Film Review: Captain America: Civil WarFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 25 Apr 2016

For a while, Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice were scheduled to release on the same day. In the end, DC blinked first and moved Zack Snyder’s film to March, where it opened to lavish box office figures and mostly poor reviews. 2016′s second superhero smackdown comes courtesy of Marvel Studios, and is the third film in the Captain America series, although in reality it also functions as a sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Show the rest of this post…

Anthony and Joe Russo, the sibling directors of the second Captain America film, Winter Soldier, return here after being rewarded for their work by being handed the reins to Marvel’s ultimate, two-part cinematic showdown, Avengers: Infinity War, which begins next year. This project feels like a rehearsal for that one, in that it gathers together a huge amount of larger-than-life characters, most of whom we’ve seen on screen already. The Russo’s job – as it was Joss Whedon’s before them – is to cram a whole load of stuff into a cohesive, entertaining film. On this evidence, Marvel may have put their gargantuan series in two pairs of safe hands.

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This film adapts a much-liked storyline from the comics, updating it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) are pitted against each other by a moral quandary. In this version, the divisive factor is the Sokovia Accords, a document signed by 117 countries which calls for the Avengers to be brought under the stewardship of the United Nations. Various elements of plot are introduced or resurrected in order to establish the basic setup: Iron Man wants to sign, and Captain America does not. After the scene is set, following on from an action-packed introduction, the film enters a protracted period of calm, taking its time to establish the plot strands that will come together in the final third. And, of course, a massive punch-up between two teams of five superheroes.

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The problem all directors and screenwriters must get around with Marvel films is how to fit all the constituent elements together in a way that not only makes sense, but is entertaining and feels like it’s going somewhere. Inevitably, some of the pieces are served better than others, but what the Russo brothers have done – and indeed the screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – is carefully pick and choose their moments. As directors, the Russos clearly have a flair for action – that much was clear in the previous Cap film – and that flair is ramped up here, but the action is not the only positive. They also seem able to tap into that now-familiar Marvel tone – one of complete seriousness interspersed with tongue-in-cheek silliness. It’s that lightness of touch that many feel separates these films from their murkier DC equivalents. Civil War’s tone lies somewhere between the more considered parts of Winter Soldier and the free-wheeling fun of the Avengers films. When the main players are on screen, the film tends to be more serious (Tony Stark’s quick wit is mostly reined in here) but it allows itself a sense of fun, too, primarily when the supporting cast are assembled. The central showdown, for instance, comes after that rather long establishing section. Just as the film is beginning to feel too heavy for its own good, along come Paul Rudd (as Ant Man) and Tom Holland as the new Spiderman (both great), and their presence acts as a catalyst for the film to throw off its shackles and become deliriously entertaining. Just don’t think too hard about the mechanics of what’s going on – the film even makes a joke (through Spiderman) about how silly it all is.

Where the film struggles a little is in defining the allegiances and enmities running through its massive cast of characters. It does a fairly decent, if not entirely convincing, job of building a conflict between its two central players, and actually there is some depth in the film’s discussion of responsibility and guilt. The rest of the cast are competing for screen time and, when the fighting starts, the motivations of some of the minor players are thinly sketched at best. Tom Holland is great as the new Spiderman (something I really didn’t expect to be saying, given how well covered the character has been) but his introduction is a weak structural element. The other main new addition to the cast is Chadwick Boseman as Blank Panther, whose storyline is central to the setup of the film, and who handles his role well. The rest of supporting cast are all on good form, even if most of them are reduced to action sidekicks in this narrative. Sebastian Stan has a difficult role as the Winter Soldier, aka Steve Rogers’ old war buddy, but makes it work – particularly through one great line of dialogue. The development of characters such as Scarlett Witch and Vision, for instance, will have to wait until the next Avengers film.

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As a whole, Civil War is a success. Though it has flaws in its structure and struggles to make all of its characters feel vital, it nevertheless provides a romping action adventure with enough depth and heart to make it feel like an essential part of this ongoing mythology. Thankfully, Marvel has thought about how to vary its action sequences up – nothing falls from the sky and no cities explode in the final third – and the drama in Civil War comes not just from clashing fists, but from an interesting conflict of opinions. It even manages to introduce two new heroes, one of whom the cinema-going audience probably thought it was sick of, and as a bonus has Daniel Bruhl as an underdeveloped but effective third-party villain. In the 2016 battle for superhero supremacy, Marvel has unquestionably delivered the knock-out blow.

4/5

 

Film Review: The DivideFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Temoor Iqbal on 22 Apr 2016

“The health of our democracies, our societies and their people, is truly dependent on greater equality.” So ends The Spirit Level, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s seminal text on inequality. Mental and physical health, the authors argue, suffer most in those economies that have the largest relative equality gaps between the richest 20% and the poorest 20%. Show the rest of this post…

The text, published in 2009, has influenced much of this decade’s political and sociological thinking, but there is a feeling that its message, in its arch, statistical formulation, has not reached a wide enough audience to enter into everyday consciousness.

Enter director Katharine Round, a self-confessed arithmophile who found herself captivated by what The Sprit Level’s charts and graphs revealed about social inequality in the developed west. As she pored over them, however, she began to look beyond the figures. “It struck me that every point on those graphs represented millions of ordinary lives – the charts had a human meaning beyond a mere statistical correlation.” And so, The Divide came into being – a documentary about the personal, human side of inequality, and the micro side of the macro issues the book covers. As Round herself put it: “I wanted to tell the story through the voice of lived experience – not just statistics, but real people.”

The film follows seven people in the US and UK who are affected by the vast inequality these two nations boast. Most are in unsurprising situations – a care worker who wishes it wasn’t such a constant uphill battle to make ends meet, a KFC server and single mother saddened by the decline of her neighbourhood, and a Wall Street investor convinced that his wealth is fair reward for his superior intellect and capacity for hard work. These vignettes are touching, infuriating and, at times, warmly comic, but they do little to explore the issue of inequality and don’t really touch on the significance of the scale of wealth difference. Indeed, Leah – the aforementioned mother working at KFC – comes across as the film’s main subject, in spite of offering little that relates to its stated objective. This is a tough thing to say, as she’s a brilliant personality – engaging in front of the camera, witty and incredibly moving. You just can’t shake the feeling that these traits captivated the filmmakers a little too much, leading things a little bit astray at times.

Much more interesting, situationally speaking, are relatively well-off psychologist Alden and housewife Jen. Both, in different ways, demonstrate the extraordinary layering of wealth divisions in the US, emphasising that when top-to-bottom inequality is so unutterably massive, even those who would seem infinitely rich to most people around the world still struggle hugely. Alden wakes at 6am every day to exercise (his tame jogging overlaid with his own motivational tripe about ‘pushing the limits’ is by far the film’s funniest moment), then sees patients one after another non-stop, before heading home and more or less straight to bed. The exercise, if it can be called that, is to guard against the dreaded possibility of falling ill – he cannot afford a sick day, and studiously avoids public transport for the same reason. He spends very little time with his family, deciding that the best thing he can do for them is work himself to the bone to provide a certain lifestyle – at one point we join him and his wife as they check out houses in a gated community.

This brings us to Jen, who is living the gated community ‘dream’. This seems a level of opulence beyond the reckoning (or desire) even of most people in the developed world. And yet, she is subjected to constant reminders that her wealth might be enough to have bought a house there, but it is not nearly enough to live the gated community lifestyle – a lifestyle that sees people spend $10,000 on golf carts, which are converted with special kits to look like BMWs. Insulted for driving a car that isn’t brand new, for mowing her own lawn, and for having kids who look different to most of her neighbours’ kids (this isn’t clearly explained – we’re told her kids are blonde-haired and blue-eyed, but the implication is left hanging), Jen is constantly made to feel unwelcome. The coup de grâce comes when she reveals that a group of the richest people in the gated area, which is already guarded 24/7 by an armed security officer, is planning to request a second internal gate, creating their own gated community within a gated community.

It is this seeming insanity – this sense of the futility of social ‘progress’ and the non-existence of social mobility – that really drives home the film’s point about inequality. It is an unsubtle reminder of quite how mind-blowing the scale of inequality is in two countries that are considered wealthy, successful and developed places. Of course, this isn’t the only context we’re given – the seven stories are broken up with illuminating talking heads, including the ever-present Noam Chomsky and, much more enlighteningly, Sir Alan Budd. The latter advised the Thatcher administration on monetary policy, and thus had more than a small hand in setting the neo-liberal economic agenda that fosters and drives inequality to greater and greater extremes to this day. Fascinatingly, and to his immense credit, he offers no attempt to justify this legacy, and instead apologises for the terrible results (not least the elephant in the room – the 2008 financial crisis), which he convincingly claims to be consequences that he, at least, genuinely did not foresee.

Ultimately, The Divide is enraging for all the right reasons. It could be criticised for wandering a little astray at times, but this is simply a result of Round sticking to her guns and telling human stories, not statistical ones. That is not to say the film is devoid of context, but rather that it is pleasingly unfettered by its own agenda. Certainly, it will appeal more to those of a particular political persuasion, but I’m sure those on the other side of the debate would enjoy picking it apa rt almost as much as the rest of us would enjoy agreeing with and learning from it. It might even go so far as to touch a nerve with those too hardened to be convinced by statistics.

5/5

Photographer Kourtney Roy shoots a fictional film noir in rural Canada for book ‘Northern Noir’

Posted in Art, Photography, Shoots, Style
By Sam Bathe on 19 Apr 2016

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Shot over several road trips through Ontario and British Columbia, photographer Kourtney Roy‘s series, Northern Noir, are like stills from a fictional film noir. Wanting to photograph the “non-events that encircle the places where transgressive acts may have taken place,” Kourtney creates a sinister undertone in otherwise mundane situations. The series is published in a book by Editions la Pionniere titled by the same name. Show the rest of this post…

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Check out more of Kourtney’s photography on her site: www.kourtneyroy.com

Film Review: Jane Got a Gun

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 18 Apr 2016

Jane Got a Gun is a film with a chequered history to say the least – you might remember reading about it. I was initially excited about Jane Got a Gun because Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin) was attached to direct, but Ramsay didn’t show up for the first day of shooting and the project fell into a state of disrepair. Show the rest of this post…

Before Ramsey’s no-show, Michael Fassbender had left due to scheduling issues, and Joel Edgerton, initially slated to play the villain, moved roles. The script was rewritten, with input from Edgerton himself, and Gavin O’Connor, who had worked with Edgerton on his previous film Warrior, was drafted in last minute to direct. Natalie Portman, who plays the title role and is also one of a long list of producers, has been one of the few constants.

The film is set in the late 19th century, in the Old West. Portman plays Jane, the wife of a former criminal (Noah Emmerich) who decided to leave the Bishop Boys, a gang of ruthless outlaws led by John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), to be with her. When her husband is injured, Jane enlists the help of former lover Dan Frost (Edgerton) to defend her homestead and, hopefully, extricate herself from the clutches of the gang.

There is some evidence in Jane Got a Gun of its topsy-turvy production period, but I was surprised by how cohesive it felt. Like most westerns, the story is pretty straightforward – Jane and Dan spend most of the film fortifying the house and talking about their pasts, which works out well, because Portman and Edgerton make for engaging company. Ewan McGregor, playing against type as the villain, is effective, although the film doesn’t really give him enough to do. But he does the best he can with what scenes he gets, and ultimately, by the conclusion, the film has built up enough goodwill for its leads that the final house-invasion confrontation summons up some genuine tension and thrills.

The New Mexico landscape is nicely shot by Mandy Walker and her cinematography, along with some sweeping music by Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francisci, give the film enough of an identity that it doesn’t feel like an identikit Western. Gavin O’Connor has held the thing together impressively, giving the film a pretty consistent tone. The only times this wavers is during the many flashback sequences that flesh out the backstory. It’s impossible to say whether the original script relied so heavily on flashbacks or whether they were introduced to bring some clarity to the narrative, and you could argue their use is a structural weakness (particularly as they jump about quite a lot), but I felt the flashbacks, with the exception of one or two cheesy sequences, actually worked rather well. The script, meanwhile, which we know went through rewrites, is generally sturdy; there are a couple of ropey moments in there, but also one or two genuinely heartfelt exchanges.

Films with less-than-ideal production cycles often end up as confused messes, lacking a clear vision. I don’t think that can be said about Jane Got a Gun, which, despite the reliance on flashback, is a lean and gritty western. Portman is convincing as Jane, a heroine who is fragile and fearless in equal measure, and Joel Edgerton brings calm class to his hard-drinking good guy role. The film’s ending is the only part of the narrative that feels rushed, w rapping things up a tad too neatly for my liking. Yes, the film we’ve finally been presented with is more mainstream than we might have expected, but it works on its own terms.

3/5

The London List Abroad: Artist Cornelia Parker has recreated the ‘Psycho’ house on the rooftop of NYC’s Met MuseumThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 15 Apr 2016

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Now in the fourth year of their summer rooftop series, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned British artist Cornelia Parker to create their 2016 installation. Titled Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), Parker’s piece is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and paintings by US artist Edward Hopper. A structure that from the front appears to be a real house, but from the back is exposed as two facades held up by scaffolding, PsychoBarn juxtaposes the authenticity of landscape with the artifice of a film set. The 30-foot structure uses the wooden slats, window frames and roof tiles from an abandoned barn in upstate New York, and will be on show from April 19 to October 31.

The Met Fifth Avenue, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028
www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2016/cornelia-parker

Ancient Transylvanian salt mine, Salina Turda, finds a new lease of life as a spectacular subterranean theme parkThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 12 Apr 2016

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In the picturesque Transylvanian countryside, Salina Turda is an ancient salt mine that has become a tourist attraction for unlikely reasons. Deep below ground, visitors descend the mine’s tight tunnels not only to experience the extraordinary man-made chamber below, but for subterranean mini-golf, bowling, and to row around its underground boating lake. Show the rest of this post…

Shot by photographer Richard John Seymour, the Salina Turda dates back over two millennia, last active as a salt mine in 1932. Since then it was used as a WWII shelter, for cheese storage, and in its modern form, now offers a healing centre for people suffering from lung conditions. Part of a €6m investment, a mini theme park with ferris wheels, plus a spa and small amphitheatre were all constructed as this man-made marvel starts a new life for tourists.

Salina Turda, Aleea Durgăului 7, Turda 401106, Romania
www.salinaturda.eu

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The London List Abroad: Ace Hotel open their doors in New Orleans with character match to their new Louisiana homeThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 7 Apr 2016

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Branding away from their iconic minimalist style, Ace Hotel have embraced texture and character with their new New Orleans hotel. Sitting on the corner of Carondelet and Lafayette streets in the city’s Warehouse District, Ace welcome guests to their sleek and sophisticated rooms, dressed with a deep palette and Ace staple acoustic guitars and turntables. Also boasting a Stumptown cafe, Southern-inspired Italian restaurant Josephine Estelle, full music venue and two bars all in the building, New Orleans joins Pittsburgh in opening its doors, as the hotel company’s impressive expansion continues in 2016. Show the rest of this post…

Ace Hotel New Orleans, 600 Carondelet Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
www.acehotel.com/neworleans

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Vifa release their second portable bluetooth speaker, the minimal and gorgeous Oslo design

Posted in Design, Music, Technology
By Sam Bathe on 4 Apr 2016

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Taking the power of their debut Copenhagen line, and squeezing it into a shell half the size, Oslo is Danish manufacturer Vifa’s stunning new speaker system. Weighing just 2.4kg, the Oslo packs 2 x 50mm aluminium cone and neodymium magnet drive units, and dual 65 mm woofers mounted back-to-back. The gorgeous design is a work of art, with just the embroidered volume buttons on the front hinting its a portable speaker, connecting to your phone or laptop via Bluetooth, aux or NFC. The Oslo is available in six colourways for €499 from the Vifa online store: www.vifa.dk/shop

Film Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 4 Apr 2016

In 2012, Universal devised a way to turn Snow White into an action film, in which the titular character fled from her torment at the hands of her wicked stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), put together an army, and kicked ass. It wasn’t very good. Show the rest of this post…

The Huntsman: Winter’s War – which acts as both prequel and sequel to Rupert Sanders’ 2012 picture – makes the key decision to jettison Kristen Stewart’s Snow White character altogether, focusing instead on titular axe-wielding Scotsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and his love Sara (Jessica Chastain) as they battle against the forces of the Ice Queen (Emily Blunt), Ravenna’s sister. This was a wise decision. Stewart’s Snow White never really worked for me and so having more of Eric makes sense, but this film is also helped enormously by a better – and crucially, more fun – script.

With this storyline, the film is cheekily having its cake and eating it – reminding us at key moments that this is the same world but, despite the presence of Eric and Ravenna, it’s really a different beast. Whether it was always intended to be this way, I’m not sure – a widely publicised scandal revolving around the personal lives of the cast of the first film may well have contributed to Snow White’s absence from this project.

The film’s premise is explained to us – at rather laborious length – in an introduction (really, the first act) in which the Ice Queen is established as a domineering figure who, as a result of a tragedy in her past, demands that her subjects show no emotion and be as cold as she is. Two of those subjects, Eric and Sara, make the crucial error of falling in love and are separated. Later, when the magic mirror from the first film goes missing, King William (Sam Claflin, very briefly returning from the 2012 film) enlists the huntsman to help find it and prevent its power falling into the hands of the Ice Queen. Don’t bother yourself with questions about why the Ice Queen was never mentioned in the first film, or why she appeared to be sat around doing nothing while her sister’s empire was destroyed. If the film can ignore that, so can you.

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In truth the introduction, although well staged, is stodgy and overlong. After we jump forward seven years, things really pick up. The quest is established, Eric and Sara are reunited, and a supporting cast of dwarves – two men, two women – join Eric’s search party. Thanks to the length of the first act, the actual search for the film’s MacGuffin is rather underwhelming (and not really adequately explained), but proceedings are livened up enormously by the cast. Nick Frost (the only returning member of the eight dwarves from the first film) and Rob Brydon as bickering dwarf brothers bring some genuine laughs to proceedings, as do Alexandra Roach and, in particular, Sheridan Smith, as dwarf women who join the party. You’d have thought Chris Hemsworth would’ve practiced his Scottish accent a little after the first film but, alas, his word mangling continues, only this time he has a partner in crime: Jessica Chastain struggles valiantly with the same task. Thankfully, accents aside, the two of them are on good form. Hemsworth is as charismatic as he usually is, and funny, while Chastain, who kicks as much ass as her partner, is a winning foil.

The new director is Cedric Nicolas-Toryan, who was second unit director on the first film, and who was nominated for an Oscar for his visual effects work thereon. That choice made me nervous for this film – a first time director best known for action and special effects being given a huge budget could’ve gone wrong – but Winter’s War is, for all its flaws, a perfectly decent fantasy romp, and certainly better than the first one. Nicolas-Troyan has taken the visuals of the first film (which were one of its few saving graces) and improved upon them but, impressively, also shows a good feel for the dialogue sequences and helms the action well too. I saw the film in 3D, which added nothing. Are we still doing the 3D thing after all this time?

By the end, of course, Ravenna must be reintroduced to tie the two films back together (sort of) and Charlize Theron gets to walk around  being unbelievably silly in fabulous hair, this time with added spiky tentacles. I was enjoying myself enough by that point to ignore the cracks in the narrative and just go with it.

3/5

Brooklyn designer Dana Haim teams up with a fifth generation Mexican weaver for her debut rug collection

Posted in Art, Design
By Sam Bathe on 29 Mar 2016

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Designing wallpaper, jewelry, ceramics and pop-poms since graduating textile programs at the Rhode Island School of Design and Central Saint Martins, cross-disciplinary designer Dana Haim has turned her attention back to textiles. Teaming up with a fifth generation weaver in Oaxaca, Mexico, Haim’s debut collection of beautiful, naturally dyed rugs, boast geometric patterns that draw inspiration from classic kilim design. Available in four different designs with two colourways in each style, the rugs are available to buy from Haim’s personal website: www.danahaim.com

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.

We’ve been featured on the front page of Reddit and produced off-shoot club night Friday Night Fist Fight, launched a Creative Agency and events column The London List.

FAN THE FIRE is edited by founder, Creative Director and Editor-in-Chief, Sam Bathe. Site by FAN THE FIRE Creative.

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