Thursday, 4 July 2019

Critical Week: Land of the midnight sun

This week's most anticipated screening was for Midsommar, the new sun-drenched horror from Ari Aster (Hereditary). And it certainly didn't disappoint: terrifying on several layers, Aster gleefully torments the audience without resorting to cliches. And the cast is simply awesome, including Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter. Sylvester Stallone was back for Escape Plan: The Extractors [aka Escape Plan 3], which is more like another Rambo movie than part of this series. Yes, it's rather simplistic, relegating his returning costars (Dave Bautista, Curtis Jackson) to much smaller roles. And the true adventure/tragedy Kursk: The Last Mission also has an all-star cast, including Colin Firth, Matthias Schoenaerts and Max Von Sydow, but it leaves the Russian nature of the story aside for a Euro-pudding production that never quite feels real.

Less starry films included Brittany Runs a Marathon, a Sundance winner featuring Jillian Bell as a woman trying to get her life into shape. Although the plot plays to the usual structure, the film is very, very funny and then engagingly emotional. Germany's stunning Oscar-nominated epic drama Never Look Away is the complex, involving story of an artist who feels the impact of world events in his work. And the documentary/essay Varda by Agnes is a final gem from the masterful Agnes Varda as she traces her career, inspiration and motivation. It should be essential viewing in all film schools. There was also this documentary, which landed in cinemas last Friday...

Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows
dir-scr Richard Kovitch
with Penny Slinger, Peter Whitehead, Susanka Fraey, Jack Bond, Michael Bracewell, Jane & Louise Wilson, Antony Penrose, Maxa Zoller
release UK 28.Jun.19 • 17/UK 1h38 ***.

A fascinating trip into London's art world in the 1960s and 1970s, this documentary explores Penny Slinger's haunting, surreal work: paintings, photos, collages, sculptures, performance and film. It's packed with her imagery, plus revealing interviews with her, her collaborators, friends and experts. Slinger's work is deliberately provocative, as she rejects the status quo and sets out to shock people with her statements about how women are seen in society. "I'm not necessarily feminist," she says, "but I hope I've been helpful in liberating the feminine." Documentary filmmaker Richard Kovitch traces her life and career chronologically, from painting as a child to attending art school in 1960s London, covering her striking projects over the years, all of which seem far ahead of her time. From the start, she played with faces and bodies in her work, creating a boldly female punk sensibility.

While it may feel a little dry, this doc is loaded with her powerful images, extensive footage from her rare films and clips of her art shows. And everything is accompanied with personal comments from Slinger, as well as collaborative artists like Fraey and filmmakers Whitehead and Bond. It's an eye-catching film, assembled with a reverence to her distinctive style, packed with intriguing observations about both Slinger and the art world in general, including what it says about culture at large. As Slinger says, life itself is a work of art, and her pieces are just an emblem of that. So it's intriguing how in the 1980s, disillusioned with how art had become too proscriptive and academic, she chose to disappear from the public eye. Her art continues to be exhibited, as fresh and resonant as ever. And she continues to evolve as a person engaged to the world around her.

Coming up this next week, we have Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista in the buddy action comedy Stuber, Jim Jarmusch's star-packed zombie romp The Dead Don't Die, Gurinder Chadha's Springsteen-themed musical Blinded by the Light, the ensemble comedy Summer Night, the shorts collection The Heat of the Night, and Coppola's so-called "final cut" of Apocalypse Now, a movie I never miss a chance to watch on a big screen.

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