Film Review: Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is an enjoyable comedy drama. The picture is lighter than Wheatley’s previous efforts, yet is a finely tuned affair.

Colin Burstead has organised for his extended family to celebrate New Year at a lavish country house which he has rented out. His sister Gini has invited their estranged brother David, which could make for an awkward reunion…

Written, directed, and edited by Ben Wheatley, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features an ensemble cast as a dysfunctional yet convincing family. The film focuses on various family dynamics, playing with a number of different strands. The action takes place over a single day. The film begins as a situation comedy, before more serious issues come to light in the second half.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features a great script (written by Wheatley with some ad-libbing from the cast). Interactions seem entirely natural; the Bursteads certainly feel like a real family. There are some very funny lines, delivered by a variety of characters. There are also some great setups. Wheatley excels in providing a lot of amusement for viewers.

In the second half of the film, the issues that have been bubbling under come to the fore. Whilst there are confrontations, the film does not necessarily resolve every issue in a neat manner. Wheatley frequently cuts between different conversations involving different characters, which helps to build momentum to the film’s more dramatic episodes.

Performances from the large cast are good all round. Neil Maskell and Sam Riley are given the most to do, and perform well. Hayley Squires and Charles Dance are also good, and Asim Chaudhry is very amusing as Sham.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is not a film of great consequence. However, it is an accomplished picture, and showcases Wheatley’s talent for comedy drama without a hint of violence.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: Free Fire

Free Fire

After the disappointing High-Rise, Ben Wheatley impresses with Free Fire. The film is contagiously fun.

In Boston in the late 1970s, Justine brokers an arms deal between two gangs. The deal is set to take place in an abandoned warehouse. What should be a simple transaction turns into something else entirely…

Writer-director Ben Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump have created a very entertaining film with Free Fire. The pair keep things simple with the set up. The premise is basic, functioning to get the characters into a controlled environment. Very little of the action takes place outside of this setting.

With a simple premise and an almost one-room setting, the emphasis of the film has to be on the script and the characters. Wheatley riffs off the 1970s gangster films with Free Fire. The film has the style of gangster films of this era, and functions as something of a homage to the genre. Characters are quickly established, and the protagonists are given enough depth to engage viewers. The script, meanwhile, is frequently funny throughout the duration. The humour mixes character-driven jokes and wit with slapstick incidents. As is Wheatley’s way, humour is mixed with goriness for some black comic laughs.

Aerial shots early on in the film work well to establish the setting. At later stages, however, the camera work is sometimes too dizzying to figure out what is going on. One song in particular is used to great effect. Sharlto Copley is wonderfully humorous as Vern. He is the stand out character in the film. Elsewhere, Armie Hammer shows his comedy chops, and Cillian Murphy instils some much needed dryness. Sam Riley and Bree Larson are also decent.

Free Fire is a gangster comedy which does the job of entertaining its audience throughout. A very enjoyable film.

Free Fire is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Previews: Captain America: Civil War Trailer, Krampus and More!

Plenty to see this week, with the Captain America: Civil War trailer, a Krampus featurette, the latest Pride and Prejudice and Zombies poster and more…

Captain America: Civil War Trailer

Yesterday the Captain America: Civil War trailer dropped. From the looks of it, the film will continue with the tone of the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With a host of Avengers making an appearance in the new film, it looks continue on from events introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron. No sign of Spider-Man yet, so roll on 29th April 2015.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Poster

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Here is the latest poster for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Based on the 2009 parody novel, the film stars Lily James, Sam Riley and Jack Huston. Featuring the characters from Jane Austen’s celebrated novel, the film is a period zombie flick. Pride and Prejudice and Zombie is out in UK cinemas on 12th February 2016.

Krampus Featurette

Krampus looks a bit insane, but a lot of fun. The above featurette explores the legend of Krampus, giving viewers a background to the creature featured in the upcoming film. Starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette, Krampus hits UK screens on 4th December 2015.

The Secret Life of Pets Teaser

Here is a little Christmas teaser for next year’s animated feature The Secret Life of Pets. The film concentrates on the lives of pets when their humans are away. With the voices of Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart, The Secret Life of Pets is set for release on 14th June 2016.

The Big Short Poster

The Big Short

Ooh, look at this cast. The Big Short is based on a true story about four outsiders in the finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the late 2000s. Starring Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell, The Big Short is out in cinemas on 22nd January 2016.

The Other Side of the Door Trailer

Well this looks alarming. The Other Side of the Door is about a family who are able to use an ancient ritual to contact their young son who was killed in a tragic accident. The mother’s failure to adhere to the rules has horrifying consequences, as the above trailer demonstrates. The Other Side of the Door hits UK screens on 18th March 2016.

Central Intelligence Trailer

Central Intelligence is a new action comedy about a CIA agent who enlists the help of his high school best friend on a mission. The film certainly plays to the strengths of Dwayne Johnson in a larger-than-life role. Partnered by Kevin Hart, Central Intelligence is scheduled to open in UK cinemas on 1st July 2016.

Film Review: On The Road

Walter Salles’ film is a fittingly wistful adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel. Occasionally feeling its two hour plus duration, On The Road nevertheless works in its ambling style.

Sal Paradise is a struggling young writer. When Dean Moriarty enters his life, Sal is beguiled by his free-spirited way. Embarking in a journey across America with Dean and his girl Marylou, Sal’s life is changed by his friends and others he meets along the way…

The story of On The Road unfolds at its own pace. The film lacks a firm structure, but this is unsurprising given the source material. What makes the film watchable is the great performances and the well executed portrayal of the relationship between the characters. The friendship between Sal and Dean in particular is depicted with a sense of believability. It is easy to see the allure of a character like Dean for Sal, given his rather mundane existence.

Walter Salles does a commendable job in attempting to capture the essence of Kerouac’s work. The  director tries to capture a sense of the Beat Generation; the portrayal of the period at least appears authentic. The problem is that the nature of Kerouac’s novel means that the film meanders. For the most part, the performances are engaging enough to compensate for this. However, on a few occasions the film feels overlong.

There are some beautiful shots in On The Road that capture the variant landscapes. Salles excels in depicting the changing landscapes throughout the journey, giving the audience a really sense of distance covered. The music always seems entirely in keeping with the on screen action.

Garrett Hedlund is fantastic as Dean Moriarity. He really embodies the character, and his performance is often compelling. Sam Riley is also great as Sal. Kristen Stewart is less engaging as Marylou, while Kristen Dunst provides good support as Camille.

On The Road is not flawless, but it does have attributes that make it a worthwhile watch.