Film Review: The Levelling

levellingDirected by Hope Dickson Leach

Starring Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton

Clover (Kendrick) never wanted to go back home, but the news of her brother’s death forces her to return. However, her arrival opens painful wounds for family and friends alike, particularly her troubled father.

Set in the aftermath of the devastation wrecked upon Somerset by the flooding of 2014, director Hope Dickson Leach‘s acutely observant feature debut subverts the typically kindly, bucolic countryside of The Archers by instead capturing it’s ennui in unsettling, semi-hallucinatory fashion. and adding a sinister aspect to those signifiers of England’s green and pleasant land.

This is where The Levelling really scores – in its depiction of country life beyond the pages of Horse & Hound. Evoking a strong sense of place and a stronger sense of the complex bonds that simultaneously keep families together and threaten to tear them apart, the film presents an engrossing portrait of the hardscrabble nature of modern rural life.


Film Review: Made in Taiwan

MV5BMTc4MzAwNDQ3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY2MDU1ODE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Directed by Jonny Moore and Leonora Moore

Starring Alexander Jeremy and Esther Yang

Fresh from its success at the Manchester International Film Festival, the ambitious yet unpretentious Made in Taiwan explores the world of underground cinema through the eyes of filmmaker Jack (Jeremy) and his girlfriend Amy-Lin (Yang) as he creates a high-inducing film that draws in audience after audience as word spreads across the city. As the plot unfolds, we see an Icarus-style fall from grace as Jack struggles with his ambition to share his creation with the world with his need to keep ownership of his movies. As his grasp on reality and relationship with Amy-Lin starts to slip away Jack, along with the audience, start to question what is real and whether we really care.

The first few scenes in the movie seem muddled in terms of style but it finds its groove as we follow Jack and Amy-Lin deeper into the underworld of its titular city. The directors play around with speed, sound and light to the point where, in most movies, the plot would be lost but, like Jack’s films, there’s calm within the chaos. With the majority of the film being shot at night, or underground, each shot of Jack or Amy-Lin was done in shadow, concealed by a veil or a reflection, creating an ominous atmosphere where you’renever quite sure if you’re seeing the whole picture. The characters often speak of how Jack’s film make them see so clearly yet the directors deny the audience that clarity which puts the audience on edge (in a good way).


One Shot Movie Competition – Awards Screening 2015

Whether it’s Goodfellas, Atonement, Hunger or even Russian Ark, there’s something special about a single long shot in cinema. There’s a few reasons why- the technical artistry, the invention derived from creative constraints, but mostly it’s just the sheer mesmerising draw of unbroken action. And now, thanks to digital cameras, it’s easier than ever. That’s why the One Shot Movie Competition was set up in 2012- or so they told me. The founders are all editors, so it might just be that they’re lazy.
This year, I went along to the awards screening of the final 10 shortlist single shot films at the Prince Charles Cinema. The evening was hosted by Scroobius Pip– no stranger himself to one-take shooting, as a few of his music videos take that approach. Pip runs his own film club at the Prince Charles, so he was a natural fit for the evening, and soon we were watching the finalists. I was blown away by the variety on display. Some of the films were very purposeful and artful- like Rearranged, which simply shows a long table covered in formal dinner arrangements that get destroyed by an approaching storm. More compelling than it sounds! And some were on the opposite end of the spectrum, showing that simplicity can sometimes triumph- like I’m Sorry to Tell You, which plays out a doctor’s rehearsal of telling someone they have cancer as an extreme close-up over 10 minutes.
Scroobius Pip at the One Shot Movie Competition.

Scroobius Pip at the One Shot Movie Competition.

The winner was the cathartic, kinetic He and She. It’s about a young man who is driving to move in with a long distance girlfriend, only to receive the news that she isn’t coming. Distraught, he pulls over at a motorway service station and gets drunk, joined by a mischevious old woman with an irreverent take on the events. The technical prowess on display here is staggering, especially for a short- the film opens at high speed on a motorway, before switching to a quiet conversation at a petrol station, without any cuts. The effort involved in pulling that off without cuts, without even visible jolts to the camera as it moved, is nothing short of staggering- but to make it a great film as well is pretty much a magic trick. And the best thing by far about this film wasn’t the ingenuity behind its craft, but the story and the characterisation, which was very deep for a 15 minute short.
This third edition of the One Shot Movie competition was a great success, and the competition is growing every year. With plans to expand to screenings throughout the year, and international shows in New York and Croatia, things show no sign of slowing down- so here’s to the fourth!


Film Review: The Visit

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 15.44.08Directed by M Night Shyamalan

Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould & Kathryn Hahn

Every good director makes bad movies. David Lynch made Dune, Francis Ford Coppola made Jack. Even Steven Spielberg made 1941. But M Night Shyamalan has made many bad movies. Although it’s hard to believe now, almost 20 years ago he was considered to be a leading light of cinema, an Oscar-nominated genre director who could do no wrong. Until The Village, The Happening, and- shudder – The Last Airbender. Eventually, he was considered to be such a joke that his new movie, The Visit, doesn’t even put his name on the trailers. This is a shame, because it’s a remarkable return to form for the former wunderkind.

The Visit starts off with a mother being contacted out of the blue by her estranged parents, who would like to see their grandchildren. Her husband left a few years before and she’s finally got a new boyfriend, so the kids – older Becca and younger Tyler – decide to go to give their mother some space. Tyler is frustrated he can’t text his ladies, and works on his rap skills – despite being a weedy little kid with a germ phobia. Becca decides to create a documentary about her grandparents with a view to helping them reconcile with her mother.


Film Review: Straight Outta Compton

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 15.19.06Directed by F. Gary Gray

Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

It’s taken America by storm, netting around $60M in its opening weekend, and it’s already doing the same here. Straight Outta Compton is being talked about as a surprise Oscar contender; I’d be surprised if it didn’t make the shortlist. Set in the late 80s and early 90s, the film details the origins and the explosiveness of gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A, hammering home the uncomfortable truth that almost 30 years later, we’re still talking about the same issues.

Director F. Gary Gray gave himself a plethora of tasks with this release; he not only had to do right by Eazy-E, MC Ren, Dr Dre, Ice Cube and DJ Yella themselves, not to mention their legions of fans, but he had to make sure that the voice he gives through his work to the city of Compton, and the wider African-American community, is justified. That so many people who were there themselves during N.W.A’s infancy – and the Rodney King riots – approve of Gray’s portrayal, proves he has done this difficult, compelling and important story justice.


DVD Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

clouds-of-sils-maria-2014-02Directed by Olivier Assayas

Starring Kristen Stewart, Juliet Binoche & Chloe Grace Moretz

Kristen Stewart won the French Oscar.” That’s the sentence that will probably pull the most people to this film, and there’s nothing wrong with it- although it’s the Cesar, if you want to be precise. Stewart gets the first line, and in a sense, she gets the final say; everything else about the film is sort of up for grabs.

The film follows Juliette Binoche as Maria, an ageing actor who has built a huge career from a small but world-renowned play and film. She’s en route to an award ceremony to collect the award on behalf of the director, Wilhelm Melchior, when he dies. Later that evening, she’s invited to star in the same play that made her famous- but as the older character, not the young seductress. The bulk of the film then follows Maria and Valentine (Stewart) as they escape to the Alps to study the play, and focuses in on Maria’s journey through understanding how her own life and performance has changed since she started in the same play at 18.

Assayas storms through the first part of the film- it’s a whirlwind of press engagements and paparazzi. He’s aided in part by the physical setting of the first few scenes, a train en route to Zurich- as the vehicle moves inexorably forward, so does the plot, and right from the first shot (Valentine answering a phone call between carriages), the camera sways with the motion of the train, carrying its energy through scenes that could otherwise be maudlin.


Film Review: Inside Out

Inside-Out-Official-PosterDirected by Pete Docter, Ronaldo del Carmen

Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black

Hype. You can’t get away from it in our rolling-news obsessed, celebrity driven culture. You certainly can’t get away from it whenever the latest Disney-Pixar animation is released. In fact, if you think about it too much, it’ll just lead to anger. It’s a no-win situation; if the film is great, you’re expecting it to be so; if not, well, that’s another trip ruined.It’s enough to drive anyone to sadness.

In fact, if you consider it too much, you’d never take a trip to the cinema again, you’d be so laden with fear. Will this film really be as jaw-droppingly awesome as I’ve heard it is? Even worse, if you tell all your colleagues, family and mates how dope the movie is, only to be unpleasantly surprised, the looks of disgust on their faces will say it all. It’s a complicated lark, this film viewing business. So I’ll cut to the chase, and put this convoluted metaphor out of its misery; Inside Out is worth the hype, every single last obnoxious drop of it.


Film Review: Magic MIke XXL

magic-mike-01-435Directed by Gregory Jacobs

Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer

They say never go back, don’t they? Never retread old ground. But you see, I quite enjoyed Magic Mike the first time around, and so did a hell of a lot of other people. 167 million one dollar bills isn’t bad, as takings for stripper movies go. A sequel was inevitable. That said, the initial reviews about Magic Mike XXL I’d heard weren’t that impressive, so I wasn’t expecting great things from this movie. How wrong I was.

Whereas last time around, the plot centred on Channing Tatum’s eponymous character mentoring a green Adam (Alex Pettyfer), plus falling in love with said Adam’s sister (a disapproving Cody Horn), in XXL, Mike has long left the world of male entertainers behind, to contentedly run his own bespoke furniture business. Of course, any movie with Tatum in it would probably fare well at the box office, even if it was just two hours of recycled-driftwood dining table deliveries. Nevertheless, the interest is piqued when Mike decides to rejoin Xquisite Nightclub’s Kings of Tampa for ‘one last ride’ at the Strippers’ Convention in Myrtle Beach.


Film Review: The Gift

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 07.54.08Directed by Joel Edgerton

Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall & Joel Edgerton

As Blockbuster movie season reaches its crescendo, those seeking escapism from the loud barrage of CGI could do a lot worse than checking out The Gift, a creepy, airport paperback thriller of a movie that harks back to ’90s stalker thrillers like Single White Female, Unlawful Entry, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Pacific Heights.

Bateman and Hall star as Simon and Robyn, a newly married Yuppie couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with Simon’s old high school acquaintance, the awkward Gordo (Edgerton). Robyn feels sorry for the guy and the couple befriend him much to Simon’s annoyance. Gordo is kind of creepy and very clingy and soon things get uncomfortable as the obsessive Gordo starts presenting them with mysterious gifts that hint to a dark secret from Simon’s past. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon & Gordo, she is forced to confront just how well she knows the people around her, and are past bygones ever really bygones?


DVD Review: Still Alice

51Pfez41QUL._SY300_Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart

Imagine settling down to watch a DVD with your loved ones. The popcorn’s on the table, the pizza’s in the oven and everyone you care about is assembled in the living room, watching the movie with you. Bliss. Except, you can’t remember what this film is about. And you can’t remember the name of that actress, who was in, oh, what’s that show? So you turn around to ask your partner next to you what she’s called. And you realise – you don’t know who they are. Or who anyone in the room is. Or, in fact, what room you’re in at all.