Archive for January, 2016


There is a temptation to write Room off before even reaching for the door handle. It’s easy to dismiss a lot of modern literature, particularly the ‘literary sensations’, as high concept but ultimately quite shallow, lacking the richness and complexity of their predecessors. However, we have to put our prejudices to one side for now and admit that Room is perhaps one sensation that really deserves the hype.

Author Emma Donoghue adapts her own bestseller while Lenny Abrahamson, most recently known for the film Frank, takes on directing duties. Room is one those films where it’s best to know as little as possible, which is how I went in. We are immediately introduced into the ‘room’, a tiny, cramped space with only one skylight and a heavily secured, code protected door. The inhabitants of the room are Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a mother and son combo locked in limbo with no way out.

The enforced isolation has clearly taken its toll on Ma, her eyes orbited by heavy rings and her tatty sportswear ghosting about her. She makes pains to see that Jack is still educated into the ways of the world; motherly lessons of cake baking and stories. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the way in which Jack has become institutionalised into the ‘room’. It is his only home, his only way of life. The film has a wider point to say about how much place and environment affects us as human beings.

As the story takes a few (un-revealable) turns, it turns into something much more profound than the struggle to survive in the room. There is a startling scene around the midpoint, where the film changes completely. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the scenes of the year, a breathtaking, cathartic, edge-of-your-seat tour de force. But then we are left with the aftermath, after all the excitement.

This is supposedly the boring part, which Hollywood doesn’t like. There must be always be an active goal to chase heroically; a dastardly villain, a damsel in distress, a dog stuck up a tree. Instead, Donoghue and Abrahamson leave us with something much more interesting and indelible: reflection. I am reminded of some of the films of Claude Chabrol, ostensibly suspense thrillers, but when the excitement fades we are left with this strange, eerie aftermath. The villain has been caught but the consequences of the event are left to catch fire.

The film would crumble without the two superlative performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Ma is lucid, sharp, compassionate but drained, trying to make the best of a torturous situation in order to save her son. Tremblay, meanwhile, gives one of the best performances by a child actor you will ever see. The emotional complexities of a boy torn between the only world he knows and the world that his mother tells him is out there for him, is perfectly embodied by young Tremblay.

Donoghue succeeds in turning her own work into a piece of cinema, which is no mean feat. Her initial idea had the potential to be quite gimmicky, but Donoghue transforms it into something much more universal and pertinent. Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is delicate and unshowy, honing on the little details of the world that Jack sees and letting the audience see through the imaginative, hopeful eyes of a little boy.

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Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 19.57.11Here’s a documentary well and truly deserving of digital restoration. The BBC made Cracked Actor, directed by Alan Yentob, for their Omnibus strand in 1974.

The film captures David Bowie very much in The Man Who Fell to Earth mode, following his move to the States (and killing off of Ziggy Stardust) and features some great interviews and incredible performances – particularly Moonage Daydream – from an often drugged and frighteningly skeletal Bowie. Still, it captures the artist at his height.

I’m glad he made it through this period (and apparently so was he):

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By far the best film that I’ve seen this year, Haynes serves up another sumptuous melodrama focusing on societal prejudices. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play the two lesbian lovers torn apart by 50’s conservatism.



Funnier than most comedies and darker than most dramas, Lanthimos’ weird sci fi was one of 2015’s strangest offerings. Colin Farrell plays a heartbroken single man sent to a eccentric rural match making hotel- if he doesn’t find a true companion there he will be ‘terminated’.


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Veteran essayist Curtis turns his focus on the ‘simplification’ of modern politics in order to mask truths, exploring the West’s involvement in the Middle East in particular. Distilling hundreds of hours of fascinating footage and ethereal ambient/pop music, Curtis has created a film that is dreamy, poetic and ultimately unsettling.



An unusual take on the mobster drama, this peculiar Ukrainian film sees a young deaf mute enrol in a boarding school for the deaf and dumb, only find to himself embroiled in ‘The Tribe’, a group of young thugs. The cliches of the gangster film are all here, but the film gains a strange power in its use of silence.



This effervescent LA comedy drama sees Sin-Dee, a trans working girl just out of prison and on the lookout for her cheating pimp boyfriend. Shot just on iPhones and using real locations, Tangerine has a chaotic buzz and naturalism to it that is reminiscent of John Cassavetes’ work.



An icy oddity that left viewers debating whether it was best to laugh or cry, this had echoes of Ulrich Seidl’s films. Set on a ski holiday in the French Alps, a near fatal avalanche leaves a Swedish family in a world of confusion and reproach.


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Madcap hip hop gangster musical from the deranged mind of Sion Sono. Warring gangster clans vie for power in a neon lit, rain drenched Tokyo, as vicious hip hop beats flow over the soundtrack and gore splashes across the screen.



Like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, this US-Iranian effort seductively subverted the vampire film genre. A young woman stalks the Iranian Bad City, looking for male prey. The story is thin but the film is atmospheric and eerie, gleefully turning the male predator cliche on its head.



It takes a while to settle in to the pacing and tone of Tsai Ming Liang’s languorous films, but once you are in, you are in. A father desperately tries to provide for his young family on the drizzly streets of Taipei, as they find shelter in an array of abandoned and decrepit buildings. Moments of real poetry amidst the decay.



A Tarantino film for people who don’t like Tarantino, this collection of mini films thrills and chills in equal measure. Loosely based around a theme of retribution, we see an often mundane beginning quickly escalate into something ludicrous and often bloody. It’s testament to director Szifron that the films remain both silly and gripping.


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Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.47.53Considering his previous filmography – and upcoming projects (with Fast 8 doubtless to propel him back into the blockbuster sphere)– F. Gary Gray could have easily botched the biopic of N.W.A, throwing in mindless car chases and shoot-outs, and focusing far less on the politics and brotherhood of the band’s evolution. However, having had a six-year break since his last film, Law Abiding Citizen, it seems he has matured, and Straight Outta Compton is an extremely confident, compelling and often moving drama. Taking in $60 million in its U.S opening, it may still be a blockbuster, technically, yet it’s crafted with finesse, eschewing melodrama and action.

There’s a very artful quality to the film, not seen for a while in a biopic since The Social Network’s stylish profile of Facebook’s beginnings. This is largely down to Matthew Libatique, director of photographer on previous “pretty” films such as Black Swan, The Fountain and Requiem For A Dream (yes, all Darren Aronofsky). He’s no stranger to music and hip-hop, specifically, either, having worked on Tupac’s Live At The House Of Blues and Xzibit: Restless Xposed. He brings an extremely crisp and beautifully-lit essence to the film, as well as the kinetic vibe that pulses through this story. Despite an Oscar-nominated script, it is the cinematography that shines out in production terms.

The story, for those unaware, is finely knitted together, tightly observing the humble start of N.W.A, to the global notoriety, and the division of projects and partnerships. There are very few moments where you feel bored, and the honesty portrayed in terms of the backstabbing and turf wars is extremely refreshing to a film with producers so closely linked to the film*. Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff have penned a very intimate portrait of the five members. Imaginably, the surviving members have had quite a say on what can and cannot go into this film, yet that does not show – we see the twisted, aggressive and soft sides to these urban icons.

Focus is not completely shared, and this is mostly Eazy-E’s, Dr. Dre’s and Ice Cube’s rags to riches tale. MC Ren and DJ Yella are often just present. Still, you feel their camaraderie from the get-go, and as casting goes, this is sublime. Notably, Ice Cube is played by his son O’Shea Jackson Jr (in his first acting performance), somewhat distracting in terms of how eerily similar he is to his father. Nevertheless, his acting ability exceeds that of Cube, and Jackson Jr brings that stern charisma to the role. Dre’s embodiment is made by Corey Hawkins, playing the part as a quiet yet influential figure in the band’s upstart. Hawkins has a maturity deep within him that shines through for the almost-paternal Dre character (fatherly and brotherly, he is the one who softly guides them through). Despite Dre and Cube being far bigger names now, the spotlight is nearly entirely soaked up by Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Bringing rage, innocence, comedy and tragedy to the late figure requires  an awful amount of tact – Mitchell is an excellent actor in this regard.

As an ensemble piece, very few plotlines branch out too clumsily. Famous faces are shoehorned in at times (Tupac, and Snoop Dogg, to a degree), although you never forget their place in regard to the star players. The occasional peppering of cultural signifiers, such as the Rodney King trial, also work hand-in-hand with the band’s growth, and the political undertones are always poignant.

For those less interested in rap, it’s hard not to admire the power of their words, or the rhythm of their music. Certainly, for  a regular viewer who has never listened to N.W.A before, it’ll be a delightful education, and for fans, it’s a beautiful tribute to that band. With its raw depiction, and magnetic performances, Straight Outta Compton is a 2015 cinematic gem.


*Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are producers; Get On Up, the James Brown biopic had Mick Jagger – who closely knew Brown – felt too tame, probably at the request of Jagger who didn’t want to damage Brown’s image.

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