Claudia Corrent captures the quiet, everyday life of a Venetian that you don’t normally see as a tourist

Posted in Art, Photography
By Sam Bathe on 4 Feb 2016

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Famous for it’s car free islands, instead dominated by beautiful water ways, Venice, Italy, is a sight to behold in the summer, but there’s one thing it isn’t; quiet. Italian photographer Claudia Corrent captures that side of Venice you don’t normally see for her series, Insulae. Documenting the everyday life of Venice’s local, her pastel-toned gaze gives the islands such a relaxing feel, it’s so easy to forget Piazza San Marco’s heaving streets in the summertime. Show the rest of this post…

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You can check out more of Claudia’s photography on here site: www.claudiacorrent.carbonmade.com

Illustrator Josh McKenna uses colour and form to show off his voluptuously, curvy characters

Posted in Art, Illustration
By Sam Bathe on 29 Jan 2016

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You wouldn’t think illustrator Josh McKenna was based out of East London, instead his colourful and vibrant pool-side characters look like they’re straight out of a Miami summer scene. Inspired by tropical details and abstract patterns, Josh has completed work for Converse, MTV, GQ, Wired and the Wall Street Journal, proving everyone wants a bit of sunshine in their lives. Show the rest of this post…

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Check out more of Josh’s illustration on his portfolio: www.jshmck.co.uk

Film Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 26 Jan 2016

On the 2012 anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Islamic militants in the Libyan city of Benghazi attacked a diplomatic compound and killed US Ambassador J Christopher Stevens, after which a small group of CIA security contractors bravely defended the staff until they could be extracted. Show the rest of this post…

In 13 Hours – subtitled The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay dramatises these events with ham-fisted macho sincerity.

Bay clearly reveres the US military, which isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but this film is so one-note, so uninterested in anything other than action and heroism, that it very quickly begins to feel like the central conflict is merely an excuse for lots of shots of greased-up buff men lugging guns around. Screenwriter Chuck Hogan makes no effort to deal with the political issues surrounding these events, which again is not fundamentally a negative, but if you’re going to present a one-sided view of a conflict, you need to do it in an intelligent way or you end up, as this film does, feeling uncomfortably patriotic and narrow minded. At times I longed for the comparative subtlety of something like Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which, although flawed, had things to say about the concept of heroism on the battlefield.

Neither director nor screenwriter is interested in presenting this conflict as anything other than a triumph of American heroism amidst tragedy, and that attitude starts to wear, particularly when you get shots of heavily armed US soldiers saying things like “they’re all bad until they’re good” while looking out into a crowd of faceless Libyans. Indeed, the script constantly reminds us of the fact that Benghazi is a terrifying place in which it’s impossible to tell the terrorists from the everyday civilians. After a while, that repeated mantra begins to grate, passing from believable paranoia into uncomfortable mistrust.

The first hour of the film (following a title card which tells us “This is a true story”, although the accuracy of the film has been called into question in some quarters) sets the scene, introducing our thinly sketched heroes through cheesy video calls to their families back home, before the film erupts into a series of action sequences. The setup is standard stuff, allowing us to spend a bit of time with our bearded protagonists and their hard-ass pencil-pushing CIA boss while pre-empting what is to come. When the action starts, it’s technically well handled by Bay and his second unit, but it drags on and on until tedium starts to set in.

What’s disappointing about the film, aside from its questionable script, is that the performances – particularly in the second half of the film – are actually pretty decent. Although our heroes are defined only by their glimpsed home relationships and their bonds with each other, which predate the events shown on screen, the cast works hard to inject the action scenes with believability and dramatic weight. The film comes alive in the second half because it’s clear that’s the bit Bay and Hogan want to get to, but even despite the cast’s best efforts, the film’s excessive length numbs the good stuff. The final act also features one of the stupidest lines of dialogue I’ve heard in the cinema in a long time.

Michael Bay may well have intended to make a film that simply celebrates the heroism of the US soldiers it depicts, and to an extent he has done th at, but 13 Hours is a testing experience, bereft of depth or intelligence. “I feel like I’m in a f**king horror movie”, says one of our heroes. In a sense, he’s right.

1/5

Film Review: YouthFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 26 Jan 2016

What a delight Youth is – gorgeous, thoughtful, profoundly cinematic. Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has followed up his Oscar-winning The Great Beauty with this study of age and art, which unlike its predecessor is shot in English. Show the rest of this post…

Youth feels like the work of a talented director relaxing into a subject – in fact, a series of subjects – but not in an indulgent or lazy sense. It has a calm beauty in it.

Michael Caine stars as Fred Ballinger, a retired composer taking a break at a luxury Swiss sanatorium. His old friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a much-admired director, is also at the retreat, accompanied by a team of youthful screenwriters collaborating on his next project, which frustratingly none of them can think of an ending for. Fred is described by his doctor as “apathetic”; he seems to accept the process of ageing more quietly than Mick, who still wants to produce art. Fred is retired, and will not compose again, even despite a visit from a royal emissary (Alex Macqueen) who tries his best to draw Fred out of retirement. The rest of the characters – and there are many – flit in and out of the narrative. Most prominently they include Rachel Weisz as Fred’s daughter Lena and Paul Dano as deep thinking but tormented Hollywood A-lister, Jimmy Tree.

Most obviously, the film ruminates on age – indeed, Fred and Mick spend time walking together talking about it – but it also meditates on emotion, communication and understanding. Fred and Mick are in some ways similar, but both have their own ways of thinking that may be flawed. Meanwhile, Jimmy watches the inhabitants of the film’s luxury resort setting (much as we do), and tries to understand them. Sorrentino allows the viewer to float through the resort, almost as if we were inhabitants ourselves, and to contemplate what it all means. Many of the supporting characters are enigmatic, uninhibited by backstory or exposition, and much like in real life, the background they provide is somehow integral to the whole.

The wonderfully talented cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, who has shot many of Sorrentino’s films, understands the way his director wants to tell his story; the two are in harmony throughout. On a simple visual level, the film is stunning to look at. The composition of shots throughout is not only beautiful, but meaningful. Witness, for example, the way numerous shots in water contort and contract our perceptions; or the way the camera focuses more and more closely on an increasingly heated conversation between Mike and one of his old stars (a terrifying Jane Fonda). In one subtly moving scene, Mike uses a telescope to illustrate to one of his young screenwriters how our perceptions change as we get older. It feels lazy to compare Sorrentino’s style to Fellini, because so many have done it before, but the comparison is apt, and complimentary.

As in The Great Beauty, Sorrentino uses music beautifully. Sometimes it enters scenes in the form of live music being performed at the retreat; at other times refrains we’ve heard before re-enter the narrative. The film’s conclusion features an Oscar-nominated piece of original music by David Lang, which helps bring the film to its rousing, overwhelming crescendo.

In the absence of Sorrentino’s regular leading man Toni Servillo, Michael Caine gives an excellent performance. He has said that he considers this the best performance of his career. That will be debated over time, but it is certainly one of his best. Opposite him, Keitel is also on top form, and the supporting cast, in particular Weisz and Dano, provide depth and texture to Sorrentino’s rich tapestry.

At first some of the dialogue feels a little forced, as if Sorrentino (who also wrote the film) wanted to cram every line with a meaningful little nugget. The script soon settles into itself, however, and there is some great writing in here. Only a recurring gag about Fred and Mike wondering what it would’ve been like to have slept with a mutual acquaintance from their past feels like a wrong note; though, to Sorrentino’s credit, even this seemingly throwaway detail is given a satisfactory conclusion. In general, the film balances drama, tragedy and comedy with deft precision; some of the cutaways and musical interludes are perfectly pitched. One mad nightmare sequence makes up for the fact that a certain cameo feels unnecessarily like stunt casting.

In the first act, the film feels a tad overstuffed, as if there are too many characters crammed in, but actually as the film meanders through its carefully constructed narrative, the supporting characters blend into something bizarrely beautiful. There are memorable moments throughout, from Lena’s heartbreaking single-take emotional outburst to Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) giving Jimmy an intellectual dressing down in the moonlight. Sorrentino’s screenplay is so well structured that, by the time we reach the final act, each piece seems to be playing its own small but invaluable part; reflecting the film’s own orchestral climax.

Does Sorrentino attempt to tackle too much  in this film? Possibly, though I would rather see a director experimenting with too many ideas than scraping the barrel with too few. Youth is a rich and rewarding experience.

5/5

Film Review: The 33

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 25 Jan 2016

In The 33, Mexican director Patricia Riggen (Girl in Progress) tackles the true story of the Chilean mining disaster of 2010, in which 33 miners were trapped underground when the San José copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert caved in. Antonio Banderas stars as ‘Super’ Mario Sepúlveda, who became the public face of the disaster. Show the rest of this post…

The film divides its time between goings on underground, in which the thinly-sketched group of miners bond and bicker, and operations above ground to get them out, which are headed up by young government minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) and expert Chilean engineer André Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne).

You read that correctly. Irish actor Gabriel Byrne as expert Chilean engineer André Sougarret. As you may have guessed, casting is not one of this film’s strong points. Juliette Binoche is a tremendous actress, but casting her as a Chilean empanada seller (and sister of one of the buried miners) was, I’m afraid, a mistake. The decision to film in English I suppose is understandable if the filmmakers were attempting to appeal to a mass audience, but casting European actors as Latin Americans, and getting them to do some frankly pretty fruity accents, has backfired. In the end I just felt sorry for them: good actors labouring with tricky accents through some, it has to be said, pretty generic dialogue. Bob Gunton, bless him, as former Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, can barely string a sentence together.

But more damagingly, for a film dramatising genuinely remarkable events, The 33 lacks bite. There are 33 miners in the story, so we can’t expect them all to be fully fleshed out characters, but these are paper-thin figures. Even Banderas, as the charismatic Mario, struggles to inject much life. That’s not to say he’s bad, or that there aren’t some other good performances here, but even when the delivery is good, the script itself is often bland.

Riggen’s film follows a very familiar true-life disaster story formula, but is at least fairly well staged. The initial cave-in is convincing (bar some undercooked, and unnecessary, visual effects) and the tension of the situation (at least until the final third) is maintained. There’s one hallucinatory scene where the film does manage to step away from formula, in which the starved miners dream of food being delivered, which was a surprise. I’m not really sure if that scene is good or bad, but it at least provided a glimpse of originality and humour – qualities missing from most of the rest of the runtime.

Ultimately, the film suffers for not taking any risks. The political implications of the situation and the negligence of the mining company are hinted at but whitewashed out of the narrative, leaving us with little more than a bitty and generic survival tale to hold on to. For a film largely set 2,000ft underground, it has little depth. It doesn’t help that the score, by the late James Horner, is heavy on the panpipes and light on subtlety. Horner composed some wonderful film scores in his time, but this is not one of them.

The 33 remains watchable because its heart is in the right plac e, and because despite everything it is telling us an incredible story of human strength. The film is forgettable, but the story it tells us is a touching one, and worth remembering.

2/5

Photographer Karl Hab takes air travel as an excuse to shoot the skies with series ‘Window Seat Please’

Posted in Art, Photography, Travel
By Sam Bathe on 22 Jan 2016

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While most passengers are cramming on in-flight movies at 10,000 ft, Karl Hab has his camera in hand to capture what’s down below. Putting his favourites from the last 10 years together for short-run zine, Window Seat Please, Hab shoots the cryptic skies with an sense of wonder, and the expectation of what awaits when you land. Show the rest of this post…

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Check out more of Karl’s work on his site: www.flickr.com/karl_hab

Film Review: The Big ShortFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 18 Jan 2016

In the best possible sense, The Big Short is a film that will make you angry. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Michael Lewis, Adam McKay’s comic drama details the events preceding the 2008 financial crisis with scabrous wit, bringing together a small bunch of “weirdos” who saw the crisis coming and, in their own ways, profited from it. In other words, it’s a comedy about crisis. Show the rest of this post…

The title refers to a method of betting against the housing market which, despite being touted as a booming industry in the period preceding the crash, was actually built on a swamp of bad debt. This is a bet first taken by Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and later by other groups including a unit of Morgan Stanley headed up by Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and a pair of youthful investors backed up by retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt, also one of the film’s producers).

McKay’s film finds a delicate balance between being slavish to the details while remaining remarkably fleet-footed. There are plenty of scenes in which characters stand around explaining to each other – indeed, often to the camera as well – what the jargon they’re using really means, and these are both welcome and funny. Characters frequently break the fourth wall to make comic quips or get us up to speed on difficult subjects, and this freewheeling sense of fun pervades the film. At no point does the serious subject matter – and the film is deadly serious underneath its comic exterior – ever feel at odds with the jovial tone. In fact, McKay – along with his co-writer Charles Randolph and his actors – have succeeded in achieving what the best politically motivated satire can do: The Big Short is playful, yes, but also furiously angry. Its political points hit harder because it’s funny. On a regular basis, the audience is jolted out of its laughter by the sudden realisation that we’re laughing at a bunch of scandalously well-paid crooks.

McKay is a director best known for his numerous collaborations with Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys) but in the absence of his regular leading man, he’s made the best film of his career. The Big Short takes the rigour of something like Margin Call and combines it with the excess of The Wolf of Wall Street (both films about the crash) and manages to blend the two together with craft, wit and righteous fury. Martin Scorsese’s film was accused by some of being flippant towards its subject matter, but actually had a crushingly poignant endnote despite its indulgences. What’s great about The Big Short is that it achieves a level of open-mouthed disgust, combined with genuinely funny moments, pretty much from beginning to end.

Yes, this does mean that grouchy Mark Baum (a partly fictionalised version of a real person) in some ways comes to represent the audience’s position of outrage – often spelling out the pretty obvious – but Steve Carell’s excellent performance bridges the gap between this world and ours. Ryan Gosling is also on great form as sleazy trader Jared Vennett, and Christian Bale too as Burry, a heavy-metal obsessed and socially awkward numbers whizz. The supporting cast, who are too numerous to mention here, are on top of their game. There’s a great scene involving two real estate crooks which feels like a comic deleted scene from last year’s 99 Homes, also a post-crash diatribe. Only Marisa Tomei feels wasted as Baum’s wife; like The Wolf of Wall Street, this film depicts a very male world, and as such the women can’t help feeling a little bolted on.

The ‘heroes’ in this story are at best morally ambiguous. We cheer for them because, in their own way, they are fighting the duplicity of the banking machine, but they remain defined, in a sense, by greed. The film is smart enough not to make saints of them, convincingly portraying the idea that the system is so deeply flawed and so massive, so shot-through with, in Vennett’s words, “greed and stupidity”, that individual morality becomes practically irrelevant.

How many comedies inspire this sort of discussion? The Big Short feels like, dare I say it, an important film. It’s directed with palpable anger and verve by Adam McKay, although I have to admit I felt it was a little over-directed at times. There are a lot of visual ticks in the film – extreme close ups, freeze-frames, montages and so on – most of which are great, but which do start to get a little tiresome. At times I wanted the camera to stay still a little more, but in general McKay’s tricks convey the sense of a fast-moving industry too insular to really look at itself. You could also argue there’s very little characterisation in the film, and the small attempts at establishing depth feel a tad perfuncto ry. But it would be unforgivable to end on a sour note for what will surely be one of the year’s most memorable and provocative comedies. It’ll make you angry, but in a good way.

4/5

J.J. Abrams’ cult favourite ‘Cloverfield’ gets a surprise follow-up with the Dan Trachtenberg-directed ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

Posted in Film, Previews, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 15 Jan 2016

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Described by producer J.J. Abrmas as a “blood relative” to 2008 monster movie, Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a cramped thriller about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who comes to trapped in an underground cellar. Fearing she has been abducted by a survivalist (John Goodman) who tells her a chemical attack has left the outside world uninhabitable, she decides she must escape whatever dangers she may face outside. Mirroring the release of the original Cloverfield teaser ahead of Transformers, 10 Cloverfield Lane was debuted in front of the latest Michael Bay project, 13 Hours. It was the long overdue public announcement of a previously secret Bad Robot project, codenamed Valencia. The original pitch and script was written Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, with Whiplash‘s Damien Chazelle brought in for re-writes, presumably to make it a bit more Cloverfield-y, while Dan Trachtenberg (of The Totally Rad Show) directs. 10 Cloverfield Lane hits theatres March 11th.

Designer Mads Sætter-Lassen’s sleek Buddy lamp offers light and storage with gorgeous Danish style

Posted in Design
By Sam Bathe on 13 Jan 2016

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Referred to by designer Mads Sætter-Lassen as “the little helper everyone needs”, the ingenious Buddy lamp won Northern Lighting’s Student Design Award last year. Launching later this month at the upcoming Maison & Objet Show in Paris, the Buddy will go into production in four softened colourways. Part-desk light, part-storage vessel, Sætter-Lassen’s sleek design is reminiscent of Greta Grossman’s iconic Grasshopper Floor Lamp, bringing a timeless elegance to your workstation. Keep your eyes peel to the Northern Lighting website for more information on the Buddy’s release date: www.northernlighting.no

Two Brooklynites go on a wild goose chase to find a missing boyfriends in funny short ‘Super Sleuths’

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 11 Jan 2016

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Written and directed by Benjamin Dickinson, short Super Sleuths sees Marie (Lindsay Burdge) take time out from her own heartache to help her best friend Sally (Kate Lyn Sheil) find her missing boyfriend. Putting Dickinson’s funny script in the hand of the two stellar leads, the duo get distracted along the way, making stop offs at a tattoo parlour, artist’s studio and local coffee shop. Dickinson followed up Super Sleuths with feature Creative Control, which sold to Amazon Studios after its premiere at last year’s SXSW.

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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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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