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Jimi: All Is By My Side – 25/10/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

There seems to be a growing demand to have iconic musicians on the big screen to have their life fictionalised, sugar coated and exploited for the masses. The life of an iconic star is usually so complex, eventful and full of conflicting accounts from various people involved that it is near impossible to make something that is a true reflection of the character and his/her life, music and legacy. Jimi Hendrix is one of those people who had a short lived career which was abruptly ended in a tragic overdose. During this time, he recorded and toured so much and has become over time one of the most influential musicians. Basically in my mind, no silver screen documentation of his life is going to do his life and legacy any justice. Writer and Director John Ridley has a well meaning attempt at presenting to us a personal account of Hendrix played by Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 from Outkast) and his involvement with Linda Kieth (Imogen Poots) and his long term girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), but ends up making a messy and largely uninteresting interpretation of such an interesting and enigmatic musician.

I would like to draw your attention to the real life Kathy Etchingham’s review on this film http://www.kathyetchingham.com/. Here she claims that much of the events which unfold in this film did not happen. The most notable example being the scene where Hendrix beats up Kathy with a phone in a pub in front of many witnesses. It seems that the researchers did not even bother to contact Kathy Etchingham for any kind of research and instead defamed her character, portraying her as the mad, jealous girlfriend who takes a fictional overdose for dramatic purposes. I know full well that  stories like this are largely fictionalised for dramatic purposes, but in this case, the truth would have sufficed. Must a film have to include domestic abuse to keep viewers entertained? Also, there are characters which Hendrix meets for a philosophical discussion about race and equality. A character named Ida (who is a fictional person) leads Hendrix to Michael X, a civil rights activist, to try and get Hendrix involved in this scene. I think this never happened and was  part of a narrative contrivance to illustrate Hendrix’ views of absolute equality which transcends race. Also to slip in his well known quote ‘Once the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace’ (Although it is paraphrased in the film).

Hendrix is portrayed as a softly spoken and shy person with a rare gift he initially never new he possessed. It takes Linda Keith to point this out to him when she sees him perform in empty clubs as part of a backing band. It turns out she is in love with Hendrix, but it is a love that never happens as he chooses Kathy instead. I think that Kathy Etchingham rightly points out in her review that we never see Hendrix tour the UK or Europe, instead we just see him as a ‘mumbling mystic’.

The music rights were not obtained for this movie, so when we see Hendrix perform, we just get random blues jams instead of the familiar and influential songs which defined a generation. I think without the inclusion of his music, they were trying to make a film about Hendrix as a person, but for a man who was defined by his influential music, it was such a let down that non of it was included. It was more or less just a rise to fame account of Hendrix which ends at his trip to Monterey Festival, a performance which apparently sealed his fame.

Andre Benjamin gives a good performance as he does get the mannerisms and the stage performance right, but I think the whole project is largely pointless. I think there should have been a documentary made instead with archive footage and interviews with people who new him. I find they generally work better than film dramatizations.

Northern Soul – 23/10/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

With what seems like more people than ever becoming nostalgic these days, this will be perfect for anyone who was in their teens in the early seventies who might have been aware of or involved in the Northern Soul scene. The scene in question was the reasonably short lived nightclub based movement when DJ’s were returning from America with rare black soul music. It has that similar narrative to other youth culture movements in terms of young people getting into something that is relatable and which gives them some kind of identity and brings them together. Of course what goes up, must come down. Usually a certain drug is introduced to the scene which heightens the music experience, but it also becomes a problem due to the police getting involved or over excess or both which eventually brings the scene to an end.
The main character John Clarke (Elliott James Langridge) finds himself embroiled in the Northern Soul scene when he meets Matt (Josh Whitehouse), a passionate young man trying to bring Northern Soul to the small town in which they dwell. They become very close friends who try and expose small town people to this music and go to Northern Soul nights in the city any chance they get around their repetitive factory jobs. Here, a small group of friends are established and eventful good times are had, complete with drugs, fighting and a unique disco dance along with the music to boot. John and Matt have dreams of going to America to become part of the scene over there and discover more music, but as the film goes on, Matt becomes increasingly strung out on drugs and his behaviour is doing him no favours in his progression as a DJ. It causes problems between the two. Of course there is a girl Matt is after named Angela (Antonia Thomas). Their developing romance is typical of these youth culture films.

The narrative throughout this film is very predictable. I did care for the main characters John and Matt, but I knew at some point there would be problems and they would fall out at some point because this always happens in these films. Also, I did not care for the other characters, even when they died as I felt they were there as purely functional characters to flesh out the friendship group. It was not as funny, dramatic or as fun as it could have been. The performances by the two main lead actors did the best they could, but there was no denying I had seen it all before. However, I think people who were part of the scene might take an element of nostalgia from the film. It depicts a time when music was not as accessible in comparison to todays internet age where discovering music through streaming software is taken for granted. People would go to their local record store and listen to records in order to discover new music or go to a nightclub. This, along with the excellent soundtrack were the best elements of the film. Personally, I prefer to watch a well made documentary of a music scene rather than a dramatization.

’71 – 18/10/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

After a magnetic and ferocious performance in the film ‘Starred Up’, Jack O’Connel plays yet another macho character, but this time we see a near silent performance. He plays Gary Hook, a young man with a seemingly non-existent family background who joins the army and is deployed to Belfast at a time where the sectarian conflict is reaching violent extremes. One can sense the disappointment in Gary’s mind as he was expecting to be deployed to an exotic country to see some real action instead of staying in the country. Little did he know what he was in for.

The first assignment for Gary’s platoon was a possible crowd control in a Catholic neighbourhood where the police are conducting a weapons raid. The naively idealistic Lt Armitage (Sam Reid) attempts to make the presence of the army a friendly one, but as the police raid turns needlessly violent, so does the whole neighbourhood as everyone kicks off. We are put in the centre of the action as we see the army struggling to cope with the riot that they have to disperse. In doing so, they accidently leave two soldiers, one of them being Gary. As Gary witnesses his fellow soldier being brutally shot by a fringe Nationalist group (probably the IRA), Gary finds himself in an alien and deadly situation where he has to hide in the streets and try to escape in one piece. This proves difficult as there seems to be danger in every corner and everyone he meets, he cannot fully trust. He learns that the situation is overtly complex and there are people working for both sides. As he takes refuge in a kind hearted Catholics house, this turns into a potentially dangerous situation as the family figure out who to call and sort this out. This leads to a rather complex and tense showdown with all the parties involved.

’71 film maintains a high level of tension starting from the riot. Seeing Gary navigate what is hostile and divided terrain full of antagonistic slogans inscribed on walls, trying to avoid danger while at the same time, making sense of a complex situation is thrilling. We also see the situation from the point of view of both sides as well as the manipulator who is secretly working against the army Captain Sandy Browning (Sean Harris). We see that within the battleground of Belfast, the individuals of these violent groups have difficulty trusting their own as many people have their own agenda. Also, it brings to our attention the dangers of recruiting the young into a life of violence. Director Yann Demange does well to portray a complex situation with great performances across the board, especially Jack O’Connell, and some well handled scenes of brutality  to boot.

Effie Gray – 12/10/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

Emma Thompson adapts a real life scandal which shocked Victorian England. This scandal involves a famous art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise) and his teenage bride Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning). John Ruskin at the start of the film comes across as charming, intelligent and charismatic as he takes on the art establishment by championing young progressive artists. After he marries Effie Gray, he takes her into her family home where he constantly works on his book and ignoring her. When Effie makes sexual advances on John, he reacts in disgust. Effie finds herself essentially trapped in a loveless marriage, and as is the dilemma in most costume drama’s, she can’t just divorce him because she comes from a pauper family.

Why John finds Effie so repulsive is because he sees the portrayal of women’s perfect form in art and sculpture, but when gazing upon Effie in real life, he becomes disgusted by the female form and therefore becomes withdrawn and cruel towards Effie. There are many parallels in John’s artistic ramblings about perfection and imperfection which explains his feelings the only way he knows how. Dakota Fanning gives a great performance as the trapped woman who has married into material wealth but finds no happiness in being with a man who despises her. Her health starts to suffer drastically as the years of torment take their toll and we see Dakota fanning in her body language slowly lilting from gazing at John with proud admiration to becoming emotionally fragile and neglected. Like pretty much any costume drama I have seen before this, it serves as a criticism of aristocratic society in all its rituals, unnecessary social conventions and its male dominated, oppressive, chinless douchebaggery! Although some women, like Emma Thompson’s character who conveniently plays the hero of the film, still hold position of influence, even though it is just throwing the odd intelligent remark during pretentious discussions about art. Generally this film is not for me. I am sick of lame, white aristocracy being portrayed so regularly on film and television like it is something which should interest us. It is not interesting, it is just nauseating!

Gone Girl – 10/10/2014 @ Showcase Cinema, Bristol.

WARNING - CONTAINS SPOILERS

There is always mass excitement every time a film directed by David Fincher is released. Personally, I think his early films have been his best; the stylistic, dark psycho-thriller ‘Seven’, and grizzly social satire ‘Fight Club’. In recent years, although he continues to garner critical praise, I feel much of his films have been over rated. With Gone Girl, it may have a thematic and sort of stylistic link to Basic Instinct, but the added ‘Fincherism’ has made something that is gripping and with a social message of pre-conceived narratives perpetuated by the media. These narratives refer to what is expected of people when scrutinised by the media in terms of how people should behave within a marriage. We are constantly sold the idea of and-they-lived-happily-ever-after style marriage or relationship, and especially in the celebrity world the public sometimes go in a frenzy when a relationship ends. The story tackles the public expectations of these narratives and how the media, even though dealing with real lives, like to sell the audience this myth. Of course, there is an ugly truth behind the media circus and all it’s customary images of a perfect relationship, this truth being that sometimes, love does not necessarily conquer all.

    The film starts simply with the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) reports her missing. What starts off as a routine investigation, Nick soon has the spotlight shifted onto himself. He starts to become the lead suspect, not just because the crime scene is flawed, but because of the way he is behaving during the case. Every media appearance he makes is scrutinized by over zealous panel shows pointing out each and every blunder he makes in front of the cameras. In between what is happening in the present day, we see flashbacks of the past which are narrated from Amy’s diary. We see how her and Nick meet and their first kiss. It all seems a bit fairy tale like, but then takes a darker tone as they each lose their jobs and Nick increasingly becomes more unloving, insensitive and dangerous. When it is revealed by Amy that her diary is part of her evidence to frame Nick for her fake murder, we see that her diary may be all a lie and how it follows a formulaic narrative. We do learn that Amy’s parents made their own child a character in a famous children’s book series called ‘Amazing Amy’, which is interesting as we start to see that this is a character obsessed with narratives. At first, we don’t know what her intentions are, but later, it becomes abundantly clear that Amy wants to trap Nick into a relationship, using the media.

It becomes a war between the couple as Nick starts to learn how to conduct himself in front of the camera’s by playing the role of the loving husband who just wants his wife back, even though in reality, he can’t stand her. Amy plays the role of the innocent wife who was abducted and held captive by a psychotic stalker from her school years, when really she murdered him and voluntarily went back to Nick, once she new he was willing to play this role. Once the camera’s film Amy and Nick’s unexpected reunion, Nick is trapped in this relationship because the audience would hate him or never believe him if he ever told the truth about his wife being a manipulative psychopath.

Not only does Gone Girl have a thematic link to other films with psychopathic murderess obsessed with stories, it also in my opinion has similarities to Albert Camus’ ‘The Outsider’, a novel about how a man’s peculiar behaviour is on trial. The question is, how are you supposed to be behaving when under scrutiny? The parents of Amy Dunne have their act down to a T as they pose for the camera’s with what seems like pre-rehearsed bleak expressions in front of a big smiley image of Amy Dunne, ‘America’s sweetheart’. I like the way the word ‘Miracle’ is used when Amy Dunne suddenly returns home. Anything that is vaguely strange in the news but can still be easily explained rationally always seems to be described as a ‘Miracle’, further illustrating the false sensationalism behind ‘real life’ stories.

I feel this is the best film by David Fincher since Fight Club. Well adapted from the Gillian Flynn novel, it is a memorable and coherent statement about roles and power within a relationship, media sensationalism and public expectation shaped by the confines of familiar narrative structures. Also, Rosamund Pike delivers one of the best femme fatale performances for a long time with her cool icy delivery which proves effective, especially when the more violent, twisted moments happen. Fincher is back at the top of his game!

Ida – 28/09/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

For a film with such a simple plot, this is certainly one of the most complex films this year. There is so much emotion, dark history and motives which are conveyed subtly with a look or a still, haunting and beautifully composed shot. Polish Director Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his home country and successfully analysing the dark historical issues and how the brutal Nazi occupation still had an affect on people at a time of transitional change to a countercultural movement in the mid sixties and would continue to affect people today.

We are introduced to Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) a woman who has been brought up in a convent. We see her in this quiet, disciplined and orderly environment attending to her daily tasks and eating in silence. Before she is to take her vows, she is told by the mother superior that only one living relative remains in her life and that she should visit her. Anna leaves her convent and meets up with her Aunty Wanda, a woman who is polar opposite to Anna. She is a communist, a judge and a generally unsatisfied and lonely person. Wanda reveals to Anna that she is in fact Jewish and her real name is Ida. As they both go on a journey together to look for her buried family who died during the Nazi occupation, Anna/Ida learns the shocking truth behind her family and what happened to their property. In between the search for Ida’s roots, Ida and Wanda hang out in a local bar where a travelling jazz player performs. He has an eye for Ida and they both become close. His music provides much of the films soundtrack which indicates the growing counterculture of the sixties.

Pawel Pawloski has created something memorable here. What really struck me about the film was how the framing and composition, as beautifully photographed as it was, was very unconventional. The characters are never really centred within the frame, they are instead pushed to the side, or their head is very low down the screen so much of the background is in the frame. I think this gives the audience the sense that there is a bigger picture which goes way beyond the actual story at hand, mainly the war and the tragic event which happened to Ida’s family which will influence both Wanda and Ida in different ways. Agata Trzebuchowska gives a very good performance as Anna/Ida, a woman of purity and innocence having to confront her past and open herself up to new possibilities. It is also a very quiet performance as her face has a lot to say with her powerful lingering looks. also gives a wonderful as the tragic Wanda, a woman who has lived with the burden of the past most of her life. Her beliefs and her successful career cannot compensate for the dark truth and her lonliness. It is sad to watch as she drinks and looks for male attention.

I found the ending to be subtly ambiguous as I was not sure of Ida’s intentions at the end. My interpretation was after trying to be like her Aunty as a release for what she has learned of her family, she does not want to become like her and therefore chooses the safe option of going back to the convent and live with the fact she has sinned. In conclusion, it is a complex and poetic piece of cinema which explores distressing aspects of humanity with subtlety and sophistication.

Maps to the Stars – 28/09/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

I was more than happy to learn that Director David Cronnenberg was returning to the trademark weird and atmospheric tone he was once most well known for in films like Videodrome. Here he takes a satirical look at Hollywood, a place which seems to be an easy target for identifying shallow, over privilege and screwed up stereotypes by people like Bret Easton-Ellis, but with an added injection of Cronnenberesque weirdness making it something closer to David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive (Although not that weird).

Maps to the Stars contains many characters who seem divided into separate story lines, but as the film progresses, you learn they are all connected thematically and narratively. Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a successful ‘pseudo’ therapist who has embraced Eastern new age mysticism and has made a fortune through his massage technique where he claims the whole body stores memories, as well as his self help books and lectures. His son Benjie (Evan Bird) is a child star who experienced too much at a young age and went to rehab at the age of 9. After coming clean, he is re-cast in the show ‘Bad Babysitter’ the show which made him famous, only to find he is outshined by a younger boy. One of Stafford’s clients, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is a famous actress who lives in the shadow of her mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon) an iconic actress who died tragically in a fire while she was still young and beautiful. Havana has had life long difficulties in dealing with past sexual abuse by her mother, but at the same time, wants to be her by chasing a role of a remake originally starring Clarice Taggart. Also, Havana is frequently haunted by visions of Clarice, taunting her and telling her she will never be as successful. A mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) turns up, wanting to be part of the Hollywood scene. She quickly gets a job working as Havana’s PA and dating a limo driver and fellow aspiring actor Jerome (Robert Pattinson). We learn she is in fact the estranged daughter of Dr Stafford Weiss and has darker intentions after being released from a sanatorium.

The main theme prevalent throughout is the concept of age and the fear of growing old. This is achieved using abstract symbolism with an added supernatural element. Benjie and his friends have amusing but disturbing conversations about people they know in their early twenties which to them is ‘old’. Havana is middle aged but has undergone surgery and still tries to act young so she can continue getting work and also to fulfil her motherly issues. Maps to the Stars also pokes fun at pseudo spiritual fads which is embodied in the John Cusack’s character, even though he is an irresponsible parent who has clearly failed his children. Although his son Benjie has attained everything many children dream of, he still craves parental attention and is plagued by feelings of guilt as he, as well as Havana, is haunted by a girl he visited in hospital who died. Both these characters have past demons embodied in these visions which make them act out in a way that is harmful to themselves and others.

Julianne Moore, as usual, gives a remarkable performance as Havana Segrand, a character who is the mixture of a stereotypical, self interested and shallow actress, a manipulative careerist and a desperate emotional wreck. Mia Wasikowska possibly steals the show as the quietly psychotic and elusive Agatha, a character who romanticises the concept of death and sees it as the only way out of the hell that is superficial social order of Hollywood. For most of the film, you never quite know what her intentions are or what she is capable of. All the main characters are repugnant people to watch, but that is the point. I have never had a problem watching films full of generally unlikable characters because usually, I find them entertaining, and that is certainly the case in this movie. Each character has their personal demons and are self centred and very superficial as a direct result of the industry they are affiliated with. In an age where Hollywood movies and the media have an obsession with eternal youth, customary image and egotistical goals, this is exactly the environment that can prove damaging. The film is also bout the sins of the parents passed through generations which is mostly illustrated through the Weiss family. The disconnection within the family and the pushy parenting creates damaged offspring who are plunged into an over-stimulated world.

The film plays out like a modern Greek tragedy where there is a sense that everyone will meet a tragic end. We are in a darkly satirical world where there is no way out but death, which is seen as a means of ultimate peace. It may sound morbid, but the film is often very funny with it’s weird and observant humour and is largely entertaining to watch. Some people may find it a hard watch, but I think it is one of the films this year not to be missed. I feel it is a film I will watch and enjoy again and a film where David Cronnenberg is Back on form after a few lacklustre efforts.

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