Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Imitation Game - Dir. Morten Tyldum

It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to rely on Americans to make our plucky “British prestige biopic” that will miraculously make it to the Oscars.

The Imitation Game is far too safe in its storytelling and never gets past the fact that we know that the Enigma code will be cracked. Despite this, the filmmakers insist on playing out the “race against time” story in full, without explaining in more detail how Turing’s machine worked.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Nightcrawler - Dir. Dan Gilroy

Any film that features a guy driving around night time Los Angeles is undoubtedly going to be compared to Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. Hopefully Nightcrawler will break free from those shackles as Dan Gilroy’s film is exhilarating and entertaining in its own right, and nothing at all like Drive.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom: clever, ambitious and a complete sociopath. After stumbling upon a news film crew at a horrific traffic collision, Lou buys a camera and police scanner and prowls the night on the hunt for newsworthy accidents and crimes to film. He’s quite good at it and his footage soon catches the attention of local news director Nina (Rene Russo).

Friday, 3 October 2014

Gone Girl - Dir. David Fincher

After the somewhat unnecessary exercise that was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher has returned with a blistering adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. Gone Girl is a giddy film about appearance, perception and the personas of everyday life. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) gone and signs of a struggle in the living room. After the police establish a missing persons case, their attention turns to Nick who isn’t quite reacting as his family or the media expect him to.
Something about Amy’s disappearance doesn’t add up and Fincher quickly establishes a disquieting atmosphere. Right off the bat, the deceptively simple opening titles cycle through images of the Missouri locale but never settle into an identifiable rhythm. Everybody is slightly guarded in these early stages: Nick is wondering why he’s being asked so many questions whilst lead detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) is wondering why Nick’s answers are so skittish and incomplete. Nick’s twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) knows her brother too well to know that something isn’t quite right.

Night Moves - Dir. Kelly Reichardt

A brilliantly crafted first half gives way to a peculiar second half; Night Moves follows three very different eco-warriors and their attempt to blow up a hydroelectric dam.
Night Moves isn’t really a film about blowing up a dam, nor is it a thriller. It can be thrilling, particularly during the tense sequence where the trio move their homemade bomb into place, but director Kelly Reichardt is more interested in her three characters. In the beginning, Josh is the paranoid control freak, Dena is the idealistic rich kid and Harmon is the confident veteran; Reichardt subtly develops their characteristics through their interactions as they prepare for their mission. These preparations are the mundane tasks that other films might skip over, but Reichardt uses this preparation as context for 
introducing these three very different people.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Boyhood (2014) - Dir. Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is an extraordinary film, both in its conception and its execution. In a world of ballooning budgets and opening weekend projections, a film like Boyhood shouldn’t exist, but thankfully it does and the end product is an endlessly fascinating and rewarding experience.
Boyhood follows Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up in Texas with his elder sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) and his separated parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) over 12 years, from early childhood to the start of adulthood. Each year, Linklater filmed a short chapter of the story and has beautifully woven them together to form a unique take on boyhood.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Past (2014) - Dir. Asghar Farhadi

The Past finds it characters searching for a future and struggling to live in the present; the past is not finished with them and will continue to plague their lives until it has been resolved. The Past is another intricate family drama from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi who is working outside of his native Iran for the first time.

Ahmad (Ali Mofasa) returns to Paris to finalize his separation from Marie (Berenice Bejo). He returns to the house he once shared with her only to find that her new partner Samir (Tahir Rahim) has moved in and is creating a new family in the house.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Under The Skin - Dir. Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer spent ten years creating Under The Skin, working with several co-writers to bring Michel Faber’s tale of an extraterrestrial being to life.  The result is harrowing, beguiling and unforgettable.

Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless alien who travels across Scotland searching for men upon which to prey. To reveal any more would spoil many of the surprises that Under The Skin has up its sleeve.

Not only does Scarlett Johansson take on the role of an alien, but she also plays an alien pretending to be a human. The way she switches between these two personas is astonishing, particularly when she is driving around Glasgow in search of her prey. In these scenes, Glazer rarely films from the street; instead he keeps his cameras inside the vehicle. We only see the alien and what she sees. We see these familiar places through her alien eyes and they look very strange indeed.

The alien preys upon a mix of different men, with varying degrees of success. Some of them are actors but the rest are unsuspecting members of the pubic and Glazer hasn’t divulged into which category each one falls (although it’s not too difficult to work a few of them out). This decision, along with the covert filming techniques used, makes for a very unnerving experience.

Mica Levi’s twitchy and sinister score perfectly compliments the uneasy mood whilst Daniel Levin’s cinematography finds a stark beauty in even the harshest of situations.  I particularly enjoyed the apparent lack of any artificial light in situations such as, for example, the night time driving scenes where the alien’s face is only illuminated by the glow of the passing street lamps.

There are too many extraordinary scenes to mention here as we follow the alien on her journey, flirting with all aspects of humanity whilst remaining distinctly alien throughout. I’m not sure that the entire final act, including the shift of pace, is as successful as what preceded it, but Under The Skin remains a remarkable film that will leave an unshakeable shadow over the rest of the cinematic year.

Under The Skin was released in cinemas on 14th March 2014 and is scheduled to be released on DVD/Blu Ray on 14th July 2014.

Mica Levi's score is available on CD, Vinyl and download now.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Frances Ha - Dir. Noah Baumbach

(This review contains spoilers)

Films about middle class white people and their first world problems are so difficult to get right; the audience’s tolerance of the characters is perilously low to begin with and one false move could lose their sympathy. Woody Allen has both won and lost this particular battle many times over his career. Frances Ha is most definitely a victory for creative team Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig; a charming but unmistakable sad film about a floundering woman approaching her thirties.

Frances’ world is sent spinning when her best friend and flat mate Sophie decides to move to a trendier part of New York with another friend. Frances can’t afford to keep their flat and has an uncertain future as a modern dancer. She’s fallen into an early-to-mid life crisis; just about holding on to her teenage years with proper adulthood fast approaching. She’s reached the stage where she should have a clear path of where she wants to go in life. She hasn’t, but everyone around her has.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Bling Ring - Dir. Sofia Coppola

“I think we just wanted to be part of the lifestyle. The lifestyle that everybody kinda wants.”

(This review contains spoilers)

Inspired by the true events and the subsequent Vanity Fair article, The Bling Ring recounts the story of a group of privileged Californian teenagers who stole $3million worth of clothing and jewelry from the houses of Hollywood celebrities. What’s particularly extraordinary about The Bling Ring is how Coppola has managed to create a film that is on the surface as shallow as its protagonists, but also thoughtful and mildly angry in its subtext.

It would have been all too easy for Coppola to take a seat above her subjects and beat us over the head with the notion that these kids are a bunch of deluded narcissists. Instead she observes quietly from the wings whilst the gang gleefully raids through the material wealth of these Hollywood celebrities. By just observing, Coppola allows the inherently risible nature of the material to shine through all by itself.