Category Archives: Film Reviews

Wrestling With Reality – The Wrestler (2008)

5 STARS

‘The real world is faker than professional wrestling.’

These are the playful words of Mick Foley, or, as you may know him better, Mankind. A mask-wearing, sock-wielding masochist who was once infamously thrown off a 16-foot cell by The Undertaker.

Yes, it is time to talk about the zany world of wrestling, but not as many of us know it. That is because director Darren Aronofsky, in 2008, decided to point his lens at a shadowy part of this multi-billion dollar industry.

Far from the bright lights and corporate atmosphere of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a litany of performers, from young up-and-comers to grizzled veterans, toil away on the independent wrestling scene.

Previously spotlighted in Barry Blaustein’s fascinating documentary Beyond the Mat (1999), this grittier realm is largely marked by small audiences, unreliable pay-cheques and dingy locker rooms.

That is exactly where we find broken-down star of the 80’s Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke).

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In one telling early scene, Randy hobbles and wheezes his way out of a venue, as Aronofsky’s camera pulls back to reveal his underwhelming surroundings. He is long separated from the big leagues of his chosen profession.

The Wrestler follows Randy as a heart attack forces him to reassess his reckless life – inside, outside and after the ring.

Aronofsky utilises a documentarian style with handheld cameras and natural light adding an unwavering sense of realism to the story.

He is also not afraid to lift the curtain on some of wrestling’s trade secrets. This includes Randy piecing together the details of his match backstage and preparing a ‘blade’ to draw his own blood in the ring.

For most of the film, Aronofsky’s camera trails behind Randy, as though the wrestler is constantly performing his ring walk-out. It is part of a losing battle to move away from his wrestling persona and transition him back into the ordinary world.

This struggle is brilliantly epitomised by one sequence in which Randy makes his way to work at a supermarket deli counter.

The sound of a cheering wresting crowd builds, but just as ‘The Ram’ goes through the curtain – in this instance through the PVC strips – silence prevails. Reality hits home. His days of performing for huge crowds are over.

There are also notable parallels drawn between Randy and his favourite stripper Cassidy (played by the magnificent Marisa Tomei), who is also questioning her future.

Their ageing bodies have left them on the scrap heap of their superficial professions. Where do they go next? Where indeed.

One way Randy looks to reconnect with the real world is with his estranged daughter (Westworld’s excellent Evan Rachel Wood). It is in these moments that Aronofsky finally shows an intimate close-up of Randy’s face.

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Perhaps there is life beyond his ridiculous tights and brutal headlocks.

The Wrestler is an undoubted triumph for Aronofsky. This is no better demonstrated than the rehabilitating effect the film had on Rourke. Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is a role made for a jaded star who brings his own turbulent history to the character.

Wrestling fan or not, The Wrestler is a film worth grappling with.

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Also read: James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

The Shepherd (Film Review)

James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

5 STARS

HOW do three high schoolers react when they are gifted the heady responsibility of superhero powers?

That is the question director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis concisely pose in this engaging and bold movie.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a greasy haired, weary eyed introvert chronicling his life through a camera (yes, this is another found footage flick).

At home, his mother is bed-ridden and racking up unaffordable medical bills. His father (House of Cards’ Michael Kelly) is a retired fireman who has hit the booze and, when he has had enough of that, hits Andrew.

Unsurprisingly, the camera-wielding outcast finds no refuge at High School. The glum Seattle skies paired with the graininess of his student camera only reinforce Andrews cheerless situation.

That is until one evening when Andrew is led down a mysterious hole in the woods, along with cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular high schooler, Steve (Michael B Jordan).

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They emerge with newfound powers and soon begin testing them out in the trivial ways you might expect from teenage boys. Levitating legos and supermarket mischief ensues.

But, as established by an earlier reference to the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, this comedic tinge does not last long.

Trank and Landis throw an abrupt – and dark – curve in the road, which builds towards an ambitious finale.

It is all well-designed and compelling enough to see through the lean 89 minute runtime.

Trank also wisely manoeuvres around some of the found footage trappings that have made the subgenre tiresome to many. Different perspectives, including a love-interest vlogger (Ashely Hinshaw) and CCTV cameras, prevent visual stagnation from setting in.

Likewise, the casting and performances deserve recognition. In particular, Jordan, who demonstrates the likability and swagger he will knock us out with in Creed three years later.

Unfortunately for Trank, his recent chance at a big-money superhero franchise, Fantastic Four (2015), brought him back down to earth with a thud. Meanwhile, Landis’ best work since has been his brilliant YouTube short Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.

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With hindsight, Chronicle works as an allegory for gun control in America (the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred ten months after the movie’s release).

It demonstrates the danger of allowing potentially lethal powers to fall into the hands of those who do not necessarily have the maturity, support or mental stability to handle them.

Discussion-provoking stuff. Not bad for an unashamedly low-budget pursuit (it overachieved massively at the box-office).

Chronicle is a movie well worth visiting – or revisiting – in these difficult and dangerous times.

Thanks for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

The Shepherd (Film Review)

Falling in Love with La La Land

Chronicle – 4/5

Dire: Josh Trank

Scre: Josh Trank and Max Landis

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hindsaw

 

 

The Shepherd (Film Review)

5 STARS

In our world dominated by comfort and convenience, a captivating Western, set in the modern day, seems hard to imagine. But last year’s Hell or High Water, set in the wastelands of Texas, showed there is still a place for such machismo-driven narratives.

Now, up-and-coming filmmaker, Jonathan Cenzual Burley, takes us to the patchy dead grasses of rural Spain for a similarly well-measured and atmospheric, part neo-Western. A tale of underhanded greed versus principled resilience.

Burley’s story sees our cowboy, in this case a grizzly and ageing shepherd named Anselmo (played by Miguel Martin), fight against the encroaching forces of corporatism – and the tensions it produces.

Anselmo, a simple man, is content living a stripped back existence in the company of his loyal dog Pillo. This includes a secluded one room home, no car and no electric heating. As the local barman points out, the shepherd still lives in the Stone Age. Certainly, the low hum of the air conditioning underpins the notion that Anselmo, who still warms himself by wood burner on freezing nights, can live without these luxuries.

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Early on in the film, Burley pieces together a stirring sequence which grounds Anselmo’s profession, one of the oldest known to man, in a sense of mythology. Burley, director and cinematographer, gets creative with his camera placing it among – and then above – the huddled multitude of sheep before resting in a ditch as a parade of hoofs hurry through.

We eventually pull back to wide shots of the silhouetted shepherd striding across the horizon, evoking images of classic American Westerns.  The imagination of Burley’s camera demonstrates that, despite the simplicity of Anselmo’s lifestyle, there is still great beauty and honour in his work. A sentiment Tim Laulik-Walters’ rousing score reinforces quite magnificently.

Yet the stones Anselmo skips across the water at one point in this sequence will later be thrown through his window. This is part of a simmering tension which begins when two men in business suits turn up looking to acquire his property for the development of a residential complex.

Understandably, Anselmo, who was born and raised on this land, is not amused by the thought of his home being turned into a squash court – even for a substantial price. He rejects their offer without a second thought.

But this stance soon comes under pressure from a few locals whose own hefty financial rewards rest on Anselmo’s decision to sell. At the forefront of this opposition are Julian (Alfonso Mendiguchia), a slaughter house owner, and Paco (Juan Luis Sara), a father and husband – both in desperate need of the money.

Burley’s provoking film is littered with subtle touches which quietly – and intelligently – probe the ways money, materialism and avarice can corrupt the human spirit. Luckily, in times like these, Burley gives us a anti-hero, played convincingly by Martin, to fight back against such forces.

The result is a rewarding slow burn narrative which builds to a sizzling climax. Burley, currently working on an English speaking feature, is undoubtedly one to watch. But for the time being, we should all flock down to our locals cinemas to experience The Shepherd.

The Shepherd is out in cinemas on Friday 2nd June 

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Also Read: Falling in Love with La La Land 

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

The Shepherd – 4/5

Dire, Writ & DOP: Jonathan Cenzual Burley

Starring: Miguel Martin, Alfonso Mediguchia, Juan Luis Sara, Maribel Igelsias, Pablo Malaga

Sound: Jorge Rojas

Music: Tim Laulik-Walters

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

5 STARS

THE floods that wreaked devastation on the Somerset Levels in late 2013 and early 2014 are the backdrop to The Levelling, a debut film from Hope Dickson Leach.

It is a quite brilliant debut as well, although no one should come expecting to laugh. Far from it. The Levelling is as depressing a story as will be told on celluloid this year. But the acting – and some of the cinematography featuring hares and cows either swimming or treading through flood water – is sublime.

The story starts with fuzzy out-of-focus – dream-like – pictures of a night-time party that seems to have got out of control with punches traded amidst the dancing and lit torches.

What we soon learn is that in amongst the partying a young farmer, Harry Catto, took his own life by blowing his brains out with a shot-gun – the blood-stained walls and floor of the farm house toilet are testament to the gruesome and tragic event that has occurred.

His sister, Clover, a veterinary student and a vegetarian, returns to the ramshackle farm where the party took place (evidence of the celebrations are everywhere). She then goes in search of explanations as to why Harry cut his life short.

It is a harrowing tale. The dairy farm is dilapidated as a result of the floods and the insurer’s refusal to pay up. Clover’s father Aubrey, ex-Army, is living in squalor in a mobile home adjacent to the farm and has turned to drink to drown his sorrows. The family dog, Milo, has been locked away and left to starve, much to Clover’s disgust who discovers it in a room surrounded by piles of its own faeces.

The relationship between Clover and Aubrey is fraught, a result of Clover’s earlier decision to leave the farm and carve out a career for herself, much against her father’s wishes. The more she searches for answers, the more fraught it becomes.

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Why did Harry take his life when in fact the party was organised to celebrate his taking over of the farm from his father?

Why is Aubrey selling half of the dairy herd? Why does the buyer not then turn up as expected?

Why are there full petrol cans in the kitchen? What really happened that fateful night? Is James, Harry’s best friend, hiding something? A question that provokes Clover into using a lit torch in order to get an honest answer from James. Light and water are constant themes.

The discovery of buried (shot) badgers on the farm provide a clue as to why Harry took his own life.

It really is bleak viewing – and highlights the tough lives farmers live most of the time. When one of the herd gives birth to a healthy calf, Aubrey tells Clover to shoot it because it is a boy, not a girl. With the same gun that Harry killed himself with. Clover then proceeds to cremate it in a wheelbarrow with fuel from one of the cans in the farm kitchen.

All rather harrowing, especially for a vegetarian like Clover, but part and parcel of every day farming life. As is the mud, the cold, the mundanity of much farm work and the susceptibility of farming to the force of mother nature.

But the film ensnares you from start to finish. When Aubrey disappears just prior to Harry’s funeral and Clover discovers he has taken a shot-gun from the cupboard, we wait for the sound of the inevitable gun shot. It comes. Has he also committed suicide? At times, The Levelling resembles a horror movie and sets your pulse racing.

The acting is quite brilliant with Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed, Game of Thrones) outstanding as Clover. A family member who has become an outsider, an outcast. Intelligent and not frightened to challenge anyone – her father especially and  James (Jack Holden).

An individual who is stronger than her brother was (she survived boarding school, he didn’t). Hewn out of the same stone as her deceased mother who was the family matriarch and whose death seems to have triggered the start of the farm’s decline. Indeed, Clover is the person best equipped to run the farm, a fact Aubrey acknowledges.

David Troughton as Aubrey is also excellent although for fans of the Archers, it will be difficult to listen to – and watch – him without drawing comparisons with Tony, the character he plays in the Radio 4 series.

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Aubrey is a more broken man than Tony although it is a close run thing (Tony was seriously injured in a farming incident, has had major family issues to deal with and problems with his livestock). Troughton makes the transition from radio to film seem effortless. A vulnerable man crumbling from within.

One of the only rays of sunshine (and I am clutching at straws) is provided by family friend Helen (Angela Curran). She provides the Catto’s with home-made shepherd’s pie (Clover can only pick out the potato) and with the only colour in the entire film – the beautiful flowers she has assembled for Harry’s funeral.

Another uplifting moment is the ending which is more healing – despite all the killing – than fractious. Come hell, fire, water and death, love’s sinews are resilient.

The Levelling is sparse cinema but gripping nonetheless. Cinematographer Nanu Segal deserves a special mention for drawing the links between nature and the Catto’s. The magnificent hare running across the field and the drawing of one that hangs on Harry’s bedroom wall. The constant threat left by the floods, a danger which nearly costs both Clover and Milo dearly. The music is also haunting.

Gritty and grimy but gripping nonetheless. A must see film from a British director with a great future ahead of her.

http://hopedicksonleach.com

Clover Catto Ellie Kendrick
James Jack Holden
Harry Catto Joe Blakemore
Reverend Trusler Clare Burt
Helen Angela Curran
Aubrey Catto David Troughton
Ian Jones Stephen Chapman
Officer Hembry Joe Attewell

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Also Read: Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

James recommends: The Shallows (Film Review)

Weekend watching – Whiplash (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart: Back from the Twilight

James recommends: The Shallows (Film Review)

5 STARS

It has been 42 years since Steven Spielberg’s killer shark blockbuster Jaws splashed onto the big-screen, scaring audiences off the beaches and changing the movie industry forever.

Inspired by the immense cultural – and financial – success of Jaws, many filmmakers were more than willing to jump in the water and try to emulate the magic of this fearsome mechanical shark. But they soon realised the shark movie formula was not as simple as it seemed. Post Jaws, many films failed while others slipped into mindless parody.

That was until last summer, when Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra broke the curse of Jaws with his stylish B-movie The Shallows.

Nancy (Blake Lively), a young Texan surfer and medical student, hitches a ride to a ‘secret’ Mexican beach which holds deep sentimental value following the loss of her mother to cancer.

As a Latin cover of Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side plays, Nancy receives a text from her hung-over friend who is still nursing a headache in the hotel room. Unperturbed, Nancy arrives at the secluded beach and unleashes a beaming smile. It is just as idyllic as her mother’s photos showed it to be.

Nancy pulls on her wetsuit (Collet-Serra’s camera lingers on her bikini for some time) and gets in the water to catch some waves.

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The next five minutes are spent in surf heaven with a delicious montage of Nancy in the water, cut to vibrant music. If Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano fancy making a surf movie I am sold straightaway.

That being said, they still throw in a menacing prelude in the form of muffled silence when the camera plunges below the water’s surface. Danger awaits.

This comes when Nancy decides to catch one more wave before dark. She discovers a giant whale carcass and quickly finds herself under-attack from the perpetrator – a colossal shark.

Nancy somehow escapes its deadly jaws to the refuge of a nearby rock, albeit with a horrific wound on her leg. As the shark circles, she must find a way out of her terrifying situation and back to the safety of land.

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The Shallows is immensely fun and highly-watchable. I was lucky enough to first see the film in a theatre full of enthusiastic adolescents, ready to immerse themselves in every scare.

I am sure they appreciated the lean 87 minute runtime which maintains a zippy and engrossing pace.

Even still, it is a long time for the superb Blake Lively (I would love to see her in more of these daring roles) to carry the film, especially given that her most prominently featured co-star is an injured seagull which inhabits the rock with her. Fortunately, Collet-Serra finds inventive ways to prevent cinematic gangrene setting in.

The best spoiler-free comment I can make concerns the film’s slick visual style. Labiano’s energetic camera seems to come from every direction. One moment, it floats on the surface of the water. The next, it sinisterly looks up from the depths, and the next it gives an aerial view revealing the expansive beauty – and danger – of the sea.

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The intensity of colours also gives life to the stationary setting. During the happier surfing moments, the turquoise blue of the water will leave you yearning for a beach holiday.  This tranquil setting soon becomes nightmarish as the sky  fills with a heavy grey clouds and the water morphs into a menacing dark blue, which occasionally turns crimson.

The Shallows is a film that thrives primarily on singularities (one character and one location) and simplicities (a fun and straight-forward script). It is self-aware, clever and playful.

Finally, we have a shark movie that is good enough to sit alongside Jaws. I suggest you watch The Shallows, preferably with some easily scared friends.

Apart from Jaws, what is your favourite killer shark film?

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The Shallows – 4/5

Dir – Jaume Collet-Serra

Scr – Anthony Jaswinski

Cast: Blake Lively

DOP – Flavio Martinez Labiano

Music – Marco Beltrami

Year: 2016

Runtime: 1hr 27

Also read: Whiplash (Film Review)

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Weekend watching – Whiplash (Film Review)

5 STARS

SOME are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. In Jazz, you have a cymbal thrown at you.

So goes the story of Charlie Parker, who at 16 years old lost track of chord changes while playing the saxophone, evoking the anger of band member Jo Jones who threw a cymbal at his feet.

The incident, which took place in 1937 at Kansas City’s Reno Club, is said to have helped inspire Parker – known in Jazz circles as ‘The Bird’ – to musical greatness.

It is a story that pervades Damien Chazelle’s exhilarating, tense and relentless teacher-student film Whiplash (2014).

For Andrew Nieman (Miles Teller), a drummer starting at Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York, his cymbal comes in the shape of Jazz instructor Terence Fletcher (a marvellous JK Simmons).

After discovering Andrew practising alone one night, Fletcher plucks the youngster from the second-string class and thrusts him into the high-pressure atmosphere of his lead group.

‘You are here for a reason’, Fletcher reminds Andrew before reducing him to tears in his first session.

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Fletcher is a brutal bully. His methods, akin to those employed by iconic Drill Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), see him blend a creative barrage of foul-mouthed insults with fierce intensity and machismo aggression. It is a potent mix to weed out the fragile and test even the most dedicated musician’s resolve.

Andrew is left trying to survive Fletcher’s mind games and his relentless demand for perfection. He avoids dorm parties, retreats to his room to listen to Buddy Rich CDs and practices until his hands are gory and raw. A poster on his wall reads: ‘If you don’t have ability you end up playing in a rock band’. It reflects his desire to reach the pinnacle in jazz drumming.

As Fletcher’s influence takes grip, Andrew adopts a tunnel vision approach that places him in conflict with the few people he is close to. They include his dad (played by Paul Reiser), a failed writer and high school teacher who reveals himself as a pushover. His love interest (Melissa Benoist) is not clear where her future lies as Andrew detaches himself from her clutches.

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In Fletcher’s world, there is no room for mediocrity or complacency. He believes there are no two more harmful words in the English language than ‘good job’. His objective is clear: he wants to uncover and inspire excellence – find the next Charlie Parker, even if it means plenty of casualties along the way.

With the help of editor Tom Cross and cinematographer Sharone Meir, Chazelle expertly composes a series of thrilling scenes between Andrew and Fletcher.

By using unsteady cameras (handheld, presumably) he brings an unsettling energy to their verbal and physical interactions. He also uses these camera movements to give the jazz music, played either in a tight rehearsal room or in front of dimly lit audiences, both vibrancy and fluidity.

Sharp cuts and zooms are added in as jolting – or whiplashing – exclamation points.
Just as memorable are the close ups of the drum kits which reveal beads of sweat and blood. If you did not think jazz was serious, you will after watching Whiplash.

Another part of this jazz aesthetic is the use of warm yellowy-orange colours. In important moments of Whiplash, they light up Andrew and Fletcher’s faces, making it hard to tell whether they are in jazz utopia or – more sinisterly – in hell.

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This review would not be complete without acknowledgment of a career-defining performance from JK Simmonds. He turns a skinny, bald jazz instructor with a tight t-shirt tucked-in around his waist into an intimidating, unpredictable and nightmarish figure. He plays off Teller’s doughy millennial softness brilliantly.

Chazelle’s La La Land is a bouncy ode to old-school Hollywood, with a poignant message about the dying art of jazz fed through Ryan Gosling’s character. In contrast, Whiplash is an in-your-face reminder of the power of jazz.

It is visceral, impactful and provocative.

If you have not seen it, I urge you to. If you have, watch it again (this was my sixth time). It will whip you into a frenzy of love for cinema.

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Whiplash – 5/5

Dir: Damien Chazelle

Scr: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Resier, Melissa Benoist

DOP: Sharone Meir

Music: Justin Hurwitz

Editing: Tom Cross 

Year: 2014

Also read: Arrival (Film Review)

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All This Panic (Film Review)

Raw Q&A with Julia Ducournau

 

All This Panic (Film Review)

5 STARS

ADOLESCENCE is tough. There is no rulebook to follow, no escape and no redo.  Just panic.

Panic over parties, relationships, drugs, grades, sexuality, parents and – of course – the daunting transition into adulthood.

Documentary All This Panic richly explores this time in the lives of a group of teenage girls growing up in Brooklyn, New York.

Shot over a three year span, Jenny Gage’s film is pieced together like a collective visual diary. It fluidly moves from story to story, each individual giving distinctly personal and surprisingly diverse insights into their ‘adolescent’ experiences.

Lena is one of the film’s most prominently featured teens. She is a charmingly geeky extrovert who attends parties with the hopes of getting a boyfriend. Her smiley optimism is juxtaposed with the sad decline of her divorced parents as they battle with mental health issues.

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Lena’s wing-woman at these parties is her best friend Ginger. The two constantly squabble over their drunken antics before seamlessly reconciling – as young people have a tendency to do.

Unlike Lena, Ginger is unsure where her future lies after school, tellingly admitting: ‘I am petrified of getting old’.

Although she aspires to be an actress, Ginger does little with her time and struggles to find the next meaningful step in her life. As her younger sister Dusty points out, Ginger is left in an uncomfortable state of ‘purgatory’.

The young women speak with an honesty and vulnerability that lends authenticity to Gage’s subjective gaze. Their words are enhanced by Tom Betterton’s vivid dreamlike cinematography which reflects the fantasy and unknowing that pervades these teenagers’ lives.

For all of the panic, there is room for some strikingly profound comments, especially noteworthy in a generation condemned for its self-absorbed obsessions with Instagram and Snapchat.

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Sage, the film’s only African-American voice, poignantly says: ‘People want to look at us but they don’t want to hear what we have to say.’

All This Panic listens intimately and intently.

As with Richard Linklater’s excellent coming-of-age epic Boyhood (2014), there are meaningful lessons to be learnt about the process of growing up from All This Panic. How it affects the young, shapes them, binds them and then catapults them into adulthood.

This is a film that can bring us all – young and old – together. It is worth investing a little time in.

You will come out feeling wiser for the experience and maybe a little more understanding the next time you catch your son or daughter staring transfixed at their mobile.

Don’t panic. All This Panic will suck you in and then spit you out a little more understanding of the world we live in.

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All This Panic – 4/5

Dir: Jenny Gage

Cast: Dusty Rose Ryan, Delia Cunningham, Lena M, Ginger Leigh Ryan, Olivia Cucinotta, Sage Adams

DOP: Tom Betterton

Music: Didier Leplae, Joe Wong

Runtime: 1hr 19

Arrival (Film Review)

 Arrival is now available on Blu Ray, DVD and Curzon Home Cinema 

5 STARS

From the moment the soul-piercingly brilliant sounds of Max Richter’s ‘On the Nature of Daylight’ play at the beginning of Arrival you know that this is no ordinary alien invasion film.

Director Denis Villeneuve stunned and mesmerised audiences last year with an artful betrayal of genre conventions.  His film brought humanity, style and delicacy of storytelling to a sci-fi world that has often been riddled with clumsily written, overstuffed and disposable blockbusters like Independence Day: Resurgence – which came out few months prior.

The story begins as mysterious spaceships hover above the ground at twelve locations across the planet. In a bid to understand and communicate with the extra-terrestrials, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are recruited by the US government to offer their expertise at a site in Montana.

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As Louise gets closer to an amazing truth, her progress with the aliens is threatened by growing civilian panic, media pressures and volatile international relations.

Like previous Villeneuve works, Arrival unravels in unexpected – but immensely gratifying -fashion. The director has already shown he can handle twists with the endings of Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), but the first viewing of this film exceeds those efforts. It is truly an awe-inspiring experience. The story then takes a different shape– still equally as moving – upon second viewing, similar to Fight Club (1999), Memento (2000) or The Usual Suspects (1995).

 Arrival also bucks trends in its visual style. A far cry from the bright popping colours of Moonlight and La La Land, cinematographer Bradford Young instead focuses on the mundane.

The Montana site (where much of the film is set) is constantly shrouded in heavy cloud, a pathetic fallacy for the uncertainty that lingers over the planet. These muted colours pervade most of the film and brilliantly accentuate the scarcely used warmer colours when they arrive at pivitol moments.

Likewise, Young discards the frantic camera style we expect from these types of films in favour of a slow and still approach. It allows for stunningly photographic shots, especially those which underline Adams’ radiant performance. The camera can’t help but close in on her big luminous blue eyes – a captivating gateway into her character.

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The failure to recognise Adams’ performance at the last month’s Oscars remains bewildering.

Even still,  Arrival only acts to solidify Villeneuve’s reputation as one of the best non-American filmmakers in Hollywood. After proving he could master sci-fi, the French Canadian director was given the daunting task of reviving Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). There should be excitement rather than apprehension surrounding this reboot.

In Arrival, Villeneuve gave us a glorious film that celebrates language, life and the human spirit – something we should all cherish.

Read more:

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The Love Witch Review

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Thank you for reading. Please like, comment and share

 

The Arrival – 5/5

Dir: Denis Villeneuve

Scr: Eric Heisserer, based on story “Story of your Life” by Ted Chiang

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Music: Johann Johannsson

DOP: Bradford Young

Year: 2016

Runtime:1hr 58

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast (Film Review)

1 STAR

DISNEY’S stellar run continues with their finest live action remake to date.

Emma Watson takes the lead role as Belle, a beautiful and dignified bookworm who finds herself branded ‘funny’ by the village locals. One day Belle’s father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), goes missing and the hunt to find him leads her to a mysterious and decrepit castle hidden deep in the woods.

When Belle ventures inside, she is horrified to discover Maurice has been imprisoned by a hostile Beast (Dan Stevens) – formerly a dashing socialite prince whose vanity and conceit brought this physical curse upon him. In an act of selflessness, Belle trades places with her elderly father and vows to escape the Beast’s clutches.

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As she starts to discover there is more to the beast and the castle he inhabits, Maurice races back home to seek help from the villagers. In desperation, he enlists the help of narcissistic former solider Gaston (Luke Evans) – whose obsession with Belle has more to do with a ballooning ego – and his blindly loyal sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad).

Of course, most of us are aware of what follows before we purchase a ticket. But the beauty of these live action remakes is that they bring a renewed sense of purpose to these beloved stories. We obviously don’t want our childhood attachment to the 1991 animated version to be spoiled. Yet we must accept that even the tale as old as time needs to be reframed and modernised for younger generations.

Luckily, director Bill Condon captures the Disney fairy tale spirit in way that should enchant young, old and in-between.

That begins with Watson’s well-measured performance which thrives on its gentle simplicity and also sets the tone for a cast of endearing displays. No more so than McGregor’s voicing of Lumiere, the charismatic candle that brings a glowing energy to the magical castle.

His chemistry with McKellen (Cogsworth) is a highlight alongside the film’s other dynamic duo: Evans and Gad.

Much has been made of the sexual orientation of Gad’s character but it all feels secondary to their thoroughly entertaining scenes together. They deliver the film’s biggest laughs while keeping their child-friendly menace intact. Together Gad and Evans make for perfect Disney baddies.

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With slightly distracting CGI to overcome, Stevens’ does a fine job conveying the Beast’s conflict of bitter frustration and uneasy optimism.

The songs retain that classic Disney charm and are paired with dazzlingly designed visuals, some of which pay homage to The Sound of Music (1965) and Busby Berkeley among others.

Unfortunately, a frustrating misstep comes in the ballroom scene, made iconic by the innovative sweeping camera shots in the animated film, which suffers from an ill-advised and contrived cocky accent from Emma Thompson (Mrs Potts).

But it is merely a small thorn in this rose of a film. One that marks an improvement on last year’s Jungle Book and bodes well for the plethora of Disney live action remakes in the works.

So be my guest. Put this complimentary review to the test. Go and treat yourself to Beauty and the Beast.

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Beauty and the Beast – 3/5

Dir: Bill Condon 

Scr: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

DOP: Tobias A Schliessler

Music: Alan Menken

Year: 2017

Runtime: 1hr 50

 

The Love Witch (Film Review)

5 STARS

ANNA Biller’s follow up to her debut feature Viva (2007) is a deeply artistic study of female psychology, shot in spellbinding 35mm.

The film focuses on Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a devastatingly beautiful witch who enjoys making ‘love potions’. It starts with her driving to a small California town to start life afresh following the suspect death of her ex-husband.

When Elaine arrives, she is invited out to a stylish Victorian Tea Room by her friend Trish (Laura Waddell) – a dazzling introduction to the multi-talented Biller’s tremendous flair for set and costume design that shines through in this ode to 60’s and 70’s Technicolor.

As a harpist serenely plucks, the two discuss their differing outlooks on relationships with men and uncover many of the feminine traumas that are probed throughout the film. ‘You sound as if you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy,’ is career-driven Trish’s response to Elaine’s deadpan claim that she aims to fulfil men’s sexual desires with the hope of unlocking their ‘love potential’.

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For all of her talk about love, we soon find out that Elaine has an unnervingly methodical – and deadly – approach to her encounters with men. It is reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson in 2013’s Under the Skin, as these hapless men fall prey to the witch’s enchanting sexuality – as well as a wicked dose of her hallucinogen-filled potions.

Despite the casualties, Elaine remains resolute in her quest to find a strong man who can give her the unwavering love that she desires, without crumbling into a feeble mess. When police officer Griff (Gian Keys) comes to her door asking tough questions about one of her missing victims, Elaine believes she has finally found the man to satisfy her needs.

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The Love Witch is a work of tonal genius by Biller. The auteur strikes an absorbing balance that finds room for bizarre occult rituals, blubbering men and period jokes, while continuing to pose powerful intellectual inquiries into feminine constructs.

This is certainly a film that will benefit from the multiple viewings and close readings that its inevitable cult status will bring.

If anything, Robinson’s bewitching retro acting alone is worth a second viewing. The British-born actress leads the way in an impressive cast that skillfully gives voice to Biller’s cutting satire.

I dare you to take a sip of Biller’s cinematic potion. You will undoubtedly fall head over heels for The Love Witch.

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The Love Witch – 4/5

Dir: Anna Biller

Scr: Anna Biller

Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Robert Seeley, Stephen Wozniak

DOP: M David Mullen

Music: Anna Biller

Year: 2016

Runtime: 2hr