Month: June 2017

Review: Blue Velvet

Reissued in cinemas thirty years after its initial release (1986), David Lynch’s controversial Blue Velvet remains intact in its scarring effect.

The film is packed with raw emotional scenes that construct the film’s status of a masterpiece. Despite being uneasy viewing, it demands to be watched. The trouble lies in Lynch’s apparent inability to successfully produce an appropriate setting for the intense violence of Blue Velvet.

Jeffrey’s (Kyle MacLachlan) boredom of life in Lumberton and natural inquisitiveness is the premise for what is to follow. On the way back from visiting his father in hospital one day, he finds a severed ear in a field. This leads him to the station, where he gives this lead to the local head of police, who upon their second meeting asks Jeffrey to cease all interest in the case. His previously eluded to prying nature causes these instructions to fall on deaf ears. Instead, he gets romantically involved with the police officer’s daughter, who helps him piece together this mystery that leads to Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), a nightclub singer.

He realises he has stumbled upon a much bigger mystery than he could have possibly imagined when he sneaks into Dorothy’s flat one night, having to hide in the cupboard as she comes home earlier than anticipated. Witnessing a terrifying phone call between Dorothy and a certain “Frank” (Dennis Hopper), he is discovered by her, her reaction being how one would imagine to an intruder. The shock beings to register within the viewer as one realises she is making their first encounter into a sadomasochistic one. It is upsetting that Lynch doesn’t explore this relationship more, focusing instead on his satire of suburban life.

diner scene

This early on, it is clear there are two different worlds in the movie. The first world Lynch introduces us to is the one in Lumberton, a run-of-the-mill suburban American town full of clichés that seems to be straight out of a 1950s sitcom. The second is the surreal story of emotional and psychological slavery of Dorothy, whose husband and child have been kidnapped by the perverted Frank, making her his sexual slave.

The twist here is the backward pleasure she finds within this situation and is probably one of the most disturbing, incredible things that Lynch portrays best in Blue Velvet, of which Rossellini’s acting has a lot to do with. Her mesmerising delivery almost doesn’t belong in this badly handled film, where the reality seems too sarcastic and takes away from the serious register the more violent scenes deserve. This is a recurring feeling throughout the film, as between the bland, monotone conversations of these small-town suburbanites, Lynch clumsily adds disturbing scenes where Rossellini is stripped, hit and humiliated.

A vibrant palette of colours make Blue Velvet a hypnotic experience. From the plush blue velvet background as the credits roll on screen to the idyllic red and yellow flowers and green gardens, it is a feast for the eyes. Equally, the soundscape Lynch perfects is quite powerful and penetrating. At the end of the film, you will find yourself very aware of your hearing. The soundtrack alone is something out of a dream, including of course Bobby Vinton’s ‘Blue Velvet’ and Roy Orbison’s ‘Dreams’. Similar to another surreal film of Lynch’s, Mulholland Drive, the use of one of Orbison’s hit songs is used in the form of an actor flawlessly miming the lyrics in a performative way.

Blue Velvet has most certainly aged, already seeming old-fashioned in its initial year of release, but it has aged well. The performances are superb, and the soundtrack and cinematography are well worth the experience of seeing it on the big screen.

blue velvet

Advertisements

Review: The Red Turtle

Studio Ghibli’s comeback centers around a stranded young man who’s only company is a domesticated group of crabs, battling with solitude, surrealism and finding serenity in his reality. Shipwrecked, the initial part of the movie follows the young man day and night as he comes to terms with what has happened to him. Determined to leave the island, he builds a sturdy raft made from bamboo (a major fixture in the landscape of the island), yet at every attempt to sail away, a mysterious marine being destroys his makeshift vessel. The tension builds and builds, coming to head when the man encounters the titular Red Turtle on the sand, turning it over on its shell to die in an act of warranted frustration. What happens next is the beginning of a mystical journey and is a fantastic piece of non-verbal story-telling.

The Red Turtle’s lack of a tangible plot will turn off certain viewers, as the story is more about the underlying meaning of the experience and journey than a neatly tied up ending. The story is not about him returning to civilisation, but more to do with his acceptance of the situation and his experiences on this fruitful island. The beauty in this wordless tale is most certainly the lucid-dreaming effect it produces on the viewer.

Avoiding over-saturation in all areas, the artwork is striking in its minimalism and refinement of details. Vivid colour palettes help contribute towards a fuller immersion into the magical realism of this story. To reinforce this, Dudok De Wit’s choice to emphasise the island’s isolation add to the viewer’s dreamlike state, which permits the more fantastical events that occur to be unquestioned.

Laurent Perez del Mar’s soundtrack seamlessly fills the space and need for dialogue, perfectly tailored to the emotional waves of the film. The music feels almost spiritual, again transporting us from any notion of this film being one-dimensional.

the red turtle.jpg

During the film, I frequently found myself associating the atmosphere and deeper existential journey with much of Haruki Murakami’s literature and the vivid pictures he creates. Both Murakami and The Red Turtle merged western and Asian themes, creating culturally rich stories. Similar elements to Murakami’s magical realism such as giving animals a human-like depth or making the surreal believable are present in The Red Turtle. The film’s effect reminded me that many readers of Murakami have stated the experience of reading his work is the closest they have come to lucid-dreaming.

As much as the film is enchanting, one can but wonder what the underlying meaning to this fable is. Our main character starts off utterly alone on the island, which I perceived as the man’s inability to forge social connections around him in society. The Red Turtle can be seen as another person before he makes the connection (or in other words a stranger). When the shell cracks, it is the beginning of the connection being made. He then finds life more bearable and stops trying to leave.

The non-existence of dialogue or narration and universal theme of Man’s basic need for companionship used together makes The Red Turtle a unique film that transcends boundaries of language, culture and age, all of whom can in one way or another identify with the story at hand.

It is inevitable that one will be left pondering the larger questions of life, such as what it means to be human, what makes Man desire social interaction contrasted to the need for solitude and the fragile balance of one’s reality. The major theme that contains all these sub-interrogations is the cycle of life: birth, death and re-birth. The Red Turtle is the acknowledgement of Nature’s way of always restoring balance in life, and how death is an integral part of that.

19400786_10209167938904056_495347128_o

 

Review: War Dogs

War Dogs is the tale of two high school friends that find a government loophole that allows them to bid on army contracts. They start off as bottom feeders and work their way up to be major players, eventually bidding on a contract to arm the entire Iraqi army. With a better director I feel this premise could have led to something great. Instead we have a film that is entertaining yes, but instantly forgettable nonetheless.

Whilst there is an array of issues within the film, the script stands out as the most blatant. Far too often the dialogue felt flat and wooden, with many of the gags missing their marks. The tone shifts so many times it seems that director Todd Phillips can’t decide on what type of film he wants to make. One moment it’s about two greedy friends out to stuff their pockets with as much of the American taxpayer’s money as possible and in the next moment it will try to persuade you that Teller’s character is only doing it to provide for his family.

feature1-3

This is without a doubt an incredibly messy film. Although Phillips does has a history of such films, this was generally purposeful and worked to benefit an overall enjoyment (The Hangover trilogy). He tries to follow in suit of comedy directors before him such as Adam McKay and reshape his career to work in the domain of serious pictures, but refuses to reshape his filmmaking style accordingly.

Phillips makes liberal use of other director’s trademarks, but opts to implement them bewilderingly poorly. For example the title cards with quotes lifted from the original Rolling Stone article are an astonishingly lazy form of foreboding, devoid of any creativity or individuality. With the exception of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, every song used was tacky and predictable. As if they doubted the audiences ability to connect the dots deciding instead to hold our hand, pointing out when the mood changes and we should perk up and pay attention.

What baffles me most though is that this is based on a true story, a remarkably interesting story with huge cinematic potential. One that a director with even the smallest glimmer of inspiration could turn into something respectable. Instead of keeping the real version of events as a base and building upon it, the writers chose to insert various elements that, I presume, were intended to satisfy the masses. The most excruciating of which was the inclusion of a romance subplot with Teller and Ana de Armas. Needless romance for the sake of ticking off a square in the bingo card of Hollywood filmmaking is something that I feel needs to stop.

0818wardogs03_hi.jpg

The only saving grace was found in Miles Teller and Jonah Hill’s acting. Despite the script challenges faced they managed to salvage a mildly entertaining film. Hill in particular produced a fantastic performance, his character feels off from the first introduction and this crescendos as he becomes more unhinged. At the climax it is revealed that the only true statement he makes is that Scarface wasn’t on TV. Had the rest of the film lived up to this same high standard the result would be far more gripping

All these problems aside, if you’re looking for casual film to switch off and enjoy then this is perfect. While there is nothing innovative or original, there is enough here to hold your concentration. It’s just a shame that yet another fascinating true story has been given sub-par Hollywood treatment.

Review: Interstellar

Good cinema will make you experience a wide range of emotions, and sometimes even managing to surpass that. One that makes you think, to contemplate the wider issues that are swept under the blanket. Is Earth our sole home? Are we destined to die here or will we spread to the stars? Questions that become increasingly important as time goes on, for how long till we face a similar situation?

For fans of sci-fi who are frustrated with the latest trend of action movies that are set in space, this is a breath of fresh air. You’ll find no unnecessary action here, no over the top ships, and no alien attacks for the sake of flexing those budget biceps. The plot is simple, Earth is slowly becoming inhabitable. Decades of overindulgence has led to worldwide famine and war. Those left are farmers with one in particular being Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot. As a nitrogen-hungry disease ravages crops and causes reduced oxygen levels a new threat arises. “The last people to starve will be the first to suffocate”

interstellar-04

In circumstances I won’t reveal, Cooper meets a now underground NASA and is convinced to lead a mission to another galaxy, to potentially habitable planets. This is not just an exploratory mission, it’s a search for survival, a planet that can sustain human life. The film boasts a massive $165 million budget and you can instantly see how that was put to use with the depiction of other planets being phenomenal. Where other films simply fly out to the Middle East to create their Mars-like alien world, Nolan does it right. For the portrayal of space alone I feel this film will be regarded as a classic in years to come. That is before you factor in the incredibly intricate and complex story, the great acting and use of sound. Everything has a purpose, seemingly irrelevant moments in the first act suddenly become vitally important as we follow the numerous twists thrown at us.

After talking to several friends about their opinions, there was only one recurring negative: that the first act was too slow and they found themselves losing concentration. While this may be true initially, after you let the film simmer in your mind you begin to, as I mentioned before, make connections. With a second viewing you’ll be blown away by the sheer amount of things that forebode about the future, in ways you can’t possibly predict first time around. The Nolan brothers did a fantastic job and I feel they deserved more praise in the writing department.

interstellar-15-early-reviews-interstellar-is-epic-but-far-from-perfect

Something that surprised me, especially considering the fact that this was a blockbuster release, was the amount of times it brought a tear to my eye. Not just that but the variety of ways it was achieved. Emotion isn’t understated in order to pander to a wider audience, the movie is without a doubt emotionally exhaustive and when the credits hit the screen there will be a long silence before you finally speak.

When the 2014 Academy Award Nominations were revealed I was shocked that the acting was not recognised. Jessica Chastain as the grown up Murphy was sensational, a level above any over performance that year. Mackenzie Foy, who played the young Murphy, surpassed my expectations and then some garnering well deserved praise. The performance has been recognised by studios as well with her receiving a leading role in an upcoming adaptation of The Nutcracker also featuring Kiera Knightley, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren.

Once again Nolan teamed up with film composer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer and the result is magnificent. Straying away from his traditional orchestral soundtrack, he opts for a more stripped back sound using a piano, organ and synth to create a dream-like atmosphere. A decision that complements the plot and visuals perfectly.

Going into the cinema I hoped that silence would be used to emphasise the scale of Cooper’s mission and the universe itself and I was not disappointed. The most immersive moments incorporated silence in a major way with the most notable being the initial separation of the ship upon launch. It was here than I learned what the phrase ‘deafening silence’ means. Another example was when Dr Mann (played by a surprisingly unbilled actor) opens the airlock as he is mid sentence of a grand speech. A gasp was heard throughout the cinema and while the event itself was inevitable, the delivery was sublime. The soundtrack crescendos to thunderous levels and then, nothing. A case study in immersion through sound.

Behind-the-Scenes-of-Interstellar-Making-Zero-G.png

When it comes to modern sci-fi films (e.g. The Martian and Passengers), the ships and their interiors are fantastically futuristic, an illustration of where we want our state of space travel to be. Interstellar on the other hand goes down a different path. Since the famine and the wars that follow, NASA has been forced underground. No one would, in their right mind, fund space travel in a time where the only surviving crop is corn. As a result the technology is dated, reminiscent of the golden age of NASA. A time where man dared to do more than just dream of leaving this planet. This golden age is reflected in the colour palette used for the entire film after the first act, full of warm oranges and reds.

Nolan should be heralded for more than just his cinematic achievement though with his picture. In preparation for the wormhole and black hole scenes, the visual effects team worked in unison with physicist Kip Thorne to create state-of-the-art simulations in real time, IMAX quality. The result is truly extraordinary. Those who went to the cinema to see this received a science fiction experience unparalleled in modern times. If you ever have the opportunity to see a reshowing, do yourself a favour and go see it, you will not be disappointed.

Interstellar may not be Nolan’s best film in terms of critical acclaim and audience reception, but in decades to come I feel it will be the most well-remembered, alongside Inception. Beneath the hard sci-fi shell this is a relationship drama, one that Nolan can personally identify with. About how your career can take you away from family for great periods of time and the major moments in their lives are reduced to nothing more than brief glimpses of another world.

2820

Review: I Am Not Your Negro

When James Baldwin died in 1987, he left behind not only some of America’s finest literature and frustratingly, an unfinished novel whose working title was intended to be ‘Remember This House’. which consisted of A mere collection of notes, documents and a manuscript. Director Raoul Peck took on the heavy task to pick up the pieces of Baldwin’s final literary effort.

What Peck understood from these writings was the essence of Baldwin’s philosophy—his lifelong demand to be his own man in a society that makes him experience his life through his skin colour. The way he sees it, the African-American has always been the White Man’s slave, and now slavery is abolished, subconsciously does not want break down the mental barrier that is the construct of “whiteness” and “blackness”.

At its core, ‘Remember This House’ was a personal insight into the lives of three great men deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in America: Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Each bringing three very different ideologies and approaches to the struggle for civil rights, they were predictably all murdered before the age of forty. In a rare appearance on television, Baldwin encapsulated very neatly white America’s most ingrained double-standard: “If any white man in the world says, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds,” Baldwin accurately states. “When a black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be any more like him.”

white supremacists

Peck attempts to explore the problematic position Baldwin caught up in amidst the Civil Rights movement, and almost succeeds. The film loses in dramatic effect as Peck draws links between Baldwin’s take on the Civil Rights movement of the sixties and race relations in America today. The emphasis is intended to show how these issues are all very much still relevant today. For me, Peck over-relies on Samuel L. Jackson’s mainstream appeal to narrate in order to captivate the viewer’s interest, and in addition to this has resort to small fragments of contemporary footage which results in a collage of vague notions and angles on the subject of race.

It is important to realise that not being on either side of the civil rights’ spectrum, he was not quite as popular as more extreme icons such as Malcom X or Martin Luther King. In the late fifties and early sixties especially, the mainstream movement struggled to identify with Baldwin’s words, due to the complexity of his arguments or his homosexuality. This included the likes of Martin Luther King, banning the “inflammatory” James Baldwin from appearing in the 1963 March in Washington, along with Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver who made numerous homophobic comments regarding Baldwin.

Many of Baldwin’s fears and uncertainties about the “negro’s” future in America run parallel with those of Ta-Nehisi Coates, which he has expressed in his recent letter to his son, “Between the World and Me” (2015). The letter’s central theme is America’s systematic destruction of the black body and its key place in the building of America’s economy. Baldwin stresses how these three influential men, seen as a threat to the social hierarchy of the White supremacist, were all killed and “destroyed” before they could fulfill their true potential.

“I Am Not Your Negro” is an essential piece of documentation and a commendable effort at carrying out the assessment of the African-American’s place in a society that built itself on slavery and a denial of civil rights. The documentary shows that it is the change in mental approach to race relations that needs to be achieved, and we are still a long way from attaining this as the recent “Black Lives Matter” movement has shown.

james baldwin

HOME Spotlight: Rose

11117831_806877179407791_1047848895505030855_nAs new members of the HOME volunteer team in Manchester, James and myself were lucky enough to see Dame Janet Suzman’s latest and most wonderful performance of Rose, written by Martin Sherman and directed by Richard Beecham.

An eighty-year-old Rose sits alone in what could be referred to as a ‘memory space’, dressed head to toe in black as she recounts her tumultuous life that took place over the twentieth century. From a Jewish background, Rose grew up in a small Ukrainian shtetl (village), experiencing the horror of pogroms and famine. Adventurous, free-spirited and eager to escape the dreariness of her current life, she eventually seizes the chance to leave her shtetl, joining her brother and his wife in Warsaw.

Suddenly our Rose is a young woman in a vibrant, beautiful city, she eats cake in cafés and falls in love. Too soon these are but bittersweet memories, the religion she never believed in catching up with her and somehow have made her a target of Hitler’s Nazis and the terrible Warsaw Ghetto. The Rose that stands before us remembers everything, as much as she tries to repress it.

34743143712_f217ea2022_b

When the war finally ends, like many others in her situation, the promise of Palestine is on her lips. “Exodus 1947” her boat from France reads, and the Americans sailing them self-proclaim themselves as their saviours. One of them is a young man from New Jersey, and falls in love with Rose. His last name just so happens to be ‘Rose’, and turns out to be her ticket to freedom, or to America.

She describes New Jersey in the fifties and the description coupled with the minimal atmospheric use of lights takes us there. There are so many Jewish people Rose tells us, all with a slight look of guilt in their demeanour. No one wants to hear about what went on in the ghettos and extermination camps in Europe, not yet.

Rose begins to live what you could call the American Dream. She works hard and starts a family, builds up her reputation in the hotel industry as the very singular ‘Rose Rose’. She tells us of her experiences of life in America, seemingly miles away from the trauma she so recently went through.

11754511_866069956821846_975660300607856795_o

For the two hours of the show, Suzman’s performance and storytelling gift had me utterly wrapped up in Rose’s world and emotions.

Now onto James’ thoughts:

Before we took our seats I was worried that I would not enjoy it. Having never been to a single performer show it was a completely new experience for me. However everybody I spoke to about Rose said it was fantastic and I have to say I agree with them entirely.

Dame Suzman immediately filled the stage with her presence, extinguishing all the worries that I had. The set was incredibly minimal, (first one, then many benches) but had a profound meaning that became clear as she explained her life story. Rose has cemented itself as one of the best theatre shows I have seen and I simply cannot recommend it enough!

Review: Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses is really not a good movie. At best it’s passable but even then that is perhaps too kind. If you are looking for a good movie then look away. However if you’re looking for a recycled comedy with bland characters and tasteless humour then congratulations, because you have come to the right place.

The plot is simple, maybe too simple to justify a feature length film. Three best friends (played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) enjoy their jobs except for one major problem, their bosses. Each, played by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell respectively, make their individual lives so unbearable that they decide the ONLY way to be happy is to murder them. These white collar workers obviously have no idea how to go about this and seek help from a ‘professional’ (Jamie Foxx).

Now there are issues that can be gleaned straight of the bat from the synopsis alone without actually watching the film. For example the only black actor in the leading seven is playing the role of an ex-con. Obviously anything else would be a stretch of the imagination and not one the producers thought the audience could manage. It must be said though that there are two other black characters in the film in the roles of police officers. You know, because having double of those makes up for it, right? With Charlie Day in the cast as well you are sure to get lots of weak sexual and generally vulgar gags masked as ‘funny’ by his constant shouting.

Having six (seven if you count Jamie Foxx) main characters makes it difficult to explore any in real depth. We find out the odd detail like Day’s character being engaged but for the most part we know nothing about them. If the writers don’t care enough about them to add any backstory then how am I supposed to care about their troubles.

hero_EB20110706REVIEWS110709993AR

The ‘villains’ of the film feel like nothing more than exagerrated stock characters. Kevin Spacey plays the overused role of a pretentious office manager, but taken so far that it is almost like a pantomime. Jennifer Aniston is nothing more than eye candy in her nymphomaniacal role and Colin Farrell is just a homophobic cokehead. All three are great actors who are not utilised in any way, shape or form which was incredibly disappointing.

The worst aspect of the film though is without a doubt the humour. It attempts to follow the success of crude films like ‘The Hangover’ but fails dramatically through the severe over-reliance on crass sex jokes. It’s like the writers threw a bunch of sexual, homophobic, racist and drug related gags in without any real aims whatsoever hoping some would receive cheap laughs.

The only feeling I have towards this film is sympathy. Sympathy to the actors who did their best with an empty plot and weak script. Sympathy for the audience who hoped for a good movie, and sympathy to the people who get dragged along to the sequel.