One Room With A View

You may have noticed I’ve gone a bit quiet recently. And it’s because of a very exciting thing.

I’ve started writing for the fabulous https://oneroomwithaview.com/ which you should definitely definitely check out.

I did a piece about Despicable Me here.

And a review of The Overnight here.

Keep your eyes peeled over there for more exciting film writing, and keep your eyes peeled here for some Edinburgh recommendations next month, in between my flyering on the Royal Mile.

Peace out kids

It’s all go!

Why I love films

I’ve been neglecting my film reviews a bit recently. Other writing has taken hold of me, and life has gotten in the way. But I wrote this, about why I love films and always will.

When you watch a really good film it’s like you live inside it for a while. You get to step outside your own life and into someone else’s. You don’t have to think about bills or washing or boys or girls or the horrible things happening in the world or that text from your mum you need to reply to. For those few hours, in a dark room with strangers, you can live through someone else. And I think that is the most wonderful thing in the world.

You come together, in a specific place at a specific time and you get to share something with a room full of people you have likely never met before and probably never will again. And all of these random people share the same emotions and stories and characters. That’s why it’s so wonderful when you say to someone ‘have you seen this film?’ and they reply with an emphatic yes, declare their undying love for it, and in that instant you have a connection with them through the film you have shared. You know you have likely laughed and cried at the same moments, your hearts have swelled at the same grand sweeps of score and you’ve both had your breath taken away at a twist in the tale.

And when you rewatch a film like this, one that made you forget everything else in the entire world, you know for sure you can return to that magic. When the lights go down in the cinema, when the adverts end, as the BBFC sign flashes up on screen and you hear the music for whichever production company the film belongs to – my heart honestly flutters every single time. Sometimes if I see an advert on TV that I’m used to seeing in the cinema (always Barclays) I get that little flutter then too.

And knowing about films makes it all so more exciting. Recognising actors, seeing them flourish in different roles and flop in others… seeing a director develop as time goes on, and doing it all backwards, so you’re watching early Tarantino three years after you watched Django Unchained, your first. So you learn, and develop as a film watcher.

Chloe Moretz once said of films – “Instead of getting drunk or doing drugs you can go see a movie for an hour and a half and escape and be someone else and live a different life, if only for a little while.”

And I think that is the most wonderful thing that films can do. They tell stories, on screen, in a visual and tactile way. They can make millions of people, across decades feel the same feelings and learn the same lessons. It means that sat in my bedroom in south London watching old films, I’m connected to so many more people that have gone before me, and that will continue long after me.

International Women’s Day

To commemorate International Women’s Day I contributed to this piece for Bechdel Test Fest about the best female characters on film. The other volunteers answers are wonderful, and today is such a great opportunity to recognise the great female characters out there, and think about how much more we can do with film to create real and recognisable female characters on screen. So much of my life has been made up of film watching experiences, so to have role models on screen for young girls is so important – currently there is only one female on screen to every 2.24 females, whilst we still make up 50% of the population.

Other great female characters on film can be found in this piece I wrote with Briony a while back, and you can find what I said about the first Bechdel Test Fest event here.

’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.

Ex Machina

Directed by novelist and screen writer Alex Garland, Ex Machina raises questions about life, the rise of technology and what playing God can do to you. After Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a staff lottery he gets the chance to spend the week in the company of his boss and expert hacker Nathan (Oscar Isaac), where he becomes part of an experiment. The pair attempt to test Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot with artificial intelligence created by Nathan, through conversation, to see if she can pass for human. However who exactly is being tested soon becomes unclear, and throughout the film we see how the rise of artificial intelligence calls into question more about humanity itself.

This is a tense clever and incredibly close sci-fi thriller, where all of the action comes from the ethical issues raised, and the mood created by Garland’s stylish direction. Despite it being his debut, Garland doesn’t hold back, and it seems his years of scriptwriting allow him to understand the importance of the intricate relationship between screenplay and direction, of style and substance, something he balances perfectly throughout. The score perfectly plays on the increasingly creepy nature of the film as more about Nathan’s experiments are revealed, and we become more and more unsure about who to trust.

Vikander’s performance is a wonderful one, and although she’s technically playing the least human character of all, it is her who seems to display the most compassionately human characteristics of all. There is something very simple and beautiful about the scene in which she dresses herself, covering her intricate mechanical workings and mesh that make up her robot figure with a pretty dress and cardigan, until she looks almost completely human. Juxtaposed with Caleb’s confusion about his attraction to her and the strange jealousy emanating from Nathan about this, Garland manages to take pedestrian actions and explode them into something which asks all sorts of questions about what it means to be human.

Isaac is terrifyingly creepy as the genius who has a lot of personal issues but always keeps us on our toes, switching from chatty and engaging to a drunken angry mess in seconds. With a cast of essentially only three, the relationships and the dialogue are what make this film a great one, taking twists and turns constantly unexpected, with the audience never sure who to trust, just as good sci-fi should be.

As well as this, Garland’s script is not afraid to be funny, to laugh at the ludicrous situation it is showing us, with millionaires and robots and big fields and helicopters and luxurious wealth. And despite raising interesting questions, it never attempts to make a moral judgement.

For a directorial debut this is simply stunning, and the cast are all as excellent as each other. It’s creepy, intimate, and hugely enjoyable.