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.

Brooklyn, review

As far as film-making goes the John Crowley-directed, Nick Hornby-written Brooklyn is damn near flawless. With a wonderful screenplay, charismatic cast and envious costume design, the feature is a joy on the eyes as it transports you to another time. That time is the 1950’s, when the American Dream was a hope for many and immigration figures were tripling. We follow shy Irish girl Eilis to Brooklyn and back as she discovers herself and the life she seemingly wants to live.

John Crowley has taken a sentimental novel, written by Colm Toibin, and adapted it into a gorgeous film full of beauty and raw emotion, cleverly capturing the feeling of being young and lost and young and in love. Saorise Ronan portrays Eilis, Oscar-nominated for her role and rightfully so. If you ever had any doubts about the actress who has more than proved her on-screen talents, Crowley’s film will eradicate these surely. Ronan is sensational in her leading role, sure not to over-complicated Eilis – or more importantly, perfect her. Human like us all, the character is relatable and likeable and the transformation we see over a short 112 minutes is masterfully crafted by actress and director Crowley.

cohen and ronan in brooklyn

cohen and ronan in brooklyn

Supporting Ronan is Emory Cohen – almost unrecognisable here from his divergent role in The Place Beyond the Pines – and industry favourite Domhnall Gleeson, with added strength in the shape of Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. The star in this exceptional ensemble is Cohen. He’s endearing as Tony, an Italian-American with more than enough personality, and even more beguiling charm than you’d expect from an actor who is slowly (but ever so surely) rising to Hollywood prominence – and his performance in Brooklyn should sure enough cement him as a force to be reckoned with. The chemistry he shares with Roman is so natural and innocent – the kind of schoolboy love that we all secretly wish we could experience. Crowley does well to translate this from page to screen without an aspect of uncomfortable cheese that is too often present in contemporary romances.

The entire cast comes together to form a full feature that is never lacking in presence or meaning. Hornby writes with a warmth film-goers have come to recognise and appreciate and he transcends a time in history without making this a boring historical feature. Brooklyn escapes the pitfalls of most romantic dramas to make this a beautiful – and timeless – piece of cinema that tugs on the heartstrings in all of the right ways. More than this, the movie shouldn’t just appeal to woman, or fans of Toibin’s novel, for it is a rounded narrative that escapes the normal ties of genre film-making, speaking from a place within us all as it explores what it is to be human as Eilis steps outside of her comfort zone for the first time.

See Brooklyn and as you do, let go of any preconceptions of what this genre is and can be, for Crowley loses them all and recreates it so effortlessly here.

2016: Five Films To Look Forward To

2016 is just around the corner and with it comes a fresh new batch of movies. Below are just a few of many that will grace our big and small screens in the New Year in a super speedy round-up of what to look out for. Watch out for an indie version coming soon!

And kind folks of the interwebs, this is based on UK release dates.

jordan and stallone in creed

jordan and stallone in creed

Creed – Director: Ryan Coogler, Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Tompson

2016 appears to be the year for filmic revivals, Creed being a spin-off of the much loved Rocky series. There are myriad reasons in which to get excited for this early-year release, including the direction of Ryan Coogler; the presence of his Fruitvale Station collaborator Michael B. Jordan; a return to the world of boxing, as seen through the tinted eye glass of Mr Sylvester Stallone, and a contemporary spin on a series that was becoming tired after six installments.

Suicide Squad – Director: David Ayer, Cast: EVERYBODY..Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne 

David Ayer meets DC? Surely that’s a quick winner in itself. It’s a long wait until August to see this supervillain film which boasts the best in Hollywood acting talent, but if the trailer is anything to go by, Ayer’s portrayal of an America brimming with ‘gifted’ bad-guys is going to change the game for comic-book adaptations. With a Watchmen aura to it and an ensemble cast to please any cinephile, Suicide Squad and its team of anti-hero’s could just be the one to sway naysayers of the genre. Watch this space.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Director: Bryan Singer, Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult

The new reboot of X-Men, in which Matthew Vaughn revitalised the old-hat series alongside a fresh-faced young cast of men and women was initially really pretty good. It all changed with the second installment which saw original director Bryan Singer come back on board. But, we can forgive the faux-pauses of Days of Future Past and gleefully welcome Apocalypse. Why, you ask? As briefly as it can be:

  • Tye Sheridan, Sophie Smith and Evan Peters are just three of many new actors joining the already beloved ensemble, with Apocalypse shaping up to be a satisfying entry into the series.
  • Apocalypse himself, played by Ex_Machina‘s shining star Oscar Isaac, looks like one of the most malevolent antagonists the franchise has had (and that’s really saying something).
  • The presence of Rose McGowan is always welcomed. Clearly.
russell and jackson in the hateful eight

russell and jackson in the hateful eight

The Hateful Eight – Director: Quentin Tarantino, Cast: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen

Quentin Tarantino’s latest foray into the Western might seem like an obvious choice, but the auteur always surprises his audience with one or two tricks. He also always manages to nab a bloody fantastic cast of veteran actors who you kind of forgot about but who’s acting abilities are drawn out through the magic of the Tarantino vision. Django Unchained was universally loved and it wasn’t anywhere close to the directors best efforts (yes, Jackie Brown could just be the best) so its likely that The Hateful Eight will be on a similar par. A return from Reservoir Dogs co-stars Tim Roth and Michael Madsen will no doubt bring about nostalgia for long-standing fans of the enigma of a director, and it’s always Tarantino himself who audiences are so beguiled by.

Chi-Raq – Director: Spike Lee, Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett

Spike Lee’s latest cinematic effort is already out, but I figured it would probably take most us until the New Year to make the effort in viewing it. In a joint partnership with Amazon Studios, Lee brings back his urgent thematic content surrounding race and America with Chi-Raq, a film that – if it’s anything like its trailer portrays it to be – is unsure of its genre. It’s all a little up in the air thus far, with critical consensus being positive but public response drawing controversies from Lee’s portrayal of a contemporary Chicago swarmed in gun crime. Either way, Lee is back on our radar and his material is generally a winner – make this one to see.

 

 

Furious 7, review

Racing-action movies have always been popular amongst audiences. 2001 welcomed Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, a new installment of the genre that no-one expected to blow-up just like it did. Seven films later, Furious 7 proved to be the most successful yet. Spectators were both eager and sombre in the lead-up to release for the latest feature. Eager to see the return of a cast that they had come to love. Sombre because it also meant they said goodbye to not just a character, but an actor who had proved to be a beloved name for audiences everywhere. Paul Walker helmed the series of films alongside real-life buddy Vin Diesel and Furious 7 became so much more than just another action movie, it became a touching memory to the life – and legacy – of Paul Walker.

From insane effects – done incredibly well – to one or two cheesy lines, that are so aware of their placement, and an on-screen chemistry between an ensemble cast that is as real as can be, James Wan’s Furious 7 is a fitting addition to the franchise. It’s not all perfect, in fact it’s not even cinematic genius, but it is cinematic gold. With a box-office profit of $1.512 billion and an impressive array of positive reviews from critics, Wan reminded everybody just why they fell in love with the characters, the film, and the premise back in 2001 with the first movie.

the cast of furious 7

the cast of furious 7

Funny, and never attempting to take itself too seriously, Furious 7 is a well-devised action that hasn’t compromised in any aspect. Heartbreaking – for obvious reasons – Diesel, Wan, and writer Chris Morgan, dealt with the tragic events of Paul’s death in such a respectful way. The final scene is underplayed but so incredibly moving, and even the hardest heart on the sofa will shed a tear come home-viewing.

Think what you will about this racing bonanza that loves to go over  the top and even further, but you can’t deny the simple brilliance of this poignant film that goes back to the roots of the narrative to deliver nostalgia, cameos, and enjoyable performances from Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russel, Dwayne Johnson, and Ludacris. Universal have capitalised on the cheesier moments of the film and cleverly turned them on their head to acknowledge the obvious hilarity, and only Fast and Furious could get away with these.

Furious 7 is a filmic guilty pleasure not just for fans, but for naysayers too. But beyond the pure enjoyment of Jason Statham as an antagonist and the return of everybody’s favourite racing crew, James Wan’s film is a heart-wrenching depiction of a group of real friends who had to say goodbye to somebody they love. The theme of family means more now than it previously has, and rings true through the delivery of stellar performances. Paul Walker was the best at what he did; an action hero who loved his family and his F and F co-stars. Audiences will always remember Furious 7, not just because of the homage to the actor, but because it’s actually a really great film. A fitting goodbye to a beloved man.

Miss You Already trailer sets high expectations

Can any of you think of a better, quirkier female duo than that of Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette? No, me neither. Both actresses are known for roles in an array of indie and mainstream cinema from Little Miss Sunshine, Whip ItMuriels Wedding and Fever Pitch. Two of the most talented names in the industry, Barrymore and Collette have been in the business of stellar performances and memorable characters for over two decades, and Catherine Hardwicke’s up-and-coming Miss You Already promises just the same. The film currently stands as a filmic female super team, and I like it.

Hardwicke’s film, written by Morwenna Banks, will tell the story of long-term best friends Milly (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore) through the highs and lows of both their shared, and private lives. Following a shattering diagnosis for Milly, audiences will watch as the pair cope with the news together. The film co-stars The History Boy’s Dominic Cooper and The World’s End‘s Paddy Considine. The trailer is looking good, with laugh-out-loud moments present and an undertone of emotional subtlety hovering somewhere amongst these. There are also a great selection of scenes that exemplify the on-screen chemistry the female leads share. Director Hardwicke is well-known for her diverse work behind the camera, and Miss You Already looks to be a step in a different direction for the helmer of skateboard biopic Lords of Dogtown and controversial drama Thirteen.

If the feature film hasn’t been told entirely through the trailer then expect fantastic things from this comedy-drama that hits screens September 25th in the United Kingdom and November 6th in the US.

Spike Island, review

Shane Meadows, known for his exploratory directorial motives – often into the realms of British sub-cultures – released documentary The Stone Roses: Made of Stone in 2013. The feature was a look into the legendary Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990. Similar to this, but non-fiction, director Mat Whitecross made, at the same time, Spike Island; a dramatised picture based on the same concert. An indie pic, the film features an ensemble cast, all of whom were relatively unknown at the time. Today – just two years on – we know Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys and Nico Mirallegro as My Mad Fat Diaries’ Finn. Small on budget (and even smaller on box-office takings), Spike Island is a whimsical tale of adolescent friendship, first time love, and a time in music that was pivotal within the British industry. It’s almost definitely a little hap-dash – some could even use the derogatory term flimsy – but if you too inhabit any kind of urgency to live life to the fullest (like the characters here do), Whitecross’s feature is the film for you.

the cast of spike island

the cast of spike island

The film takes place over the space of 72 hours, as a spectator you watch as a group of teenage lads attempt to attain tickets to the Spike Island ‘Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990 in Widnes. The premise is simple, and the characters involved, including Elliott Tittensor as Tits, Jordan Murphy as Zippy, Adam Long as Little Gaz and Oliver Heald as Penfold encounter a number of diversions along their road to being gig-happy. In terms of narrative and script, its all very, very British, and perhaps a tad cliched. There isn’t much room for an American audience due to, one) the Manchester setting which means all actors involved talk in a strong accent that even people who don’t live ‘up North’ will struggle to understand, and two) the humour is based around a English wit that is hard to tap into unless you inhabit the UK. The Britishness of the feature is what makes it so strong, but this too is what limits its audience – the film took just under £100,000 at the box-office, likely due to a limited release. Though it’s an unappreciated – and barely seen – film, Spike Island isn’t a bad movie.

The group of male friends have a genuine chemistry, bouncing off of one another’s youthful energy, the atmospheric half hour at the gig is truly engaging, and director Whitecross genuinely manages to make those watching wish they could of been at that classic moment of  music history. Spike Island will, for some people, sit on the brink of greatness. These people will likely be fans of The Stone Roses and might of even been to the gig, in this way the film serves as a zeitgeist of the time. Others will cast the film to one side, seeing it as yet another Brit comedy-drama that holds so many similar themes to a number of other movies of the genre. Despite the split that Spike Island likely creates amongst its audience, it should first be seen – and then, hopefully, be loved.