New York design studio Lim+Lu rethink the flexible modern home with the stunning, pastel-coloured Happy Valley Residence in Hong Kong

Posted in Architecture
By Sam Bathe on 30 Nov 2016

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-2

Tasked with revamping a three-bedroom apartment in an aged Hong Kong residential building, New York design studio Lim+Lu wanted to challenge the structure of a conventional living environment. Show the rest of this post…

Creating a flexible, open-plan living space, while maintaining the option of privacy, suspended sliding doors can be closed to cordon off would-be ‘rooms’. The flexible, adaptive apartment has been designed to better suit our modern, transient way of living, especially in space-poor urban homes.

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-5

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-6

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-3

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-4

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-7

happy-valley-apartment-lim-lu-8

Film Review: Allied

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

Robert Zemeckis’ new film, Allied, is a World War 2 romantic drama starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence operative, and Marianne Beausejour, a French resistance fighter, who meet in Casablanca on a joint intelligence mission to assassinate a German officer. Show the rest of this post…

After their mission is complete, the pair move to London, get married and have a daughter. All seems to be going well, until a former colleague informs Max that his wife may have been spying for the Nazis all along.

The film builds tension around the central relationship through unhurried conversations and suggestive words and actions, and does a pretty good job of establishing an atmosphere of suspicion. Writer Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke) clearly enjoys writing dialogue, and Allied is at its best when it’s in a suggestive, inquisitive mode. Where the film is less certain, unfortunately, is the romance, which despite the presence of two excellent actors in Pitt and Cotillard, never quite fizzes into life in the way it would’ve needed to in order for this to be something truly memorable.

Zemeckis and his cinematographer Don Burgess handle the time period well and there are strong set pieces in here (including the build-up to and staging of the assassination), as well as some convincing effects work that allows the sets and the CGI to blend pretty imperceptibly. There’s also welcome support from Jared Harris as Max’s boss, and an amusingly dour, if brief, turn from Simon McBurney as an implacable intelligence officer.

The final act is a tad rushed (perhaps as a result of the extended opening) and not entirely believable, but I was moved by it, and felt the tension in the middle section, so for me the film worked. It occasionally feels a little stilted in its storytelling, as though it’s holdi ng something back (much like its protagonists), but this tale of spies in love, which is old-fashioned in its storytelling, mostly in a good way, has enough charm to be worth a look.

3/5

A mysterious character finds her way through the jungle in the sultry video for Falco Benz’s single ‘La Féline Mescaline’

Posted in Music, Music Videos
By Sam Bathe on 23 Nov 2016

la-feline-mescaline-2

la-feline-mescaline-3

The second single from Falco Benz’s recent album, Confiturisme, ‘La Féline Mescaline’ follows a lone character walking a lush, tropical land. Journeying through the wilderness before discovering a vast structure in a clearing, she ventures inside to discover what mysteries lie within. With mesmerising illustration by Victor Moatti and directed and animated by Maxmana, the video brings alluring track to life, as suave and slick as Falco Benz’s effortless beats.

Film Review: PatersonFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 21 Nov 2016

Paterson is one of those films that, when describing it to somebody, you have to work a little to avoid making it sound dull. Man gets up, goes to work, comes home, has a beer, goes to bed – rinse and repeat. Show the rest of this post…

But while it may not be to everybody’s tastes – it’s a considered, slow-moving film – Paterson, for me, succeeds in creating a tone that is very much its own, and by practising exceptional levels of dramatic restraint, delivers a ponderous, thoughtful experience, much like the ones in its protagonist’s head.

Jim Jarmusch’s new film stars Adam Driver as Paterson, a mild-mannered, likeable everyman living in the city that shares his name in New Jersey. We follow a week of his life, as each morning he wakes up with his artistic wife, Laura (Goldshifteh Farahani), and heads off to do his work driving a bus around the local streets. After finishing work, Paterson has dinner with his wife and then goes out to take their dog for a walk and have a solitary beer at a local bar. From time to time, as he goes through his day, we hear Paterson reciting lines of his poetry to us, often delivered in the form of unfinished thoughts or revisited lines.

paterson-3

That’s the setup, but also pretty much the plot. This is not a film with a superfluity of narrative to get through – just a simple idea portrayed in a convincing way. What makes it work is Jarmusch’s handling of tone, both in his direction and in his writing, and Adam Driver’s very subtle but subtly effective performance. There is no great emoting in here, no moments of hysterical drama – what we see is an excerpt from the life of an ordinary, and quietly interesting, man.

What I enjoyed about the film’s tone was how it floated through Paterson’s life by way of repetitive but slightly reworked shots, overheard conversations on buses and in bars, and the appearances of supporting cast members in the bar Paterson visits, which give the film a sense of community. Everything is wrapped up in an atmosphere of wistfulness – though not one that dwells on sadness; just a simple acceptance of moving through life – which is complemented by the delicate score.

It’s the overall tone of the piece that strikes as you watch, and that tone softens potentially negative elements such as the lack of character arcs or real development; indeed, it may be precisely the point that such things can be ignored without doing damage to the piece. The film depicts a quiet life, adopts a quiet  manner in which to tell it, and is subtly affecting in doing so. It won’t be for everybody, and could perhaps have been edited down a little, but as a tonal piece it really works.

4/5

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 17 Nov 2016

This spin-off of the Harry Potter series, set in New York in the 1920s, takes some aspects of JK Rowling’s ‘wizarding world’ and places them in a new context, with a focus on adult characters. Show the rest of this post…

It is the first in what will be a five-film franchise and is directed by David Yates, who directed the final four entries in the Harry Potter series, and who has been confirmed as the director for all four sequels to this opening chapter. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is based on the book of the same name, which Rowling wrote as a side note to her Potter series, and sees the author make her debut as a screenwriter.

It tells the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who, on a trip to New York, accidentally releases a number of magical creatures into the neighbourhood. This is particularly unfortunate because MACUSA (Magic Congress of the United States of America) is struggling to keep the existence of magic secret from the “No-Majs” (those unpossessed of magical ability, or ”muggles”, to us Brits), with whom the wizarding world has had a strained relationship in the past. This setup forms the basis of most of the film’s narrative, although the actual focus of the plot is elsewhere, and will lead into the sequels.

fantastic-beasts-2

Initially the film’s lack of focus is distracting. Newt’s efforts to subdue his creatures are fitfully entertaining, but because the film keeps cutting away to other plot strands and introducing new characters, the first half feels rambling and struggles to hold the interest. As the plot moves on a sense of momentum begins to emerge, which is a relief, and the final act is surer of foot as a result – there’s even genuine emotion in the final movement, which I had not expected. There are bits of the narrative which feel a little rushed because the film is attempting to fit so much in, but by the end we get a pretty good sense of how the US’ relationship with magic differs from that of the UK.

There’s a subplot involving a group of magic-hating extremists led by Samantha Morton’s unnerving Mary Lou Barebone, although the significance of this group is only fleetingly addressed, to the point that one major plot point in particular feels oddly incidental. But what the film sometimes lacks in structure and plotting, it makes up for in charm and energy. Redmayne gives an endearing performance as Newt, his collection of nervy ticks moving quickly from weird to charming. The supporting cast makes the weaker scenes play better than they might have done, in particular Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj caught up in Newt’s actions, who brings welcome warmth to his scenes.

fantastic-beasts-3

Rowling and Yates build and inhabit the world of 1920s New York convincingly, and crucially make this feel like the same world as, albeit slightly removed from, the one we’ve read about and watched for many years. But the film lacks real heart to match its world building. Newt is a charming but mostly one-note protagonist, who hopefully will be fleshed out in the next film, and the same applies to Tina, a MACUSA employee who first arrests and then befriends Newt. The villainous element of the plot is also thin, and an unintentionally amusing reveal at the end fails to drum up the interest it’s hoping for.

There’s strong effects work on the numerous critters in the film, in particular a kleptomaniac marsupial ‘Niffler’ with a penchant for nicking shiny goods, and even though most of the action sequences feel incidental as regards the plot, they provide enough energy to be fun. Technically the film is as adept as we’d expect from the later Potter films, with a sweeping (if slightly overwrought) soundtrack and a strong sense of place.

Fantastic Beasts is a solid if unspectacular introduction to a new franchise. The next entry would benefit from a tighter plot, better paci ng and more focus on character. But whether for die-hard fans of the series, who will be going to see this whatever, or those with a more casual interest, it’s worth a viewing.

3/5

Film Review: Nocturnal AnimalsFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 3 Nov 2016

It’s been the best part of seven years since fashion designer turned writer/director Tom Ford impressed cinemagoers with A Single Man, his adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name about a bereaved professor who has recently lost his partner. Ford’s second film, Nocturnal Animals, is also an adaptation of a novel: this time Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Show the rest of this post…

The film tells the story of well-to-do artist Susan (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript in the post from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), from whom she split many years prior to the film’s opening. As Susan reads the manuscript, which details a fictional crime involving a thinly disguised version of her and her family, we see that fiction dramatised. There are also flashbacks to Susan and Edward’s early relationship, so Ford – as writer/director – and his editor Joan Sobel, have a challenging task to make all the strands not only work individually, but to come together as a cinematic whole. This is something they have achieved with great success, and is one of the film’s key strengths.

While A Single Man was a relatively stripped down piece of work, Nocturnal Animals is much more ambitious in terms of its scope. The cast is much larger, and the film’s interweaving of narratives is something that could’ve backfired, but Ford has shown he is capable of dealing with both, and that he is very much a director to be taken seriously.

nocturnal-animals-1

Both lead actors are required to tackle their central roles in two separate arcs, and Gyllenhaal has the tough task of carrying the weight of the dramatised manuscript sequences which, in the hands of a lesser actor or director, could’ve overwhelmed the film. The fact that they don’t, and that all strands of the film are engaging and affecting, is a triumph that both director and performers can take great credit for. Adams and Gyllenhaal are actors at the top of their game at the moment, and can generally be relied upon to deliver strong performances, and that is very much the case here. Adams conveys the fragility of somebody who is professionally lost and trapped on an emotional plateau between two time periods (not easy when a lot of your screen time is spent reading a book) while Gyllenhaal carries the tension and weight of the novel interludes.

The film’s structure really works in portraying Susan and Edward as each other’s emotional counterweights, even though the two actors spend little actual screen time together. The story’s central arc – of a relationship that ended and the baggage both protagonists are saddled with – worked for me right up until the very well-pitched ending.

nocturnal-animals-2

As we expect from Ford, the film has a strong visual style which comes through via Seamus McGarvey’s excellent cinematography; in particular during the many scenes set at night, which are enveloping and atmospheric. The real achievement, though, is that the film juxtaposes the bright, gritty Texan landscapes with the cold, dark cityscapes so flawlessly. The strands are held together too by Abel Korzeniowski’s score, which is dreamlike and menacing in equal measure.

The film’s one significant misstep is the opening credits sequence, which is deliberately provocative but for me felt misjudged. You could also argue the novel sequences are a tad overlong, but to cut them would’ve meant losing some of Michael Shannon’s delicious supporting performance as a Texas lawman. A mention, too, for Aaron Taylor Johnson, who shows us his terrifying side as a sadistic citizen of West Texas, and Laura Linney, who, despite having just one short scene in the entire film, ensures it hits with the required weight.

There’s a lot to like about Nocturnal Animals, which pleasingly is a very different film to A Single Man, though equally confident an d compelling. With a cast on great form, a tricky narrative told in a confident way, and excellent technical qualities, there’s a whole lot to enjoy in Tom Ford’s second feature.

4/5

Photographer Sean Lemoine captures California’s rocketry enthusiasts at the Lucerne Dry Lake

Posted in Art, Photography
By Sam Bathe on 2 Nov 2016

a262b32bc3f9eba3-_dsc0130

3de66e11014885fa2-_dsc0323

After studying crime scene photography at the University of California Riverside, LA-based photographer, Sean Lemoine, used his investigative eye to capture California’s rocketry enthusiasts. Getting together at the Lucerne Dry Lake for an event last June, Lemoine offsets the colourful rockets and larger-than-life crowd against the washed-out, pastel landscapes. Show the rest of this post…

651a967ab3d837c4-_dsc0317

1ca1da21dcf37912b-_dsc0346

0474e2a278ccb794-_dsc9934

4

77c77d52588a8e6b-_dsc0167

887e7b026afc39d6-_dsc0478

5544b015cc1efaa9-_dsc0464

a406114594a184b7-_dsc0468

b59c3219ef08520b7-_dsc9970

d301b447ca42700b-_dsc9931

e471b88f8e0bb95a-_dsc9974

Check out more of Sean’s work on his site: www.seanlemoine.com

Film Review: Doctor Strange

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

Given how ubiquitous Marvel Studios’ comic book adaptations have become, it would be easy to assume its cinematic universe is populated merely by production line, populist Blockbusters reluctant to take creative risks, but Marvel has shown that it is willing to make left field choices with its big-budget behemoth, particularly with its choices of directors, writers and cast members. Show the rest of this post…

In 2014 Marvel took arguably its biggest risk yet when it released Guardians of the Galaxy, a sci-fi epic featuring a roster of lesser-known heroes, including a talking raccoon, but that film was a hit, both critically and at the box office. Doctor Strange is a risk in a different sense, not just because it introduces us to an entirely new cast and hero in an already bloated fictional universe, but because the subject matter – sorcery and the “mystic arts” – could so easily have backfired.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Stephen Strange, a gifted but arrogant neurosurgeon who, pretty early on, is involved in a devastating car crash which seriously damages his hands, thus throwing his career into jeopardy. Medicine appears unable to fix him, no matter how left field he goes, so Strange looks further afield, to a secretive organisation in Kathmandu headed up by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), where he will learn that everything is not as it seems, in particular his perception of reality.

doctor-strange-2

From there Derickson delivers on his promise that this will be a mind-bending experience, cutting loose on a series of trippy set pieces guided by the impressive visual effects work of Luma Pictures and Industrial Light and Magic. Strange learns how to teleport himself around the world in an instant; to separate his astral form from his body; and much more. But he also learns of a plot by a former pupil of The Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) to surrender the earth to “the destroyer of worlds”, an entity called Dormammu, who lives in a dark dimension outside time. Strange must decide whether to follow his own path, or to be selfless and work with his new mentors.

The film is in some ways a triumph, but as a whole lacks the cohesion and charm of some of Marvel’s other comic book adaptations. Cumberbatch is well cast as Strange, although his character arc in this film means that, for the most part, he’s a pretty unlikeable protagonist. Though there are hints of development, he comes across as a charismatic but shallow centre for the film to revolve around, which isn’t helped by the fact that most of the supporting characters are thinly drawn, in particular Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange’s ex-girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams) and, unfortunately, Kaecilius, whose villainy just isn’t memorable. These are excellent actors, but the film really doesn’t use them enough. The supporting cast fares better in the form of Benedict Wong as Wong, with whom Cumberbatch has a winning, if short-lived, rapport, and Tilda Swinton, who is the best thing in the film as The Ancient One.

Derickson directs the action scenes with flair and there is some captivating stunt work in here allied to well designed visual effects which see cities collapsing in on themselves in an Inception-like way, and an arresting journey into the depths of the unknown multiverse. But while the action scenes are mostly impressive to look at, the rules of engagement here are too thinly drawn. At times its difficult to see exactly what’s going on, but more damagingly the sense of peril sometimes gets lost in the whirling special effects.

There are flashes of humour in here which work well to offset the comic book exposition that is required to get us all up to speed on what’s going on, and tonally Doctor Strange should be able to match up to the other Avengers with whom he is destined to share a universe with one day. Quite how Marvel will deal with the action stakes in forthcoming projects given the implications in this film I’m not sure, but I look forward to seeing how they do it.

I didn’t warm to Doctor Strange as quickly as I have to many of Marvel’s other heroes, but perhaps the character just needs time to settle. Cumberbatch will do better work in the role if he’s given a better story to work with – ideally a film in which the villains are more successful and the supporting cast is given more of a chance to make an impact.

3/5

 

Film Review: I, Daniel BlakeFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 21 Oct 2016

Ken Loach has been making unashamedly political, socially aware films for decades, and his latest, I, Daniel Blake, finds him dealing with the relationship between the British government and its citizens, told mainly through interactions with the bureaucratic Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It’s a film brimming with frustration and anger told in a purposefully restrained manner. Show the rest of this post…

The film is written by regular Loach contributor Paul Laverty and focuses on two down-on-their-luck individuals: Daniel Blake, a widower who has suffered issues with his heart and is trying to claim Employment and Support Allowance until he is fit enough to return to work; and Katie, a young mother of two who is forced to move to Newcastle, where the film is set, because it’s the only place she can get a flat for her family.

A companionship develops between these two characters that highlights the importance of community – something increasingly diminished in our times. Daniel is happy to help struggling Katie because he’s a good man with social values, even despite his own increasingly worsening circumstances. On paper the character of Daniel may look too saintly to work, but that is not the case thanks to Laverty’s sharp writing and the excellent performance of Dave Johns, who brings warmth and dignity and makes Daniel feel real. The same is true of Hayley Squires’ performance as Katie – a terrifically strong and understated turn as somebody whose life is spiralling out of control but is fighting to hold it all together. In fact, Squires gets the most affecting and difficult scene in the film, in a food bank, and really makes it work.

Loach directs the film in pleasingly uncomplicated fashion, capturing honestly the sense of decent people being mistreated by the state in a system that has warped from a safety net into something punitive. The film captures brilliantly the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy and the soulless corporate ethos that sucks the humanity out of human interactions. Audiences around the UK will surely empathise with Daniel’s disbelief at the systems he comes up against, and it’s important to note that Loach and his team researched the film heavily, with input from people who were in or had been in the system, and whistleblowers from within the DWP. Most of what we see in the film reflects real life, in some instances is directly taken from it, and the film has a sense of authenticity that is not easy to capture.

There are one or two moments when I felt the script was a little too forthright in its emoting, and some elements of the drama feel a tad sidelined because of the structure, in particular Katie’s third-act attempt to make money and the film’s powerful but brief den ouement, but overall I found I, Daniel Blake to be a powerful, important piece of work that sheds light on the treatment of decent people by an increasingly dehumanised state.

4/5

From two Pixar animators, ‘Borrowed Time’ is a heart-wrenching short set inside a gorgeous, gloomy canyon

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 20 Oct 2016

borrowed-time-2

borrowed-time-3

Directed by Pixar animators, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, short film Borrowed Time tells the story of a sheriff who returns to the scene of a tragic accident, many years ago. Set to the background of a stunning, atmospheric canyon, the story is so rich in the character and heart we’ve come to expect from the Emeryville Studio as the sheriff recalls a heartbreaking moment from when he was a boy. The directors wanted to “make something that contested the notion of animation being a genre for children specifically,” with the story slowly coming together before the devastating finale. It’s a magnificent piece of work, and we can expect great things from the duo in years to come, a more adult film like this would certainly be very interesting under Pixar’s helm.

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.

You can contact us on: mail@fanthefiremagazine.com

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Dribbble, Instagram and RSS.