Month: April 2015

Queen and Country (2015)

Written for RAF News Apr 2015

Queen and Country is John Boorman’s follow up to his Oscar nominated classic Hope and Glory – where the first film told a semi-autobiographic tale of his childhood during WW2 through the character Bill Rohan, this sentimental sequel picks up in his late teens when called for National Service in the Korean war.

q+c

Luckily for Boorman, and his film equivalent played by Callum Turner, his duties consist of teaching recruits to type before they are shipped out to the frontline. The biggest threat to Bill is his pedantic Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis) who has the manual of military offences committed to memory. Bill catches some of his righteous fury when accused of seducing a soldier from the course of his duty after speaking out against the war, and so too does his close pal Percy after meddling with the RSM’s precious clock.

By focussing on the pair’s frivolousness antics against the backdrop of a hellish war, Boorman once again explores his own personal, perhaps wilfully naïve, experience – continuing on from Hope and Glory with the same light-hearted whimsy. The film is certainly a comedy with a traditional more campy approach but this later effort edges closer to romance. Where he once sought companionship from local kids rummaging around bomb sites for trophies of shrapnel, Bill now longs for a girl known only to him as Ophelia.

Turner is pleasantly understated as Bill, though this may just be in contrast to Caleb Landry Jones who gives a strange and strained performance as his sidekick, pursing his lips and chewing scenery when given half the chance. Aside from this pair, it is the supporting cast who steal the film – Pat Shortt’s professional skiver and David Thewlis’ uptight Sgt Major carry the laughs, whilst Vanessa Kirby adds a dose of dynamism as Bill’s sister back home.

Advertisements

A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year moves with a steady and deliberate pace, captivating with an intensity that feels like it could turn at any moment – much like the self-made businessman at the centre of the story.

AMV

Abel Morales is an oil man. A Columbian immigrant who has striven to succeed legitimately and carve out a piece of the American Dream for him and his family. The first things we see in the film are Abel (Oscar Isaac) his lawyer (Albert Brooks) and one of his trucks emblazoned with Standard Heating Oil – the same name as Isaac’s character in Drive in which he starred alongside Brooks. Where Drive had the garish stylism of the 80s, A Most Violent Year – set in 1981 – couldn’t be more different: it mutes its colours and completely tones down the style to create a dulled wintry New York more in line with Sidney Lumet.

A more mature and meditative film that carries the measured approach of its cool-headed protagonist. Where Gosling’s Driver was liable to crash the film into sudden chaos, Abel exercises a control that keeps the film levelled, intent on maintaining his companies growth and keeping his hands clean. This is becoming something of struggle however, considering that his growing success is making him the target of multiple hijackings, and subject of criminal investigations simultaneously.

Another film promising blood – delivering oil

The films title, though misleading in terms of genre, references the peak crime rates of New York in 1981, the climate in which Abel’s drivers are hunted down. Abel, a man of morals, knows that he must resist the temptation to retaliate, especially whilst being monitored so closely by the assistant DA (David Oyelowo) and whilst he tries to secure a sizeable loan for a property in which he has invested everything. This doesn’t actually seem to be the prime motivator for Abel though, a first-generation immigrant who is defined more by his principles: a resilient man tested only by his wife, a steely Brooklyn mob-daughter who threatens constantly to take things into her own hands – her emasculating shadow captured perfectly during a roadside incident with an injured deer.

In the pursuit of power there comes the exchange of exposure and vulnerability, which is communicated through the lighting in each scene. Most deals take place inside under heavy-set shadows, or with curtains drawn, or silhouetted against the sun. Only when someone is exposed are they lit from the front – it’s almost jarring the first time this happens as it feels so out of place in the film. It seems the pacing and filming style are intrinsically tied to themes within the film and work subtly enhance the performances, which are impressive in their own right.

A Most Violent Year is a boldly confident film – and it deserves to be.

Bugsy Malone (1976)

DVD Review – Written for RAF News Apr 2015

Bugsy Malone is a children’s classic that tells the story of two rival gangs in prohibition era Chicago where a new weapon has arrived on the scene.. a child friendly Tommy gun.

bugsy

Shot in 70s London and set in 20s New York, Bugsy Malone remains a unique film that at times looks like utter chaos, with children standing in for adults and cream pies taking the place of bullets. Scott Baio is Bugsy, a wisecracking charmer who comes to the aid of speakeasy proprietor Fat Sam, our adolescent Al Capone, whilst under attack from a new outfit kitted out with Splurge guns.

Jodie Foster, considered a veteran actor at 13, stands out among many first time actors – fresh off the set of Taxi Driver working with Scorsese and De Niro, to working in this miniature mafia musical with a cast all under the age of 16. At times it feels like a school play – but with unbelievable production value. Costumes and sets have been shrunk down to create a world for our half-pint hero Bugsy, peddling around in custom built cars with a bicycle beneath the frame – said to cost just as much as a regular saloon car.

Bugsy Malone has a bizarre concept that is made all the more strange by the musical numbers – sung by adults with mismatched voices and danced by kids with no previous experience – but it holds onto an otherworldly charm. It really is a parody of the gangster genre, or of film in general, by showing the nature of acting as merely playing pretend. The only difference is that the industry as well as its actors take themselves too seriously, but Bugsy Malone doesn’t hide the fact that it’s just a bit of fun. Sickly and cringe-worthy at times but high spirited and harmless.

Africa

the chicken gets off the bus and crosses the road

rosa parks on a double yellow and gets her car towed

mario’s peachy by the smell of his clothes

after sitting on a pin mary rose declared she was off to rome

all roads lead there but there’s no place like home

so if you get homesick and want to get home quick

follow the road made of yellow brick

mind the little monkeys with wings

you’re best off with the munchkins

in case you didn’t know though

they’re getting paid less than toto

so a tip would go far

god bless you sir

and the rain that falls in africa

Good Kill (2015)

Good Kill opens very similarly to American Sniper – with a women and child caught in a cross hair, but where Chris Kyle found himself on the backline with a sniper, Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) couldn’t be further away: piloting a drone in Afghanistan from an air-conditioned cubicle near his home in Las Vegas.good-killFor those unfamiliar with the workings of drones this world seems like science-fiction, but as the Colonel informs a bunch of new recruits – ‘This is not the future but the here and fucking now’. And this is set 5 years ago. Small teams of uniformed airman climb into freight containers and sit in front of a screen with two joy-pads launching attacks on Taliban 7000 miles away like some sinister back-alley arcade.

Egan scans for targets, locks and fires – counting down the moment of impact. The small figures on the monitor are engulfed by clouds of smoke. There is no audio, instead they flatly announce the hit – ‘Splash’… this does not sound like an explosion. Looking on through a screen they are far removed from the experience, us watching the film doubly so. If the low-stakes wager of killing people without ‘skin in the game’ is displacing for Egan, then we can’t help but find this micro-sized, muted attack uninteresting after a while. This is the point. We are becoming desensitised and uncaring – we are becoming in essence perfect recruits. Then all that’s left for the team to do is to tally the dead and deliver the empty, oxymoronic slogan – ‘Good Kill’.

There is something of writer director Andrew Nichols previous work here, not just Lord of War but elements of The Truman Show are in the strange contained suburbs of the soldiers families, and the ominous all seeing eye-in-the-sky. One of the more subtle anti-drone arguments made to highlight the likeness of American citizens and enemy forces is in the crooked God’s eye view that captures Egan at home, the wider shots showing mostly desert, reminding us of an image that we have seen many times already… just before the Splash.

Struggling to reconcile the morality of killing people without risk, ex-fighter pilot Egan and new recruit Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) are faced more directly with the dilemmas imposed by this new kind of warfare when they are selected to take direct orders from the CIA. As is clear from the title, this film is concerned with whether drone warfare is right – or justifiable. Where American Sniper was unflinchingly certain of its hero and the enemies he executed, Good Kill couldn’t be more opposed, focusing instead on the doubts and the casualties of war.

8E9A6700.CR2

It sounds like a Daniel Tosh joke manifest: ‘We owe it to our troops to let them sleep in their own beds, wake up in the morning, have a delicious breakfast, and drive to war’. The reality is stark.

The arguments made throughout are all legitimate but so heavy-handed that they take you out of the film. It is impressive that such a stance has been taken, set during the escalated drone attacks in 2010 but nonetheless timely, a needed breath of fresh air from the flag-waving fair that we have become accustomed to. This is what makes Good Kill all the more frustrating.

For some characters it makes sense to be entering a debate but for others it feels like an obvious, sometimes laughable, device – the on-the-nose lines from Egan’s wife during an argument with her husband come on stronger than the Colonel’s recruitment speech. There is a time and a place and unfortunately the constant debate and half clever wordplay stands in for most of the dialogue and interferes with any real character development.

Though the drone angle is new and the anti-war stance is admirable, the film slips back into cliché melodrama when showing how Egan is torn apart by alcoholism and paranoia – this despite being able to drive home to a family bbq after a long day at war. Maybe this is the point but it becomes tired and predictable. It is a shame that more time wasn’t devoted to creating a character worth caring about so it could been a little cleverer with its message. Regardless this is a bold film that needed to be made.

Factotum

Today I lost my job. I wasn’t fired rather I wasn’t hired. This after a long stint of being strung along with the promise of maybe one day becoming a fully fledged employee.

I was, and remain, a humble temp. A hired hand and office chameleon. Brought into an established dynamic from anywhere between an hour and a year – this particular occasion was on the later side of the scale.

I have been temping for a few years now and still I relish in the experience. Able to drop into a company as an outsider and view the inner-workings, the characters and rituals unique, or identical, to other offices a stones throw away. Perhaps I was primed with romanticism having read some Bukowski, especially when the parallels were glaring. Factotum synonymous with temp, one of my first jobs was in a postroom – Post Office! My mind flashed before me.

This is where I would eventually return and where I would subsequently try to hold on and transition into one of those regular bods – one of those everydayers with paid holiday and a pension scheme. Alas, it was not meant to be.

To be fair this was never part of the plan. I was happy dipping in and out and coasting by on whatever hourly rate was high enough to cover my travel from yonder and leave me enough for the odd loaf of bread and bottle of wine. I shouldn’t force the parallels with Charles.. although it’s the grand national tomorrow and I need me a pound note. Especially now that I’m out on a job hunt.

Wish me luck yeah.

Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Written for RAF News April 2015

Cobain: Montage of Heck is an evocative visual poem that paints the life and trials of the man at the helm of alt-punkrock band Nirvana.

kurtcobain

With materials spanning Cobain’s childhood drawings, diaries, comics and countless pages of lyrics, the film takes on his voice, literally at times when the captured voice of a young Kurt narrates the stories on screen. Unlike Nick Broomfield’s documentary Kurt and Courtney which was notably affected by the material withheld by Courtney Love, Montage of Heck is built on a wealth of never before seen artefacts inherited and subsequently shared by their daughter Francis Bean.

Brought to life through different styles of animation and all set to Cobain’s music as somekind of violent musical, the film becomes a true reflection of his state of mind – each piece finding a place and allowing him to tell his own story. Alternate cuts of Nirvana tracks play as anthems under the teenage bouts of rebellion and depression from which they were born. Scrawled diary notes carry the angst and inner turmoil that would develop into his later more fully formed music, but also carry a poignancy in retrospect of his eventual suicide.

Meeting the various stages of Cobain’s torment – from his young, broken-home angst to his conflicted longing for a family and success – bursts of static and feedback blend nightmarish scenes filled with super 8 footage and animated sketches. But it seems that both successes as well as failures pose threats to Cobain, each in turn feels like a punch landed that could be the fatal blow.

Along with Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth, it seems the tired fly-on-the-wall has died and a more personal, complex form of music documentary has taken effect. A truly impressive film.