I've just written a little something over at The Daily Heckle about the end of the This is England saga, which finished on Sunday night with the last episode of This is England 90.
I've spent the last maybe six or seven years using This is England as an example of how films use specific techniques to create emotional response, while teaching A level Film Studies. That means every year, I get to watch some of the most powerful scenes with my students again and again.
In the meantime, This is England 86, 88 and 90 have all now come and gone, and while I'll truly miss catching up with the gang, I hope this is where it ends. It was simply phenomenal television.
You can check my article at The Daily Heckle here:
This is England 90 and the End of an Era.
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Tuesday, 6 October 2015
Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent who is hunting down victims kidnapped by cartels in Arizona. When her crack unit uncover the bodies of over 30 victims, she is enlisted by a shady elite task force, headed up by the flip-flop wearing Matt Graver, played with effortless cool by Josh Brolin. But Kate is left in the dark by the officials that have drafted her in, as the war against the ruthless drug trafficking cartels intensifies, Kate finds herself out of depth. Operating around the dangerous border between the U.S. and Mexico, Kate becomes embroiled with an operative even shadier than her superiors; a man with a past so murky, it can be difficult to know which side he is on.
Benicio del Toro is great as the blank-eyed, shark-like presence at the heart of Sicario’s dark moral core. His Alejandro is a suspicious man from the moment Kate lies on him. The suit, the quiet determination and his overall moody demeanour make him a difficult character to warm to. But compared to Blunt’s much more wide-eyed and straight-laced Kate, he is a far more interesting character. It is very welcome to see a female lead in this kind of film, with Blunt managing to deflect much of the machismo that surrounds, and is directed towards her, but unfortunately her character gets overshadowed by the huge presences of Brolin and del Toro. Still, Kate is the moral compass of the story, and a vitally tough character adrift in a sea of suspect individuals.
Towering above even these fine performances is the atmosphere created by Villeneuve and his collaborators. Roger Deakins’ cinematography, so often praised in any film he elevates, is stunning here. Every shot drips with tension, particularly as Deakins takes a sky-high view of the border and messy towns and roads below. Accompanied by an incredibly moody score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, it’s the kind of film you can’t shake off easily. And more importantly, it’s a film you will almost immediately want to see again and again and again.
Watch the trailer below:
Thursday, 24 September 2015
Another year means yet another Woody Allen film, and more importantly, another chance for admirers of his work to bask in the characters he creates. Working again with the radiant Emma Stone after their previous collaboration Magic in the Moonlight, this time Joaquin Phoenix joins Allen as the irrational man of the title. Long time fans of the director can expect much of the same from this film, but Irrational Man finds the auteur on particularly light-footed form in its frothy tale of love and murder.
Phoenix takes the lead as Abe Lucas, a philosophy professor whose reputation as he moves to a new college precedes him. He is there to teach, to write and to drink as much as he can between delivering lectures. Emma Stone is the student in his class who becomes infatuated with Abe and his bleak, but brilliant intellect. Stone's smart Jill catches the attention of Abe with a particularly original paper, and the pair become friends, complicated by Jill's boyfriend's understandable jealousy and Abe's developing relationship with another lecturer. Abe's complete loss of purpose in his life may be a strange part of his charm but it is soon to be interrupted when he hatches a plan to help a complete stranger by murdering a corrupt judge.
What starts out as a rather predictable looking romance takes a sharp turn when Abe and Jill overhear a conversation at a nearby table in a diner. From here, Allen balances the romantic elements with an altogether more interesting and outlandish murder plot. Several little twists and turns later, and Allen has dispatched an amusing morality play with some standout scenes sewn into his brusquely paced screenplay.
While the film starts out with Phoenix rattling out voiceover that couldn't be any more clearly written in Allen's distinctive voice, the characters soon start to develop. Phoenix seems to have stumbled in, still stoned from the set of Inherent Vice, and does a wonderful job of investing Abe with a believable and not completely unsympathetic misery born out of having lost hope that he can actually make a difference in the world. Emma Stone also gets her own voiceover, and her Jill eventually emerges as the real hero of the film. However, Phoenix gets the more interesting role as he finds a renewed lust for life, and a cure for his impotence, when he decides to kill a judge out of kindness to someone that he has never met. This perfect murder gives him purpose and his transformation from paunchy slob to charismatic anti-hero is a pleasure to watch.
While the love affairs take a backseat to the planning, performing and aftermath of the murder, Irrational Man is irresistibly silly fun. When keeping the intellectual mumblings of academics to a minimum, and revelling in Phoenix's responses to those who are trying to decipher the method and motive for the murder, Irrational Man comes alive. It's occasionally sweet, frequently silly and features a great slapstick death scene, but really this is Allen coasting on mostly familiar ground. Same time, next year?
What did you think of this film? Sound off below...
Deftly balancing comedy and drama, My Mother is a film that leaves audiences laughing hysterically in places, but drying their eyes by the conclusion. Primed for a miserable realist drama about a woman watching her elderly mother's slow decline from pneumonia, My Mother frequently surprises the viewer with its perceptive prodding of the relationship between a determined female director and her annoying lead actor, played with relish by John Turturro. It could have been a real slog, but with expertly timed moments of extremely welcome levity, My Mother is instead a surprising treat.
Film director Margherita (Margherita Buy) is struggling with the endless stresses of making a movie, while also coping with the added heartache of looking after her dying mother. The film she is directing is about a factory full of workers being threatened by impending layoffs and her lead actor from America is causing her extra concern by fluffing his lines and acting erratically on set. Her personal life is a bit of a mess, with a relationship recently ended and a daughter off skiing with the girl's father, Marguerite’s ex-husband. Confronted with the demands of working on the set, and the crushing inevitability of her mother's illness, Margherita's mind is torn between two places at once, leading her to re-evaluate her relationships.
Read the rest of my review of Mia Madre at Tastic Film Magazine.
Tuesday, 15 September 2015
The first of two incoming adaptations of The Jungle Book is on its way in 2016 and Disney have just released the first trailer. The trailer follows hot on the heels of director Jon Favreau’s seconds long tease of the trailer on Instagram yesterday.
Favreau’s Disney funded adaptation is going to beat Andy Serkis’ own adaptation, titled Jungle Book: Origins to screens by over a year. However, the pedigree of talent involved in each means that they may yet both be worth a look.
The trailer for Favreau’s version shows jungle-boy Mowgli skipping along tree branches, facing up to his rather large snake mentor Kaa, and running for his life from villainous tiger Shere Khan. There’s even time for a quick float down the river on the belly of Baloo as the bear whistles the Bare Necessities.
Favreau directed the first two Iron Man films as well as modern Christmas classic Elf. Unknown actor Neel Sethi will make his feature debut as Mowgli and will be the only actor appearing on screen in live action. The locations and all other characters have been created using CGI and the voice cast includes Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Bill Murray as Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Christopher Walken as King Louie.
With that cast, you’d think Serkis’ own version wouldn’t stand a chance but don’t worry too much for him. Serkis has Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch all on board for his version.
Watch the trailer for Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book here:
Thursday, 3 September 2015
Being single might be a nightmare for some, but spare a thought for poor Colin Farrell, who in The Lobster plays a man running out of time to find a mate, or else he will be turned into the titular sea creature. The Lobster takes the viewer to an odd alternate reality where the social pressure to escape a solitary existence is exaggerated by the powers that be, who keep strict controls on the single population.
David (Colin Farrell) is the paunchy, unlucky-in-love man whose previous relationship lasted almost twelve years, but is now booked in to a hotel where singles are forced to either pair up for life, or they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. David chooses to become a lobster but on arrival at the hotel, is given matching suits with the other male members, and 45 days to find a female partner. Accompanied by his brother, who was unsuccessful in his quest for love and so is now a dog, David meets fellow single men Robert (John C. Reilly) and John (Ben Whishaw) and begins the search for his perfect match. The singles are kept segregated from those that have formed into blossoming couples and are attempting to make a go of relationships. If the stress of finding a lover wasn’t enough, the singles are forced to hunt for ‘loners’ who have opted out of ordinary society and now live a wild existence in nearby woods. Catch one of these socially unacceptable loners and the singletons buy themselves extra days to stay in the hotel.
Loved this film! Read the rest of my review of The Lobster from Cannes 2015 over at Tastic Film.
Watch the trailer below: