Posts Tagged ‘ Films 2014 ’

NIGHTCRAWLER

Nightcrawler
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This compelling crime thriller starring an impeccable Jake Gyllenhaal and equally impressive Rene Russo, written and directed by Dan Gilroy is one of the best films I have seen thus far this year. Gyllenhaal more than adequately inhabits his role of Lou Bloom a young man in search of a career, fame, notoriety and respect at whatever the cost and make no mistake there is no value put on anything other than this success, not even the life of a colleague, if the situation necessitates it. It is this flagrant disregard for others which makes Gyllenhaal’s character so fascinating and watchable whilst the sociopath/psychopath hybrid which determines his personality is as creepy as it is compelling
Once Bloom discovers there is market in selling video footage of crimes and accidents and the aftermath that follows them he decides a career in providing the most intimate, voyeuristic and forensic footage possible with no consideration for the victims of these crimes or the fatalities of an accident or a shoot out. In this he is initially supported by Nina (Russo) who is seeking to boost her own flagging career and although when he suggests mixing business with pleasure she is at first horrified and disgusted but this soon turns to admiration as his skills and sheer determination rapidly become more attractive to her as she realises how much of a boost his input gives to her own kudos and value.
This act of convincing others that he is taking them on the road to success and they should simply do as he says without question is a tactic he uses on his assistant Rick(Riz Ahmed) only when Rick questions his motives and demands that he be treated a little more fairly and receive adequate recompense for his endeavours you sense that he is sealing his own fatal outcome.
As I said before Nightcrawler stands tall amongst the best films I have seen this year. It has everything: great performances, superb pacing, style, gravitas, moments of dark humour and skilful direction by Gilroy. Definitely not one to be missed.

GONE GIRL

Gone Girl
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This David Fincher movie is at the centre of a controversial storm as to whether it empowers women or sets their cause back decades. Certainly it is a very modern approach to what is essentially a cold, calculating femme fatale but whether or not Fincher has used Rosamund Pike’s character ‘Amazing’ Amy Dunne as anything other than a bewitching, fascinating captivating film character, who drives the narrative of this film in several different directions, is irrelevant when considering how compelling her and co-star Ben Affleck-as her husband Nick- are at delivering nearly two and a half hours of convincingly intense cinema.
It would seem to outsiders that Nick and Amy have the perfect marriage and lifestyle-so organised even their cat has its own room- and cocooned in their own smugness, ‘We are so cool I would want to punch us in the face’ one of them decries at some juncture, but it is all surface and underneath the cracks are rising to the surface.
Matters culminate on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary when we first meet Nick as he visits his twin sister Margo ( Carrie Coon) with matters obviously preying on his mind. On his return home he finds an obviously staged burglary has taken place and Amy has disappeared amidst signs of a struggle. He then finds himself caught up in the midst of accusations and media manipulations as it becomes clear foul play has taken place but with the absence of a corpse an actual arrest for Amy’s murder is nigh on impossible even despite the mounting evidence.
How that evidence keeps mounting!
Nick has been having an affair. Nick has accrued thousands of pounds of credit card debts. Nick has recently negotiated a life insurance policy for over a million dollars in the event anything should happen to Amy.
It all seems a little too clear cut though and even the investigating police officer feels this way and postpones his arrest until the evidence suggests that this is the only feasible option.
It is at this juncture that the film takes the first of its many diversions into another twisted narrative before this one twists into another and then yet another. It is a convincing device and at no point of its two hours plus duration does this film ever waver or lose the audience’s attention taking them to unexpected places with its unpredictable twists and turns. Just when you feel it is time to breathe easier the film takes flight and moves off in another direction without ever feeling overly contrived or unconvincing.
Ben Affleck is outstanding as browbeaten Nick who has to summon up inner strengths to survive the onslaught of the hopelessness of his situation but it is Rosamund Pike who is a revelation. Cold, calculating and detached she is the epitome of the icy blonde Hitchcock searched for throughout his many movies-Tippi Hedren may have looked the part but let’s face it her acting abilities were limited at best- and give a performance which inspires both love and hate in equal measure.
Definitely a cinematic experience worth spending a couple of hours involving yourself with and Fincher’s direction and Trent Reznor’s score serve to up the ante into making this an almost perfect mystery thriller.

I AM DIVINE

I Am Divine
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This documentary directed by Jeffery Schwarz detailing the rise of the late, great Divine from his Baltimore origins to national then international and onwards to the brink of mainstream success is like its subject matter; in that it is funny, poignant, challenging and, especially at its conclusion, more than a little tragic.
The thing about Divine which set him apart from other drag acts, apart from his vast size which contributed to rather than distracted from his appeal, was the fact he was always willing to go that bit further, be that bit fiercer and more than prepared to be that much more outrageous than his rivals. Whilst other drag queens on the scene took themselves much more seriously Divine was prepared to send both them and himself up whilst simultaneously being wholly serious about what he was doing. Teaming up with fellow Baltimore outcast/freak John Waters was a stroke of genius and one suspects without this fortuitous pairing neither would be the recognised important figures they are today.
Born Harris Glenn Milstead, though always referred to Glenn when growing up and Divine thereafter, to a conservative middle class family who indulged his leanings as an obviously effete child by encouraging him to enter the hairdressing and beauty world where his talents could flourish without too much embarrassment to his family’s sensibilities. However with the arrival of the sixties and the counterculture Glenn started to indulge in more and more outrageous antics until a rift leading to a total fall out with his family was necessary if he intended to continue down the path he was following. It rapidly became clear this is exactly that path was one he more than wanted to follow; in fact it transpired he wanted to lead the way down his own particular path.
Teaming up with John Waters and a group of fellow outcasts a few low budget movies were made, culminating in cult classics such as Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingos-with its infamous eating dog shit scene- and Female Trouble. These films started to breakthrough nationally and eventually became classics on the gay and underground scenes and after this Divine’s rise to international renown was inexorable. Meanwhile a musical career was added to an already growing portfolio with several records-‘Native Love’ and ‘Shoot Your Shot’ are still personal favourites to this day although the sight of Divine, in all his glory, wobbling around on Top Of The Pops whipping himself into a frenzy whilst belting out ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is a moment that will always stay with me-—adding to the growing legend.
Around this juncture mainstream success was on the horizon and an appearance in the most successful Waters movie to date, Hairspray, showed that behind the outrage was real acting talent; an appearance as a man for the first time in ‘Trouble in Mind’ confirmed this. The success of Hairspray awarded Divine appointments with big time players and he was about to start work on the networked comedy with a recurring role in the now classic series ‘Married With Children’. Unfortunately circumstances conspired that on the weekend before he was due to start shooting-he was actually already ensconced in his Hollywood hotel preparing his lines- when he had a massive heart attack which killed him.
The tragedy of such an event would not have been lost on Divine however who would probably have appreciated the irony. Here was everything he had worked for; money, success, recognition and, probably most importantly, acceptance. It did ensure however his legacy remained a cult and, whilst it is totally selfish of me to say this, personally I am glad he remains known only to those who remember him and whoever they decide to introduce to the man and his legacy. In a way it keeps him a little closer to those who loved him without having to share him!
I Am Divine is showing at the Cameo Cinema until Thursday.

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY

The Two Faces of January
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This screen adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel directed by Hossein Amini contains her usual stylistic devices: exotic locations, luxuriously understated attire and glamorous characters oozing sophistication masking a ruthless ambition whilst dark and dirty dealings lead them into a cesspit of deception. It is an extremely watch-able film from the very off as impressive Greek architecture co-ordinates beautifully with the understated but exquisite clothes of its three main characters who subsequently become inextricably entangled in a series of events which drag each of them further and further to the depths of their souls whilst their polite middle class facades, although slightly ruffled and scuffed, remain intact.
Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Kirsten Dunst)-if these are indeed even their real names- seem, on the surface, to be a wealthy and sophisticated American couple. On their version of a ‘Grand Tour’ they stop off in Athens where they meet up with a young tour guide Rydal-the impossibly handsome Oscar Isaac- who makes a living as a tour guide whilst creaming off extra profit by ripping off his charges. It turns out that he is the multi-lingual son of a leading American archaeologist who tried to instil his children with a privileged and unique education which should set them up for life. Rydal’s reaction to all of this was to run away from the future his father had mapped out for him and, in essence, attempt to escape the very world the MacFarlands are trying to represent whilst simultaneously attempting to gain entry into.
Immediately there is an attraction between Rydal and Colette but there is also something of a bond between him and Chester. It is never made explicit whether this is a father-son or homo-erotic attraction but although Colette is the focus of both men’s attentions there is also the hint that she is also merely in the way.
It transpires early on that the MacFarlands are not exactly who they say they are, in any regard, resulting in their dubious past catching up with them with a confrontation which leads to murder and the subsequent cover up three find themselves embroiled in a downward spiral which sends each of them plummeting to new depths of their being. No-one in this sordid tale is wholly innocent but the feeling that if a little more honesty was applied then the situation, whilst still bad, would not degenerate quite as far as it eventually does with further fatalities, deception and corruption wrecking each of their lives.
Despite the fantastic surroundings-after Athens both Crete and Turkey play supporting roles in what is essentially a three handed outing- it is also an extremely claustrophobic film as it is the small and ever increasing insularity, due to circumstance, of the central triumvirate’s world which we mostly inhabit. The performances are excellent with Viggo Mortensen playing a charming but charmless rogue, Dunst as the seemingly innocent but obviously knowing wife and Isaac as the good looking, deceptive but essentially honest rich boy determined to make his mark on the world on his own terms. It is a film layered with sexual tension between the three of them and although I felt the ending lent itself to Hollywood tradition it is still an extremely slick, seductive and worthwhile film I would not mind seeing again. That is recommendation in itself.

FRANK

Frank
Frank trailer

This offbeat comedy drama by Jon Ronson has a light touch but a dark soul. Starring Michael Fassbender and based on the true life tale of Frank Sidebottom, who performed in a papier-mâché head, it mixes a soupcon of fact to create a film that is as simple as it is complex whilst maintaining a kudos that will garner it favour amongst the avant-garde. Fassbender manages to give a great performance even if for the majority of the film he has to rely on vocalising his various facial expressions-much to the chagrin of his volatile and antagonistic acolyte Clara (Maggie Gyllenhall)- and even though at the films denouement the mask is removed this adds little to the mystery of the character but rather lends the film a more conventional structure.
Narrated throughout from the viewpoint of Jon(Domhnall Gleeson), a wannabe musician and composer, who has his sights on stardom to break out of the mundane world he inhabits living with his parents whilst working the nine to five nightmare in an office. When the band Soronprfbs come to his town and their keyboard player tries to drown himself in a suicide bid, following a mental meltdown, he flippantly offers his services as a replacement and finds himself whisked away to an isolated recording studio with the mysterious Frank- who bears some resemblance to the offbeat Captain Beefheart- and his even weirder bunch of supporting musicians who idolise him to the point of fanaticism.
The recording process inevitably does not go smoothly and Jon unwisely offers to pay for it out of his inheritance from his grandfather without realising just how much it is all going to cost. The scenes at the recording facility range from serious to violent to heartrending whilst even incorporating some comedy slapstick moments. The whole feeling is one of a surreal dream come nightmare where everyone involved is playing an absurd extremist creating a tortured epic.
Inevitably this set up is bound to lead to further disaster and indeed it does whilst combining offbeat humour with pathos. As an audience we are rooting for Frank and his celebrated, but far from conventional, talent but somehow in our hearts we know this can never, ever be and mainstream success will always elude him. Therefore the ending of the film is notably downbeat and its attempts to explain the character of Frank fail in their objectives because it is the mystery and fantasy we have already projected onto him which provide the film’s major motivational tool and charm.
Despite this Frank is a seriously thought provoking film which questions the value of fame, integrity and celebrity. Although simply presented it is full of complexities which give it a depth which might not seem obvious from the outset but become more apparent as the film engages you in its surreal ambitions. Because of this it works on several levels and leaves you feeling emotionally connected to a character that has spent the majority of the film encased in a giant papier-mâché mask. This, in itself, is no mean achievement!

Calvary

Calvary
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This black comedy from John Michael McDonagh touches on many moments of greatness in its tale of Father James Lavelle- Brendon Gleeson- who learns of his upcoming murder from an irate parishioner with grievances against the church during confession. What follows is a whodunit-or more correctly a who’s going to do it- which focuses on a community which is disrespectful of the church though still paying it lip service whilst the Church’s representatives are tarnished in the wake of all the scandals, hypocrisy and double standards which have tainted the Catholic church in recent times.
Playing the good priest, Gleeson excels in this film and his Lavelle is the polar opposite of the pill popping politically incorrect policeman, Sergeant Gerry Boyle, he played in 2010’s impressive ‘The Guard’. Not that he is by any means Mary Poppins in a cassock as he likes a drink, uses profane language and even has a daughter from a marriage, previous to discovering his vocation as a priest later in life. It is this understanding of a life beyond the stifling constraints of the church which lend him an insight and compassion which may confuse others still blinded by its beliefs,
His parishioners likewise still pay him common courtesies but even in such a small community their flagrant disregard for a church which represents a bygone era is blatantly obvious. Adultery, domestic abuse and snorting cocaine in public toilets all seem common place and the fact that the church itself has been exposed in recent years means that others feel less need to hide, disguise or deny their own transgressions.
Surrounded by a stellar cast including Chris O’ Dowd, Aidan Gillen and Kelly Reilly amongst others Gleeson may carry the film but he has able support from an equally strong team. Each male member of the community is under suspicion as it is claims of abuse from an early age by a priest-not himself who even his future killer recognises as a good priest- that Lavelle is expected to pay for with his own life. The interaction of the village with their priest details accurately how much in disrepair the reputation of the church actually is in.
The conclusion of the film may be a trifle operatic in its execution but it is also not one that lingers too long on fake sentiment and overblown emotional histrionics. Set on a cold and windy beach, where Lavelle has been told to arrive in order to meet his death, it is cold, stark and emotionally raw. In keeping with the rest of the film it is suitably dark but still manages to retain its sense of dignity and draws the film to an interesting conclusion with plenty of food for thought.

20 FEET AWAY FROM STARDOM

20 Feet from Stardom
Twenty_Feet_From_Stardom_poster

This Oscar winning documentary from Morgan Neville charts the historical value of the singers who, as backing vocalists for major stars, shaped the sound of modern music as we know it but never attained the recognition they deserved. Going someway to redress the balance this heartfelt and moving documentary looks at the importance and influence –come on let’s face it often the backing vocal parts are the ones which stick in the mind the most and the ones you find yourself singing along with- these women have had.
It is mainly women that this film focuses on although Luther Vandross is a notable exception but he managed superstar success where his female counterparts failed.
Whilst it is unbelievable that stardom eluded such talented individuals it also becomes apparent that it was not simply their gender which worked against them but also their colour; at the time they were working, misogyny and racism went hand in hand in a white male dominated music industry. Not that bitterness is the driving energy behind this film nor does resentment raise its head too often but there is certainly an air of disappointment and confusion mixed with certain moments of sheer bliss at moments of triumph when eventually one of them receives their deserved accolades.
Of all the singers featured in this film the one whose tale probably stands out the most is Darlene Love. Invited to ghost on several sessions by sixties wunderkind- the more recently disgraced- Phil Spector she was invited to sing on several sessions and her voice appeared as the lead vocal on major classic hits such as ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘He’s a Rebel’ credited to The Crystals, who appeared lip-synching her vocals on international TV whilst she languished in obscurity with Spector dangling the carrot of fame under her nose but continuing to leave her un-credited. Possibly the most frustrating tale of this whole film as her voice is instantly recognisable even today.
Another frustrating case is that of Claudia Lennear who began as an Ikette alongside Tina Turner and served as the inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ as well as David Bowie’s ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ but found herself thwarted when she made a bid for solo stardom. Things may be on the up for Lennear though as this film has awakened the interest of a recently energised Mr. Bowie who has insisted he will assist in re-launching her career in any way he can.
It would seem that although these ladies also possessed immense talent this was simply not enough in an industry that thought that one successful black soul singer was enough and that Aretha Franklin would do very nicely, thank you very much
. Thus the word was never to be made aware of the splendid voices of Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Judith Hill or Jo Lawry as there was simply not a big enough market to house them all during the late sixties and early seventies and therefore remained deprived of hearing about them.
There are many notable stars singing the praises of these unhailed musical heroes not least Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting and although the film ends on a positive note- Love found herself eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011- there is still an air of sadness and missed opportunities surrounding the whole affair. It is a film which whilst pulling at the heartstrings also reveals that although fame may have been only twenty feet away on the same stage, for these women, it was twenty feet which may as well have been a million miles.