Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Film Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water
(contains minor spoilers)

It is so obvious from Hell or High Water that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is a Texan native that I haven’t even Googled it.  The dialogue, hyper-masculinity, derisory sense of humour and 2nd amendment fetishism of this Wild West Road Movie all scream a lifetime’s research in the Lone Star State.

Two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) & Tanner (Ben Foster), are robbing small town banks for small bills with nothing but pistols and balaclavas and a “shitty” getaway car.  The money, for Toby, is for a family emergency and strictly business, yet Tanner is fresh out of jail and enjoys the thrill of the heist.  The film then evolves into a double buddy-movie retiring detective Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Native American Alberto (Gil Birmingham) bickering like an old odd-couple as they follow the brothers’ tracks. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Film Review: Welcome to Leith (2015)

When a new resident arrives in a small North Dakota farm town with a population of 24 (including children), the people are naturally going to notice.  When they start to plant neo-Nazi flags and get the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s internal terroirism unit, the people are going to get scared.  When the new guy creates a website inviting his neo-Nazi friends to join him under the headline Cobbsville: White Supremacist takeover, the people have to take action… 

Monday, March 21, 2016

BFI Flare 30: Women He's Undressed (2015)

Women He's Undressed

If you’re reading this, I assume that you’re a fan of cinema.  And can certainly name a handful of directors, and probably producers and scriptwriters, but then it gets trickier.  How many established editors can you name? Or cinematographers?  How about production manager? Or what about costume designers?! 

Most of the people who have designed some of the most iconic images in cinema history are largely forgotten.  That’s the nature of the medium – the stars onscreen are mythologized, whilst the technicians behind the scenes are just cogs in a collaborative machine.  That is, until someone shines a light on a largely forgotten genius and suddenly the nature of the work is brought to the fore.  Orry-Kelly was one of the greatest costume designers of all time, working on such classics as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Angels with Dirty Faces, Oklahoma! and Some Like it Hot.  

BFI Flare 30: Tangerine (2015)

It’s a sun-drenched Christmas Eve in Los Angeles when transgender prostitute Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitanna Rodriguez) gets back on the streets after a stint inside. Over breakfast, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets slip that Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend Chester (James Rasone)  is sleeping with another woman (or “fish” – a non-trans women).  This leads her on a frenzied revenge mission to find them both, via meth parties, donut shops and endless street corners. 

In the meantime, Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) with a taste in picking up pre-op trans hookers and having quickies in carwashes is also trying to find Sin-Dee for some fun, which does not go down well with his extended family… 

BFI Flare 30: Real Boy (2016)

The best documentary films shine a light on a corner of the world that is misunderstood and work to change viewer’s opinions.  Whether they’re about a huge phenomenon in culture or the life of just a single person, they should provide insight and they should do it with passion.

Shaleece Haas’ directorial debut Real Boy is exactly that: framing the formative years of a young transgender teenager amidst the transition from Rachael to Bennett Wallace.  As Shaleece follows him through hormone therapy and his ‘top’ surgery, as well as meeting similar young men including his transgender hero Joe Stevens, it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Ben and those like him through the compassion of the camera.

Ben and Joe on porch (Real Boy) 

BFI Flare 30: Seed Money, The Chuck Holmes Story (2016)

The narrative of America is littered with entrepreneurial opportunists spotting a gap in a market and filling it with the right product at the right time and changing history.  Yet Chuck Holmes will probably not feature in any school syllabuses any time soon.  As his right time was 1971 San Francisco, and his right product was hardcore gay pornography.

Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story

First sold as 8mm ‘smutty’ loops featured out of the back of a catalogue and then as feature length films sold on VHS.  Chuck founded Falcon Studios with a passion for sex, and men and an eye for business. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

BFI Flare 30: Akron (2016)

When Benny (Matthew Frias) and Christopher (Edmund Donavon) meet playing a friendly game of football during downtime at college, they quickly fall for each other and start dating.  Yet as their college finals approach and they prepare for a spring break trip to Florida, a secret from their past involving an interaction between their families creates a seemingly insurmountable wedge between them…

Thursday, March 17, 2016

BFI Flare 30: Who's Gonna Love Me Now? (2016)

When Saar moved from Israel to London 17 years ago to escape his religious families disapproval of his gay identity, he quickly found love in a stable relationship with the man of his dreams.  Yet as this relationship suddenly broke, he moved into the ‘scene’ and dated a new guy more into hard drugs, money scams and parties.  One day his new man arrived at his door with the ultimate bad omen – an HIV diagnosis.

Who's Going To Love Me Now
Saar with the LGMC
Saar then found the London Gay Men’s Chorus, a place where he could share his story and be accepted as an insider instead of the foreigner running from his orthodox family and native Jewish culture.  His family feature heavily – both parents come to visit him in London, as well as Saar travelling to his “home” – and clearly love him, but are disgusted and fearful at his ‘choice of lifestyle’ and ‘dangerous disease’. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Film Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies poster

In 1957 Brooklyn, New York, reclusive amateur painter Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) is sat in jail accused of being a soviet informant after having his home raided by the FBI.  After refusing to put up a fight, he awaits his trial and is introduced to successful law partner James B. Donavon (Tom Hanks), who has reluctantly taken his case. 

The prosecutors, his law-firm partners, the public and even the judge all want Donavon to lose the case, yet after the inevitable guilty verdict, his strong belief in fair representation and the constitution convince him to appeal the conviction and spare Abel the electric chair.

Meanwhile, Francis Gary Powers an American pilot is shot down over the Soviet Union during a secret U-2 spy mission at the same time as an American economics student finds himself on the wrong side of the newly erected Berlin Wall.  Donavon has shrewdly predicted this eventuality and begins to negotiate a prisoner of war swap between the two super-powers. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2016)

Some time after the end of the Civil War, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his stagecoach driver O.B. are travelling to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming with Ruth’s latest bounty: the notorious fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). A couple of fortuitous happenstances and a roaring blizzard quickly ensure that the ride becomes a lot cosier due to fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and supposed new Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) hitching a ride.

The fierce weather prohibits them for reaching their destination overnight, so they decide to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery for respite and warm stew.  Yet already in residence at the small lodge are the enigmatic cowboy Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), elderly Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the new Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth).

What follows is an inevitably Tarantinoesque pressure cooker of narcissists, paranoiacs and sociopaths having to spend time in a room together slowly discovering the motivations and machinations that will build to a bloody climax… 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Film Review: Mad Max. Fury Road (2015)

Nuclear holocausts have been a staple of discouraging cinema for decades, yet somehow they just seem so… fun.  The thought experiment of what would arise from the ashes of Mutually Assured Destruction has preoccupied filmmakers since only a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet the apocalypticaphilia continues to perpetually reinvent itself.

More of an alternate reality offshoot than a sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road reinvents the franchise with Max (Tom Hardy) being captured by the War Boys – the neo-steam punk army of local tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) – and taken back to The Citadel to be used as a “blood bag” for the sickly driver Nix (Nicholas Hoult). 

Meanwhile, loyal lieutenant Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has re-routed a routine gasoline mission in the armored War-Rig, into becoming a maverick escape for Joe’s five specially selected breeding ‘wives’.  On hearing of the betrayal, Joe sends the War Boys – including Max strapped to his Nux’s car for blood transfusion – after the truck and his prized childbearing wives. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Film Review: The Martian (2015)

After a team of scientists and explorers, led by commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), are hit by an unexpectedly large storm on the surface of Mars, they must stage an emergency evacuation.  Yet on the way to the module, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a communication antenna and left behind presumed dead.  He then quickly has to figure out a way to survive for multiple years for a rescue mission in a habitat designed to last for 30 days and “science the shit out of” his terrifying dilemma.

There’s an old philosophical thought experiment about five passengers riding an out-of-control tram on a rail line approaching a cliff next to a track-switch with a second line with a sleeping man laying on it.  Should you pull the lever and save the five even if it means killing the one?  What is the ethical price of a human life?  The Martian is an extended meditation on that very question, with a whole harmony of other themes of solitude, determination and survival.

Film Review: Brooklyn (2015)

In 1952 Enniscorthy in southeastern Ireland, young Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) works weekends at a small corner shop run by the nasty and spiteful evangelical Miss Kelly (Bríd Brennan).  Hating her job, yet finding no better, she agrees to a new life in New York City set up by her sister Rose and émigré Father Flood (Jim Broadbent).

After making the uncomfortable journey across the Atlantic, with the help of her more experienced bunkmate, Eilis ends up in an Irish boarding house in Brooklyn under the watchful eye of her landlady Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) and protective, yet intimidating, fellow Irish immigrant residents.  She gets a job at a department store, yet fails to impress her supervisor Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré) and her homesickness only begins to subside when she meets a local Italian-American called Tony… 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Film Review: The Big Short (2016)

As you will all no doubt remember, in 2007 the financial world had a little bit of a cataclysmic meltdown due to the reckless behavior of some money men on Wall Street.  A lot of white men in suits had created some difficult financial mechanisms that included hundreds of thousands of mortgages, which could be traded and repackaged and traded and repackaged and traded and repackaged…and as long as the house prices kept going up, everyone was happy.

Yet in 2005, an outsider hedge fund-manager and blogger called Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that a huge amount of these mortgages are at risk of default (or ‘subprime’), and are in fact likely to lead to a massive reversal in fortune for the investment banks.  This idea resonates with a number of other maverick financiers, such as the exasperated Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and shady trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who were willing to bet big against the housing market:  The Big Short. 

Film Review: Spotlight (2016)

Sometimes, years after the event, there is nothing better than a Hollywood film to summarise a real-life narrative that we are all painfully aware of.  Films that take a scandal or a public crisis and tell the story from the inside or from another angle, if done well, can really do a public service in canonizing important moments in history.  Or they can just make us feel bad…

Spotlight – headed by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) and consisting of Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) – is the quasi-independent investigative journalist department inside of the Boston Globe. 

Usually left to their own intuitions about stories, the arrival of new Florida editor Marty Baron (Liev Schriber) points them in the direction of a recent claim by a lawyer who says that the Archbishop of Boston was aware of accusations of pedophilia amongst Catholic priests and did nothing to stop them.  Initially working on the premise that they are following one bad priest, it quickly descends into an all-out investigation of the whole diocese (only stopping briefly for the inconvenience of 9/11). 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Film Review: The Revenant (2016)

The Revenant

In early 19th century North America, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) has lead a pack of pelt hunters from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company across the frontier wilderness along the Missouri river. Under the expertise of experienced tracker Hugh Glass (Leo DiCaprio), they have come to the end of their expedition and are preparing their haul for transport back to the outpost, when nearby Arikara warriors looking for their kidnapped chieftain’s daughter attack them.

Glass and Henry lead the few survivors – Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and the selfish John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and others – down the river on a boat to escape.  Further down the river they set up camp, only for Glass to get into a horrific accident whilst searching for food.  After tending to his seemingly fatal wounds, Henry leads the survivors back to the outpost, leaving Fitzgerald in charge of Hawk and Bridger to look after Glass until his final breath.  A decision that everyone will live to regret… 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Film Review: The Danish Girl (2016)

“It’s hard for a man to be looked at by a woman”

In 1926 Copenhagen, husband and wife couple Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander) Wegener are both working as painters honing their craft.  Although Einar has had success in displaying his landscapes, Gerda is being told that her portraits are not yet worthy of exhibition.  In order to help finish her latest work, Einar agrees to model some tights, shoes and a dress, which starts to awaken a growing desire in him.  And so when Einar refuses to attend a tiresome artist’s ball, they decide that Gerda should instead accompany a new alter ego, Lili.

Redmayne portrays Lili with a passionate curiosity as she begins to take on a life of her own outside from Einar, including as Lily begins to see other men from the art world including the amorous Henrik (Ben Whirshaw), and as the unsympathetic Dr. Hexler (Pip Torrens) tries to exorcise Lily through radiation therapy.  As the film advances, Redmayne learns to mimic the movements of the glamorous woman around him, not unlike his extraordinary physical transformation in The Theory of Everything.

Film Review: Carol (2015)

In 1952 Manhattan, Therese (Rooney Mara) has started a temporary job at Frankenberg’s department store where she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett) a glamorous and alluring woman looking for Christmas gifts for her daughter.  After the transaction, Carol leaves her gloves behind leading to Therese finding her address and send them back to her.  Out of gratitude Carol invites her to lunch where they become increasingly closer

Therese is trying to skirt the issue of marriage with her boring boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy).   Meanwhile, Carol is in the middle of a custody battle with her neglectful husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is using an affair Carol had with her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) as proof of her incapacity for motherhood.  To escape their personal lives, they head out west for a road trip… 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

So you think you understand the technical oscar categories...?

This time of year everyone starts to make predictions on who will win which Academy Award, but are you sure you understand the nuance of each category?  If not, then have a read below and ensure that you have the knowledge to pick the right winners...

Oscar Predictions 2016

Below is the list of Academy Award nominees for 2016. Some I like, and some I don't like - But before the big night on February 28th, I will have reviewed most if not all of the big films below and given an opinion on whom I think will win each category...  Stay tuned for updates and look out for my category breakdown later this afternoon.

The glory years...