Tuesday 31 October 2017

[Film Review] - Women and Wine

Writer and Director Liv Karin Dhalstrom 
Starring Marit Adeceide Andreassen, Turid Gunnes, Jeanne Boe
Running Time 20 Minutes.

When Turid organises a party for her best friend Grete's 50th Birthday she suddenly finds that they might not be as close as they once were. Fearing that they are drifting apart Turid does something that threatens her bond of friendship.

In a funny and lighthearted fashion Dhalstrom explores a deeply rooted fear for those who dread losing their friends through distance or growing apart in mid-life. Telling the story from Turid's point of view we get caught up in her anxiety from feeling pushed out of the birthday celebrations she organised to her jealousy of Grete's apparent closeness to their other friend Signe. Following her narrative Dahlstrom makes us feel Turid's dispair amplifying subtly her increasing feelings of being pushed away. The scene in the car where a masked Signe and Turid make Grete guess who they are touches on this poignantly, whilst the birthday girl easily recognises Signe's voice she fails to recognise her lifelong friend Turid. This carries effectively to the party itself and we can't help but feel bad for Turid, even in her overreaction when the party doesn't quite go to plan. 

Marti Andreassen is delightful to watch bringing to the fore Turid's emotional vulnerability with a comic touch that is almost like a comedy of errors. Her performance makes Turid so likable that we still feel fer her even after she takes her desperate action to save her friendship with Grete. What makes this compelling viewing is the feeling that we have all been there and done equally stupid things out of fear and anxiety. Where the film switches tact somewhat is the tense moment between Turid and Grete, and here Turid Gunnes gives a strong performance in particular her reaction to Turid's betrayal of confidence, powerfully played out during Grete and Turid's recreation of the a comedy skit from their younger days.

Dhalstrom manages to get incredible performances from his talented cast drawing in the audience making us feel what the players feel and keeping the performances from going over the top. "Women and Wine" is a delightful story with some laughs, and a little tension leading to a heart breaking yet warm ending, a powerful relate-able film of friendship and the dreaded mid life crisis.

Sunday 22 October 2017

[Film Review] - A GENTLE NIGHT

Written & directed by Qiu Yang
Running Time 15 minutes 
Starring Shuxian Li, Zhongwei Sun

Set in an un-named town in China, the film focuses on the worries of distraught mother Cai, whose daughter goes missing. Ignoring the her husband's call for patience, and the police's instructions to wait, Cai takes to the streets in search of her little girl.

Every parent has lived this fear on some level, of losing sight of their child in a busy city. For some it is a nightmare made real, a dread that writer/director Qiu Yang taps into by bringing this story, inspired by true events, horribly to life. Yang manages to capture the emotions of this very real horror by leaving all other characters in the background and focusing solely on Cai's ordeal. 

In her debut film role, Chinese opera star Shixian Li, brilliantly conveys the visceral turmoil of Cai, a despondent and frightened mother with poise. The emotions are shown not through over the top teary eyed bawling but more of someone in an state of almost comatose immobility; we can't help but feel caught up in the drama with a  little lump in the throat as we watch Cai slowly process the extreme emotions she feels. As the viewer one may find themselves wrapped in Cai's tumultuous, state of mind, thanks to Li's stoic and stirring performance, all the way to it's stomach churning climax.

"A Gentle Night" is an emotionally charged drama that every parent can relate to and many pray never happens to them. This award winning tale - it won the coveted Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival -  maintains its tension throughout without coming up for air keeping the viewer emotionally locked in and invested till the end.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Interview with Alexander Bedria

For Alexander Bedria the world of film is not just a profession but a calling, one which he has answered and embraced at every level. With his latest short film "The Zim" Alexander has put himself behind the camera, as director, writer and co-producer, as well as in front as Daniel Silva, a native Zimbabwean famer caught up in the country's violent land invasions of the early 2000s. As a film maker Alexander shows us a country torn apart in an effort to redress its colonial past and as Silva, a man who suddenly feels like a stranger in his own country. 

Although still early in its run, "The Zim" garnering some positive reviews (mine will follow) and impressed judges at the LA Shorts International Film FestivalAlexander took time out from his busy schedule to talk to me about his life and passion for acting, and what led him to undertake such a powerful story as "The Zim".

I was born in New York to immigrant parents and lived on Long Island until I was around 12, when my family moved to Florida. Acting came into my life my freshman year of college while taking an introductory drama course. I remember doing my very first scene and finding a profound sense of purpose and freedom in the work, which has stayed with me. As for highlights, I’d say working with Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom was a pretty big one. Ray Donovan was also a lot of fun. Though as a personal highlight, "The Zim" tops the list.

I am sure it does. So what led you to want to try directing?

Movies have always been a focal point in my life, and I hoped that the opportunity would come to explore directing. Eventually I realised that I had to make the conscious choice to do it, or the opportunity might never come otherwise. With "The Zim", I had a strong instinct as to how to tell the story, and that evolved into the confidence to make it happen.

Alexander Bedria as Daniel Silva in The Zim

Speaking of which, aside from the documentary “Mugabe and the White African” I don’t think any film inspired or based on the land invasions in Zimbabwe has been made. What inspired you to tell the story of this particular dark chapter in the country’s recent history?

The conflict of the story felt universal to me. There were a lot of themes - racial and national identity, family and brotherhood, humanity in the face of violence - that transcend borders and geography. You mentioned Mugabe and the White African, which was incredibly powerful, and really shed a light on the human experience of these events. I wanted to dramatise the land invasions and bring a sense of balanced perspectives to the story, taking the audience on an emotional journey through the cinematic lens.

Wow! How much research went into this project? Did you learn anything interesting that perhaps escaped news reports you’d care to share?

I read everything I could find, starting with the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO. There were also pieces from major news publications and hours of documentary footage that I went through. But speaking to people who were directly affected by the events offered a deeper insight into their personal experiences. Hearing the emotion in their voices and the passion of their beliefs was the emotional element that couldn’t be communicated in a report.

"I had a strong instinct as to how to tell the story, and that evolved into the confidence to make it happen."
Are any of the characters in the film based on people you have read about or know personally?

The characters are fictionalised, inspired by the real people I came across in the research.

What challenges as an actor did playing Daniel Silva present?

Daniel holds a lot of conflict about his place in a changing world. A lot needed to be communicated quietly, through his internal life. Also, the Zimbabwean accent was very specific, and I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.

You certainly succeeded. How did you handle juggling dual role of star and director?

I found the experience a surprisingly smooth one, which is more a testament to the amazing team I had supporting me on set. I also went in extremely prepared. By the time we finally started shooting, I’d already lived with the story for a few years, so I felt confident in trusting my instincts.

Your co-star Tongayi Chirisa, who plays Daniel's friend William Zimunya, is a native Zimbabwean. Did he offer any insight or personal input to the story? Was he able to relay any recollections of that time?

Tongayi was invaluable to this project. He had an intimate knowledge of the subject and offered countless insights to help us tell this story. It was especially important to him that we convey a balance of character perspectives, and he encouraged me to keep finding ways to further this in every incarnation of the script. He also offered technical advisement on all aspects of production design, helping us achieve as authentic a representation of Zimbabwe as we could.

William and Daniel share good times before the storm
Interesting. There are some multi-faceted qualities to the three male protagonists; Silva identifying himself as African, Zimunya’s difficult dilemma and even Matonga is more than he seems. Was it your attention to avoid any absolutism in the situations you depict?

That’s a great question. Yes, I’m always interested in the human complexity behind moral or political beliefs. The conflict. I believe it’s always there…people are not machines…and absolutism can very easily slide into extremism, and the loss of rational discourse. That’s the dark space where humanity is lost.

Very true. So are there any plans to turn this into a feature film?

The material certainly calls for it. It’s definitely a discussion that’s ongoing. We’ll see what happens with the short.

I look forward to it. How well has “The Zim” been received? Have you heard from anybody who lived through the land grabs to give you their thoughts on your film's depiction?

The film has been received quite well so far. We premiered at LA Shorts International Film Festival and took home their Best of Fest prize, which was a huge honor. I haven’t heard from anyone who has lived through the invasions yet, but we’re still very early in our run, and hope to hear their reactions.
"people are not machines…and absolutism can very easily slide into extremism, and the loss of rational discourse. That’s the dark space where humanity is lost."
What’s next for Alexander Bedria? Any more projects lined up?

I’m currently working on a feature screenplay and meeting on some new television projects. A bit too early to make any big announcements yet!

Sounds exciting, hopefully you'll keep me in the loop. Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I wish you the best of luck with the film.  

Thank you very much, I enjoyed your questions!

Tuesday 15 August 2017

The Fighting Spirit Film Festival Returns

After a successful kick-ass debut last year the "Fighting Spirit Film Festival" returns for another celebration of the best martial arts has to offer. This year the event will be held on 16th September at the Boleyn Cinema in East London for which the organisers are using crowdfunding to ensure a fun filled action packed festival. 

Launched in September 2016 the Fighting Spirit Film Festival promised to showcase the best talent in martial arts performance and film making. Held at Cineworld multiplex @ The O2 the festival featured 12 screenings of short action films and documentaries showcasing some of martial arts' finest talents in front of and behind the camera. Throughout the day the festival also featured live performances and demonstrations from top clubs and dojos around the country. The festival also screened three classic and contemporary feature length martial arts films for all ages; the Jackie Chan epic "Drunken Master", "Kung-Fu Panda 3", and" Ip Man 3". 

This year, the festival once again is working in partnership with marketing and management agency Fighters Inc. and publication CombatandStrength.com, for an even bigger event featuring 22 short films this time, as well as more live martial arts performances and demonstrations. The festival will also include three feature films two of which have been announced and centre on the rise of the underdog. First up, and in tribute to the late John G Avildsen, there will be a screening of the 1984 classic "Karate Kid" starring Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita. Also screening will the Shaw Brothers classic which is the ultimate underdog story that features a multitude of intense training scene - Lau Kar-Leung's "36th Chamber of Shaolin" starring Gordon Liu. 

The festival certainly promises to be a larger event and to make it happen the organisers are running a crowdfunding campaign for £1,500 through Indigogo. The sum will cover the costs such as venue hire, film fees and promotional materials. In return for their pledges, supporters will receive a variety of rewards including short film compendiums, free day passes, film location visits and a chance to meet the film makers, even a chance to sit on the judging panel as one of the events patrons. To date the campaign has raised around 30% of funds with fifteen days left to reach their target.

Fighting Spirit might seem like a low key event but the brains behind it have big goals and the means to make this more than just a film festival but an event for martial arts communities the world over. In creating this global community Fighting Spirit looks to become THE event to feature in the martial arts calendar. For more information and to make a donation click here to visit the campaign's Indigogo funding page.
Through martial arts cinema we aim to entertain and inspire people, promote martial arts culture, and support those who have chosen it as a career. Soo Cole, Director and Co-Founder Fighting Spirit Film Festival

Thursday 29 June 2017

Barry Seal - Made in America, Cruising to the Big Screen

So it seems that Tom Cruise can tank at the box office after all, with reports that his remake of "The Mummy" is set to lose money, domestically anyway. Of course this won't tarnish the Cruiser's reputation for reigning in the cinematic big bucks and I am glad of this because much of his fare is of a high caliber (where is Mission Impossible 6?). Far from resting on his laurels it seems Tom has another film out this year and one that should peak everyone's interest; "American Made" is the true story of Barry Seal, pilot, smuggler, informant spy, and is directed by "The Bourne Identity's" Doug Liman. "Barry who?" I hear you shout, and I guess that is a fair question to ask. So who is Barry Seal?

I first heard about him in the early 90's when a film was made of his life starring the late and great Dennis Hopper called "Double Crossed". It was released at the height of the US's absurd war on drugs as a poorly underfunded DEA (along with unsubstantiated rumours of CIA involvement) battled the mighty and brutal Medellin Drug Cartels principally led by none other than that famous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. It seems that Barry Seal's involvement in helping bring down some of the cartel's most vicious and notorious figures was so clandestine that his death barely registered a blip on the worldwide media radar. So here is what we know.

Adler Berriman "Barry" Seal was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1939, and was thought to have started learning to fly at the age of 15. From 1966 to 1974 he was pilot for TWA Airlines until his dismissal. Now here is where it gets really murky; official reports indicate that Seal, in need of money went to work as a pilot and smuggler for the Medellin drug cartel transporting shipments of cocaine from Columbia to the US earning as much as half a million dollars per flight. That much is confirmed however stories have circulated that Seal worked for the CIA as far back as 1958 helping with the overthrow of Cuba's Batista regime to tenuous links to the assassination of John F Kennedy. Seal's drug enterprise was thought to be a CIA front with DEA support to aide the Cartel whom the agencies viewed as allies in the fight against Marxist revolutionaries in South America. Of course much of this has been denied which should come as no surprise.

What is recorded was that Seal ran his operation successfully from 1976 out of Arkansas before moving to Florida. In 1983 he was arrested for smuggling cocaine and marijuana and faced a prospect of 10 years in prison. Not surprisingly Seal negotiated a deal with the DEA to act as informant on his employers. The DEA ensured that his fleet of planes were equipped with the best surveillance equipment which coupled with his testimony resulted in the arrest of some of his former associates, all senior cartel figures. One of his most famous operations, and which sadly led to his disclosure as an informant and his death, was the 1984 Nicaragua sting operation. Armed with surveillance cameras,courtesy of the CIA, that were installed on his C-123 transport plane Seal presented pictures that showed soldiers of the country's Sandanista government alongside the Jorge Louis Ochoa Vasquez and Pablo Escobar loading huge cocaine shipments into the plane bound for the US. Seal testified that senior officials of the Sandanista government were involved in the deal though widely refuted. 

In July 1984 a Washington Times article outed Seal as an informant, which made an already suspicious Medellin cartel angry enough to put a contract on his life, one that was carried out in 1986 when he was brutally gunned down by a Colombian hit-man. Interestingly enough rumour has it Colonel Oliver North, the king of plausible deniability and a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal leaked details of the operation to the press. This was most likely done to bolster support for the Contra rebels by showing the Soviet backed Sandanista government as both communists and drug dealers - not the sort of things you want to be accused of at the height of both the drugs war and the cold war. 

Officially Seal is on record as a pilot, smuggler, money launderer and gun runner who turned informant on his bosses and paid for that with his life. Those who knew him denied any involvement with US government agencies outside the DEA. That has never put an end to the speculation of his working with the CIA and the more it is vehemently denied the louder the conspiracy theorists' voices raise.

A quick look at the trailer and it seems "American Made", a film reminiscent of the excellent "Air America",  is playing on Seal's link to the CIA and their collusion to build a drug smuggling operation to get close to the Cartels. It has already attracted some controversy as to factual inaccuracies but with such a big shadow cast over Barry Seal's activities whose to say what is true or not?  

Popular Posts