Film Review: Hoping. Fearing. Dreaming

The following short films are being screened as part of the Hoping. Fearing. Dreaming programme at the London Film Festival.

Black Barbie

Comfort Arthur’s Black Barbie is a powerful and informative short film. At under four minutes long, the film focuses on the notion of light skin being the beauty ideal. The narration is great; the essay has a poetic quality that combines well with the on-screen imagery. Using a mixture of animation and collage, Arthur tells her story is a meaningful and memorable way.

The Ancestors Came

The Ancestors Came recounts civil rights activist Faith Ringgold’s memories of her past. Cecile Emeke’s film features recollections from Ringgold and footage of Harlem, which is key to the artist’s work. The use of music plays an important role in setting the era for these recollections. Emeke’s work is assured, and she has created the kind of short film which will leave audiences wanting to know more.

To & Kyo

To & Kyo is directed by Tsuneo Gōda of Domo fame. The very cute animated creature come as no surprise then. The film combines animation and live action to take viewers on a brief tour of Tokyo. Gōda blends the two mediums in a natural way; it never feels as if the two creatures have simply been superimposed onto background footage. To & Kyo exhibits the fun and imagination of its filmmaker very effectively.

Robot & Scarecrow

Kibwe Tavares’ Robot & Scarecrow is a love story with a difference. The film is about a robot and a scarecrow who meet at a music festival. The motion-capture special effects in the fifteen-minute film are great. Tavares evolution as a filmmaker can be seen here; the high production values made possible by funding from a partnership of companies and counts Michael Fassbender as a producer. The film features an enviable cast (Holliday Grainger, Jack O’Connell, and Daniel Kaluuya), although they appear in different guises. Robot & Scarecrow illustrates Tavares’ technical ability and his skill as a storyteller.

Black Barbie, The Ancestor’s Came, To & Kyo, and Robot & Scarecrow are being shown in the selection of the Hoping. Fearing. Dreaming programme at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: Unbroken

Unbroken

Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken tells a remarkable true story, but its execution does not elevate it above other films of this ilk.

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini has put his running career on hold to serve in the US armed forces.

 After a plane crash in the Pacific, Louis must try to survive in harsh conditions, before facing even greater trials…

Based on a true story, Unbroken combines biopic conventions with those of a war movie. Angelina Jolie has returned to war for her second directorial feature, and she chooses to depict the horrors of conflict in detail.

Unbroken‘s  screenplay functions adequately to maintain the audience’s attention. Viewers would be forgiven for expecting more than this, however, with the Coen brothers’ involvement. The crux of Zamperini’s story makes the film engaging; it is inherently interesting, rather than any particular craft of the storytelling.

Jolie offers an unflinching portrait of the horrors of war. The direction is perfunctory in depicting brutality; there is no real flair to this. The flashbacks work to build a picture of the central character. The protagonist has an inspiring story, but Unbroken concentrates on his strength entirely, negating the obvious negative impact that such an experience would have on a person.

Survival is a strong theme in Unbroken. It is a little disappointing that the film did not spend more time on the after effects of Louis’ experiences. Some significant aspects were glossed over in the pre-credits round up. Unbroken could have explored these aspects as part of the film rather than making them an afterthought.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography offers a few beautifully composed shots, but overall it is not quite on par with some of his previous films. Jack O’Connell offers a strong performance as Louis.

Ultimately it is a shame that Unbroken did not offer a more satisfying rendition of its source material. By no means a disaster, nevertheless the film is not the striking cinema it could have been.

Film Review: ’71

'71

Director Yann Demange’s feature debut ’71 is a tense and compelling thriller that is finely executed.

Gary Hook is a young British soldier sent for his first mission to Belfast. When he is accidentally abandoned by his unit, Gary must fend for himself on the deadly streets of 1971 Belfast…

’71 is a unmistakably visceral film that demands the audience’s attention throughout. The narrative is well-paced, with heightened tension occurring at frequent intervals. It is the sense of anxiety which is really effective in keeping viewers fully engaged with the film.

’71 tells the audience enough about the protagonist to give him depth. Wisely, the film concentrates on action rather than the character of individual players. At its heart, ’71 is about the actions that take of the course of one day. Although Gary is drawn as a sympathetic protagonist, his inexperience and vulnerability are what drive the film’s plot.

The style of filing forces the audience to become part of the action in ’71. The use of handheld camera is effective at situation viewers at the forefront of the action. The grainy quality to the picture gives the film a 1970s feel. Cinematography in the film is great. Likewise, the art direction gives an authentic, period feel. Sound design is highly effective, particularly in pivotal scenes. Jack O’Connell delivers a sincere and convincing performance as Gary. It is not difficult to empathise with his predicament.

With moments of palpable tension, ’71 is satisfying thriller. Exhibiting shades of grey in the behaviour of characters and the situation, Demange offers a most competent thriller.

’71 is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014, and is released in cinemas on 10th October 2014.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of cinematic treasure this week, with the new A Million Ways to Die in the West trailer, Noah, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and more…

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Warning: this A Million Ways to Die in the West trailer is red band. A Million Ways to Die in the West is the latest film from Seth MacFarlane, who also leads a cast that includes Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson. A Million Ways to Die in the West is set for release on 6th June 2014 in the UK.

Noah

This is the Superbowl TV spot for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It is an intriguing prospect; a director like Aronofsky doing a large-scale biblical epic. The story of Noah does not seem meaty enough for a feature film, so it plot must be fleshed out somehow. The mystery of the unicorns perhaps. Noah is released in UK cinemas on 4th April 2014.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Black Widow

This new character poster for Captain America: The Winter Soldier suggests Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow has a prominent role to play in this Marvel sequel. Given her somewhat ambiguous nature in previous appearances, it will be interesting to see what director’s Anthony and Joe Russo do with her here. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is hits UK screens on 26th March 2014.

The LEGO Movie

I used to love Lego so I find The LEGO Movie appealing. From the above featurette, the film smartly does not seem to take itself seriously. With a host of star names and featuring Batman, I am hoping the film will be an amusing adventure. The LEGO Movie is released in cinemas on 14th February 2014.

A Long Way Down

An adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel, A Long Way Down offers a rather macabre premise made humorous. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette and Aaron Paul, A Long Way Down is out in UK cinemas on 21st March 2014.

Starred Up

Starred Up posterStarred Up is a new British drama starring Jack O’Connell and Rupert Friend. The film is about Eric, a troubled teenager transitioning from young offenders’ institute to prison. You can watch the trailer here. Starred Up is released on 21st March 2014.

Maleficent

This new trailer for Maleficent was released earlier this week, with Lana Del Ray’s rendition of ‘Once Upon a Dream’. Angelina Jolie was looks like she was made for the title role, in physical appearance at least. Maleficent looks like it will be quite dark, going back to its fairy tale roots. Maleficent hits UK cinemas on 30 May 2014.

The Invisible Woman

Here is a TV spot for the upcoming film The Invisible Woman. The story of Charles Dickens and his young lover Nelly, the film stars Ralph Fiennes (who also directs) and Felicity Jones. You can read my review here. The Invisible Woman is released nationwide in the UK on 21st February 2014.

Film Review: The Liability

The Liability

The Liability mixes elements of a crime thriller with black comedy. It is not awful, but is not the most enthralling of watches either.

19-year-old Adam agrees to do some work for his mother’s gangster boyfriend Peter. His first task is to do some driving for Peter’s associate Roy. Adam is about to journey into the murky underworld…

The narrative of The Liability feels like the premise for a short film padded out to fill the length of a feature. The initial idea itself is not a bad one. It is where the film goes that is the problem. The twists that the film takes are a bit silly.

The fundamental idea of the two characters on a road trip works fine. Writer John Wrathall sets up an element of mystery from the beginning of the film which functions adequately to pique the viewer’s interest. Even when Roy’s line of work is revealed, The Liability is still suitably entertaining. It is the introduction of Talulah Riley’s character which marks the point when the film begins to descend.

Adam is a suitably amusing protagonist. His persona is a good balance for the droll Roy. However, the tangent of Riley’s character fails to add anything interesting or plausible to the mix. The Liability is strongest in exploring the dynamic of Roy and Adam; the tertiary character should have enhanced this or offered something more. Instead, she appears as cartoonish.

Production values are fine. The Liability features a few violent moments; these are depicted with appropriate gratuity. Tim Roth offers a decent performance as Roy. He has good chemistry with Jack O’Connell’s Adam. Talulah Riley has little room to manoeuvre with her character, but her accent is questionable.

The Liability could have made a great short film, but as a feature it fails to satisfy.