Tag Archives: emotion

BBC FILM REVIEWS: SMALL AXE ANTHOLOGY (2020)

BBC FILM REVIEWS: ‘SMALL AXE’ ANTHOLOGY (2020)

Director by: Steve McQueen

Producers by: Anita Overland, Michael Elliot

Writers: Steve McQueen, Courtia Newland, Alastair Siddons

Composer: Mica Levi

Cinematographers: Shabier Kirchner

Original Network: BBC and available on Amazon Prime.

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Small Axe could also be described in the vein of ‘Small Acts’. Dramatized and rich slices-of-life that reflect significant historical figures and events from black culture in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  MANGROVE (2020) was the first in a set of five films devised, written and directed by Steve McQueen. It premiered at the London Film Festival in 2020, before being released on the BBC television network. I reviewed the film MANGROVE (2020) here. Such was its power, the searing drama would make my list of favourite films of 2020.

Ultra-talented McQueen was not satisfied with one amazing work. He, his incredible cast and production team also delivered four more high quality dramas called LOVERS ROCK (2020), RED WHITE & BLUE (2020), ALEX WHEATLE (2020) and EDUCATION (2020). I had the privilege of viewing these films via the BBC over the New Year period and provide short reviews here.


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

Main Cast: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George, etc.

As well as alluding to the main love story within the narrative, Lovers Rock also makes specific reference to a style of reggae music with a romantic sound and content. Set over one night during a London-based birthday party, the film opens with the setting up of a sound system, making of food and preparation of the large house. While mostly an ensemble piece, the story narrows its focus on prospective lovers, Franklyn and Martha, who fall for each other amidst the thumping bass and hearty vocals of the music. Surely, Lovers Rock is a testament to the power of harmony and community and love. There are brief moments of drama to spike the party mood, but ultimately this is about the joy of being alive and drunk on song and romance. Lastly, it’s arguably as close to feelgood as McQueen’s intense filmmaking style gets in this amazing anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2020)

Main Cast: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Neil Maskell, Joy Richardson, etc.

As well as evoking the socio-political landscape of the era so well, the costumes, hair, make-up and location work feel so authentic in all of the Small Axe films. Such authenticity serves the stories well, as does the virtually perfect casting too. Fresh from his energetic portrayals of Finn in the Star Wars trilogy, John Boyega’s performance as Leroy Logan in Red, White and Blue (2020), brings his character into conflict with a whole different kind of dark side. Logan was one of the first prominent black police officers in the Metropolitan police. He subsequently founded the Black Police Association and attempt to reform the police from within. No two ways around it, based on the early part of his police career, Logan is represented as a trailblazing hero. He is intelligent and tough and ready to face up to the barbaric language and violence from both white police officers and members of the black community who saw him as a traitor. Boyega is spellbinding as Logan, navigating his way up the ranks facing rancour and rejection from within the police and his own father too, who was understandably unhappy at Leroy’s controversial choice of career.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


RED, WHITE & BLUE (2020)

ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

Main Cast: Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers, Johnathan Jules, etc.

What Steve McQueen deserves praise for with Small Axe, among many other things, is bringing to the fore individuals one may not have heard of, or reminding us of important events from within recent British history. In Alex Wheatle (2020), McQueen weaves the early years of now famous author, Alex Wheatle, with circumstances relating to the Brixton riots and the New Cross fire tragedy of 1981. The latter took the lives of fourteen young black people and fuelled much anger at the time in regard to racist attacks on the black community. Alex himself was brought up in care and grows up an angry young man. He finds solace in music and expressing lyrics in a political and combative style. We first meet him in a prison cell sharing with Rastafarian, Simeon (Robbie Gee). The fractious scenes between the two, with both Gee and Sheyi Cole giving fine performances, are full of anger and humour. Far from being a comedy, there remains both witty banter and pathos fizzing around this profile of Wheatle’s formative years. This fine profile finds a young rebel discovering his voice and identity amidst the urban decay, racism and police brutality of the mean streets of London.

Mark: 10 out of 11


ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

EDUCATION (2020)

Main Cast: Kenyah Shandy, Sharlene White, Josette Simon, Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Francis, etc.

Having addressed social and cultural issues relating to civil liberties, law, music, work and identity, Steve McQueen focussed specifically on educational themes within the black community in the aptly named, Education (2020). The highest praise I can give Education (2020) and all the films in the Small Axe anthology is that I felt genuine emotion for all of the characters and the situations they were in. They may not have been perfect and had their flaws, but ultimately all five of these narratives made me feel and care about the characters. Because they were up against an unfair system which demanded to be challenged and changed to stop the systematic prejudice of the time. Education (2020) feels extremely personal to Steve McQueen as one senses the lead character, twelve-year-old Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) experiences much of the grief he may have when younger. Considered disruptive at the local Comprehensive, Kingsley is dumped into a “Special School” where he becomes lost and ill-educated. One absurd scene simply shows a teacher playing House of the Rising Sun as part of a lesson. Kingsley’s formidable mother, with help from political forces within the black community, strive to right these educational wrongs in a powerful and moving final chapter to the Small Axe anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


1917 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

1917 (2020) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Produced by: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jaybe-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver

Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Cast: George McKay, Dean Charles-Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch etc.

Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Music by: Thomas Newman

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**


Image result for 1917 film

If Roger Deakins doesn’t win every single award for best cinematography in the world, I will be completely shocked! Together with Sam Mendes’ and their respective creative and production teams they have delivered a barnstorming, aggressive and beautiful work of pulsating cinema with 1917 (2019). In fact, the whole project is such a feat of technical brilliance, I think Sam Mendes will probably win best direction and the film will most likely win best film at the 2020 Academy Awards.

The form and style of the film are dictated by Mendes and Deakins audacious decision to film in one long continuous take. Set, as the title states in 1917 during World War I, we open with a long tracking shot and from there the shot never ends. Establishing the main protagonists Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), the camera glides along as they make small-talk, creating humour, warmth and calm before the storm to come. That storm derives from their mission to carry a message through perilous territory and prevent 1,600 British soldiers falling into a German trap. Immediately the stakes are high and these two brave men set out to achieve this dangerous task.



The choice to film in one continuous shot is a fascinating one and here it is executed brilliantly. Of course, there are occasions where a cut has occurred, but this is masked by darkness, water, camera movement or CGI. I personally am not a massive fan of longer takes though. They can be seen as a stylish, but empty process and usually work best in opening scenes. Moreover, by not cutting or using montage techniques I feel you can lose suspense, impact and pace from a film. However, that is certainly not the case with 1917 (2019). Here it works perfectly with the camera following, tracking, running, falling and stalking the characters, so much so, the audience becomes the camera. We are right in this war with them!

As we track Blake and Schofield through bunkers, trenches, fields, farmhouses, derelict buildings and villages, the stench of death and destruction surrounds them. Mendes and his writing partner, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, also create some heart-sweating and explosive set-pieces for the soldiers to overcome. Indeed, the pace with which they regularly find themselves under attack, married with the filmmaking style, puts you in the heart of the action and fight. The final battle where Schofield valiantly strives to reach his final destination and relay the message is utterly exhilarating and spellbinding cinema.



As the two everyman soldiers, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman give convincing performances. MacKay is especially memorable as his tall frame, hollowed cheekbones and haunted eyes dominate the screen. Furthermore, the two leads are supported ably by a “who’s-who” of British actors. The likes of: Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott puncture the action throughout with their quality. Scott is especially excellent as a cynical officer, drunk and bereft of hope. The two heroes ignore his jaded battle worn persona, but soon find themselves surrounded by corpses, quickly coming to understand this character’s despairing heart.

Like Dunkirk (2017), the film is arguably thin on characterisation and character development, but stylistically impressive in it’s rendition of the horrors of war. Indeed, when the events switch to night, Deakin’s lighting skills dominate as he paints images with darkness, moonlight and fire with majestic results. Thus, overall, one could argue this is just one long chase film; an extended version of the climax of another World War I classic, Gallipoli (1981). However, the cinematic marvel that is, 1917 (2019), overcomes it’s narrative and thematic familiarity with an amazing technical achievement in both form and style. Awards glory beckons for all involved; and more importantly the film pays fine tribute to the gallant soldiers who served in an ultimately senseless war.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue.  It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.

dunkirk_1

Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.

These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!

dunkirk7

I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.

Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.

hardy_dunkirk

The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.

But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

MOVIE REVIEW: COLOSSAL (2016)

MOVIE REVIEW: COLOSSAL (2016)

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Having watched Alien: Covenant (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) in the last few weeks at the cinema, it’s been a bit of an alien-monster-sci-fi month so far. Both of those films were very entertaining genre/franchise movies with loads of action, suspense and decent enough performances and set-pieces to make them well worth the admission fee. Of course, they also used established formulas and known properties to propel their narratives and the movie Colossal (2016) too draws upon Japanese movies or ‘Kaiju’ subgenre; which in itself was influenced by the atomic age and Hollywood monster movies of yesteryear. Colossal, however, transcends the monster genre to become something surprisingly more human altogether.

colossal_1

The filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo wrote and directed one of my favourite time-travel films ever called TimeCrimes (2007). In that an ordinary guy gets caught in a paradoxical nightmarish loop of murder and temporal intrigue, delivering a film rich in devious plotting, mind-bending structure and also strong thematic subtext. Similarly, Colossal is equally ambitious employing intelligence and powerful concepts as Anne Hathaway’s lost-in-life-thirty-something finds her consciousness somehow connected to a Godzilla like beast wreaking havoc in South Korea. If you’re thinking that’s a bit weird isn’t it – then you are correct! However, Vigalondo has crafted one of the most original cinema experiences I have had all year.

colossal

Safe to say this has one of those fantastical-let’s-go-with-it plot turns in the first act which establishes the films’ quirkiness very quickly and runs with it superbly. Anne Hathaway provides the films’ emotional heart with a terrific performance as an alcoholic-unemployed-party-girl who seeks to escape the hedonistic night and day life which is slowly destroying her. On top of her addictions she is kicked out by her cloying and controlling boyfriend, portrayed with overloaded smug by Dan Stevens.
Heading back home to the place she grew up in is seen as a way of escaping and gaining control. Indeed the move from the city to a small town is a staple of many lo-fi indie comedies and dramas but when a monster attacks Seoul, the film suddenly mashes up the genres to fascinating dramatic and comedic impact.

annehathaway-colossal-monster-movie-232538.png

Admitting defeat in life, Gloria has nothing but an empty place to reside and very little to cling onto emotionally. That is until Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar, a childhood friend, gives her a job and furniture and most importantly, an ear to listen to. Sudeikis is amazing in his role as the complex Oscar as he sees, in Gloria, a chance to rekindle a past unrequited love. However, while the two connect the story goes in an unexpected direction and his motivation really pushes the narrative to surprising places. But what about the monsters I hear you ask?  Well, without giving too much away the human story of Gloria and Oscar is cleverly reflected by the destruction in Seoul as Vigalondo pushes both emotional and cerebral buttons very successfully.

Lastly, thematically speaking this film is a very rich. The subtext is all about human beings gaining control over the external forces, internal weaknesses and those people who bully you and try to mould your existence.   While it may be tonally uneven in the latter half of the film, as it veers from comedy to high drama, this merely adds to the overall charm and unconventionality. In a summer which will bring us blockbusters galore they will have to go some way to match Vigalondo’s lower-budgeted Colossal for originality, humour, heart and Seoul (sorry!) (Mark: 9 out of 11)