Archive for Films


Film Review – 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen has revealed himself to be one of the most exciting directors working in new cinema at the moment. His 2008 breakthrough film, Hunger – the tale of Bobby Sands, the Northern Irish hunger striker – was a brooding exploration of self harm in the face of personal belief.

Shame then followed, an intimate descent into sexual addiction. Fassbender again starred, portraying its afflicted protagonist, a man struggling to cope with the coldness of modern life complete with flashes of unapologetic deviance and sexual boredom.

This time McQueen ups the word count for his third film, 12 Years a Slave, a sprawling tale of despair amid one of the darkest periods of humanity. The superb cast effortlessly portray a period where people weren’t people, they were property owned by morally ambiguous men who were part of a system that was natural to them.

Enough has been written about the film’s historical context and slavery’s horrors. McQueen has little to do with the violence on screen; its cinematic expression is lent from fact thanks to the film’s true story basing.

There are two stand-out scenes that demonstrate what men were capable of amid the frenzied heat of the Southern United States. McQueen once again frames his poignant messages with permanence. Uncomfortably long, refusing to grant the audience’s desire for respite, he replicates the cinematic excellence demonstrated in Hunger, famous for its 20 minute face-to-face discussion that sticks to a single cut and perspective.

12 Years A Slave is ultimately about willpower. Man vs. Man. Solomon in chains is as intense as the learned gentleman of Saratoga, NY pre-kidnapping. Fassbender is the evil centre point, choosing to portray vileness and pragmatic romantic confusion through a masterclass of acting. There are so many strong performances it would take an age to discuss their nuances and strength.

More worthy of praise is the film’s cinematography, a shooting that ranks among the best in recent Hollywood years (if you can place 12 Years A Slave in that category). Southern Georgia is as an important character as the human cast. Relentlessly controlling, swamps contrast with sprawling cotton fields as humidity hugs tight to the skin of those stuck inhabiting this harsh land. Beauty contrasts with the screams of terror. Sorrow seems to rise directly out of the everglades. Blood is the fertiliser of capitalism.

In such a strong Oscar season, 12 Years A Slave sits proudly above the rest. Any happiness is fleeting, rightfully barely touched upon. This is not a happy ending. Tears cannot heal the deep running physical and mental scars of a man held captive in utter moral desolation. One of the most important pieces of works in years, it cannot be missed.

Film Review – Ill Manors

My new year’s resolution is to write more. More travel, film, literature and if possible, musings on life. I begin with a return to my biggest passion, cinema and Plan B’s London-a-crumbling drama, Ill Manors.

As a born and bred Londoner, I’ve been witness to its brilliance, beauty, horrors and incredible social divide. Beneath the 2012 Olympics sheen is a city still struggling to free itself from severe integration issues, crime concerns, youth indifference and a unified cycle of violence and poverty.

Ben Drew (rapper Plan B’s real time) is no stranger to these societal concerns and neither is his film, a sprawling yet intimate look at the despair littering the Capital’s streets thanks to broken homes, drug abuse, gang culture and an abandoned generation that has nowhere to turn.

The picture painted on screen is relevant, shocking and deeply moving in parts. It’s unflinching in its depiction of everything deemed wrong by society, but it is unapologetic. It’s merely people getting by the only way they know how, often with tragic results to its characters and those around them.

Its score – written by Drew – is particularly apt at capturing the fact that this is nothing new and nor will it end any time soon. This is London’s underbelly and like the sparkling City skyscrapers, bustling West End and leafy suburbs, it is a side that will always be there.

It’s London, innit.

 

On The Road Is An Excellent Adaptation

It works. Any film that adapts Jack Kerouac’s novel is always going to prove a difficult endeavour. It’s a winding tale of freedom, drink, drugs and blended sexuality which when put to film, risks losing the essence it commands. By packaging freedom on screen, you risk missing the book’s message, but as a factual realisation goes, it’s close to what it needs to be.

Full of strong performances and sweeping vistas, the film bounces around America with raw energy. Racing through the states, high on pot, life and promiscuous behaviour, its director has at least bottled some of the Beat spirit.

It was always going to be a troublesome film. Society is supposedly free from archaic traditionalism, but in some ways it’s as conservative as it’s ever been. The film isn’t for the faint hearted – sexuality is presented in its clearest form – a humanist love, male or female. Recreational drug use seems romantic, creative and right. Whether it’s bombing along at suicidal speeds in a stolen car or pilfering gas, breaking the law is merely a way to make it further down the road.

Amid the Proust, jazz, Benzedrine, orgies and sheer, unadulterated freedom, On The Road presents both sides of Post-War America – the era’s romanticism and also the Beat Generation’s destiny to fail as a cultural ethos.

Fans will be proud of the cinematography, scoring, acting and flittering narrative that cuts across America with exhaustive indifference. Travel and nomadic wandering is a way of life, not a six month break.

You either have it in your blood or you see a different film. Kerouac, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (the true heroes) realised this before On The Road became the manifesto it was set to be.

On The Road is better reviewed not as a film, but more a way of life captured on screen. This is undeniably achieved in a clear, enthralling manner.

Infectious, wind-in-your-hair indifference to the world’s problems is the message here. When the road calls you it’s impossible to ignore. As Moriarty shows, boredom is the biggest devil here and while his end is lonesome sadness, like all those who pushed the counterculture existence, it’s more about the journey and the thrill that comes with it than the destination.

Dig it, from start to finish.

 

Why The Imposter Is An Amazing Documentary

Merely recommending you see The Imposter isn’t enough praise.

There are so many ways The Imposter’s director, Bart Layton, could have approached the true (it definitely is) story. However, by setting it in the mould of a thriller drama you end up forgetting you’re watching actual real people recounting historical life events.

Obviously the source material’s peculiarity, surrealism and downright ludicrous qualities means it’s not difficult to get wrapped up in everything as we’re led deeper down the rabbit hole. In fact, The Imposter is so unbelievable that you’ll end up questioning whether it’s all one big joke or a social experiment like ‘is-it-real’ social media drama-mentary, Catfish.

To summarise and to avoid spoilers, Layton’s filmmaking recounts the story of tragic missing child, Nicholas Barclay, in San Antonio, Texas. Three years later he’s supposedly resurfaced in Spain. Except he hasn’t. The long-lost son is in fact a French adult who ends up convincing the Spanish authorities, boy’s family and ultimately, the FBI, he is Nicholas.

Imposing Views

It is, of course, utterly crazy and you’ll often question how so many people could be duped by a 23 year old posing as a 16 year old who looks nothing like his intended subject.

Obviously losing a child is arguably the most tragic thing to happen to a family, but as fake-Nicholas is interviewed, it isn’t that surprising considering the grief involved that he got so far. It’s also delightful to see his motives and recounting of his journey, even if a bit sinister.

What follows is a winding adventure from every perspective, interjected with subtle reproduction that leaves you guessing who’s telling the truth thanks to a constant deluge of curve balls. Just when you think you’ve cracked the mystery, something new comes up and leaves you guessing all over again.

To go into any more detail will ruin the documentary’s power; it’s better to just see it. Ultimately it reminds me of, and this is an odd comparison, Inside Job – the credit crunch exposé (another fantastic documentary). It’s like witnessing a car crash in slow motion.

Utterly essential cinema.

 

Listen to the Message in Detachment – A Film Review

As someone’s who rediscovered a love for reading, Detachment enters my life at an interesting point. Set in a vile school where crumbling standards leave an extremely sour taste, this isn’t a film that ends happily like other teacher-helps-troubled-children films. It’s a depressingly stark look at what parental detachment, teacher indifference and modern culture can do to the innocence of children as well as to those entrusted to lead kids to adulthood.

It paints an extremely dark picture, but one that arguably doesn’t surprise. I’ve long lamented the damage a solo diet of reality TV, screen communication and fame-chasing can do to people. I’m not calling for a return to 1950s style insulation or paper-stuck existence, but something is currently very broken in the western world.

Detachment’s job is to make us feel responsible, even if our own children have been raised to good standards. If you’ve never supported others, you join the risk that we could all end up spiralling towards the film’s broken vision. In fact, we are (as demonstrated by Waiting For Superman).

Nobody’s perfect and fighting daily pain is part of life, but indifference to others, especially children, is perhaps one of the biggest threats to our future coexistence.

Being someone who travels to work in London it’s deceptively easy to ignore everyone else. Earlier this year I decided I wouldn’t moan about rude people or join the masses. Even if no-one else changes, I will. People might be so self absorbed that they don’t even notice my politeness and goodwill, but at least I know I’m acting human and avoiding detachment. Hopefully it rubs off, but I can die a happy many knowing I’ve done my bit.

Attachment

The film echoes many of the arguments raised in A Road Less Travelled, a book I read in Madrid which looks at psychology, raising children, spiritual growth and how to truly love yourself / others.

In life your responsibility is to take responsibility of yourself. Everyone wants to blame someone else.

“It’s the government’s fault, it’s hers, his, theirs, the media, the papers, leftist government, right totalitarianism.”

This culture is a cycle of missed opportunity and in Detachment you should hopefully come away with one lesson. No matter how bad life is there is someone worse and turning your back on them should never be acceptable. True courage is fighting for someone else, even if they throw everything back at you.

Detachment is a typical Adrien Brody showcase with some strong supporting talent. While some reviews have lamented its mixed presentation (here’s looking at you Empire), they’ve missed the point. No matter how self indulgent it might seen, this is messaged-based film making at its finest. Watch it.


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