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.

King Jack, review

It’s truly a rare thing when you watch a relatively unknown film and find yourself wanting to tell as many people as possible about what you’ve just seen. Not because you had a blockbuster cinematic experience while viewing, but because it was tender and real, heart-warming and relatable, and you wanted to see more come the final moments.

This is what is really remarkable about independent filmmaking; it has a quality unto its own, something so pure and un-fussy, yet so spectacularly memorable. KING JACK is just that. You might not see a simpler movie this year, but that simplicity is not to be underestimated or belittled, for coming-of-age is seen so perfectly on film here, without the angst of many teen dramas of now.

KING JACK follows 15 year-old Jack over the course of a long hot summer weekend when his younger cousin Ben comes to stay, and he finds himself transforming with age. Jack is in it that phase of adolescence where girls are of interest and anger is prominent – he won’t allow his bullies to interrogate him much longer as he finds his bravery. Jack is played by Charlie Plummer and Ben by Cory Nichols, both are exceptional young actors.

Plummer is remarkable from start to finish, beguiling in his role as a confused teen, finding his feet in this crazy world and discovering who he wants to surround himself with. Nichols is a somewhat silent co-star, but he seems so wise beyond his years just through physicality and mannerisms and he aids Jack in his journey towards finding real friendship for the first time. The pair share such a touching bond as they protect each other against the bad guys of the small town Jack inhabits and Ben reluctantly visits. Surprisingly, it’s the younger boy who teaches the other how to be a better person and this tiny detail in the narrative makes for such a refreshing adage. KING JACK is really something special.

charlie plummer in king jack

charlie plummer in king jack

The entire ensemble comes together to make for a truly realistic depiction of suburban life, from Christian Madsen as the older brother, to Daniel Flaherty as the school bully – on paper it sounds clichéd but in reality it’s entirely complex in its exploration of just one character and those around him. Aside from the central narrative of Jack and Ben, there are an array of sub-plots that are briefly touched-upon, but never fully explored and while, in many cases, this would be a strike against a feature, somehow here it propels the narrative forward – motivating its audience to stay present, watching and wanting more.

Director and writer Felix Thompson focuses on locale to create a hazy summer setting which creates an atmosphere of longing – in Jack’s case, longing for a friend. While Thompson asks a lot of his young cast he doesn’t push to no avail; supported by a script that is nearly faultless, Plummer and Nichols’ age is understood by their helmer who works to showcase the highs and lows of growing up in a short 80 minutes. The whimsical ending is true to indie form, closing the feature in a way that is judged perfectly by Thompson.

This is wonderful filmmaking that should be seen by as many people as possible. Tender and thoughtful, KING JACK is as real a portrayal of everyday life as living it yourself.

It Follows, review

It Follows is an indie dream. Atmospheric, low-key and teeming with nostalgia (if you’re an old-school horror fan), David Robert Mitchell delivers a movie that is startlingly inventive first time-around but no doubt serves as repeat watching due to its nature of serving up something new each time. It Follows is far from the formulaic teen-slasher or paranormal sub-genre that has dominated cinema screens in recent years and it’s kinda’ hard to put it in any barrier. Mitchell is genre-busting here, for one minute you’re watching an adolescent romance play out, the next a nightmarish horror – this is very clever film making.

In It Follows we meet Jay (Maika Monroe), a young woman who – after going on a date and sleeping with the guy – is left with strange repercussions to deal with. The aftermath is a follower, one who changes in appearance every time she sees it and one which has malevolent intentions. Long story short, the follower is kind of like an STI, but much, much worse than herpes. So, anyway, Jay (with the help of her kooky pals) sets out to beat this thing in whichever way she can. But, how to do such a thing when you don’t really know what it is? That, pretty simply, is the premise to It Follows.

maika monroe as jay in it follows

maika monroe as jay in it follows

Maika Monroe is an absolute dream in her role as Jay. She’s likable, you want her to succeed, and shes totally relatable if you’re anywhere between 16-25. Monroe is on her way to super-stardom (or at least should be) and among several impressive performances – she is possibly the only good thing about the disappointing The Guest It Follows is one to get a hold of. She is supported by Keir Gilchrist as Paul, Olivia Luccardi as Yara and Lili Sepe as Kelly – all of whom share a great chemistry as they support Jay on her journey against the entity she is haunted by. Mitchell brings out the best from his cast with an original script which is quietly thoughtful and a direction that is reminiscent of horror films of the past. At 100 minutes its a relatively slow-build but this lends to a relationship between Jay, Yara, Paul, Kelly and their audience. The entire feature is atmospheric and where a thunderstorm might seem cliched in any other ‘teen’ horror in It Follows it only pushes the greatness of the piece forward. The soundtrack is an electronic treat with melodies that pop up frequently meaning you’re totally unaware of when you should be concerned that something terrible might just happen.

It Follows is great in the way that it doesn’t show you a whole lot; there is no stream of barbaric violence or continuous scares but there are several carefully timed moments that do keep you on your toes. The antagonist of the film, the entity, is frightening in the way that you can see him or her but you don’t know where it’s from or what it wants, and there’s a lot of well-crafted enigma which propels the film into fantastic territory.

Unique and tense with a whiff of the 1980’s, It Follows is a gem to the horror genre.

 

6 Years, review

Hannah Fidell’s adolescent romantic drama 6 Years is an emotive, realistic depiction of a relationship on the brink of despair. That despair, is constant. And that continuity verges on boring. But with strong performances from the leads Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield, Fidell’s budget flick achieves something, even if that something is only minute.

Remember the days of straight to VHS? Yeah, me too. It usually meant the film had a terrible cast, an even worse narrative, and a budget to match. In the contemporary film market today, it doesn’t. There are an array of stellar independent films that don’t meet the audience they deserve due to a window release system that favors blockbusters and star-power over underplayed quality. While Fidell’s 6 Years doesn’t quite match up to similar movies The Spectacular Now, Adventureland and Short Term 12, it does warrant an appreciative audience. Thanks to Netflix, the film should receive it, with AHS fans chomping at the bit to see an on-screen return from Farmiga.

Director and writer Fidell tells the story of Mel (Farmiga) and Dan (Rosenfield), a young couple reaching adulthood who have been in a relationship for six years. As they embark on different journeys their romance becomes entangled in bitterness, jealously and violence as we watch this sad couple attempt to make things work. Supporting performances come from Friday Night Lights actress Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and Bates Motel‘s Joshua Leonard and the ensemble are strong. The performances from this somewhat unappreciated (and perhaps, relatively unknown) cast are what keeps the feature together and the plot moving along. The biggest issue is what you gain as a viewer. Apart from feeling genuinely moved at the strength of Farmiga’s role as Mel, it’s hard to take away anything much from this 80 minute drama that, simply put, is incredibly glum. With lots of alcohol, self-destructive behaviour, and one or two uncomfortable scenes, 6 Years will sit comfortably amongst 16-25 year old’s but will struggle to find a wider demographic.

farmiga and rosenfield in 6 years

farmiga and rosenfield in 6 years

It’s not all bad, though. There’s an interesting exploration of underlying violence in relationships that isn’t pin-pointed often enough in popular culture, and the bravery of Fidell to include this as a theme – as well as be sure not to over-play or under-play that – is intelligently done. This in itself is thought-provoking and creates a divide between the two leads, forcing us to choose a side and stick to it. Although, thanks to the complexity of long-term relationships and the strength of the script, you will find yourself swapping from Ben to Mel and back again. The visuals are great, too. Lot’s of visceral colours make for a truly contemporary movie, and it’s an attractive feature. The repetition of house-parties and flashing lights becomes predictable though and as a viewer we just want to see this bleak story move forward. It doesn’t happen and therefore never fully engages its audience.

6 Years is an authentic – if somewhat under-whelming – story of a young couple and their tribulations. Farmiga and Rosenfield have a genuine chemistry that is electric and toxic at all of the right moments. These performances alone save the film from the dark depths of melodramatic indie territory and propels Hannah Fidell’s second feature into positive territory. It won’t blow you away, but it’ll make you think.

Magic Magic, review

In 2013 director Sebastian Silva gave us pensive drama Magic Magic. Boasting a kind of who’s who of young contemporary indie actors – Juno Temple, Michael Cera and Emily Browning – the film stands as a portrait of the varying stages of mental illness as Temple’s Alicia suffers a breakdown while away on holiday in Chile. It all sounds rather morbid on paper, and it’s pretty damn morbid on screen, too. But, Silva’s film is a pivotal exploration of the paranoia, loneliness and most importantly – danger – of unrecognised psychological problems.

Temple has built up her career since her St Trinian days in a number of independent flicks that can definitely come under the out-there status of a lot of art-house productions. She has had central roles in Killer Joe (alongside the veteran of kookiness Matthew McConaughey) and Horns and smaller, but no less impressive, turns in blockbuster fare such as Atonement and The Dark Knight Rises. In Magic Magic as Alicia Temple takes front, back and centre as she leads us through her journey from semi-normality into the unhinged realm of her mind as her health deteriorates. Interestingly – and rather boldly – Alicia is not particularly likeable, but Silva and Temple are sure to entice sympathy from viewers as her state worsens. What we view over 98 minutes is Alicia’s loss of her ‘self’ as she becomes a stranger to those around her. This element to the film holds a genuine sense of foreboding for we ask ‘Who is the threat?’, the last 30 minutes follows a kind of ticking time bomb structure as we await to find out the terrifying outcome we all know is coming.

juno temple as alicia in magic magic

juno temple as alicia in magic magic

Temple is certainly triumphant as a young woman encapsulated by paranoia and mental health issues. She balances moments of true joy and normality with sudden outbursts, which lends to a realistic depiction of a girl on the brink of desperation. For, depression has areas of light and dark and the actress is sure to represent both. Supporting her is the always wonderful, always kooky, and always downright eccentric, Michael Cera. A key name in the world of quirky dramas Cera is often recognised as the adorable underdog who rises up victoriously and steals the hearts of everyone involved. Here, he is far removed from that stereotype and instead plays a traveler who is, yes, both kooky and eccentric, but laddish and unthoughtful. He also portrays this youthful belief that he is immune to the troubles of the world. The latter is not an unlikeable quality, but it does lend to an unexpected naivety as Cera portrays Brink. Temple and Cera share an uncomfortable scene together which in many respects could be seen as sexual assault from a female to a male. Silva does not linger on this and the scene is not uncomfortably long, with no harsh camera angles. Instead Cera – Brink‘s – reaction is pondered upon and this signals the change in Alicia as she finally becomes a danger. Beyond this, the sudden and shocking act is a reminder of why mental health should be pin-pointed sooner, and never ignored. Silva should be congratulated on tackling the subject, despite the morbidity that comes with it here.

At only 98 minutes Silva’s somewhat daring feature still feels too long. Eeery and silent for the majority, Magic Magic is reminiscent of indie thrillers such as Preservation – which while far removed narrative wise, rely on silence and non-diegetic scores for effect. Effective? Yes. At times a little overbearing? Most definitely. Silva also appears to lose sense of what his film is about and the latter scenes become a miss-mash of confusing events which are not given enough explanation and are too surreal to be taken seriously. Like with a genuine reaction of ‘C,mon, really?’. That’s never the response you want from your audience.

Brimming with young and exciting talent and boldly exploring an often ‘taboo’ topic, Magic Magic is worth your time – but not necessarily worth repeat watching.

 

Inherent Vice, review

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director known for his somewhat baffling approach to society in filmmaking. Bearded oil barons, teenage porn stars and, now, dope fiends and a stoned private investigator. Anderson’s work is often heralded for its use of visceral imagery and vivid color palette (not to mention, vivid imagination) and he has kind of entered cult territory in his position as director. With the trailer release of this year’s Inherent Vice we could be forgiven for thinking we were going to get much of the same quirkiness with his tale of ex-lovers, love triangles and 1960’s America. While the feature isn’t far off what Anderson is now so known for, it generally falls flat. With cinema walk-outs, a pretentiously long running-time and an incoherent plot (although I’m pretty sure that was the directors intention) Inherent Vice is, simply put, just a little bit of a let down.

katherine waterstone and joaquin phoenix in inherent vice

katherine waterstone and joaquin phoenix in inherent vice

Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel (which received acclaim from critics) Anderson’s film follows the convoluted narrative of Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), an ex heroin addict still hopelessly in love with his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterstone, encapsulating the hippy spirit of the decade perfectly) and on the search for Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts, featured in only one scene and sorely missing from the majority).  Phoenix carries the entire film on his own – the ensemble cast is varied, with del Toro, Brolin, Wilson, Malone and Witherspoon all providing support in some sense. They might as well be invisible here. Phoenix as Doc is loveable, hilarious and our journey into his quirky world is at times, pretty damn interesting. Doc is someone who you wouldn’t mind having on your side, and though he may be in a drug-induced haze, he still does pretty well in the bizarre situations he finds himself in. Phoenix’s acting is equaled by Joanna Newsome’s incredible narration as Sortilege. Her on-screen appearance is lacking but her presence as narrator is probably one of the strongest elements in a film riddled with weaknesses. In fact, Newsome’s sultry, thoughtful and engulfing voice is one of the best ever heard on film – no exaggeration.

With all this positivity you’re probably asking ‘What could be wrong?’. The answer to that would be; muffled dialogue (in a plot that’s almost impossible to follow, quiet talking overtaken by a non-diegetic soundtrack doesn’t make it any easier). A running time of 149 minutes is so unnecessary in a film dominated by whimsical conversations about topics that quite literally, make no sense. Anderson’s direction is as indie as is acceptable within mainstream cinema but this becomes over-bearing towards the final scenes with a range of closed-shots used that leave you wanting room to breath (the final scene is dominated by thoughts of what is going on around Phoenix and Waterstone rather than the characters themselves). All focus is basically lost. The film goes nowhere, and you can’t help but feel you just wasted a couple hours, even if you were sat in the comfiest cinema seats around (thanks, Picturehouse).

Sure, Anderson’s script produces laughs (but mostly from dialogue featured in the trailer) and the soundtrack is killer – if you grew up in the 60’s you will be transported back to your youth with an up-beat tempo that produces plenty of toe-tapping. There are so many different components that could propel this film into greatness, but at no point do they come together to form one strong, coherent – and enjoyable – piece of cinema. Cult? Yes. For the majority? Definitely not. Even fans of the director’s more out-there works such as Boogie Nights will struggle with this one.

 

 

The Spectacular Now, review

Often you will stumble upon a film, watch the trailer and think ‘Yeah, let’s give that a go, it looks decent.‘ Only occasionally will that stumbled upon piece of cinema be a game-changer. A think about your life feature that has you in tears, for reasons beyond what you have just seen on screen. Said film, in this case, and as the title indicates is The Spectacular Now. Released in 2013 and shot on a humble budget of $2.5 million, James Ponsoldt’s film hits you straight in the feels. Those feels, are real. The power of Miles Teller as eighteen year old Sutter Keely is almost indescribable and his transition from adolescence to adulthood is incredibly poignant. Shailene Woodley, while not as central to the narrative as one might think is just a great force and wonderfully likeable as Aimee Finecky who has a glorious lust for life and is adamant to see only the good in Sutter.

Firstly, Ponsoldt directs Woodley and Teller with such a loving eye, but one that never enters cliched romantic-drama territory. This story feels one hundred percent real, what you are watching is not a glorified over-exaggeration of made up relationships  but a fictional portrayal of a relatable partnership. Intimate scenes are not covered up by a non-diegetic acoustic soundtrack, refreshingly they focus on the event unfolding and viewers will be transported back to a time when they felt just like that. The romantic element never takes over from what is at the centre here – Sutter‘s reluctance to graduate high school entwined with the surreal image he carries of his absent Father and obvious commitment issues. Oh, and the underlying drinking habit which the audience are reminded of in almost every scene. Sutter comes with baggage (which is initially hidden), but we can deal with that. What unwinds in the 95 minutes is a story of revelations, a little heartache, and a look into this teenagers life who – come the end – is no longer just a character in a film.

promotional poster for the spectacular now

promotional poster for the spectacular now

Teller narrates the film at appropriate intervals and Ponsoldt gives us a swiftly edited, genuinely funny opening scene which paints a clear picture of the situation we are going into. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber the screenplay is written with enough quirk to comfortably fit within an indie production but screams out with intelligence and sharp wit which is often missed in contemporary cinema. There are so many positives to this inspiring feature, which will genuinely have an impact on you, but to truly understand why this is possibly one of the best films you will ever see – you just have to sit your bum down and watch for yourself. Rather magnificently, The Spectacular Now will hold different meanings for each individual viewing, and that power is something to be applauded.

A domestic story (to a certain extent at least), Ponsoldt’s film captures the wonderment and difficulties of growing up. A beautifully told story that deserves to be watched time and again. Damn near perfect.