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.

Dunkirk

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.

Control – Ten Years On

Anton Corbijn’s Control is now ten years old. Despite its age, its subject matter is as relevant now as it was in 2007. Based on Touching from a Distance (Deborah Curtis’ memoir), Control explores the complex character of Ian Curtis and the formation of Joy Division. Today, Joy Division has attained a cult status, but in the late 1970’s they were another new band coming out of Macclesfield. The film watches more like an elongated music video than an average biopic, but its stylised aesthetic and black and white visuals lend to a tone and a personality – that of Curtis’ vast intellect and undeniable virtuosity.

Control is inherently British, capturing the essence of a country engulfed in an anarchic new music scene. Corbijn’s decision to shoot in black and white transports its viewer to another time, one of legend. The aesthetic also adds an appropriate melancholy to what is a dark and – by the very end – genuinely heartbreaking tale. Ian Curtis’ depression is presented not in a brash and forceful way but as a slow, creeping illness that takes hold abruptly. Scenes of the band playing small live shows are interspersed among tender moments between Curtis, his wife Debbie and his relationship with Annik Honore.

Control‘s relevance is in its portrayal of a young, troubled man who is so struck down by life he decides to take his own. The exploration, however minimal, of this in Corbijn’s biopic is somewhat harrowing and in 2017 we see the effects of depression more than ever as society finally stands up to speak. In amongst moments of poetic narration from Sam Riley’s Curtis and vignettes of his isolation we see a group of young lads trying to make their musical dreams come true. We laugh at adolescent mischief and smile at the development of young love. Corbijn is eager to represent that it wasn’t all awful for Ian and Joy Division, as is so often the case in any life. Mostly, it’s in what isn’t said than what is. The bleak effects of Ian’s behaviour on his wife Debbie are put to us in unflinching ways and Samantha Morton plays the role in a painfully realistic fashion. Sam Riley embodies Ian through his mannerisms both on and off-stage, but is careful never to present him as heroic, but rather as young man burdened by the difficulties of his situation.

There isn’t any telling if Joy Division would have risen to the level of stardom they attained had Ian not taken his own life in 1980. Similarly, Nirvana have become legend because of Kurt Cobain. These musicians spark something within people, whether it be their music or their troubled lives, and filmmakers such as Corbijn explore them in cinema that is often exceptional. The intrigue and excellence are perhaps predominantly down to the subjects themselves, but the artistry attached to the world they created for themselves captivates directors and audiences alike.

Sam Riley in Control

Corbijn’s background as a music video director and photographer both aid and stilt him. There are an array of important details not fully explored, from the deterioration of Ian’s mental health to his relationship with his wife, and especially the journey Joy Division shared. For a music biopic there isn’t enough emphasis placed on the formation of the band and it suddenly skips from day one to the recording of an album. The confusing chronology and short, snappy scenes add rather than detract from the narrative, but at times creates a disinterest within its viewer.

Control is a visually compelling piece of cinema that chronicles the birth of Joy Division and the last years of Ian Curtis’ life in a biopic that is unflinching and both exceptional and ordinary. Ordinary, because what we see is the basic beginnings of an exciting new band in a town in Cheshire. Exceptional, because Anton Corbijn directs with such vivid artistry, representing a brewing depression through a skillfully crafted visual that engulfs its viewer. You’ll finish the film with a broken heart and a need to listen to Closer, having learned more about how a man whose short but important life, and the music he created, still strikes a chord with many.

Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is acted to perfection. Luca Guadagnino’s sexually charged flick is visually stunning and its script – penned by David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page – escapes clichés and reflects a wonderful originality. Despite the genuinely brilliant nature of this critically acclaimed drama there’s something amiss, and it’s incredibly hard to put a finger on what that might be.

Tilda Swinton (one of the best actresses of her generation) stars as rock star Marianne Lane. Vacationing in Sicily with troubled boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), they are joined by the outrageous Harry (Ralph Fiennes clearly had an absolute ball in this role) and promiscuous daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The small ensemble is phenomenal but Schoenaerts struggles alongside Fiennes in a subdued role that doesn’t allow him to shine amongst a cast of acting heavyweights. Johnson is an unexpected star, showing herself to be a young actress of such sheer talent that she will surely go on to bigger and better things than the truly absurd Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Guadagnino directs with a sharp eye, demonstrating his artistry early on through snappy camera direction and set pieces reminiscent of Woody Allen. The film is sexy and boisterous with a sun-drenched visage that masterfully deceives its audience, resulting in a finale that is tinged in unexpected darkness. Its cinematography is a triumph and Yorick Le Saux’s photography truly rouses the senses while the enviable costume design further propels the film into stunning territory.

A Bigger Splash questions the price of fame while exploring the boundaries (and burdens) that come with intimate relationships, whether that be father/daughter or boyfriend/girlfriend and this it does truly successfully. Cracks in the plot begin with the unlikeable characterisation of the majority of those seen on-screen. Yes, Marianne is a tour-de-force of a protagonist and Swinton is a gem as always, but Schoenaerts’ Paul is weak and easily forgettable while Harry‘s overbearing nature loses effect early on and the escalation of his behaviour becomes meaningless. Each character holds secrets and these are much beyond having slept with each other. Alcoholism, drug addiction, underage sex, suicide; Alain Page’s story unabashedly explores these themes but they are thrown at the audience with such an eager force that the twists and turns of the plot lose effect.

It’s certainly flawed but A Bigger Splash is lavish filmmaking with a stellar ensemble that boasts some of the best the big screen has to offer. Sophisticated and gorgeous to look at, Guadagnino’s layered flick is a treat on the eyes despite never fully delivering an engaging premise.

Brotherhood Review

Nine years after Adulthood and ten years after Kidulthood comes the final instalment of the franchise, Brotherhood. They bare similar names and follow similar themes but audiences are as interested in the inner-city narrative today as they were upon its original release. Why are we so enthralled by youths behaving badly? Is it Noel Clarke’s determination as actor/director to showcase society’s pitfalls and its effects on the young? Or do middle-class cinema-goers just enjoy watching a glamorised version of those who live just one or two boroughs away? Whatever the reason for this franchise’s continued success is, frankly, irrelevant for it captures the attention of an audience and it showcases the talents of bright British stars on the rise.

In Brotherhood Clarke’s Sam is married with two children, he works several jobs to provide for his family in a nicer neighborhood than we’ve seen him in before and he does what he can to stay clear of trouble. Is he an alien in this world? When his brother is shot in a nightclub and an old enemy returns from prison for revenge Sam must decide whether to acknowledge his violent past or run and suffer the consequences. Neither option being the preferred. It’s a story of change, and accepting that change. Most interesting in this instalment is the realisation that Sam, who murdered a teenager in the first film and somehow found redemption in film two, is not a nice man. He cares about his family and he wants to do right (after years of doing wrong) but he leads with violence and his morals are questionable. Brotherhood and Adulthood are character studies of a leading man who began life as an antagonist but somehow developed into a protagonist through careful writing and the positioning of harder, darker wannabe gangsters.

The narrative is nothing we haven’t seen before and it isn’t particularly lay

Brotherhood Unit Stills

ered but it gets the job done. Brotherhood allows its audience closure and this in itself is enough to please adoring fans of the social drama. In the ten years since Kidulthood came crashing onto our screens shocking parents and affecting adolescents, we’ve seen an array of London estate dramas that focus on angry young men and the women who follow. Kidulthood was gritty and disturbing because we knew it wasn’t far from reality, its soundtrack was a who’s who of UK’s top rap and grime artists and it was undeniably British to the core. Since this time the genre has evolved but its two sequels perhaps haven’t. We’ve become desensitised to the gritty violence, and the continual degradation of young women is as offensive as ever without any take-away commentary behind it. Brotherhood differs from its predecessors in that there are one or two strong female roles but these characters are present because of their entanglement with men and don’t have a whole lot of screen time to themselves.

Compared to the likes of Channel 4’s superb urban drama Top Boy, Clarke’s film doesn’t compare in style, direction or story but it does serve as a satisfying end to an iconic series of Brit films. A flawed but necessary entry – with a brilliantly unexpected turn from Stormzy – Brotherhood continues to demonstrate the strength of low-budget filmmaking with a cast of relatively unknown stars.

Deadpool, review

Superhero movies continue to evolve and as they evolve they begin to break the conventions of the genre. Tim Miller’s Deadpool has already cemented itself as a startlingly impressive foray into the Marvel universe. Stylish and gritty, with a crisp humour that will have you crying with laughter, the director has adapted the comic book for an adult audience – and one which might have never thought Marvel could be so appealing. With a sensational cast and a textured script that acknowledges possible cliches as much as it plays with them, Deadpool is a success story among an array of superhero movies that have the capacity to disappoint as much as they impress.

In Deadpool we are situated with Wade Wilson. An involuntary hero in the making, Wade takes us on a journey of love, illness and a mutation that makes him a member of the beloved X-Men. Old Wade isn’t keen on the do-good hero image that comes with being a bad-ass vigilante and so he embarks on killing his foes in the most violent way possible. The brilliance in the narrative is in the twisted authorship of the films creative team who took on the task of adapting this well-liked story; from Miller’s suave directing and slick pacing to Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script, which balances the hilarious with the moving damn near perfectly. With not one drawn-out action sequence, questionable effect or missed joke, there’s plenty to applaud and not much to fault.

ryan reynolds and brianna hidlebrand in deadpool

ryan reynolds and brianna hidlebrand in deadpool

The ensemble is a dream, too. Ed Skrein, whose career in film is on the rise, adopts the role of villain Ajax just right, appropriately menacing without the corny asides of many antagonists of the genre, while Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams and more all dutifully support. The star in this gleaming unit is, of course, Ryan Reynolds. As Wade Reynolds portrays sexiness and vulnerability, traits that will attract a female audience, as Deadpool the actor transforms himself into a leading man to fall for completely; he’s obscene enough for the male audience to side with but the lines of believable masculinity are never blurred (a questionable theme in any male-driven film) and by the end you’re kind of wishing he was your pal – the type you never take home to mum.

Deadpool is a smart, sharp and entirely witty comic-book adaptation that will convert the naysayers as much as it will please the fans. Without the casting of Ryan Reynolds – an actor whose talents have been questioned more than once – this wicked superhero flick wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it really, truly is. With its intelligent use of the fourth-wall and an offensive script that will make you laugh as much as it makes you think, Deadpool is an exemplary Marvel movie – the rest should surely follow.

The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, review

With a ridiculous title comes a ridiculous movie. Absurdity in comedy filmmaking can scare an audience, but in The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse – a flick that is zany, but for a mainstream viewing audience – it’s played well and succeeds often. From ludicrous toilet jokes to crude, visual humour, director Christopher B. Landon (who made his name through the completely serious Paranormal Activity series), exhausts every trick in the hat to create a zombie romp that will please more than it disgusts.

The title speaks for the narrative, The Scouts Guide follows three teenage Scouts as they meander their way through the first night of a zombie invasion in their quaint American town. Simplicity is usually key in this genre, but here the weight of the film is lifted by the small ensemble cast. Tye Sheridan leads a group of four main characters and the young actor has already shown himself to be a growing talent through a diverse array of titles. Supporting Sheridan is Logan Miller, Sarah Dumont and Joey Morgan, the quartet share a spark and its this chemistry that lifts attention away from the weaker elements of the whole piece towards lighter territory.

The cast of The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

The cast of The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Landon’s feature doesn’t take itself seriously and while that’s obvious from the early scenes, in which a janitor mimes to Iggy Azalea, and a deer finds itself reanimated as one of the living dead, as an audience you find yourself taking those involved seriously – that’s a feat in itself. Reviews have been entirely mixed, but there’s little to find fault with if you take The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse for what it is – a lighthearted gore-fest that will make you squirm more than once.

Many have, and likely will continue to, compare Landon’s efforts to Zombieland but to do so would be unfair. Reuben Fleischer’s foray into the world of zombies through a comedic lens was a unique perspective with a deeper emotional core than many expected, it’s also more appealing to a wider audience than cult hit Shaun of the DeadThe Scouts Guide can’t compare with either. It doesn’t have the star appeal, the funding, or the original humour. What Landon’s film does have is style, a nostalgic soundtrack (which the director chooses to lean on for extra warmth), and a narrative that can be watched time and again.

Don’t overthink it and you’ll find yourself laughing along with the rest.