Film Review: Neruda

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 6 Apr 2017

Pablo Larraín’s unconventional biopic Neruda comes hot on the heels of Jackie, which saw Natalie Portman garner an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character, although it was actually made before that film. Show the rest of this post…

Neruda is a pleasingly left field entry in the genre – indeed, the term ‘biopic’ is perhaps a little misleading as regards this film – and while its eccentricities didn’t always work for me, I found it to be an entertaining and enjoyable piece of work nonetheless.

The film contrives a game of cat and mouse between the poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), who publicly denounces the Chilean president and must go into hiding to escape arrest, and a fictional detective, Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal). Larraín divides screen time between his two leading men, if not equally, then equally enough to build them both up as worthwhile presences. Neruda is shown to be flamboyant and popular but also stubborn and flawed. This works in the film’s favour. Larraín is not interested in claiming that Neruda was a hero, just a flawed and talented man. As Peluchonneau, Bernal brings charisma and dry wit to a roll that is perhaps made to feel more important by the film than it actually is.

The film isn’t afraid to flirt with darkness but most of the drama takes place in a fairly light hearted tone. Larrain uses noir voiceover, and old fashioned rear projection during many of the film’s driving sequences, to bring a jovial sense of fun to proceedings, even when the subject matter is comparatively serious.

Larraín presents the story as a grand chase (albeit one whose political importance is revealed to be questionable) between his two central figures, although the significance of that narrative sometimes gets a little lost in the style. The relaxed tone means that while the film is enjoyable to watch, the central thrust of the story doesn’t have the weight it seems to be searching for. I also felt that although Gnecco and Bernal are on good form, their characters, although interesting on a surface level, weren’t as deeply explored as perhaps they could have been.

As the film goes on, the fleet-of-foot pacing of the earlier stages gives way to a more mannered, focused style, and this suits the conclusion perfectly. There is a sense, as the two characters get closer together, that they have become increasingly single minded in their respective goals, and the story ends with more conviction than it begins with.

Neruda is an interesting film with good performances and a well-established sense of place and time. I felt a little distanced from it as I watched, and unable to connect with the characters the way it seemed to want  me to, but that said there are plenty of excellent scenes to enjoy along the way, and an unusual tone that makes the film stand out among other cinematic portrayals of real figures.

3/5

Film Review: Personal ShopperFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 13 Mar 2017

In this unusual psychological chiller from director Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper – essentially a personal assistant, primarily responsible for sourcing clothing and accessories – to a high-profile celebrity whom she rarely sees. Show the rest of this post…

She, dislikes the job, but is persisting with it because the money allows her a flexible lifestyle in Paris, and the time to repeatedly visit the old, creaking house where her twin brother died. Maureen and her brother were not only twins, but twin mediums. Maureen is waiting for a sign from her dead brother to confirm that he has ‘moved on’.

The film is a concoction of multiple genres, and has a genetic connection to haunted-house horror films, although filtered through a lens of cerebral drama and Hitchcockian suspense. These elements blend into what is primarily a character study – just what is Maureen really waiting for, and why? To what extent is what we know about her true? These are clearly tropes of the psychological thriller genre, but Assayas renders them in a fresh, engaging drama.

This is Stewart’s second role in an Assayas film, and there are cosmetic similarities between the characters she plays, most obviously that Maureen, like Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria, is in the service of a celebrity. This is a different, more tightly wound performance, though, and Stewart again is very convincing. Whereas in Clouds of Sils Maria she was required to spar intellectually with Juliette Binoche’s actress, here she is very much the centre of the film, both physically and emotionally. She, along with the convincing tone established by Assayas – helps carry the film through its potentially risible elements.

Personal Shopper is a balancing act between the supernatural and the real, and Assayas handles the switches in tone well. Maureen believes her job is simply a necessity to keep her ticking over while she deals with her brother’s absence, but we quickly realise there may be more to it than that. It’s impressive that the atmosphere is maintained whether Maureen is wandering around a spooky house or sitting on a train reading text messages (in what is an effective, if overly protracted, sequence) and Assayas and Stewart hold everything together right up to the nicely staged conclusion.

If there is a significant issue with the film, it’s that the disparate elements work together only up to a certain point, and as a result Personal Shopper is neither truly scary or emotionally involving. But having said that, I enjoyed the blend of genres and appreciated the fact that Assayas was trying something bold. That boldness, couple with Stewart’s winning lead performance, make Personal Shopper worth a look.

4/5

 

VOR’s sleek 1B high-tops work for Wednesday in the office, or the weekend around town

Posted in Products, Style
By Sam Bathe on 9 Feb 2017

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From German footwear label VOR, the 1B high-tops are a suave and sophisticated sneaker, hand-made from tongue to sole in Germany. With supreme attention to detail in the stitching and finish, 1Bs are available in five colourways; white, white with gum rubber sole, off-white, rose and black. With an upper in full grain leather, 1Bs are lined with soft calfskin leather, tonal laces and a rubber cupsole, also available in an ankle-cut style. VOR’s 1B high-tops are available from their online store for €349: www.vor.shoes

Cold War Kids return with a defiant and joyous video for new single, ‘Love Is Mystical’, their ode to Los Angeles

Posted in Music, Music Videos
By Sam Bathe on 8 Feb 2017

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Off the back of their most successful ever single in 2015′s First, Cold War Kids return with a new line-up, new album, and new video. The first single off the forthcoming LP, LA Divine, Love Is Mystical is frontman Nathan Willett’s ode to his home city, about seeking spiritual and creative fulfilment while living in place that can be so image-centric. Directed by Phillip Lopez, the video sees the band walk backwards through a windy dance routine before the troupe comes together for a make-out flashmob surrounded by flowers and torrential rain. LA Divine is due for release on April 7th.

The London List: teamLab take over the Pace London gallery with interactive exhibition, ‘Transcending Boundaries’The London List

Posted in Art, London, London List
By Sam Bathe on 3 Feb 2017

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Reminiscent of the iconic Rain Room in Barbican’s The Curve gallery, Transcending Boundaries is a collection of remarkable interactive, digital artworks from Tokyo-based, teamLab. Including eight installations across three rooms in London’s Pace Gallery, the artworks surround visitors, transforming and changing shape as guests move through the space. From a virtual waterfall that flows around your feet, to flowers that bloom across visitors’ clothing, pieces are created in real time depending on how you interact with the gallery space. Exploring the role of digital technology in transcending physical and virtual boundaries, Transcending Boundaries runs until March 11th at Pace Gallery.

Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET
www.pacegallery.com/exhibitions/12840/transcending-boundaries

Real Estate share the stage with a mild-mannered horse in the video for new single ‘Darling’

Posted in Music, Music Videos
By Sam Bathe on 25 Jan 2017

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Never ones to over-play release news, Brooklyn five-piece Real Estate announced their fourth album, In Mind, with the video for new single, Darling, which sees the band perform alongside a horse. Their first LP since guitarist Matt Mondanile left the band to concentrate on his own Ducktails project, Darling, however, is still Real Estate through and through. With sleek hooks setting the mood alongside Martin Courtney’s tempered vocals, in the video, their set is quickly interrupted by a trespassing horse, eager to lick the cymbals, nibble band members, or just stand in front of the camera. With almost a couple of months until In Mind hits the shelves, hopefully another new single and tour dates are to come before March 17th. Video directed by Weird Days.

The London List Abroad: Hotel Bachaumont brings the Roaring Twenties back to life on a quiet Parisian sidestreetThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 15 Jan 2017

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Located in the central 2nd arrondissement and walking distance from the Louvre, Pompidou Centre and the Seine riverside, Hotel Bachaumont is a suave Art Deco escape that recalls the Roaring Twenties. Surrounded by classic Parisian boulangeries, cafes and bars, while the local area once fell into disrepair, today the cobbled Montorgueil streets exude charm and heritage. Show the rest of this post…

Recently renovated with the stunning Haussmann façade restored to its original glory, the Hotel Bachaumont boasts 49 rooms, four of which are apartment-sized suites, and all decorated in a sleek Art Deco palette. Using pattern and shape to elevate the finish, the level of detail in the rooms and public areas is extraordinary, with herringbone flooring underfoot and glorious tilework in the bathrooms. For a beautiful outdoor breakfast spot, punt for a room with a balcony too.

Hotel Bachaumont, 18 Rue Bachaumont, 75002 Paris, France
www.hotelbachaumont.com

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The London List Abroad: The Arcade Bakery invites patrons into NYC’s historic Merchant Square BuildingThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 10 Jan 2017

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Found in the lobby of the historic Merchant Square Building in Tribeca, NYC, the Arcade Bakery makes ingenious use of space, filling the picturesque hall with aromas of its fresh pastries, flatbreads and traditional loafs. With tables folding down from the gorgeous wood-panelled alcoves, everything is baked on-site, with patrons invited to peer through large glass windows into the plush, tiled kitchen within. The Arcade Bakery open Monday to Friday, 8am-4pm, with the menu and fresh baked goods changing throughout the day.

Arcade Bakery, 220 Church Street, New York City, NY 10013, USA
www.arcadebakery.com

The London List Abroad: Copenhagen’s Väkst restaurant creates a wholly-upcycled, idyllic greenhouse escapeThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 4 Jan 2017

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Serving a monthly rotating Modern European menu, Väkst is an extraordinary restaurant furnished entirely from upcycled materials. Designing the interior in collaboration with upcycling company, Genbyg, restaurateurs Cofoco used a variety of salvaged wood, reclaimed furniture and life-worn garden pots to create an idyllic space that feels welcoming and alive. Stepping up into the restaurant through a would-be greenhouse, Väkst bases all of its princicple on sustainability and producing as little waste as possible and seats guests everyday, though Sunday is evening-only.

Väkst, Sankt Peders Stræde 34, 1453 Copenhagen, Denmark
www.hostvakst.dk/vakst

Our favourite films of 2016

Posted in Film
By Martin Roberts on 28 Dec 2016

It’s that time of year again, when critics struggle valiantly to put together lists of the best films released in the preceding year. Show the rest of this post…

My own list comes with the usual caveat that, as a part-time critic, there are a lot of films I haven’t seen. I still haven’t caught up with critical darlings such as Room, Son of Saul and Spotlight, and am sad to say that I’m yet to see, among others, Embrace of the Serpent, Hell or High Water and Julieta. There are also two Japanese animations – When Marnie Was There and Your Name – that are high on my list of must-sees.

But even without those titles, 2016 has been a strong year, and I was reminded, looking back, of how varied and unpredictable a year it has been. The list was difficult to assemble and I wrestled with some titles that, even now, I’m not quite sure deserve to be left out. The strength and variety of 2016 is summed up by the ‘honourable mentions’ list at the bottom of this article, which in itself represents a high-quality watch list of 2016.

The top 10 below, presented in alphabetical order, is comprised of the best 10 films I saw in 2016. Enjoy it, and be sure to catch up on these if you haven’t already.

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 Arrival

A smart, touching sci-fi from Denis Villeneuve, who is currently on a strong run of form that bodes well for next year’s Blade Runner 2049. Amy Adams, who will appear again on this list, stars as a linguistics expert called in to help the US military communicate with a mysterious race of aliens who appear without warning or explanation, hovering in giant egg-shaped ships above the Earth. Jóhan Johansson’s eerie score – reminiscent of Mica Levi’s work on Under the Skin – and Villeneuve’s restrained direction combine with strong central performances for a sci-fi that is intriguing, thrilling and ultimately rewarding.

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Bone Tomahawk

S Craig Zahler’s directorial debut is one of those films that surprises and entertains in equal measure. Considering it was Zahler’s first feature, it’s remarkable how Bone Tomahawk manages to shine on so many levels. It’s a gritty Western at heart, and a convincing one, but Mahler’s script is infused with playful black comedy that really hits home, artfully shifting the tone as we follow a posse, lead by Kurt Russell’s sheriff, through the desert on a mission to rescue kidnapped townsfolk from the terrifying Troglodytes – a tribe of cave-dwelling cannibals. The central performances are terrific; the action nerve racking; and there are moments of genuine horror that will shake you to the core.

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The Hateful Eight

It’s been a good year for Kurt Russell. His second appearance on my list sees him playing another sheriff – this time John Ruth in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a taut Western over half of which takes place in a single room. Tarantino’s decision to shoot an enclosed location in super widescreen 70mm format initially raised a few eyebrows, but watching the film it makes complete sense. The haberdashery in which the action unfolds is shot in such a way as to make it feel like a landscape, a microcosm of the US, and a playground for the actors to spar with Tarantino’s crackling script. It may not be perfect, and like a lot of Tarantino’s work it does have moments of indulgence, but its a thrilling ride.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This offbeat coming-of-age comedy from Taika Waititi, in which juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is placed in the foster care of a new family and ends up lost in the woods with Hec (Sam Neill), was an unexpected gem in 2016. Newcomer Dennison’s performance is so good that Ricky Baker is sure to become a cult hero, and his chemistry with Neill’s grouchy Hec is a winning combo. The film has heart and laughs and, just when it begins to look like it might be running out of steam, Rhys Darby shows up in a hilarious cameo to help carry the film to its conclusion.

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I, Daniel Blake

Treasured British director Ken Loach may now be 80, but I, Daniel Blake is charged with the same political fury that has powered much of Loach’s career. This Newcastle-set drama, which depicts a man’s struggle with the UK welfare state, is thoroughly convincing in its portrayal of stultifying bureaucracy, and will frustrate and charm in equal measure. Dave Johns is excellent in the title role, and opposite him Hayley Squires, as a young single mum trapped in the same system, is equally good. The film proved too polemical for some, but the lives it depicts ring true, and the relationships are entirely believable. Loach and his team did significant research for the film and most of what we see is founded in truth. An important work not to be ignored.

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The Neon Demon

After the misstep that was Only God Forgives, Nicholas Winding Refn made a triumphant return this year with The Neon Demon, a twisted fairytale set in the fashion world of Los Angeles. Starring Elle Fanning as a beautiful young model who immediately makes an impact on the LA scene – and in doing so inspires jealousy in her older, more sculpted peers – The Neon Demon immediately establishes a brooding atmosphere and runs with it right up until the inevitable exploitation trappings of the final act. The cast are on great form, fitting beautifully into Refn’s hyperreal sensibilities, and the technical aspects are a delight; visually and sonically, the film is totally absorbing.

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Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s second feature came seven years after his first, but was very much worth the wait. This adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, in which a woman’s ex-husband sends her a manuscript of a novel he’s written depicting thinly-disguised versions of their younger selves, masterfully juxtaposes the present day with dramatisations of the novel itself. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are excellent in the lead roles; the rest of the cast provides winning support; and Ford successfully blurs together time periods while holding the emotion core of the film intact, right up to the beautifully judged ending.

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Paterson

A beautifully reserved tonal piece by Jim Jarmusch starring an understated Adam Driver as Paterson, a poetry-writing bus driver living in the town that shares his name. We follow Paterson through seven days of his life, most of which is entirely ordinary and for the most part uneventful. The drama in Jarmusch’s touching film comes not from big statements but in the gentle depiction of a man’s thoughts as he goes through life. It’s a lovely film that captures something profound in the everyday.

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Sing Street

Few films in 2016 made me as happy as John Carney’s Sing Street. I grinned practically all the way through it, shed a tear or two, and wished the projectionist would start it up again. Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor, a down-on-his-luck kid who starts a rock band to impress a girl (Lucy Boynton), the film is full of laughs, catchy tunes, touching teen romance and the odd splash of kitchen sink realism. Walsh-Peelo and Boynton are great, and their chemistry effortlessly ushers the film through its drama and musical sequences. A real treat.

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Youth

Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to the much garlanded The Great Beauty didn’t receive quite the same level of critical acclaim, but Youth, which stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as 70-plus best friends staying at a luxury retreat in the Swiss Alps, has a strange and profound magic. It isn’t perfect and takes a while to settle down, but once it does, the impressive cast (including Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano) and Sorrentino’s magical storytelling blend into something truly memorable. The emotional conclusion is one of the most rousing sequences of the year.

Honourable mentions:

Anomalisa, The Big Short, Captain America: Civil War, Green Room, Love and Friendship, Under the Shadow, The Witch, Zootropolis

FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

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