Cineclub is a friendly and informal group which meets regularly here at Cinema City to discuss films that have been recently shown here. The group is free and usually meets on the first Tuesday of each month. The coordinator is the wonderful Tom. New members always welcome!
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‘A Ghost Story’ – directed by David Lowery who also made the 2013 film ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’. In a compact 92 minutes running time, a rather elliptical narrative involving a “ghost” observing / haunting the same location from the present to the past and the future provides some highly poetic cinematic moments with a great deal of care given to photographic composition and mise-en-scene. A few missteps perhaps with a long dialogue sequence in the middle of the film spelling out what could be observed by the viewer self-evidently, but impressive overall.
‘Metamorphoses’ – A film from French director Christophe Honoré that has received mixed reviews in the press, having been produced in 2014 and not fully released in the UK until this year; based on the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Made in a contemporary style, the film was remarkably successful in handling shifts between the magical and naturalistic, that with a less considered directorial vision may have fallen flat. Idiosyncratic but rich and recommended.
‘Detroit’ – from Kathryn Bigelow, garnered a generally positive response at Cineclub, for the highly atmospheric depiction of events surrounding the Detroit riots of 1967 and the siege at the Algiers Motel. However, there was some concern that a key scene in the middle of the film was overextended and meant the film developed a slightly uneven feel as a whole.
‘The Limehouse Golem’ – with Bill Nighy in the lead of the mysterious detective story, received a mixed response at Cineclub, to a certain extent centred around whether the “over-ripe” feel of the film was successful or not, with a hint the director may have been aiming for more than was achieved. There was however praise for the design and sumptuous setting of the piece.
‘The Beguiled’ a modern interpretation adapted from the novel of the same name and directed by Sofia Coppola; centred around a Union Army corporal found in the confederate south by a group of school girls, and previously made into a 1971 feature film from Don Siegel, of rather more roughhewn nature. Although there was some mixed feeling going into the film, the reaction at cineclub was generally positive with well developed atmospherics and cinematography to the fore; the general sense of an isolated community in miniature with an awareness of but distance to the American civil war era setting was more evocative than might have been expected. This decorous and nuanced 2017 film is recommended.
‘The Midwife’ staring Catherine(s) Deneuve and Frot fell rather flat. The story of a midwife and her late father’s ailing mistress. A mix of broad comic and more serious melodramatic moments gave the film an odd tone, and one which didn’t feel entirely convincing.
‘Dunkirk’ was broadly positively received with its emphasis on immersive action, distinctive sequences in terms of contrasting the battles in the air, land, and sea, along with a huge sound design, bringing to life the epic scale of the task at the time to evacuate so many soldiers, with a well realised emotional charge that wasn’t in danger of dissipating. A 70mm screening attended by one cineclub member was particularly memorable and a viewing in that format is highly recommended; although one may be uncertain as to how well the concentrated runtime of ‘Dunkirk’ would hold up to repeat viewings on more typical platforms. An intense experience non-the-less.
While the loosely based on a true story ‘The Big Sick’ received a generally positive response, apparently dealing with arranged vs inter-ethnic love marriage from a contemporary viewpoint, there was some concern the film over relied on typical “romantic comedy” traits and therefore didn’t perhaps live up to its potential.
Additionally, we discussed the 25th anniversary re-release of ‘Howards End’ and other relatively modern literary adaptations such as ‘The Remains of the Day’, in terms of meaning as screen versions of novels, and the role of period drama as a British export.
‘Baby Driver’ – did not find much support, described as derivative of other better films, e.g. ‘Drive’. Although in parts well constructed, the available resources were not used to the full extent, with Kevin Spacey not given much screen-time. Other aspects were called into question, in that stunts and driving sequences were rather flat, with disappointing use of music.
‘Alone in Berlin’ – set in Berlin during World War Two, in the English language and with some rather mundane characterisation. The film, based on real events, did capture the fear of ‘everyday’ citizens not wanting to upset the regime, and the brutality of existence at the time, but perhaps did not succeed fully in cinematic terms.
‘In this Corner of the World’ – Japanese animation from the MAPPA studio, with well portrayed characters and a serious tone, utilising a water colour paint aesthetic to good effect. The film drew reference to other animations such as ‘ Grave of the fireflies’.
‘Hampstead’ – on the strength of the trailer a film that looked to have some limited promise, but in reality proved rather less than run-of-the-mill with Diane Keaton not being used to full potential.
‘Gifted’ – despite mixed reviews in the press, this film found some favour at cineclub, with particular note given to the role played by the young actress McKenna Grace, along with sensitive direction of an emotive subject.
‘Red Turtle’ – Studio Ghibli film from Dutch director Michaël Dudok de Wit, utilising a strong visual language of hand drawn animation, with a good story and a highly considered film making approach.
‘My Cousin Rachel’ – a rather disappointing feature, let down by a lack of on-screen chemistry between the leads, despite the undoubtable attraction of Rachel Weisz in the title role. The film had potential, with some interesting character and plot points, self-absorbency, seduction, and financial stratagems; however with a surprisingly tame approach, the dark Gothic cinema attempted was not very well achieved.
‘Suntan’ – in places stunningly photographed and with seemingly great potential at the start. Unfortunately, the film overall is significantly let down by its insistence on going way over-the-top in plot terms which reduces what is in part a tale of warning to rather poorly conceived shock-value tactics. Themes of alienation and lost youth could have been dealt with here in a much more subtle way with greater depth and authenticity.
While only a select few gathered for the June Cineclub, we managed to get through a broad range of films; from big new releases to small British pictures. We also considered how rereleased films are seen from the perspective of today in relation to audiences and cultural factors at the time of initial release, specifically in regard to ‘Easy Rider’ – shown as part of the Jack Nicholson season, but also ‘Five Easy Pieces’ which has survived the test of time very well, contrasted to ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ for which it was suggested may require reassessment in terms of depiction of mental health issues.
In approximate order of discussion:
‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ – set during the Second World War, the film centres on the operations of Warsaw Zoo under Nazi occupation and the oversight of Dr. Lutz Heck, a zoologist directed towards recreating ancient animals, a mythical beast; an odd broader preoccupation within the Nazi regime. With the threat of closure the zookeepers are responsible for saving the lives of eight hundred Jewish people through an ingenious scheme. While this film adaptation received mixed reviews in the press, reception at Cineclub was more positive, being described as “fairly good” and “uplifting”.
‘Alien: Covenant’ – did not go down terribly well at Cineclub. Described as pointless, without reason, vastly inferior to the original 1979 film, more inline in quality terms with the 2012 series film ‘Prometheus’. Auguring the arrival later this year of a new ‘Bladerunner’ feature, some intriguing discussions arose in terms of how films are revisited, through remakes, sequels, and re-appraisal; with a suggestion that these visitations to the past do not inevitably result in a poor outcome; one Cineclub goer mentioned the recent ‘Mad Max’ film as an example.
‘Frantz’ – from the multifaceted and productive Francois Ozon whom usually works within a more contemporary framework, the film explores guilt, war, and hatred, in the personal and national, and the politics of reconciliation; with a style that reminded some of Michael Haneke’s 2009 ‘The White Ribbon’. On the level of individual characters, themes of acceptance vs anger, and the desire to believe in particular narratives of the truth were strongly explored. Although some felt the change from monochromatic to colour photography was a little obvious, the two leads work well together. Recommended.
‘Miss Sloane’ – approached with some optimism, this film was not without its detractions. There was a sense that Elizabeth Sloane’s transformation from ‘bitch to saint’ wasn’t convincing, although acting in general was described as strong despite bland direction from John Madden of ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’ fame. As gun control is a perennial topic of debate, the subject matter and depiction of the machinations of the lobbying industry proved of some interest, but with the film never taking off narratively, and the additional requirement for the audience to accept false character trajectories, ‘Miss Sloane’ was considered to have failed to deliver on the elaborate plot and cinematic potential. Watchable, but could have been much better.
‘The Levelling’ – staring the young actress Ellie Kendrick as a vet student who returns to the family dairy farm due to a bereavement. Those who saw the film mentioned the impressive production values, with breathtaking acting from the leads, and evocative cinematography in the aftermath of flooding in southwest England. A derelict house, broken glass, TB, and cold characters, in this ‘soggy picture’ there is a poignance around the unexplained family estrangement, with darkness hinted at more than made explicit. A short and cinematically artful film.
‘The Other Side Of Hope’ – described as inhabiting a strange world, with a distinctive style from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, compared by some to an Edward Hopper painting; employing abstracted geography, making use of locations in a way that was not immediately recognisable. An immersive film centred on a Syrian refugee who finds themselves in Helsinki by accident. The Finnish people are empathic but the system overwhelms those it is designed to help. Kaurismäki uses a deadpan, comic touch, with a restaurant featured in the plot constantly changing the menu to reflect recent trends; e.g. the staff have to learn to make sushi at one point, but one dish ends up as a plate of sardines and potatoes.
‘My Life As A Courgette’ – adapted from the 2002 novel ‘Autobiographie d’une Courgette’. An animated Swiss / French co-production, the film centred around a child who goes into a residential home. Reassuring in tone, while not lending itself to accusations of gritty realism, and therefore somewhat unbelievable from a rationalist perspective, production visuals were excellent, and the over-happy ending generally forgivable. Described by one Cineclub goer as “really neat looking”.
‘Harmonium’ – a film with a great deal of potential that wasn’t fully successful in practice. Those who saw the film found it slightly frustrating with a rather flat directorial style that didn’t help to provide insight into a bleak and opaque series of narrative events in and around a small family firm. The standard of acting was good and there were hints of meaning in terms of Christian observance in Japan and other cultural specificities.
While there was not a large attendance at the Cineclub session of May 2nd we still managed to discuss a good range of films, although without the standout productions of the previous month.
‘Neruda’ has received mixed reviews in the press and did turn out to be an underwhelming effort with a rather false comedic note, so there was some surprise the film had a repeat outing in the ‘Discover Tuesday’ slot.
More notably, Park Chan-wook’s new film ‘The Handmaiden’ screened at the cinema in a standard version and extended cut running at 168 minutes. The film wore its length well and made full use of the luxuriant set design; but in terms of cinematography, editing, and sound design seemed surprisingly conventional and mainstream, with a rather emotionally disconnected narrative and slightly unconvincing characterisation. Those familiar with the director’s other works felt that ‘Oldboy’ was a stronger effort.
‘Lady Macbeth’ – adapted from an 1865 Russian novella by Nikolai Leskov, not the Shakespeare play, dealt with disturbed personalities, domestic violence, bullying, and more, within its short running time. A low budget British film that still maintained a strong visual language sometimes missing in UK cinema. The actress Florence Pugh has previously featured in the distinctive and recommended 2014 mystery ‘The Falling’.
Terrence Davies’ most recent film ‘A Quiet Passion’ had apparently been in development since 2012 but production started only in 2015, filming in Belgium and Massachusetts, staring Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson. Described by one Cineclub goer as the first ’emo’ depressive; afraid of integrating with the outside world and having suffered bullying by nuns at a convent school, Dickinson concentrated on a socratic approach to questions of life, faith, and the workings of the mind, becoming a recluse, and limiting her interpersonal communications to a select few. Although ‘A Quiet Passion’ received mixed reviews in the general press, those Cineclub members who saw the film were positive in their response.
‘I Am Not Your Negro’ – based on an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, also a novelist; the film explored equality, discrimination, and famous figures from the civil rights movement such as Malcolm X. In addition to varying arguments explored in terms of institutions, subservience, and access to higher education; there is a concern with ‘ways of looking’ and the utilisation of a broad combination of archive materials and written work. Highly recommended.
‘The Sense of an Ending’ – those who saw this adaptation of the Julian Barnes novel expressed pleasant surprise at the quality of acting and cinematic craft, moving the film beyond the mundanities of some British cinema. Dealing with blame, self-absorbed characters, complex reasoning, and past events, the film drew comparison with ’45 years’.
‘Their Finest’ – Set during the second world war when women suddenly had more professional opportunities, the main character played by Gemma Arterton becomes a script writer for war information films and then finds herself more involved within the department, editing etc., for a propaganda film to encourage the Americans to enter the war. The conclusion was that ‘Their Finest’ was another film that proved better than expected and dealt effectively with the difficulties of creative activity in a challenging environment.
There was a good attendance for the April 4th cineclub and we discussed a large number of films, with unusually positive responses to most offerings, although some were not able to be seen by many, partly due to limited screenings or being featured in the ‘Discover Tuesday’ one-off slot. A summary of the discussion follows:
‘Elle’ received a universally positive response, and Isabel Huppert’s strong and distinctive acting in the lead being of particular note; with her pragmatic approach, and intention to carry on with a normal life not defined by incident, in the face of trauma and a disturbed environment. Although Huppert’s ‘Michèle’ is depicted as brave and successful in her work, she has a difficult personality and is responsible for the creation of some rather problematic artefacts of popular culture which the film deals with in a distinctive and original style.
‘The Love Witch’ directed by Anna Biller was only seen by one but is such a strange and unique film with a wonderful homemade artisanal quality, and a narrative with the capacity to generate a multiplicity of meanings depending on perspective.
‘Personal Shopper’ according to those who saw it may not make sense narratively, but works well as a thriller and ghost story, borrowing from several genre along the way; commenting on technology, communication via text message, and delivering an atmospheric mood with an innovative acting style.
‘Certain Women’ possibly a modern minor classic of a film, a well observed story of unfulfilled potential concerning four women spread throughout Montana, USA. Low key and nuanced, the production is thoughtfully composed in terms of placing the characters within their landscape, both photographically and in terms of personality.
‘The Salesman’ An Iranian film depicting a crumbling, run down apartment building, previously rented by a ‘woman of the night’ and occupied by the two leads rehearsing for a performance of the Arthur Miller play ‘Death of a Salesman’. Powerfully acted and serious; after an implied rape, the victim is traumatised but shows a deal of strength, while her husband struggles to deal with the situation.
‘Get Out’ described by cineclub attendees as a modern, albeit highly sinister, approach to aspects of themes explored in Stanley Kramer’s ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’ from 1967; of liberal guilt, ingrained racism, and modern slavery.
‘Viceroy’s House’ while liable to being categorised as a soppy love story, those who saw the film were intrigued by its depiction of history from a British colonial perspective in terms of the partition of India, and the bloodshed in East & West Pakistan, in the context of machinations and political manoeuvrings by Churchill and Gandhi amongst others. The film was considered to be well acted, although it was felt it didn’t fully cover the range of personalities involved.
Attendance was limited to a select group of five, but we were still able to have a very good discussion of a wide variety of films. Of particular note were:
‘Toni Erdmann’, a 162 minute German black comedy, described as hilarious and poignant, often close together. Centred around a practical joking father and rather blinkered corporate-minded daughter, the film explored intergenerational communication and cultural differences between the west and eastern Europe, namely Romania, and how these factors affect our decisions and personality.
‘Hidden Figures’ – portrays the broadly true story of black female human ‘computers’ who performed calculations by hand with limited mechanical assistance, during the space race of the 1960s, at a time of segregation in Virginia.
After Russian success, NASA needs to find a way to better compete and so the women are brought from the back offices out into the wider world, to work in engineering, and also to learn to program the new IBM computer, challenging the culture of the time and going beyond their original roles, which were more akin to a secretary.
This film received rather mixed response from the group. While dealing with an important subject, the film did suffer from more than a touch of sentimentality, alongside extensive use of slushy music drenched liberally over many scenes.
‘Moonlight’ – the film that won Best Picture at the Oscars, a difficult and emotionally complex production that deals in stripped-back sensations. A progression through time, with three actors playing the same character, as a young boy, teenager, and young adult. Consistency of mannerism is impressive as the boy grows into his environment and converges with cultural expectations.
’20th Century Women’ – although not encompassing a great degree of plot, with not much happening according to some who saw it, the film gives insight into the time, place, and quality life in late-1970s California (Santa Barbara), through a household governed by a mother who has a child late, lives in large rambling property, and relies on many others around her to parent the teenage son and do DIY etc; someone who spends more time trying to help others than in addressing her own issues. Recommended.
Eight of us were gathered at the second cineclub session of 2017 on February 7th. ‘La La Land’ was generally praised, particularly the spectacular introduction, although one or two of the group expressed concerns over aspects of the acting and screen-craft of the musical numbers. Highly recommended anyway.
‘Manchester By The Sea’ received a generally very positive response, with reference made to the quality of acting and sense of place, providing an insight into a complex and sometimes gritty group of individuals and community. However, there was a minority view expressed that in one or two scenes the characterisation of the main lead hit a bit of a wrong note.
‘Jackie’ – set during the days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy was highly praised by those who saw it, for the intense, mesmeric acting of Natalie Portman in close-up, with support from host of talent including Greta Gerwig and John Hurt, through to the sense of style and communication of emotional intensity in terms of Jackie Kennedy’s position, and the interest expressed by the press at the time. Additionally, the politics of the time did provide material for some spirited discussion concerning how historical figures are viewed and their reputations managed from varying perspectives.
‘Indignation’, adapted from the Philip Roth novel, gained strong recommendation from those who had managed to see the film, being screened in the ‘Discover Tuesday’ slot; containing a well developed account of personal phycological struggle and general social dysfunction within an American college environment during the Korean War.
‘There were seven in attendance at the first cineclub session of the new year on January 3rd. While many films were under discussion, particular recommendation was given for the Jim Jarmusch directed ’Paterson’, described as calming, subtle, existential and adorable. With a strong sense of vitality and avoiding an overly sentimental approach; operating within a realm familiar to the Japanese director ‘Ozu’, who often dealt with the nuanced observation of everyday life.
Martin Scorsese’s latest ‘Silence’ also gained some recognition, and proved a worthy starting point for a discourse on politics, history, theology, and culture, past and present.’