary person who was at the cutting edge of technology with life-changing results.  At one point the film is printed and a room of Secret Service personnel sit down to view the film with Zapruder, only for the tape to start with footage of his grandchildren playing.  This underlines the fact that the life Zapruder formerly knew vanished in those short seconds.

Overall I would recommend watching Parkland.  If you’re a conspiracy nut, it won’t be for you – its definitive story is that of the lone gunman and Landesman gave short shrift to any other theories afterwards.  It’s difficult to single out a single performance in a great ensemble cast but my eye was particularly caught by James Badge Dale (previously best known as a glowing baddie in Iron Man 3) as Robert Oswald, a very nice understated performance.

The next viewing was the ever-popular Surprise Film.  After the ritual (and fruitless) guessing game we had a video introduction from director Wong Kar Wai, and an in-person introduction by Harvey Weinstein, for Hong Kong’s Oscar 2014 submission The Grandmaster.  I sensed a slight defiance from Weinstein during his introduction in which he promised a “kick-ass martial arts film” and later I learned that there has been some controversy over final cut in this film which may explain it.  The film is based on the true story of Ip Man, a Wing Chun master who eventually trains Bruce Lee.

Here’s the thing – if you are really promising a kick-ass martial arts film, you need more than ten minutes of fighting.

The film starts off well with a wonderfully choreographed fight scene, but soon gets bogged down in exposition, a wildly uneven plot and an unconvincing love story.  The film wants to flick backwards and forwards seamlessly through timelines, but instead gives the impression of poor editing.  However, knowing that the film has had 20 minutes taken off for international release, it’s difficult to say whether this is an inherent flaw of the film or whether it is simply the victim of Weinstein’s over-zealous scissors.  I would be interested to see the original cut to compare, as I think the bones of a good film are present.  In the form that I saw, however, I can’t recommend it.

On to probably the biggest entry in my calendar this year – the European premiere of 12 Years A Slave, the true story of a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid 1800s.  This is actually the first Steve McQueen film I have seen (unless you count his short which plays in Tate Britain) so I have no frame of reference for how he is developing as a film-maker, but on this evidence I need to rectify that gap in my knowledge immediately.

A stronger (in every sense) film that last year’s Django Unchained, 12 Years is an unflinching portrayal of a shameful passage in human history.  The film has been noted for its brutality, and indeed it is a difficult watch at times, but the violence is never gratuitous.  Indeed, the first time we see such viciousness the results are not seen outright but rather implied by a tattered and bloody piece of clothing, which was still powerful enough to make the audience gasp.  Such moments are implicit to understanding why this intelligent family man found himself in such a situation, along with the fellow slaves he meets along the way.

There are many outstanding performances in the film but Chiwetel Ejiofor is the centrepiece – as the titular slave he anchors the whole film with a masterful study in quiet, understated dignity.  A special mention also has to go to newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, whose character must live with being her master’s “favourite” with all that entails.

It seems almost churlish to simply label 12 Years A Slave as a great film.  It is far more powerful than that – a deeply emotional yet clear-eyed look at this microcosm of pre-Civil War era American life, the film transcends entertainment and becomes essential viewing.  Expect to see this doing the rounds at all awards ceremonies next January and February.

Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

@The_DarkPhoenix