A film-focused blog critiquing classic and contemporary cinema

The changing face of indie film distribution and consumption

This week I look at the window-release system for film distribution, with a focus on the marketing and cinematic release (or lack of) for contemporary independent features. From The Spectacular Now – a movie that won the hearts of critics – to It Follows – a nostalgic horror movie that pleased genre fans; I briefly dive into, and attempt to mildly analyse, the world of film distribution. (Wish me luck.)

I stumbled upon a fantastic article this year that used It Follows as a case-study for an analytical approach in breaking down film distribution for low-budget flicks. Tim League, who wrote the feature, spoke of the underlying success of the movie as a trophy for the world of small-time filmmaking, and the positive change in which it could therefore bring about for similar titles. This article sparked something inside of me; probably because I had just watched James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now. I watched the film two years after its release, simply because I happened upon its existence thanks to a trailer-watching spree on the old You on the Tube. Similarly to It Follows, Pondoldt’s heartbreaking feature of adolescent life and love saw a limited release in the US and a non-existent release in the UK. This isn’t unusual.

The limited release of low-budget flicks, directed by under-the-radar film makers and starring up-and-coming actors, is in constant swing. At one time, this lent to a belief that these features, which aren’t often programmed at ‘mainstream’ cinema chains and awarded a VOD opening, are of little value to the average cinema-goer or at home audience member. Cinephiles, critics, and movie lovers know this not be to be true, and as the landscape of distribution shifts, so does the way in which audiences consume new and diverse film.

As an example of big-budget studio film versus small-budget indie feature:

The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and shot on a budget of $100 million received a somewhat restrained response from critics, but a plethora of anarchic applause from mainstream audience members. Legitimately, people went a bit bat-shit for it. The movie opened in cinemas across the world and garnered an overall box office success of $390 million. The Spectacular Now, directed by a lesser known name, and starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (both of whom are now industry gold but at the time were doing their indie bit) was shot on $2.5 million and made a modest $6.9 million. Rotten Tomatoes graced the tender film with a whopping 93% (in comparison to the 73% it gave ‘Wall Street) and iconic film critic Roger Ebert awarded it 4/4 stars, stating:

Here is a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings. Do you have any idea how rare that is? What an affecting film this is.”

The movie was a very mild success in art-house cinemas but had no identity in UK chains. Teller later starred in drumming phenomenon Whiplash which due to its Oscar buzz received a much bigger marketing campaign and didn’t suffer from its limited release. Fish Tank, directed by Oscar-winning British film maker Andrea Arnold is another startlingly real example of raw and uninterrupted film making that went amiss among the general viewing public. Winner of BAFTA’s film of the year in 2009 and featuring Michael Fassbender (again, just before his Hollywood time came calling), the challenging narrative and blisteringly natural performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis received 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, 4/4 from Roger Ebert but a £332,488 domestic box office total. There was little in the way of an advertising campaign and those who saw it were present aware of Arnold’s directing prowess.

But as technology evolves and the consumption of cinema shifts, there is perhaps one saving grace: Netflix. One of my first introductions to the service’s dedication to showcasing indie film was when I watched 6 Years; a study of a destructive relationship between two childhood sweethearts. The movie – which stars Taissa Farmiga – is standard at best, but a good example of a melodramatic romance that is generally targeted at a demographic of young woman. Buying the rights to 6 Years gave Netflix subscribers the opportunity to see, on demand, an indie drama that otherwise could have perhaps disappeared in the hole of forgotten films.

Since 6 Years, Netflix has upped its game by funding and distributing a large number of indie-style flicks and features with hard-hitting narratives; from Okja to Mudbound and beyond. Its most recent output, Bright, polarized critics and audiences, receiving universal dislike from most film outlets but receiving praise from at-home viewers, perhaps proving the content doesn’t have to be top-notch to win over audiences if it’s available at the touch of a button.

Thanks to on-demand services such as Netflix, independent films don’t need big-budget advertising campaigns to be noticed because the beauty of the service lies with the simplicity of scanning, selecting, and watching. The service is placing control in the hands of the viewer, as he or she choose to spend 90 minutes watching a film they feel is exclusive to them. The creation of big-budget feature-length film readily available online, for what feels like ‘free, is perhaps leading to a change in the everyday audience member’s initial perception of independent filmmaking, and that can only be positive for the industry.


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.


Christopher Nolan’s newest feature shouldn’t be called a film. It should be called an experience. Dunkirk is harrowing, heartbreaking and stunningly shot – and you won’t see a more affecting film this year (or perhaps even in the years to come).

Nolan tells the story of the World War ll Dunkirk evacuation in this, his directorial masterpiece. The director seamlessly weaves together three timelines, bringing together an ensemble cast who’s actions stir more than their words. In a genius creative decision, Nolan follows a set of characters in a week on the beach, an hour as a fighter pilot in the sky and a day on a civilian boat sent to bring home the stranded soldiers. Witnessing events from these three viewpoints allows for a layered look at the complexity of this rescue mission.

Dunkirk is fiercely told through body language, stark and stunning visuals and a pounding, relentless original score by Hans Zimmer. Nolan has united an ensemble cast that sees established talent alongside breakout stars – not one man lets this piece down.

It wouldn’t be enough to say that Dunkirk is a triumph of what cinema can achieve, and it’s unlikely it will be replicated in all of its cinematic genius anytime soon. From the intensity of fighter pilots in the sky to the heart-wrenching depiction of the deaths of young men at war, Nolan grabs his audience from the very first moment and refuses to let go. This is the re-telling of a tragic moment in history and one that is told here with aching intimacy.

Dunkirk is relentlessly paced, never allowing its viewer to take a rest from the stark reality of the situation; much like the men who were trapped there. Claustrophobic spaces are juxtaposed with expansive photography of the beach and the vast sea that separates France and Britain, and when Nolan allows you above water or into an open space you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. The word immersive is thrown around a lot, but this piece of cinema might just be the new definition for it.

The war epic, a relatively short 106 minutes in length, is free from the bloody spectacle of most war films and features only one swear word, while dialogue itself is generally scarce – there isn’t a sentimental monologue in-sight. Director and Writer Nolan defies genre expectations and showcases the true impact of carefully crafted cinema without the use of gratuitous violence or offensive language.

Part character study, part inimitable war epic, Dunkirk has reinvented the genre thanks to the bold storytelling and auteur eye of its director. Respectful in its portrayal of the unthinkable horrors of war, it deserves to stay in the cinema way beyond its allotted time and – rather simply – should be seen by all.

Okja Review

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is cinematic storytelling at its finest. Funny, smart, heartbreaking; Bong has created a film with so much soul, it simply has to be seen by all.

In Okja, the ominous Mirando Corporation, led by Tilda Swinton’s Lucy, unveils superpigs, claiming these animals were ‘discovered’ and not created in a lab. One pig, Okja, is raised in the South Korean mountains by a young girl named Mija and together, over ten years, they form an unbreakable bond. When it becomes clear that Okja was reared to be used as live stock, the Animal Liberation Front, helmed by Paul Dano’s Jay, join forces with Mija to bring down Mirando and save Okja from a cruel fate.

Bong’s film is obvious in its messaging and vocal in its views on the meat trade – some viewers won’t like that. Those who can look beyond the imbedded message of anti-meat and see the many other themes the flick involves will relish in the total joy and, at times, utter sadness this sentimental story brings to its viewers. Okja isn’t just a discussion on the treatment of animals reared for food, it’s an exploration of unusual friendships and the want to make a positive impact on the world in which we live.

The film boasts an enviable ensemble that unites fresh new talent with established actors, all putting in memorable performances. Dano is superb as Jay, impassioned and quietly emotional, while Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal have a riot in eccentric roles that are both unforgettable and terrifying. It’s Ahn Seo-hyun who steals the film, though. And, of course, her best friend Okja. Bong brings the best out of his actors as he directs them through a journey that is unashamedly bonkers.

Ahn Seo-hyun in Okja

As with Bong’s previous entries into the world of film, Okja won’t be for everyone. The director has oddball tendencies and blends these with truly dark themes, a combination that won’t sit so well for some viewers. What this is though, is a genuine success for Netflix and a bold leap too. The film is half in Korean and half in English, and it combines a cast of South Korean actors with American talent – this combination of East and West works and does something in terms of bringing audiences closer to seeking out world cinema.

For some, watching Okja will lead to a change in life-style. For others, it will be a totally nonsensical action-adventure. And for most, a riotous ride that’s a great piece of cinema. Bong’s film will stir many different reactions but perhaps that reflects its total brilliance. Rather wonderfully, Okja is unlike any film before it. Bong Joon-ho has masterfully crafted a one-of-a-kind picture that is, yes, completely unusual, but brilliantly so. It’s an adventure of epic proportions that’s thematically brave and brimming with heart.