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Review – Begin Again (2013)

Since 2007, when John Carney captured hearts everywhere with his incredibly moving and exceptionally well-written musical ‘Once’, audiences have eagerly awaited the directors return to the genre, hoping that Carney will be able to capture the magic and originality of a film that rightly took home an Oscar for the song ‘Falling Slowly’. Begin-AgainHis latest film, Begin Again, is a perfect companion piece to Once, (even if Carney’s decision to move away from the intimacy of two relatively unknown actors to a cast of stars does detract from the feeling of stumbling upon something very real and very special) which follows two down on their luck musicians who cross paths in New York city, and it continues to build upon the themes prevalent in its spiritual predecessor.

It begins with a chance encounter that leaves Dan (Mark Ruffalo) smitten with Greta’s (Keira Knightley) music and entranced by her undeniable charm as she regales a heartfelt song about a failed relationship to a mostly uninterested crowd in a dingy bar. As a failing music business executive, Dan believes he has stumbled upon someone special who may just give his career the resurgence it needs, and Greta is equally intrigued by his enthusiasm and openness, which is mainly due to the large amounts of alcohol flowing through his veins.

As the two embark on a musical and emotional journey we learn about the moments leading up to the start of their friendship through flashbacks and accompanying songs; Dan struggles to connect with his estranged daughter and partner, and Greta is still torn from her break-up with the up and coming rock star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) who she travelled to New York to be with. The decision for the unlikely duo to record an album on the streets of New York gives way to a newfound creativity and both Dan and Greta slowly begin to come to terms with their troubled pasts.

tumblr_n3qapmbsnj1qjaa1to1_1280Knightley and Ruffalo give superb performances in a genre that neither are overly familiar with, and Carney coaxes a raw honesty from both his stars and the supporting cast to provide the film with a vibrancy matched only by the stunning locations of the city itself. Whilst the story does resonate on a deeper level than most musicals, it doesn’t quite have the emotional heft of Once, but offers enough humour and energy that audiences will still be able to relate to the characters regardless of their preconceptions.

Making the transition from the lead singer of Maroon 5 to the big screen far too effortlessly is Adam Levine, with his natural good looks and the ineffable swagger of a lead singer being perfect for his role as the story’s villain, Dave Kohl – whose name is likely to either keira-knightley-adam-levine-filmamuse or annoy fans of the Foo Fighters every time it appears on screen. James Corden is also a valuable addition to the cast as Steve, with his light-hearted humour and reassuring encouragement allowing Greta to shine even when she is feeling down.

As far as feel good summer movies go, Begin Again hits all the right notes, with its uplifting melodies and dazzling cinematography making you forget that you are actually in a dark cinema when you could be outside enjoying the sunshine. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but then again, it doesn’t need to, as Carney has crafted a delightful tale of two kindred spirits finding solace in each other as they set out to realise their true potential in a joyful celebration of music.

Written by Tom Bielby

Find Tom on Twitter: @filmbantha

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Review – Good Vibrations (2012)

Good Vibrations, directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn LeyBurn (Cherrybomb), is the story of Terry Hooley’s discovery of punk in Belfast during the 70’s. The film follows Terry or, as he will later be known, the godfather of Belfast punk. The war between the Irish PeterStrainGoodVibrationsMoviePosterCatholics and Protestants has just begun and Terry seems to be the only one not to have picked a side. Instead he preaches peace, something that will make him a target for both groups.

We follow Terry on his journey from peaceful neutral to the godfather of the Belfast punk scene. We see him discover Rudi and the Outcasts and their rise, fall, and eventual rise again to fame. Terry Hooley was played by Richard Dormer (Game of Thrones). Richard gave an inspired performance, the range of emotions his character demanded of him, often in the same scene, would be demanding to any actor and Richard truly succeeded in capturing them all. Terry was a loud character, unpredictable in not just his emotions but his actions. Richard’s portrayal was of such high quality that you could swear you were watching Terry himself.

Good-Vibrations-1What adds the layer of realism and reminds you, through the laughs and good times experienced when watching these live bands and listening to their music is the use of real footage. Footage from the violence on the streets, of clashes between the IRA and the police was truly humbling. It reminds you of the horrors that occurred during that time and the suffering of people caught in the cross fire.

Good Vibrations was definitely a film I enjoyed watching. Terry is a character I found myself rooting for, I was scared for him at times and felt sorry for him at others. What he did for the punk scene in Belfast was truly incredible and an inspiration to music lovers everywhere.

As Terry himself said, “When it comes to punk New York has the hair, London has the trousers but Belfast has the reason!”

Written by Oliver Willis

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Feature – What Is An Indie Film?

When you hear ‘indie film’ what do you think of? The style? budget? story? Well the term independent film tends to be a film created independently from the usual mainstream mode of filmmaking. A low budget firushsept09lm made by people outside of the mainstream film industry using unknown actors seems to be the quintessential indie
film, I mean you cant get more indie than that.

But lately we are being showered with self proclaimed indie films with that indie, quirky and cooky style. Think any film featuring Michael Cera, or early Jessie Esienberg and Zooey Dechannel and your along the right lines of the type of film I am talking about. The type of film where the main character is a geeky kid which doesn’t fit into mainstream society as he deems himself better due to his like of unknown, underground bands and exclusively watches classic and foreign cinema. He then falls in love with a quirky girl of the same interests but with some character defects but they find a common ground and together they can sit back and judge society and those pop, R&B listening, Hollywood watching jocks. But are these independent films  or are they part of this emerging indie genre.

These are films I like to refer to as mid-way indie films. Films whichScott_Pilgrim_vs._the_World_teaser have often been independently funded by one or more of the stars using their own production companies. So in that sense, yes, they can be classed as an indie film, but not in the sense of being completely apart from the mainstream film industry.

The third type of indie film is what I like to call the ‘high-end’ indie film such as Rush (2013) and any of the post Rushmore (1998) Wes Anderson films. Films which have a high budget, high publicity and cinema time yet remain independent from the Hollywood production company influence and funded by the filmmakers themselves.

Independent films are where the real stories are told, from filmmakers without the confines of meeting targets set by production companies. The film which get the least amount of publicity yet need the most.

Written by Oliver Willis

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Review – El Critico (2013)

A wonderfully creative deconstruction of the Romantic Comedy, this Argentinian drama introduces us to Victor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd), a pessimistic film critic who sees little joy in life, and has a strong dislike for films that shun art in favour of pleasing mass audiences by recycling old tropes and clichés of their genre. Under pressure from his editor, who often has no choice but to alter his
derogatory reviews, and at odds with a past film-maker whose career he ruined, Tellez’s only happiness seems to come from POSTER EL CRITICO FINAL_01spending time with his beloved niece, educating her in the medium of film. This leads to one of the most delightful sequences in the movie where a montage of romantic comedies gives rise to a voiceover from Tellez, and he dissects a number of scenes to explain why he believes the genre to be trite and predictable.

Just as in the films Tellez dismisses, his life takes a turn for the better as he encounters a mysterious lady (Sofia) who captures his attention whilst searching for a new flat. Fate intervenes and, smitten with love, his view on the films that used to leave him frustrated begins to mellow, much to the chagrin of his fellow critics. Sofia, played by Dolores Fonzi (the wife of Gael Garcia Bernal) shares a number of traits with Amelie; her spontaneous nature, slightly eccentric dress sense and carefree attitude quickly draw Tellez in, and her abundance of cuteness also adds to the inevitable attraction. She is even caught quoting Amelie, in a scene which leaves Tellez as baffled as the audience – is Sofia aware she is referencing a much-loved romantic comedy, or is it just a quirky coincidence? The question is left unanswered but heightens her mysteriousness as well as affirming the hold she begins to have on Tellez’s heart.

el critico2.previewMuch like films of other genres which intelligently deconstruct their influences in order to transcend their humble origins, The Critic manages to be a love-letter to romantic comedies as well as bringing fresh ideas to the table.  Anyone who is even mildly obsessed with films, regardless of their preferred genre, will certainly relate to the multitude of pop references which litter Hernan Guerschuny’s confident script, and having Tellez’s thoughts narrated in French (‘just like in the movies’) is a brilliant idea that demonstrates both the director’s playfulness and his obvious fascination with world cinema.

There is a surprisingly sinister edge to the film where it almost verges into thriller territory and this is an unexpected and welcome respite from the romance, adding another layer to Tellez’s characterisation as he is forced to confront his demons from the past. Still, at its heart, The Critic retains a comic sensibility that will be sure to impress itself on audiences who are looking for an original romantic comedy, and will undoubtedly leave even the most cynical of viewers smiling. Whether you enjoy romantic comedies or dislike them; by appealing to both sides of the coin, The Critic has assured that it will be loved by those fortunate enough to see it.

Written by Tom Bielby

Find Tom on Twitter: @filmbantha

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Review – Whoops! (2013)

whoops_shoe_bigProving that creativity can overcome even the tightest of time and budgetary constraints, Whoops! is an engaging black comedy that was shot in just over four weeks on a very small budget, but neither of these constraints held the cast or crew back from delivering their desired vision with enough originality to make up for their limitations. Riding off the modest success of their online zombie web series, the aptly named ‘Zomblogalypse’, directorial duo Tony Hipwell and Miles Watts have served up another thoroughly entertaining comedy, and they continue to bring their wry humour to the darkest of situations – those of a squeamish nature may well be surprised by some of the more gruesome sequences in Whoops! – but the laughs keep coming, just as the death toll keeps rising.

At first glance the Clements appear to be a perfect family, Rose (Elaine Glover) works at an estate agent, struggling to avoid the unwanted advances of her lecherous boss, and her husband Dave (Philip Rowson) is a tradesman, with a shed full of tools that may eventually be used for more than just their intended purposes, and together they lovingly support their two children who both seem to be wise beyond their years. When Rose murders a man she mistakenly believes to be an assailant, the family is thrown into turmoil as Dave decides to bury the truth (and the body) to avoid losing his beloved wife to a potential life time in prison. Unlike most serial killers who have a penchant for killing, accident-prone Rose inadvertently adds to the body count in a number of unfortunate events, which leave Dave struggling to cope with the hardship of his wife’s actions as the police begin to close in.

Elaine Glover’s instant likeability plays a huge part in the film’s whoops-the-movie-1success; it was clear that audience members were rooting for Rose and her distressed husband Dave right from the beginning – even if no-one would condone their actions – and Rowson’s impressive turn grounds the plot with a plausibility that just shouldn’t be present given the increasingly bizarre situations the Clements find themselves in. The humour is perfectly balanced with the morbid aspects of the film, and the tongue-in cheek approach of the filmmakers ensures that audiences with an aversion to horror will not be swayed from the occasional splash of blood that sprays their way.

Proof, if ever it was needed, that independent British film continues to thrive in the face of adversity, Whoops! is a sure-fire crowd pleaser that deserves to reach a wide audience once post-production is complete. A few sound inconsistencies aside, there is little to be improved upon with this low-budget gem, which is bound to delight viewers who are offered the glimpse into a mind of a very clumsy serial killer. Stumbling upon this was an accident that I won’t forget in a hurry, and one that (unlike Rose’s murders) I won’t mind repeating.

Written by Tom Bielby

Find Tom on Twitter: @filmbantha

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Review – Jersey Boys (2014)

Adapting a stage play into a film is an undertaking fraught with danger; just because a show is a surefire hit on Broadway, there’s no guarantee that this will translate well to the big screen, regardless of the talent involved. On the one hand you have films like Tom Hooper’s impressive Les Miserables that received eight Oscar nominations and took three of them home when it captured the public’s imagination last year, and the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show that is still well loved almost fourty years after its release, but there is always a risk that we could end up with another turkey like The Wiz with its ridiculous sets and seemingly unenthusiastic cast or Rock of Ages which failed to capture the magic of a well-loved show.

Jersey Boys pic 2Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys manages to sits quite comfortably between the two extremes of the genre, with its cluttered screenplay taking on too many strands of the Four Seasons history to be as tight and cohesive as Frankie Valli & Bob Gaudio’s exceptionally well written songs, but the energy and vigour of the cast’s delivery almost make up for the script’s shortcomings and an overlong runtime. The decision to use relatively unknown newcomers (in the world of cinema) for the four band members paid off, with three of them having previous experience in the Broadway show of Jersey Boys that provided the foundation for a genuine friendship and chemistry which shines in each of their performances. Relatively few stage actors are given the chance to reprise their roles on the big screen and Eastwood’s casting proves that it can work, and could potentially lead to the start of more promising careers in the future if other directors follow his lead.

 

Sadly, for a director with over forty years behind the camera, brevity no longer appears to be Eastwood’s strong point. There is a fascinating story to be told about the formation of the Four Seasons, their rise to fame, and their eventual disenchantment with show business but instead the convoluted plot allows time for too many incidental details. Sub-plots involving the mob, Valli’s relationship with his troubled daughter, and The Four Seasons encounters with various women are all relevant to their progress as a band but fail to provide the film with any emotional heft and are not given enough time to be fully explored. More often than not these eJersey Boys picvents are left underdeveloped in favour of devoting more time to crowd-pleasing musical numbers.

An attempt to speed up the pace of the movie in the form of a narrative whereby each band member breaks the fourth wall to provide further background on their story is initially charming but isn’t enough to smooth over the inherent flaws with the script. Despite this, the songs still burst with energy, and once the music begins, it is not unrealistic to look past the shortcomings and tap your feet along with some of the catchiest tunes from the swinging sixties.

Even if it doesn’t quite hit the high notes, Jersey Boys is still an enjoyable ride that will undoubtedly strike a chord with those who have an affinity with the stage show or a longing for this particular era in music history. Those new to the play may be less enthused with the meandering storyline but by the time the inevitable closing medley commences, the upbeat and infectious music is likely to leave audiences with the feeling that they have just witnessed a pretty special film, but Jersey Boys is a far cry from Eastwood’s best.

Written by Tom Bielby

 

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Review – Lotus Eaters (2011)

Alexandra McGuinness creates a bohemian little universe for “Lotus Eaters”. Through the film we follow a young girl, Alice (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), floating around the town from one party to another. Alice always surrounds herself with her group of friends, they may be around physically but they appear really distant when it
MV5BMTQxNjA2ODc2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzc2NjYxOQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_comes to their feelings. Charlie (Johnny Flynn) is Alice’s love interest, which also has a drug problem. The story line is as boring as confusing. As a viewer I could not relate to any of the drama, but only be voyeuristic about it. No one takes the real spotlight as Alice is always wandering, Charlie is always under the effect of substances and the friends were superficial and self-centred. The black and white doesn’t add, neither subtracts from the film. It only let us know that maybe there was an intention on being Nouvelle Vague. Though the film failed in all the aspects covered below it still is a great portrait of the shallow youth. The young group never actually accomplishes anything, they just “hang out”. The film also captures the ephemeral 20’s, as the transition from a young adult with no responsibilities to a full grown adult. We do comprehend the lack of responsibility and we get that the characters are trying to live the moment and enjoy their young years. For the past reasons the film can’t avoid to turn into a cliche. The ending is as disappointing as the beginning and the middle, we hear some character saying that Alice belongs to no one and she will never really love any one. Well, thanks captain obvious! We were getting that from the very beginning, as if her lack of passion wasn’t enough to tell us that. All the bad mouthing written before leads me to one conclusion: the film wasn’t that great. But it was no total disaster, I’ve managed to watch it whole without trying to escape from the experience. There is some magic about voyeurism that makes the spectator in a trance, you are not engaging with the characters or the story. You are only watching something, and for that I give credit to the film. “Lotus Eaters” doesn’t really allows the viewer too much interaction. It just shuts it’s brain and the viewer has only one solution, to relax and enjoy the ride.

Written by Joana Soares

 

 

 

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