Sunday, November 2, 2014

The best independent cinemas in London

photo from
As important as production and distribution are to the lifecycle of films, there is nothing more important to the magic of cinema culture than exhibition.  Everyone from the ardent cinéaste to the casual popcorn fan has a memory of seeing an amazing film in a cinema.  I have equally fond memories of seeing American Pie 2 on a packed opening night in the Odeon in Bournemouth as I do of seeing a obscure (and drunken) screening of Un Chien Andalou in a pop-up screening in Falmouth.  Having said that, the pleasures of watching a film in a cinema is often exponentially increased if you are watching in an establishment that cares about how the film is projected, the atmosphere is mellow and the other clientele are in the same frame of mind as you are.  

There is nothing inherently wrong with watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a noisy multiplex with a armful of nachos and a gallon of fizzy pop, but there is something special about watching an independent film in a cinema that cares about you.  So here is a rundown of some of the best independent cinemas in London:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Film Review: Horns (2014)


One of the most vapid (and yet theoretically interesting) parts of film culture is the obsession with film stars, or celebrities.  Although it is ridiculous to expect actors to only play a single part in a single movie, some stars become so synonymous with a role or a type of role that it shapes the entire reading of future films.  This can often lead to fascinating performances and can enrich films, but it can also create a kind of critical conventional wisdom about a film just because of it’s casting before people have even seen the film.

One of the most high profile actors working today who is trying to escape their past is definitely little Daniel Radcliffe.   Post-Potter he has purposely taken difficult and interesting roles with various levels of success to try and prove himself as an actor.  He has performed on stage as the orphan “Cripple Billy” in an intensely dry play about Ireland in the 1930s; he has simulated gay sex as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings; and played an egomaniacal parody of himself flicking a condom onto the head of Dame Diana Rigg in Extras.  I’m sure he’s been offered a thousand rom-coms and fantasy films but it seems safe to say that he is trying to prove himself with slightly more ‘edgy’ roles.

Horns is going to divide opinion with its plot and casting before anyone has even seen it.  Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a pariah in a small town that has been blamed for the grisly murder of his long-term girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple).  He wakes up days after the murder with little memory of where he has been and what he has done, and has two demonic horns growing out of his head.  At first people don’t seem to notice these horns, but instead they are affected by their presence and end up treating Ig differently (to say the least). 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Film Review: '71 (2014)

'71 poster

Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is a newly recruited British soldier from Derbyshire who has to leave behind his orphaned younger brother after being deployed along with his regiment to Belfast at the height of the violence (In 1971, obviously).  The first day after he arrives the troops are briefed about the geographic danger zones in the republican West of the city, especially around the notorious “IRA stronghold” of Divis Street council flats, and of the splintering factions between old IRA and the new, younger Provisional IRA.

On his first morning in the city they have to go door-to-door in a Catholic neighbourhood in order to find some illegal weapons, where they come up against strong resistance from the locals.  This quickly gets out of hand leading to a shocking moment of violence that separates Gary from the rest of the regiment.  After running away from some young men who are trying to kill him (filmed with an amazing Point-Break style chase scene through the backstreets), he is alone and terrified and has to steal some civilian clothes to make it back to the barracks.

After bumping into a young kid who has powerful family connections, Gary is drawn into a series of escalating violent betrayals as the night progresses between the older and younger elements of the IRA, the undercover military and the rest of his regiment… 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Film Review: Candlestick (2014)

Rope, the story of an egomaniacal upper class New Yorker and his obedient ‘friend’ who host a macabre dinner party with a secret chest containing their recently murdered friend as the centerpiece of the meal, was always my favourite Hitchcock film.  It is filmed entirely from one direction in a large apartment studio set (with a theatrical ‘forth wall’ missing) and in 10 minute long takes with hidden cuts to make the action continuous like in the theatre.  It is a masterpiece of suspense and captures the inherent tensions and power plays involved in the phenomenon of ‘dinner parties’.

The debut from writer/director Christopher Presswell happily and proudly announces its Hitchcockian influences right from the beginning, as evident from the brilliant Saul Bass title sequence and Hermann-esque score (recorded no less by the Prague philharmonic…).  It also openly references TV show Midsomer Murders, ‘70s cult film Abigail’s Party and, of course, the board game Cluedo.

Jack (Andrew Fitch), a smarmy narcissist, is introduced in bed with Vera (Isla Ure), the well-to-do wife of his best friend Frank(Nigel Thomas).  In amongst the discussion of their affair Jack reminds her about a dinner party that he is throwing that evening for Frank, their old friend ‘Major Burns’ (Tom Knight) and Inspector Marcus Evans (Dan March).  Vera gets up to dress and discovers that she is missing an earing, but leaves Jack in bed.  As she leaves we see that Jack has the earing and is has plans to use it to devastating effect later on at his party… 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Raindance: Windowlicker (2014)

Should cinema be enjoyable?  Does a film need a plot?  Can a film make you have an ontological migrane and still classify as good?  The latest film from  lo-fi auteur Brian Mcguire does not care about any answers...

Window Licker (Or ‘WiNdOw LiCkEr’) tells the story of Ben Wild as he descends into a hellish madness after planning to meet up with an old school friend but another person arriving in his place.  Yet even that is too much of a simple, linear chronology to explain what happens on screen – the film is basically a manic and paranoid sketch show focusing on Ben’s increasingly crushing paranoia that could easily give viewers an aneurysm if they lean to close to the screen…

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Raindance: Kung Fu Elliot (2014)

When the DVD arrived to replace the VHS in the home cinema market, one of the ways that distributors marketed the new format was by including ‘extras’ that would be includable due to the increased memory of the disc.  One of the most obvious features to include (and still is) was unseen footage and behind-the-scenes shorts to give people more of an insight into their favourite films.  This in turn then made a whole generation of viewers more interested in filmmaking and the technical process.

Films about films (or meta-documentaries if you will) are hardly new (look at Heart of Darkness, the film about Apocalypse Now), yet now in the age of cheap and high quality digital, it would be crazy not to collect footage alongside a feature to share with your audience so it is not just classics that get documented.  Quite often, non-fiction films that give an insight into the process and characters can be more interesting that the actual feature being made.

This is where Kung Fu Elliot comes in. 

Raindance: Luna (2014)

From the media polymath Dave McKean (filmmaker, author, comic book artist, illustrator and photographer) comes a haunting, yet playful, dissection of grief, memories and secrets.

Grant (Ben Daniels) and Christine (Dervla Kirwan) are a married couple trying to get over the recent death of their newborn baby.  In order to reengage with their lives, they drive to the middle of nowhere to meet up with Grant’s old friend Dean (Michael Maloney) and his new girlfriend Freya (Stephanie Leonidas) in their new seaside cottage.

Grant has a drinking problem, Christine is deeply despondent, Dean is an artist and a perfectionist with writer’s block and Freya is concerned about the age difference bet her and her boyfriend.  Each of these anxieties and tensions collide over the space of a boozy weekend amongst the old friends, leading to a one of them trying to escape back into nature...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Raindance: Songs for Alexis (2014)

Songs for Alexis poster
Image from
The acceptance of LGBT rights in America has moved at an insane speed in the last 5 years, with opinion polls unanimously showing a growing acceptance of gay lifestyles (it’s nowhere near perfect but it’s getting there.)  But it is arguably the 'T' in LGBT that is still so misunderstood.  People usually say that as soon as you know someone affected by an issue, then it can change your opinion – well if you don’t know any transgender teenagers then a powerful documentary might give you the inspiration to broaden your mind…

Ryan Cassata is an 18-year-old trans male from Long Island, New York, who has just had a double mastectomy as part of his transition.  He lives with his (amazing) mum and two brothers, and like to write husky folk songs and perform them whenever he can to tell his story. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Raindance: Gregor (2014)

The last few years in the UK have been a strange time for young people.  A generation that was promised that all employment would be meaningful if they worked hard at school had the rug pulled from under them in the greatest financial crisis in a century.  So many of them just work office jobs with no real reward, yet still feel that they have the innate creativity that their college education deserves.  This is the story of one of those people

Gregor (Ollie Marsden) is an archetypical millennial living in London who spends his time at work – in a job he doesn’t understand – reading the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame until 10am until he can relieve himself in his bosses toilet.  When this inevitably leads to his dismissal, he returns home to his housemate Daisy (an obvious nod to Spaced) who also has an equally monotonous job and decides that he wants to pursue his dream of being a writer.

Luckily then he meets the elusive Terry (Matt King) a sexually frustrated ex-addict who promises him creative freedom in a delusional new magazine project.  They reluctantly go to an upper-middle class dinner party, where Gregor meets Amber (Ruby Thomas), an American sexual deviant who is the daughter of a millionaire and obsessed with Obama and racial politics.  Struggling to balance Terry's eccentricity with Amber's growing perversions, Gregor must figure out the easiest way to navigate his mid-twenties crisis.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

13 Films I hope to see at Raindance...

Raindance 2014 logo

Tonight is the opening night of the Raindance Film Festival, which takes place mostly within the London Piccadilly VUE cinema.  It is one of the most important indie film festivals in the UK (the world?) and hosts hundreds of features, documentaries and shorts. Here are 13 that I am particularly looking forward to (in Calendar order):

HUMAN CAPITAL (Thursday 18:30) First up is an Italian neo-noir that charts the demise of a mysterious death from three different perspectives.  Based on a best selling book of the same name, the title reflects the insurance procedure of measuring the net worth of a human life and is set against the backdrop of the European financial crisis.

BONOBO (Thursday 20:40) – The second debut from (co)writer/director Matthew Hammett Knott,  Bonobo is about a middle-aged widow who sets out to remove her idealistic daughter from a hippy sex-commune that models its sexual behaviour on the Bonobo ape.  It sounds like a darkly comic family drama and should be a great opening night film.

DEALER (Friday 20:20) – A small time drug-dealer is offered the opportunity of a lifetime to transport a big cocaine deal for a dangerous gangster, which inevitably goes wrong.  It reminds me a big of Run Lola Run and should be a slick and stylish European city thriller.  From director Jean Luc Herbulot.

THE HORSES OF FUKUSHIMA (Saturday 18:00) – Admittedly this sounds like a very niche topic: The plight of the wild horses surrounding the Fukushima power plant after the 2011 nuclear disaster.  But it looks like a beautiful documentary with minimal exposition or narration and could be an amazingly serene way to spend 90 minutes in a cinema…

FOUREVER (Sunday 13:50) – Anton Saunders, star of the BAFTA and Palme d’Or winning The Most Beautiful Man In The World, writes directs and stars in a dark narrative of revenge and dinner parties.  An interesting looking middle-class satire full of cocaine, cheating and chardonnay.

LIVING DOLLS (Sunday 20:40) – A freaky looking documentary about grown men who collect a variety of different types of dolls.  Documentaries about semi-sexual aberrations are always interesting, and this one looks like it treats its subject matter with objectivity and sympathy.  Fascinating…

THE NINTH CLOUD (Monday 20:50) – Filmed on 16mm and set in 1990s London, The Ninth Cloud follows an idealistic young girl called Zena (Megan Maczko) as she falls in love with bohemian playwright Bob (amazingly played by Michael Madsen).  A seemingly charming Central-London love story, which I hope brings a return to form to MichaelMadsen. (Incidentally, there is a brilliant article about Madsen by Vice’s Clive Martin here)

ART OF DARKNESS (Tuesday 18:10) – A documentary about an artist called Bryan Lewis Saunders who has painted a self-portrait of himself every day since 1995.  He also spent 11 days painting portraits under the influence of a cacophony of different drugs and hallucinogens.  The existence of a day job is yet to be ascertained…

LUNA (Wednesday 18:20) – Having premiered at Toronto International Film Festival recently, Luna blends live action with animation for an adult narrative about anguish, intimacy and loneliness set in a coastal house as a couple and their friend share their dark secrets.  It looks visually stunning and definitely deserves to be seen on a big screen in a dark room…

SACRED SPERM (Thursday 18:10) – Another documentary about sex (or lack of), this documentary looks at the Hasidic Jewish community in Israel who believe that ‘uncontrolled sperm release’ is murder and an extreme sin.  Need I say more…?

WINDOWLICKER (Friday 13:10) – Essentially a movie about the descent into madness, this low-budget drama looks bonkers for all the right reasons.  Combining stop-motion, harsh lighting, webcams and a crazy soundtrack the film follows one man losing his mind.

PANIC (Friday 20:50) – A narrative that is influenced heavily from Rear Window, a journalist called Deeley witnesses a kidnapping and confront his agoraphobia to save his neighbor Kem.  Leaving his comfortable flat to enter a shady underworld of human trafficking, director Sean Spencer has mashed-up a number of different genres to create an stylish looking debut…

THEY ARE ALL DEAD (Sunday 17:00) – A Latin American drama about a dying mother looking after her ex-rock-star daughter described as a “labyrinth of human relationships”.  The film centres around the mother’s Day of the Dead and the last help she can give to her family.

So that is my proposed itinerary, I am hoping to get reviews of each of them up within 24 hours of each screening…  If there are any that I have missed or should definitely check out then let me know in the comment section below.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Encounters Short Film Festival - industry events preview

Encounters Film Festival

Encounters Film Festival

The Watershed in Bristol is currently hosting the 20th anniversary annual short film festival.  This year, the event is a combination of short films, short animations, industry workshops, film art exhibitions, and political debate with an overall theme of retrospectives and reflection on film culture.  Three cinema screens and three workshop rooms are host to hundreds of films, discussions and masterclasses.

The programme is too rich and diverse to summarise (obviously), and there are a huge amount of intriguing short films but there are also a number of interactive sessions over the next few days on the schedule that are worth highlighting: 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The launch of the Crispy Sharp Podcast!

Crispy Sharp Podcast
Coming soon to iTunes...
It is with great pleasure and excitement that I can announce the arrival of the Crispy Sharp Podcast, a weekly discussion with filmmakers, producers, distributors, scriptwriters, festival curators, financiers, actors... whoever I find interesting and can tell interesting stories about the UK Film industry.

My first guest is David P. Campion, writer/director of Woodfalls and all round nice guy.  We chatted for a while about his film, micro-budgets and the glory of WWE wrestling...

Upcoming guests include Ross Bispham from Ignite Film FansBen Woodiwiss - director of Benny Loves Killing,  Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe from the recent British Urban Film FestivalJon Lyus from HeyUGuys and many more so please subscribe to learn more about UK filmmaking.

The Crispy Sharp Podcast is available on iTunes

Monday, September 8, 2014

BUFF 2014: Montana (2014)

Montana (McKell David), a 14-year-old boy from East London, lives amongst a ruthless group of powerful drug dealers led by a Russian ex-soldier.  He doesn’t go to school but wears a uniform anyway so that he can inconspicuously deliver cocaine and wedges of money around.  The dealers are hiding a secret from him about his father so when a rival gangster jumps him and steals a large amount of money, they use this excuse to try and kill him.

Just as he is about to be killed, Montana is saved by Dmitri – a Serbian assassin (Lars Mikkelsen) who is watching over him in order to get revenge on the Russian mob boss who was involved in the killing of his family.  Montana, now disillusioned by the betrayal of everyone around him, is convinced by Dmitri to help him his revenge so undergoes rigorous weapon and unarmed combat training to toughen him up.

Meanwhile, the gangsters are looking for him so use their connections with Phelps (Brad Moore), a corrupt police officer, to capture Jess (Sinead Michael), Montana’s only friends his own age, to lure him and Dmitri to an explosive confrontation…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

BUFF 2014: City Of God-10 Years Later (2014)

City Of God 10 Years Later

When the stylish Brazilian slum-drama City Of God was released in 2002 it caused an immediate impact around the world.  Nominated for 68 awards including 4 Oscars and currently say at #21 in the prestigious IMDB Top 250 – it is fair to say that it is massively critically acclaimed.  But what became of the dozens and dozens of young cast members that starred in the film? What did they get from starring in a movie that such a global impact?  City Of God:10 Years Later sets out to tell some of their stories.

This documentary interviews dozens and dozens of cast members from the original film (who were almost all non-actors who really lived in such harsh conditions) and allows them to tell their own story of how City Of God changed (or didn’t) their lives.  These range from the positive, such as the young people who ended up on TV or with music careers, to the tragic, as in the children who were exploited by their parents because of this new inflow of money. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

BUFF 2014: Woodfalls (2014)

At a time when British politics is obsessed with questions of immigration, national identity and cultural 'values', there is one community group that has been pushed out of the discussion:  Irish Travellers.  At one point they dominated the cultural conversation and the story of a group in Dale Farm, Essex was elevated to a pseudo moral-panic.  But since the rise of UKIP and the Scottish referendum their culture has seemingly dropped from the national conversation.

Director/writer David Campion’s Woodfalls attempts to objectively explore the tensions that arise over a number of days when a family of travellers moves into an insular rural Dorset village and comes into conflict with the locals.

Billy (Matthew Ferdenzi), a traveller who lives in a caravan with his sister Rebecca (Michelle Crane) and his maa (Maggie Daniels), gets into a vicious fight one night in a pub with local thug Damon (Gareth Bennett-Ryan) who he manages to antagonize with his fighting skills.  Damon swears revenge but heads home to his abusive drug-dealing father.  Meanwhile Billy makes friends with Bradley (Tyron Maynard) who invites him to a house party with a petty dealer Wozzle (Joe Law) and Kelly (Rachel Marwood), Damon’s ex-girlfriend.

As Billy becomes more integrated with the locals, his sister Rebecca becomes jealous and tries to integrate with them too, which leads to a spiral of tragic events as prejudice and cruelty collide with devastating consequences.

BUFF 2014: The Ballad Of Johnny Windows (2014)

The Ballad Of Johnny Windows

What is the definition of a rock star?  Is it someone who plays music that people want to hear? Or is it someone that lives the rock and roll lifestyle?  This is the eternal dilemma for Johnny Windows.

Johnny (Cem Pakiry-Turgut) is a rocker from Kentish Town desperately trying to write a song with his bandmate Scott Free (John Glynn), a horny drug-fuelled dubstep producer.  They are temporarily reeling from the loss of their loser frontman Brent (Piers Robinson) who has been poached by egomaniac faux-talent scout Hilton Constellation (Patrick Koupland).

The one person who does believe in Johnny is documentary filmmaker Reni Mint (Sureni Kay), whose film we are watching as Johnny’s new band Phantom Power prepare for the Kentish Kreep, a grimy festival that they’ve managed to secure the headline slot.  Johnny has to figure out the direction of his band that will appease his traditional-song-writing dad Jackie (Joey Montana) and his sonic-representation-of-modern-broken-Britain electronic Scott.

Friday, September 5, 2014

BUFF 2014: The Trials Of Muhammad Ali

Anyone who is involved in the opening gala of the British Urban Film Festival (Buff2014) all have the same line when discussing the film: Forget everything that you think that you know about Muhammad Ali…

The documentary from Bill Seigel (who worked as researcher on the legendary Hoop Dreams) moves away from the obvious narrative of Muhammad Ali as a legendary boxer and instead changes the focus to his life as one of America’s crucial political dissidents. 

In 1964, having maintained an undefeated professional streak, Ali nonetheless shocked the sport and became world famous when he won the world heavyweight championship title.  Shortly after this he dropped his previous “slave name” of Cassius Clay and started following the teaching of Elijah Muhammad from the Nation of Islam.  From then on he would openly refer to himself as a peaceful Muslim, preaching its message of peace right up until a TV interview just 10 days after 9/11.

The focus is mainly on his years after converting to radical Islam, which led him to be vilified for refusing the draft to fight in Vietnam.  He became a conscientious objector in light of his newfound religion and was put on a trial that would eventually lead all of the way up to the Supreme Court.  Without explaining the whole trial, needless to say that given the racism of the time and his confrontational character he was persecuted with the full force of White American animosity… 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

British Urban Film Festival preview (BUFF2014)

This weekend, Crispy Sharp is heading to the British Urban Film Festival to soak up an array of fascinating looking independent films.  Excluding the various short films (of which there are loads), there are five feature films that I have my eye on:

The festival director Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe told me that people should forget everything they think that they know about Muhammad Ali before watching this film...  The film covers his battle to overturn a prison sentence for refusing to fight in Vietnam.  A period of his life that is rarely discussed.  The screening will have a Q&A with a number of guests including Sky Sports' Spencer Fearon and boxing legends Colin Hart, Ronald Mcintosh and Jonny Nelson.

Woodfalls tells the story of a family of travellers who settle in a small town and get into trouble with the locals.  The Q&A will feature the director and some of the cast.

City of God is one of the most famous South American films (and rightly so  it is amazing) and featured mostly children and teenagers as cast.  The documentary City of God:10 Years Later tells the story of what happened to some of those involved in the film and looks like it should be a fascinating insight into Brazilian culture.
  • Eva’s Diamond (Ice Neal)

An apparently harrowing film about a mother whose evangelical teenager is sent to prison accused of murder.  She attempts to help her by taking matters in to her own hands and ends up embroiled in a dangerous world of black magic and spirits...

Finally, the closing gala is the world premier of Montana produced by the good folk at Molifilms.  A tense East-End crime thriller about a fourteen-year-old who finds out that the mob boss that he works for killed his father...  Mo Ali will be at a Q&A afterwards along with Brad Moore (Molifilms) and cast members Adam Deacon, Ashley Waters and McKell David.

Check back for a review of each of them in the coming days, and follow all of the gossip from the festival at @CrispySharp and @BUFFenterprises

The festival takes place at the Prince Charles and the Genesis cinemas - tickets for the festival are available here