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20,000 Days on Earth – 25/09/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

Documentary profiles of famous musicians are ubiquitous and they are mostly rather repetitive, but this is a breath of fresh air. This unique and challenging gem goes for a different approach about the much celebrated Australian musician and writer, Nick Cave, who in this film is marking his 20,000th day on Earth. One of the unique things about this documentary is that in many ways, it is not a documentary as some of it is fictional and scripted. It is generally difficult to tell if it is fictional or if it is genuine Nick Cave. I cannot imagine this kind of approach suiting any other musician other than Nick Cave as he is a rather odd character who probably sees a world where fiction and reality blur.

On the 20,000th day, we see Nick Cave playing a version of himself going about his day in a nicely shot and artful account of what is routine. He drives around Brighton first going to an interview, then visiting his friend and band mate, Warren Ellis, in his idyllic seaside home for a seafood lunch. He has what seems like imagined conversations with random celebrities who appear in his passenger seat as he drives and he goes to his archive studio where he examines photos and bits of writing he did in the past. Interspersed between these scenes are a mixture of studio performances and live concert footage of Nick Cave performing mainly new material from his last album ‘Push the Sky Away’ with the Bad Seeds.

The documentary starts off with a surreally beautiful timeline of Cave’s life filled with quick appearances of personal stock footage and various pop culture since 1955 all edited at a rapid fire pace. As it progresses, we see Nick Cave ponder many things like existence, the creative process, inspiration, memories and other philosophical and poetic musings. This coming out of the mouth of a less experienced musician would sound like a pretentious fart, but since Cave is notorious for his dark eccentricity, it is pretty much expected from him. The interview near the start shows this very well as it is a revelatory and candid conversation as he talks about very personal memories which make him who he is today. Nick Cave does have a darkly poetic perspective, and the imagery supporting his powerful voice make this experiment something of a cinematic experience. One chief example in particular is a spoken word piece which he wrote many years ago. I remember reading it when it was on display at the Nick Cave Exhibition in Perth, Australia and thinking it was a particularly well worded expression of love at first sight which stuck in my head. It is about how he first met his wife and the feelings experienced at that moment completely exceeded any other experience of women through real life and pop culture (Cave worded it far better). It was interesting to see this written text come to life with the rapid edit of stock footage with Cave’s voice reading it.

The scenes in Cave’s car are surreal, especially when notorious British actor, Ray Winston appears in his passenger seat to discuss performing art. Cave discusses his form of expression from a musicians perspective while Ray Winston makes comparisons to his acting experience and complaining about the weather! Also, Kylie Minogue, a one time collaborator with Nick Cave, appears in Cave’s rear view mirror much like the character Betsy in the closing scene of ‘Taxi Driver’. Her and Cave discuss audience connection.

It may be a partially fictional documentary but somehow it seems less self-aggrandizing with this approach as Cave seems to be playing a version of himself where he could only be perceived as weird and interesting, playing up to an image which already exists. In my opinion, I think it helps to appreciate his music in order to enjoy the film as there are extended performances of what is an acquired taste. I generally find his music interesting, but that was not the most interesting thing about it. I felt it was not just a film about Nick Cave, but about existence in this convoluted, manic and complex world and how one fits into and draws inspiration from it. It can be seen as unique and original, albeit a little pretentious in parts, but I have never seen any profile of a musician done this way.

Obvious Child – 22/09/2014 @ The Cube, Bristol.

Indie comedies are inherently formulaic, and this film is no different. It contains the usual clich├ęs of an only child who has kooky parents who have split up, is rather loveable, but a bit irresponsible and reckless. However, this does not take away the fact that this film is still enjoyable, funny and taking on a rather serious issue at the same time.

Obvious Child depicts a twenty something woman named Jenny Slate (Donna Stern) who is a stand up comedian by night and an assistant in the amusingly titled book store ‘Unoppressive, non-imperialist books’. She is Unapologetically candid and vulgar on stage and seems to be a fun person to be around. Although she generally evades responsibility and a bit of a procrastinator, she seems quite happy and surrounded by supportive friends. After her boyfriend dumps her because of her openly talking about their sex lives on stage, she starts to get drunk a lot, and inevitably ends up having un-protective sex with a man named Max (Jake Lacy) and getting pregnant. She decides to have an abortion and starts to think about where her life is going now that the bookshop is closing down. Max keeps turning up and they start to date and grow closer.

Although it is essentially a predictable comedy, I think the strong performance by Donna Stern carry’s a lot of weight. Her character is likeable, relatable and frequently funny. Her character is too central sometimes, making most of the other characters less interesting, but her parents get a few good laughs and incites. Also, her abortion issue is treated as not much of a big deal. It does take a very pro abortion stance as her abortion is depicted as a very quick procedure which many people go through. It may anger some people with anti abortion views, but this is the reality of some people’s experiences which must be shown regardless of where one stands on the never ending abortion debate. Also, the stand up comedy is genuinely funny in parts and it shows how her life experiences become her material. It shows how this kind of self indulgence is a good and bad thing. Good, because she can take a bad or embarrassing situation and look at it humorously. Bad, because people involved in her life would have a problem with her frank honesty on display in front of a room full of people. It does end how you would expect it to end, but I did laugh quite a lot and I enjoyed the character. I think Donna Stern has a bright future in indie comedy.

Pride – 14/09/2014 @ Showcase Cinema, Bristol.

For some reason, I had low expectations when going to see this. I think it was because I had little knowledge as to what is was about and by the look of the clips I saw, it looked like typically predictable British humour. It turns out I was very wrong as it was about a very important alliance which happened and I had no knowledge about.

What the film depicts is the alliance between Gay Rights activists and the National Union of Mineworkers against the Thatcher Government who sees both groups as ‘the enemy within’. We are introduced to one of the only fictional characters of the film Joe (George Mackay) who is a young gay man coming from a privileged family who do not understand him. He turns up to a Gay Pride march where he meets Mike (Joseph Gigun) and Mark (Ben Schnetzer) who both start a fundraising group called ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ (LGSM). Mark is the leader as he is very passionate about not only supporting Gay rights, but the rights of everyone. Since Miners have similar struggles, they sympathise with the miners and therefore try and raise money for them. Some of the gay community are reluctant to get involved as many of them have had bad experiences with miners. Also, Miners unions are initially reluctant to accept donations as they are worried about the possible PR complications which may arise from being associated with a ‘perverted’ group. LGSM start to have direct dialogue with a Union leader from a small Welsh mining town named Dai Donavan, a charismatic speaker who along with local housewife and gay rights supporter Sian (Jessica Gunning) convince the town that there is no shame in uniting with a gay rights group. LGSM start to visit the town to deliver their donations personally which directly fund the families and pay for a bus so they can be transported to the picket line each morning. They are mainly welcomed by the local towns folk, but there is a minority of opposition who try to report this story to a tabloid newspaper. When the headline ‘Pits and Perverts’ reports negatively on the alliance, Mark has the idea to use the headline as the title for a fundraising gig headlined by Bronski Beat. It turns out to be a very successful fundraiser.

When making a film which contains many characters, many films cannot handle multitude of character and the many story threads which come with this. What Director Matthew Warchus and Writer Stephen Beresford manage to achieve here is giving each and every character enough screen time to make them believable and lovable characters which we all care about. There are fine performances across the board, especially by Ben Schnetzer who gives a passionate performance as the indefatigable Mark Ashton and rising British star George Mackay as the initially timid Joe whose character grows in confidence through his experience with LGSM. Also, Bill Nighy gives a more softly spoken performance as Cliff, one of the local miners who has been hiding who he truly is for his whole life and Dominic West who plays Jonathan Blake, one of the first men who became HIV positive.

The film does very well to be both serious and funny. It is very serious about the unlikely alliance of Gay rights and miners unions and the struggles of both groups against the political class. Also, there is an underlying theme of the beginnings of the AIDS virus and the propaganda and prejudice surrounding it. There is a lot of humour and feel good moments which make you want to punch the air and marvel at what humanity can sometimes achieve in times when solidarity is very much needed. It may be romanticized in a way, but not too laboured as it is anchored by the decent writing and coherent direction making this one of the most entertaining and educational films of the year so far. Very well done!

Night Moves – 04/09/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

After viewing the trailer, I thought the film seemed largely uneventful. Sometimes certain films are difficult to make a good trailer out of, but in the case of this film, it is because this film actually is boring. The place where the film is set is interesting as the main characters work in a co-operative, self sustaining community and the subject matter involving eco terrorists blowing up a dam sounds quite thrilling, but for most of the film, there was not much happening.

The film starts off with Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) who are friends and both share radical environmental beliefs. They are meeting up with the shady Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) who possesses the know how to blow up a dam. The scene when they blow up the dam is quite tense without the use of music or dramatic affect. It is a well executed set piece which serves as the highlight of the film. The rest of the film is the characters dealing with the aftermath as they find out that a camper died from the result of the flooding caused by their terrorist act. Josh is trying to keep himself calm, but Dena is feeling guilty and is considering turning herself in. Unfortunately, Harmon, the most intriguing character of the film, does not come back in the film. The story takes a wrong turn which involves Josh killing Dena in what is a poorly executed scene as I felt it served as more for dramatic contrivance than what would actually happen between these two characters. It then ends with one of those annoying non endings which made me feel that I wished I never sat through the whole movie just for that pretentious piece of anticlimactic balderdash.

This film seems to be rather respected by critics, but I just can’t share their enthusiasm. It does posses this self awareness and that overly subdued tone which involves people walking into rooms and not communicating effectively. It may serve as a comment on mans meddling with nature and what dangerous acts people with radical environmental views are willing to do which will only serve as counterproductive to their whole world view. All this is interesting, I just wished these themes were explored in a better film.

Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) – 31/08/2014 @ The Watershed.

Marion Cotillard gives an excellent central performance as the desperate Sandra in this one long cinema-verite style set piece involving the said character trying to convince her work colleagues not to opt for her dismissal so they can all continue receiving an annual bonus. The reason why Sandra is dismissed in the first place is because she has taken time off work as she suffers from depression. Now that the company she works for cannot afford to both keep her on and pay their employers their annual bonus, the boss convinces all the work colleagues to let go of Sandra. After some convincing, the company agree to a secret ballot, so Sandra has a weekend to convince everyone to basically save her job.

The structure of the film is Sandra approaching or phoning her work colleagues one by one and having a conversation with them. Each character has a slightly different response. some are relying on the bonus to afford to get by, some have fear for the boss, some have a more altruistic outlook and some are just selfish, or in one case, aggressive. Interspersed between these scenes, Sandra is finding it difficult and struggles with the possible notion she is forcing people to take pity on her. She explains this all to Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), her supportive husband who helps with Sandra’s dilemma every step of the way. Also, her depression is not helping, sometimes her mood will be up after convincing someone, but sometimes the situation looks hopeless and she will be in a pit of despair. Manu helps her stay positive and some of the scenes are sweet and subtly emotional.

The responses from each of her work colleagues are interesting as some are genuinely struggling to raise a family or have come out of a relationship and starting again. Some have similar problems to Sandra too. When people agree against the bonus and for Sandra to keep her job, a couple refer to how she helped them out in difficult work situations, which shows how her goodness can go a long way. Sandra takes each answer well and mostly understands why people take the bonus. We see always her close up from either the back or the front, so we the audience are always either following her through this difficult time or watching her closely, making us very involved in her dilemma. There is no music to punctuate any moments where we are supposed to feel emotion, we get some music played on the radio usually to keep Sandra’s spirits up. This makes the drama more real, obviously characteristic to social realist dramas, but the realistic performances and the rather repetitious scenes of Sandra repeating her situation to each person adds to the realism too.

This is definitely a film of todays times where many businesses are very cautious with money in the age of economic instability. It shows perspectives and situations from a wide range of people and how these management decisions can directly affect working class people. I did not feel it was a savage indictment against the ruling class, but simply an observation of the fierce competitive companies and the repercussions it has on the people at the bottom to the point where they act out of desperation and necessity which can sometimes result in selfish or altruistic behaviour. It is quite unassumingly an observant and human drama.

The Congress – 27/08/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

Dystopian ideas are great. When watching the trailer to this film, I could detect themes like escaping reality through hallucinogenic drugs, celebrity image and the obsession to stay young and thirdly, the ability to attain complete freedom. Sadly, all these great ideas and thought provoking themes turn out to be anything but great or thought provoking. Instead we are presented with a dull mash up of unfocused and confusing story threads. It does begin with an interesting set up of Robin Wright playing herself. She gets herself scanned as she is owned by the studio and they want a computerised version of her image with all the emotions included so they can do whatever they want with it. The scanning scene itself is very dull as we see a scanner trying unsuccessfully to make Robin Wright to feel each and every emotion while the scanning process is happening, but then Robin Wrights manager Al (Harvey Keitel) saves the day with a dull story which contains an emotional response of every kind and seems to go on forever!

It then jumps to 20 years later when Robin Wright is a bit older and she ingests some sort of drug which enters her into a limitless, animated world. It seems quite unrelated as to what has happened before but we go with it anyway as the visuals and music are really quite lovely. What follows is a convoluted mess that is needlessly confusing and ironically shallow for a film that is satirising the shallow nature of celebrity. It is also very surprising that for a film where so much is happening and with all the great sound and imagery how boring it is. It really is dull because of the mess it finds itself in as the film goes on and I did find myself losing interest in all it’s fragmented disarray.

It really is sad to watch as there was obviously a talented team of creative people which made the great transitions from animation to live action possible. It is very meticulous and achieved brilliantly and for that I applaud the animators and visual artists. I think the pretentious and unfocused writing let it down and the need to cram in as much as possible so much so that not even the lasting memory will be wow! that looked fantastic, but more like, wow! I can’t believe how boring that was!

The Rover – 19/08/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

Despite the predominant sunny weather in Australia, many films of an intensely bleak nature have been set there. Themes include drug addiction (Candy), serial Killers (Snow town, Wolf Creek) and because of featureless dessert, isolation (Tracks, Wake in Fright). This film adds to a long list of bleak films set in Australia, but this time with a similar theme to the intensely bleak situation in Australian Director John Hillicoat’s ‘The Road’, only this time, it’s an unspecified economic collapse. At the beginning of ‘The Rover’, it is referred to as ‘the collapse’ and we see soon enough that it has created an isolated land of desolation and a kill-or-be-killed environment. People are trying desperately to survive, everyone is paranoid and baring arms is a natural reaction to a stranger rather than a warm greeting. In a amongst all this is an un-named man (he is Eric in the credits) played with biting and fearful intensity by Guy Pearce. He seems like a man who has witnessed the worst aspects of humanity for the last ten years since the start of the economic collapse, that it has driven him to become cynical and misanthropic with no regard for human life. He has his car stolen by a gang of thieves and one of the thieves, Rey (a virtually unrecognisable Robert Pattinson) is left for dead on the road. Eric who is desperately in search for his car finds Rey and eventually teams up with him to find the people responsible for stealing his car.

The plot may sound un-interesting and a little too simplistic, but it is more the journey and the violent encounters in a hostile and hopeless environment that had me interested. The character Eric is a man who does not speak much and only converses when he really has something to say. He asks direct and confrontational questions usually to point out the futility of hanging on to a way of life that has become obsolete. Money has become worthless, policing has become impossible and society has pretty much broken down. The endless roads and dessert acts as a way to further emphasize the isolation experienced by the characters. You get subtle hints as to what is going on in the cities and internationally, and it’s not good either.
It becomes apparent that Eric does not just want his car back, there is something in it which he values and will not stop until he gets it back. It is somehow strange to think that Eric values anything anymore, but it is nice to think that there might be a smattering of humanity left inside this damaged soul. It is revealed at the end what this is, but like I said, it is about the journey with Rey, a simple man who was let down. There is an uneasy bond which develops between the two characters and they help each other out by shooting their way out of situations. For a film with not much dialogue and fairly leisurely character development, there is a surprisingly high body count! It shows that humanity is reduced to cold blooded killing for survival.

The bleakness of the film could be too much for some people, but I think the message was as ever important. Like ‘The Road’ it serves as a plausible narrative to what direction we are heading in, and it ain’t pretty! David Michod has written and Directed something that is chilling and memorable, and seems like the new Australian Director on the scene to take notice of.

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