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Certain Women

certain-women

Intentionally quiet and slight arguably to a fault, Certain Women nonetheless is not without its charms.

I want to love Certain Women.  I really and truly do.  Even within the more independent filmmaking world, Certain Women represents a sort of breath of fresh air by its mere existence.  In a sphere of film mostly dedicated to Sad White Men dealing with their Sad White Men problems in a low-key fashion, here is a film all about depicting the mundane lives of three women.  And when I say “mundane,” I really do mean “mundane;” these are lives that are profoundly uneventful even when they are, by comparative metric, eventful.  Writer-Director Kelly Reichardt, who has made her name with measured and uneventful interpretations of stories that are usually fodder for more traditionally thrilling fare, here adapts a few short stories by Maile Meloy and consequently works with set-ups that are devoid of basically any kind of dramatic conflict whatsoever.  One story never acknowledges an earlier potential conflict generator in its own story, another simmers on words unsaid but never truly boils over, and the third intentionally deflates itself at the first opportunity in the driest possible way.

In effect, what you end up watching is less of a series of short narratives with clear beginnings, climaxes, conflicts, etc. and more a collection of snapshots of ordinary if lonely women living their lives.  These kinds of lives just don’t get told in Film that often, not in this kind of frank and empathetic way, and especially not for women.  Women in the rural-American Mid-West, no less!  Dealing with loneliness and isolation in a world that often attempts to forget they even exist.  So, I do want to love Certain Women.

I just can’t quite get there, though.  That same intentional quietness and deliberate pacing that provides the film’s selling point is also its major weakness for me.  All three stories touch on the same themes, have the same pacing, and are so intentionally slight that my mind couldn’t help but wander from time to time.  There may be a tangible empathy here, particularly in the stunning final segment, but there’s also just a bit too much of a sedate distance to proceedings, where the film is purposefully avoiding anything eventful and instead filling up that time with very long takes where not very much happens at all.  When the film is clicking on all cylinders, where its stories ache with a noticeable pain and quiet suffering, it’s not an issue.  But when it’s anything less than that, either by not sketching that story’s protagonist deeply enough or holding an interminably long conversation that’s going nowhere in no particular hurry, then it starts to poke holes in the enterprise.

That, I guess, is my way of saying that not all of the stories are created equal.  The first involves a lawyer, Laura (Laura Dern), dealing with a long-disgruntled client (Jared Harris).  The second has a married couple, Gina (Michelle Williams) and Ryan (James le Gros), trying to convince a somewhat-crotchety old man (René Auberjonois) to sell them some sandstone that they can use to build their house in the wilds.  The third, and best by a country mile, follows a lonely Ranch Hand (newcomer Lily Gladstone) as she finds herself drawn to a night school class and forges a connection with the teacher, amateur lawyer and out-of-towner Beth (Kristen Stewart).  The second is the millstone, somewhat fittingly, that drags down the rest of the enterprise, being so slow and so uneventful that I found myself checking my watch frequently and wondering if there was a point being made at all with it.  There is, it’s just that said point is made almost immediately and the segment fails to find any further spins on it for the rest of its run time.

It’s also the most dialogue-heavy of the three segments, or at least feels like it, and the most static.  Strangely, dialogue often turns out to be a crutch for Certain Women as a whole.  It’s not that any of it is bad, sometimes it even manages to provide some dryly humorous levity to proceedings, it’s more that the film’s most powerful moments come from a lack of.  From words unsaid, from connections unrealised, from an honesty that can’t quite be reached.  Gina goes off on runs that are more excuses to sneak a cigarette without Ryan knowing, whilst Ryan is revealed in the first story to be having an affair with Laura but her story never allows him the chance to finish his attempt at ending the thing, whilst the moment that the third story gets as close to an honest admission of feelings as its protagonists can, the resultant pause communicates more hurt than a thousand words ever could.

These are women who feel isolated from society around them, lacking in any real meaningful connections or any connections at all.  Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography, which is low-key gorgeous for the record, goes to great lengths to frame each of these women as separate from the rest of the world around them, for that kind of isolation and enforced distance to become quietly wearying on the viewer like it is for the women themselves.  How society renders them all-but-invisible in subtle ways that are only picked up on by those on the receiving end – Laura’s client only accepts the exact same judgement that Laura’s been telling him for the past 8 months once it comes out of a man’s mouth, the old man that Gina is trying to buy the sandstone from often straight up ignores her and talks solely to Ryan instead, whilst the Ranch Hand deliberately secludes herself at the back of the class lesson after lesson and is ignored wholesale by the rest of the class members, despite one student’s claim that “we all know each other.”

Rather than dance around the point any further, I’ll just come right out and say it: the reason that you need to watch Certain Women, even if the whole doesn’t quite rise like it should and its second story is just kind of dull, is for that third story.  That’s where everything comes together – the writing, the measured pacing, the commitment to depicting the crushing mundanity of a lonely life, the empathy for all those involved, and the quiet pain of longing constantly flowing under the surface – to deliver a phenomenal half hour that builds to a closing oner which devastates ever more the longer that it runs.  It also stands head and shoulders above the rest of the stories due to the performances and unique chemistry of Stewart and Gladstone, both awkwardly dancing around the central question of their connection with a tangible caution clearly born out of a desire to not hurt or get hurt that only serves to make those unsaid words cut that much deeper.  Gladstone, especially, is a full-on revelation, particularly when that final shot comes around.

I kinda wish, in all honesty, that Certain Women were just that story, since then I’d be able to properly love it.  Don’t get me wrong, this is in no way a bad film, not in any respect, even that second segment isn’t bad so much as I just found it wholly unengaging.  For me, though, just under 110 minutes of this much deliberate slowness and intentionally minor storytelling was ultimately a little too tiring for me to be able to properly love.  I’m honestly fine with that, however, and not just because I know that there are certain people who will absolutely adore Certain Women.  When the film clicks like it does many times during the final story, the resultant cinema is enrapturing.  And even when it’s not, there really is something to be said for its commitment to realising and empathising with the sort of uneventful (often) middle-aged female life that it squarely focusses on.  We can’t all have dramatic lives.  Sometimes, all we can ask for is to be acknowledged by anybody at all.

Certain Women is playing in UK cinemas from March 3rd.

Callum Petch sees what we’re gonna forget.  He can usually be found at his own website, callumpetch.com.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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Manchester by the Sea

“We’re going back to Boston.” 

Didn’t think I’d be saying how refreshing it was to be watching a typical Oscar-bait film this early on in the year. Between religious period dramas and musicals, I went into Manchester by the Sea hopeful of a good film; wanting a great performance from its star; and hoping for something a bit more… I don’t know… run of the mill for Oscar season.

I know how bad that sounds. But I mean it one hundred percent as a compliment. I was really looking forward to this.

Shortly after the sudden death of his brother, quiet and reserved handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) finds himself pulled back to his hometown of Manchester to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Named the moody high schooler’s legal guardian by his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) without his knowledge, the troubled janitor has to face a home he’s been avoiding for years, family and friends – including his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) –  he’s not willing to deal with and a kid who’s just lost his old man.

Between the pair of them, they have enough baggage to last a lifetime or two and now they’re stuck with each other. Somehow, they need to work out their differences and their demons to find a way to live together.

So yeah, run of the mill is the order of the day here.

Manchester by the Sea doesn’t do anything that Oscar chasing movies haven’t done before. Dead family, orphaned kids, quiet dude with a really dark past and they all somehow meet in the middle and have to settle their differences. It’s an old, clichéd story that hasn’t had anything new to say in years. So the way to make your film shine, the way to make it stick out, is with its performances. Your stars have to make me give a shit and that’s where Casey Affleck, a guy I’ve been a fan of since I saw him in Gone Baby Gone, shines.

Lee Chandler is a loner. He chooses to live a solitary life in a basement apartment and can barely change a bulb or go for a pint without his being a downer affecting everyone around him. The man is haunted by his past and it takes around an hour for the film’s flashbacks to tell you why. Until then, the only indication you’ve got is Affleck’s face; and boy does he put on a show.

The man wears all his emotion on his face and every second he’s on screen you feel sorry for the guy, you feel awful for him, you know the guy has been through some shit and there are no words to describe just how deep the pit in your stomach is by the time you’ve gotten to the end of the film. And it’s all Affleck’s doing. His performance is the stand out one of the season and his recent Golden Globe is more than deserved. A top rate performance and I’d like to go ahead and congratulate him on his Best Actor Oscar now, if I can.

But of course, Affleck isn’t alone here and without the support of some great talent in the form of Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, he’d be nowhere. Hedges’ role as the mopey teen trying not to look like a mopey teen was sublime. Perfectly encapsulating the way so many teenagers would behave in that situation, trying to not look upset, trying to be the big guy in front of his mates and letting his frustrations out in the wrong direction, every time. I mean, he’s no Jacob Tremblay, but he’s done a pretty damn fine job.

Equally as impressive is Michelle Williams as Lee’s traumatised ex-wife. I can’t imagine how tough a role it must have been, dancing elegantly between flashbacks to the days that brought her and her husband to where they are today; all the way to showing us her new life with her new family. Her moments on screen are far fewer than Affleck’s, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful or emotional. With the always great Kyle Chandler bringing up the rear as the brother not long of this world; you certainly can’t accuse this film of skimping on the cast.

Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan has put together a fine tale here, with more than enough emotional pull to satisfy even the most masochistic of weepy drama lovers. Every tear jerking trope is here for you to enjoy as Lonergan tells Chandler’s story both after his brother’s death and before with some pretty heavy handed flashback use. Interestingly, the one thing I didn’t expect was for this film to have as strong a comic edge as it had. I almost felt bad for laughing as much as I did but the man’s crisp, funny script provided the perfect amount of levity in all the right places to stop me from being a quivering mess by the time I left.

If I had to find a complaint, I would have to say it’s with the flashbacks. While poignant and necessary for the story, they felt a little overplayed and, almost criminally, didn’t define themselves from the present day parts of the film in any way except to have his brother alive in them. I’m annoyed to say that I got lost on more than one occasion, if only for a second or two, because I didn’t realise we’d skipped back a few years. But that’s a minor complaint in an overall excellent film.

Manchester by the Sea checks all the Oscar committee boxes and then some. It’s not original and it’s not going to break any records, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable film that deserves every accolade it gets and more.

London Film Festival 2016: Day 4

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You would think that I would have gotten up bright and early on Saturday morning in order to catch the press screening for DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls, given that I am still (to my knowledge) the film critic who is the world’s leading expert on the works of DreamWorks Animation thanks to The DreamWorks Animation Retrospective.  I chose to skip Trolls, however.  I wanted to have a minor lay-in, for one, but primarily it was due to the film dropping in UK cinemas in just over 2 weeks, so seeing it with such a small gap between festival and theatrical screenings felt like wasting precious festival time – hence why I also skipped Thursday’s screening of American Honey.  I am at a film festival, as a credited member of the press, able to see a whole gaggle of films that either won’t be out for several months or won’t make it to Hull at all, so I should take full advantage of that fact!  Indeed, I was going to instead see the other animated feature being screened that morning, Psychonauts: The Forgotten Children (Grade: D+)!

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This was a choice that I would come to regret.  Based on the graphic novel of the same name by co-director Alberto Vásquez, Psychonauts – and, no, it has no relation to the beloved videogame, in order to get the obvious jokes and ignorance out of the way immediately – is set on an island of animal-people hybrids ravaged by some kind of industrial disaster that has split the island into two halves.  The titular Forgotten Children live in the trash-filled Industrial Zone, spending their days searching for copper they can sell for money to buy food which they in turn sell for more copper, caught hopelessly in this cycle of poverty.  The slightly more civilised parts of the island, meanwhile, are all desperate to escape and make their way to The Big City across the sea, in the meantime succumbing to drug addictions that appear to manifest themselves as literal malicious demons, and persecuting the mute Birdboy, an addict whose father sold drugs to children and whom the island’s police force wrongly believe is following in his father’s footsteps.

Hopefully you already see the main problems here.  Psychonauts is far too messy and barely coherent, featuring too many characters – including Birdboy, the Forgotten Children, a group of teenagers trying to get off the island, a fisherman caring for his heroin-addicted mother, and far too many others – each with their own plots, many crossing paths several times, and all utilising different metaphors that complicate any potential message.  Addicts and those suffering from mental illnesses have literal demons that appear to overtake the host’s entire being and can cause harm separate from the host themselves, for example.  The Forgotten Children get barely any screen time and the film never asks the viewer to properly sympathise with them, either, lest its big violent 3rd act setpiece become too offputtingly disturbing for the viewer.  Hell, the film doesn’t even manage to establish a coherent geography of the island itself; I spent much of the film thinking the Industrial wastelands were a framework for a story being told in-medias-res rather than a going concern.

The film is too quirky for its own good, throwing every possible trippy image at the wall and hoping that something sticks – in this world, even otherwise inanimate objects have conscience thought and coherent speech, for some utterly bizarre reason.   Admittedly, the animation is visually striking, which is what saves the film from being a total waste, but it’s also, design-wise, nothing you haven’t seen in the notebook of an emo high-school kid from back in the mid-2000s.  Plus, like with Ari Folman’s visually-trippy but thematically-muddled and narratively-empty The Congress, all the visual trippiness in the world can’t make up for a lack of story and a hopelessly muddled thematic core.

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On the subject of film choices I came to regret before the credits rolled, Una (Grade: D), or “What if a paedophile were actually a really honourable and upstanding man aside from the whole ‘grooming and molesting an underage child’ thing?”  Una wants to tackle our preconceptions of consent and rape, kind of similarly to Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (which I saw and discussed in yesterday’s piece), by demonstrating that the case isn’t always as clear-cut for either party as it may appear on paper, that there are long-term ramifications for both parties, especially if one of them sincerely believes that they are in love with the other.  There is a way to tell a story like this, where we come to understand both characters and their headspaces, see them as complex people with wants and desires that aren’t as simple as society would have us believe, and how that can be more disturbing than pat simplicity, or at the very least can be told in a way that isn’t a horrifying mess…

…this ain’t it.  Instead, Una proceeds to spend much of its 94 minutes providing sympathy and understanding and explanations for the rapist, and basically nothing for the title character (Rooney Mara).  Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) gets to plead his side of things repeatedly, cycling through all of the stock bulls**t excuses, complaining about how the 3 month “mistake” ruined his life, and how he had to fight with all of his might to turn things around and claw together the pretty nice life he has now, with a new name, a decent job, and a wife oblivious to his past.  Una, initially, gets to give as good as Ray’s got, tearing down his “woe-is-me” arguments and angrily retorting with how she never got the chance to get her life back thanks to him.  But eventually, she starts to give up, as does he, and the two start to work towards the admission that maybe there was something sincere there between them once, and that may still be there now, 15 years on.  That is interesting, if handled well, and Una proceeds to squander it massively by shifting in its final third to making Ray ultimately a “nice guy” and Una the crazy woman who can’t let the past go.

This massive lapse in judgement ends up occurring as a result of the multitude of smaller, easily avoidable mistakes that litter the film up to that point – first-time film director Benedict Andrews filming almost all of the flashbacks in romantic soft-focus like this were any normal love story, the script not giving Una the depth or comebacks that Ray ends up getting, and awkwardly shoe-horned in subplots only serve the purpose of trying to make Ray likeable all being particular offenders.  Then on just a film level, away from those problematic undertones, it’s just far too blandly shot, uninvolving, and stagey (the film is an adaptation of writer David Harrower’s own play Blackbird and it really shows by the halfway point) to be worth anyone’s time.  Ben Mendelsohn is putting in excellent work playing the character as written, but it’s ultimately wasted on, well, the character as written.  Una is utterly abhorrent, and the worst part is that I don’t even think it knows just how far off-base it ends up going.  Christ, Election did this far better and it wasn’t even a main part of that film!

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Continuing a day of disappointments all round, although this one is much milder and subjective than the others, I must confess to not quite “getting” Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women (Grade: B-).  Taking place across 3 mostly unconnected segments, the film essentially dramatises a day or two in the life of a group of women whose lives are uneventful even when they are, by some metric, eventful.  The first follows a lawyer (Laura Dern) as she deals with a difficult client (Jared Harris), the second follows a working mother (Michelle Williams) with her husband (James le Gros) as she tries to buy sandstone from a crotchety old man (René Auberjonois) in order to build her house, and the third follows a lonely Native American rancher (Lily Gladstone) who tries to strike up a relationship with an overworked lawyer (Kristen Stewart) who is teaching a night class on School Law.  Each of these segments run about 30 minutes a piece, start unassumingly, end suddenly, move very glacially, and nothing much happens in any of them.

This is very much by design, mind you.  Reichardt takes great pleasure in subjecting the viewer to the same boring suffocating loneliness that most of the film’s characters experience, and the overall point, if there even is one since I found very little to connect the three segments beyond them all taking place in and representing a forgotten rural American town, appears to be depicting life.  Monotonous, day-to-day, glacial life.  I can respect that intent, though I do still side with anybody who ends up watching the film and, by the 7th minute of Gina and Ryan’s interminable conversation with Albert or the 14th scene of the rancher riding around the snow on her ATV chased by her adorable dog, yelling, “OK, YES, WE GET THE POINT, ALREADY!  DO SOMETHING, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!”  It can be too slow and dry for its own good, at times, particularly because it’s not aiming to make any grand statements or even perform much of a character study of any of its protagonists.

Certain Women could have been paced better, basically, particularly since it follows up its worst segment (which just goes on for ages and fails to accomplish anything) with by far and away its best.  That final segment is quietly devastating, particularly thanks to the chemistry of Kristen Stewart (inarguably one of the finest actresses working today) and Lily Gladstone (who is one hell of a find and needs a fast-tracked career right the hell now), building up to a phenomenal oner that just broke my heart even deeper the longer it ran on for.  Outside of that segment, though, I was more just appreciative of what the film’s trying to do rather than enthralled or touched by it in any significant way.  It is, in reductive terms, Slow Cinema – cinema that’s paced deliberately for the sake of being paced deliberately – and whilst I can respect it doing exactly what it set out to do and doing it well, I have to admit that it’s not really for me.

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I closed out the day by finally getting an approved press ticket ahead of time for a public screening, that for Jewel’s Catch One (Grade: C), a documentary about the titular nightclub, one of the first openly Black and LGBT discos to open in the USA, and its owner, Jewel Thais-Williams.  It’s an interesting story, examining the club’s societal and cultural significance, its turbulent history, and the life and activism of Jewel herself, a Black working-class lesbian who poured her heart and soul into the club and eventually returning to college to learn various skills that she could apply to her non-profit Village Health Population.  The film is also clearly a labour-of-love, having been worked on for about 6 years, and aims to crowdplease, which it definitely succeeds at judging by the frequent and raucous rounds of applause that occurred during my screening.

Sadly, though, the film is also much too messy and unfocussed to recommend outside of its inevitable home as a Netflix curio.  Part of this is by design, since the subject in question is very locally specific, so archival footage is limited.  Mostly, the film tries to split its chips between the club and Jewel herself.  Either would make a great documentary on its own, but trying to do both at once leads to lots of rushed history, glossed-over sections that should be important (like the founding of the club), and a lack of trying to explain its cultural relevance for those not already up to speed.  There’s a whole extended segment on The AIDS Crisis and I somehow sat there not being particularly moved, which should not be something that happens in a documentary about an LGBT nightclub.  Near the end, the film, on the final night of the club, opts to show a montage of former patrons relating their experiences with and connection to the club, and I could briefly see a glimpse of a far better film than the one we have.  As it stands, Jewel’s Catch One is an interesting story that’s not done enough justice by the documentary telling it.

Day 5: Terence Davies tells the story of Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion, Adam Driver plays an introspective poet in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, and two women get an uninvited dinner guest in Chameleon.

Callum Petch will ease up on our mind.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.