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.

Drive, 2011 – Understated Filmmaking At Its Very Best

It’s likely that if you’re reading this review you’ve already seen Drive; a film full of ingenuity and originality, one that stuck in the minds of cinema-goers for some time following its release. There are myriad ways in which Nicholas Winding Refn’s masterpiece leaves a lasting impression. From the eclectic, nostalgic score to the punch-you-in-the-face violence, Drive has an endearing quality despite the underlying brutality and the hard-to-crack impassioned characteristics of Ryan Gosling’s The Driver. Having said that, these are the refinements that allow Drive to transcend a particular mood – a feeling that evolves and changes from viewer to viewer, but one that evokes questions of morality, ethics and life choices. Aesthetically Drive looks as though it could of been released in the 1980’s with its simplistic set pieces and mise en scene; as an entire piece the various components come together to make Refn’s feature an entirely contemporary movie.

The main talking point following the release of Drive was Ryan Gosling’s nail-biting performance as this character who is seemingly impossible to read. The Driver is passionate but somewhat psychotic, with a malevolence that hangs uncomfortably in the air – when will he turn, and who will bare the brunt of it? Gosling adopted this antihero almost silently, yet so memorably. He went on to play another quietly haunting role in Refn’s art-house film Only God Forgives, this didn’t, however, inspire the same kind of reception from its audience. The Driver, the titular character of the film, is on the brink of losing any shred of humanity he still encompasses, there are two people who can save him from becoming completely engulfed in a life of violence and gangsters – Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son Benecio (played by Kaden Leos). Said gangsters are led by Ron Perlman; an actor of diverse talent yet one who is so comfortable playing the antagonist. As Nino, Perlman channels a barbaric streak that slowly simmers throughout the film up until the moment in which the unspoken cruelty becomes visually grim (it’s these scenes that distinguish Refn as a filmmaker unafraid of challenging his audience).

ryan gosling as the driver in drive

ryan gosling as the driver in drive

Categorised as neo-noir, art house, crime and drama (the list could go on to include romance with Mulligan and Gosling sharing a sizzling on-screen chemistry that simmers in the background) Drive is genre busting at its very best. Adapted from the 2005 novel of the same name written by James Sallis, penned by Hossein Amini and with cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel, Refn and co’ collaborate to ensure the feature stays clear of  clumsy criminal underworld cliches and a formulaic narrative that can be called from start to finish. The Los Angeles setting is refreshing too. With a gritty, moggy look on the eyes and a juxtaposition of The Driver‘s life on and off set, the locale is as pivotal to the story in the way that Mulligan and Bryan Cranston are, just as Gosling’s dialogue delivery is.

Whether you’re going into the film from a new perspective or you’re a returning viewer already aware of just how important the movie is within the world of cinema, Drive is a fresh watch each and every time you set your eyes upon it. Cinematic genius that’s stripped back and unforgettable. It made Gosling the respectable star he is today and set the tone for the films that have followed, but yet viewers still return for more of Nicholas Winding Refn’s incomparable feature that sparkles like a fresh penny.

Nas: Time Is Illmatic – Documentary Filmmaking Doesn’t Get Better Than This

If there is such a thing as perfection, it can be seen so vividly in One9’s documentary Nas: Time Is Illmatic. Ironically, it’s irrelevant whether or not you are a fan of rap music. For despite the film being centered on the creation of one of the most iconic hip-hop albums of all time, it’s about so much more. With an exploration of rap maestro Nas comes an inner look at the Projects of New York and the sense of community, tragedy and lifestyle that so often comes with it. What we feel come the end of One9’s documentary is just how lucky Nas was to escape. We are also hit with such an incredible sense of just how connected the rapper still is to his roots. These two elements drive the film, but do not engulf it.

The film takes us on a journey through time. From the early years of Nas’ life to his introduction to rap music to the recording and producing of that album Illmatic. With interviews and sound clips from big names in the hip-hop industry to intimate stories from the man himself, his father and brother Jungle, the documentary doesn’t leave any stone un-turned. But be aware, this isn’t a portrait of Nas’ life post-Illmatic, it’s very much an early-years look into his creative process. Those expecting an exploitation pic of his love life and faux pas should look away now. For true film fans, and music lovers, Time Is Illmatic will be treasured. And that, it deserves.Dogwoof_Documentary_Time_is_Illmatic_Wiz_Nas_Jungle_1993_Photo_by_Danny_Clinch_1600_963_85

One thing that is seemingly unexpected is just how moving the documentary is. We hear stories and see pictures of young men exposed to the tough life of Queens, New York and the effect it tragically had on their lives. As Nas and Jungle recount their experiences of loss, we can’t help but feel somewhat heartbroken for them. Interestingly, they aren’t asking for pity and director One9 is sure to convey that. In fact, we aren’t really swayed in any direction, for that isn’t the aim of this tale. The aim is to demonstrate the utter talent of Nas and the impact his album had on musicians from the same genre. He isn’t exactly humbled by this, but he is incredibly aware of it and he’s put his success to good use. Starting a hip-hop programme at Harvard University, the rapper is making moves to shine a light on the roots of rap music and the truth behind the lyrics.

Images of Nas and friends during the making of Illmatic and footage from a recent show where his backdrop is his childhood housing estate exemplify what this documentary is all about; society and the influence it has on young black men in America. Political activism, gang culture and drug use are all thematic elements but not to the point of preaching. Every component is weighted correctly and the real focus stays on the Jones family. Seeing a young Nasir rap one verse at a local mix is truly inspiring and to know just what he has accomplished makes it all mean so much more. This isn’t a rags to riches story, not in the slightest, but it is an artistic and stylised look at a pivotal figure within the world of hip-hop. Through the use of archive photographs we are transported to 1990’s Queens and this is as close as you are going to get to a real-life depiction of lower-class living in the US on film.

Inspirational – in more than one sense -, emotive, compelling and genuinely interesting, Nas: Time Is Illmatic is quite easily up there with some of the best documentaries of the past fifteen years. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it shouldn’t be missed. Extraordinary.

Wes Craven, 1939-2015

Legendary director Wes Craven has passed away at the age of 76. A pioneer of the horror genre, and a well-respected director within the competitive film industry, Craven directed 28 features and was responsible for a host of acclaimed horror movies that met audiences over the past fourty years. From Freddie Krueger to Ghostface, Craven’s work inspired a wave of directors wanting to follow in his creative footsteps, and his work spawned a host of remakes and homages. Today, we shall remember and respect the captivating Mr Wes Craven, a bold and daring auteur who was instrumental in turning the horror genre on its head.

Wes-Craven1

Wes Craven

Craven came crashing onto the film scene with his 1972 directorial debut The Last House on the Left. Starting as he meant to go on, the movie was shot on an indie budget of $87,000 and went on to make an impressive $3.1 million. Penned as exploitation horror the film went unreleased in the UK until the 1980s, at which time it was seen uncut. Despite being banned once again, due to being deemed as a ‘video nasty’ The Last House on the Left attained cult status and remained in the minds of horror fans all over the world. Craven’s debut was remade in 2009 with the director serving as producer, and an impressive box-office success of $45 million. This re-boot proved Craven’s prowess in Hollywood, and the continued support and love of his work from old and new cinema goers.

Following the undeniable triumph of the heavy duty The Last House on the Left, Craven went on to direct the equally gruesome The Hills Have Eyes (which, again, influenced remakes), A Nightmare on Elm Street – which cult status and acclaim speaks for itself – and in 1996, the genre-bending classic Scream. Starring up-and-comers Courteney Cox, Neve Campbell and David Arquette, Scream was made on a relatively minute budget of $15 million, and was served up to audiences with an R rating. What followed was a phenomenal reception and a staggering $173 million profit at the box-office – quite a feat for a movie strictly for adults. Some 24 years after his initial debut, Craven proved his ability as an innovative and timeless director, one who wasn’t showing any signs of hanging up his coat. Utilising witty humour and openly calling out the cliches and ‘rules’ of the familiar horror movie, Scream turned the tired genre on its head and invigorated the seemingly boring and tasteless genre once again. Four films and nineteen years later, the Scream franchise remains popular with audiences, and not just fans of horror – outwardly identifying itself as a member of the gory style of filmmaking, the films found success amongst a wide demographic of people, and still stand today as one of the most quoted and easily recognised of Craven’s impressive filmography.

A writer, cinematographer, producer, and a cult director, Wes Craven was an authentic and inventive filmmaker, with the bravery to create movies that tested their audience – and the ratings system. Thank you for your contributions to the film industry, there isn’t a horror film today that doesn’t have a glimmer of one of your classic movies. Your work will continue to shine – and scare – generations of audiences. The world of cinema wouldn’t of been the same without the work of Mr Wes Craven, a true artist and auteur.