All Film Reviews


“Space Truckers” Is A Fun If Messy Ride

Fun cult favourite Space Truckers receives a welcome Blu-ray release in the UK with some excellent additional features including a revealing interview with director Stuart Gordon.

This film should be a whole lot worse. Sci-fi comedies featuring intergalactic big rigs and Charles Dance under a foot of latex sounds like no day at the beach. What we get with Space Truckers though is a fun ride which is more in the vein of Starship Troopers without the flagrant nudity and violence. Amongst the model work which has stood the test of time sits an oddity which feels more like Barbarella than Jurassic Park. A fact which is pertinent only if you know both Spielberg’s benchmark and Stuart Gordon’s sci-fi adventure were released in the mid-1990s.

Using the flimsiest excuse for a plot, Gordon sets off with his hotchpotch of narrative strands and audience in tow. Hopper and Stephen Dorff gamely follow the company line and add a slither of credibility to a film for which the word kitsch was invented. Whether conversing with George Wendt’s pork haulage CEO or trading suitably droll one liners with Dance’s one eyed cyborg, Hopper is nothing if not interesting.

Sets seem rickety, zero gravity wire work is visible while nothing looks particularly believable yet bizarrely those constraints work in its favour. Gordon never sets out to make a masterpiece but does provide us with some grandiose set pieces that demonstrate his level of commitment. For the record, although Space Truckers is not the longest film ever it does begin to feel that way in the final twenty minutes. What began as something fun, kitsch and not at all serious starts taking on water as we near the conclusion of this minor cult favourite. That final act swiftly undoes any of the good work laid down earlier, although Hopper, Dorff and company remain totally committed even in their underwear.

 

However, the Blu-ray does much to improve Space Truckers while Stuart Gordon’s interview in the extras is essential viewing in illustrating his commitment to this film. In terms of Dennis Hopper or any of the other actors there was obviously something which drew them here, but strangely no one was willing to contribute reasons why.

Aardman Animation Continues Its Enviable Track Record With “Early Man”

In Early Man, Aardman is still making people laugh whilst thumbing its nose at established Hollywood protocol, winning Oscars and broadening its ever increasing fan base.

There are few British institutions who have made it onto the international stage, remained unsullied by corporate movie bosses and retained their identity. Aardman Animation which is unique in being the only mainstream stop motion production company to have navigated these dangerous waters occupies a singular place in film.

 

It may be true the studio has moved on in scale since those British Gas adverts but the sensibility thankfully remains the same. From Wallace and Gromit through to Chicken Run and Pirates this company has won Oscars, challenged limitations whilst subtlety moving beyond them. What Nick Park and company bring to the table with Early Man is an extension of that ethos into a story which breaks new ground. Bringing the same sense of fun and slapstick comedy which has been a staple of every Aardman film since inception, broader themes are explored beneath the façade.

Attracting a cast which include Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall and Miriam Margoles, Early Man uses evolution and football subplots for diversionary tactics. Having previously used Hugh Grant for Pirates, garnering the serves of Hiddleston as an outrageous Bronze Age potentate is a stroke of genius. Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams also appear to be fully engaged with the material, but Hiddleston does get most of the good lines. Levels of detail in terms of background humour, visual gags and physical jokes are reassuringly high while the hit rate is also maintained.

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DVD Review – I Kill Giants (2017)

Strange things lurk off shore in this small coastal town. Barbara (Madison Wolfe) is the self-appointed guardian keeping mile denizens at bay. Isolated, precocious and uniquely qualified, only the arrival of Sophia (Sydney Wade) and school psychologist Mrs Molle (Zoe Saldana) bring about change for this giant killer.

Films sold on their fantasy credentials are normally cut and dried. Mythical, magical and decidedly cheesy inhabit one camp, while grandiose, majestic and world building epics hide elsewhere. That this Anders Walter film sits uncomfortably in either group is testament to a movie which blindsides, confounds and surprises within its running time.

 

Madison Wolfe’s Barbara is a typical outsider peppered with character flaws reminiscent of The Goonies or ET with dashes of Gilliam’s Time Bandits in tone. Her pre-possession, naturalistic performance and magnetism on screen for one so young centres everything. Similar in feel to Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight contribution, it all seems slightly off kilter and removed from reality yet consistently engaging.

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“The Mercy” Boasts Strong Performances If Little Else

Firth gives us another rendition of his ‘everyman’ who remains infinitely watchable while Weisz and Thewlis provide selfless support. If only their commitment had been repaid in kind by a workable film then that would have been a small mercy.

This is neither a nautically themed Into The Wild nor some wannabe challenger for J D Chandor’s All Is Lost. Instead what The Mercy brings with it can only be described politely as a strange brew. Based on the true events of Donald Crowhurst who attempted to circumnavigate the globe with minimal yachting experience, The Mercy falls short despite a stellar cast and strong central performance.

This film fails for none of the conventional reasons offering up intangibles which are difficult to pin down. Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz and David Thewlis provide solid character moments laced with humour, grounded in recognisable behaviour and brimming with life, yet something is missing. To begin with the set up itself although neat feels too convenient. Dramatic touchstones which would include the indecision of commitment, financial burden of his endeavour and any seafaring segments seem truncated. For a majority of the time Firth, Weisz and Thewlis seem rushed while actors such as Mark Gatiss barely even register.

Had director James Marsh decided where to keep our focus rather than bouncing between time periods then it might have made for more drama. As it stands The Mercy lacks a sense of urgency and therefore fails to engage when things go south for our protagonist. A fault which is best laid at the feet of writer Scott Z Burns who provides no cohesion through the writing. Set pieces aboard ship which are there to instil danger, threat, isolation or loneliness fail to illicit the required response. Trapped inside a tiny cabin, Firth has little to work with while even the occasional hallucination brings the drama up dry.

 

This might sound like a litany of complaints for something substandard but The Mercy is still worth watching for those performances. If ever Colin Firth, David Thewlis or Rachel Weisz could be said to draw blood from a stone it is here. That they are able to transcend the mediocrity and structural shortcomings in order that something might be salvaged is commendable. There is little doubt that Donald Crowhurst deserved his place in history and he might have been foolhardy, but at least the intentions for good were there. Firth gives us another rendition of his ‘everyman’ who remains infinitely watchable while Weisz and Thewlis provide selfless support. If only their commitment had been repaid in kind by a workable film then that would have been a small mercy.

“Downsizing” Lacks Alexander Payne’s Usually Nuanced Humanity

Payne has always been a very subtle and emotive director who airs on the side of intellectualism. People in his films are real, fragile, honest and credible. Downsizing however seems to find him lacking a fundamental sense of humanity towards his subject matter.

From the head of Alexander Payne comes a satirical sideswipe at overpopulation. However what is immediately evident is how little happens beyond those ground breaking FX shots. Matt Damon and Kirsten Wiig are likeable enough as husband and wife trying to upsize, but their route to downsizing is so manipulated, plot driven and devoid of drama it’s ridiculous. Aside from anything else that is the chief problem with this big budget social comment piece.

 

It has a huge agenda to encapsulate and wastes no time in spoon feeding, bible bashing and full on pulpit preaching from the outset. Payne is so caught up in trying to get across his opinion on screen that story, motivation and drama are forced to take a back seat. These global concerns which clearly sparked the light which drives the writing are delivered like a big budget infomercial. Prejudice towards those downsizing, illegal smuggling of immigrants into the country, or the adverse affect of miniaturisation is never really addressed dramatically.

Payne has always been a very subtle and emotive director who airs on the side of intellectualism. People in his films are real, fragile, honest and credible. All you need to do is look at George Clooney in The Descendants to understand where Payne is coming from and what he brings with him. Downsizing however seems to find him lacking a fundamental sense of humanity towards his subject matter. It is almost like the issues themselves have overwhelmed his consistently nuanced approach. Christopher Waltz is serviceable enough but he is reduced to both caricature and surrogate mouthpiece extolling, admonishing or satirising the topics dependent on need.

 

My feeling throughout Downsizing is that there was a great movie fighting to get out. So many different directions it could be taken in yet Payne seems content with visual metaphor rather than satirical sub-text by way of character development. Damon also feels two-dimensional while Wiig disappears all too quickly, leaving a large hole which gets filled unsuccessfully by an unrealistic love interest. Payne has written and directed better films; Downsizing feels like a missed opportunity. An opportunity bypassed in favour of expensive FX shots filled with miniaturised mansions and zero human interest.

“The Defiant Ones”: A Striking Social Drama

There is no denying Kramer’s film belongs to a bygone era, yet as an example of socially motivated filmmaking, delivered by its strongest advocate, there are few better.

Once upon a time the topic of segregation was both contentious, inflammatory and liable to start a riot in certain parts of this world. Those days may be gone but their spectre lingers in the darkness neither forgotten nor forgiven by many. What Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones does so eloquently is ask questions around prejudice and ignorance, making it both cinematically important and strangely contemporary.

Released in 1958 amid the volatile hotbed of a country in turmoil, The Defiant Ones challenged the preconceptions behind race. Marquee mainstay Tony Curtis was looking for something to diminish his pretty boy persona, while Sidney Poitier represented Hollywood’s first African-American through the racial wall. Pairing these two leading men on screen holds the key to making Kramer’s social commentary piece sing. Their chemistry is instant and enduring which does much to raise the game of Kramer’s supporting ensemble.

 

Although Curtis would make Spartacus, Some Like It Hot and Sweet Smell Of Success in this period, his appearance in The Defiant Ones still remains an important footnote. Similarly Poitier would go on to endure opposite Rod Steiger while his contribution for other actors of colour remains incalculable. Shot in black and white and featuring an array of character actors The Defiant Ones is at heart a character study.

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There’s Still A Light On At “The Old Dark House”

The Old Dark House may feel like a stage play performed by actors long passed, but as both cinematic document and time capsule of populist sentiment it remains invaluable.

This one is for the film historians, academic lecturers and restoration specialists who believe in cinema as a means to educate and enlighten. Made in 1932 by James Whale and adapted from a J.B.Priestly novel it taps into the haunted mansion archetype whilst addressing class differences. Trapped by the Femm family these isolated travellers must hold out against a house filled with secrets, cursed by madness and defined by dysfunction.

At its best The Old Dark House feels like a theatrical production filmed from the auditorium. Whale uses the vast soundstages which make up this haunted mansion with expert precision, invoking atmosphere, creeping terror and an ancient sense of inevitable decay. Considering the era his choice of camera positioning, close up cuts and lingering long shots adds much to this piece of antiquated cinema. Famed character actor Charles Laughton makes the most impact in his role as Sir William Porterhouse, while Gloria Stuart is both scream queen, glamour puss and theatrical ingénue.

 

Boris Karloff who helped make James Whale famous as he transformed into the original Frankenstein plays a dumb butler here. Karloff and Whale work together to create an eerie introduction for Morgan who glares through a small opening, focusing one eye at full frame both menacing and unaware.

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“American Made” Sees Doug Liman Deliver Another Sparkling Curveball

American Made sees Tom Cruise playing real life CIA operative, Cuban contraband smuggler and family man Barry Seal. An opportunist and everyman who took the chances thrown his way and made hay while that sun shone.

Doug Liman always pitches a curveball. Picks a subject matter, method of approach and interpretation which continues making him not only relevant but contemporary. From the underrated Go through Jumper onto Bourne Identity and beyond, Liman re-energises jaded genres, kick starts franchises then moves on. In his latest collaboration with Tom Cruise we get more of the same, except this time round Liman throws in a little bit of politics.

American Made sees Cruise playing real life CIA operative, Cuban contraband smuggler and family man Barry Seal. An opportunist and everyman who took the chances thrown his way and made hay while that sun shone. Featuring some razor sharp writing from Gary Spinelli it contains much of Liman’s trademark indie style, jumping between handheld, steady cam, VHS camcorder and stock footage seamlessly. Liman draws the most spontaneous performance from Cruise for some time, while our leading man is clearly having great fun adding another maverick to his back catalogue.

 

Whether working with Domhnall Gleeson’s CIA agent Schafer or buddying up with Cuban dictator Pablo Escobar, Seal is in his element. He has a risk taking swagger which exudes likeability while his circumstances would be pure fiction if not for the evidence. Liman employs news footage and moments of dramatic licence to illustrate how underhandedly crooked agendas became with Barry firmly figuring in the whole equation. Morality, ethics and a sense of justice are all secondary to vested interests south of the American border.

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“Rex” Suffers From Formula Overload

In a time when the #MeToo culture has really taken hold, it is shameful that strong female characters still feel so stereotypical like Kate Mara’s in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Rex.

If people purchase this thinking they are getting a Hurt Locker/Green Zone female-led Middle Eastern drama, think again. Although the premise is intriguing, writing concise and set up neatly achieved, Rex suffers from formulaic overload. There are hat tips to An Officer and A Gentleman with obvious gender substitutes, yet the drama never really kicks in.

Kate Mara, who has long been the best thing in everything she appears, is poorly served by conventional storytelling. Dysfunctional family dynamics, thinly written love interests, injured-in-action inevitability and convenient reconciliation help things even less. In a time when the #MeToo culture has really taken hold, it is shameful that strong female characters still feel so stereotypical.

 

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite gives us serviceable action sequences and concise boot camp montage, but something is lacking. Mara fails to illicit substance from average biopic material purely because she is given so little to do. Her fellow actors including an understated Tom Felton are reduced to mere archetypes but work hard nonetheless.

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“The Post”: When Freedom Of Speech Meant Something Else

Considering the state of American politics and journalism as a whole, Steven Spielberg’s film could not be more pertinent. Perhaps for him The Post represents a nostalgic look back to when freedom of speech meant something else.

The Post falls somewhere between Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight and Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men. Focusing on a time period prior to Nixon’s Watergate it zeroes in on The Pentagon Papers. These classified documents demonstrated collusion across numerous presidents into America’s Vietnam involvement. Divisive, relevant and anchored by solid performances from Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg makes no secret of his intentions from the outset.

Through the use of detailed production design, multiple film stocks and newsreel footage, he evokes time period and lays out his stall quickly. Employing broad strokes to establish the competitive edge between The New York Times and Washington Post, Spielberg harks back to a time when information was not so readily available. Surrounding Hanks and Streep with a solid supporting cast including Bruce Greenwood, Bob Odenkirk and Jesse Plemons also adds gravitas and a sense of realism. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski meanwhile pays homage in his use of classical framing and a seventies colour palette, recalling genre classics like Three Days of the Condor and Klute.

 

Where The Post falls down however is in its ability to fully exploit the potential of government threat. Telephone conversations glimpsed through White House windows may hark back to All The President’s Men but never feel truly ominous. Spielberg instead gets more mileage from the arc of Kay Graham sketched with supreme skill by Streep. Trapped within a male dominated industry, Streep communicates her unease, perceived gender weakness and cultural isolation with subtlety. It is her journey and the turning of a tide in both gender politics, newspaper journalism and governance practices which defines this film.

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Movie Review – Bad Samaritan (2018)

Two part-time valet attendants spend their time robbing unsuspecting customers whilst they are busy eating dinner. One night this slick operation comes unstuck when a local businessman pulls up in his Maserati.

Upon first inspection the subject matter and creative force behind this dark and edgy thriller raise questions. Director, writer and producer Dean Devlin established himself in the mid Nineties collaborating with director Roland Emmerich on tent pole movies including Independence Day, Stargate and Godzilla. From then on his projects either theatrically or otherwise have been both entertaining and primarily mainstream. His latest directorial effort however is the equivalent of casting against type, being both inherently dark, morally ambiguous and cinematically challenging.

This might seem like a by the numbers thriller but screenwriter Brandon Boyce is asking us some interesting questions beneath the surface. Issues of nature versus nurture, karmic backlash and moral choices are all addressed within this slick piece of cinema. Set up and concisely drawn within fifteen minutes Bad Samaritan provides backstory, establishes tone and then smartly deviates from expectations. In order for that to work effectively Dean Devlin needed a very specific type of actor.

 

Bringing in both David Tennant and Robert Sheehan is ultimately what makes Bad Samaritan work so well. They share minimal screen time but each one engages with the audience and brings something different to potentially two-dimensional roles. Of the two Tennant does much of the heavy lifting and seems to revel in breathing life into Cale Erendreich. Emotionally detached, independently wealthy, single-minded and meticulous Tennant manages to make this character human. Boyce’s set up is good and Erendreich carries shades of Patrick Bateman, while Bad Samaritan itself drifts towards American Psycho and into Eli Roth territory. However Devlin is sensible enough to remain on the right side of this line.

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Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” Is A Last Hurrah For Practical Effects

In a last hurrah for practical special effects, Jim Henson, with co-director Frank Oz, give us 1982’s puppet-filled world of The Dark Crystal.

There are some films which transcend generations and stand alone as unique examples of cinematic endeavour. Over time such specimens have diminished with the onset of cost effective technologies, home office FX suites and sheer expense. Not so The Dark Crystal, exemplifying the perseverance and singular application of its talented creator Jim Henson.

A pioneer in puppetry Henson combined slapstick, vaudeville, unrequited love and terrible acting through his landmark property The Muppet Show. Throughout the Seventies and early Eighties he spearheaded puppet performance theatre through Kermit The Frog, Miss Piggy and Gonzo to name but a few. This spawned cinema releases, fully fledged franchises and big business opportunities. Where The Dark Crystal sits in there is where things really get interesting.

 

Henson had an idea inspired by artistry from illustrator Brian Froud which expanded into an entire fantasy realm peopled by puppets. When you watch The Dark Crystal remember that there are few effects shots, no reshoots and post production work was limited to editing. Not only did Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Brian Froud create animatronic technology from nothing, but their blueprints and innovations would go on to influence cinema for decades.

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Antonioni’s “The Passenger” Sets Jack Nicholson’s Star Alight

On the face of it Michelangelo Antonioni’s preoccupation with identity and human observation is very simple, yet through Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider he is able to craft a film of arresting impact.

Great actors develop bad habits when they become famous. It is a fact universally acknowledged by the actors themselves and those brave enough to point those things out. Calculated reactions, fall back expressions and go-to theatrics which are failsafe and remain unchallenged. Jack Nicholson, now in his eighties with a body of great work behind him, could be accused of just such a conceit.

From Terms of Endearment onward you might argue Nicholson has been doing “Jack” for quite some time, with exceptions which include but are not limited to About Schmidt and As Good As It Gets. What Michelangelo Antonioni’s film The Passenger does is catch Nicholson before his work drifted into that default phase. Falling around the same time as Five Easy Pieces and Carnal Knowledge, The Passenger shows us a Nicholson in full possession of that brass ring moment.

 

Working with an acknowledged maestro of Italian new wave cinema in an industry reinventing itself, Antonioni used environment, flashback, dead end dialogue exchange and silence to convey meaning. Music is employed sparingly and never to illicit an emotional response, emphasise dramatic elements or for background filler. Character motivations are virtually invisible as he asks his audience to find their own clarity. Time period, cinematic structure and geographical location are constantly changing, while only minor clues exist to help out the viewer.

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“The Ballad Of Lefty Brown” Hands Bill Pullman His Best Role In Years

Bill Pullman and company give us a frontier story heavy on atmosphere and rich in character definition, which promises an interesting pay off in a landscape of genuine authenticity.

Authentic westerns are a dying breed. Times change, people move on while certain examples only mature over time rather than diminishing with age. However for every Wild Bunch or Once Upon A Time In The West, there are long winded self-indulgent money pits like The Postman. Creating something of genuine interest without an overabundance of cliché, stereotype or ponderous running time is hard for people to do. Which is why The Ballad of Lefty Brown not only comes as quite the surprise but will make a welcome addition amongst select company.

What writer-director Jared Moshe has done here is not only hand Bill Pullman the best role he has had for some time, but also crafted a Western thoroughbred worthy of remembrance. Encompassing panoramic vistas, perpetually burnished with endless stretches of arid scrubland this is a film of resonance. Settlements days apart, vigilante justice metered out for bounty and a frontier providing more character than lesser films could manage in twice the time. However what many will remember most from The Ballad of Lefty Brown besides that scenery and sense of Western heritage is Pullman’s performance.

 

Cloaked beneath a nest of grey chin whiskers, hunkered down in an accent so deep it’s almost caricature, Pullman is given time to inhabit this man and make him live. Ably supported by Tommy Flanagan, Kathy Baker and a fleeting Peter Fonda this is more Outlaw Josey Wales and Two Mules for Sister Sara than Unforgiven or Open Range.

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“I Kill Giants”: A Modern Day Fable Built On Darkness, Dysfunction & Fragile Family Dynamics

Like much of Steven Spielberg’s back catalogue before he hit The Color Purple, Schindler’s List and Amistad, I Kill Giants explores family disintegration beneath the guise of mainstream entertainment.

There is a deep rooted emotional honesty to this film which belies the faery tale title or Harry Potter comparisons. Darkness, dysfunction and fragile family dynamics create a beating heart beneath this modern day fable of teenage rebellion. Adapted by Joe Kelly from his original graphic novel, this screenplay contains layered complexity, narrative twists and solid performances.

 

A keen eye for atmosphere and tone are necessary if this debut feature from Anders Walter is to be truly appreciated. Grounded by Imogen Poots and Madison Wolfe as sisters Karen and Barbara, Anders is careful to depict a relationship in freefall. Isolated, intelligent but disconnected this teenage anti-hero is more akin to Donnie Darko, while the film itself envelops you creating a sense of unease.

Reminiscent of early Spielberg, I Kill Giants explores family disintegration beneath the guise of mainstream entertainment. Wolfe and Sydney Wade as best friend Sophia are stand outs alongside Poots and a restrained Zoe Saldana. This narrative is more concerned with those things which go unsaid as Saldana and Wolfe bring an adolescent Good Will Hunting vibe to play in their scenes together. That the more fantastical elements are kept in check and a sense of redemption and catharsis is brought about through human breakthroughs is commendable.

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“Score: A Film Music Documentary” Is A Fascinating & Insightful Journey

Score never attempts to answer every question choosing instead to pique your interest and promote curiosity. It highlights the isolation and teamwork required in equal measure as Oscar winning composers wax lyrical about panic attacks, musical inspiration and the fear of a blank page.

Matt Schrader has written and directed a documentary which is endlessly fascinating, highly informative but never dry. This is a must see for film score fans as every composer who has made an impact in the last seventy years makes an appearance. Some appear in archive footage others through stills photography or sown into movie montage, providing musical touchstone moments and a potted picture house history.

 

Name checked contributors are numerous but include John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman. People who have both enriched, shaped and helped define the films we have all experienced. Aside from these highly gifted impresarios there are soundbites from great directors, fly on the wall conversations and archive footage of orchestral recording sessions. For many Score will represent a creative peek behind the curtain into warehouses full of musical instruments, where composers create mood, illicit emotion and fashion indelible film scores.

Schrader has gained unrestricted access to an industry which prefers to keep its secrets hidden if only to retain ticket sales. Howard Shore, David Arnold and their contemporaries talk about the pressure of composing for modern cinema, important innovations, creative approaches and passions within their profession. Process both creative, collaborative and individual is explored incorporating interviews interspersed with specific film examples, which prove both enlightening and educational.

 

Score never attempts to answer every question choosing instead to pique your interest and promote curiosity. It highlights the isolation and teamwork required in equal measure as Oscar winning composers wax lyrical about panic attacks, musical inspiration and the fear of a blank page. Just as Anton Corbijn: Inside Out and Milius focused on creative anxiety versus artistic fulfilment, so Score pulls off the same balancing act with one fundamental difference. In this film Matt Schrader makes you realise how important film music is and why cinema would be sorely lacking without it.

Movie Review – Killing Gunther (2017)

SYNOPSIS:

 

A team of professional assassins plan to take down the greatest contract killer on record. Every moment is captured by a documentary crew as their world begins to unravel and Gunther proves why he is still the best.

Killing Gunther is what happens when you believe great characters can exist in a film without story. Marketed as a Schwarzenegger hitman comedy this mishmash of barely coherent vignettes are mainly the responsibility of writer, director and star Taran Killam. Killing Gunther is painful to sit through and spellbinding in its levels of ineptitude. Smulders and Schwarzenegger are wasted and thankfully only cameo, while Hannah Simone’s Sanaa barely comes out in one piece.

 

 

A meandering structure held together by painful dialogue and an earnest delivery, make this hour and thirty minutes seem interminable. Disjointed, underdeveloped and improvised without any sense of control Killing Gunther fails to engage at all. Schwarzenegger and Smulders may have felt this had merit but Killam’s direction, writing and central performance undermine any good work going on elsewhere. Obviously meant as a call back to his action hero roots Schwarzenegger is trying too hard with substandard material and it shows.

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Movie Review – Bieber Generation (2018)

SYNOPSIS:

 

Documentarian Jennifer Van Gessel examines what it means to be a Belieber. A word created to describe Justin Bieber’s diehard fans who follow his music, social work and media activites, often citing him as a personal influence.

Opinions on Justin Bieber are often unflattering, frequently divided and prone to communication breakdown. Now in his early twenties having risen up through the ranks of the YouTube generation Bieber has moved beyond those humble popstar beginnings. Lauded on Twitter, postulated about through posts on Facebook, he is now a brand name, trademark and figurehead. What Australian film maker Jennifer Van Gessel seeks to establish in her documentary Bieber Generation is how and why one becomes a Belieber.

 

Something that becomes immediately apparent is how potentially polarising this film could be not to mention biased. Dissension is thin on the ground in a documentary which uses cinema as a soapbox for single minded adulation rather than reasoned debate. Gessel interviews a wide cross section of fans who all claim a personal connection to their idol, from examples of genuine contact to other more tenuous modes of communication. Although the talking heads and interspersed stock footage bring up the occasional revelation, Bieber Generation remains interesting for other reasons.

 

What it illustrates more than anything beyond the music, charity work, sense of community and feel good fables is how powerful social media has become. Celebrity no longer means the same thing it used to primarily because of a never ending means of indirect influence. Perceived connections with the rich and famous is a single retweet away and people are convinced there exists a personal connection. Within the Bieber Generation there are numerous examples of their idol reaching out, sharing a tweet, responding directly and therefore confirming that recognition. Something which on the one hand might seem hugely selfless but also comes with the undercurrent of a professional agenda, which itself must be nurtured to remain relevant.

 

 

Jennifer Van Gessel fails to explore any of these more intriguing tangents which might have given Bieber Generation an edge, choosing instead to focus on fan testimonial and stock footage. There is unfortunately no first hand interview material with Bieber himself, which would have also provided a counter balance to all the backslapping on display. Without that the uninformed audience member only has the distinctly biased opinion of Beliebers who have taken hero worship global. Blinkered and suspiciously free of detractors Bieber Generation unfortunately celebrates a cultural phenomenon without really revealing anything new.

Movie Review – Opus of an Angel (2018)

SYNOPSIS:

 

Tragedy strips a successful man (William McNamara) of his family. Exactly one year later he sets off on a final trip around Los Angeles and encounters Maria (Kaylynn Kubeldis). Lost, blind and in need of salvation he takes her under his wing as they journey across town.

This film delicately explores chance encounters, serendipitous coincidence and divine intervention whilst instilling a preternatural calm. Character driven but emotionally detached Opus of an Angel employs hand held framing devices, close up moments of subtle symbolism and acts of stark violence for dramatic effect. Shot for the most part on location and employing a documentary approach it is consistently hypnotic and ultimately absorbing.

 

William McNamara and Kaylynn Kubeldis make for an odd couple on screen, but the combination of his sallow demeanor and her naturalistic optimism are crucial. Director and co-writer Ali Zamani plays with point of view, raises questions and challenges emotional reactions yet never deems to condescend. Morality sub-plots which would seem forced in another context slot into this real time docudrama effortlessly. Small pieces of plot, backstory and character are drip fed in between the more symbolic imagery making you work for a coherent structure. McNamara gives us a performance of measured intensity which feels deliberately one note, only growing in stature once Kubeldis draws more from him.

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Movie Review – The Scent of Rain and Lightning (2017)

SYNOPSIS:

 

When news reaches Jody Linder (Maika Monroe) that her parents’ killer is being released it causes a domino effect. Long buried secrets and family feuds are uncovered, proving fouler things than dead bodies lurk beneath the surface in every town.

This is a spider’s web for the unravelling. Part murder mystery, part small town melodrama and equal portions brooding psychological thriller. Director Blake Robbins does a great job in cahoots with his cast and crew of completely throwing the audience. Combining soft focus close up shots, sobering character moments with richly black scenes of shadowy passion.

In essence a whodunit with an emotional scarred heroine as sleuth, instigator and interrogator Maika Monroe’s Jody helps tie this film together. Robbins employs flashbacks judiciously and manipulates timeframe to cover ground, adequately inform yet never deem to spoon feed his audience. Even at its most simplistic The Scent of Rain and Lightning requires the audience to pay attention. Character introductions are never straightforward, motives frustratingly vague while performances are uniformly excellent.

 

Adapted by Jeff Robison, Casey Twenter and original author Nancy Pickard this verges on film noir, as narrative is manipulated, plot threads interweave and flashbacks challenge our perspective. From the opening frame this is an extremely claustrophobia movie, despite its focus on family values, personal unity and a tremendous ensemble cast. Will Patton’s patriarch Senior is one stand out amongst many, in a film which could easily have been movie of the week material. However the consistently switching tone and mood communicated through camerawork and musical score raise The Scent of Rain and Lightning to a rarefied position.

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“Daphne” Is A Refreshing Rom-Com Without The Gloss

Emily Beecham stars as the eponymous Daphne in this refreshing snap shot of urban life in an ever changing social media driven society, addressing dating, sex, marriage and our seeming inability to properly connect.

What Peter Mackie Burns has created here with Daphne is a relationship drama light on comedy, heavy on cynicism and anchored by an understated performance. Grounded in London amongst the hustle and bustle of city life it explores loneliness, living and loving through relationships. Blinkered, oblivious, ignorance and agenda driven this vision is no day at the beach for anyone involved.

Naturalistic and honest in its depiction of metro coupling, Daphne is brought to life by Emily Beecham’s award winning performance, giving us a layered interpretation both isolating and pedantic with flashes of vulnerability, which earned her best actress at Edinburgh last year. Elsewhere Geraldine James and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as mother and boss respectively, give admirable support to her engaging portrayal without scene stealing or grandstanding.

 

This snap shot of urban life in an ever changing social media driven society addresses dating, sex, marriage and our inability to connect. Burns and writer Nico Mensinga have given us the antithesis of romantic life in London, by taking that shine off the turd and revelling in its darker elements. In their interpretation people have casually disinterested sexual encounters, indulge in thoughtless actions and make questionable choices. Disruptions are short, sharp, shocking and burden these people with emotional scars. Work is sweaty, dirty, unpredictable and intrinsically linked to social events, making Daphne feel closer to reality than most films get with relationships.

Dating exchanges are awkward uncomfortable affairs and happen unexpectedly causing embarrassment or momentarily silences. Love is neither a cure all nor theological lesson to be learnt, instead painted as just another part of life up for negotiation. Moments of tenderness are punctuated by disregard, miscommunication and fractured silences. Salvation for Daphne is all but ignored as we watch her downward spiral into isolation, using caustic humour and alcohol as defence mechanism and emotional crutch simultaneously.

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Destined To Become One Of The Great American Romantic-Comedies, “The Big Sick” Dazzles

It becomes quickly evident while watching The Big Sick why it is now one of the highest grossing independent American films ever made. Martin Carr finds out what all the fuss is about…

There is a freshness, subversion and genuine warmth which The Big Sick brings in spades. Similar tonally if not structurally to When Harry Met Sally, what Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan have given us here are two landmark characters. Copybook tick lists are still present and correct but that awkward feels new, those arguments and reconciliations revitalised while humour is not always the point.

 

Based on a true story and portrayed in part by its real people The Big Sick smacks of authenticity. Cultural approaches to marriage and relationships are addressed in a realistic way, avoiding stereotypes and drawing on humour through circumstance whilst feeling grounded. Solid support comes from Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar and Anupam Kher who make a great deal of low key roles, scene stealing on a small level without distracting us.

Written by Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon it feels a lot like the perennial When Harry Met Sally perhaps because of this writing dynamic. Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner were married when the Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan classic was penned, making it collaborative in a way few rom-coms have been since. That intimate knowledge, shared experience and love of expected tropes makes The Big Sick at once unbelievable yet hugely endearing. Peppering the cast with real comedians, basing elements within the confines of a comedy club, but making it about them not their routines also puts another spin on things.

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“A Woman’s Life” Is Nothing Short Of Masterful

Like a dancer dodging raindrops Stephane Brize paints beauty between breaks in the cloud, shining light on feminine empowerment in the masterful A Woman’s Life.

Adapted from Guy de Maupassant’s novel A Woman’s Life is an exploration of feminine experience in nineteenth century France. Anchored by a mesmeric performance from Judith Chemla as Jeanne, this fragmented character study is given breadth and resonance through a variety of cinematic techniques. Director and co-writer Stephane Brize uses a varying palette and differing visual hues to communicate Jeanne’s fluctuating fortunes over decades of time.

 

Brize constructs narrative through flashbacks, flash forwards and silent images in conjunction with musical cues to imply an allegorical subtext. What this approach produces is an intensely isolating viewing experience which draws the audience in whilst adding an additional dream like quality. Chemla is at once innocent and dour in single moments, as Brize plays on memory, time and place to imply a tenuous connection for both character and audience with reality.

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Second Opinion – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

SYNOPSIS:

 

Seven months after the disappearance, discovery and investigation of Angela Hayes nothing has been done. In a final effort to jump-start the local police her mother Mildred rents out Three Billboards and begins her campaign for justice.

John Milton once wrote long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light. What writer director Martin McDonagh has committed to film here is nothing short of that journey fuelled by fury, tempered by inaction and instigated through desperation. If Three Billboards has a message it’s neither straightforward, awards friendly or lacking in brass balls given the current climate in Hollywood. That however should never overshadow the content or intent which is to tell a story, promote debate and open our eyes to the wider world.

 

Beginning on an isolated road in the dew laden moments of dawn, McDonagh paints a picture of small town Americana idyllic in its serenity. He quickly turns this on a dime however through the pipe bomb presence of Mildred Hayes. A grief ravaged divorced mother of two holding on to fury like a life raft, following the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Carved from granite, cloaked in jumpsuit battle fatigues and dropping ‘f’ bombs like confetti, she is a force of nature battling a disinterested justice system and small town mentality.

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“100 Streets” Is A Forgettable Soap Opera

Despite a strong cast, Jim O’Hanlon’s 100 Streets fails to step above soap opera styling and ultimately becomes a forgettable letdown. Martin Carr reviews…

Jim O’Hanlon’s London life melodrama is a notch up from television soap due to quality performances by Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton and Ken Stott. Dropped into a geographically condensed soap opera, we see these characters mildly effect each other and move on. Dialogue is passable but nothing out of the ordinary, as events unfold, relationships experience a bump in the road then return to normal.

Those who come out best are Elba who co-produced the project as well as Arterton who between them play husband and wife. Elsewhere within this eclectic cast resides Franz Drameh’s Kingsley, a council estate bully boy who dreams of bigger things. His is the performance which causes the most ripples, as he stands shoulder to shoulder with Stott in difficult scenes and proves worthy. Reminiscent of John Boyega in Attack The Block, Kingsley acknowledges his place in the pecking order but refuses to lay down and accept limitations.

 

Arterton and Elba play their infidelity cards as national sporting celebrity and burgeoning actress turned WAG respectively. This relationship is nothing new to film and there are no new twists in the mix which rise it above the competition. However O’Hanlon does well in portraying the character of this capital making it feel vibrant, urban and contemporary without resorting to caricature or cliché.

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“David Lynch: The Art Life” Reveals Much Whilst Retaining Its Most Treasured Secret

Self-referential, infinitely intriguing and impossible to pin down David Lynch: The Art Life reveals much whilst still retaining its most treasured secret. Martin Carr takes a closer look…

There is a certain beauty to be attained from watching an artist at work. Moulding, mixing and sculpting inspiration through their manipulation of materials. Better yet when that work is in an unfamiliar medium changing perceptions and engaging simultaneously. Which is exactly what happens throughout David Lynch: The Art Life.

By following a young Lynch at pivotal moments in his artistic journey, we are able to link burgeoning artist with impresario director seamlessly. Directors Jon Nguyen and Rick Barnes have captured Lynch in his element crafting paintings and sculpture oblivious to the camera. That this might remain at odds with the public persona, due to his reputation for creating surreal and horrific masterpieces, need not colour the man personally.

 

This revelation is one of the more revealing things they capture here, as Lynch the director and Lynch the artist seem to be two different people. His use of abstract imagery and themes in film may share similarities, but there is a sense of separation. In documenting Lynch and his travels during those formative years you feel a sense of dislocation between himself and the world around him. Even at seventy years old there exists a restless, driven, vividly challenging individual who relishes carving his art into the rock face.

Watching him work you see how tactile and abrasive those visions are as he fights with materials. Bending wire, drilling holes, moulding putty and making those paintings breathe. Heedless of distractions, perpetually drawing on a never ending cigarette, he finds the essence then wrestles it from thin air. Nguyen and Barnes intercut conversational voice over with music by Jonathan Bengta that puts you on edge yet compliments the subject perfectly. Add to this his musical contributions laced in behind the scenes and suddenly Lynch’s Art Life becomes something else entirely.

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“After The Storm” Lifts The Spirit Through A Fragile Heart

Mixing understated drama, circumstantial comedy and poignant segues into rarely touched areas, After The Storm is a triumph if a quiet one. Martin Carr takes a closer look at Hirokazu Koreeda’s family drama…

In After The Storm, writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda has given us a film which encapsulates the uplifting frailty of human relationships. Looking beyond the circumstance and situation which sets up this story of dislocation, disparate moments and heartfelt epiphanies, he produces something real.

Hiroshi Abe’s Ryota is the perpetual son with potential who finds reasons to avoid fulfilling that promise. Hang dog in demeanour, affably dishevelled but poignantly sketched his avoidance of achievement defines him. His failure to exploit a natural talent resonates across every interaction he has, allowing Koreeda to instil the dialogue with bitter sarcasm and stark moments of reality. We’re slowly embroiled in an on-off relationship between himself and an ex-wife where love has waned but something still draws them together.

 

As much a story about realisation and bonding than inherited behaviours, Koreeda takes a fractured relationship narrative and uses it as a jumping off point to somewhere else. Ryota’s mother played by Kirin Kiki puts in a virtuoso performance creating an easy and believable chemistry between them. They exchange cuttingly sarcastic off hand comments whilst lacing each moment with an underlying affection. Similarly Yoko Maki’s Kyota wards off an ex-husband more interested in her now than he ever was when they were together, tainting conversations with regret and maligning moments with the remembrance of missed opportunities.

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“The Shepherd” Is A Compelling, Understated Fable

Carefully staged, glacial in its pacing but numbingly brutal in the denouement, The Shepherd is worthy of emotional investment and likely to stay with you.

This Spanish language film which won numerous awards at The Raindance Festival in 2016 is an exercise in intimacy. At once juxtaposed by a subtle, central, isolated and measured performance The Shepherd is punctuated by moments of emotion. Miguel Martin’s Anselmo lives alone, was born and raised in the house he now occupies and has only his dog for company. A desire to live alone, tend his flock and in possession of no ambition for material gain or betterment, he is the exception not a rule in his small village.

It is here in this void between modern world values and old fashioned attitudes that The Shepherd exists. A place in which director Jonathan Cenzual Burley has crafted a fable examining greed, needs, wants and desires through the simple premise of land development. Political concerns, an urge for progress and society’s self-interest are all explored and played out quietly without fanfare or unnecessary expense.

Shot using a combination of hand-held and close-up camerawork, as well as existing structures and sparse set dressing its economy and isolationist approach belie any lack of funding. Burley spends time building character observing rather than directing, as we are slowly made to understand Anselmo and his indifference to others as a conscious choice. Miguel Martin, who won Best Actor for his role, gives us glances and gestures using silence with the bravery of a stage veteran. His opposite numbers in this moral pantomime are instilled with enough venom and reptilian charm to gain our sympathy, but retain the necessary repulsive traits come the endgame.

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“Swiss Army Man” Is A Special Kind Of Extraordinary

This surrealist masterpiece comes to Blu-ray and DVD piled high with plaudits, packed to the rafters with invention and containing a performance from Daniel Radcliffe which defies description. Worthy of Oscars yet overlooked for being imaginatively unconventional and boldly original, Swiss Army Man is not easily pinned down and no easy watch.

Mixed in with the corpses, flatulence, random erections and bizarre cross dressing is a heartfelt buddy comedy you are going to remember. Swiss Army Man finds Paul Dano rediscovering his lust for life when an inanimate Radcliffe washes on the beach. It’s a masterly portrayal which educates, invigorates and emotionally reanimates Dano’s Hank. Not only because of the multipurpose acts Hank finds Manny capable of, but because Radcliffe is able to instil real emotion and pathos with barely a facial twitch. Both brave, bold and selfless in his depiction Radcliffe proves more than able to hold his own, whether bent double with his dignity on display or sporting erectile GPS.

Beyond the showstoppers which are genuinely funny, what makes Swiss Army Man unique is its take on social constraints. As scattered within the random dialogue scenes are moments of subtlety which examine everything from mortality to masturbation and beyond. However there is an innocence about the film which revels in that lack of genre confinement, meaning things can go south consistently without affecting tone. Role playing can be and proves to be cathartic, while make believe might be the hallucinations of a man with borderline malnutrition, but this you learn is the point. If anything Swiss Army Man is itself there to re-educate, surprise and entertain, focused on questioning our pre-occupations with conformity in the modern age. Where social profiling, internet oversaturation and lack of mystery threatens original thought.

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Michael O’Shea’s “The Transfiguration” Is Brave, Original & Thought Provoking

There is no doubt The Transfiguration is a powerful piece of filmmaking both in terms of approach and subject matter. Sparsely written, concisely directed and subtlety referenced, O’Shea has done something brave, original and thought provoking in his debut feature.

Nominated alongside David McKenzie’s Hell or High Water and Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic at Cannes in 2016, Michael O’Shea’s debut The Transfiguration crosses into uncertain territory from the opening frame. Filmed in a detached and clinical style which feels almost intrusive, O’Shea relies on mood, minimal dialogue and extended observation of our central protagonist, while stripped down docudrama camerawork and the use of natural light make things feel more immediate.

Drawing on themes of adolescent isolation, sexual awakening and the grieving process, O’Shea crafts a unique take on the vampire myth using contemporary life as his benchmark. Pivotal in bringing this to the screen is Eric Ruffin’s Milo, who leads a solitary existence where school and home life barely register. In these moments The Transfiguration verges on the mundane and that sense of routine repeated over and over threatens to disengage the audience. However O’Shea punctuates this purposely pedestrian style with moments of glacial savagery, allowing his voyeuristic lens to linger as Milo emulates his role models and locks out reality. Neither showy nor needlessly graphic these scenes are emphasised simply through a low level hum, which replicates both his thirst and emotional detachment.

What turns The Transfiguration into something other is the arrival of Chloe Levine’s Sophie, who displays a tenderness and humility towards Milo which is key. Equally damaged and looking only for companionship, solace and a fresh start, she exudes an innocence at odds with her situation or surroundings. In an age defined by impatience and borne of information overload Milo inhabits the space between, indulging a fascination for on-line slaughterhouse videos and VHS versions of seminal vampire flicks. In so doing director O’Shea tips a hat to his influences and underlines that sense of generational lethargy.

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“Aftermath” Has Moments Of Genuine Honesty Amid Distracting Melodrama

Smart, honest performances from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Scoot McNairy ensure Aftermath has heart despite its journey towards melodrama.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey back into mainstream cinema has taken a more measured approach since leaving political office, intermingling genre standards like Escape Plan and The Last Stand with character pieces showcasing untapped acting chops, more suited to a man of his years. Aftermath sits firmly in the latter category alongside Maggie, itself a twist on the zeitgeist topic of zombie infection which originally revealed these hidden depths last year.

Taking based-on-true-events as its tag line from the beginning, director Elliott Lester is efficient in setting up the premise before moving us towards Aftermath’s beating heart. Essentially a two-hander between Schwarzenegger and Scoot McNairy, most memorable from Gareth Edwards skeleton budget debut Monsters, it is a study in cause and effect.

The film shows how one event can impact two people both suffering as a consequence of human error. McNairy’s air traffic controller Jacob gets broad character strokes, showing us a happy family, settled marriage and young son before the fact. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger’s Roman is the epitome of organisation as site manager for a construction firm, prior to his world unravelling. In these opening ten minutes Lester lays the groundwork before moving quickly onto the very human impact.

 

His use of sound as a means to dial back human interaction during those grief stricken initial moments with Roman draw you in and hold you close. As much as the words are muffled, Lester’s ability to convey emotion through silence makes Aftermath gruelling. Grief is a very personal thing but this is one of few occasions where film has come close to mirroring that feeling for me. Schwarzenegger underplays these scenes with soul-destroying sincerity bringing home the pain and suffering with no need of tricks.

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“Paterson” Is A Gentle Reminder Of The Beauty Of Everyday Life

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson stars Adam Driver’s titular character whose hidden talent for poetry elevates the repetitiveness of his everyday working class life as a New Jersey bus driver.

Taking our every day and making it magical is what this film does best. Picking apart a daily routine and elevating that life to new heights through poetic nuance makes Paterson uniquely memorable. Calming without being ponderous, creative without seeming haphazard and centred by a performance of such Zen-like assurance, repeat viewing is not only recommended but essential. My only struggle in continuing is where to begin.

Taking one week in the life of Adam Driver’s title character we are privy to a singular viewpoint, defined by repetition but subtly different each time. A creative soul hiding in plain sight etching his art on the screen in well balanced script; simultaneously theological and profound yet never dry or stuffy. Jim Jarmusch has crafted a love letter to New York poets whilst musing on the beauty of words, their meaning and power which resonates in echoes across every frame.

Both Paterson and Golshifteh Faranhani’s Laura are that rare thing in film being both positively creative and supportive of each other. There are no domestic disputes, never a crossed word and Laura does nothing but push Paterson into making his poetry available to an outside world.

Jarmusch uses handwritten words on screen whilst simultaneously, through internal monologue, illustrating what inspiration truly means. Combining that with overheard conversations which filter through from passengers on the bus, he has crafted a truly immersive but never pretentious piece of filmmaking. Symbolism is littered in a seemingly random fashion throughout Paterson, mixed in with the everyday life of our central protagonist not only to raise questions and promote debate but also I suspect for the amusement of Jarmusch himself. Other actors including Barry Shabaka Henley’s Doc and William Jackson Harper’s Everett, give strong support in broadly sketched portrayals which turn this into a true ensemble piece.

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DVD Review – Carol (2015)

Directed by Todd Haynes.

Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro and Kyle Chandler.

SYNOPSIS:

Carol and Therese meet over a department store counter. This chance encounter grows steadily into something neither of them were prepared to entertain. An encounter which leads to familial disruption, custody hearings and the breaking of social taboos. As someone once said none of us choose who we fall in love with.

Amongst its numerous Oscar nominations and LGBT credentials Carol is at heart a simple love story. Neither overtly flamboyant nor overly preachy, its depiction of same-sex relationships in the hands of Todd Haynes is voyeuristically non-judgemental. Playing with dialogue as well as the spaces between, his lead actresses engage in an often silent courtship. Necessitated as much by the period as anything else.

In their portrayals Blanchett and Mara skate the thin line between social expectations and gender limitations with skill. Neither wishing to upset the fifties applecart nor grandstand and thus eclipse their opposite number. Carol is clearly the more experienced in cloaking her desires and maintaining respectable relationships, just so her husband can save face. While Rooney’s Therese is enraptured by the older woman, learning moment to moment how dangerous it could be for her desire to outweigh propriety.

 

What Haynes does with his camera expands upon Phyllis Nagy’s dialogue, by isolating Therese and Carol behind car windows separating them from the outside world. Not only illustrating their burgeoning relationship but also their inherent isolation from those around them. You get the impression during the protracted dialogue sequences that everyone else is superfluous. In these more intimate moments Haynes concentrates on close-ups. Whether that is finger tips touching for a second, an eye line nervously crossed as pupils dilate, or the fact that other conversations cease to matter.

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Movie Review – Road to the Well (2016)

Written and directed by Jon Cvack.

Starring Marshall R. Teague, Micah Parker, Rosalie McIntire, Barak Hardley, Michelle LaFrance, and Laurence Fuller.

Jack (Micah Parker), rolls into town to visit his old friend Frank (Laurence Fuller). Risk averse, free-spirited and bohemian as oppose to repressed, trapped and hemmed in. Jack’s arrival signifies an emotional, psychological and literal upheaval, ensuring things go rapidly south for Frank in a spectacular fashion. School yard memories, bodily dismemberment and fear of mediocrity all help shape this film into a uniquely bold and original thriller.

There are plenty of filmic comparisons worth making in John Cvack’s Road to the Well. Nods to Shallow Grave, tips of the hat for Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as well as sly winks towards Soderbergh’s first feature Sex, Lies and Videotape. Atmospheric homage can be attributed to the former and latter, while that essence of cool so inherently associated with Fiction has much to do with Cvack’s structural precision.

 

Taking an idea and executing it without flourishes is something that requires restraint, planning and an eye for detail. A feat this writer director pulls off with an effortless simplicity. Cvack’s chief coup in achieving this is the casting. A little known troupe including Micah Parker, Laurence Fuller and Barak Hardley, build a believable brotherly bond filled with foibles, flaws and long-term friendship pressures all present. In the sparingly employed dialogue and unspoken gestures are echoes of lines crossed, trust tested and unresolved issues simmering beneath the civil exchanges.

Cvack’s use of music to evoke mood, manipulate scenes and promote tension is reminiscent of John Carpenter at his best. While awkward silences and the use of silence itself are expertly employed throughout, keeping you guessing but engaged. Nods to Sex,Lies comes through most strongly in those painfully awkward moments, where the camera does little more than watch. As things progress and slowly unravel Marshall R. Teague’s entrance as Dale takes a known quantity and ups the ante still further.

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Movie Review – Fences (2016)

Directed by Denzel Washington.

Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, and Russell Hornsby.

SYNOPSIS:

Set in 1950’s Pittsburgh ‘Fences’ follows Troy Maxson (Washington) and his wife Rose (Davis) over the course of a decade. Adapted from the August Wilson play it is one of ten which sought to verbalise and explore the African American experience specifically. A body of work which is now referred to as the ‘August Wilson Century Cycle’.

To fully appreciate this film ignorance of any back history is essential. However if that is unavoidable and you arrive knowing that Washington and Davis performed Fences on stage, with it will come a certain amount of expectation. And thankfully on this occasion the acclaim is not without merit, as both bring chemistry, knowledge and depth to their portrayals of Troy and Rose Maxson. Other players to make the leap include Stephen McKinley Henderson’s Jim Bono, Mykelti Williamson’s Gabriel and Russell Hornsby’s Lyons. Meaning that Fences delivers on characterisation as well as offering up moments where both leads can grandstand. And in the process make the transition from stage to screen seem effortless.

 

Williamson’s Gabriel is a performance grounded in subtlety and heartbreak, who is able to hold the attention without resorting to clichés or scenery chewing. While Hornsby’s Lyons gives dignity to the portrayal of a slighted and browbeaten eldest son, forever in his fathers’ shadow but asking only for acceptance. Just as Henderson’s Jim Bono plays the warm-hearted centre to Troy’s brash and overbearing patriarch, offering balance amongst the emotional isolation and crumbling family unit.

Held together by Rose and Cory, an understated Jovan Adepo, who bear the brunt of Troy’s frustrations, disappointments and all too human flaws. Stoically loyal, emotionally dependent and consumed by a man unable to stop himself from destroying the family he loves. Rose perseveres, manages and mollycoddles Troy’s man child mentality and macho posturing until he finally crosses the line. It is this performance which has rightfully drawn awards and Oscar buzz, as Davis delivers yet another peerless piece of work.

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Shock-Doc “The Killing Of America” Is Potent, Intelligent Exploitation

A documentary that divides audiences, Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader’s uncompromising and shocking historical record of the USA’s violent past depicts exploitative qualities with a motivation and intelligence that marks the film as relevant today as it was when first released in 1982.

Gunshot wounds, gratuitous head shots and real time footage of police brutality are old hat. Assassination attempts, mass murderers and people slaughtering innocent bystanders can be watched on repeat through YouTube and other less than reputable websites. While as a society we have been numbed to acts of senseless violence as social media continues to make everything feel impersonal. So the question is, how much impact would a dated thirty-year-old documentary have on anyone?

What must be established from the off is that The Killing of America is about much more than just shocking images. Director Sheldon Renan and co-writer Leonard Schrader have a much more subtle agenda at work beyond the need to repulse. It’s true that they chart the rise in violent crime starting with the assassination of JFK through to John Lennon, incorporating mass murderers, serial killers and sniper rifle fanatics along the way. But Renan and Schrader imply that these people who come across as perfectly sane in interview footage, are in some way products of a society in decline.

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“Elstree 1976” Celebrates The Legacy Of “Star Wars”

Filmmaker Jon Spira’s documentary Elstree 1976 looks back at George Lucas’ Star Wars, celebrating the creative process, Elstree Studios’ contribution to its production, and the legacy left behind.

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. Hanging on to past glories however fleeting only blinds you to the opportunities ahead in my opinion. And if any documentary were ripe to explore this notion then Elstree 1976 heads the queue. This may sound like slanderous condemnation but these words take on another meaning altogether when you know the topic is Star Wars.

 

Documented in more remastered editions than anyone should sensibly purchase, Star Wars remains the mould breaker which coined and created the blockbuster. Researched and explored within the framework of a Seventies cinema culture in flux through Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders and Raging BullsStar Wars can be seen as both financial liberator and metaphorical millstone. It shaped a generation of filmmakers, separated a fledgling director from his arthouse aspirations and singlehandedly shackled him to a multinational in one stroke.

 

Created through the merchandising behind Star Wars and subsequently sold to DisneyLucasfilm stands as testament to what true autonomy costs. There is little doubt that much good has come from Star Wars, yet for all that there is a tinge of sadness which seeps between the cracks of Elstree and raises questions. There are those who have used the notoriety however substantiated as a springboard, allowing them financial gain through convention appearances and the like. While others have bitten the hand that feeds and been cut off by corporate which makes things much more interesting.

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“Lords Of Dogtown” Strikes An Appealing Anti-Establishment Chord

Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch turn in strong performances amongst the crashing waves, drained swimming pools and sun-bleached colour palette of Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown.

Exec produced by David Fincher and directed by Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight fame, Lords of Dogtown charts the rise of skateboarding from counterculture pastime to a recognised global sport worth millions. It came in the wake of 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z Boys, itself written and directed by screenwriter and central character Stacy Peralta. What became painfully clear to me was that dramatic licence had stripped Hardwicke’s film of passion.

By which I mean these characters seem dispassionate and the tension which is depicted on screen although genuine seems less than engaging. Peralta’s documentary on the other hand is a metaphorical call to arms, involving all the major players who seem as driven and talk unguardedly about a time they still hold dear. Hardwicke’s selection of actors who in the main resemble their real life counterparts, added authenticity but somehow detaches you from the stylistic flourishes on display. Colours are oversaturated, camera moves are inventive but sometimes distracting, while performances are reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s Almost FamousHeath Ledger and Emile Hirsch are stand outs amongst a troupe of actors which strangely include a very young Elden Henson, who has been doing a sterling job as Foggy Nelson in Daredevil lately.

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“Hunt For The Wilderpeople” Will Remind You What “Feel Good” Feels Like

Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a delightfully honest and funny film from rising star, writer-director Taika WaititiMartin Carr reviews one of the best films of 2016…

There is an honesty to the humour here which shines through immediately disarming all comers. Segmented using on-screen chapter headings, the comedy is character driven, observational and cuttingly dry. Sam Neill, Julian Dennsion and Rima Te Wiata as Hec, Ricky and Bella create an easy on-screen chemistry, giving the film warmth and accessibility despite curveball dialogue, genre defying structure and laid back pacing.

 

Veteran director and writer Taika Waititi has adapted Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress into something uniquely uplifting, defiantly derivative and at certain points laugh out loud funny. Dennison is a natural, bringing innocence, warmth and awareness to a character at odds with the world and those around him, while Sam Neill’s skill for comic timing and deadpan delivery is a revelation, working off and alongside both Dennison and Te Wiata’s Bella to forge an honest on screen relationship. Rachel House’s Paula is the perfect foil as a hard edged, intelligently incompetent child support worker, mixing pop culture references badly, delivering intentionally clichéd dialogue with savage self-awareness and stealing every scene she turns up in.

 

Similar in tone to What We Did In The ShadowsHunt For The Wilderpeople feels ever so slightly removed from reality both in characterisation and structure. Incorporating a world of social media obsessives which sensationalise human interest stories and misinterpret cross generational relationships for tabloid taglines. There is an understated dark edge to this humour drawn from the juxtaposition of dialogue, circumstance and situation, which scores points but never resorts to condescension.

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John Carpenter’s “Assault On Precinct 13” Is A Masterclass In Economy

As Assault On Precinct 13 arrives on limited edition Blu-ray to celebrate its 40th anniversary, Martin Carr revisits John Carpenter’s classic siege thriller and finds that it remains a technical marvel…

This John Carpenter classic is a masterclass in economy. From the building of tension, bringing together of component parts to create conflict and finally resolution. There are few that come close to Carpenter in his heyday. Using players who defined the term ‘character’ actor we are quickly shown situation, reaction, culmination and motive for each character with concise camerawork, minimal dialogue and perfect pacing.

Carpenter understood the importance of showing rather than telling, which means the premise of an isolated police precinct, sick prisoners in transit and the imminent dread of an attack are all mapped out in fifteen minutes. By the time we hit the half hour mark everything is in place. A dynamic between characters has been well established and Carpenter can just focus on action beats and editing.

Austin Stoker’s Ethan Bishop is idealistic, morally sound and comes to the screen fully formed in ten minutes. Economy of character is also something Carpenter excels at here and Stoker has a few minor conversations, which establish his personal reasons, back history and journey to this point. They never feel contrived or slow things down, while his opposite number Napoleon Wilson played by Darwin Joston is sketched with similar restraint. Other minor players include Kim Richard’s Katy who is written and played with backbone, relying on steely stares and skill with a firearm.

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“The Neon Demon” Is Divisive, Dividing & Above All Original

Nicolas Winding Refn’s divisive film The Neon Demon could be an austere and clinical examination of beauty or a mesmeric trip into the realms of objectification backed up by an overbearing soundtrack or something else entirely. No matter, it’s a modern day marvel.

What Nicholas Winding Refn has committed to celluloid here is divisive, dividing and above all original. Viewed as either an austere and clinical examination of beauty and the beautiful, or a mesmeric trip into the realms of objectification backed up by an overbearing soundtrack and exacting performances, there is something almost brazenly repellent, like the bastard child of Altman’s Pret A Porter force fed mescaline and let loose into oncoming traffic.

Elle Fanning gives a performance of fragility which slowly morphs into something much more sinister and visceral. Her character Jesse represents everything real rather than shaped and sculpted for a paying clientele. In an industry defined by image and constantly in search of the new, Jesse becomes both threat and catalyst creating equal amounts of excitement and jealousy. Other directors have examined the ideas of consumerism, social expectation and fashionistas before but never like this.

Jena Malone’s Ruby, who acts as confidante in the beginning, obsesses over superficiality, earning money on the side as a mortician. Marvelling in the purity which Jesse radiates, she misreads their relationship dynamic and ultimately seeks solace on the mortuary slab. Some have condemned this scene as grotesque self-indulgence, shocked and repulsed the director would choose to go that far. But within the context of this film those actions although appalling are honest, savagely on point and brave in ways it remains hard to define.

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“10 Cloverfield Lane” Is A Thrilling Reminder What Cinema Is Capable Of

The spiritual companion piece to 2008’s overrated CloverfieldDan Trachtenberg’s intimate “end of the world” thriller is a huge step up in class and features one of John Goodman’s best performances.

Hailed as the spiritual companion piece to Matt Reeve’s real time monster mashCloverfield Lane is part B-movie throwback and contemporary case study in paranoia for the modern age. Director Dan Trachtenberg and writer Josh Campbell have crafted a pressure cooker proposition of insecurity and mistrust, which hinges on the word of one man.

 

John Goodman’s Howard is a socially awkward saviour with morally dubious agendas, anger management issues and keys to the bunker. Monosyllabic, prone to fits of rage and notions of persecution, Goodman anchors the film in a recognisable reality whilst staying the right side of caricature. His opposite number played with the savvy and smarts which Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings to every role, act as our eyes and ears in this moral vacuum.

 

Relying on reaction shots and minimal dialogue Winstead breathes life into the character and situation without the need for grandstanding. Playing off of John Gallagher’s Emmett, himself a refugee from an outside world he misunderstands, Winstead befriends, convinces and colludes as Trachtenberg’s film slowly unravels.

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“Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown” Is High Farce In A World Of Make Believe

This film lover has had something uniquely spiky lavished on his retina never to be forgotten. Welcome then to Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Martin Carr reviews one of Pedro Almodovar’s much-loved early films.

Pedro Almodovar films are not well known to me. However the ones I have watched always made me feel better coming out the other side. You feel intellectually invigorated whatever the subject, because he applies himself, asks questions and seeks to promote discussion. Until today I had missed out on what some consider to be a seminal classic in the Almodovar cannon. That wrong has now been righted and this film lover has had something uniquely spiky lavished on his retina never to be forgotten. Welcome then to Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.

 

Economical in production values but no worse for it, this is high farce coupled with domestic drama, emotional upheaval and characters defined by their avoidance or detachment from society. Ensconced within her world of make believe Pepa is savagely brought to life by Carmen Maura. A high strung, well known actress and mistress to a colleague and her co-worker Ivan. Almodovar’s blue touch paper premise takes one moment, then escalates it inevitably towards the heights of a Joe Orton play.

 

Characters are broadly drawn but realistic, situations exaggerated but somehow within the realms of the real. There is a sensual, sexual feeling to the film which comes I suspect from the origins of both writer/director and stars. Were this relocated to Esher for example, you get the impression that such circumstances would be deemed ridiculous and dismissed out of hand. But there in lies the beauty as these characters are observed rather than directed making things feel somehow more organic.

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“Midnight Special” Is A Clear Step Forward For A Talented Auteur

Jeff Nichols takes us on another fascinating journey that twists its way to a surprising climax. Martin Carr takes a look at Midnight Special.

I watched Mud a while ago. Many people held it responsible in part for the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey. A man defined by mediocre choices forever destined to be that guy who took his shirt off in every movie. Jeff Nichols, writer and director of Midnight Special, saw something different, something others failed to see, or maybe chose to ignore. McConaughey could act if he allowed himself the room. From Magic Mike through Mud and then Dallas Buyers Club his resurrection continued until we hit Interstellar. That as much as anything is why Jeff Nichols was given eighteen million and change for Midnight Special. And more interestingly why it grossed less than half that figure domestically.

Now we all know that big box office is no guarantee of quality. There have been too many examples lately where slick marketing fooled a hopeful fan base into parting with their cash. But more often than not the films which deserve more marketing and studio support are nowhere near tent pole status; Midnight Special was one of those.

Brandishing an eclectic cast of respected character actors who include Michael Shannon, Joel Egerton and Adam Driver amongst its ranks, Midnight Special remains at heart a father-son movie. Strip away the kidnapping road movie element, look beyond the understated visual effects which augment rather than overwhelm and we are in familiar Nichols territory.

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“Miles Ahead” Gives Us A Taste Of Genius

Don Cheadle stars as Miles Davis in this biopic of the acclaimed jazz musician’s life. Cheadle, who also directs and co-writes, is joined in the cast by Emayatzy Corinealdi and Ewan McGregor.

Consider my writing of this review as full immersion therapy. Take an uninitiated jazz rookie and flood his senses with a God given music and soul. Shutting out all extraneous distraction and allowing Miles Davis to drip feed his genius through composition and relentless invention until I am converted. Leaving behind a unique understanding of musical attitude, syncopation variation and studio recording, until finally these hallowed musicians and their importance make sense. Only then will I appreciate Don Cheadle, Miles Davis and Miles Ahead.

In trying to get people closer to an understanding of the impact he had on music something is lost. There is no easy way to cram that life experience into one film so Cheadle has gone the other way, by shaping his structure around a dynamic central performance. He simply becomes Miles Davis in ways that Jim Carrey became Andy Kaufman or Daniel Day Lewis Christie Brown. Cheadle disappears to be replaced with a coke addled, car crash of musical genius locked away from a world he considers superfluous.

By avoiding the traditional route of every bio-pic from Ray to Ali and onward past What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Cheadle has picked a braver yet more precarious route towards victory. Davis does genuinely seep between the cracks, but missing music sub-plots and Ewan McGregor divert our attention from the real subject matter. His reverence for Davis is undeniable and the level of dedication lavished upon that interpretation immeasurable. His use of sliding scenery and musical performance within dramatic moments draws comparisons with Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, itself an economical tale with more than one stand out performance. While Cheadle is ably supported by Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Taylor and Michael Stuhlberg’s Harper, what ultimately saves Miles Ahead is the music and commitment to it.

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“The Gingerbread Man” Is Only Noteworthy As An Example Of What Happens When You Jump On A Novelist’s Bandwagon

Robert Altman finds adapting John Grisham’s The Gingerbread Man a far tougher chore than some of his contemporaries but Martin Carr discovers some things to like…

John Grisham stories are law firm fodder filled with intrigue, attorneys and femme fatales perpetually corrupting our prototypically upstanding citizens. In an ideal world every author dreams of having an adaptation directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Sydney Pollack or Robert Altman because these men are world class auteurs. There is however one small problem with cinematic legends and Grisham adaptations that gets consistently overlooked. His books, although worldwide bestsellers, are tricky beasts to tame and can slip easily into mediocre B-movie pulp fiction territory. Leaving even legends looking less than legendary in the final analysis.

Pollack managed to pull off The Firm, Coppola sailed close to average with The Rainmaker, while Schumacher’Pelican Brief remains good box office mediocrity. Neither should blame be apportioned to the A-listers who lined up to star in what everyone considered sure things. Whether it was Gene Hackman, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, or Downey Jr, Kenneth Branagh or Tommy Lee Jones. These flicks remain entertainingly formulaic law firm dramas, centred round topical hard hitting issues that just lose something in translation. Which unfortunately is where The Gingerbread Man falls down.

Branagh is good as Rick Magruder in a role he was capable of doing in his sleep I suspect. Altman on board as director is workman like in his direction, making dialogue scenes serviceable rather than dynamic. But the film itself feels like a slick production of Columbo minus Peter Falk. Downey Jr and Darryl Hannah both play solid second fiddle to our Brit doing American and instil The Gingerbread Man with a Deep Southern psychosis. Nights are hot, women sultry but it feels more studio backlot than location real.

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Ken Loach’s “Poor Cow” Has Lost None Of Its Vibrancy 50 Years On

Described as Ken Loach’s first “proper film” after the groundbreaking Cathy Come HomePoor Cow has been fully restored by Studio Canal in collaboration with the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme.

Ken Loach films are not for those who like explosions, special effects or have an idea of mainstream cinema which involves anything concerning Bruce Willis. Now I have nothing against Mr. Willis or Loach but the two are diametrically opposed in approach, initial concept and execution more than any two people I can think of.

 

Ken Loach makes films of social relevance often based in a recognisable reality which is meant to instil a message. He does them addressing issues of importance using a very naturalistic approach, which are often critically acclaimed yet barely break even. So my interest in Poor Cow was noticeably more selfish than many films I agree to review.

 

This would be only my second Loach film, the first being Kes. My memory of the latter is foggy at best. Being young meant any underlying subtext would have been lost. With Poor Cow I went in with my eyes and ears open and came away pleasantly surprised. Classed as Loach’s first proper film after the standout success of Cathy Come HomePoor Cow follows Carol White’s Joy as she lives inside Sixties London.

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“600 Miles” Is A Study Of Culture As Much As Character

Tim Roth stars in this tale of an unlikely friendship between a gun runner (Kristyan Ferrer) and the ATF agent he holds hostage. Martin Carr takes a closer look…

 

 

Indifferently distant yet deeply personal, Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles is a study of culture as much as character. And in Kristyan Ferrer he has found someone supremely natural, highly capable and in possession of a singular confidence. Between Ripstein and lead Tim Roth there is the moulding of a performance in action, which simultaneously taps into potential and grounds us to the point where film and documentary blur.

 

In truth without the time invested by Ripstein on character this quasi road movie would lack the necessary realism and solid foundation to make it function. Yet elements of the everyday meld together in a banal and mundane mix creating tension from thin air. As an observer you already know how things will play out, but it is the naturalism that Roth and Ferrer bring to proceedings which keep the interest. Violence is part of the lifestyle, guns a cultural necessity, while emotions are hidden beneath layers of needless posturing. This juxtaposition of emotional immaturity at odds with family responsibilities sits at the centre of 600 Miles providing that beating heart.

 

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Nothing To See Here: “Visions” Is Eerie But Staggeringly Simplistic

Isla Fisher has Visions in Kevin Greutert’s workmanlike thriller which never manages to extricate itself from conventional mundanity. Martin Carr takes a closer look…

Isla Fisher has bills to pay. Another Australian soap star who has broken into mainstream film, her marriage to Sacha Baron Cohen has seen those cinematic contributions dwindle of late. However turns in Confessions of a Shopaholic, Wedding Crashers and Now You See Me are gone but not forgotten. But if Visions was considered her way back onto an A-list, then she needs to start taking advice from someone sober.

Staggeringly simplistic yet eerie, this film lays out a copybook backstory encompassing run down properties, eccentric locals and idyllic isolation as its central calling cards. Fisher and Mount do a good job of laying the groundwork for something which is never likely to surprise, yet pulls off believable late night schlock horror with economy. This felt at times like Rosemary’s Baby but minus the backbone necessary to really put the wind up you. Performances were uniformly adequate and the presence of both Eva Longoria and Jim Parsons baffling.

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Equal Parts Wake-Up Call & Cautionary Tale: “High-Rise” Is This Generation’s “Fight Club”

Visually arresting, technically challenging and topically on point, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a unique piece of cinema. Martin Carr takes a closer look at one of British cinema’s best films of 2015.

Welcome to the High-Rise. An absurdist fantasy mainlining KubrickFincher and the smallest dash of Peter Greenaway, into a concoction of such cinematic potency that repeat viewing should be mandatory. Ben Wheatley has created something alongside screenwriter Amy Jump, which defies narrative convention, structural constraints and the necessity for closure. To attempt a dissection of High-Rise is as foolish as climbing Everest without breathing apparatus. There is such a mix of techniques, pitch black humour, social satire and political irony at play that some may find it too much.

Adapted from J G Ballard’s novel of the same name, both director and writer have lifted generously from and adapted elements of their own into the mix. Tom Hiddleston commits fully to the premise of tower block living, where class division, social status and cultural expectations are all built into your tenancy agreement. Every time I watch Hiddleston it feels like he has been perfectly cast, whether in Marvel movies, fair to middling bio pics, or the occasional BBC drama, there is never a moment of doubt.

With Robert Laing he demonstrates his mastery of emotional detachment, whether engaged in coitus, attending parties or debating the need for social change opposite an excellent Jeremy Irons. There is so much of relevance going on around him that you almost miss how easy he makes things look. While Sienna Miller's Charlotte is the epitome of a social climber and Luke Evan's Wilder our literal and metaphorical loose cannon, it is Laing who acts as a physical conduit to all. Useful enough to be useful but not arrogant enough to create waves, he is the social chameleon, survivor and least likely to suffer when this microcosm finally implodes. While Iron's architect admits no culpability, extracts maximum advantage, yet possesses no desire to fix his mistake.

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