’71

’71 tells the story of a young British soldier (Jack O’ Connell), part of a platoon deployed to Belfast on an emergency basis. After a failed raid he gets stuck on the wrong side of enemy lines, and becomes stranded far from his company. During his night of trying to get home he becomes a symbol in a war he has no real part in, fighting against friend and foe in attempt to get home.

O’ Connell shines in this gritty and real look at the troubles in Northern Ireland from an outside perspective. His performance is a very natural one, which works perfectly in a film where the troubles themselves are the real scene stealer. It is a credit to Yann Demange’s direction that the main character manages to be bypassed, and we see him as the symbol in the fighting that he is, and yet we care no less about him as a character.

Despite the inevitable politics of a story like this it’s still an action thriller, and there are no shortage of moments to make you gasp in shock or recoil in fear, the unsteady nature of life in Northern Ireland at that time embedded on screen throughout.

O’Connell recently won the Rising Star Award BAFTA, voted for by the public and demonstrative perhaps of a change in the sea of public school boy’s role in modern cinema (something I am in no way complaining about however, hello Tom Hiddleston). As well as this, ’71 is a film that seems at first to be from a British perspective, but in reality says so much more about the lives of the Irish people living through the troubles in 1971.

Under The Skin

I recently caught up with last year’s Under the Skin – it was heralded by many critics as one of the best films of the year, revolutionary, changing Scarlett Johansson’s role in cinema and science fiction. It’s the story of an alien in human guise (Scarlett Johansson), who drives around Glasgow in a white transit van, preying on young men by enticing them with the suggestion of sex before disposing of them, in a mystery house with magical qualities. Nothing is explained, there’s little dialogue, and what is really going on is never made clear.

Director Jonathan Glazer uses an almost guerrilla style of film making, with the scenes in which Johansson’s character drives around looking for her victims having a documentary like quality. In fact many of the ordinary people shown weren’t aware they were a part of the film until afterwards – perhaps a rather sad comment on lonely young men in Glasgow. It’s a piece of cinema that feels like an experience; storytelling is not what is key here – instead, the unnerving score from Mica Levi and the odd direction from Glazer combine to make something which feels more like an incredibly claustrophobic piece of art. Despite Johansson’s character being an alien it is her world view we share, as, thanks to Glazer’s careful direction, we see the world from an outside perspective, normal conversations and scenes unfolding before both us and this alien, that are unavoidably human.

This is certainly not a film that panders to its audience, and much is left unexplained and ambiguous. Whilst this is admirable and clearly key to the general feel of the film I’m not sure it’s a trait that’s enjoyable to watch. It’s unsettling, and made my skin crawl, surely the point, proving the effectiveness of the film. There are moments so raw that they are almost tender, and the vulnerability glows off the screen until you feel it within yourself as well.

The depiction of women in the film is interesting – arguably Johansson’s character is using the benefit of her beauty to control men, given tools of power in her looks. But still it feels exploitative and she continues to be controlled by men from afar, and is still in the position of a submissive woman in society. I think this is partly the point Glazer is attempting to make, and it is certainly one he does well.

At times it feels like an alien look at the world and yet it also feels like an intimate look at humanity. It’s intense and certainly gets under the skin – of those performing, of those creating and certainly of those watching.

Eric and Ernie

After missing it on TV the first time round I finally caught up with this drama all about the origins of comedy legends Morecambe and Wise last night. Starring Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick, as well as featuring the likes of Victoria Wood, Jim Moir Reece Shearsmith and Emer Kenny, it perfectly captures the comic style of the pair with a stellar performance from Rigby who won a television BAFTA for the role.
BBC4 previously announced they’d be making no more original dramas, a sad decision which this emotive and funny feature surely proves to be a wrong one, many months on.
You have two days left to watch this wonderful drama on iPlayer. Don’t delay!

August: Osage County (2014)

Based on the award winning play and adapted for the screen for Tracy Letts, August: Osage County boasts a stellar cast and focuses on a family all coming back together due to a tragedy, and offers a glance at their dysfunctional relationships.

Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Julianne Nicholson to name just a few, all of the performances in the entire film are breathtaking, with Streep earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as the volatile mother who links the other characters together. The depth and strength of the character writing is wonderful, and it’s particularly refreshing to see such well developed female characters, and to allow their relationships to be explored on screen. None of the characters are very likable but that is partly what makes them so watchable on the screen, and enjoyable to learn more about. 

It’s clear that this is a film adapted from a play. At times it has a static quality and the sense of entrapment is clear, both for the characters on screen and for the film makers, something which manages to both work in the films favour and against it; in a sense the film is about being trapped by the family you came from and your past, so there’s a sense of metaphor here, but on the other hand there is a lack of directorial presence, and it tends to run like a play that has been filmed.

But most of all it’s an enjoyable and emotive two hours, with wonderful performances from all of the cast and a powerful story. Perhaps not family viewing, unless you’re trying to drop some hints about what you really think of them.

‘Oscar-worthy’

I saw 12 Years a Slave last week, and apart from being sensational, the thing I noticed most of all was how difficult I found it to watch. And not only because of the physical torture that is shown on screen, but because of the emotional torture, and the notion that there were once people  in the world willing and happy to do these things to people.

When she appeared on Ricky Gervais’s sit-com Extras playing herself, Kate Winslet pointed out that if you do a film about the Holocaust or portray someone with disability, you’re guaranteed an Oscar. But does she have a point?

More often than not, the winner of Best Film will have been something that made you cry – Schindler’s List, Lawrence of Arabia, In The Heat of the Night. In contrast it’s pretty rare that a Best Film winner will be a comedy, with only a small few (like Annie Hall) ever getting there.

It seems intrinsically part of our love for cinema that we should make and love the films which document moments of our own past as a race, moments which you would think we’d also want to forget; the holocaust, world wars, slavery, abuse, murder. Why do we love to be reminded of these things? Or is it that by watching films about horrible wars every few years  we can remind ourselves of what might happen if we’re not careful? Films like Thirteen Days help to remind us how close we can come to the brink of disaster, and work as a mini history lesson to those who aren’t aware, putting a Hollywood spin on the education that is learning from the past, so as not to repeat it.

Cinema can be a kind of catharsis – if you cry at a film you’ll have got some of that pent up emotion out, or you’ll be able to revalue your own life. “Wow,  my boyfriend might be an arse, but at least he was never in the arms during a horrible war! Hang on..”. Or maybe by watching these films we feel above what mankind has done, as though by shedding a tear at 12 Years a Slave you have proved that you don’t like segregation or slavery. As Amy Poehler joked at the Golden Globes, “I can honestly say that after seeing that film, I will never look at slavery the same way again.”

Are actors ‘brave’ to take on difficult and challenging roles about things which might rather be forgotten? Chiwetel Eijfor is incredibly moving in 12 Years a Slave, and he no doubt would have found it difficult to film, but what about Michael Fassbender? Is he brave too, for portraying someone so awful?

Whatever the answers to these questions, it would seem that 2014 won’t be the year the trend is broken. 12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece and a cinematic landmark, there is no doubt about it.

Blue Jasmine

On a rainy Saturday last week, I FINALLY saw Woody Allen’s 2013 hit Blue Jasmine, which has earned both Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins many an acting nomination. I’m far too behind the times to be writing reviews about it, but I thought I’d share my thoughts.

In Hollywood today, its pretty hard to come across really well developed female characters, who aren’t constructed just to be a mother or wife. But something Woody Allen does, and has done all of his career, is write great female characters, who are flawed, majestic, normal, wonderful examples of womanhood.

And aside from Allen, who it feels difficult to praise when thinking about what Mia and Ronan Farrow have been saying, Blanchett and Hawkins are magnificent – as indeed are all of the cast, who all have a bring a very Woody Allen-esque feel to their performances.

Blue Jasmine is essentially a tale of acceptance and learning to be happy with who you are, a lesson that surprisingly doesn’t come from the main character. I think that says a lot.

Kill Your Darlings

I have been waiting SO LONG to be able to talk about this film.

Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr Kill Your Darlings is about the birth of the beat generation, the most influential period in the lives of writers such as Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs. Ginsberg is young and naive, going away to college in the hope of living up to his father’s expectations. There he meets some fellow students intent on creating a literary revolution, changing his life forever.

As someone who loves literature, loves teenage rebellion movies and loves Daniel Radcliffe, for me this film is perfect. The soundtrack, the style, the story, the script, all of it combines to deliver you a slice of history, served up with a side of drugs, alcohol and heartbreak. Daniel Radcliffe gives such a brave and beautiful performance, it never once crossed my mind during the film that it was Daniel Radcliffe ‘of the Harry Potter films’ – his portrayal of Ginsberg is done with tremendous care.

Plus, I got to speak to him at a film event after a screening of the film. I babbled on at him (down at him, he is quite short and I am quite tall) about how much Harry Potter changed my life and made me love film because of all the wonderful people in it, and he very kindly agreed with me and said “yes me too – I’d never read a book before I did Potter.” He was gracious and humble (and handsome) and meeting a childhood hero and getting to see him in a film as brilliant as Kill Your Darlings all at once made it the best day of my life. So far. I’m yet to start a literary revolution so we’ll see how it goes.

Kill Your Darlings is in cinemas Friday December 6th.