American Honey

October 21, 2016 by  
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A road movie without a map is how you can describe Andrea Arnold’s freewheeling, funny, exhausting and unpredictable American Honey. The story follows the journey of teenage star (a sensual, defiant Sasha Lane) from her abusive home in Oklahoma and across the American Midwest with a hard – partying magazine subscription sales team in a large white van crammed with boozy kids and possibilities. Star is at the once smitten by the dangerous charisma of ringleader Jake (Shia LaBeouf), but for Jake romancing Star is just another part of the job. Although overlong at almost three hours – the film would have benefitted from tighter editing – Arnold has nonetheless created a lyrical story with strong characterisation and a rough-edged tenderness.

American Honey is in selected cinemas nationwide from October 14 2016

We Are X

October 7, 2016 by  
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We Are X 1

Screened as part of the London Film Festival, We Are X is a British-made rockumentary by American director Stephen Kijak (Scott Walker – 30 Century Man, Stones in Exile) about, “the world’s biggest and most successful rock band you’ve never heard of… yet.” The band in question is X Japan, who have been playing back in their homeland since the 1980s.

It is definitely true to say that back in Japan, the band is massive. They are credited with making rock/metal acceptable in the country. All five of their albums have made the top 20 back in Japan, the first reaching the top of the Japan’s indie chart, and the last three all being No. 1 albums in the main chart. Three of their albums have gone platinum, and they have had four No. 1 singles. They are due to release their next album, their first in over 20 years, when they perform at Wembley Arena on 4th March 2017.

What is holding them back then? Probably the fact that they are not native English speaking, as is evidenced by the fact that the film’s central figure, Yoshiki (pictured in the centre of the above photo), the band’s frontman, drummer and pianist, does speak English but he’s accompanied with subtitles all the way through the film. To quote one X Japan fan, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons who is interviewed in the movie: “If those guys had been born in America, they might be the biggest band in the world.” The film mentions that they did try to break into America back in the 1990s but their attempt failed.

Mr. Simmons is not the only famous name appearing in this movie stating their love for the band: Marilyn Manson, Marvel Comic’s Stan Lee, Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland, Guns N’ Roses’s Richard Fortus, and recently departed Beatles producer George Martin all make contributions to We Are X, so it is clear that the band have the support of the wider rock community.

The film itself details the band’s history, mostly through Yoshiki, as the band prepared to form in Madison Square Gardens in 2014. What is made clear is that one of the recurring elements of the band and Yoshiki’s own personal story is pain: both physical and mental. His father committed suicide when Yoshiki was only 10, the band’s singer Toshi (pictured to Yoshiki’s right) became brainwashed by a cult which resulted in the band breaking up for a decade, and just five months after that break-up the lead guitarist, hide, died in what was thought at the time to have been suicide (it’s now considered to have been accidental). This led to three copycat suicides by fans. The emotional pain is real, as is evident when Yoshiki cries when being interviewed over hide’s death. In 2011, the band’s former bassist Taiji, committed suicide after being arrested on a flight. Another sign of this, not covered in the film itself, is that the Wembley performance and sixth album mentioned earlier were meant to take place in March 2016, but had to be postponed after guitarist Pata (far left of the picture) had to go into intensive care with a blood clot and diverticulitis.

We Are X 3

On top of this, Yoshiki is also so physically frail that it seems a miracle that he too hasn’t died. He suffers from asthma, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, a torn ligament and a deformed neck bone caused by years of head-banging, meaning he now has to wear a neck brace while drumming. He’s so energetic on stage that often he wasn’t breathing properly, so he would often collapse on stage, and when he made it backstage he had oxygen tanks waiting for him because he had so little air inside him he was often on the verge of death. That’s when you know you rock, and rock hard at that. Yoshiki says: “To create some kind of art I don’t think you should be in a normal mental state of mind. It’s a war.”

The band itself were part of what is known in Japan as “Visual Kei” – visual rock. The original look of the band was really over-the-top, with massive haircuts and a glam-look. The band’s original slogan was: “Violence Crime of Visual Shock”, and the look certainly was shocking, even today. While today they may have a simpler look, the music still has the power to move you.

This is the great thing about We Are X – it brings together the music and both the on-stage and off-stage personas of the band, especially Yoshiki, to tell a great story. It is a story that deserves to be told, mainly because X Japan has earned the right to be heard.

It also highlights the difficulty that non-English speaking artists have with trying to make it big in the UK and USA. No matter how big you are back home, there will still be people in this country who won’t listen to you because you don’t sing in English. It says quite a lot about British attitudes to Far Eastern music in that there is only one song that most people can probably name, which is “Gangnam Style”, and even that is more famous for its comical dancing than for the actual music. There are still problems with X Japan’s music reaching a wider audience today, as only two of their five albums and some of their more recent singles are currently available on iTunes.

The people who made We Are X are the same people behind the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. With a film like this they could win the award again, or at least get nominated, and for one hope they do, because it would help establish the name of what should be one of the world’s biggest rock groups.

We Are X is currently screening as part of the London Film Festival. It will be shown at Prince Charles Cinema on 8th October and Vue West End Cinema on 9th October. The film’s official website is

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

October 3, 2016 by  
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Ingrid Bergman 1

Ingrid Bergman was born on 29th August 1915 in Stockholm, Sweden. She lost her German mother at the age of two, and her Swedish father when she was 13. After spending the next several years living with relatives, Bergman received a scholarship to attend the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm; thus beginning the career of a legendary actress.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is a documentary from Swedish director Stig Björkman, all about the life and career of the Academy Award winning actress. Using home footage, clips, letters and diary entries, we delve into the life of Ingrid Bergman, and the many challenges she faced in her personal life, and over the course of her career. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, The Danish Girl) narrates by voicing Bergman, in reading her letters and diary entries.

This documentary gives an intriguing insight into the life of the Swedish actress, as it’s literally, “in her own words”. Those hoping to hear interesting stories about the films of Bergman or her place in cinema history will be disappointed, as the main focus is on her life away from the screen. Approximately only 30 seconds of this documentary is dedicated to Casablanca, one of Bergman’s most famous films, in which she stared with Humphrey Bogart.

In addition to the footage and writing from Bergman herself, there are several interviews with those close to the actress, including family members and colleagues. There are also interviews with her four children, three of whom discuss growing up with two famous parents, both often away for long periods of time on film sets.

This intimate and engrossing documentary, standing at just under two hours long, produces an engaging insight into the life of a determined actress; working her way up from small parts in Swedish films, to the heights of Hollywood. Although Bergman doesn’t come across as the most endearing person at times, it’s hard not to admire the determination in pursuit of her career, and the handling of the scandals that she faced along the way.

The diary entries and letters bring you closer to the actress, who died in London in 1982; headstrong and determined of course, but also charming and warmly remembered by her children and those who knew her.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is available on DVD now.

Bridget Jones’s Baby

September 20, 2016 by  
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Bridget Jones's Baby

Jones is back. The women who taught us it’s ok to drink alone while dancing around your bedroom and that you should never apply makeup in the back of a moving taxi has returned with a few more essential life lessons.

Played by the Oscar-winning Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones appears to finally have her life in order – having at last lost those few extra pounds and with a job as a top news producer, she is composed and happy. However, with the passing of another birthday, her complicated love life once again takes a turn leaving her in a rather unexpected situation. Now an expectant mother, Jones has to deal with a more pressing matter – who is the father? The men in Bridget’s life are once again fighting for her approval but this time, the dreamy American Jack, played by Patrick Dempsey joins Colin Firth, the collected Mr Darcy, as Jones’s potential suitors.

There has been no fluffing round the edges; our favourite, flustered Ms Jones braces our screens again with her frivolous sex life, outrageous dress sense and overcrowded, London borough flat. With excellent support from Emma Thompson, as Dr Rawlings the film provides a fitting end to the Bridget Jones franchise but leaves us questioning, can the eponymous heroine ever have a ‘happily ever after’?

Bridget Jones’s Baby in cinemas nationwide from 16 September 2016

Photography: Universal Pictures – Giles Keyte

Hell or High Water

September 8, 2016 by  
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Chris Pine and Ben Foster

Not your typical American Western movie, Hell or High Water delves into the tortuous relationship between two estranged brothers, raising questions about friendship and loyalty. Set in rural Texas, siblings Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard clearly have a rocky relationship but find common purpose trying to save their late mother’s farm. United by their contempt for the faceless executives behind the Texas Midlands Bank, the pair resort to drastic measures to save their mother’s legacy from repossession.

In a time when the corporate banks have sucked the life out of many small Texas towns, the bleak economic opportunities have led the brothers to plan a series of bank robberies, and as you’d expect, not everything goes to plan. Jumping straight into the first heist, there is no easy transition into the action but this injection of pace helps frame the characters and their motive.

Both Pine and Foster do a superb job playing such complex characters; Pine the heartthrob, blue-eyed divorced father of two who would do anything for his family, and Foster the troubled ex-con watching over his younger brother. In pursuit of the Howard brothers is the wonderful Jeff Bridges, as the shamelessly racist Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, who, on the eve of his retirement is looking for one last showdown.

British film director David Mackenzie is on to a winner with this modern day Western, keeping the audience on edge as he builds his characters while allowing the film’s narrative to be punctuated with violence, abrasive humour and tender moments of love and kinship.

None of this would have been as effective without Giles Nuttgen’s beautifully crafted cinematography; his carefully considered shots bring the audience right into the centre of the Howard brother’s world of disequilibrium.

In all, Hell or High Water is a twisted chase of a movie, which brings a welcome jolt to the Western genre.

Released nationwide on 9 September 2016

War Dogs

August 23, 2016 by  
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war dogs Miles Teller Jonah Hill

With such a ludicrous plot line it’s hard to believe that War Dogs is based on true events, throughout the film this is something that is easy to forget. Childhood friends David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), are two twentysomething Americans who manage to land a $300 million deal supplying arms to Afghan military forces.

Having started their own small arms company they are quickly onto a financial win that could solve their seemingly, rather petty, life woes. Before long however, they are quickly in way over their heads; highlighting the true danger of the business.

Todd Phillips has paid exceptional attention to detail adding a strong sense of humour to a ridiculous situation that really has us laughing in the face of violence. If nothing else this film is funny, focusing on the side of war that is never discussed, but ultimately it highlights that like most things, war is just a business deal with opposing sides doing anything for money.

Released nationwide 26 August 2016

The Colony

August 21, 2016 by  
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The Colony 1

Emma Watson is big news currently. It seems that a week doesn’t go by without a mention of her latest film work; the Beauty and the Beast teaser trailer recently broke records as the most watched teaser trailer online, with over 90 million views within 24 hours of being uploaded. Similarly, her work as a UN Ambassador, and the launch of the HeForShe campaign for gender equality has also kept her in the public eye.

The Colony, also known as Colonia, is a historical thriller based on true events, starring Emma Watson (Lena) and Daniel Brühl (Daniel) as a young German couple, caught up in a Chilean Military Coup. After Daniel is captured by the secret police and imprisoned, Lena joins an infamous cult known as the Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony) to track down Daniel and escape with him.

Despite the popularity of Emma Watson, and her having top billing, I had only recently heard of The Colony as it is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray. The film was originally intended to be streamed online only; perhaps this accounts for the fact that it only made £47 during its opening weekend in the UK, from showing in five cinemas! This is a stark contrast to several trailers for The Colony, which have racked up millions of views online between them.

Although not greatly publicised, I find The Colony to be a strong film, with solid performances from the cast. Watson manages to lead the film brilliantly, giving an emotional performance which captures romance, sadness and fear. Daniel Brühl is equally excellent, as he is in all of his film performances. Michael Nyqvist gives a sinister performance as Paul Schäfer, the notorious real life leader of Colonia Dignidad.

This is a true ‘edge of your seat’ drama, which will keep you wondering what will happen to Lena and Daniel until the last minute. The real story and politics behind the Colonia Dignidad is not looked at in great detail, but instead the story of those within the cult keeps the film entertaining throughout its 100 minutes’ duration.

For those who still see Emma Watson as Hermione from the Harry Potter film series, a role for which she will be most remembered, there is no doubt that her ability as an actress has grown, and her film career will not be dwindling anytime soon.

During the summer months, cinema screenings are often filled with comedies and family films. The Colony is a perfect antidote to this type of film, and provides a thoughtful drama, for those who like their films on the heavier side.

The Colony will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 22nd August 2016.

Suicide Squad

August 9, 2016 by  
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Suicide Squad 1

Much maligned by the first crop of critical reviews, one might have had low expectations of such a highly anticipated movie. I, however, would recommend you go to see this with an open mind and set out to be entertained by, in what was in my opinion, a hugely fun cinematic triumph.

So the first thing we, as an audience, want to know is ‘how are these criminals, psychopaths, reprobates and general menaces to society, put together?’. And that is a question we quickly have answered in the first few fantastically sequenced, frenetic, exciting and captivating scenes, presenting each character one by one, with fast-paced, yet skilfully described introductions. All tied up neatly with an incise explanation of why they were brought together, the formidable combination of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Slipknot and El Diablo, otherwise known as the Suicide Squad, are brought together, to set up an intriguing plot.

As I previously wrote about Batman v Superman, this is a movie for the fans, which may explain why non-DC fans and some critics may not like this production. However, as a fan myself, I loved it. If you know what to expect, know what kind of storylines, characters and nuances comic books present, you’ll be enthralled by Suicide Squad. To give a prime example, a character such as Killer Croc might seem somewhat ridiculous to some and fighting a mythical witch as their main nemesis, may be overly fantastical or even kind of silly to many, but this is exactly the sort of thing a real fan would be accustomed to and the way in which writer and director David Ayer captures the DC comic world, in which the Suicide Squad reside, perfectly encapsulates what one might muster in their mind. It’s an unconventional world, yet a unique and unflinching homage to the comics.

To summarise the premise of the plot, a gang of criminals, locked up for a plethora of unmentionable crimes, are brought together for their individual and collective skills and abilities, to assist in battling the potentially catastrophic dangers presented after the appearance of Superman and the possibility of ‘unfriendly’ alien visitors. In this case, their help is required more urgently than anticipated, after Enchantress, a witch with immensely destructive powers, hell bent on world domination, recruits her brother to assist in her abominable mission. Cue the Suicide Squad to come to the rescue of planet Earth.

Some of the cast selections may have raised some eyebrows, however, there were some truly outstanding performances. Will Smith, as Deadshot, was immense in his performance as the leader of the motley crew, portraying the focused and unnervingly single-minded one-time assassin. The undoubted star performance, though, was that of Margot Robbie, as Harley Quinn. Her psychotic, demented, colourful, enticing, vibrant, alluring, sexy and all round crazy bitch portrayal will, in my opinion, go down as iconic in cinematic history. To say she was scene stealing, would be an understatement. Although only really a bit part role, Jared Leto’s Joker deserves considerable mention. In yet another unique incarnation, Leto delivers an intoxicating performance, producing grippingly sinister scenes, absolutely engrossing the audience. His role in the upcoming solo Batman project will be highly anticipated.

I’ve set aside a special tribute for the tremendous soundtrack. Soundtracks can often make a movie and in this case, the film’s musical choices were absolutely spot on. Such tracks as ‘House of the rising sun’, ‘You Don’t Own me’ and ‘Bohemiam Rhapsody’ expertly evoked and mirrored the feel and tone of certain scenes. A tip of the hat to Steven Price’s input here.

So ignore the pretentious, self-important critics and go and immerse yourself in the frenetic fun and sensory circus that is Suicide Squad. You won’t be disappointed.

Suicide Squad is in cinemas now.

Poor Cow

July 18, 2016 by  
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Poor Cow 1

British director Ken Loach is probably best known for his second feature film, Kes (1969). Loach also directed the famous TV drama, Cathy Come Home (1966) starring Carol White. Less well known is his first film, Poor Cow (1967), also featuring White, and a young Terrance Stamp.

Kenneth Loach, as he is credited in Poor Cow, brings a gritty, kitchen sink drama to the screen in the story of 18-year-old Joy, as she marries her abusive boyfriend Tom and has a baby. After Tom is imprisoned for armed robbery, we see the continued choices that Joy makes through the years as a single mother.

Loach wrote the screenplay with Nell Dunn, the author of the novel on which the film is based. However, actor Terrance Stamp has said that the film was mostly improvised, to give it a more realistic feel.

Carol White is perfectly cast in the role of Joy. Her strong resemblance to Julie Christie fits her into the 1960s styling of the film, and her performance brings the realism that is needed to show a woman struggling in times of post-war hardship. Poor Cow has many entertaining characters, but only Joy is explored in depth.

As brilliant as this performance is, Poor Cow is let down by its lack of plot. Although only running at 100 minutes, the film feels longer with its drawn out scenes. It is a film made to make the audience think; to think about the choices that Joy is making, and how they will affect her future. Regardless, it still feels as if the film is missing something. It is just not an overly gripping film.

Poor Cow gives us a slice of 1960s London, and has an important place in social history and within the ‘kitchen sink drama’ genre. As iconic as Ken Loach is to 20th Century filmmaking, I feel that his other work is rightly held in higher regard.

Poor Cow will be released on Blu-ray on 25th July 2016.

The Here After

July 4, 2016 by  
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The Here After 1

As a theatrical film debut, writer/director Magnus von Horn has created a chilling Swedish drama in The Here After. We follow John (Ulrik Munther) as he leaves a juvenile offenders unit, where he has spent the past two years for an unknown crime. Although ready to continue with his life and education in the small town he grew up in, the residents are not so ready to forgive and forget his crime.

The rising tensions manifest not only with the local town and other students, but also between John and his father Martin (Mats Blomgren). As the film progresses, we delve deeper into the crime that has been committed, and see just what affect it has had on John and those around him. Musician Munther, in his screen debut, is very well cast in this role; rage builds up as we see John trying to control his emotions, but also losing his way as his crime is slowly revealed.

The work of Polish cinematographer Lukasz Zal is another highlight of The Here After, as we see widescreen and long shots of John and those he comes into contact with. Although this style of storytelling will not be to everyone’s taste, the long scenes manage to project the isolation that John feels on his return, and the hidden narrative will keep the viewer looking for clues throughout.

Although clearly a slow-burner, The Here After is an intriguing story of the search for normality in the face of hostility. There is likely to be more complex dramas released in 2016, but The Here After is certainly worth a viewing, especially for those who are fans of Swedish cinema.

The Here After will be released on DVD on 4th July 2016.

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