Review- Fifty Shades Darker (James Foley)

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Contains spoilers and quite a bit of ranting

It almost feels like a pointless exercise writing a review for a film that clearly is not meant to be aimed at the critics, that the point of the Fifty Shades series is to please the crowd of the excitable fans of the book and it is not trying to make a form of artistic statement. Yet it is also hard to ignore the need to expel your feelings when you have witnessed a film that has left you aghast at how awful it is.

Fifty Shades Darker, the second instalment in EL Jame’s bonkbuster trilogy, continues straight after the first film Fifty Shades of Grey, where Anastacia Steele (Dakota Johnson) has left the dashing/mental unstable (delete as appropriate to your preference) Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).  Unable to understand and accept Christian’s sexual demands, Ana has forged a new life for herself, with a job at a publishing agency. Yet there is a sense of malaise to her daily life and when Christian shows up at her friends, somewhat creepy, art exhibition and buys every photograph emblazed with her image, she agrees to dinner with him. They rekindle their relationship but this time there will be no rules and no secrets between the two of them but Ana soon discovers that old habits die hard and the past has a way of resurfacing.

The film tries to shoehorn in a variety of subplots to add conflict , from a jilted ex submissive to the introduction of Christian’s Mrs Robinson, the woman who took his innocence and awakened his sexual preferences, yet nothing can disguise the fact that Fifty Shades Darker has no strong narrative, it simply meanders from one scene to another. The dialogue is excruciating and is delivered with no conviction or emotion and each sex scene is presented with a bombastic pop song to try to create some form of tension and fission but every one falls flat, undermined by the glaring omission of no form of chemistry between its leads.  And therein lies the rub as Fifty Shades is a film that needs more than anything a sense of attraction and heat between its central characters to make up for its narrative shortcomings yet it has nothing in its arsenal and even more damning is the lack of any positive qualities in this couple’s relationship for the audience to believe in.

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Christian Grey is a terrible terrible character whose behaviour is irritating, alarming and appalling and should be a clear as day indicator that this man needs many years of therapy before embarking upon a serious relationship. Apart from being young, rich and looking like Jamie Dornan, Christian displays no warmth and appealing behaviour to warrant Ana’s devotion to him or her perseverance on helping him battle his demons. Meanwhile Anastacia Steele (it pains me to write her full name almost as much as it pains me to hear Christian say it) is constantly told by various characters and Christian himself that she is different to his previous female partners/his submissives, that she is an independent spirit who will not yield to his more intimidating methods. But this point is routinely thwarted by Christian’s and her consequent behaviour as every time she protests his actions, the next moment she (literally) bends to his will. Ana is also denied any function beyond her sexuality, her boss at the publishing agency, who at first appears to be genuinely interested in her literary opinions, soon turns out to be a lecherous creep in a plot device to also excuse Christian’s overzealous behaviour and when she takes over her boss’ role at the company, this is undermined by the fact that Christian is now in his words ‘her boss’ boss’ boss’.

Johnson and Dornan have shown promise elsewhere however in this tripe series of films, they are saddled with badly drawn characters whose actions are irritating and annoying and afford no chance for an acting range beyond wooden and whimpering. On second thoughts perhaps they do show some acting promise as how they manage to keep a straight face delivering the appalling dialogue is a feat of sheer tenacity.

There are those that may be reading this that say Fifty Shades is just fantasy and not to be taken seriously, that it is just titillation and I would agree that it is fantasy, that I would find more realism in a CGI crammed Marvel movie. But it is just a fantasy that I find repugnant and unnerving, not that a woman would subject herself to those bedroom antics, but would tolerate the actions out of the bedroom. And to my eyes there is no romance to be found in the films (or the books, well I gave up after the first) to justify Mr Grey’s demeanour. And beyond the fantasy, in the real world that I want to live in women want to smash the glass ceiling and not settle to live in the penthouse apartment.

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Review- La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

 

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We all know the score, its January, its cold and miserable, we are carrying post festivity pounds yet our wallets are feeling considerably lighter and to top it all off, we are still licking our wounds from the previous year’s constant assault of bad news, piling one brick after another in a Jenga onslaught that threatened to topple us. Oh and we have to prepare ourselves for the Trump presidency. So La La land has picked just the right time to come into our lives, Damien Chazelle’s modern day musical has come to whisk away the cobweb cynicism, to bring a sense of hope to proceedings and to bring Technicolor joy to the silver screen.

Emma Stone is Mia, a struggling actress in LA who is working as a waitress in a coffee shop on the Warner Bros studio lot, where she daydreams of a starring role and endures humiliation and rejection from one bad audition to another. Between her daily grind, she crosses paths with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jaded jazz pianist who is trying to keep his beloved dying medium alive. At first its less a meet cute than mild annoyance with each other, however as they continue to run into each other, it seems to be fate, their mutual passions for performing gives them a kindred alliance and as the seasons change from winter to spring and through summer their love blossoms. Sebastian has plans for a jazz bar and with his coaxing, Mia decides to stage a one woman play to kick start her acting career, by writing a role for herself but it is their dreams that begin to divide them, their success (and lack of it) comes between them, a bitter pill must be swallowed and they have to follow their hearts and break them in the process.

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From its opening gambit, a Fame style musical number amidst an LA traffic jam, you will know whether you will go along with La La Land’s ride, it’s an unashamed homage to the musicals of yesteryear and may not appeal to modern mainstream audiences who are not used to seeing their lead characters burst into song or break out into a freewheeling dance routine. However for those of us that do, will be charmed by its infectious spirit and optimistic energy, it lays its cards out on the table in brightly coloured verve and is an irresistible concoction of gusto performances and beautifully bittersweet storytelling. Both leads bring their game, throwing everything into their roles, Emma Stone uses her hugely expressive eyes to convey an emotional range as Mia, from wide eyed wonder to welling up as life hands her many blows, meanwhile Gosling brings his sardonic wit as Seb, his tendency for acting goofy guards his true feelings of falling hard for Mia and for losing sight of his true passion.  The decision to not pick actors who are known for singing and dancing proves to be La La Land’s ace in the hole, whilst Stone and Gosling learnt to sing and dance competently, it is their shortcomings that makes the film all the more endearing, the fragility in Stone’s voice makes her connection to the audience more resonant and Gosling is charismatic in a limited range. Both actors charm, particularly in an early song and dance routine, against the backdrop of the fading LA sun but also within the film’s more sombre moments, an argument over a romantic dinner, framed close up on their faces, is heartbreaking as reality hits home and their optimistic bubble is fractured. Director Damien Chazelle follows up the intense, almost claustrophobic feel of Whiplash with a film dripping with colour and virtuoso cinematography, the camera soars in the opening sequence and continues to impress with one take wonders and culminates in a stunning montage of a life less glimpsed.

La La Land has garnered an abundance of praise but there is also the inevitable backlash in the wings, almost alluded to by Stone’s Mia who, after showing her play to Seb says ‘I think it’s too nostalgic, people might not like it’. Seb simply replies ‘Fuck them’. Fuck them indeed, there will be the haters who say there is a reason they don’t make them like this anymore, but colour me smitten because I fell for it in all its glorious, (old) fashion. Like The Artist before it, it crystallises a moment in time, a moment of pure cinematic joy, one that is hard to repeat (and may not attain repeat viewings) but which doesn’t matter because you will never forget that blissful moment.

Review- Midnight Special (directed by Jeff Nichols)

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In the short space of three films, Jeff Nichols has established himself as a director worthy of the term auteur, bringing emotional depth and lyrical storytelling to his work. From the anxiety inducing allegory of paranoia in rural America in Take Shelter (2011) to the Southern coming of age soul of Mud (2012), he skilfully blends heart with added dimensional undercurrents. With his fourth feature Midnight Special, Nichols continues to build upon his impressive cinematic catalogue, this time dipping his toes into the science fiction genre pool but without sacrificing his knack for emotive integrity.

The film begins with a news report of child abduction but the pieces of the story begin to form a different picture. A child has been taken, from a dubious settling known as The Ranch populated by a set of deeply religious members, but the child, eight year old Alton (Jaeden Lieberher),  was taken by his birth father  Roy (Michael Shannon) for his own protection and for Alton’s own purpose. It is revealed that Alton possesses otherworldly powers, his condition and capabilities grow and emerge further, a fact that makes him a target for both the Ranch, who believe he is their religious savour and for the FBI who believe he is a threat amidnight groupnd a potential weapon.

What follows is a race against time as Roy, accompanied by his former childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), a state trooper who is affected by his predicament and who believes in Alton’s plight, head across the Southern landscape to reach a preordained destination  whilst being tailed by government officials and a couple of sinister Ranch members. If these narrative tropes seem familiar, those expecting bold brass sci-fi action may be disappointed because what emerges is something altogether different but all the more rewarding for it. The film adopts a slow burn journey that cares as much about the family drama at the heart of the matter as its bolder story arch and allows its actors to inhabit their characters. Michael Shannon who is Nichols go to guy, again displays why he is one of the best and most underrated actors around with a performance that speaks so much with so little words. His expressions and mannerisms belie the inner turmoil he is wrestling; every pained breath discloses the duality of Roy’s situation, his sorrow and his determination.  When Roy tells Alton ‘I like worrying about you’ Shannon echoes the words that many parents must feel, that it is their job to protect their child, no matter where the consequences will take them. Kirsten Dunst continues her semi renaissance after Fargo with a contrasting sensitive turn as Alton’s mother who was exiled from the Ranch and has a fleeting reunion with her son, avoiding sentimentality. Joel Edgerton is on solid form as the type of friend we would hope to have in a desperate situation-proactive and resourceful; his limited knowledge of Alton’s back-story doesn’t prevent him from believing in his purpose. Adam Driver portrays a sense of earnestness and heart that is a million galaxies away from Kylo Ren, his Adam Sevier is the type of government agent we would hope to have in a desperate situation, he wants to understand Alton and not merely contain him. Meanwhile Jaeden Lieberher sidesteps the precocious child act that Haley Joel Osment cornered once upon a time to deliver a naturalistic performance beyond his years/this world. midnight drive

The effects tend to serve the film rather than overshadow it, the early restraint gives way to a flourish in the final act yet we never descend into over reliance of CGI which is something to be commended and something to be thankful for in this cinematic age. The aesthetic and themes of Midnight Special have drawn comparisons to late 1970s/early 80s science fiction films particularly those of Spielberg and it is easy to see why, the DNA of Close Encounters and ET weave into its fabric, though Nichols should be celebrated for bringing his own vision and not merely emulating his peers. He has created a film of hope, of earnestness in a somewhat cynical time, one that will no doubt confound as many as it will attract, for it does not unravel all of its mysteries.

But the point is not to have all the answers, it is merely a snapshot of time, we as the audience experience what Alton’s parents do, the uncertainty of the situation, trying to form a grasp of the events-how and why did Alton come to be and where is he headed, yet we are not given the bigger picture. We can only go so far along the journey and the rest, like many things in life, has not been written.

Films of 2015

And so the turkey has been eaten, the presents have been unwrapped and as Christmas draws to a close, thoughts turn reflective and so to my end of year round up of the films that for me have been the best in 2015. Apologies to Macbeth, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mommy and Sicario which I didn’t get chance to watch. And also to White God which I was too scared to watch (I don’t like doggy violence)

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21) Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

mission-impossible-rogue-nation-poster-wallpaperSay what you will about Tom Cruise but he still remains a bloody great movie star, embodying the all action mantel and giving the audience a giant dollop of spectacle. In a world of CGI, the sight of Cruise clinging to the side of a plane that is taking off is made all the more exciting for knowing that the crazy bastard actually did it. And this is within the first ten minutes of the film! Rogue Nation ticks the boxes we have come to expect from Mission Impossible, delivering nail biting stunts, a multitude of locations and a host of espionage duplicity yet it also brings a new element to the table. With the addition of Rebecca Ferguson as suspicious agent Ilsa Faust, the franchise is elevated with freshness from this kick ass character. In a year where strong female leads have thankfully been more present, Ferguson is more than a match for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and is never reduced to becoming his love interest, instead often leaving him in her powerful wake and proves there’s life in this ole entertaining franchise yet.

20) The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)

lobster2-xlargeCertainly not to everyone’s taste Yorgos Lanthimos’ English Language debut was a divisive concoction but one whose oddity I found darkly refreshing. Set in a near future where people who are single must go to a hotel and find a companion within 45 days or be turned into an animal, the film really flies with comic absurdity from the beginning. Colin Farrell’s bespectacled frump comes to the hotel looking for a mate, along with an assortment of lonely and confused fellow guests but ends up drawn to a woman (Rachel Weisz) who is part of the resistance to the social dictation. Though the film loses some momentum during its second act, when we are within the hotel, The Lobster is one the most wickedly inventive films of the year and features some excellent oddball turns particularly from Ben Whishaw and Olivia Colman.

19) The Gift ( Joel Edgerton)

gordoJoel Edgerton shows that he is as nuanced behind the camera as he is in front of it with his directorial debut The Gift, an impressively tight thriller with menacing restraint. Edgerton plays Gordo, the former school weirdo who uncomfortably makes his way into the lives of former classmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Things soon turn sinister with the delivery of gifts to the couple, which begin to unravel the interior of their relationship. Edgerton runs a tight ship, cranking up the tension to an unnerving and bravado ending and pulling a malevolent performance from Bateman, turning the nice everyman persona he usually adopts and producing something entirely compelling and darkly interesting.

18) Eden (Mia Hansen-Love)

edenMy partner, an aspiring musician, was reduced to inconsolable malaise after watching Mia Hansen-Love’s odyssey to French house music from the 90s and beyond.  The problem was that the film was such a compelling and authentic portrayal of the music scene, that it captured the ecstasy and agony so painfully perfect in equal measure. Like a hipster version of the Les McQueen narrative from the League of Gentlemen, we follow aspiring Paris DJ Paul (Félix de Givry) who lives for music and the euphoric state it envelopes him in, as he achieves a level of success and riding high, only to fall out of favour with the crowds and out of touch with the scene. It also perfectly encapsulates the passing of youth, how idle and naïve we, believe, like the best sound-tracked nights of our lives that it will last forever. It’s a shit business but one that we cannot help but be seduced by.

17) Inside Out (Pete Docter)

inside-outMany said Pixar was on the wan after its recent disappointing output but it proved they can still pull it out the bag with the inventive and dazzling Inside Out. Set inside the head of an 11 year old girl, who has to traverse the emotional minefield of moving house and leaving all she has ever known behind, the film allows the emotions to be the stars of the film as we experience Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness and Fear. The premise allows for clever set ups and an exciting race against time through a young girls head, taking an often Freudian slant at times with ideas aplenty. It may not quite live up to the majesty of Wall-E or Up but it is a definite return to form for Pixar. Just don’t mention Bing Bong or the waterworks will start again.

16) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

girl-walks-home-alone1Stylish, sexy, offbeat and cool. Perhaps not the words you would associate with a black and white Iranian film. But how about a black and white Iranian vampire film? Like the lovechild of Jim Jarmusch and Jean Luc Godard, director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is a monochrome delight, with a morose but droll spirit and a bewitching lead performance by Sheila Vand, the eponymous girl of the title, a lonely vampire who wanders the night time streets of a district called Bad City.  Stunningly veiled in black and white, at once stark but also rich, the film evokes an air of perpetual emotion, loneliness has never looked so cool or romantic. It would make a great companion piece to Jurmusch’s fellow vampire film Only Lovers left Alive, both a world away from the connotations left by the Twilight saga,  the two showing how to really get to the heart of the undead.

15) The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyMy most unsettling experience at the cinema this year came after watching this film but it was also my most unforgettable. Set within a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf teenagers, The Tribe signalled a landmark within the medium by presenting the film with no dialogue and no subtitles.  We are left with the visuals which entirely speak for themselves as the pupils create a microcosm of violence, illegal activities and a hierarchy of cruelty. When we do hear sound it is startling and often disturbing from the screams of a girl in pain to the aftermath of an act of vengeance, The Tribe is a stark piece of endurance cinema that revels previous unsettling benchmark setter Dogtooth, something I do say lightly.

14) Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro)

Crimson-Peak-Tom-Hiddleston-Jessica-ChastainGothic horror made a welcome return to the big screen this year with Guillermo Del Toro’s lavish Crimson Peak, a film drenched in sumptuous period detail and with a beautifully old fashioned ghost story at its heart. The triple acting threat of Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastian provide the perfect accompaniment to the film’s evocative design, with Wasikowska providing the steely determination as our plucky heroine and Chastian relishing the opportunity to sneer with all the venom of cinema’s greatest ice maidens. Rather than pandering to the modern cinematic ideal of horror, Del Toro instead provided a love letter to the classics of both the film and the literary genre, with nods to Hitchcock, Kubrick, The Bronte Sisters and Edgar Allen Poe.

13) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez Rejon)

CinemaMeEarlDyingGirl-680x383Cruelly overlooked at the box office, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl managed to be that rarest of things, a coming of age teen movie that has emotion but isn’t corny or overtly syrupy. It is also a film lover’s film made by a film lover. Alfonso Gomez Rejon’s debut is laden with cinematic references to American counter culture and European arthouse classics and it radiates a true affection for the medium. Greg, a socially detached teenager (Thomas Mann, the Me of the title) channels his film influences and makes parodies of his favourites (Sockwork Orange, Rosemary’s Baby Carrots, The 400 Bros) with his friend Earl. When he is asked to hang out with Rachel (the dying girl, played beautifully by Olivia Cooke), Greg uses his creativity for a purpose and begins to see beyond a life of remakes. Look beyond the mawkish title and discover a charming gem which should find its audience on the small screen and become a future cult classic in its own right.

12) Amy (Asif Kapadia)AmyWhat could have been a cautionary tale of a girl gone wrong becomes a tragic case of a talented girl who was abused by the industry she wanted to be part of and betrayed by those who she loved. Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary of the short life of Amy Winehouse goes beyond the cheap shock factor of the tabloid pictures and the calamity of her incoherent stage performances to reveal a young woman who vulnerabilities made her susceptible to the darker side of fame, built up through old home movie footage and testimonies from those who knew her. Unsurprisingly Amy’s father Mitch does not come out of this well and since the release has condemned the film however he cannot deny his accountability in her derailment. A scene where Mitch brings a camera crew to St Lucia where Amy is trying yet again to recover is one of the most heartbreaking moments you could witness. Amy is an afflicting, devastating snapshot of a girl who wanted to vanish but whose fame refused to let her.

11) Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)

mistress-americaNoah Baumbach delivered two great films this year, first there was While we’re Young, which was followed by Mistress America, a reteaming with his partner and writing partner Greta Gerwig which produced a deliciously entertaining screwball comedy about female friendship. Gerwig is this time less the lovable loser than she was in Frances Ha, or at least in her characters eyes she isn’t. She plays Brooke, a woman who appears to be living the hip New York dream, however her reality is revealed through her relationship with her soon to be stepsister Tracey (Lola Kirke) who is at first enthralled by her but then pulls at the curtain and the truth behind it. Baumbach and Gerwig prove that great writing and great performing can produce something that feels fresh and relevant yet also pleasing old school, reminiscent of Billy Wilder movies where dialogue was king. Mistress America also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, showing that a female centric comedy can be at the forefront of cinema.

10) It Follows (David Mitchell)

IT-FOLLOWS-Official-Trailer-YouTube-630x343The horror genre found a fresh vibe with this year’s sleeper hit It Follows, David Mitchell’s masterfully inventive much needed addition to the genre. The simple yet striking plot was like the physical manifestation of a chain letter as a gang of teenage friends try to protect one of their own who, after sleeping with her boyfriend, is pursued by a mysterious entity, one that is takes the form of different people as it persistently stalks its victim until the curse is transferred through sexual contact. Refreshingly the film does not use the narrative as an excuse for exploitation or titillation and instead builds upon a truly haunting sense of dread; the underlying theme of teenage sexualisation is handled with unspoken subtlety. Its John Carpenter meets The Virgin Suicides feel makes it the most stylish and more importantly most creepy horror of the year.

9) Slow West (John Maclean)

slow-west shaveMichael Fassbender continues his run of interesting choices and excellent performances with John Maclean’s sophomore Western. Set amongst the wild terrain of 19th century Colorado, former Beta Band member Maclean creates a sharp, tense tale of young Scottish man Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who travels to the plains of America in search of his love who has had to flee her home. Along the way he is ‘befriended’ by Fassbender’s Silas and tracked by an assortment of nefarious characters, all out for their own ill gotten gain, creating the classic trademarks of a Western. Yet Maclean brings a lyricism and a minimalist poetry to the film, aided by ravishing cinematography, splashes of Tarantino-esque violence and another charismatic turn by Fassbender.

8) The Duke of Burgandy (Peter Strickland)

The-Duke-of-Burgundy3-xlargeThe film that was everything that Fifty Shades wasn’t, erotic, playful, sexy and seductive, and all done without a splash of nudity; Peter Strickland’s third feature was a unique take on the ideas of an S &M relationship between two women. Set within an undisclosed time and place, though the detail suggests a rural 70s era, we are transported into an otherworldly vibe, where women attend lectures on butterflies and men appear to be wholly absent, all set to a sublime soundtrack by Cats Eyes. Though the film flirts with pastiche, it manages to retain a bewitching cocktail of the ideas of submission and dominance between two women whose roles are not as clearly defined as they seem. Strickland remains a director in total command of his vision and whose none conformity to the ideas of British cinema mark him as one of the most exciting filmmakers of the moment.

7) Appropriate Behaviour (Desiree Akhavan)

appropriate-behavior-2014-005-three-women-in-lingerie-store2015 was the year I fell for Desiree Akhavan after watching her witty, sardonic debut Appropriate Behaviour. A semi autobiographical tale of an Iranian twentysomething living in Brooklyn, trying and failing at both relationships and trying to tell her parents that she is bisexual, Akhavan has created a razor sharp comedy with echoes of a modern day Annie Hall and a suitable showcase for her writing/acting talent. Yes it may be another hip indie movie set in New York and has justifiable comparisons to Girls (Akhavan has since starred in the series) but in the Dunham era of female representation on screen, frankly I say the more the merrier, with Akhavan proving a welcome edition.

6) Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

whiplash-003The film that made the words ‘Not my tempo’ as chilling as anything that may be delivered in a horror movie, Damien Chazelle’s debut takes the age old idea that art comes from suffering and applies this to the Jazz world creating the most tense film of the year. Miles Teller excels as young drummer Andrew who is pushed to his limits by the teacher whose approval he desires the most. That teacher is Fletcher played with magnificent authority by JK Simmons who dominates the film with his terrifying demeanour. The film also features some of the finest editing on screen this year, matching the music, note for note and building to a crescendo in the final scene that tests the nail biting patience of even the most resilient person.

5) Phoenix (Christian Petzold)

phoenixA plot reminiscent of 50s melodrama and Hitchcockian overtones combine to make the best foreign film of the year. Phoenix is a study of the physical and mental wounds of war and two people who have ‘survived’ it, Nelly (Nina Hoss) a Jewish former club singer who has undergone facial reconstruction after her ordeals in the War and Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) her husband who may or may not have shopped her to the SS. Nelly returns to her husband but he doesn’t recognise her and convinced his real wife is dead, instead offers her the opportunity to pose as Nelly so he can claim her inheritance. The characters are unable to see what the audience can, Johnny is unable to see his wife, for to do so he would have to accept the consequences of War and Nelly is unable to let go of her husband despite his duplicitous nature. The stage is set for an achingly brittle love story, with shades of Vertigo and Eyes without a Face, one which also provides the best final scene in a film this year, as Nelly performs ‘Speak Low’, the ramifications of War are fully realised in a devastating blow.

4) Star Wars (J J Abrams)

star wrs.jpgNot a huge fan-girl of the originals, nevertheless I cannot ignore the pure joyous cinematic thrill ride of J J Abrams return to form for the biggest franchise in the galaxy. Erasing the bitter taste left by ‘those three’, we get the sequel that Han, Leia and co truly deserve; both honouring the legacy carved before it and introducing new welcome additions to the film. Amongst those are Rey (Daisy Ridley-promising), Finn (John Boyega- star quality) and a magnificent new baddie in the form of Kylo Ren (the excellent Adam Driver).  The battle sequences showcase the sheer spectacle that cinema can hold and the sight of Han Solo back in the Millennium Falcon is one to cherish. To see it is to be transported back to childhood and to be reminded of how magical film can be.

3) Brooklyn (John Crowley)

BrooklynDirector John Crowley’s film succeeds where many Nicholas Sparks adaptations fail, to feel authentic and to take a woman’s relatable journey and turn it into something beautifully heartfelt. Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who leaves her homeland for better prospects in 1950s America and struggles adjusting to life without her family. However she finds romance with a young Italian (a charming Emory Cohen) but, through personal circumstances, is drawn back to Ireland and becomes torn between the two worlds. This is impeccable filmmaking with every element working, from the gorgeous cinematography to the pitch perfect performances from the entire cast, with Ronan at the heart of it all. Her performance encapsulates a range of emotions with each one delivered with restraint and sincerity, her wholly expressive face dominates the screen when words are simply not needed or will not form. Brooklyn is one of the years finest, a film that brims with a classic feel and builds with an exquisite swell and ache of the heart.

2) Carol (Todd Haynes)

cateWe all knew that the combination of director Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett and source material from Patricia Highsmith would not be dynamite and Carol did not disappoint, becoming not just the most beautiful love story of the year but the most beautiful film of the year. Every detail of Hayne’s film is exquisite as we witness the relationship between two women in 1950s America who are unable to deny a love which transcends the time it was born into. Blanchett and Rooney Mara make for a magical pairing, both at the top of their acting game, matching each other perfectly with an expression yearning. Awards surely await this masterpiece of cinema.

1) Max Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

mad maxNo one knew quite what to expect from George Miller’s long delayed return to the Mad Max territory, and though a thrilling trailer suggested great things, it’s safe to say that many people were still blown away by the stonking bombastic spectacle that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Thrill rides don’t come any bigger or any more demented, from jaw dropping stunts to flame wielding guitars, the film plays like a steam punk version of Stagecoach as Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa betrays her tyrannical patriarch Immortan Joe (Mad Max stalwart Hugh Keays-Byrne). She takes across the desert in her war rig with Joe’s prized possessions, his ‘breeders’ (a group of scantily clad girls designed for baby making) and crosses paths with Tom Hardy’s Max, all of which leads to an almighty kamikaze showdown. The making of Fury Road has become just as infamous as the film, from the 30 year labour of love Miller has dedicated to this project, to the freedom and budget his vision was given by the studio (almost unheard of in this day and age), to the production of the film which favoured real custom built cars and real life effects instead of CGI, the results are blazed across the big screen. The film also gave us the most badass heroine since Ripley in the form of Theron’s one armed warrior Furiosa, and whilst Hardy’s Max is played with the actor’s usual magnetism, it is Theron who drives the film and is at its heart. She is a steely determined force of nature, unwavering in her mission and is played with iconic gusto by Theron, inspiring a legion of fans.

There is talk of sequels but it is hard to imagine they will be able to replicate this surprise beast, a true action tour de force and a truly mad film, one that smashes the theory that we have seen it all before, our eyes can witness something new, something that burns into our eyes as a visceral cinematic experience.

Review- Carol

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Stolen glances across a room, a yearning face pressed against a frosted window pane, a toy train circling its inevitable continuous destination. These recurring shots, loaded with unspoken meaning, define the story of two women on an unstoppable journey towards each other, drawn by the one thing that we are powerless to resist in Todd Haynes’ impeccable love story Carol.

The film begins by firmly establishing the decade that we are in, the 1950s, as the camera glides along the streets of Manhattan, as we follow a gentleman to his destination of the Ritz Charlton where we happen upon Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) with a companion, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). The two women exchange a seemingly casual farewell, however the placing of a hand on the shoulder and a pained expression hint at a telling history between the two, which is revealed in a series of events that capture the sparks of meeting someone and the eventual surrender of falling on love.

The first encounter between Mara’s shop girl and budding photographer Therese and Blanchett’s immaculate yet vulnerable 50s socialite happens in the depacarol firstrtment store where Therese works. Carol is looking for a doll for her daughter yet is persuaded by Therese to buy a train set instead, one that requires the address of the buyer and with a (deliberate?) move by Carol of forgetting her gloves on the counter, a subtle invitation has been offered to Therese to pursue something beyond a simple purchase. Therese is drawn to Carol’s older sophisticated woman; she offers something akin to her own soul, unable to find satisfaction with her own peers and an indifference to her nice guy boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy). Carol meanwhile is not merely attracted to Therese as a distraction for a bored 50s housewife, every look that is thrown her way is reciprocated to Therese who is a beacon of purity and truth for a woman who has to deny her innate existence because of social dictation. On their first lunch date Carol declares to Therese ‘“What a strange girl you are. Flung out of space!”

The conventions of the time, the social taboo and distain for a forbidden love force the two women to conduct their blossoming affair away from prying eyes and Carol becomes a semi road trip movie, a beautiful cross country journey, the two edge closer and closer towards each other by the more distance throoneyey travel. But Carol is pulled back from this haven of freedom by her soon to be ex husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), embroiled in an increasingly bitter divorce and custody battle for their child Rindy, she must choose between her daughter and the person that she really wants to be, the stifling nature of her position set to consume her.

With Carol, Todd Haynes has created a love story for the ages and produced the most cinematically beautiful film of the year. Every element and detail is sculpted to perfection from the sumptuous period design, to Carter Burwell’s score that aches with suppressed desire to the pitch perfect pacing that leaves the viewer yearning for the two leads to be able to freely release their feelings. Haynes, who has previously shown his confidence in classic melodrama with the Douglas Sirk inspired Far from Heaven and his TV adaptation of the definitive ‘woman’s picture’ Mildred Pierce, excels again in this arena. His film never descends into pastiche and his meticulous direction means no shot is anything less than stunning and every action is loaded with emotion, filling the scene with meaning before the dialogue arrives.

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And then of course there are the performances of two actresses at the peak of their game. It is easy to expect Blanchett to be excellent, to take it for granted that she will deliver, however she continues to raise the bar that she has already set herself so high. Her Carol is a woman who is polished to perfection but wears her riches like armour, to shield her brittle existence, an emotional prisoner of the time she lives in.  Blanchett never allows this character to be caught however in overwrought acted melodrama, she finds depth and subtle emotion in her portrayal to the point that when we return to the scene at the beginning of the film, just before she bids farewell to Therese, her final plea to her lover is delivered with the most heartbreaking profoundness.  Mara also excels in a role that draws to her strengths as an actress, the frostiness that often envelopes her face to steel her emotions works perfectly as Therese, a woman who is hungry for deeper connections yet seems to retreat from society, confused by any new feelings that hit her unexpectedly. She tries to remain poised yet you sense the fire that burns within her so that when she breaks her pursed lips into a smile, it is charming but equally when she breaks down it is truly devastating.  The final scene is a wordless master-class between the two actresses that produces a genuinely heart stopping cinematic moment.

Carol is, at its core, a simple love story but one that will make you swoon from each of its frames and one that makes you realise and remember that the power of love transcends the barriers that fight to control it. In one scene Carol remarks and repeats to Therese “angel… flung out of space”. These are two women living in a different space, at a different time in their lives yet the all consuming tide of love brings them together despite of this. Though it does not offer them a realised conclusion, it merely offers a moment in time, one that is the essence of love and in Haynes’ hands, the essence of cinema.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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On the surface of it, some may apply hesitation to this film, the combination of a clunky title and a plot that involves a high schooler and his relationship with a girl who has a life threatening illness sounds like adolescent twee overload for those who don’t dig that kind of genre. But don’t let that put you off because Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the most refreshing teen movies in recent times and also a giddy treat for film lovers.

Greg (Thomas Mann) believes he has high school sussed; he belongs to no one peer group, instead flitting between each social group without having any real friendships. The closest he comes to one is with Earl (R J Cyler) who he refers to as his ‘co-worker’ as they make no budget parodies of American and European classic movies (Sockwork Orange, The Rad Shoes, 2.48pm Cowboy). But when his mother (Connie Britton) forces him to hang out with a fellow classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has recently been diagnosed with leukaemia, Greg’s outlook on life is infinitely altered.

Managing to sidestep the veritable clichés that may arise with the subject matter, Me and Earl instead marches to its own beat, when you think it’s going to go a certain way, it doesn’t, with Greg’s narration even reminding us throughout the film ‘it’s not that kind of movie’.  This is helped in spades by the performances of the young cast who avoid sugary sentimentality and instead produce something funny and tender from their characters. Thomas Mann has the awkward job as the awkward Greg to walk the line between self involved and self loathing but does so with subtle wit. Meanwhile Northerner Oli20150106homeandearl0125magvia Cooke impresses with a quiet dignity that avoids self pity and a spot on American accent.

Director Alfonso Gomez Rejon cut his teeth as an assistant for the likes of Martin Scorsese, Nora Ephron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
and it is evident that these, amongst others, have influenced him as his film combines warmth, charm and a love of arthouse cinema, throwing in offbeat scenes and framing into the mix. Not many teen movies would include an ode to Peeping Tom or their young lead character doing a (rather good) impression of Werner Herzog and fewer would do so with such wit and endearment rather than for hipster credentials.

There has been criticism of the film by some who feel that Rachel’s only function is to make Greg a better person but to attack a film that’s heart is in the right place feels snippy. From the offset we are pome-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl parodiessitioned with Greg’s view, the film does not shy away from this but does not present him as the hero; he is a young man with a limited view, highlighted by his inability to connect and the way he only produces remakes of movies. And encouragingly Rachel does not become the love interest or the pixie dream girl, she becomes the heart and though she may enter the film as the catalyst for Greg, she becomes the subject, not the object; her energy reflected in the film that Greg is assigned to make for her.

Me and Earl at points references cult classic Harold and Maude and shares a kinship to that film, it deals with a morose teenager who is detached from his world and who finds a connection in an unlikely friendship and whilst it doesn’t quite avoid all the trappings of the high school movie (what film could when it is a genre that has been satirised over and over again), it averts enough to feel sharp, disarming and mature. And any film that shows love for Harold and Maude will always be a triumph to me.

Napoleon Dynamite at Square Chapel, Halifax

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Some films are like friends, you spent a lot of time together at the beginning, then you lose touch but when you become reacquainted with them, it’s like no time has passed at all. Such is the feeling with Napoleon Dynamite, a film that after its release in 2004 became a cult classic; it was endlessly quotable and spawned a plethora of merchandise such as slogan t-shirts, talking pens and a variety of badges (Vote for Pedro) and warranted repeat viewing (I watched it a lot during my University years). Some people then began to get a little fatigued, feeling that it was over quoted in some circles but that was not the fault of Napoleon and does a disservice to a film that is still a joy to watch.

Napoleon Dynamite was being screened at Square Chapel Centre of Arts in Halifax as part of a pilot scheme to introduce film to their programme with a variety of classics, family favourites and recent critical hits lined up in their schedule. The intimate setting of the historic building added to the sense of nostalgia of rediscovering a once favoured gem.

For anyone unfamiliar with the film, Napoleon Dynamite is centred on the titular character (played by Jon Heder), a socially awkward and alienated teenager, who lives with his Grandma (Sandy Martin), his chat room based brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) and tnapoleon and pedroheir pet llama Tina. When Grandma suffers a dune buggy related accident, their Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to stay with them and clashes with Napoleon, who turns his attention to helping out his new friend at school Pedro (Efren Ramirez) win the class presidency election.

A film less concerned with plot, Napoleon Dynamite instead lets its characters inhibit a world that is brimming with offbeat charm and eccentricities, styled in an indefinable period; it is modern-day for all intents and purposes but feels like the 1980s.  Jon Heder creates an iconic character in Napoleon, he cuts a gawky figure with his curly hair and moon boots, he is the poster boy for school ridicule yet his beliefs in his skills, such as drawing, are unwavering, even carrying a level of misguided arrogance.

uncle rico and kip Though Napoleon may dominate the film with his comical actions and his countless sound-bites, there is plenty of room for each character to add memorable moments, such as Kip, whose relationship with internet girlfriend Lafawnduh (Shondrella Avery) reaches a surprising conclusion or steak eating Uncle Rico who is obsessed with recapturing his college football days. There is someone for each viewer to count as their favourite and the delightful thing is that we are not simply just laughing at these oddballs; director Jared Hess has created a film with warmth for his characters, we want them to achieve, regardless of their peculiar nature.

Napoleon Dynamite may not appeal to everyone, its idiosyncratic brand of comedy is one you either go with or don’t, however if you let yourself fall for its charms it will reward with its grin inducing delights. One of the sweet elements of watching this film again at the theatre was there was a family there of all different ages-dad, mum, two teenagers and a younger child, who all laughed at different points, finding something in its quirky nature that made them smile, discovering (or rediscovering) its diverse charm. I too rediscovered its charm and came to realise that we were still going to be friends.