Free Fire (2017)


If any of you saw my guest post for Lucie Rose a few months ago, you’ll know that Free Fire was one of the top 5 films I was looking forward to this year. And it did not disappoint. 

Set in 1970s America in a single warehouse on the outskirts of Boston, Free Fire focuses on an arms deal that goes wrong between two Irishmen Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and an American gang led by the mildly overdramatic Vernon (Sharlto Copey) and Ord (Armie Hammer on excellent form as the gang’s representative who delights in winding up everyone else in the room). Rounding out the rest of the core cast is Justine (Brie Larson) the mediator and the thankfully level headed Martin (Babou Ceesay). 

One of the things I enjoyed most about Free Fire was the fact that its genre films thats knows its a genre film. From the out the way setting, the general Resevoir Dogs feel generated by the single setting to the brilliantly choreographed walk that they all do in time to the music up the stairs like a 70s band. 

Jump and Wheatley’s screenplay builds the tension from the off, from Frank’s immediate dislike of Ord – “I don’t like his jumper” – to the more important issue of incorrect weapons and finally to the trigger issue that starts the shootout. That issue however, was the only real problem I had with the film, the use and later dismissal of it felt uncomfortable – used a as something of a joke when it probably shouldn’t be. 

Unlike most action films Free Fire focuses on the impact of the violence that the characters inflict on each other. Every successful hit has a reaction – yelps of pain, bullet nicked suits – and by the end of the film the characters left standing are barely doing that, using makeshift crutches to limp and crawl their way across the warehouse. 

The cinematography of Laurie Rose also captures the dirt and grime of the setting so well that you are almost in need of a shower by the time you come out. Dust flies through the air as characters fall heavily to the ground, close ups capturing their faces increasingly coated in grime and sweat.

Alliances are made and broken in quick succession so that by the end of the film you’d be forgiven for forgetting which side everyone belongs to. Its also a wonderfully human film, although the violence and callousness might not be for everyone, its very much about people being hopeless at keeping it together, being calm, but also trying to arrange dates amoungst chaos.  

It’s a film that is divisive – one woman at the end proclaimed how much she hated it – a Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump film that has the ability to pull a more mainstream audience due to big name stars but still revels in its independence. 

Get Out (2017)


After seeing the trailer for this back before Christmas I’ve been both looking forward to this, and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it – mostly due to my immense dislike of horror films. 

But Get Out is so much more than your average horror film – I’d argue that despite its trailer’s image and the general discussion of genre around the film, it is very much a psychological thriller rather than just another horror movie. Even if the opening scene does feature a kidnapping to the tune of Run Rabbit Run. 

The plot, on paper, could be described as simple: a young black man Chris goes to visit his white girlfriend’s parents in the countryside, where everything is not as it seems. Get Out isn’t just about this however – it’s a film about race, tension and privilege in an America that professes that it had moved past all these issues.

Daniel Kaluuya excels as Chris – showing a man who is trying to be comfortable in these surroundings but who can’t shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong. From his comfortable life as a photographer in New York to the shear desperation and horror that he is forced to endure, he plays with a sincerity and truth that only makes what happens to him even worse.

The film also skewers ‘liberal white America’: the Armitages insist on how much they loved Barack Obama and how relaxed they are for Chris to be dating their daughter but their true agenda and feelings are as explicitly racist – and so much worse – as any ‘non-liberal’. 

While being an important and timely film, Get Out is also beautifully shot. Transitions from the countryside to photographs of inner city life to the sound of Childish Gambino, to the eerie and unsettling hypnosis sequences, Jordan Peele manages to unsettle the audience through this depiction of ‘the normal’ American countryside where much more sinister things lurk beneath the surface. 

Not liking horror films is not an excuse to not see this film, it’s a film that uses generic conventions to talk about issues that still affect America today. Plus it’s entertaining and thrilling as hell.

T2 Trainspotting Review

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I finally got around to watching the new Trainspotting sequel last week, and it did not disappoint.

The original 1996 film was a massive cultural phenomenon, a shift away from the period costume dramas that dominated most of the British film industry in the 1980s and early 1990s. Even if you didn’t come of age during the heyday of Britpop, as most people in my generation didn’t, the film still resonates with a lot of people.

Luckily, the sequel does not disappoint.

Partially based off the novel’s sequel Porno, T2 follows Mark as he returns from his self-imposed exile in Amsterdam, confronting the actions of what he did twenty years previous. Begbie’s in prison, Sick Boy’s running an unsuccessful pub in the last non-gentrified area in Edinburgh, with a small blackmail operation on the side. And poor Spud is still an addict.

To try to recreate the original would be a mistake, but Danny Boyle manages to seamless blend clips from the first film into the memories of the characters, along with clips from their friendships as children. This is a film about addicts and ex-addicts trying to avoid the ghosts of the past, but it is also a film about ageing.

If this seems all a bit melancholy, then don’t worry. The script is filled with much of the same black humour as the first film, with recaps of the deaths of Tommy and Baby Dawn juxtaposed with a brilliant scene set in a Protestant social club.

All the orginal cast are on top form, managing to highlight their character’s dissatisifaction with the situations they’ve ended up in, as well as the strong and often painful bonds of friendship that they have with each other. One new character, Simon’s partner and prostitute Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) although key to the narrative of the film is somewhat underwritten, sidelined by the original characters despite her relavance to the plot.

It is all stamped with Danny Boyle’s unique style of filmmaking: exaggerated tilt shifts, pulsing action sequences, and scenes where the colours become illuminating and dominant. It’s a funny, unique film that doesn’t ruin the appeal of the original but will almost certainly become a classic in it’s own right.

And, of course, the soundtrack is brilliant. Combining the hits that were such a major aspect of Trainspotting’s appeal, such as a cracking remix of Born Slippy, songs by Blondie and The Clash, with recent additions by Young Fathers and Wolf Alice. Pretty much my only grievence with the film is the criminal underuse of the Fat White Family track (and a personal favourite) ‘Whitest Boy on the Beach’ which is left until the second credits sequence.

But T2 is a funny, unique film that doesn’t ruin the appeal or legacy of the original but will almost certainly become a classic in it’s own right.

 

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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It’s January, it’s cold and it’s just generally miserable. What better way to cheer yourself up by watching the most uplifting, joyful film of 2016?

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) a young boy who is finally adopted after years in the New Zealand social system, by a couple who live in a remote farm on the edge of the bush. While Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is excited by Ricky’s arrival, her husband Hector (Sam Neill) is less thrilled, spending his time grumpily trudging round the farm. After Bella’s sudden death, both characters escape into the bush and become the targets of a nationwide manhunt.

If this sounds  like the very opposite of a cheerful, happy film, don’t worry. Sam Neill is excellent as Hector, both extremely cankerous and utterly caring at the same time, in his own special way, while Julian Dennison’s performance of Ricky definitely mark him out as someone to watch. The chemistry between the leads is a perfect mix between annoying and caring, as through their adventures they move from two people brought together by circumstance and family.

This being a film set in New Zealand, it has plenty of sweeping helicopter shots, showing the landscape in all its glory as well as several Lord of the Rings references. Waititi’s frequent collaborator Rhys Derby also makes an appearance as ‘Psycho Sam’, a man living in the bush who, true to his name, has gone slightly mad. And although  Neill and Dennison are undoubtedly the stars of the piece, it is the antagonists social worker Paula (Rachel House) and useless police officer Andy (Oscar Kightly) who provide as much amusement with their often failed attempts to catch the pair.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople veers between a heartfelt film about the meaning of family to a western thriller, with shootouts, dangerous boars and a beautifully choreographed police chase in the final act.

Do yourself a favour in these rubbish months and check out this gem of a film on Netflix now!

P.S If the Ricky Baker Birthday Song doesn’t warm your heart, there is something wrong with you.

I, Daniel Blake – Film Review

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I didn’t go into I, Daniel Blake expecting an uplifting film by any means, but the amount that Ken Loach’s latest release moved me was surprising. It’s been a while since I’ve been that upset and angered by a film that portrays the injustice faced by people trying to negotiate the UK’s benefit system.

The two main characters, Daniel and Katie, both face different issues within the overall benefits system. Daniel, after a recent heart attack, has been told by a doctor he cannot work, yet the local benefit office rule that he is ‘fit to work’ and refuse to give him Employment and Support Allowance. Katie, a single mother of two children, has recently been relocated to Newcastle and is facing near starvation after a benefits sanction when she turned up late to an appointment at the Job Centre.

Shot and presented in a typically Loachian realism, the minimal camera work and sparse sets give the film an appearance of a documentary, and given the debates surrounding the benefits cuts under the current government, this is a film that is especially relevant.

The lengths which the characters go to in order to survive – the food bank scene is one of those that will stick with me for a long time – is heartbreaking, and the ending, although not completely left field, was shocking.

When I saw it in the cinema, it wasn’t packed, but when the credits rolled on a plain black screen we all sat in silence, not moving. It is one of the films that leaves you with a huge sense of injustice, made all the worse for non-fiction element.

A worthy Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake is a film that will go down as a damning example of the inequality of 21st century society.

 

Welcome to the Punch – Film Review

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Welcome to the Punch  has all the ingredients of a great film: with the combination of a plot involving detective forced to work with his enemy, and a stellar cast including Mark Strong, James McAvoy and Peter Mullan that should all but guarantee a hit, right?

Although the film is exciting at points, with the twists and turns you’d expect from a  film in that genre, the whole thing falls a bit flat. Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) is a detective still recovering from the physical and mental wounds inflicted by  notorious career criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong), when he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that goes right to the top of the Met.

From that point, the details get a little hazy. The film can’t quite decide if it’s about arms dealing, or a somewhat bizarre plot to arm the Metropolitan Police, and you are never given anymore details about Sternwood’s past. There are a few points which are given a weird significance within the narrative, but then never mentioned again – but not in a Lynchian way, more in a ‘we forgot to resolve this’ way.

That’s not to say I hated it, I am a complete sucker for thriller films, but it felt formulaic, going over ground that has been tread a thousand times by films with not nearly as much potential as this one had. The prevalence of the blue tones in the mise en scene did lean it a cold, impersonal edge, almost making the film feel like it is in black and white, so drained of colour are some of the scenes, which was an interesting but effective choice.

A decent thriller film, that fell short of what it could have been.

 

Sicario (2015) – Film Review

 

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There probably isn’t much left to say about Sicario that hasn’t been said already, but what a film. From the gruesome discovery in the walls of an inconspicuous house to the final, tense encounter, this is a film that refuses the audience even a small break from the pervading sense of unease.

As Kate Macer, the FBI agent suddenly adrift in a morally grey world, Emily Blunt is fantastic, balancing the increasingly complex demands with her own conscience. It’s also refreshing to have a female character in an action film like Sicario who isn’t just reduced to a side character, or treated as useless purely due to her gender. The times when she is dismissed by Graver (Josh Brolin) or Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) is usually due to her persistence in finding out the truth about the operation, going behind her superiors’ backs. Brolin is also excellent as the mysterious, unorthdox leader of the operation, whose relaxed nature hides an appetite for violence.

A special mention has to go to del Toro, whose portrayal of Alejandro has to go down as one of the best of the year. He has the tendency to stick to the background of the film, serving as an observer of the action, revealing little about his character to the audience. It is through a heart-breaking reveal that his motives are revealed, and his unbreakable calmness in the final act of the film is as unnerving as the violence. How he didn’t win an Oscar for this performance, I do not know.

The film itself is beautifully shot by Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, with the washed-out pastels of Arizona and the various internal locations contrasting with the almost complete blackness of the night op, or the vivid colours locations in Juarez.

While Villeneuve does criticise the policy of the US in the Mexican drug wars, the individual characters are not criticised, and the film ends on a slightly unfulfilled note, with the implication that despite everything Macer has experienced, nothing will ever really change.

The Martian – Film Review

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The ultimate survivor movie, The Martian manages to be an entertaining spectacle without too much gloomy introspection one would expect if stranded alone on Mars.

Films about space – and sci-fi in general – can tend to reply too much on suspension of belief and an in-depth knowledge of scientific terms.  However the most recent sci-fi films that I’ve watched, The Martian and Ex Machina, set their action in a world that is more advanced scientifically than our own, but not so much that it becomes an unrecognisable, futuristic space. It’s that ‘almost reality’ that lends itself to the plot of the story: time is not wasted by establishing the rules of the world, or even how travelling to Mars is now common place.

Matt Damon as Mark Watney, astronaut and botanist extraordinaire, manages to keep the balance of drama with the more light-hearted moments, which stops the film from getting too melodramatic. The addition of his soliloquies to the cameras around the HAB also help with the narrative, as he explains his actions to the audience in a way that doesn’t seem forced.

One of the most striking elements of the film is the contrast between the scenes on Earth and Mars. Scenes based on Earth are hectic and seem to have a pervading greyness, lit solely by artificial lighting and the glow from computer screens. Mars meanwhile is a harsh, beautiful orange landscape, with the human action seemingly constantly dwarfed by the surroundings.

It does tend to fall back on several tropes towards the end: the eccentric scientist Rich Purnell, and the authoritarian Teddy Sanders, but the ensemble cast – all trying to come at the same problem in different ways, and clashing – manage to keep the film rooted firmly in humanity.

Overall, 4/5 stars.

My Top 5 Films

I haven’t been able to get to the cinema recently, and my free time seems to have been spent trying to sort out things with my new house, so I decided that I’d do a quick post on my favourite films, to keep this blog as active as possible.

These films are in no particular order, as they are all completely different and impossible to compare to each other.

1. La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995) 

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I first watched this film several years ago and enjoyed it, but after studying this year as part of my Cinematic City module, noticed different aspects to the film that I would never have noticed.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film is arguably his finest work as a director, a semi-realist, yet heavily stylised piece that explores police brutality, racism and poverty against the explosive backdrop of France in the 1990s. With the situation in the USA at the moment, as well as goings on over here in Britain, it also feels particularly poignant.

The day after a night of rioting, after a young man of Arab heritage is killed by police, the film follows three young men around their housing estate – the banlieue – on the outskirts as they bicker and try to find something to occupy their time with in the barren, concrete landscape. Although La Haine explores the issues often found in social-realist drama, the film is far more stylistic in its approach. Kassovitz uses the black and white film stock to create a timeless feel, whilst the extended takes emphasises the boredom and pointlessness that Vinz, Hubert and Said experience in their isolated space in the banlieue.

2. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)

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Although this isn’t Danny Boyle’s most popular film by far, with neither the cultural impact or critical reception of Trainspotting, I would tentatively say that it is my favourite film of his. Criticised by some on release for some resemblance to Inception, I stumbled across it by accident and loved it. Although it shares elements of the introspective imaginings and mind games, not to mention a pretty unexpected plot twist, I would argue that is – as much as a film like this can be – more realistic that Inception. 

What starts off as a art heist gone wrong, quickly descends into a twisting and admittedly confusing, search for identity, stability and Goya’s Witches in the Air. The three main characters, Simon (James McAvoy), Franck (Vincent Cassel) and Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), are all presented as flawed and at some points, unlikable people, with the audience sympathies shifting unexpectedly throughout the film.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a film that definitely requires more than one, or maybe even two viewings,but it’s completely worth it. Not to mention the often beautiful cinematography that plays heavily with blue and orange hues, as well as the “trance-like” music that accompanies the film, by Boyle’s long time collaborator Rick Smith.

 

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alfredson, 2011)

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With possibly one of the best British ensemble casts of any film ever, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that takes its time with the plot, combining flashbacks and stories with the present timeline. It is confusing at points, but such a rewarding film and a proper old fashioned spy flick.

Alfredson and the crew perfectly recreated 1970s England, and the dull, muted nature of the cinematography reflects this, very much placing the film firmly in a slightly stylised version of the era.

It’s a film that questions loyalty, patriotism, and also possibly the workings of the establishment in the cover up of wrong doings within the government. Again, a film that you’ll need a few hours for, and possibly more than one viewing.

 

4. Leon: The Professional (Besson, 1994)

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From the first few seconds of the film, as a long shot takes you from high above New York, through the parks and finally into the streets of Little Italy, the sweeping and often haunting soundtrack immediately takes you into a oppressively hot summer, where anything is possible. To me, Leon is a film that captures the nature of the summer: the haziness, the saturated nature of the city, even if the themes of film does not follow that summer movie vibes.

Natalie Portman, in her motion picture debut, is excellent as Matilda, a vulnerable, feisty and determined twelve year old who teams up with the professional hitman in order to get revenge on the highly corrupt police official (Gary Oldman) who brutally murders her family. The psychotic Stansfield is the most over the top character in the film, but it in a way that just about borders on plausible.

While you wouldn’t expect a film that is based on a young girl becoming a ruthless contract killer to be overtly positive, it does explore isolation, friendship and relationships. It is a fairly brutal film, slightly let down by the ending, but it’s one of the first films that I fell in love with.

 

5. What We Do in The Shadows (Waititi and Clement, 2014)

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Finally, a film that is wildly different from any of the films on this list. If you’re fed up of vampires attending high school and falling in love with teenagers, this is the film for you. A mockumentary in the style of The Office and Parks and Recreation, it follows the lives of four vampires in New Zealand as they deal with the challenges of modern life – the internet, flat chores and getting into nightclubs – while trying to stay undercover.

It’s a ridiculous concept, but it manages to work, exploring the tropes of vampire lore and the supernatural while also turning them on their head. Each of the characters think they’re much more sophisticated and mature than they actually are, when in reality none of them know how to use a record player.

Endlessly quotable and hilarious, I would 100% recommend a watch.

 

 

That was a lot longer than I planned it to be, and that is a list that would more than likely change in six months time. Would you agree with my list? What would you put in your top 5?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

The Nice Guys Review

1461996759714Set in Los Angeles in 1977, The Nice Guys is part film noir, part murder mystery involving dead porn actresses, the head of the US Department of Justice, the car industry and a multitude of conspiracy theories.

Shane Black manages to make a plot that could be formulaic – slightly amoral detectives, bad guys and a mysterious young woman who holds the key to whole story – into a funny, visually pleasing film. This is in no small part due to cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, who captures the lurid, neon glow of LA at night, and the hazy glow of the city during the day – thanks to the increasing pollution of car fumes. The costumes too are brilliant, taking full advantage of some of the more questionable fashion choices of the 1970s and running with it. In one sequence set at the party of a questionable producer, the sleaziness and excess of the era is displayed in all its glory, with body paint, mermaids and the not-so great and good of the porn industry partying together.

Ryan Gosling (PI Howard Marsh) and Russell Crowe (Jackson Healy) bounce off each other, turning from rivals, to a grudging marriage of convenience, to friendship, with Marsh being the main source of common relief, with his permanent sarcasm and inability to take anything seriously. Angourie Rice (Holly Marsh) manages to play the role of the slightly precocious child without turning into a stereotyped annoyance, occasionally acting as a foil to the two leads, whilst also helping with the mystery.

While The Nice Guys is an entertaining comedy, there is more than a touch of David Lynch to the whole affair. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mulholland Drive at various points, as memory, identity and an opening scene involving an violent car crash.

Overall a funny and enjoyable film. 4/5 stars.