Social Sheffield Film Editor, Natasha Edgington, picks the top three films screening in Sheffield, Mon. 16 – Sun. 22 Oct. 2017
1. – The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) – – – (15) (Showing at Curzon)
[Genre: Drama/Comedy. Dir: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten. Language: English]
Indie writer-director Noah Baumbach returns to the silver screen with his latest offering The Meyerowitz Stories. Presented in an anthology structure, the film centres around the life of a dysfunctional American family. With daughter Eliza leaving for college and in the throes of a divorce, musician Danny (Adam Sandler) moves in temporarily with his father Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a sculptor and teacher who feels his genius has gone unsung in this life. Despite Harold’s ignorance towards his daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), she and half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) club together to sell the family’s townhouse to compensate for Harold’s diminishing income. Much to Danny’s misfortune, he’s always lingered in the shadow of Matthew, a successful businessman and Harold’s favourite of the three. As with the course of life, circumstances arise that force them to untangle their web of familial complexities. Expertly tracing the dynamics and power relations of the family with sharp observation and dry wit, The Meyerowitz Stories marks Baumbach returning to top form. His well-written screenplay achieves a winning balance of tender humanism with deftly-devised situational humour. This is a film centred wholly around characters, and the expansive casting does not disappoint. Dustin Hoffman gives a sublime performance as Harold, the axis around which the story revolves. Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller pair brilliantly in Baumbach’s world and will prove a surprise for some audiences. It may tread familiar water for Baumbach, but The Meyerowitz Stories is his most heartfelt yet, a bittersweet and affecting exploration of estranged familial ties.
See the trailer: The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
2. – I Am Not a Witch (2017) – – – (12A) (Showing at Showroom)
[Genre: Drama. Dir: Rungano Nyoni. Starring: Maggie Mulubwa, Nancy Murilo, Henry B.J. Phiri, Dyna Mufuni. Language: English]
Zambian-born Welsh director Rungano Nyoni makes her directorial debut with superstition satire I Am Not a Witch. The debut marks Nyoni’s presence as a rising talent and may be revered as one of Britain’s finest female filmmakers in coming years. Set in Zambia, the story focuses on the plight of nine-year-old Shula, a timid and unassuming girl accused of witchcraft. After a woman stumbles in front of Shula and spills her water, Shula finds herself the target of hysterical allegations in the face of the local authorities. With the whole village now against her without a scrap of tangible evidence, Shula is banished to a witch camp on the outskirts of town. The community of witches, mostly elderly women except for their latest member, are brandished by long white ribbons attached to their back and forced to perform arduous labour. Should any witch dare to sever their ribbons and try to escape, they’ll transform into a goat, or so they’re told. Despite their exile from society, the corrupt authorities haul the witches in to kangaroo courts to identify culprits with their mystical powers of foresight. Shula’s exposure to the selective exploitation of her community fuels a deep and burgeoning desire for rebellion. Channeling ethno-political commentary on patriarchal corruption and toying with the hilarity of superstitious rites, I Am Not a Witch is a bold and original breakthrough for the new filmmaker. The mournful and contemplative screenplay covers ignorance and the lust for western life whilst advantageously adhering to custom when convenient. Of course, Maggie Mulubwa is the star of the show, giving a soul-stirring performance as the young girl trapped in a world out of her control. Bolstered by David Gallego’s poetic cinematography, I Am Not a Witch is a spirited tragedy spliced with timely black humour and celebrations of female solidarity.
See the trailer: I Am Not a Witch (2017)
3. – Suspiria (1977) – – – (18) (Showing at Showroom on Saturday 21 October at 11:55pm)
[Genre: Horror. Dir: Dario Argento. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli. Language: English]
As part of this year’s Celluloid Screams festival, catch the 40th anniversary restoration of Italian giallo classic Suspiria at Showroom Cinema. On a formidable stormy night, fresh-faced American ballet dancer Suzy Bannion arrives at the city of Freiburg, having gained a place at the prestigious Tanz Akadamie. Fighting against the tempestuous elements, Suzy’s taxi ride through the German woodlands reveals the crimson-walled institute in all its beguiling Gothic majesty. As it appears the school wasn’t anticipating her arrival, Suzy heads to town for the night and returns once more in the morning. She’s ushered in hastily this time and discovers the police are there investigating the murder of student Pat Hingle, whom Suzy had saw running through the woods the night before. The militant Miss Tanner feigns a smile and guides Suzy through the school, its lurid nouveau arabesques inducing an almost hypnotic allure. Though the gaggle of girls seem indifferent to Pat’s gruesome murder, Pat’s friend Sarah bonds with Suzy and confesses her suspicions of malevolent forces at work in the school. Dario Argento’s creation remains a sensory masterpiece synergising psychedelic visuals, prog-rock rhythms and the downright esoteric into an unforgettable cinematic experience. Though Argento’s story ventures into familiar horror territory and also refuses to explain pivotal set pieces, it’s all part of its tantalising charm and should never be the main focus. A total masterclass in sound on film, Goblin’s raucous hammer dulcimer-led score synchronises beautifully with Argento’s direction and impeccable art design. Argento also makes playful use of taunting stretches of silence to heighten nail-biting moments effectively. One would be hard-pressed to find a more genius display of colour in any other horror film, making it one of many reasons why Suspiria is regarded the legend of the giallo era. The saturated hues of reds, blues and greens contrast sumptuously against the lavish geometry of the art deco set designs, chiefly inspired by the German expressionist films of the ‘20s. A maniacal and scintillating supernatural horror pulsating with stylistic flourishes, Suspiria is a quintessential piece of viewing this October.
See the trailer: Suspiria (1977)
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A Ghost Story (2017) – – – (12A) (Showing at Film Unit on Friday 20 October at 7:30pm)
[Genre: Drama. Dir: David Lowery. Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Barlow Jacobs, Grover Coulson, Will Oldham, Kesha. Language: English]
David Lowery returns to the director’s chair for his pensive requiem A Ghost Story. A diverse talent in American indie cinema, Lowery worked as editor on Shane Carruth’s contemporary sci-fi Upstream Colour and producer on Alex Ross Perry’s comedy Listen Up Philip. Though his elegiac Deep South romance Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was an aesthetic masterpiece, the story lacked the grit such a setting demands. A Ghost Story follows in the wake of Lowery’s work on Pete’s Dragon last year, the proceeds of which helped Lowery self-fund this intimate passion project. Opening with an epigraph by Virginia Woof, the film moves into the rural Texas home of M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck), as they’re awoken one night by mysterious noises coming from their piano. The spectral presence bound to their home sparks discord between the couple. M would rather move somewhere more populated, whereas songwriter C is sentimentally attached to his creative space. After C is suddenly killed in a car accident, he awakens as a ghost transformed, leaving the morgue cloaked in a white sheet. Returning home, C is unable to console his despairing wife and enters the grieving process through a ghost’s perspective. A mysterious meditation on time, loss and memory, A Ghost Story is a lyrical and thought-provoking wonder. As to be expected from the filmmaker the use of dialogue is restrained, although the winning fusion of Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography and Lowery’s editing maintains visual engagement throughout. Violinist and frequent collaborator Daniel Hart enchants with another hauntingly evocative score. Filmed just days after the completion of Pete’s Dragon, it’s clear that Lowery is brimming with masterly potential. A beautifully transcendent, heart-on-sleeve gem, A Ghost Story casts the mirror on ourselves and existence as we know it.
See the trailer: A Ghost Story (2017)
A Quiet Passion (2016) – – – (12A) (Showing at The Light)
[Genre: Drama/Biography. Dir: Terence Davies. Starring: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Duncan Duff, Catherine Bailey, Keith Carradine, Joanna Bacon. Language: English]
Having been depraved of the cinematic majesty of Britain’s most underrated director Terence Davies for some time, his second release in two years A Quiet Passion justifies the wait. Following his foray in to period settings with last film Sunset Song, Davies brings to life his own interpretation of the prolific American poet Emily Dickinson. The film opens in 1848, in the walls of the evangelical Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Somewhat of an outsider among her peers, teenage Emily suffers the scourge of her teacher for her unwonted theological views. She returns home to Amherst, Massachusetts and with the permission of her father, begins to spill her contemplations to paper during the witching hour when all is silent. The story concentrates on Emily’s relationship with her family and transition in to adulthood; becoming an unyielding voice in opposition to the gender norms in society and religion at the time. As Emily grows older so too does her veracity, and drowns in her solitude when those closest abandon their virtues and submit to expectation. In her lifetime, Emily Dickinson had written almost 2000 poems that went woefully unrecognised until the 20th century. Her frustrations and melancholy bled into her work, and subsequently into Davies’s depiction of the reclusive poet. Fans of Terence Davies will swoon at A Quiet Passion, his resplendent style is completely enchanting. The eloquent and sharp-witted screenplay conjures some especially humorous moments in the first half, that gradually succumb to Emily’s despondency with each unfolding scene. With religion, gender and time being at the forefront of this biopic, it stirs the notion that Davies’s own experiences are at the heart of the film. The director has been open about his childhood as a devout Catholic boy in post-war Liverpool, who battled to accept his homosexuality and turned to resent it. As he stays true to the literary prowess of his subject, the dialogue may prove a little unforgiving for the casual viewer. A sombre, mournful atmosphere swells through the story and invokes the existential fervour of the great Swedish pioneer Ingmar Bergman. While the discourse on faith in A Quiet Passion draws parallels to Bergman’s Winter Light, it is chamber piece Cries and Whispers that it truly harmonises with. Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography is quite frankly – and expectedly – delightful, rich in lyrical imagery and camera movements that drift with an ethereal ease. A singular curtained sash window, an essential and recurring aesthetic in most of Davies’s films, is encompassed in many interior shots. Whether light pours through its panes is wholly dependent on the tonal mood of the narrative. In scenes when it does, golden afternoon light pierces through the lace curtains, casting shadows that flicker and dance on the walls and character’s faces. Such a divine aesthetic is rarely encountered in cinema, and demonstrates his firm grasp of the medium. There are also two notable scenes in which the camera pans 360° across a room, which will undoubtedly stun those unaccustomed to the Davies experience. The director’s penchant for the classics exudes in the artistic compositions – with early exterior shots resembling the genre scenes of Edmund Blair Leighton, while the interiors scream of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi. The eclectic casting choices synergise with their roles brilliantly, and a deserving mention goes to Cynthia Nixon for her fervent performance as the poet. For those of you wishing to immerse yourself further in Terence Davies’s world, I implore you to discover Of Time and the City, an ode to his hometown and British pastimes, as well as The Long Day Closes and Distant Voices, Still Lives. A Quiet Passion is a tour de force in meditative filmmaking; a rhapsodic portrait of the unsung feminist icon of her time, complemented by the beauty of Dickinson’s wistfully solemn oeuvre.
See the trailer: A Quiet Passion (2016)
Blood Simple (1985) – – – (18) (Showing at Showroom)
[Genre: Crime/Drama. Dir: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh. Language: English/Spanish]
Seize the moment and catch the Coen brothers’ incredible debut Blood Simple on the silver screen at Showroom Cinema for a limited time. The filmmaker duo have forged the path for American indie cinema over the past three decades, yet their debut remains their finest; a serpentine noir bursting with the creative ambition of fresh film school grads. If you pride yourself on being a Coen brothers aficionado, but have not yet seen Blood Simple, there will be bountiful surprises in store for you here. The entwined mystery unfurls with a meeting between Texas bar-owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) and the facetious private detective Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), whom Marty has hired to spy on his wife Abby (Frances McDormand). Scorned by the news of his wife’s infidelity with bartender Ray (John Getz), Marty enters into a slippery deal with the private eye to bump off the two lovers. Fuelled by his wounded ego and cheated heart, Marty’s hasty decision ignites a complex chain of events that reap disastrously miscalculated results. Blood Simple is one of those truly astonishing feature-length debuts that’s stood the test of time since its 1984 release. It has all the eccentricity and wry satire that would later come to define the brothers’ work, but it’s wonderfully pared down in comparison and triumphs on every level. The screenplay is excellently written, weaving together a gripping noir story that grows ever more intricate with each unfolding scene. There are no saintly characters here and the Coens know that, taking full advantage and pulling the rug underneath our feet when we least expect it. The film’s cinematography is arguably its most impressive aspect, incorporating artistic tracking shots and splashes of colour that embody the film with mystery and visual allure. In fact, Blood Simple showcases many motifs characteristic to David Lynch’s aesthetic, and considering it preceded Lynch’s iconic film and TV work, sparks the notion that Blood Simple was a source of great inspiration for the visionary. With this in mind, Blood Simple is a firm must-see for hardcore Lynch fans. It’s a delight to have Blood Simple resurrected from the shadows of the Coens’ sprawling oeuvre, a classic piece of neo-noir cinema enriched by its crossed-wires confusion and hypnotic imagery.
See the trailer: Blood Simple (1985)
Dunkirk (2017) – – – (12A) (Showing at Vue)
[Genre: War Drama/Historical. Dir: Christopher Dunkirk. Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles. Language: English]
Christopher Nolan made his directorial debut in 2000 and went on to become one of the most successful directors of the century. His latest release, gargantuan war epic Dunkirk, marks an exceptional milestone in his career and unveils a craftsman really coming into his own. The ambitious creation is presented in a triptych of separate stories, spread across three locations. Seven months into World War II, Hitler’s Wehrmacht army have surrounded the Calais stronghold and overpowered the French port of Boulogne. Caught within the Nazi’s trap, the 400,000 Allied troops have nowhere to turn, marooned on the barren beaches of Dunkirk. Young and visibly startled from the horrors of war, Private Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) heads to the shore through the shower of propaganda leaflets and hurtling gunfire. As he wanders across the vast expanse of stranded souls, Tommy encounters a private by the name of Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) burying a fallen soldier. After they brace against another assault by the German Stukas, the pair seize the stretcher of a wounded soldier and head for the only rescue ship in sight. Elsewhere, civilian captain Dawson (Mark Rylance) charts a brave expedition to the titular beach, after his boat is enlisted as an evacuation vessel. Also commandeering the runtime are white-knuckle sequences of RAF Spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) defending ships against Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombers. Little can be said about the plot of Dunkirk without revealing too much, although its narrative simplicity is one of its greatest assets. For Dunkirk doesn’t suffer the complexities of the director’s previous works, the attributes that have long confused – and divided – fans and filmgoers alike. Nolan takes the reins of his uninhibited freedom in the film industry and creates one of the most immersive depictions of war for some time. Dunkirk is all about the experience of being in war, and the film achieves just that by the dizzying sound design alone. Hans Zimmer provides a suitably droning soundtrack, which proves a welcome departure from the all too familiar sounds of his earlier collaborations with the director. Instead, he charges the scenes with momentum, blending together clock-ticking, shredding strings and jarring diegetic effects. The restrained use of dialogue is duly effective here, relying on the beautifully realistic performances and Nolan’s sure-handed direction to do the storytelling. What makes Dunkirk so special is that quietly powerful moments are respected as just that, quiet. The camera never dwells on a scene for too long, refusing to succumb to the overt sentimentality of Hollywood storytelling. Fans of Nolan will be prepared for his trademark narrative structure, though it fits in well with the subject matter. The filmmaker cleverly plays with time to weave together the three storylines, forming a powerful conclusion. A visceral and unsettling assault on the senses, Dunkirk shines as one of Nolan’s most impressive spectacles thus far.
See the trailer: Dunkirk (2017)
Gifted (2017) – – – (12A) (Showing at Odeon)
[Genre: Drama. Dir: Marc Webb. Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer. Language: English]
American filmmaker Marc Webb departs from his superhero foray and returns with heartfelt indie drama Gifted. Starting out as a music videographer, the director is most known for his feature debut 500 Days of Summer. Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a motorboat repairman living in a Florida trailer park with his 7-year-old niece Mary. Frank has been a guardian to Mary since his mathematician sister’s suicide, and values Mary’s happiness, security and upbringing above all else. Mary is exceptionally bright for her age, having been home schooled so far by Frank, with whom she has formed an inseparable bond. Afraid of squandering her intellectual potential, Frank enrols Mary at a public school, much to her dismay. When Mary starts to correct her teachers and solve complex equations, it dawns on them that they have a prodigy in their midst. As the education system becomes involved, Mary’s future hangs in the outcome of an impersonal court case. It is a delight to see Webb revert back to small-scale humanist dramas after his The Amazing Spider-Man duo. Although the story may seem similar to other genius narratives such as Little Man Tate and Good Will Hunting, Gifted still manages to put forth a tender and important debate on nature vs. nurture. Tom Flynn’s somewhat sentimental screenplay delves into abandonment, perception and the power of familial support. The performances truly elevate the film from its made-for-TV counterparts. Mckenna Grace is absolutely astonishing as Mary, exuding a raw naturalism in her performance. The film also finds Chris Evans in a role he rarely receives, allowing him a welcome reprieve from the Marvel blockbusters he is most known for. Webb renders a moving and life-affirming experience with Gifted, highlighting the moral and ethical challenges of childrearing.
See the trailer: Gifted (2017)
Loving Vincent (2017) – – – (12A) (Showing at Cineworld, Showroom, The Light)
[Genre: Animation/Biography. Dir: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman. Starring: Douglas Booth, Josh Burdett, Holly Earl, Robin Hodges. Language: English]
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent is cinema’s first fully painted film, a patchwork effort between 125 professional oil painters. Paying the utmost homage to the Dutch artist, Loving Vincent layers the artist’s iconic works against animations in his signature impasto style, and follows a slightly lacklustre murder mystery centring around his death. The story begins one year after the suicide of Vincent van Gogh, as Armand Roulin (voiced by Douglas Booth) delivers a letter on behalf of his postman father (Chris O’Dowd), the last ever to be penned by the artist, addressed to his brother Theo. When Armand makes his way to the provincial town of Auvers-sur-Oise, he discovers that Theo too is now deceased. Panging the notion that something’s awry, Armand finds himself embroiled in a personal investigation to reveal the mysteries of the painter’s death. If there’s any reason to experience Loving Vincent on the big screen, it would be its stunning synergy between collaborative artistry and technical design. Collated from a hefty collection of 65,000 oil paintings, the film utilises the inverse rotoscoping process to forge a mesmeric visual journey. Disappointingly, the hollow story may do little to enlighten avid fans with more facts about the artist, instead padding the film out with trivia and adhering to a cliché murder mystery formula. Despite its faults, the technical and visual feats of Loving Vincent is enough to provide an immersive escape from the dull tones of reality.
See the trailer: Loving Vincent (2017)
Moana (2016) – – – (PG) (Showing at Showroom)
[Genre: Animation/Adventure. Dir: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams. Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison. Language: English]
Disney continue to pave the way for modern animation in their latest delight Moana. Taking us to warmer climates in contrast to their previous box office hit Frozen, the directors behind Aladdin and The Little Mermaid weave a vibrant fairy tale, incorporating Polynesian folklore to the tapestry. Amidst the tranquil island of Motunui lives Moana, the sole heir to a chief in a long line of sea navigators. When the crops begin to wither and the island’s fisherman unable to catch any fish, the Ocean seeks her help in what will be a life-changing quest. She learns that the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has stolen the heart of the island which keeps its life flowing, and so she embarks on a voyage to return it home. Centring around a headstrong and independent female lead, Moana indicates the positive direction Disney is taking the franchise. Alongside Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, Brave and even Frozen, Moana has given girls and boys a respectable role model to aspire to. It must be said that it is a beautiful film to look at. This is the crème de la crème of digital animation; skin and hair have palpable texture and dimension, whilst the luscious water and foliage almost flow through the screen. Adventurous, heart-warming and funny, audiences of all ages will be swept away by the splendour of Moana. Make sure you stay seated until after the credits roll.
See the trailer: Moana (2016)
My Life As a Courgette (2017) – – – (PG) (Showing at Film Unit on Sunday 22 October at 3:30pm & 7:30pm)
[Genre: Animation/Drama. Dir: Claude Barras. Starring: Erick Abbate, Romy Beckman, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page. Language: French/English]
French stop-motion animation My Life As a Courgette is a wonderful treasure of cinema. It is the creation of Swiss director Claude Barras and French screenwriter Céline Sciamma (Girlhood, Tomboy). Following his mother’s accidental death, 9-year-old Courgette is placed into a foster home with the help of a compassionate police officer Raymond. Courgette’s temperament is ill-prepared for the strange and precarious environment, finding himself the target of ringleader and bully Simon. With time, Courgette adapts to the harsh changes in his life, forming a union between his companions of equally troubling backgrounds. As the plot would suggest, My Life As a Courgette is a mature story which is both tragic and heartwarming. Sciamma’s translation of Gille Barras’ source material lightens the gloom so it is more accessible. Sciamma is an expert at portraying youth on film, her previous directorial works exploring the nuances of adolescence. Though the story has some truly devastating scenes, it never dwells too long and is always underscored with optimism. Coupled with the weighty subject matter, the sumptuous animations are what makes this gem truly special. The disheveled aesthetic of stop-motion effects chimes perfectly with the narrative, while the use of colour symbolises the characters’ spectrum of emotions. A quintessential piece of filmmaking for children, My Life As a Courgette is a bold and stirring examination of trauma.
See the trailer: My Life As a Courgette (2017)
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