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by Stephen Mayne

7 Sep 2015

The Danish Girl

It’s the day of the Danes, sort of. With storm clouds a-gathering over the Lido, we look to our Scandinavian brethren for solace. Firstly, in the form of The Danish Girl, a film that has Oscar hopeful tattooed all over it. The most Danish thing about it is probably the title given that it’s a British production directed by an Englishman and starring an Englishman and a Swedish woman, with music composed by a Frenchman. Such is the world of international film these days.

The Danish Girl is the laudable attempt by a big glitzy Hollywood film to take on an ignored area. It’s the story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo gender re-alignment surgery way back in the 1920s. Danish, obviously, Lili was born Einar Wegener, a prominent landscape artist. Tom Hooper’s film, he of The King’s Speech and Les Misérables fame, brings his glossy period style to bear in a gorgeous to look at and ever so tame account of Lili’s gradual journey from the body forced on her. Thankfully, it’s blessed with a couple of star performances to add a little life.

Eddie Redmayne, hot from last year’s Oscar win, burns up the screen as Einar/Lili, managing the transformation with jittery conviction. He’s matched every step by Alicia Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerda, an artist in her own right. With the less obviously showy part, she works wonders to provide the anchor needed to moor down the occasional flighty lapse into period beautification. If only it didn’t try so hard to be a prestige drama.

The Wait

With little else to do until lunch, I jumped back into the same screen to catch The Wait, a Sicilian set drama also competing for the Golden Lion. With Juliette Binoche and a Sorrentino-esque tendency to throw in pop songs and postcard shots, it promised far more than it delivered. Instead, The Wait lived up to its name, turning into a gruelling test of endurance as Binoche sits in a country villa with her son’s girlfriend, promising his return any day. It’s clear something has happened, but first time director Piero Messina takes so damn long getting to the revelation. He has an eye for shot composition, but please don’t make it such a drag next time.

A War

Now comes the second Danish connection of the day, this one more authentically so. Tobias Lindholm has been at the heart of a wonderful little cottage industry in North Europe of late. Aside from his work as Thomas Vinterberg’s co-writer on film’s like The Hunt, he was one of the driving forces behind the excellent political TV drama Borgen, and directed and wrote 2012’s A Hijacking that out Captain Phillipsed Captain Phillips. Keeping with the real life focus and working once more with Pilou Asbæk, alongside a collection of other faces familiar to fans, he’s turned to the field of combat for A War.

In unflinching style, he follows a Danish military unit in Afghanistan, and the fallout that follows a snap decision from Asbæk’s commander. The film takes on complicated issues deftly, drawing out the contradictions of combat while neatly offering a window into the impact back home. It’s a wonderful little example of the kind of thought provoking cinema that can feel so far away after summer blockbuster season. It drew several minutes of standing ovation in my screening which seemed like a pretty good place to stop for the night, especially for someone racing the rain without an umbrella.

by Stephen Mayne

7 Sep 2015

Black Mass

It was Johnny Depp time on the Lido today. Hordes of screaming fans descended to watch the veteran (I guess we should call him that now he’s in his 50s) star walk the red carpet for Black Mass, a gangster film touted as his return to form following a long barren run. It wasn’t just the chance to see whether he can revive a career long in the doldrums, at least in terms of decent films. The comb-over he wears for his role as Boston kingpin James ‘Whitey’ Bulger has drawn much comment. Alas, he chose not to arrive in character, instead looking disappointingly like the heartthrob he is.

by Stephen Mayne

7 Sep 2015

Neon Bull

Ok, so the title in this first diary entry from the 72nd Venice Film Festival, the oldest surviving of its kind, is slightly misleading. As I didn’t arrive on the Lido until day 2, you’ll find no update on opening day shenanigans. I can tell you that disaster epic Everest provided the initial glamour, and that Jake Gyllenhaal looked rather fetching in a dishevelled way, staring down from the massive billboards littering the area surrounding the Sala Grande, Venice’s main screen. From early reports, it doesn’t sound like I missed too much either. A serviceable, if hardly spectacular opener, it seems unlikely to follow in the footsteps of recent years which saw the likes of Black Swan, Gravity and Birdman get things underway.

by Bill Gibron

27 Feb 2012

The Artist, a black and white silent movie enveloped in old Hollywood mythos, won Best Picture (the first to do so since Wings at the original Academy ceremony back in 1929). 17 time nominee Meryl Streep pulled the upset of the evening, walking away with the Best Actress statue that many believed was destined for Viola Davis. Christopher Plummer became the oldest man ever to win the coveted award (though there are arguments over the status of Charlie Chaplin and his honorary acknowledgement) and Woody Allen, who earned his first Oscar way back in 1978, took home another (his fourth) for Midnight in Paris. If it weren’t for newcomers Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting), Michel Hazanavicius (Best Director) and Jean Dujardin (Best Actor), the 84th Annual Academy Awards would have played like a complete flashback to Tinseltown’s past - even stalwart host Billy Crystal was there to guide it all.

There were other symbols that the movie industry isn’t completely and utterly lost, however. Alexander Payne and his script collaborators Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were acknowledged for their work on The Descendants, while Gore Verbinski and his delightful cartoon satire on the spaghetti western, Rango, took home the Best Animated Feature award. Flight of the Concords’ Bret McKenzie and the Muppets bested a tune from Rio to win Best Song, while Hugo‘s creative invention walked away a five time winner. Still, after the fiasco of the last few months, with original show producer Brett Ratner resigning over some homophobic comments (and taking his buddy and original host Eddie Murphy with him) and the questions over numbers and nods (Only two tunes were nominated? Only nine films???), Oscar needed a night like this. Sure, they still look out of touch, but at least tradition wasn’t trumped…at least, not totally.

by Chris Conaton

20 Jul 2011

It’s that time again, folks. On Wednesday night, the year’s biggest pop culture event, Comic-Con International in San Diego, gets started for another four days of movies, TV, video games, anime, and yes, comic books. The run-up to this year’s convention has been marked by technical difficulties in selling tickets and controversy over big movie studios not bothering to attend this year.

Comic-Con’s ticket-selling snafus were mostly under the radar, unless you were one of the thousands of people attempting to buy a pass for the convention. Unless you were lucky enough to attend Comic-Con 2010 and bought a ticket for this year’s convention at that show, you were probably involved in the nightmare of Comic-Con 2011’s online ticket purchasing nightmare. The convention’s ticket-selling partner, TicketLeap, crashed repeatedly, forcing the online purchasing date to be rescheduled multiple times before finally selling out all available tickets in minutes. While Comic-Con’s attendance has been capped at approximately 125,000 people for the past several years, demand for the tickets keeps going up. To be fair, those tickets would’ve sold out quickly anyway, but the delays pushed the demand to a boiling point that left many fans feeling screwed over.

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