Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Top 25 Films of 2014: Part One

With 2014 drawing to a close it's time for me to compile my favourite films of the year. Instead of my usual 20 I've had to opt for 25 as there was just far too many I couldn't leave out of my list. If you think I have missed something off then let me know as I am always open to new suggestions.

25. The Congress


Robin Wright delivers a career-defining performance in this mind-bending tale of an actress who is convinced to sell her virtual identity, with her humbling decision to play herself adding gravitas to the emotional core of the film. Director Ari Folman also made a bold yet unconventional decision when he chose to animate the second half of his film. The Congress doesn't quite reach the brilliance of his previous animated effort Waltz With Bashir but still comes pretty damn close.



24. Edge of Tomorrow



I thought the last thing the world needed was an explosive take on Groundhog Day starring Tom Cruise as he tries to save the earth from marauding aliens but it turned out to be exactly what we needed. This intelligent and exciting science-fiction film was all kinds of fun, with its cerebral action proving far more engaging than the endless onslaught of Liam Neeson helmed action films.



23. Nightcrawler


This character-driven piece showcases Jake Gyllenhall at his finest, with his incredible turn as a manipulative crime-scene journalist being a million miles apart from the vacant stare that fuelled Donnie Darko. Worth seeing for Gyllenhall's performance alone, Dan Gilroy's directorial debut is a vicious black comedy that will leave you feeling both violated and awestruck.



22. The Double


Richard Ayoade's follow-up to his much lauded debut Submarine demonstrates a passion for film-making that is drenched in references to some of his favourite directors; Polanski, Hitchcock and Gilliam. The work of all three is a solid foundation for his adaptation of a Dostoevsky novel that sees Jesse Eisenberg confronted with a man who is identical in appearance but has a much better grasp of social situations, and explores the turmoil this encounter has on both of their lives.



21. L.F.O.


This imaginative Swedish science-fiction film was a surprise favourite of mine during this year's Grimmfest, with its thought-provoking and very funny script offering a welcome respite to a weekend that was mainly focused on horror. When a sound technician stumbles upon a frequency that can hypnotise the listener he begins to experiment on his neighbours with little care for their well-being. Imagine the humour and heart of Robot & Frank mixed with the low-budget inventiveness of Primer and you won't be far from this year's most under-rated film.



20. Guardians of the Galaxy


Just when Marvel films are beginning to feel tired and predictable they blow all expectations out of the water with Guardians of the Galaxy; a space opera that captured the imagination of children (big and small) everywhere this summer. I am Groot.



19. Calvary


Brendan Gleeson is a priest with a past in this dark Irish drama that delves into the troubles of a close-knit community when an unknown person announces his intentions to kill the priest in three days time during a confessional. The stunning Irish setting is used to great effect as this gripping tale of redemption gradually reaches its unforgettable conclusion.


18. The Grand Budapest Hotel


Wes Anderson's latest provides us with more whimsical yet wonderful characters and a colour palette and set design so precise it feels like he must have tinkered with them on many long and lonely nights. His artistry is second only to his storytelling, with Anderson's nostalgic view of life at a now derelict hotel in the mountains providing audiences with thrills, laughs, and potential heartbreak, when his cast of regulars regale yet another kooky but fascinating tale.


17. The Railway Man


This harrowing true account of an officer who was mistreated in a labour camp during WWII, who sets outs to confront his assailant upon discovering he is still alive years later, is a difficult but rewarding watch. Colin Firth stars as the former British army officer who decides to face the demons from his past as the only solution to move on with his future.


16. The Golden Dream


Treading similar ground to 2009's hard-hitting portrayal of life for South American emigrants heading to the USA, Sin Nombre, The Golden Dream is a similarly stark but more realistic drama based upon the real life experiences of numerous emigrants who were interviewed for the project. I was lucky enough to attend a Q & A session with the director and his heartbreaking film certainly captures the passion he feels for a situation that harbours danger in many guises for the people who are forced to tackle the perilous journey to the USA to reach their ultimate goal of a better life.


Part two of my countdown can be found here

Top 25 Films of 2014: Part Two

Following on from my previous post counting down from numbers 25-16 which can be found here, these are my next ten favourite films of 2014:

15. The Guest


Dan Stephens stars as an army veteran who visits the family of a fallen comrade but when a series of accidental deaths surround his arrival, they begin to question his true identity. One of the most intense and exciting thrillers of the year, The Guest has all the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making, with its synth-driven 80's soundtrack being my most played album of the year.



14. '71


Starring in two of the films in my list, Jack O'Connell has made the leap to the big time this year, and his performance in '71 demonstrates just how far he has come since his breakout roles in Eden Lake and Skins. As a British soldier accidentally left behind in Belfast during a riot, Hook is forced to make his way back to safety in this unrelenting chase thriller. From the shocking moment Hook is separated from his unit to the gripping finale, '71 will inevitably leave your pulse racing and your heart pounding.


13. Interstellar


Christopher Nolan's space odyssey combines awe-inspiring spectacle with powerful human drama to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. To read more about its influences and the evolution of space exploration in film, have a look at this feature I put together for Showfilmfirst: http://www.showfilmfirst.com/journey-space/



12. Coherence


Favouring cerebral Science-fiction over spectacle, this is a satisfying exploration of parallel universes that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Coherence may leave you scratching your head far more than the events in Interstellar but rewards repeat viewings as the pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fit together. Low-budget but thought-provoking science-fiction is rarely done this well, and the sinister turns that affect a seemingly innocuous gathering are both inventive and wholly convincing thanks to the engaging cast.


11. Gone Girl


That one of David Fincher's finest hours doesn't quite make my top ten shows just how strong a year 2014 has been, with Trent Reznor's intense soundtrack providing the perfect backdrop to this exceptionally well-made graphic thriller about a man who is accused for the disappearance of his wife. Cold and clinical throughout, Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's successful novel is a tour de force for Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike who play the accused husband and missing wife but for me it is Neil Patrick Harris who steals the show as an obsessive former lover of Nick Dunne's missing wife.



10. Boyhood


Richard Linklater's incredible project was filmed over a period of 12 years, allowing the audience to witness the growth of the young star at the helm (Ellar Coltrane) from a five year-old boy into a young man, encapsulating key moments in his adolescence. That Linklater worked these scenes into a compelling story just adds to the impact of his masterpiece, and those who grew up over the same period of time will undoubtedly feel kindred spirits to Coltrane's instantly likeable Mason. This is unmissable, life-affirming film-making.



9. X-Men: Days Of Future Past


When X-Men: The Last Stand nearly acted as the final nail in the mutant's coffin, it was down to Matthew Vaughan's reboot to save the franchise, and First Class did just that, as well as being the perfect springboard for director Bryan Singer's return to form with the epic Days of Future Past. Utilising time travel as the perfect tool to unite the cast from the original franchise along with the newcomers in First Class, Singer had the unenviable task of juggling dozens of characters but all feel fully realised in one of the best X-Men outings to date.



8. Starred Up


Once again Jack O'Connell delivers a blistering performance in this brutal prison drama alongside Ben Mendelsohn who shot to prominence after his appearance in Animal Kingdom. Playing a troubled youngster relocated from a juvenile prison and his inmate father that runs the wing he is moved to, O'Connell and Mendelsohn's volatile characters are utterly fascinating to watch as they jostle for supremacy against the guards, violent inmates and each other.



7. The Wolf of Wall Street


Fifteen years ago no-one would have dared to suggest that Scorsese would ever form a partnership as prolific as that of his and Robert De Niro, but his work with Leonardo DiCaprio is coming very close to matching it. The Wolf of Wall Street showcases just how well this partnership can work, with Scorsese's riotously funny adaptation of Jordan Belfort's true rise to success as a drug-addled stock-broker garnering five Oscar nominations including a nod for both leading actor and director.



6. What We Do In The Shadows


From the team behind The Flight Of The Conchords, What We Do In The Shadows is essentially This is Spinal Tap for vampires, and is one of the funniest mockumentaries I have ever seen. Its send up of the horror genre offers a hilarious insight into the lives of three New Zealand vampires who flat-share together, and their encounters with the local werewolves that inevitably lead to trouble. For more on the film, check out the feature I wrote for ShowFilmFirst:   http://www.showfilmfirst.com/vampire-vex/



Part three of my countdown can be found here

Top 25 Films of 2014: Part Three

Following on from my previous post couting down from numbers 15-6 which can be found here, these are my top five favourite films of 2014:


5. Pride



Tackling the true story of the 1980's miners strikes and the support offered to them by LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), this life-affirming drama is incredibly moving as well as being very funny. If you like Shane Meadow's films (and let's face it - who doesn't?) then I implore you to seek this out as it is a powerful and important film that encapsulates the era exceptionally well much like This is England. You can read my full review here: http://filmbantha.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/cinema-review-pride.html


4. The Past


Asghar Farhadi's superb follow-up to the 2012 Oscar winner for the Best foreign picture (A Separation) is another enthralling drama with an added poignancy that brings a surprising emotional heft to the story. When an Iranian man returns to Paris to finalise his divorce with his French ex-wife he begins to unravel a heinous act when he reconnects with his step-daughters. This is bold and beautiful storytelling from one of cinema's most accomplished directors, and although others may disagree, I believe that this is Farhadi's most masterful work to date.





3. The Raid 2



Following a film as game-changing as The Raid was bound to be an incredibly difficult feat but director Gareth Evans and actor Iko Uwais took the sequel in an entirely new direction whilst still providing its fans with the relentless action sequences they were craving. Expanding the story introduced in the original to create an epic crime saga meant that the action could be transported to a whole host of locations to include a phenomenal mud-drenched battle in a prison yard, a high-octane car chase and an unforgettable struggle in a nightclub. This is what cinema was created for; pure entertainment that left me completely speechless and, if the third part of the story continues to be as breathtakingly awesome, I cannot wait to see what Gareth Evans has in store for us.




2. Birdman



Michael Keaton bares all in this staggering black comedy as a washed up actor once famous for his role in Birdman who is trying to eke out a living as a Broadway actor, and the parallels to his own past as Tim Burton's Batman add gravitas to what is arguably a career-reviving performance. Keaton puts everything on the line, and his trust in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's direction pays dividends with his decision to use only long takes picking up on every nuance that Keaton packs into his character, as well as providing numerous breathtaking shots as the camera glides effortlessly around the stunning location on Broadway. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts are so perfect in their supporting roles that it constantly feels like you are watching the greatest show on earth unravel right before your eyes, but it is Keaton who steals the limelight, and as the weight of his past successes come crushing down it all feels so perversely satisfying. I've not left the cinema with a smile on my face that big for some time, and with the knowledge that I would have happily headed straight back through those doors to watch Birdman all over again, right there and then.




1. 12 Years A Slave



With his impressive debut Hunger and its equally as awe-inspiring follow up Shame, Steve McQueen was well on the way to becoming one of my favourite directors. His masterpiece, 12 Years A Slave, is a film that completely broke me, with Mcqueen ushering in a devastating tale about the plight of a free man (Solomon Northup) wrongly imprisoned and sold on as a slave. Such a harrowing tale will inevitably deter some viewers; its stark depiction of the violence and brutality experienced by slaves will test audiences to their limits but there is no denying that this is an important story that needed to be told. Chiwetel Ejiofor's unforgettable portrayal of Solomon Northup may just haunt your dreams forever, with his unwavering hope of freedom in the face of unimaginable adversity being an inspiration to all.


So if you agree/disagree with any of my choices or believe I have wrongly left any films off then let me know. For a full list of every new release I have seen in 2014 ranked in order from my favourite to least favourite then head over to my Letterboxd account here - http://letterboxd.com/filmbantha/list/2014-releases-ranked/

Friday, 12 September 2014

Cinema Review - Pride

Following in the footsteps of its closest contemporaries, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off, Pride tackles the miner's strikes of the 1980s from a unique perspective, focusing on a group of newly formed activists based in London (LGSM - Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners) who are keen to join forces with the miners - another minority group persecuted by the government - to fight their shared enemies in Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party. Told for the most part through the story arc of Joe, a young adult yet to come out to his family, we are gradually introduced to a colourful cast of characters from all walks of life when he ventures out into the gay community for the first time and becomes involved in the formation of LGSM.

Aiming to raise both awareness for the miners and money to provide for them during this difficult time, LGSM find it nigh on impossible to locate a group who would be willing to accept their support until a chance phone call sees them paired with a small village in the heart of Wales. At first they are greeted with near hostility from the miners, with their presence in the local community clearly being unwelcome despite the group's best intentions. Thankfully though, the liberal nature of a few key members of the village gradually brings about their acceptance, and it is not long before almost all of the villagers are backing the support of their generous and selfless guests, kick-starting a campaign that would eventually go on to change the lives of everyone involved.

A brilliant British cast including such acting luminaries as Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine (alongside a number of relative newcomers including the awe-inspiring Ben Schnetzer as the ring-leader of LGSM - Mike) give such irresistibly heartfelt performances that are likely to move even the most cynical of viewers. Empathising with their various predicaments comes naturally, and there are times when you will be fighting back the tears, particularly with a subplot about the outbreak of HIV+ that touches briefly on issues raised in the award-winning Dallas Buyers Club. It is refreshing to see that Pride doesn't skirt around these scenarios but balances them brilliantly with enough humour to counteract any impending heartbreak, with a number of scenes that are guaranteed to induce raucous laughter from the entire audience, just when the story has you on the verge of breaking into tears.

Whilst it is Joe (George MacKay) who offers an outsiders perspective for any audiences new to the history surrounding the miner's strikes, it is his mentor of sorts Mike who steals the show with his cocky but charismatic persona that inspires and charms in equal measures. Schnetzer's assured performance will undoubtedly thrust him into the spotlight, and could very well earn him a number of accolades come awards season, with MacKay's understated rendition acting as the perfect juxtaposition to the more flamboyant amongst the cast. These captivating performances add gravitas to the miners putting aside their initial prejudices; with such a passionate young group of people willing to put themselves on the line for complete strangers, it is easy to see why they succumb to the offer to forge a new friendship.

Director Matthew Warchus doesn't just tell an incredible true story but regales it with such overwhelming passion for the era that those who were there at the time will instantly be transported back to the unforgiving years of Thatcher's rule, which is certainly helped by the inclusion of a stirring punk rock soundtrack that embodies the circumstances prevalent at the time. This attention to detail and impressive authenticity will enable even those born after the 1980's to feel like they are part of the struggle, united by the vibrant energy of youth, and having the power to change the world for the better.

As hard hitting as This is England but more restrained in its depiction of prejudice against minority groups, Pride doesn't shy away from the difficult issues but demonstrates them in such a way as to not alienate viewers of a more sensitive nature. That Pride is a true story just adds to the poignancy of its exceptionally well-written screenplay, with certain emotional notes possessing a resonance rarely seen on the big screen, and it is a credit to both writer (Stephen Beresford) and director (Matthew Warchus) who manage to deliver a film that is likely to completely surpass all expectations.

Stirring, inspirational and ultimately life-affirming, Pride certainly deserves all of the praise that is being heaped upon it as it is, without a doubt, a firm contender for the best British film of the year. The only downside is that with a runtime of two hours it isn't long enough - that's right, I just didn't want such a wonderful film to end.



If you like this you will enjoy these:

Billy Elliot
The Full Monty
Milk
This is England



Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blu-Ray Review - La Gloire De Mon Pere & Le Chateau De Ma Mere Box Set

As a huge fan of Jean de Florette and Manon Des Sources, the epic French dramas that span generations in a heartbreaking tale of love, loss and family feuds, I could not wait to indulge myself in a set of films based on the memoirs of Marcel Pagnol, who wrote the aforementioned works of fiction. Much akin to the narration in Stand by Me, we are introduced to Marcel's childhood through his older self who looks back on his youth with a fondness and wit that fails to mask his desire to be back in the place and time he was happiest.

Marcel's parents are portrayed as loving individuals who are dedicated to family life and providing for their children whilst remaining respectable pillars of the community thanks to his father's work at the local school. It is not long before Marcel is joined by younger siblings and the main focus of his memories is the time they spend at his favourite location, a country house in the nearby hills which they share as a holiday home with his aunt's family. It is here that Marcel encounters new friends, begins to develop an affinity with nature and comes to question if his father really is as all-seeing as he once appeared to be, and it is a magical reminder of how blissful life as a child really was.

This is a set of films that will appeal to all ages; children will relish the sense of adventure that hangs over Marcel's exploration of the French countryside and adults will laugh at the wonderful innocence of children as it rekindles forgotten memories of their youth. It is hard to pinpoint the better of the two films as they are both exceptionally well made and very similar in tone and style, although Marcel's first encounter with a young girl in Le Chateau De Ma Mere that leaves him deeply infatuated is a personal highlight.

The French countryside has never looked so appealing, as this Blu-ray transfer highlights the lush rolling hills and the stunning vistas with an awe-inspiring clarity, and is easily enough to make viewers forgive the grain which remains in some of the internal shots. Combined with the sweeping classical music that accompanies the more poignant scenes, this makes for a very moving and involving set of films that are guaranteed to remain with you long after the first viewing and will draw you back for repeat viewings time and time again.

Both discs feature extensive documentaries which detail the making of these French classics alongside interviews with cast and crew that expand on the wonderful tale of Marcel Pagnol's youth. It would have been nice to see the Blu-rays crammed with more features such as trailers or commentaries given the space available but you really cannot complain about the lavish treatment that has been applied to this Box set.

A pair of classic films, a wonderfully put together boxset and almost four hours of cinematic bliss mean that this is an essential purchase. As we are nearing winter, I cannot think of a better way to spend a day than curled up in your duvet and escaping into the mind of Marcel Pagnol to experience the nostalgia and joy that goes hand in hand with these unmissable pictures.

Bottom Line - Drenched in nostalgia and memories of bygone days, both films in this boxset are capable of transporting you back to the happiest memories of your childhood and come highly recommended - 9/10



Positives - One of the most charming and magical portrayals of childhood I have ever seen
Negatives - There are only two films, I would have happily watched more!

If you like this you will enjoy these:

Jean de Florette
Manon Des Sources
My Life as a Dog
Le Diner de Cons

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cinema Review - Belle


With the phenomenal success of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave earlier this year, it is not surprising to see another film tackling the important issues of race and slavery, and although Belle doesn’t quite reach for the jugular with its depiction of a troubled time in English history, it is equally relevant as a reminder of our heritage and the difficulties faced by those on the receiving end of such prejudiced views.

As the illegitimate child of a navy admiral whose duty requires his presence at sea, Belle is plunged into a foreign world when she is reluctantly left in the care of her aristocratic great-uncle. Motherless, and unaware that her mixed race origins are viewed unfavourably, she is compelled to bond with her new family who regard her with a higher standing than that of their slaves but not with the same respect and privileges afforded to their own.

Set against the backdrop of a testing lawsuit involving the deaths of numerous slaves, Belle’s emotional journey is both captivating and inspirational to behold as she grows into a young woman who gains affection from a number of suitors, one of which has a particular interest in the aforementioned anti-slavery case, and just so happens to be her great-uncle’s understudy. Other legible bachelors she encounters are entranced by her exotic looks, and an equally attractive dowry that is left to her by her father, but some are less forgiving of her origins. Torn between true love, the limits of social acceptance, and in competition with her closest friend and confidant - her cousin, Elizabeth Murray - Belle's choices are fraught with heartache.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw displays the perfect combination of innocence, curiosity and also courage in her portrayal of Belle, and her irresistible charm is the heart that drives the story forward; only the most cynical of audiences will be able to resist becoming emotionally involved with her plight. A fairly stiff supporting cast (some of which appear to be merely going through the motions rather than acting) cannot compete with Mbatha-Raw’s impressive performance, although Tom Wilkinson and Miranda Richardson are particularly enjoyable to watch as Belle’s great-uncle, Lord Murray, and the mother of a potential suitor.

Both the grandiose set design and lavish costumes do a superb job of transporting the audience back to the 1700’s, even if some of the language used seems slightly out of place for the era. Director Amma Asante has done a commendable job of bringing this remarkable tale to the big screen, and it is a shame that her writing credit was removed by the Writer’s guild because she reworked a previous adaptation of the screenplay, even though the majority of dialogue in the script is said to be Asante’s original work.

Not only is Belle one of the better period dramas of recent years, but it also a moving morality tale that will undoubtedly reverberate with audiences regardless of their familiarity with this era of history. There may be a few missteps in the romantic subplots but those with even just a passing interest in period films are sure to look past these shortcomings to find a heartwarming and inspirational tale.

7/10


If you like this you will enjoy these:

Immortal Beloved
Quills
Bel Ami
Summer in February

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Blu-Ray Review - That Obscure Object of Desire

That Obscure Object of Desire is a mesmerising film about love, obsession, and the lengths to which people will go to seek what they truly desire. Adapted from the novel 'Le Femme et le Pantin' by Pierre Louys which was written in 1898, Bunuel's film isn't the first to tackle the subject matter but is undoubtedly the best. The title translates to 'The woman and the puppet' and those who have previously seen Bunuel's film will agree that this would be just as fitting a title as his chosen adage.

Following a strangely hypnotising opening sequence against a backdrop of palm trees and exotic music we are introduced to a mature gentleman who soaks a beautiful young lady from a stationary train with a bucket of water. After returning to his carriage the shocked onlookers seated beside him cannot hold back their curiosity and probe for the motive behind his actions. The story is then told through a series of flashbacks as we discover the connection between Mathieu and Conchita, the lady he soaked, and the build up to this bizarre event.

Forget (500) days of summer, That Obscure Object of Desire is the ultimate 'anti-romance', with the relationship that develops between our protagonists causing nothing but endless problems for the completely besotted Mathieu thanks to the devilish designs of  the beautiful but manipulative Conchita. Set against the backdrop of a series of terrorist attacks, Bunuel's film tackles politics alongside the love story and is one of those films that poses numerous philosophical questions but can also be enjoyed without reading too much into the deeper meanings.

Bunuel's masterstroke of using two actresses to play Conchita was apparently conceived accidentally, when the original actress scheduled to play Conchita (Maria Schneider) left the production. Carole Bouquet took on the role of the more timid and reserved side of Conchita's personality, with Angelina Molina showcasing her more promiscuous side. These performances combine with Fernando Rey's fantastic portrayal of a man with a rabid desire for that which he cannot have to elevate That Obscure Object of Desire to a near masterpiece that is well deserving of the lavish treatment of a Blu-ray release.

The Blu-Ray transfer is gorgeous to behold with the vivid colours bringing life to Bunuel's perfectly framed shots and the crisp sound transporting you to a host of exotic locations throughout the film. Interviews with cast members and an accompanying booklet are welcome additions to what is an excellent restoration and if you are a first-time viewer I guarantee that you will want to delve further into the film's history when the credits begin to roll.

Luis Bunuel's final film is a fitting end to an incredible career that still feels remarkably fresh despite first being released over 35 years ago. Fans of the director and newcomers alike are likely to be entranced by this intelligent and thought-provoking film, with the impressive transfer and a generous amount of extras making this disc a great addition to any collection.

4/5



If you like this you will enjoy these:
Before Sunrise
Brief Encounter
Blue is the Warmest Colour
(500) Days of Summer

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Weekend


2011 was an excellent year for British films with a number of hidden gems that may have passed you by, here is a look at the Blu-Ray release for one such film, Andrew Haigh's Weekend.

It seems almost disrespectful and crass to use the most obvious comparison out there as Weekend is an accomplished film that stands alone but there really is no easier way to explain the storyline than as Before Sunrise meets Brokeback Mountain. Those unfamiliar with Before Sunrise first of all need to go and watch it, it's incredible, but will need to know that the storyline takes a look at the brief romance that develops between two strangers over the course of a very short space of time. Weekend is very similar in this respect apart from the Brokeback Mountain element, which everyone will be aware of even if they haven't seen the film, as both of the characters here are young gay males who strike up a very close friendship after a drunken encounter.

Those who have read my reviews over the past few months here at Front Room Cinema will be well aware that due to my tastes I am more inclined to enjoy horrors and disturbing movies than a romance but I like to think that I can appreciate a good film when I see one regardless of genre. Although Weekend is not a film I would head out of my way to see I was taken aback by how impressive it was for a small budget character study and I have already recommended it to a number of friends. If you have a penchant for Richard Linklater films you will undoubtedly enjoy this dialogue heavy drama that explores the rich tapestry of lives within the gay community.

There are a handful of scenes that I did find a tad too uncomfortable due to their explicit nature, and it was during these moments that I found myself thinking about social acceptance and the controversy surrounding sexuality that still exists in modern society. This is a thought provoking screenplay that does push the bar in terms of what we see on screen but it is always in fitting with the story and everything that has been included in the film is there for a purpose.

Both of the main actors, Tom Cullen and Chris New, are fantastic as Russell and Glen respectively, the two strangers who forge a strong connection and begin to uncover secrets relating to their past. Russell is far more reserved about his sexuality and appears uncomfortable in certain situations whereas Glen is a cocksure individual - no pun intended - who is open and proud when it comes to his interest in men. These contradicting personalities heighten the drama as their different outlooks on life lead to deep conversations which expose their vulnerabilities and make the couple realise they may have found something worth holding on to.

British film-making is going from strength to strength and it is great to see so many new talents emerging; Andrew Haigh showcases the skills of a director far beyond his years and is certainly one to watch out for in the future. His unique and at times provocative vision of the bond that can grow between two males deserves to be seen by a wider audience, trust me, you will be doing yourself a favour if you add this to your watch list.

The people responsible for putting the extras together have been very generous with both the quality and quantity of features and as someone who enjoys watching trailers for other films I was amazed at the amount included on the disc. Here is a full list of the extra features:

Cast and Crew Interview
Quinnford + Scout picture gallery with commentary
Weekend UK Premier at LFF
Interview with Director and Casts
Interview with Director and Producer
English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing

Weekend is a revealing yet remarkably intimate drama that makes no compromises and delivers a powerful storyline that will stay with you for a long time.

7/10



Weekend is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on Monday 19th March courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Cinema Review - Frankenweenie

Tim Burton must have a very bittersweet taste from the release of his latest stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie, as it was his short of the same name that originally got him fired from Disney when it was deemed too frightening for children back in 1984. He has long since buried the hatchet and returned to his rightful home at Disney where his career began as a fledgling animator, and his fascination with all things dark and macabre has led to an impressive and varied filmography, as well as gaining him legions of devoted fans.

His latest offering is a step up from his recent underwhelming efforts, Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland, and is return to form for a director well known for his exceptional work in stop-motion animation. Loosely re-worked from his original live action short and extended into a full length feature, Frankenweenie is a monochrome stop-motion animation horror for kids, which on paper may sound over-ambitious, but given Burton's warped ideas and his incredible attention to detail, children and adults alike are bound to succumb to the twisted charm of Frankenweenie. 

In a role that may well be reminiscent of Burton's own childhood, Charlie Tahan voices Victor Frankenstein, an outsider who spends his spare time making monster films on a super 8 camera with his dog Sparky often taking centre stage as creature that destroys miniature cities. Encouraged to take part in sports by his father, Victor's dreams come crashing down when Sparky is critically injured during a baseball game and his school science project may be the only way he can restore life to his beloved dog. When Victor's classmates discover the truth behind Sparky's return it is not long before the whole town is caught up in a disaster of monstrous proportions.

Burton's choice to present the film in black and white lends Frankenweenie an eerie atmosphere that combines well with the retro design of locations such as a traditional funfair and Victor's creepy attic. The inevitable graveyard scene involves an inspired nod to a certain kitty product and it is this balance of light humour with black comedy that makes Frankenweenie such a joy to watch.

A number of  actors bring life to characters who are clearly inspired by classic horror films, including Burton regulars such as Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, whose exceptional voice work leaves little to be desired as Victor's kooky neighbour Elsa Van Helsing and his booming teacher Mr Rzykruski respectively. Danny Elfman contributes a suitably haunting score which adds a grandiose scale to the proceedings whilst never overpowering the dialogue.

Whilst Frankenweenie cannot compete with Burton's earlier classics it is still a brilliantly realised film that lovingly references films such as Frankenstein and Gojira and it is a delight to see his original story fleshed out into a more substantial screenplay. Horror fans are bound to enjoy the homages and those who miss the references are still likely to be entranced by the captivating visuals and Victor's adorably entertaining dog Sparky. For once the use of 3D enhances the film and Frankenweenie is sure to enchant both children and the big kids amongst us now that Burton has rejuvenated one of his very first creations.



Bottom Line - Perfect for family viewing during the build up to Halloween, Frankenweenie will satisfy Burton's devoted fans and is likely to impress any curious newcomers - 7/10

Positives - Burton is back on top form, and the 3D is perfectly suited to the jaw-dropping animation

Negatives - Frankenweenie may be a bit too scary for very young children - there were a few tears at my screening!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cinema Review - Labor Day


Almost ten years after the release of his impressive debut feature, Thank you for Smoking, Jason Reitman's career is still going from strength to strength, with his latest outing Labor Day continuing his trend for character-driven dramas that place his protagonists in unfamiliar and testing situations. Kate Winslett stars as a single mother, Adele, with all of her love focused on raising her adolescent son Henry, who is due to start high school in the coming days. The two appear to live a peaceful, if at times lonely, existence until this is shattered when an escaped convict, Frank - played by the suitably rugged Josh Brolin, stumbles into their life whilst fleeing from the police, and Adele begins to develop feelings for the seemingly innocuous criminal.

From the very start of the film there is a subtle air of menace which hints at the foreboding danger to come, as well as informing the audience that Labor Day is likely to tread a darker path than Reitman's previous outings. This it does, but not without demonstrating some of the director's lighter quirks, such as references to pop culture and his ability to rekindle vivid memories of a time now past. An E.T. poster in Henry’s bedroom and the family’s choice of film viewing, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, serve not only as a reminder of the era the story is set in but both films referenced also feature a single mother struggling to keep her family together when alien intruders arrive, and this is surely no coincidence.

Much like in these classic sci-fi films the intruder in Adele & Henry’s life initially appears dangerous, but Frank soon shows a warm and generous side that kindles a desire in Adele she long thought lost. Unable to escape to pastures new due to his injury, Frank is forced to hide from the police (and other visitors) until he is fully healed but when his relationship with Adele blossoms his inclination to move on lessens. Flashbacks to the reason for Frank’s incarceration slowly reveal his troubled past whilst adding depth to his character, and this heightens our concern for all three parties, raising the question as to whether this newly founded family unit will be able to make it through the difficult times ahead.

Winslett and Brolin are a joy to watch, as too is the young Gatlin Griffith, who confirms that he is an actor to keep an eye on in the future with his pitch perfect turn as Adele’s son Henry. Scenes with Henry and his estranged father towards the end of the film add an emotional note that is unexpected, as do the scenes he shares with Frank, proving that Reitman is an adept screenwriter as well as an accomplished director.

Amongst the current deluge of superhero films and children’s animations, it is refreshing to see an adult-orientated story that is firmly grounded in reality, whilst still providing enough unexpected turns to keep the audience firmly engrossed. Part coming of age drama, and part unlikely love story, Reitman perfectly balances these two elements to create a captivating picture that is sure to move all but the most cynical of viewers.

8/10


If you like this you will enjoy these:

The Notebook
Young Adult
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
The Kings of Summer

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Cinema Review - Starred Up

Back in 2008, Steve McQueen offered up an incredible depiction of the true life story of Bobby Sands and his hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison, which was undoubtedly one of the most convincing and depressing British prison films served up in a very long time. Whilst David Mackenzie’s latest feature, Starred Up, is purely fictional, it emphasises the stark brutality of prison in a similar fashion to Hunger, with its long lingering shots and moments of raw, unflinching violence that will inevitably leave viewers stunned at the incredible talent on display from both cast and crew. Whereas Starred Up panders more to a regular audience than the art-house crowd, this is in no way a detriment to the director’s vision, as the gripping storyline avoids most of the usual clich├ęs that dominate the genre to showcase a unique and very brutal take on life inside a British prison for one young inmate.

As a young offender transferred to an adult prison, Eric Love is instantly plunged into a situation far out of his depth, with his violent outbursts drawing unwanted attention from both guards and fellow inmates. Jack O’Connell gives all and bares all in his brave portrayal of Love, including a naked grapple in the shower reminiscent of Viggo Mortensen’s sauna struggle in Eastern Promises, that showcases a dedication to his craft often unseen in actors of such a young age. O’Connell’s career has often seen him typecast as an aggressive and troubled youth, with his role in the TV series Skins, and films such as Eden Lake and Tower Block, showcasing his promise, but it his blistering performance in Starred Up that is likely to leave its mark on the film industry, in what is likely to be viewed as a breakout role for the young actor.

Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn is similarly stunning in his role as a permanent inmate with a social standing only awarded to the most dangerous of criminals, and he shows an unhealthy interest in the alliances that Love begins to form. As the two gravitate towards each other it is only a matter of time before the inevitable power struggle begins, but the ensuing bloodshed takes some unexpected turns, with Love’s dangerously unpredictable persona being the cause of much exasperation for the voluntary care-worker Oliver (Rupert Friend), who takes it upon himself to educate the volatile inmate. The tension often reaches unbearable levels, with a standout scene in the confined spaces of the prison gym showcasing Love’s desperate struggle to reign in his anger, only for it to be released in other places much to the detriment of his situation.

Finding fault with Mackenzie’s film is difficult, and although the behaviour of some prison guards is questionable, this doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Starred up is not going to appeal to everyone as the graphic brutality, nudity, and barrage of vulgar language is likely to offend certain viewers, but those accustomed to films which tread these tropes will definitely appreciate the twisted humour and visually arresting scenes of violence. This is one of the darkest British prison films I have seen in recent years and those who hold classics of the genre, such as Scum, in high regard really need to see this on the big screen, knowing as little as possible for the maximum impact.

8/10


If you like this you will enjoy these:

Scum
The Escapist
Hunger
Bad Boys (1983)

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Cinema Review - Cuban Fury

From the moment Nick Frost farted whilst dancing in front of his grandma as a young boy, he realised that dancing and comedy were a magical combination, and it was only a matter of time before this childhood experience channelled itself into the starring role of his latest feature, Cuban Fury. Whether there is a hint of truth in this is anyone’s guess, but it was the anecdote Nick regaled to an attentive crowd at the preview screening of his salsa themed comedy and it alludes to his oft-childish but very amusing sense of humour that has proved successful throughout his career as a comedy actor so far.

It is refreshing to see Frost in a starring role without his partner in crime Simon Pegg, as this provides him with more room to flex not just his salsa hips but his ability as an actor, even if for the most part this is by the numbers stuff. The influence of Strictly Ballroom - Lurhmann’s film, not the reality show - is felt throughout but whereas Scott Hastings and Fran’s partnership was endearing and heartfelt, the pairing of Bruce Garrett (Frost) and his new boss Julie (Rashida Jones) just feels clumsy and forced.

Whilst far more entertaining than the horrendous Paul Potts film, One Chance (Yes I saw it, don’t juge me), the story follows a very similar arc, with Frost bullied as a child and abandoning his talents only to return to dancing later in life to realise his dreams and win the heart of a girl who is out of his reach, in this case, his boss. The quaint English humour present in One Chance also rears its ugly head in Cuban Fury which is a disappointment in comparison to the outlandish comedy we are used to seeing from Nick Frost and his co-star Chris O’Dowd. As Garrett’s colleague and rival, O’Dowd’s performance is actually one of the films highlights, and his constant one-upmanship of Garrett whilst competing for the affections of Julie is an indication that this could have been a lot funnier if the focus had been right.

Closer in tone to Run Fat Boy Run than the inspired comedy of the Cornetto Trilogy, it would seem unfair to say that Pegg’s absence is the only thing that dogs Cuban Fury, as the screenplay suffers from a number of setbacks, with characters present in the first half of the film being unaccounted for thereafter and the biggest downfall being an inherent lack of jokes. When the biggest laugh is due to a surprise cameo appearance, you know the movie is in trouble, and despite all of the best intentions of cast and crew, the combination of misplaced humour and an all too familiar storyline detract from the overall package.

The highlight for me was Nick Frost’s introduction when he jokingly proclaimed that we should stick around for the meat raffle after the film, and luckily my disappointment in the lack of a meat raffle momentarily took my attention away from the disappointment of Cuban Fury. A pleasant enough diversion but not one I can see myself returning to any time soon, Cuban Fury is a very safe film that is unlikely to raise any eyebrows and will probably only appeal to Frost fans. It pains me to say that those who have been following his exploits since the days of Spaced may well be unimpressed, as there are a handful of innovative ideas dancing around in there somewhere, but not quite enough to warrant a special trip to the cinema. If you really must see this, then I recommend waiting for the DVD.

2.5/5



If you like this you will enjoy these:

Strictly Ballroom
Run Fatboy Run
Talladega Nights
Blades of Glory

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Cinema Review - Dallas Buyers Club

Long gone are the days when Matthew McConaughey was renowned purely for his roles in sub-par romantic comedies, and his catharsis into an Oscar nominated actor has been a joy to behold, with his astounding performance in Dallas Buyers club showcasing utter dedication to his craft. Undergoing dramatic weight loss to add gravitas to the role, McConaughey takes on the persona of Ron Woodroof, an unsuspecting victim of the AIDS virus during the 1980s, and excels in his portrayal of a man facing not just internal conflict but confronting the system head-on by challenging the treatment received by its victims.

Initially self-destructive and refusing to accept assistance, Woodroof's chance encounter with a transsexual AIDS victim (Jared Leto) leads him to seek alternative medicines, as well as establishing the foundation of a great friendship and awakening a compassion hitherto unknown, as the two strive to improve conditions for people blighted with the incurable virus. When Woodroof begins to use his skills as a hustler for the good of others it is hard not to fall for his charms, and by the end of the film all but the most cynical of viewers are likely to be putty in McConaughey’s hands. Leto's understated performance relies mainly on subtlety and restraint, acting as the perfect counterpoint for McConaughey to shine in the lead role, whilst still providing an emotional resonance that begins to cut deep as the effects of the virus worsen for both parties.

Directed by Jean-Marc Valle, the Canadian film-maker responsible for the unmissable Cafe de Flore and The Young Victoria, this true story of one man's struggle to improve the lives of others is achingly poignant but still remains uplifting and inspirational. Whilst the subject matter means that it cannot be described as an enjoyable film, Dallas Buyers Club nonetheless makes for essential viewing, with the powerhouse performances from McConaughey and Leto deservedly receiving nominations from the Oscars. Valle's stripped down approach to filming refuses to gloss over the grittiness of such a subject, but that doesn't hold the director back from demonstrating his eye for aesthetics, with a superbly shot scene in a butterfly house being a stunning visual highlight, as well as hinting at the metamorphosis undergone by Woodroof as his outlook on life changes for the better.

Driven primarily by the two outstanding central performances, Dallas Buyers Club is a touching story that will inevitably leave viewers moved by the plight of AIDS victims and the careless approach taken by the drug companies who are best positioned to ease their suffering. There are flashes of brilliance seen throughout from both cast and crew and whilst this is an important story which needs to be seen, the bleakness of the script is unlikely to appeal to everyone. If you are wondering why the publicity generated from the Oscars buzz just doesn't seem to be slowing down then go and watch this film; whilst it may not quite be in the same league as some of the other Oscars contenders, Dallas Buyers Club certainly deserves its place amongst the years best.

4/5



If you liked Dallas Buyers Club you will also enjoy these:

Philadelphia
Cafe De Flore
Mud
The Cure