Saturday, 28 July 2018

Blu-Ray Review: Journeyman

Disc Release Date: 30/07/2018

Director: Paddy Considine

Screenplay: Paddy Considine

Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker

Watching Journeyman at times reminded what a joy I find in watching British features, and how disappointed I am with production companies and distributors with their marketing and releasing of British films on their own soil. 16 years ago, I remember sitting in my (then) only local cinema being able to catch at least one screening of Shane Meadows, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002). In the present day, in the same town, now equipped with two cinemas, it’s doubtful that a film like Journeyman would even get a sniff. The variables are many, yet it’s troubling to see that a film like this, despite its flaws, can seemingly disappear even easier in an age where so much social media mutterings relate to which begone property will be sequeled or rebooted. Journeyman is not for all tastes, but it’s existence gently reminds me of when that seemed to matter less, and a net would be cast further to see who would get caught.

The reference to Shane Meadows in the previous paragraph seems necessary when mentioning Paddy Considine as it was the casting choice of the director which brought Considine to prominence with head-turning displays in films such as A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) and Dead Man’s Shoes. (2004). It was around the time of Dead Man’s Shoes that the outlet placed consideration into the idea that the duo could be an English Scorsese and De Niro.  The films they worked on together often dealt with themes not too dissimilar from Scorsese, often centering around troubled males wracked with mental ambiguity constantly verging on the psychotic. Meadows already dabbled in pugilism with Twenty-Four Seven (1997), but it does feel somewhat surprising that the two hadn’t looked to create their own Raging Bull (1980).

Considine’s Journeyman, much like his feature debut Tyrannosaur (2011), carries Meadows DNA within it in many areas, not only with the similar direction of montages driven by melodic acoustic guitar artists. Journeyman not only utilises the sport of boxing to tell its story but again deals with mental health as well as questioning ideas of masculinity. Like Raging Bull, the boxing ring is a place where a toll is taken. Unlike the histrionics that fill many popular American fight features, the film holds a far more sobering tone.

Starting with Considine’s character Matty Burton looking to defend his recently won title against a cocky young fighter (Anthony Welsh). The boxing quickly moves to the background as Burton is found unconscious in his family home by his wife; Emma (Jodie Whittaker) after the title defence. What occurs afterward is a “fight” for Matty to find himself again as the delayed trauma obtained through the fight has resulted in memory loss and a profound alteration to his personality. The most challenging aspects of the film lie with how the dynamic changes between the previously warm, likable Matty and his family.

Journeyman’s effectiveness lies in its interest in what happens after the fight as opposed to a more typical build towards a final fight for glory, with the films most painful sequences being struggles between Matty and Emma. The most successful aspects of the film lie in the subtle manner Considine makes even the most mundane exercise a minefield of precarious hazard. Making a cup of tea. Dealing with a crying child. Many of the sequences feel reminiscent of dealing with someone with dementia. Whittaker excels here, and we can see all the patience of the character in her eyes and vocal cadence. Considine provides a great foil. Matty is told at the beginning of the film that the fight - in which his abilities are questioned from the off – will be a life changer and Considine’s performance pulls off the overwhelming effect of Matty’s head injury without leaning into I Am Sam (2001) territory. This is bread and butter to Considine of course with the punctuated outbursts of emotion and violence, having that same unpredictable feeling that was felt in his early work with Meadows. Despite this, it is the new Doctor Who who brings the deeper resonance, simply by not having the more “showy” verbal tics.

The film is neatly captured by regular Ben Wheatley cinematographer Laurie Rose. The crisp visuals once again become yet another showcase for Rose, with a wonderful mirrored shot of Matty reflected within a picture of himself in his glory days being a highlight. The muted, chilly tones shown here are also a refreshing change from the larger trend of warm yet strangely flat palettes that have inflated many films and shows as of late.

With all that Journeyman has going for it, there is frustration with the film’s relative neatness in its narrative. Considine poses a compelling question about what happens to Sportsmen who must hang up their gear by force. The film doesn’t shy away from having its lead character – whose job is led by intense and controlled aggression – be exposed by moments of vulnerability and uninhibited emotion. However, the film’s latter stages begin to knit things up in a way that feels more akin to the sports features of America, than finding its own path. It’s also unfortunate does this with what appears to be a sprinkling of unintended vanity. This perhaps won’t be a negative to sports fans who are happy with Journeyman’s “one man’s struggle” narrative. However, for those who may be looking for something that lingers in the mind a bit longer, may do well with heading back to Considine’s first feature. Either way, Journeyman is a film that highlights Paddy Considine’s considerable talents both in front of and behind the camera and reminds us of what often gets lost amongst the fight for filmgoers attentions. 

Monday, 30 April 2018

Article: Some thoughts on Infinity War

Note: While I have taken an effort to try and not and spoil the film, this piece will mention other fragments of the Marvel Universe which may affect your thoughts on Infinity War.

The Avengers: Infinity War has been a project which has been ten years in the making. It looks set to become one of the most financially successful features of its era, and it’s vindication for marvel studios who, prior to their release of 2008’s Ironman, were staring bankruptcy in the face. In watching the film, it has highlighted itself to be the best of what it is, a mega-franchise, a spectacle-laden, big-budget episode. A cinematic universe.

In the past few months, friends have objectified to my views that these films (nay all films) should ever be critiqued. They should be only viewed with the aims of “entertainment” only. As if we are all entertained by the same thing. Social Media, fan tribalism, and brand loyalty have also helped contribute to a nasty form siege mentality. Not only you should only look at these cultural texts as trivial distractions, you must pick a side and deal. All these films should be looked at like candy floss and we should be happy that we’re being delivered with all sugar we crave. I do like to indulge in sugar, but I’m also highly aware of my root canals.

Infinity Wars is a grand, all singing, all dancing affair. Something that in all honesty should be seen to be believed. A film looking to encompass pieces of 18 other films and finally drive them towards an end game. It is a fascinating and frustrating endeavour. It is a film full of eye-boggling spectacle, enjoyable laughs, and stunning imagery. But it is also a film that not only requires you to watch 30+ of other films for a viewer to truly understand it’s sense of gravitas, but it moves towards a climax that rings hollow. Less because it’s section one of two parts, more because the rules of this universe, as well as our own governing rules via the executive bean counters, have already taken away a true sense of closure. This is the ultimate “tune in next time folks”.

Joss Whedon has his detractors and understandably so, yet his previous excursions into The Avengers universe, while imperfect, always had a particular sense of purpose. A reasoning of why The Avengers avenged. The best Marvel films have a reasoning and understand of stakes which set them apart from some of the other entries. Whedon’s simple placement of a young waitress placed in danger and saved by Captain America (Chris Evans) in the first Avengers film may only be two scenes but gives a simple grounding of what’s at stake that is simply missing in Infinity Wars. It hasn’t got time. There’s all the characters to get through. Most of them Superheroes. Jokes have been made at The Defenders expense, but seriously, where could you fit them? But this complicated series of connections feels does feel odd. The world is truly at stake from one of the most interesting villains seen in this universe but I as a few never gained a sense of the world, because unlike some of the more compacted or isolated Marvel features, there’s never a sense that the world really features.

The film’s tonal shift and the downbeat climax is meant to portray a sense of maturity and feels like a clear shot at critics who have commented on how there often a feeling of comeuppance isn’t felt with some of these characters. However, this is where not obsessing over Marvel product would come in handy, we’ve been here before when it comes to “losing” characters within this universe and it’s hard to feel any emotion to the events, with the knowledge of contractual obligations and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson appearing as fresh as a daisy on a certain tv show. Add to this the need to wade through 18 films to get why these characters “just turn up”, what’s witnessed feels disjointed. Other writers have labeled the film's climax as cheap, and it’s easy to see why.

Of course to say this is to be traitorous. How dare anyone say anything at all negative about a film that looks set of being one of the biggest money spinners of all time. It must be loved and only loved. There are parts that I really enjoy. See the guardians of the galaxy here was far more enjoyable than their second adventure. I cannot and will not fault the performances of the cast, in particular, an unbelievably solid Josh Brolin (I can’t wait for the meta references in Deadpool 2).  The Russo’s and their unit teams frame and execute the action set pieces with far more skill and grace than Ryan Cooglar’s efforts in Black Panther, while Thanos will stand alongside Killmonger, Loki, and Killgrave as the best villains of the Marvel rouge’s gallery. There is a lot to like here. Possibly even love. I just wish it hadn’t felt so empty. I’m relatively ok with having to plow through 30 hours of films to get to a certain point. It’s just sad that said point only feels like it’s gearing you up to watch another 30.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Afrofilmviewer is changing!

Hello there!

If you were a regular visitor to this lil spot and wonder where I've been...

Don't worry! I'm not quitting yet. 

I'm looking to change my focus on film a tad. There'll be less reviewing of what's out at the cinema and more articles, notifications of the podcast work I do and....some reviews (ahem).

Once I get some ideas down, this site will once again be up and about for your viewing pleasure!

See you soon.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Review: mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Synopsis is here:

So that was mother! A tumbling freefall about the creative process? An overloaded allegory about absolutely everything? Whatever you may think the film is about, the main point I seemed to take from the film is that Aronofsky is Angry with a capital A, to substitute the missing capital in the film’s title card. At the time of writing, my twitter feed has been filled with snarky cinephiles bemoaning the film’s outrageousness as well as the punishing way it tortures its lead (who the director is now dating). It’s a film where its detractors must scream from the highest mountain on how much they disliked it.

Another word beginning with A that I would describe mother! With be absurd. It’s a film which wanted to make a point about humanity’s destruction of the planet, as well as flirt with the same sort of biblical subtexts that Aronofsky has been playing with since his lo-fi indie breakthrough Pi (1998). It wants to mention commentary on celebrity culture and wishes to it do so with haunted house tropes and lingering references to Roman Polanski. The film lays its cards on the table with little disregard on whether the audience wishes to go with it or not. Its execution is set at a pitch which is so high that only dogs could hear. It’s not surprising that it’s set audiences apart. There are those who clearly have the ear for it and those wondering why the other half have tilted their heads.

Did I like it? Sure. I cackled like a schoolgirl through a lot of mother! Mostly because its high camp melodrama tickled me in the right way. I couldn’t take such an audacious film seriously and I suspect that the film and its makers know this, despite its clear Anger at the world. The only way Aronofsky could lash out at everything that pisses him off (the environment, celebrity hounding, the meaning and understanding of creation/destruction). It’s reminiscent of Polanski’s apartment trilogy and holds a similar love for finding humour in its bleakness. Its main conceit had me considering the haywire temperament of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) as well as Chuck Palahniuk’s fever dream of a novel Diary (2003).  It also seems to nod at the transgressional nightmares of Lars Von Trier and tries to aim for that same troublesome headspace. I must admit I’m more with Aronofsky’s style of “lulz” than Von Trier’s. I also feel that all the aforementioned examples are tighter with their focus.

My main issue with the movie is that despite its clear intention to be an ambitious piece of audacity, is that it has the same problems as Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006). It wants to be all these things to its audience, but in doing so, the film becomes much of a muchness. The cast is routinely up for the absurdity even though it’s not top tier performances from any of them.  The tight claustrophobic framing, overloading of close-ups and bucking of typical structure gives the film a vision far removed from so many movies recently released. However, despite the “fun” you can have reveled in its nihilism (it’s really made for a particular sense of humour) once the film enters its extraordinary final 30 minutes, it all feels like 10 different people shouting at once, which is strange considering the film does what it can to isolate everything through the viewpoint of Jenifer Lawrence’s character.

That said, mother! is kind of the perfect type of movie for where we are as filmgoers. It’s ability to polarise audiences is heartily welcomed in the film world that seems hellbent on clogging social media streams on which bland filmmaker has been fired from whichever totally safe megafranchise. While the films detractor’s current snark levels feel somewhat insufferable, rather this than a movie that gave us no experience. To those who favour the film, it’s interesting to see what exactly they see within the hysteria. I for one enjoyed seeing a director try and reach for the sky. It’s very telling to see how many people were quick claim folly on this Icarus attempt. Each to their own. However, one hopes the conversations on mother! last for a long time. I may then be interested in rewatching it and joining in.  

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Review: Life

Year: 2017
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay:Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds. 

Synopsis is here:

Daniel Espinosa’s mainstream cinematic entries could perhaps be a good definition of what the youths call “basic”. They are films which have just enough to elevate them above mere “wallpaper” movies; films which are on in the background merely to provide environmental decoration (i.e: it’s on because it’s on). However, they do very little to become films that do anything distinctive. Espinosa’s Northern American features are good at reminding you of more insightful films with bigger impacts, but as a film of themselves, provide little more than a non-committal shrug. In watching Life, we realise that little of this has changed, but it’s the best of a middling bunch.

Life is little more than a well-financed borrowing of Alien, with a sprinkling of other recent, more effective Sci-Fi fare (Sunshine, Gravity). It pilfers and re-arranges enough to become a relatively compact and enjoyable ride, yet like many imitators, the film itself doesn’t include the ingredients that made previous films so memorable. The angst which fills Sunshine (2007) is non-existent here. The deep emotional current that runs through Gravity (2013) can’t be found in any of Life’s corners. Don’t expect the stillness and social dynamics that punctuate Alien, will not be seen. The fat is more than trimmed off the meat here. Don’t expect any extra weight. The problem is that it’s the fat, which cooks the meat and gives it flavour. Ask any cook worth their salt. What we get here is something well done.

Espinosa is all too happy to show off that all the tips and tricks we saw in other sci-fi movies are all still very fun to watch. Ogle at Seamus McGarvey’s fluid cinematography. Marvel at the fact that, for the most part, no one steps their feet on solid ground. You may have seen this elsewhere, but it’s still impressive to watch. It will no doubt be a nice screensaver for a fancy widescreen somewhere. All the while, the film is compressed into a tight package. It zips along to its most effective moments and never dilly dallies. Possibly because it knows it hasn’t got too much junk in the trunk, but hey, at least the film’s tensest moment plays out just like it did in the trailer seen in front of so many other films. 
Believe me when I say, if you’ve seen said trailer, you’ve seen the best moment of the film.

Therefore the other films I mentioned give us a little more to play with. The examples I’ve mentioned give exchanges that provide interest outside the set pieces. Such exchanges bolster the movie and provide motivations and heft to the proceedings that Life is only vaguely interested in. One character hints at a damaged life back on earth that they’d rather not go back to, but this is a transparent moment to provide a small jolt later in the screenplay. It never feels like a true revelation of character. Life is so fleeting with such aspects, it makes things tough to fully surrender to it when the proverbial poo hits the fan. 

It’s easy to be cynical about a feature that isn’t hurting anyone. While it’s a shame that Life has no jagged edges, save for a twilight zone sting at its climax, that fact that it’s a smooth ride, is actually quite nice. It rises above the likes of Espinosa’s Child 44 simply by holding a coherence which that film did not. It holds a decent amount of suspense when it’s on point and has a solid cast holding it together. It’s still a step above a wallpaper movie and despite appearing a little worn, the corners are not peeling enough for the whole thing to be torn down.