Friday, 5 January 2018

Tracks of the Week (January 1st-5th)

2017 was a great year for music. We had excellent comebacks (Arcade Fire, QOTSA and Gorillaz), immense debut albums (The Big Moon, Declan McKenna and Sampha) and the return of King Kendrick with the impeccable DAMN. Oh, and we had the Gallagher brothers at each others necks for the most part of the year resulting in their best work since the break-up of Oasis.

So we come into 2018 in a positive frame of mind, much due to the fact that it should be finally the year that Arctic Monkeys come back and The 1975 are threatening to drop Music for Cars at any given moment. Not only that, in the past week, usually regarded as a 'quiet week' by the industry we've had new songs from Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake, as well as a very special version of Wolf Alice's 'Don't Delete the Kisses' remixed by Charlie XCX and Post Precious. Here are the best songs released this week...

The Vaccines - 'I Can't Quit' 

Yes, indie heroes The Vaccines kicked off 2018 with a 'Hottest Record in the World' on Annie Mac's Radio 1 show in the form of 'I Can't Quit'. I was a fan of The Vaccines last record English Graffiti, but I'm sure fans will be happy that they've seemingly returned to their earlier, punkier roots with this under three minute indie banger. It's everything that made people fall in love with The Vaccines all those years ago: spikey riffs with insanely catchy pop hooks.

Kid Wave - 'Twenty-Four' 

The first new song I heard in 2018 was Kid Wave's 'Twenty-Four' and, instantly, you could tell it was going to be a good year. The project of Swede Lea Emmery, 'Twenty-Four' is a retrospective look at the trials and tribulations of being a young person. It's somewhat different from her debut album Wonderlust, this time showcasing a gloomier mode of pop with Emmery's murky vocals cutting deep.

Superorganism - 'Everybody Wants to Be Famous' 

There's absolutely no doubt about it, 2018 is the year of Superorganism. Arguably the most exciting band around at the moment, the supergroup from all over the world have started 2018 with a bang. Not only announcing their eponymous debut album, but giving us another showcase of it with 'Everybody Wants to Be Famous', which is everything you could expect from the band. Giddy synths, languorous tribal vocals and barmy sound effects everywhere to be heard, it’s a whole lot of fun - and that's exactly Superorganism's USP.

FREAK - 'Everyone's the Same' 

Having embarked on a co-headline tour with King Nun, supported everyone from The Amazons and Black Honey and released a whole host of great music, it's fair to say that FREAK had a very impressive 2017. Now, they're back with 'Everyone's the Same', which is an injection of pacey guitars (that reminds me of Electric Six) and a catchy chorus. It's a two and a half minute burst of energy in a single and you can already see its live appeal.

Patawawa - 'Patagonia' 

If you want to dance, this one is for you. With the returns of the likes of Chic and Nile Rodgers and Jamiroquai, funk is back with a bang. With Thundercat, Childish Gambino and Barbudo holding up the fort in terms of new artists too, funk has never been better. Enter Patawawa, the Derbyshire who offer "beats to pump blood, glittered guitar riffs and basslines that bite". 'Patagonia' does all this and more, with its opening resembling Metronomy's 'The Bay' and an addictive bassline, catchy chorus and vocals to match Prince and MJ in their prime. If this single is anything to go by, Patawawa are set for a very exciting 2018.

BØRNS feat. Lana Del Rey - 'God Save Our Young Blood' 

Lana Del Rey had a very good year, all things considered, with the release of her fifth studio album Lust for Life. She's kick-started her 2018 with a very impressive guest spot on the latest single from Michigan pop prodigy BØRNS. Featuring a key change reminiscent of Brian Wilson, it's an excellent pop song with a cheery, contented nature to it. 

Sea Girls - 'Heavenly War' 

Sea Girls, the London-based quartet known for hits such as 'Lost' and 'Call Me Out', have released a brand-new single for the new year. 'Heavenly War' is a jolted, jarring pop song that reminds me of Seafret with its euphoric chorus. There's a contagiousness to the single that develops in your mind the more you think about it. It's truly an excellent ear-worm to start the year.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Ghost Story Review

After making me cry unexpectedly with joyous romp Pete's Dragon last year, David Lowery is making me cry for entirely different reasons with A Ghost Story, a powerful, elegant and painstakingly immaculate film about love, loss and the sheer power of legacy and time. It's also one of the best films of the year, and perhaps a film to rival Under the Skin as the most thematically opaque of the century.

C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) are a happy couple who live a nice suburban lifestyle until tragedy strikes. C dies in an accident and comes back as a man in a sheet with cut-out eyes. Or, a ghost. It's an eccentric idea from Lowery that in the wrong hands could have been disastrous. Yet, it takes the ghost mythology and flips it on its head so that we're seeing things from the ghost's point of view in a bizarrely, almost Pixar-esque way with a real tenderness and encumbrance. So superbly executed, in fact, that it is achingly sad rather than nonsensical. Commendation has to go to Affleck, who, in a sheet is a sad, forlorn figure that shows more emotion than many a leading man gone by have. The role is reminiscent to Michael Fassbender's role in Frank, which is high praise indeed.

The crux of the film comes down to Lowery's circumspection with his own material. His meticulousness to Malickian long-takes and long stretches without dialogue will make this film polarising but its absolute fascinating direction is worthy of academic study, for sure. An example of this is a five minute long-take of M after she's come back from the hospital. Lowery sets up a mid-shot with M on the floor and a deceased C lingering over her, passively watching. M engorges a pie ferociously in a desperate attempt to feel any sort of emotion after losing her partner to the point that she runs off to the toilet to throw it all back up. This is the pinnacle of Lowery's direction. It supplies the film with an even more voyeuristic view than normal which makes the audience feel trepidation and a hammering of guilt that never quite goes away. The audience is exactly the same as C's ghost, we're watching a woman in severe pain yet we can do nothing. At times it makes for a very uncomfortable, even harrowing, viewing as we're forced to watch a woman go to extreme lengths to feel anything. Its portrayal of grief is nothing short of superb.

The distressing, espial nature of A Ghost Story is further propelled by Lowery's use of 1:33 aspect ratio. This expedites the claustrophobic, boxed-in nature of Lowery's picture: you can't leave, even if you really want to. There's no escape from the enduring pain of time, which is one of the inescapably dense themes. For a 92 minute piece it covers a lot of ground, yet seems to execute every single ingenious idea it throws out there.

The idea of life after death is, of course, an important issue that Lowery tackles but he tackles them through the use of two others: legacy and time. Exactly why does anything matter and will anyone remember me? Lowery bombards us with. Casey Affleck's character is a musician and we (cleverly) never know how successful he is, but Lowery is questioning all art here, and his love and passion for art and why it matters. In many ways, A Ghost Story is about why being creative matters and why art is important. For a film that spans generations it's a very relevant film to now.

Yet Lowery doesn't explore the now, because, well, there doesn't seem to be a now. The film clearly travels through a fair amount of time, but at the same time Lowery shows time as a void, an abyss that you can't escape. We don't know how long Rooney Mara's character stays in the house before moving on, in fact we don't even know if she ever does but Lowery explores time as if it is linked inherently to legacy. The scene that ties the film narratively is Will Oldham's excellent cameo as a philosophical know-it-all that states that everyone is going to die and nothing will ever matter. It's a powerful monologue that turns A Ghost Story from a set of increasingly complex ideas into a fully-fledged masterpiece of oeuvre cinema.

In short, Lowery has created an elegiac, cyclical film that will certainly grow on repeat viewings. Not that you'll need it, A Ghost Story is so cinematically dominant, so thematically murky that it will stay with you for weeks.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore Review

Do you want to be an active or passive member of society? is the question at the heart of Macon Blair’s directorial debut, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, which is as melancholic as it is bloody. For Melanie Lynskey’s Ruth, she is the latter. She has popular novels spoiled for her and she has dogs shit on her lawn. When she gets burgled, that’s the last straw and she decides to do something about it, partly due to the ineptitude of the police. So her and her newly formed acquaintance Tony (Elijah Wood, on fine form) decide to find the culprits - with bloody and hilarious consequences.

Almost immediately the similarities between I Don’t Feel at Home and Macon Blair’s brilliant, slicked-back starring feature Blue Ruin appear. But I Don’t Feel at Home has extraordinary qualities. Firstly, it is outrageously funny at times. It is as awkward and uncomfortable as Ruth herself. Most of this comes from Elijah Wood’s Tony, who is both absurd and eccentric in equal measures. It is his kookiness that makes the film tick. Slightly off-kilter is an understatement and I Don’t Feel at Home has that in abundance. So much so that you never know where it’s going to go and what’s going to happen. It’s quality is in its inconsistencies.

As much as it is silly and laugh out loud inducing, however, it’s actually profoundly sad and this is encapsulated in Lynskey’s remarkably refined performance. From her utterances “but everyone is being an asshole” to her ferociously vomiting at the sight of a gruesome gunfight shows she’s not only uncomfortable in this world but she’s uncomfortable in her own body which is desperately sad. As accidental heroes go, she’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long while. Macon Blair has created an interesting, intellectual and most importantly, relatable heroes in Ruth and Tony and they’re a pleasure to watch.

Blair’s directing, too, has clearly been inspired by Saulnier’s efforts on Blue Ruin and Green Room. In fact, I Don’t Feel at Home could rival it for the amount of blood shed. The film is ghastly at times, but also a heck of a lot of fun. Yet it is always grounded in realism. Characters struggle to fire guns, these are only as dangerous as the weapons they are holding. And there’s a lot of them. Firearms, plaster of paris, vans, rocks, snakes. Most of the fun comes from the spontaneity of the smoothly executed action scenes.

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore is as brutal as it is macabre. For every bit of bloodshed, there’s a poignant moment. It could do with better developed villains with superior validation for their actions and it doesn’t quite have the tautness and tension of its contempories, but it’s too much fun to take notice. From Tony’s loneliness to Ruth’s depression it shouldn’t be as fun as it is, but boy is it.

Monday, 9 January 2017

La La Land Review

In the first third of La La Land, Damien Chazelle's entralling follow up to three-time Oscar winner Whiplash, Ryan Gosling's Seb says "why do you say romantic like it's a bad thing?" and in many ways that's the perfect summation of what makes La La Land so wonderful. La La Land is like those signs people have in their houses 'Live, Life, Love' but in the least corny way possible. It's a hopeless romantic with its head  positively in the clouds.  It's also an excellent example of how the musical can work in the 21st Century, where seemingly it's a dying breed. 

An ever excellent Ryan Gosling and an equally adorable Emma Stone star as Seb and Mia, respectively, as two dreamers who have a passion and a love for what they do yet do not seem to be making any progress in their fields. Much like Chazelle's Whiplash, this is about a passion for music and a certain drive that it takes to reach the top. Unlike Whiplash, it shows the lighter and happier side of this. In many ways it makes the perfect companion piece to Chazelle's former film and La La Land can be seen as Whiplash's exuberant, slightly excitable and wholly less cynical younger sibling.

Seb and Mia's relationship and every move hinges on one thing: the performances of Stone and Gosling. Luckily and unsurprisingly, Stone and Gosling have been here before (Crazy, Stupid Love and Gangster Squad) and have the finest chemistry in Hollywood right now. Arguably, they could match Doris Day and Rock Hudson from the Golden Age of cinema (and the musical). There seems to be this almost pathological connection between the two stars that makes them as irresistibly charming and alluring as the film itself. Gosling's facial expressions in particular are exceptional. Whether he wants to make you laugh, cry or sympathise, he makes perfect sure that he does just that.

And, of course, a musical wouldn't be anywhere without its music, but strangely the music does seem to take a backseat. Aside from the somewhat off-putting opening number 'Another Day Of Sun', the music is nuanced, subtle and refined and brings a touch of class to proceedings not seen since Gene Kelly was on screen. Justin Hurtwitz has delivered another marvellous score and soundtrack that brings a level of sophistication to the film. This is how you make a musical for the 'realist' generation.

La La Land is absolutely not a film for those of a cynical mind. Yet even then, I think that it is so lovely that it just may sway those too. This film is for the dreamers, the fantasists, the lovers and those who are looking for a touch of nostalgia. In a time where everything getting darker and more serious, La La Land is a breath of fresh air. They don't make 'em like this anymore? Yes they do, and it's called La La Land.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good Review

As you may well know, Spooks was a popular television show on the BBC. Now, as it's final swansong it's been given a film lead by one of the hottest actors around at the moment, Kit Harington. Over the last couple of years, there's been an influx of spy movies from Bond's renaissance to John LCarré adaptations left, right and centre and Spooks: The Greater Good finds it hard to not only impress, but also find it's way into the pack. It doesn't quite have the creative, compelling noose of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and it certainly doesn't have the masculine bravado of Ethan Hunt's latest outings or Craig's James Bond. 

Its main problem stems from its weak script. The story is ridden with cliches; the script sadly isn't as smart as it strives to be, and lacks any great deal of originality – it’s not going to be pulling up any trees, but it is very solid all round. There are certain points throughout the film where it threatens to build the momentum that might push it to the next level, but it’s not quite even enough to sustain this sufficiently to the degree where the film can move from solidity to greatness. Peter Firth and Kit Harington are proven actors and I've enjoyed their work previously, but they have nothing to work with. The dialogue made me reminisce of fifties television; it's slow, it's ropey and it's shockingly wooden. 

Another annoyance is the fact it's not cinematic in any aspect. Everything is by-the-books and it looks like it was made for TV. It begs the question as to why the BBC didn't just commission another series, especially because everything in The Greater Good is underdeveloped.

The Greater Good is an unspectacular revival of the longstanding British TV staple. However, Spooks: The Greater Good finds strength in its lead character Harry, but a script that’s neither particularly subtle nor original holds the film back from being anything more than a fairly entertaining spy movie entry.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

My Top Twenty Films Of The Year

This year has been truly fantastic. From indie flicks, to big budget fodder there has been something for everyone. I have managed to see 49 new released this year and here is my top twenty. NOTE: this is on UK releases, so 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis make it in and Birdman, The Theory of Everything don't make it.

20) A Dangerous Game

Donald Trump makes a great villain. The sunny disposition that clouds into a demon scowl (when confronted by cheeky interviewers). The bionic hair. The chutzpah. At one moment in A Dangerous Game, Anthony Baxter’s sequel to You’ve Been Trumped, his documentary about the billionaire’s golf-course-building invasion of Scotland, Trump stands on a green receiving a plaque from the “American Academy of Hospitality Sciences”. Turns out: the Academy has three trustees, one named Donald Trump. I was a big fan of Baxter's You've Been Trumped and was interested to see what happened after. Baxter weaves all this together into a fascinating and fairly damning indictment not so much of golf, but of the arrogant culture of exclusivity that has overtaken it worldwide. And while anyone who’s been following the story will know this film has a somewhat happier ending, it remains a plea for eternal vigilance. As environmental lawyer Robert F Kennedy Jr puts it: “There are lots of Donald Trumps out there.” It's a good job there are lots of Anthony Baxter's out there too.

19) Cherry Pie 

Everyone has gotten to that point in life where all they want to do is run. Run as far as they can. Away from everything and on their own. Zoé tries to escape herself. She travels north through bleak landscapes until she gets on a ferryboat, where a mysterious woman suddenly disappears. In the winter coat of a stranger, Zoé reaches the other side of the Channel. Cherry Pie is a lesson in how to make a film with limited plot. There's no twists, heavy dialogue or even characters of note. This is a clinic in filmmaking, editing and sound design, and it's worth watching for that alone. Technically, the film is superb. Logically and narratively-speaking, the film is odd to say the least, but it's enticing and gripping. Narrative is minimal in Cherry Pie, as is dialogue. What exactly motivates Zoé, what she thinks, where she is going - we can only guess. She slowly sinks into a catatonic silence.  It's a film I'd like to study, for sure. Everything feels like it's there for a reason and I would love to find out why.

18) Stations of the Cross

When reading the synopsis for Stations of the Cross, I was afraid that the chosen format of 14 fixed-angle scenes, numbered and named as per the 14 Stations of the Cross, would effectively work out as a sort of harness. We’ve seen that many times before, when the format takes over and the content suffers. However, it becomes clear very early on that the format won’t hamper this particular film, which is a strong offering from director Dietrich Brüggemann. The central character is 14-year-old Maria, but her uncompromising mother is also a key figure in the drama as it unfolds in 14 distinct scenes, the first of which shows a priest with a group of children, sitting around a table and talking about the essentials of what their true Catholic life will entail. They’re together in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation, and from that moment on they’re expected to stand up for their faith, and to defend it against everything that deviates from the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments. Aided by strong and convincing performances from Lea van Acken as the innocent and deeply religious Maria, and Franziska Weisz as her fanatic mother, Stations of the Cross brings to light the importance of tolerance in a society where extremism is ever increasing and bigotry is rife. It’s a film that speaks to its audience with minimal camera movements, as the story unfolds with a finesse that’s rarely found in modern cinema.

17) In Order of Disappearance 

In Order of Disappearance tells the story of a man who snow ploughs the wild mountains of Norway, and becomes a vigilante after gangsters murder his son. Recounting the story wouldn’t really give much of an indication of why this particular film is so impressive. The narrative is definitely good but it’s the way it’s told that makes it a winner. The script is full of funny dialogue, with characters often going off on humorous tangents about, for example, why only cold countries have a welfare state or how nice Norwegian prisons are. The script is full of this humour, and it never feels forced or flat. Most movies about revenge tend to focus on the spectacle of cruelty and bloodshed, delivering a film filled with somewhat morally justified killings, but no meaning behind them. That’s not the case with this film. Like many other Scandinavian masterpieces, In Order of Disappearance delivers a deep and meaningful story. The script tries to focus on the conflicts and personal tragedies behind the murders, which makes it not just a great gangster flick, but also a great drama. With Hans Petter Moland’s directing style, every gesture, look and sentence has a meaning. Of course, this impact is helped by some great performances by Stellan Skarsgard, Bruno Ganz and Pal Sverre Hagen.

16) Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal has spent his entire career playing the creepy guy. Some would say he's now typecast, but somehow he manages to keep his performances fresh and exciting. WithNightcrawler, he puts in a tour-de-force performance, which is arguably his best. Part satirical view of media sensationalism, part success story, Nightcrawler is one of those rare films that is not only superbly entertaining, but sophisticated and thought-provoking in equal measure. Ultimately, Dan Gilroy has created a terrifically dark and humourous attack on today's media industry. Fincher'sGone Girl may have attacked the media, but Nightcrawler tears it limb from limb as viciously as Lou Bloom breaking into a house to shoot the remnants of a burglary.

15) Only Lovers Left Alive 

I've been a big Jim Jarmusch fan for a long time. In fact, I would go as far to say that Down By Law is probably in my top ten films of all time. So when I heard he was making a vampire flick I was exciting. I mean, it could do with the Jarmusch touch after the diabolical run of form the vampire genre has gone through. Of course, one knows that a Jim Jarmusch movie about vampires is not going to be like any other vampire film. In fact it would be unkind to class this as a vampire movie. Only Lovers Left Alive is a highly stylized and atmospheric film bemoaning the passing of the great rock n roll and Hippy era. Here we have a vampire couple (Swinton & Hiddleston - both excellent and perfectly cast) living an isolated life in an abandoned house in Detroit, USA. Hiddleston used to be a famous rock n roll artist who has become a recluse collecting old guitars and records. They survive by purchasing blood samples from a corrupt doctor. We also have one of their old vampire friends (John Hurt) living in Tangiers where the blood is specially pure. Things take an unexpected turn when Swinton's mischievous sister (Mia Wasikowska) visits them. Only Lovers Left Alive has cult film written all over it. The music is great too and blends perfectly with the atmosphere. It's a mesmerising and simply wonderful watch. 

14) Dallas Buyers Club 

Of course now this is just a stopgap in the McConaissance, but if you dig deeper this is a heart-warming biopic that will make you feel good and bad about society at the same time. At times Mr. McConaughey's acting abilities may have been in question, but doubtless there has always been a genius just waiting to explode. And explode it does in Dallas Buyers Club. Given a fully explored and developed character, he is the centrifugal force of the engaging plot of an American tragedy, seamless direction, lively dialogue and creme de la creme supporting actors. This actor, who proves he can blur the lines between acting and real, rises to the ranks of Dustin Hoffman, Sean Penn, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, our Grand Pere, Jack Nicholson, and his own idol, Paul Newman. Unquestionably, he deserves a spot in Academy Awards for Best Actor. At long last, given the opportunity, he has proved to possess truly exquisite talent; to be an actor's actor, worthy of study, deep respect, even awe. He skillfully brings to life an oddball cowboy character to the level of hero, and mesmerizes the audience at every single breath, by every stretch of his emaciated gorgeous heart, soul and body. Shirts off to Matthew McConaughey, and may you never doubt his abilities again.

13) Guardians of the Galaxy

Dare I say it, I was starting to get bored of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. The Avengers was fantastic, but Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and even Captain America 2 disappointed. The perfect remedy? A giant tree, a talking raccoon, a brute of a man who takes everything literally, a kick-ass assassin and the next Indiana Jones. James Gunn brought his perfect blend of humour and action to the MCU and it's so perfect it makes you wonder why it's never happened before. The characters are so carefully crafted, the world is already an exciting place to explore and it's simply the funniest Marvel film to date. I am much more excited to hang our with Rocket, Quill, and pals then I am to see the guy in the tin and the dude with the shield. 

12) Blue Ruin

On the surface, Blue Ruin is a down-the-line, ticks all the boxes revenge thriller. What it actually is is something much different. The film comes from Jeremy Saulnier, who could be introducing a new genre to cinema: the multiple-twist movie. The plot seems pretty straight forward at first. Dwight (Macon Blair) is a homeless man living on the outskirts of an amusement park. One day he finds that the man who killed his parents is about to be released from prison. Clearly, Dwight has no intention to turn the other cheek in this case and he sets out to a successful assassination. It's a stripped down tale, but it's far from a straight forward one. Whenever you get comfortable, Blue Ruin changes into something else. It is a consistently unpredictable, twisty, and excellent thriller. At no point will you be quite sure where the film will take you, or what direction it will go next, up until the final scene. Saulnier's vision of crime drama with moral issues is in fact a breath of fresh air in a stagnant genre.Blue Ruin never leaves Dwight’s perspective, everything goes through him and Macon Blair portrays him sublimely. Despite being in every scene, I still feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of the character. He gives nothing away, but he's still very easy to follow and great to watch. There's this subtlety that Blair brings to the character that makes him almost mesmerising. He's a gripping character, which makes the film gripping. This is Macon Blair's film, more so than Jeremy Saulnier's film, and he completely owns it.

11) The Grand Budapest Hotel 

It has often been said that Wes Anderson walks the fine line between folly and genius. In the The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, this distinction no longer exists: the ridiculous becomes brilliant, and brilliant has never been this ridiculous. 

It is his best work, or at least the film which has all of Anderson's creative impulses working in one direction, producing a coherent work of art. His films have always been quirky, charming and out-of-this world, but never before has the audience been immersed in Andersonland as fully as with this film. The colours, the camera movement that switches between different parts of the set, the music, the lens angle distortion, the ridiculously stellar cast, all of Anderson's trademark elements, combine to produce the ultimate Anderson film. The absolutely ridiculous CGI is used perfectly to add to the surrealism of the movie. It is also extremely well crafted, not only visually, but structurally. Unlike some of his previous work, the editing, the pacing and the rhythm of "Budapest" are pitch-perfect. On the other hand, it seeps with nostalgia, a bittersweet longing for an age long past, and the fascinating characters it produced. It is technically a detective comedy, and one has to note that the genre seems to suit Anderson's peculiar brand of filmmaking very well. But never before has Hitchcock's Macguffin been as explicitly embodied as by the "Boy With the Apple". The plot is merely a mechanism that allows Anderson to transport his vision onto the screen, a vision of a peculiar world seemingly different from our own, but filled with just as much loss and, at the same time, human compassion as ours. There is comedy, but its either very subtle or incredibly over the top, and most viewers are uncomfortable with both. There isn't a single 'ordinary shot', pretty much every image is out of place to such an extent that they begin to form one coherent film, and a fantastic one at that.

10) Nymphomaniac Parts 1&2

After the wild buzz and months of chatter surrounding Nymphomaniac, I more or less expected a provocative, pretentious, incomprehensible porno film. I thought it would be a shallow artistic excuse to show lots of explicit sex in an attempt to shock the audience and create controversy. I was wrong. Is it provocative? In many ways, yes, and there are plenty of scenes that might be considered tasteless or mindlessly shocking. But if had to describe the film in one word, I wouldn’t use ‘provocative’. Instead, I would use ‘imaginative’. Typical to Lars Non Trier’s style, Nymphomaniac is so full of creativity and cinematographic exuberance that it’s hard not be impressed. The nice thing is that Von Trier never takes himself too seriously and, in a way, it’s a pity that the film is primary about sex. So much attention is given to the genital close-ups that it overshadows everything else, including the creative way in which the film is made. Nymphomaniac is dark, thrilling and poetic. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a film about sex either. It’s a film about loneliness and being alone, a film of pain and pleasure that’s held together by intertwined plots and characters. Fans of Von Trier won’t be disappointed.
9) The Golden Dream
The Golden Dream is the debut feature by Mexican director Diego Quemada-Díez, previously a cinematographer and camera operator on 21 Grams and The Constant Gardener. This film carries a similar weightiness and moral heft to those films, yet retains a dreamlike quality that at times leaves the film in debt as much to Terrence Malick as Alejandro González Iñárritu. It also looks like it's been heavily inspired by the works of Ken Loach. A flowing, lyrical film, at times startlingly beautiful, The Golden Dream hypnotises the viewer with its constant movement, its unceasing rhythm. It can also be shockingly brutal, and abrupt departures leave us longing for a Hollywood narrative that will grant us resolution, aching from the inability to find out what happened to those who are lost. On this journey, it's easy to be laughing one moment and dead the next. Only the dream is consistent, but can America possibly deliver what is promised? It's notoriously difficult to make this kind of film work, both at the scripting stage and in the execution. What Quemada-Díez has achieved is a triumph.Beautifully shot, and powerfully told, The Golden Dream succeeds in telling a political story, personally. Using improvisational techniques and non-professional actors, Diego Quemada-Diez's astounding and gripping début feature is a piercing and poetic road movie.
8) Inside Llewyn Davis 

I love folk music and I love the Coen brothers. I am completely smitten. I have long admired Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and what they have offered the realm of cinema. I am in love with Fargo still until this day, and they've provided solid efforts on nearly every outing since. Their newest endeavour that focuses on the folk scene in 1961 is an absolute dream. Everything from the impeccable Oscar Isaac to the music that enriches the deepest trenches of the soul, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the best pictures of the year, plain and simple. It's the Coen Brothers finest film since FargoIn some ways, this is a perfect fit for the Coen’s. They’ve showed their love for music in O Brother, Where Art Thou’s outstanding soundtrack, they’ve shown they can write an interesting, if flawed character that we still want to root for in every Coen film ever and they’ve shown they can write a film in which nothing happens but everything is interesting. Everything is slow, but very, very rewarding. In its running time of 105 minutes, few definite conclusions are drawn in regard to Llewyn's career and with the film ending in the same place as it started, it seems unlikely that he will break free from his cycle of obscurity. But then, the film really isn't about Llewyn's 'career' or his friends, because this is a film about Llewyn. The beginnings of the film highlight a raw, unabashed view on rejection and obscurity accompanied by this nagging expectation that Llewyn's life might blossom into a success story. But ultimately, that's not what the film is about and it's goal is not to satisfy filmic convention. Inside Llewyn Davis is very simply, a soulful and beautifully drawn portrait of a man and his music.

7) Under the Skin 

Firstly, there is no obvious narrative in this film, because it does not have a big significance or importance here. On the most basic level it is a story of an alien imposing a woman and seducing men from all over Scotland in order to drain their flesh. This is the most simple summary of the movie. On deeper layers it is a serious study of our society. The film's main focus is on the inside and outside of things, the philosophy of form and material. Johansson's character is struggling in this society. She is always portrayed as going against the stream, she is lost in the sea of rushing people who do not want to get deeper into things, because they know they could be hurt. This is represented in a very subtle visual way. For instance, roses look nice in the film, but they have spikes which make rose seller's hands bleed. A piece of cake seems delicious, but the taste of it is disgusting. It is always the fight between the surface and depth in this film, the first impression and further investigation. I believe it is a very important theme for our society where people are afraid of making commitments or engagements, where they seek for quick pleasures, even though they need true and honest love. The film is very strong visually and stylistically. In order for the reader to get a glimpse of what it is, I will say that it is sort of a combination of Kubrick, Lynch and von Trier. And that's as big a compliment as you can get. 

6) Locke

One location films have been successful through the years. From films such as PhoneboothRed Eye and Flightplan have proven that with a tight enough script, you can create a tense and entertaining film set in a single location. It does all come down to the script, though. Without a good script, you could end up with Snakes on a Plane...Eek! With this, comes Steven Knight's new film, Locke.  A film where the whole story takes places inside the confines of a car, and with Tom Hardy as the only actor on screen. It is testament to Hardy's acting nous that he can pull off such a taught, powerful performance solely based on reactions to the increasingly dramatic phone calls. Locke is unrelenting in his belief of doing the right thing and we see why when he has imagined conversations with his father, an apparently neglectful and emotionally absent figure in his life. These scenes in particular are beautifully shot with the use of Locke looking into the car mirrors for the man who isn't there. It's a wonderful film that deserves a lot of credit. Hopefully this will shortly be recognised as a seminal British feature film. A remarkable achievement, story telling and performance at the very highest level and hugely entertaining. Collaboratively it's nothing less than a cinematic tour de force. Filmed in just eight nights and with very low budget, the film is literally a lesson of how unique and quite fantastic minimalist cinema can be.

5) We Are The Best!

Music creates this nostalgia that holds so strong that no matter what you will always love it. Much like Inside Llewyn Davis heralded folk music, Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best! heralds punk music more than any film around. It's punk. Even more punk than Julien Temple's The Filth and The Fury, the great documentary about the Sex Pistols and England in the late 1970s. Presented are a few young individuals who think alike and don't waver for a second to present their own opinions. They're unique - just like the rest of us - and just so you know, just because disco came around, doesn't mean punk's dead.Moodysson concentrates on the exuberance of youth, celebrating the highs of friendships and the chaotic lows of arguments, boyfriends, parents, jealousies, growing up and everything else! Everything is treated with a lack of cynicism, everyone is treated with a sense of perspective and affection. Of course, it helps that you've got three genuine and utterly infectious teenage girls to make you laugh constantly. Hedvig, Klara and Bobo display in their own individual way their sensitivities and uncertainties with life. It's not just heart-warming though, it's also terrifically funny. The children are innocent, yet also know more about the world than most adults. They're funnily written characters, with a great outlook on life. There's something lovely about seeing these children loving the punk life. A life that has a bad reputation. They bring something beautiful and intelligent about it. It's a hardcore film that's cute, sad, very funny, very Swedish and human from the core on out. The script is great, the dialogue should be a blueprint on how Swedish realism should be, Moodysson still claims the throne as the best living Swedish director, and this film will live on forever. I really hope this gets syndicated throughout the world, because that's what it deserves. Punk is back, baby! "Brezhnev, Reagan. F*** off!" 

4) Gone Girl

Gone Girl marks Fincher's tenth feature film and his most mature work since Fight Club. Centering on Nick Dunne, a husband desperately trying to find his wife all while having police and media accuse him of murder. The story sounds straight out of the Scott Peterson case and the film looks unlike any film I've seen in recent years. Lead by an all star cast featuring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, Gone Girl rises above the pack with smart storytelling, phenomenal pacing and perfect performances. What it does so brilliantly is it taps into the audience's psyche regarding marriage and the ideology behind a sanctioned union that is corrupt. It is really heavy stuff when the story really gets to the meat and bones of it all. With plenty of twists and turns, Gone Girl keeps you, not only second guessing the whole idea of marriage, but the intentions of every character in the film. It is truly one of the most twisted films adapted from an even sicker and twisted book that's out there right now. Gillian Flynn does wonders with her adaption from her own novel. The dialogue is crisp, the characters are multi-layered, it truly is a pitch perfect script that doesn't have one false moment in it. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are fantastic in this film. This is a different Affleck, a very human and realized Affleck. Nick Dunne is a wonderful role for him and captivates just how good he can be with a terrific director. Harris and Perry give well rounded performances as well but are nothing compared to Affleck and Pike. David Fincher and his long time collaborator and cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth create a dreary, horrific tone for Gone Girl that makes every twist and turn that much more gut wrenching. Every shot is meticulously planned, showing each shot as if it were a still frame that spoke a thousand words. It is truly gorgeous filmmaking. And now for the score...Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch deliver a perfect score, besting their Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo score. If Reznor won for Social Network, I fully expect not only a nomination but a win for this film. Overall, this is a mesmerising film that demands multiple viewings to truly get the full experience. It is impeccably made, beautifully acted and an all around near perfect film.

3) 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is very, very hard to watch. Is it because this is an American tragedy, done by Americans? Is it the guilt of someone's ancestors manifesting it in your tear ducts? I can't answer that. Only the person who says it can. The structure of this country is built on the backs and blood of slaves. But slavery didn't just exist in America, it was everywhere. It occurred for over 200 years and believe it or not, it still exists in some parts of the world today. If you've seen McQueen's other works then you'll more or less know what kind of movie to expect (if you haven't then please stop reading and watch Hunger and Shame). 12 Years a Slave is dark and raw, it exposes everything, without sugarcoating it. It is definitely hard to watch; but in my opinion, it is not only worth watching but necessary. Films exploring themes of slavery are few and far in between and never has one been quite as exhaustive and effective as this one. McQueen is a fearless filmmaker, continuing his streak of unfiltered brutality within human depths. He frames his actors' faces in extreme close-up, the eyes staring into despair, the nostrils fuming in aggression. Naked flesh are shown not because of erotic content, but rather because of desperation and futility. Long takes and wide shots are not uncommon in his films, and here they showcase a plethora of fantastic scenes and performances that work to discomfort the viewer as much as possible. McQueen doesn't just allow the audience to tackle slavery, he guts the audience and leaves them for the consequences. This is an extremely uncomfortable film to watch. Beautifully shot locations are placeholders for unsettling sequences before and after, contemplated by Hans Zimmer's poignant and at times horrifying score. This all works to create a nightmarish time and place where hell walks on Earth. Steve McQueen has created another masterpiece.

2) Boyhood

On the surface, Boyhood is just a coming of age film, and not the first in Richard Linklater's career. Beneath the surface it is one of the most unusual projects in film history and easily Linklater's opus magnum. It depicts the growing up of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a dreamy, imaginative, sensitive boy, son of a single mother without much luck when it comes to men and an easygoing though slightly irresponsible father. The unusual thing: Linklater filmed this over the span of twelve years, assembling the same cast every year. What we see is a boy of seven growing into a young man just starting college.The light narrative touch Linklater is such a master of is all there as he weaves the scenes together effortlessly into a long narrative in which time moves on naturally. Mason grows older without breaks, moves from childhood through adolescence to young adulthood. The adults, too, developed, move on, grow older, regress occasionally. The film consists of scenes depicting ordinary lives, the camera is unobtrusive, at times almost documentary- like, the music well-chosen and supportive, the narrative rhythm organic. There is some drama, charming banality, the film isn't free of clichés and stereotypes, yet it breathes life in what is a stream of living, trying to find a way, drifting along, seeking direction. In a way, everyone tries to grow up, father, mother, children. this could have been just an impressive project. As it stands, it is a true masterpiece, an entirely compelling and – though completely unsentimental – deeply moving film.What's so unique about Boyhood is that these individuals (including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei Linklater) evolve and age within a scripted narrative that is not 'like' a time capsule, this is a completely authentic period piece that retraces an era from the cultural response to September 11th, through the election of Barrack Obama, and into the age of social media saturation. As you watch these actors morph through more than a decade of their lives within a few hours, the story becomes as engaging as its concept. Linklater has not made a bad film and that is continued by Boyhood. It sets a new standard in the exploration of film's potential and reinforcing the limitlessness of DIY filmmaking.

1) Pride

It’s really difficult to deliver a feel good film that doesn’t shy away from serious issues without descending into mawkishness or sentimentality. Pride is neither. Instead, the film commemorates the hitherto unremarked but nevertheless remarkable alliance between Welsh miners and London lesbians and gay men. It is an enjoyable, well-made and sometimes uplifting movie set in a bleak period of British history. Pride is a political film in the best sense: it’s about people joining together to take control of their own destinies, a theme which has a long history in UK cinema, going back at least to the fantasy of Passport to Pimlico to the based-on-fact Made in Dagenham, with The Full Monty and Billy Elliott in between. The film, so appropriately named, delivers a moving story about pride, friendship and solidarity. When I wasn’t laughing at the incredible performances from the top cast, I was crying at the emotional and moving story that runs through the film.That is not to say that it shies away from the horrors both the miners and the LGBT community faced back then. It does not avoid the shadow of aids or the genuine issues gay and lesbian people faced in the 1980’s. This so easily could have slipped into a tragic or an over politically charged story, but instead it’s beautifully written and balanced. It’s funny but very moving, with a perfect blend of comedy and seriousness. This is certainly a political film, but you don’t have to be into politics. Simply, you have to have a heart. It’s uplifting to see how totally disparate groups can support each other and learn more about both communities in the process. It starts with the music of Pete Seeger and ends with Billy Bragg, two activist musicians who I greatly admire. The dialogue is well thought-out, and delivered convincingly by a stellar cast, who are always believable in their roles. It never strays into the offensive, or to the other end of the spectrum, patronising. It restores my faith in humanity, traditional British fairness and good nature. I had wondered how we turned around the institutionalised homophobia which saw Britain’s LGBT people crushed under the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 to the legal enshrinement of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013 – in only a few short decades. Now I know how this journey started, through a beautifully, well handled story. This movie has jumped straight to the top of my best films of the year.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Down Terrace Review

Ben Wheatley is being heralded as a sort of saviour of British surrealism cinema as of late, but his first film Down Terrace is far from that. It's dark and gritty, but also funny and solemn. 

Just released from jail, father and son Bill and Karl (played by real life father and son Bob and Robin Hill) are patriarchs of a small crime family. Their business and life in Down Terrace is plagued with infighting. When Karl's estranged girlfriend claims to be carrying his child, Karl's added priorities create tension amongst his immediate family. Suspicions grow when the family believes there's an informant in their midst that could send them all to prison for a very long time.

This film is hard to categorize. While it is a story about a crime family, there's nothing very "gangster" about them. They don't dress or look the part. The three characters, Bill, Karl, and Maggie (Julie Deakin), Karl's mother, look and act like a regular blue collar family. They're not particularly convincing as gangsters (which may be why they're so well-hidden). For a good chunk of the movie, I had forgotten they were gangsters at all. Kind of like the TV show Roseanne, they bicker about regular family issues. Heavy with dialogue and awkward situations, the film plays almost like a comedic sitcom. It could have been about any family business and it would have worked.

There's realism and candour in the film's look and style. Characters talk about everyday things. Characters are often irritable, unkempt, and cumbersome. The camera is often hand-held, jerky, and frequently focuses on the mundane. The dialogue is often quite sharp and funny. It's certainly not glitzy like a gangster film.

There's virtually no action until the latter half of the film. But throughout the film it is engrossing and sentimental. Some parts take you by surprise. The film's focus on both the mundane and the surprising moments is what makes it work so well. Even during a conversation about music, or a simple cup of tea you never know what's going to come next. When the unexpected, violent moments hit, it reminded me that yes, this is indeed a "gangster" film. This results in some great dark humour.

The characters truly make this film. The dynamics between Bill, Karl, and Maggie are realistic, funny, dysfunctional, and sad. Bob Hill is particularly memorable as Bill, an ageing father who is frequently disappointed and putting down his son, Karl. Robin Hill expertly plays off his real-life father Bob (who plays Bill) as the constantly-frustrated Karl. Julie Deakin gives a complex, multifaceted performance as Maggie, the loving, sometimes scheming, mother, who may not always be as kind as she appears. The supporting cast, which consist of thugs who often do not act like thugs, bring proper amount of quirky, dry humour.

Given the expectations one may have of the frequently popular gangster genre, fans of that genre will likely be let down by this film while missing out on this film's more subtler, deeper story about family relationships. The initial pacing of the film may try some people's patience. It did me a little. I wished the film hadn't really characterized itself as a story about a crime family or a "gangster film" because it really isn't. I think it perhaps hurts the film somewhat—it makes it seem less real, maybe more gimmicky. This is closer to a family drama…with occasional violence thrown in. One may mistakenly go in expecting The Godfather. I can see this film re-imagined as a small crime story starring ordinary people—something akin to a Coen Brothers' film. These characters are odd, quirky, and dark in that vein.

Ben Wheatley has crafted a clever story that is always interesting thanks to its characters and dialogue. Wheatley's style of film making would interest me if he shot someone writing a review of one of his films... Wait... What? It's fantastic. Watch it.