New on Netflix: God’s Own Country

Netflix is upping its array of indie delights and its most recent addition – God’s Own Country – is not to be missed. Released in October 2017, Francis Lee’s debut follows the relationship between two men. Quietly tender and arrestingly urgent, this moving story will have you bleary-eyed and seeking out more indie gems on the platform.

A great example of what people mean when they say ‘Very British Cinema’, God’s Own Country is set on a Yorkshire farm during a cold, dirt-strewn spring. Director Lee celebrates the beauty of this county while showcasing the inherent loneliness of farm life, while the central theme of the film focuses on the relationship between farmer Johnny Saxby (a fantastic Josh O’Connor who you’ll know from ITV’s lavish period dramedy The Durrells) and migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The success of Lee’s film can’t just be seen in the silently arresting performances of these two actors, but also in the way it tackles two vital themes: masculinity and Britishness. And more specifically, the pressure of upholding a family tradition that is founded on very British values.

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country

We aren’t exactly a nation known for wearing our hearts on our sleeve, irritatingly stoic when it comes to talking about our feelings, the struggle to say how we feel is explored throughout the 105 minute run-time, and predominantly through silence. Director Lee masterfully tells the story of Johnny and how he breaks free of his own emotional prison with the tender, sentimental support of Gheorghe in a story that transcends the specifics of gender. Centrally about loneliness, rumination and how, without real, meaningful relationships, men can and will break down, the tale is refreshingly honest, and quite bittersweet too.

From start to finish the flick runs with little dialogue or music, placing us in the literal and metaphorical silence that Johnny lives with. What begins as a seemingly bleak British farm drama evolves into a hopeful story of love and friendship, responsibility and hardship, and the ability to begin again. God’s Own Country isn’t only a great film, it’s thematically relevant and undeniably important.

Next time you turn to Netflix, take a trip to God’s Own Country.

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Jessica Jones season two: Krysten Ritter’s titular anti-hero returns

Season two of Jessica Jones was long-awaited and highly-anticipated because series one wasn’t only a masterclass in how to make good TV, it introduced us to a new, undeniably likeable superhero. An anti-hero of sorts. Jessica Jones; a PI with a past, superhuman strength and a penchant for whisky. Jess is smart, witty, stubborn and vulnerable and although incredibly special, she was also introduced to us as exceptionally relatable. We got to know Jess over 13 carefully crafted episodes of Netflix genius, and she quickly became a bona fide small-screen favourite. While season two has been met with just a smattering of the same acclaim its predecessor received, our hero is still back, and the importance of the show shouldn’t escape our notice.

Without too much analysis, Jess is just a totally likeable, completely bad ass protagonist. Her apparent unwillingness to be a textbook hero is what endears us to her more. Delving in deeper, Jess is a brilliantly written example of a contemporary feminist whose narrative background – and genre in which she’s placed – allows women and men to enjoy the series without feeling alienated by in-your-face feminism. This is in itself is a true triumph of the series.

The joy in watching Jessica Jones is in the character Krysten Ritter has created. Jones might just be the best new TV lead we’ve seen in some time and Ritter shows herself as not only a tremendous talent, but as an important part in the evolution of female roles found on the big and small screen (another recent example being Gal Gadot’s fantastic Wonder Woman). Whether or not season two lived up to our high expectations, Jessica Jones is an incredibly important character during a time of vital change in the entertainment industry. Jess is an unconventional – but key – advocate for the importance of strong women being highlighted, celebrated and not defeated by their (usually) male foes. Strong, troubled women have been seen on screen since the dawn of cinema but never quite like this. Often shown to need rescuing by others, female roles were initially one-dimensional but are now multi-faceted. Here, Jones rescues herself with her own unique strength (and not just the physical kind).

So, let’s not all jump at once to point out the apparent lack of brilliance season two of Jessica Jones brought. Instead, lets praise the exceptional writing, the inimitable performance of Ritter (an entirely underrated actress), and the team of talented women behind the lens. By the time series three comes around, I suspect many more female heroes will be given the praise they most definitely deserve.

Lady Bird review

In Lady Bird we meet Christine, a 17 year old high school senior frustrated with adolescent life and bored of her Sacramento upbringing. We follow Christine, AKA Lady Bird, over the course of her final year of school as she embarks on her first relationships, applies to colleges and discovers the importance of true friendship. The central theme of the film is Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mum, played beautifully by Laurie Metcalf. It’s a seemingly simple story of every day life that overflows with heart.

Greta Gerwig’s first feature length film has had critics and audiences raving. It even holds the highest rating to ever have been handed out by Rotten Tomatoes, certifying it fresh as a daisy. Or a Tomato. Not Important. Gerwig handles every relationship Lady Bird experiences with a unique realism that is often missing in coming-of-age films. Entries into the genre are often quirky and usually indie films with small budgets but big ambitions. Recent notable examples are The Perks of Being a Wallflower and James Pondsolt’s exceptional The Spectacular Now . Greta Gerwig explores similar themes to those films but here the focus is on the tumultuous love shared between a mother and her daughter, and it’s told with an inimitable caring eye and loving touch, one that hasn’t been seen on film in a long while. Seemingly throwaway moments, like when Lady Bird turns 18 and buys a pack of camels, a scratch card and Playgirl – just to celebrate the freedom of her new age – are what propels the feature to utter greatness.

Saoirse Ronan plays Lady Bird with ease, portraying the complexity of being a 17 year-old with such severe talent. Metcalf is similarly fantastic, and it’s astonishing to me – having seen its Oscar contenders The Shape of Water and Three Billboards – that these women, and this film, didn’t clean up at the awards. But it doesn’t matter, really. Everyone who has seen Lady Bird knows just how remarkable it is, and gets to keep that close to them. It’s a feature that reminds you why film is important. It’s a film that lifts you up, and makes life feel better. It’s a film that celebrates our idiosyncrasies. And most importantly, it’s a film that joyously revels in not fitting in, and embraces being your quirky, eccentric, individual self.

Gerwig’s main focus is, of course, on Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mum, and there are several notable scenes that felt entirely real to me. Kind of as though I had lived that too. That’s the charm of this film, and the power of it too. Lady Bird is just 17 and I’m 23 but I somehow felt right there with her, it’s a film for all ages and all people. Metcalf’s dynamic turn as Marion is a stunning performance too, incredibly dynamic yet understated and drawn from life. There’s no unnecessary dramatics here just simple, effective storytelling, with characters played by some of Hollywood’s most talented. Lucas Hedges also gives a star turn, and he had me in tears during one poignant scene.

The soundtrack is a nostalgic dream and I enjoyed the 2002 setting, particularly April Napier’s costume design and the humour in seeing the styles that have come full circle. Lady Bird is a fiercly unique character who, at times, is desperate to fit in and experience as much as possible. As an audience, we’ve all been there and it’s the relatability of this narrative aspect that gives the film its universal appeal.

Lady Bird is so supremely special. Greta Gerwig has created something that brims with warmth and wit, and an emotional undertone that will seep into your soul and refuse to let go. I left the cinema with joy, smiling at the story I’d just seen, feeling as though I was now part of a secret club that got to see this mega piece of cinema. But, of course, it’s not a secret club, because Lady Bird has received worldwide recognition. I reveled in every second of pleasure the film offers, and I can’t wait to show this film to every person I love, so they can fall for it just as I have.

Peaky Blinders Series Four Review

Ladies and gentlemen, by order of the Peaky fucking Blinders, I give you Thomas Shelby OBE and Labour MP for Birmingham.

In episode one of series four of Steven Knight’s mega-hit Peaky Blinders we learned that gangster Tommy Shelby had been made an OBE. In episode six we learned he had become a Labour MP. In between we witnessed bloody violence, gin distilling and a sad departure of a key family member.

There’s no denying that Peaky Blinders is completely bonkers, but the eccentricities of the series are what make it such an entrancing watch. The thrilling nature of this BBC Two gem is what enthralls audiences from around the globe, making it possibly the best gangster drama to ever come out of Britain.

As always, the series played out over just six episodes. Perhaps not enough, the series saw the Shelby family back on home turf in Small Heath and seemingly out of their depth for the first time. Adrien Brody joined the ensemble as Luca Changretta; the family’s most dangerous foe yet and Aiden Gillen stepped in as Aberama Gold; a new ally with a penchant for killing people.

Peaky Blinders doesn’t need Hollywood talent to attract viewers or make its mark, but the writers and creators utilise these big names well. Tom Hardy returned for the final time as Alfie Solomons and proved – once again – he’s not a friend to Tommy and co’. While there is joy in seeing such big names play exciting roles it’s Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Helen McCrory who we come to see. Anderson was particularly outstanding in this series, proving what a stellar talent he is as he embodies Arthur; the oldest and most troubled brother.

Series four played around with various themes, namely guilt and grief. With the loss of John and the arrival of Changretta – the son of an Italian gangster Arthur murdered in series two – the whole Peaky crew were on high alert and questioning their morals, or lack of. Polly claimed her experience with the noose had irrevocably changed her, while Arthur came face to face with the mother of the teenage boy he killed in the boxing ring in series one. This is perhaps the first time one season has crammed in so many different past plot threads but it worked well, and directly addressing past sins of the family added a touch of realism.

Knight takes a lot of time examining Tommy‘s face in series four, something I hadn’t necessarily noticed before. It’s not what Tommy says, it’s how he reacts. The deliberate choice to give Murphy – an actor at the top of his craft – little lines in the final episode served the tense, moody finale well.

Series four felt big on productive values and he stylistic choices, from dark, low-key lighting to the hallmark slow-mo walk of the Peaky clan, came thick and fast. With more guns, bigger set pieces, and gorgeous costume design, the design of the show is something to marvel at. Alongside the impressive aesthetic, brooding indie rock and sultry folk from the likes of Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Laura Marling aided the emotional narrative and propelled the atmosphere of the show further.

As Peaky Blinders continues its fascination with Tommy Shelby OBE, I can’t wait to see what unfolds in series five, which will hopefully include a journey across the pond to visit Mr Alphonse Capone.

La La Land

Every scene in La La Land is a sight to behold. From stunning visuals to beautiful costume design, there doesn’t seem to be on imperfection; for Damien Chazelle’s masterful musical is two hours and seven minutes of pure, inimitable joy and heady emotion – with a handful of momentous genre moments to marvel at.

Chazelle celebrates the nostalgia of the movie musical while reinventing it with scene after scene of smile-inducing filmmaking that is such a treasure to discover for the first time. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – who have previously been paired together in Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love – share a sentimental on-screen chemistry that is at once moving and believable.

The triumph in La La Land is in Chazelle’s ability to write and direct a surreal and magical romance that manages to transport you to another realm while breaking your heart with its realistic handling of a modern relationship. It’s a true phenomenon of a movie. Stone gives the best performance of her career while Gosling constantly disarms you with his ever-pervading charm and boyish good looks. Both are perfectly cast here.

Justin Hurwitz has composed a score for the ages with understated tracks such as City of Stars and Mia & Sebastian’s Theme, while big numbers like Another Day of Sun hark back to Singin’ in the Rain and the glory days of Hollywood. Each song drips with warmth and wonder as the central love story takes us on a journey through a somewhat re-imagined Los Angeles. The music is as powerful as a mode of storytelling as the screenplay is – a true testament to the power of a truly good musical.

Lavish, delicately written, beautifully acted, and dastardly heart-wrenching – La La Land is everything, and more, you could ever wish for from a film.

 

Murder on the Orient Express Review

Kenneth Branagh directs a star-studded big-screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famed murder mystery in this fun, paired-back thriller.

Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express features lavish set pieces and creates atmosphere with snowy motifs and a brooding, genre-specific score. It’s not perfect, and it certainly doesn’t present anything out of the ordinary, but it’s a fun ode to a bygone style of filmmaking and is impressively extravagant in scale. Perhaps most enjoyable is the ensemble the director has managed to unite; Academy Award winners Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench, alongside nominees such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp, featuring stage veteran and Branagh favourite Derek Jacobi. There’s a bunch of relative newcomers too in the shape of Daisy Ridley, Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton. It’s a who’s who of the industry and benefits hugely because of it.

The story itself is familiar; a murder happens on board the Orient Express, a train packed with the wealthy and powerful. The ‘best’ detective in the world, Hercule Poirot (Branagh), must solve the crime before they arrive at their destination and it’s left to the authorities to handle. The joy in the whodunit genre is in us, the audience, working out who is the criminal and who is innocent. But in this unique tale it’s a lot harder to figure it out than one might first have thought. Michael Green was in charge of adapting the screenplay from Christie’s story and has done so with what one would assume is fierce loyalty for the source material. Branagh injects wit where neccessary and despite the dark nature of the genre, the film itself isn’t bulked down by it.

Murder on the Orient Express is in no way exceptional but it’s entirely watchable, and serves as a real treat to see such Hollywood heavy’s all lined up together (quite literally, in one scene).

 

 

Blade Runner 2049

I recently read an article that claimed ‘Blade Runner 2049 is a misogynistic mess’. As an avid film fan – and as a woman – this bold statement made me feel uneasy. And despite being a less than avid science fiction fan, but a feminist, I instantly disagreed. Here’s why:

  • The majority of the film’s supporting characters are women who are fierce, brave, intelligent and in control, including Robin Wright who is quite literally the superior to Ryan Gosling’s K. Wright’s character meets a fate that is certainly dark and grisly but it feels, significantly, under her own terms as she works to protect a secret.
  • The fundamental narrative for the film is based on a startling discovery by the renamed Tyrell Corporation described as a ‘miracle’ which a character from the first film, Rachael – basically the answer to the development of a decaying civilisation – , is responsible for.
  • Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace has a female replicant assistant known as Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Luv is way beyond average in combat and fiercely loyal. She is also the most feared character in the film and makes for a terrifying opponent to K and Deckard. Like legit, she is mega scary. Luv‘s character is also much more developed than Leto’s Wallace, and the real antagonist of the film.
  • There is a pending replicant uprising against the humans and, you guessed it, it’s being helmed by a woman who commands respect and holds authority.

Women do play roles in Blade Runner 2049 which are challenging, and the film delivers a bleak and unpleasant look at the future, but for both sexes. And isn’t a bleak and unsettling dystopian future the point of Blade Runner? This new world is shown with such visual mastery at such an involving level you can’t help but believe it’s all real. I think to call this sequel misogynistic is to do the film, and the point of the role women play within the film, a disservice. Also, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davis and Carla Juri are all exceptional. There is obvious imagery of the female body as spectacle, but it’s not gratuitous, and the sheer scale of the visuals are placed to make you gasp in awe rather than horror.

Villeneuve has created a superior modern day movie that looks not too far into the future in intricate detail, provided by master cinematographer Roger Deakins. From giant set pieces to revolutionary visual effects, the Californian landscape created in Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute vision to behold. Looks aside, there’s a hair-raising score of dreams provided by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch and genre fans will revel in it. The film is 163 minutes of gold and must be seen in the cinema. Perhaps too long, but beguiling enough to keep its audience tuned in.

To perceive Blade Runner 2049 as misogynistic is to misunderstand its intentions. And to misunderstand its intentions as a piece of world class cinema would be a shame. Villeneuve has made something so special here from a piece of filmmaking that was already revered so highly, and cemented himself as a true auteur in the process. See it, love it, and don’t overthink it.