Reviews

Photograph (2019)

Written for RAF News July 2019

Photograph sees an unlikely relationship develop between Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who takes photos of tourists by the Mumbai Gateway, and a fleeting subject (Sanya Malhotra) who he talks into posing for a quick snap before she floats away in a crowd, before even taking her polaroid.

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Hearing that his grandmother has stopped taking her medication, despairing over the fact that he has not found a partner, Rafi sends the polaroid – which so delights her that she comes to visit, so that she may meet this fictional girlfriend.

Rafi finds solace in the fabricated relationship with the girl in the photograph – giving her a name and fantasising about her perfection. But this isn’t enough, he must find the girl and convince her to join in the charade and convince his hypercritical grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar). Her real name is Miloni, an accounting student with such promise that she is front and centre on billboards advertising the school that she attends. Their fate is marked on their first meeting, and the film will gently and gradually pull them together.

Miloni agrees to play pretend as recompense for having left him at the gates – this is a classic comedy set-up but it is used to bring out empathy and understanding. Through grandma’s insults and anecdotes, Rafi appears meek and sensitive, qualities that Miloni seems to admire or at least to which she can relate. Both introverted and with domineering parents, they share a tenderness.

Conflict comes in the shape of class difference, shown by their living situation, education and careers. At one point Miloni joins in eating some street food, which makes her ill. Grandma doesn’t understand, insisting that they are fine and that she’ll get used to it. Small observed details help to paint the picture, in their preferences of Cola and Kulfi for example, details which are not surprising coming from Ritesh Batra, the writer/director of The Lunchbox – a Mumbai love story communicated primary through food.

Photograph is almost a throwback to a classic love story, sentimental but grounded in small expressions and details.

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Lucid (2019)

Written for RAF News June 2019

A young nebbish introvert struggles socially until a neighbour introduces him to lucid dreaming, allowing him the possibility of realising his fantasies.

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Zel (Laurie Calvert) is a car-park attendant for a burlesque-style club with an apparent reputation and a clientele of wealthy hedonists, judging by the drivers who come by his window. Constantly reminded of his status, and mocked by his thuggish boss Theo (Cristian Solimeno), Zel’s desire to ask out one of the clubs dancers and to stand up to Theo is just a dream. This is until a washed-up psychologist (Billy Zane) teaches him that he could take control of his dreams and use them to build real-world confidence.

Lucid dreaming is a real phenomenon that is used for such purposes (the ‘lucid nightmare’ being the subject of Vanilla Sky and Nightmare on Elm Street) which makes the concept a solid basis for a film. Shot on a modest budget, Lucid works within its means and manages to turn it into a strength. Astonishingly, it is worth noting that first time writer and director Adam Morse has achieved this despite being registered blind for the past decade.

Having a cripplingly timid main character, that is not always sympathetic, is challenging but Calvert plays it realistically. The main hurdle in believability is the relationship between Zel and frizzy cravat wearer Elliot, but Zane’s calm confidence fills this void or distracts at the very least, able to provide some comedy alongside the catalyst for change.

As perfectly deconstructed in Nolan’s logic-twisting action-epic Inception, dream logic dovetails naturally with cinema: scenes can jump to different locations, or begin in the middle, and it will seem completely ordinary. In Lucid everything is neatly laid out, with set-ups and pay-offs, and without getting complex, which is a huge achievement considering the subject.

There’s a strange elegance in it’s simplicity – when it feels as though its about to nosedive into fantasy, it pulls back and lands something much more relatable.

Fonotune: An Electric Fairytale (2019)

Written for RAF News June 2016

A rag-tag bunch of headphone wearing wanderers make their way across barren desert-lands to see the final gig of a retiring rockstar in the middle of nowhere.

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We first join mute drifter Mono, played by the film’s director FINT, and despite offering absolutely nothing – he will be our constant and surrogate. Along the way he bumps into a series of individuals all with the same purpose so they amble together in the same direction; and so must we. Rather than exchanging words, they each listen to their preferred radio station, the names of which decorate the screen with stylish typeface.

But despite the promise of music, the most prominent sound is of footsteps as our gang march through a largely empty frame, collecting members such as Stereo the Hustler (Yûho Yamashita), and Analog the Drifter (Kazushi Watanabe).

To call them characters would be a stretch – they are set apart by their clothes and choice of music, exhibiting one behaviour throughout, second always though to walking. The combination of slow, repetitive shots with an occasionally arresting composition combine well with the ambiguity if you have the patience, but this could very well be tested. These names too appear as well crafted title-cards, emblazoned across the screen like a Batman onomatopoeia circa Adam West.

Some details dropped along the way suggest FINT knows very well what he is doing and – there is a moment in which the gang stop to watch an impromptu performance by a band without instruments or amps, their thrashed enthusiasm heard only through comically muted twangs.

The few moments in which we are transported to the station FNTN where a futurist DJ is mixing live, the scenes come to life and the minimal aesthetic is elevated. It is frustrating that this isn’t used more, perhaps the fear is that it would feel too much like a music video. Instead we drift alongside the group in near silence, hoping for a pay off that will never quite take shape.

Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out in America (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

The late Hugh Hefner, whose well-timed death had him narrowly avoiding the Me Too movement, is the subject of a new documentary, or rather his late night talk show-come-entertainment showcase of the late 50s through to 1970.

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If one were not hip to the groove of this television show, or indeed Hef’s history of activism, they might think from the title that this is a scandalous tell-all. In actual fact, Hefner wasn’t always the bathrobed pensioner of his later years, he was among many things a smooth-talking host of dinner parties; a curator of comedy and musical talent spanning from folk to gospel.

Playboy’s Penthouse, the initial incarnation of the show, aired in 1959-60 before midnight. A formal affair, shot in black and white, Hefner greeted the audience as a party guest and welcomed them to observe intimate performances from legends such as Nina Simone and Nat ‘King’ Cole. It feels a little stiff and yet it plays as far less contrived than contemporary talk shows, with Hefner’s suave yet emotionless style sometimes offset by the wise-cracking of comedians such as Bob Newhart or Lenny Bruce.

As this documentary, which features Hefner himself as a talking head, makes clear – the mix of talent from different races was unprecedented. After the Second World War there was still a cultural separation, in places such as Georgia an enforced segregation. This show was an antidote to these beliefs, showing progressive ideals through its celebration of diverse music and giving a platform to much deserving artists.

The musical acts, which were political as a matter of cultural context, would remain political in the second version of the show Playboy After Dark, airing from 1969-1970. Once again bridging two decades, the show’s conversational segments would be transgressive, talking about social change, injustice and racism. Not shying away from controversial subjects but steering head-on into them, offering opinions on the ongoing Vietnam War for example.

Feeling a little like a ‘best of’ stitched together with interviews of featured musicians, the uniting theme of the subtitle is the championing of free speech, which remains as important now. Loosely made relevant with stock footage here and there, the archive footage speaks for itself. The film is worth watching just to witness icons sharing the same space, the same stage, and having their voices heard.

Shed of the Dead (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

Trevor (Spencer Brown) spends his days in a shed on his allotment, painting miniature figurines for a fantasy role playing game, ignoring the reality of his unemployment by imagining himself a hero.

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Using this overgrown patch of land as a hideout from his nagging wife, distilling vodka from potatoes pilfered from his neighbours, Trevor isn’t popular. He is smug and condescending without a modicum of self awareness, refusing to get his allotment in order because gardening isn’t for him.

Cowardly and yet aggressively combative, his only friend Graham (Ewen MacIntosh) is an agoraphobe who shares his misplaced arrogance. But together they might be the only hope for humanity on the brink of a zombie apocalypse. It doesn’t get bogged down in explaining how or why, but the assumption is that we’ve all seen enough zombie films to get the gist; and we have.

The film has the most fun when it’s playing with special effects and make-up, but it does itself a disservice by creating a central character so loathsome that you end up routing for the undead. Although it is farcical, when Jeff accidentally kills a neighbouring gardener (Kane Hodder) in the opening of the film, and decides to chop him up to avoid suspicion, nothing supernatural has occurred. He is simply an unsympathetic and painfully unfunny sociopath.

As the title pretty much spells out, this English Zombie comedy is derivative, making references to films that are making references to other films, like a photocopy of a photocopy, losing trace of anything original or funny.

The bulk of the cast, including small parts for horror legends Michael Berryman and Bill Moseley, have seen there fair share of low budget horrors and zombie flicks – a sub-genre that has become so saturated that it is mentioned in the film itself, but that doesn’t mean it won’t keep coming back.

Sunset (2019)

Lazlo Nemes’ much anticipated follow up to Son of Saul is a slow, unravelling mystery set in Budapest 1913, a city rivalling Vienna in all splendour but with a tension bubbling beneath that has them on the brink of the Great War.

Sunset Movie Review

Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) arrives at a renowned hat retailer that by no coincidence shares her name. This store belonged to her late parents, from whom she was separated as an infant. Raised with impressive milliner experience, Irisz returns seeking employment and a connection to the family that she left behind. When she hears talk of having a brother, involved in a local scandal no less, she becomes determined to find out what happened, despite many wanting her to quietly leave town. None moreso than the current proprietor of Leiter’s, and yet through sheer will and stubborn determination she returns time and again, managing somehow to worm her way into a position and a place to stay.

There begins a pattern of Irisz having a door closed in her face, both figuratively and literally, only to find another way in, sometimes impossibly so. This she does whilst uncovering secrets that belie this establishment and the customer base of wealthy elites.

Sunset uses the same shooting style as Nemes’ previous film, following the central character and framing every event from her perspective, if not looking over her shoulder, looking directly at her face. Where Son of Saul had the terrifying urgency of a Jewish worker navigating through hellish layers of Auschwitz, the style choice is less obvious here.

Despite being in every shot of the film Irisz doesn’t give much away. This feels mysterious at first, especially with her magical ability to defy instruction and consequences, but no explanation makes her feel empty, if not a tad dense, in the end.

The camerawork, which has to be a focus-puller’s nightmare, grows tiresome with unclear intention, making events feel more contrived than they might have otherwise – conveniently stumbled upon like a kind of immersive theatre.

The drawn out pace and repetitive nature make it feel unnecessarily long, but it is a treat to look at regardless and you sit in constant admiration of its complex coordination.

Alien Addiction (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

Ignoring the conspiracies of his paranoid mother, stoner Riko (Jimi Jackson) stumbles upon an alien spacecraft in the woods and finds that they actually have a lot in common. That is to say: they are mind numbingly stupid and love to smoke.

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These other-worldly beings have big blue heads, and shuffle about with their bellies pushed out. This they do whilst on the hunt for human excrement, which they see as gifts, to be smoked. When things couldn’t seem to get much more ridiculous, Riko befriends the aliens and helps them to chase this high whilst a conspiracy blogger hunts them down.

There isn’t much else going on in the small town of Waikato, New Zealand, nor is there in the film and yet it manages to run at an hour and a half. It’s a juvenile concept but the constant swearing indicates that it’s not meant for children, just stoners maybe, at least it couldn’t be accused of being pretentious. The characters of this film would enjoy it, but then Riko and his group are portrayed as half-wits with no aspirations.

The group of lads, who obsess over getting stoned and racing cars (in that order) to fast food outlets, serve the biggest opportunity for comedy but it’s not long before Riko parts ways with them to spend time with the idiot extra-terrestrials. Wearing costumes that don’t allow for expression leaves Jackson to do the heavy lifting, as it resorts to some basic visual gags.

Alien Addiction feels like Dude Where’s My Car?, or rather that it could have been conceived by one it’s characters, with a unbelievably silly story barely holding it together.