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.

The Walking Dead returns for season seven

Before we begin, beware of spoilers ahead.

Oh man, us hardcore The Walking Dead fans waited a while for this prestigious series with its brilliant ratings to return and now it has, how do we feel? General viewer consensus has been mixed with some in awe and others reeling. I’m kinda’ middling.

The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be (yes, another splendid episode name) began where season six left off; new bad guy Negan was poised and ready to kill and us audience members were finally made aware of who met his beloved barbed wire bat named Lucille. FYI, anyone who wields a bat for sport is probably not to be trusted. It was with an achingly slow pace that we finally discovered it was Abraham and Glenn who met their end – goodbye Michael Cudlitz (a personal favourite of mine) and Steven Yeun. It’s fair to say that the killing off of the latter series veteran will upset many.

jeffrey dean morgan in the walking dead

jeffrey dean morgan in the walking dead

The episode was split into malevolent monologues from Negan (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and grotesque moments of ultra violence. For a series known for its impressive special effects this is a whole new level of gore – some might say too much. The Walking Dead has always been so good at balancing sentimentality with its emotive writing, The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be succumbs to the spectacle of brutal violence and loses its humanity. That, you could argue, is the point as we get to know Negan and see a shift in the dynamic of Rick‘s group but for a season premiere we – as a loyal audience – expect more.

Andrew Lincoln is a treasure as always, he could lead this popular series on his very own as he embodies group leader Rick, and this first episode is carried predominantly by him. We are slowly but surely seeing a strong leader unravel and this is an intriguing thematic element in itself. The Walking Dead shines when it’s writers focus on human drama and its exploration of humanity in general never misses the mark.

This is a welcome return from The Walking Dead and surely it can only get better from here, but for a series that is known for its stellar openers this falls incredibly short considering its farewell to two key characters.

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.

Why We Love Stranger Things

Stranger Things is undoubtedly Netflix’s new hit. All of my pals keep mentioning it in conversation, the internet loves it, and we are craving season two already. But why are we all so impressed by The Duffer Brother’s show? Stranger Things is eight episodes of traits and formulas that, collectively as an audience, we have most definitely seen before, and there isn’t necessarily something new in sight that has taken aficionados or fans of the canon by storm. But, we love it nonetheless and there are many a reason as to why. Below I look at just five elements to the programme that make it a stand-out entry into 2016 television.

  1. The nostalgia is real

I recently read an article that sighted Stranger Things as a re-hash of 80’s coming-of-agers such as Stand by Me. The author was kind of stating that this was a bad thing. In my mind, the references to classic 80’s hits and the cinematic odes to films such as Stand by Me is what propels the series to greater depths of enjoyment. As we watch three lads and their new friend – a superhuman girl who finds herself with pals for the first time – we are flung into nostalgic feels of times past. Who doesn’t like a bicycle chase that includes a van flip, or a journey along a train track to find a mysterious gate to another realm?

2. It’s actually really funny

I spent a lot of season one in little fits of giggles. The character responsible for this laughter? Dustin. Gaten Matarazzo has a natural streak of comedy genius in him and his moments of bad language and sharing of life views leads to some lighthearted laughs that are needed in this tale of unearthly creatures and missing children. The humour, mostly penned by Matt and Ross Duffer, is reminiscent of the likes of The Two Cory’s in such flicks as The Lost Boys; it’s all very silly but undeniably enjoyable.

The cast of Stranger Things

The cast of Stranger Things

3. If you don’t like one character, you have a whole bunch to choose from

It’s always really important to like your protagonist. In Stranger Things it’s not instantly clear who the protagonist is – and that role is pretty much shared throughout season one – but if you don’t like one character, you have about six more who share screen time in which you can root for. As an audience we are positioned with the adults, the teens and the kids, and you’re guaranteed to find at least one version of yourself (don’t deny it) in the group. With so many characters comes a bunch of different perspectives and we have been able to see the events of Hawkins, Indiana from a number of people and places – including the not-so-friendly Upside-Down.

4. Winona Ryder is back, and she’s better than ever

Winona Ryder had that huge career in the later 80’s and through the 1990’s but it all went a bit stale. A lot of time has passed and the oh-so talented actress is back. Ryder may have taken a break, but her talent hasn’t wavered and as the broken Joyce in Stranger Things we see a return to form as she desperately clings to the belief that son Will is alive. It was ingenious to cast Ryder as a woman on the edge, and she grabs this opportunity and doesn’t let go – this should be the start of a rejuvenated career.

5. The Duffer Brothers have reinvigorated science-fiction in television

There are plenty of science-fiction T.V. flicks to choose from, but none have recently had the impact like this. You don’t need to be a huge fan of sci-fi to get on board because at its heart, Stranger Things is a human drama that we can all connect with. With themes of grief, growing-up, love and the complex nature of friendship, the series is a multi-layered tale of one very small town with some very big goings-on at the centre of it.

And not forgetting, Stranger Things comes with a neon title and electronic music – what more do we want?

 

 

Suicide Squad: First Thoughts

On paper Suicide Squad sounds a dream. Talented cast? Tick. Capable director? Check. Tried and tested Box Office formula? Should be. It was meant to be really good. Since its release last Thursday we’ve quickly come to learn that it’s actually not as good as we had hoped. It is fun though; the type of fun that Tim Burton’s Batman achieved, the so-bad-it’s-good type that we like to loathe. Suicide Squad is far from loathsome but it’s even further from the cinematic perfection that its audience were promised.

In hindsight the film’s woes began with its overwrought marketing campaign. Too many trailers, too much teasing – it made us look forward to a feature we weren’t delivered. We were promised bad guys forced to do good and we expected Christopher Nolan style grit, but grittier.  David Ayer seemed a good choice as director, too. He wrote Training Day, directed Fury, and now was his opportunity to turn comic book antiheroes into cinema’s favourite foes, and he scratches the surface but never attains the greatness he strives for.

The film is driven by an almost constant soundtrack made up of everything from Eminem to Queen and if you are wondering whether the pair should be put together in the same movie, the answer would be no. At times the score is completely effective in setting a particular tone, but more often than not it’s misjudged and poorly timed. Dialogue is written with any lack of realism and the comic book cliches are clear and present. Ayer directs and writes with such force in other instances, even if they aren’t as appreciated as they should be, but as a director o

the cast of suicide squad

the cast of suicide squad

f the DC universe he seems to become a filmmaker without a clear vision.

Thus far the main criticism has been aimed at the clunky nature of the narrative, and the whole run time is a series of episodic scenes that don’t fit together as seamlessly as they could. Predominately set over just one night, there’s potential for a flowing plot-line but it gives way to scene after scene of badly-shot action that doesn’t hold our focus. The finale isn’t easy on the eyes and the main villain (who is only really given real screen time at this point) looks a lot like he belongs in The Cabin in the Woods – only it worked there and it doesn’t here.

It’s not all bad though. The ensemble cast works well together and Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Jai Courtney are fantastic. Viola Davis is on form, as always, as the sinister government official who is keen to let the bad-guys do her bidding. Leto isn’t featured as much as he should be, but he’s electric as a mob-style Joker who seems to be running a successful criminal empire. For the first time we see the cult foe in love, and it’s a sub-plot that is both intriguing and rather concerning as we see him plunge into an acid bath with his partner-in-crime Harley Quinn. He’s her Puddin’. Robbie is sensational as his female counterpart; she’s cheeky and alluring, yet vulnerable as she quietly portrays emotion, successfully sparking a reaction. There’s a whole Joker/Harley backstory that is captivating in itself and with a little more development it could have been a stellar addition to the narrative. It’s the same for any of the Squad’s stories, the timeline of their imprisonments and abilities are mentioned but never fully acknowledged which would do to lift the story tenfold if time were taken to get to grips with our meta-humans.

Despite its flaws, of which there are too many to state here, Suicide Squad still holds its audience. We rant about how disappointed we are, yet most of us want to run back to the cinema to see it again. There’s a definite style to the antihero flick, David Ayer just isn’t sure what he wants that style to be. Some moments are unintentionally funny, and others are cool as hell, but as one flowing piece of cinema it just doesn’t work. Yet, I want for more.

One thing is for certain: Suicide Squad is entirely captivating, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

 

 

Trainwreck Review

In Trainwreck we meet Amy. Amy is a 20-something magazine journo who lives in New York city. From the outset we are introduced to her through her provocative behaviour of drink-fueled one night stands, balanced out by her apparent career goals and obvious love for her sister and father. We are meant to laugh when, in an early scene, Amy finds herself in bed with a random from one of her many mid-week nights out – and we do. But 100 minutes in to the 124 minute running time, when this happens again, we don’t laugh as hard as we should.

Judd Apatow is an ingenious director in that he picks strong female and male leads to dominate his crude comedies – of which there have been many. And it’s obviously a winning formula. Trainwreck made $140 million after being filmed on a budget of just $35 million, and the general consensus is that it’s good – really good, in fact. Amy Schumer is the driving force of the film, and positioned with her we navigate New York through booze, recreational drugs and encounters with work colleagues, family and love interests. Bill Hader is spectacular (as always) as Aaron, the sweet-as-a-button sports doctor who Amy is forced to profile for work. The pair become entangled romantically, but not with a whole lot of romanticism.

amy schumer and bill hader in trainwreck

amy schumer and bill hader in trainwreck

Trainwreck is unique in its depiction of Amy and Aaron. Amy is a bit of a mess; she smokes weed, rocks up to work late and is surprised when Aaron wants to take things further with her after another one-night encounter. Aaron is a sweet-natured doctor who questions, but accepts, his girlfriends rebellious behaviour. Apatow and Schumer have successfully reversed the expected characterisation of how a man and a woman should behave and by doing so escape genre cliches, but as an audience we want to see some kind of journey in this dramedy that places us with a not-so-likeable protagonist. We only see a realisation of needed change from Amy when her actions have serious repercussions, and by that point it’s hard to keep on caring. Hader and Schumer are supported by a strong ensemble including Oscar-winners Brie Larson and Tilda Swinton but both roles are underdeveloped and the latter’s is laughably stereotypical.

Schumer is a star, and she will go far thanks to her strength as a writer and obvious comic prowess, but this isn’t one of Apatow’s strongest works. Trainwreck falls short of sentimentality and genuine displays of human emotion when it becomes lost to uncomfortable sexual encounters that should make us laugh but just make us squirm.

 

Peaky Blinders: A Masterclass In TV

We all know the score. Television of the good ol’ days was known for soaps and mini series’ – and not necessarily ones that were going to change the game of the small screen (with the odd exception, of course). In the past ten years we have seen a ten-fold improvement in the quality of TV drama. From the good fellas at HBO producing cinematic series’ such as police drama True Detective, to AMC giving viewers a multi-layered exploration of an apocalyptic deep south in The Walking Dead; whatever your genre, there’s something, on some channel, to please you.

While America is way ahead with their budgets, their production values, and their star power, the UK is steadily catching up. Peaky Blinders is an exemplary case of such competition, with an ensemble to rival the best, an intricate narrative and a blistering soundtrack that creates a palpable atmosphere. BBC Two, you continue to surprise us all. As we reflect on the events of season three we are reminded of the utter strength of modern television.

With only six episodes per season, Peaky Blinders is a short series that packs a lot in. In season three we met new antagonists, said goodbye to familiar faces and welcomed new members of the family. Over just six episodes producer and writer Steven Knight creates a multi-faceted narrative that escapes genre cliches to provide audiences with substance and originality. While it isn’t always faultless, often it is close to small-screen perfection. Peaky Blinders is based on the notorious Romany gangster family of the 1920’s but Knight has attained poetic justice in his verve as a writer as he develops complex characters portrayed by a stellar ensemble cast of British actors.

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy leads a strong cast, all of whom share an electric chemistry fueled by fiery personalities and an underlying rage. Paul Anderson is an absolute triumph in his role as Arthur, a character who audiences have seen evolve over eighteen divergent episodes. With fierce story-lines comes a need for actors who can display range and, despite their wrongdoings and bandit behaviour, we are firmly rooted with the Shelby family thanks to the complexity of the characters we have somehow come to relate too.

Beyond the obvious strength in writing we have to applaud the cinematography, costume design and stylistic direction. Season three moved with the times and with a change in year came stunning flapper girl fashion and sociopolitical themes. These were offset by a ravishing aesthetic that balanced gritty inner-city Birmingham with lavish countryside, brilliantly balancing the opulence of the life recently acquired by Thomas Shelby and co with the roots of the family; an important element to the story and one which their foes seemingly never allow them to escape.

With many scenes a violent spectacle, Peaky Blinders isn’t for everyone, but as the series progresses its exploration of feminism, masculinity, violence, family – and much more – is a fantastic case study for what can now be achieved season by season. Atmospheric and challenging, Steven Knight and BBC Two should be proud of their popular creation which has confidently taken the world by storm.