Artist Felipe Bedoya depicts the patterns of Cartagena’s beach vendors in his series ‘The Walkers’

Posted in Art, Photography
By Sam Bathe on 16 Jan 2018

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Mixing photography with collage and fine art experimentation, Felipe Bedoya‘s series Los Caminantes, or The Walkers, captures the almost rhythmic patterns of Cartagena’s beach vendors. Blending photography with actual sand collected from the region, Bedoya constructed miniature scenes of the vendors at work, selling food, drinks and inflatable toys, up and down the beach. Show the rest of this post…

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Check out more of Felipe Bedoya’s work on his site: www.behance.net/doya

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 12 Jan 2018

Between them, brothers Martin and John Michael McDonagh have a pretty impressive track record when it comes to writing and directing. Show the rest of this post…

Martin McDonagh’s most recent project was Seven Psychopaths in 2014, though he is probably still most widely known for his debut, In Bruges. His latest, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, contains many of the elements we’ve come to expect from the younger McDonagh brother – primarily a dedication to carefully crafted, sometimes acerbic dialogue – crystallised into what is his best and most consistently impressive film.

Three Billboards… tells the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), who lives in the titular town of Ebbing and is frustrated by the inability of the local authorities to bring anybody to justice for the murder of her daughter, Angela. Mildred channels her frustration into the renting of three billboards on a mostly unused stretch of road outside the town, which express her feeling in no uncertain terms. The billboards, and Mildred herself, quickly become famous among the townsfolk, and indeed the local media, bringing a number of disparate characters together.

Those characters are where Three Billboards… shines brightest. McDonagh’s films have hardly been starved for acting talent in the past, but this is certainly his most impressive cast. It’s a credit to the performances, and indeed the writing, that the vast majority of this large and talented ensemble feel like vital cogs in a well oiled machine, as opposed to being shoehorned in. At the head of everything, Frances McDormand is just wonderful, capable of evoking pathos, surprise and laughs in equal measure – much like the film as a whole. She gives Mildred exactly what the role requires: balance. We sympathise with her hugely, and are resolutely on her side, but not to the extent that she ceases to feel like a rounded, conflicted character. As the head of the local police force, Woody Harrelson is reliably great, with perhaps more of a gentle, affecting edge than we might expect from the opening scenes. Alongside him, Sam Rockwell (who was so good in Seven Psychopaths) is again on good form as disreputable cop Jason Dixon.

Three Billboards… is McDonagh’s most well-rounded, likeable piece of work

There are far too many names to mention individually, but crucially this isn’t because the film feels overstuffed. On the contrary, we want to spend more time with even the minor characters, because they’re played and written so convincingly. It inevitably means that characters like Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, so good last year in a not dissimilar role in Manchester By the Sea) and her ex-husband’s new fling Penelope (played with wit by Samara Weaving) are left mainly on the fringes, but that’s ok, because together they constitute a film that knows what it’s doing and has the confidence not only to let its cast breathe, but to edit them down where necessary. The film feels like it loves spending time with its characters, like McDonagh had a great time writing them, and this feeling transposes onto the audience.

What makes Three Billboards… McDonagh’s most well-rounded, likeable piece of work, is that the framework holding all those solid, well-written characters together feels delicately honed and precise; there is no fat on the bones of this film, and editor Jon Gregory deserves plaudits for keeping the whole thing moving while still allowing time for the script to indulge, in a good way, in its characters. There’s also a really well-chosen and effective soundtrack underlying all of this, which adds to the overall feeling of quality.

If there are missteps, they are so few and far between that they can be mostly ignored. One worth mentioning is that there are one or two facets to Officer Dixon (Rockwell) that don’t quite work, in particular a streak of racism that feels oddly out of place, most noticeably in a scene in a prison cell midway through, in which the N-word is invoked by two characters in a way that felt crass and misjudged. It’s a shame because the rest of the scene is beautifully put together.

That misstep feels like a too-obvious attempt by McDonagh to harness to hard-hitting writing style he’s (at least partially) known for, but ironically that talent of his is used to much better and more subtle effect in the rest of the film, which does contain lines here and there that can, in a positive way, draw gasps, laughs and surprises.

Three Billboards… feels like it was the ideal project to take Martin McDonagh to the next stage in his career, moving on from the well-written and well-played, but perhaps slightly indulgent, Seven Psychopaths. That film felt like it had a lot of very good elements strung together into something that didn’t entirely cohere, but Three Billboards… avoids that pitfall and then some. With a r oster of memorable characters, a cast on universally great form and a script that is frequently capable of wrong-footing its audience, there’s really very little to complain about.

5/5

Jennifer Lawrence plays a prima ballerina-turned-Soviet secret agent in steely spy thriller ‘Red Sparrow’

Posted in Film, Previews, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 9 Jan 2018

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Jennifer Lawrence takes the lead in Red Sparrow, a spy thriller hot off the heels of the excellent Atomic Blonde. A prima ballerina caught up in the assassination of a political enemy, Dominikia Egorova (Lawrence) is coerced into joining the Sparrow School to train to be become a Soviet secret agent. However, after graduating and placed on her first mission, when she starts to fall for her mark – an American CIA agent acting as a mole in Russia – it puts the mission and her life at risk, from both sides. With Hunger Games franchise director, Francis Lawrence, behind the camera, and a script from Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road), hopefully the stunning, almost metallic visuals are backed up by tactile choreography and depth to the plot. Red Sparrow hits theatres March 2nd.

A western-obsessed school girl wreaks havoc on her sleepy suburb in Fidel Ruiz-Healy’s ‘A Band of Thieves’

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 6 Jan 2018

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When a bow and arrow trick leaves her brother needing an eye patch, western movies-obsessed Josie has her allowance revoked, left instead to make her own fun. Steadfast on turning her quiet Texas suburb into the lawless playground of her imagination, she ropes in a partner-in-crime, steals a gun, and sets out on the sort of crime spree even John Wayne would be proud of. Building to an almighty crescendo, director Fidel Ruiz-Healy’s pint-sized anti-heroes reference the likes of Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino, with its young cast turning in excellent performances across the board. A Band of Thieves has a carefree, fun-loving vein that runs through its core, from cute little set pieces, to slomo-gun battles, the film is Ruiz-Healy’s NYU thesis project, and hopefully the shape of more things to come.

The London List: Alpha Shadows brings hip Japanese menswear and West Coast ceramics to Peckham’s Bussey BuildingThe London List

Posted in London, London List, Style
By Sam Bathe on 2 Jan 2018

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Located in the Bussey Building in Peckham, Alpha Shadows is London’s best kept secret for trendy Japanese menswear and Californian ceramics. Started by Tom Piercy, Alpha Shadows brings many of their minimalist Japanese labels over to the UK for the first time, stocking everything from slick chambray shirts, to leather accessories, beautiful hand-made footwear and effortlessly cool quilted jackets. Show the rest of this post…

On the other side of the store is their amazing homeware collection. Of course carrying a range from staple Hasami Ceramics, Alpha Shadows is the only UK stockist for dreamy California potters Kat & Roger and A Question of Eagles. Such is the demand, when new Kat & Roger pieces come into stock, most are sold out within the first few days. This is one store, more than worth the trip across the river.

Alpha Shadows, The Bussey Building, 133 Copeland Road, London, SE15 3SN
www.alphashadows.com

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Our favourite films of 2017

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 30 Dec 2017

2017 has been a pretty impressive year for film. People who aren’t looking hard enough will tell you that modern cinemas are only full of franchise fare and sequels, but that opinion ignores the staggering amount of quality releases we’ve been able to enjoy over the past year. Show the rest of this post…

And the presence of one massive-budget sci-fi blockbuster in my end-of-year list, plus another couple in the honourable mentions and plenty of other good ones besides, suggests that even blockbusters still have something to offer cinemagoers.

My top 10 of the year, which is ordered alphabetically, is the best of what I’ve seen. There are, as always, countless films I’m yet to catch up on, including, but certainly not limited to, A Quiet Passion, The Levelling, Detroit, Gods Own Country and a pair of animations, The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette, that I sadly haven’t got around to yet.

But even despite the missing names, 2017 has been a memorable year, and I wrestled hard with what to include in the final 10. Some of the films in the honourable mentions list came close to the final cut, but just missed out. Some of the films below came out so long ago I could scarcely believe they were released in the UK in 2017.

Enjoy the list, and Happy New Year from Fan the Fire.

 Blade Runner 2049

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A couple of years ago one long-awaited sci-fi sequel made it into my year-end list in the form of Star Wars The Force Awakens, and now, just two years later, we have another. If anything, Blade Runner 2049 had even more to live up to than The Force Awakens did, following on as it was from a masterpiece of an original, whereas JJ Abrams’ film only needed to dispel the memory of the much-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. My excitement levels for this sequel grew the more of its director’s previous films I saw. Denis Villeneuve, whose Arrival made my list of best films in 2016, did something great with Blade Runner 2049, managing to craft a film that is not only visually and aurally stunning, but which continues to wrestle with big themes in the way its predecessor did. It isn’t perfect – for one thing, the lead villain and his plot are disappointing – but it’s one hell of a ride.

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Call Me By Your Name

The final part of Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, Call Me By Your Name stars Timothée Chalamet as Elio, a smart, charming teenager living with his American-Italian family in the Italian countryside. Into this apparently idyllic lifestyle (which is so sumptuous you want to leap into every one of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s gorgeous frames) comes an American graduate student played by Armie Hammer, with whom Elio begins to form a deep friendship, and perhaps something more. Chalamet, who I’d only seen before in a minor role in Interstellar, gives an extraordinary performance here, capturing intelligence, love and grief in wholly believable ways. Opposite him, Armie Hammer gives probably his best performance yet as the charismatic Oliver, who is worldly and smart, but not beyond petulance or bad choices. The excellent supporting cast add further gloss to Guadagnino’s marvellous, moving romance.

The Florida Project

 The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s follow up to 2015’s Tangerine, The Florida Project takes us into the world of the garish motels that sit on the outskirts of Disneyland, where deprived communities of people struggle to make ends meet. This world, unknown I would imagine to most viewers of the film, certainly to this one, is portrayed vividly and with great affection for its inhabitants, even when the film is dealing with serious social issues. The looming, candy coloured edifices that form the backdrop for the story bring a sense of fractured wonder to the whole thing, and Baker gets lovely, naturalistic performances from his young cast as they roam freely around this forsaken landscape – in particular Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, the precocious girl at the film’s centre. The supporting cast are terrific too, from Bria Vinaite as Moonee’s mother Halley to Willem Dafoe as the manager of the motel in which they live. Vivid, important filmmaking with a knockout final movement.

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is alive with the joy of a filmmaker thoroughly in touch with, and enjoying working on, the material. This ambitious adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith shifts the action from Victorian-era Britain to Korea, but Park somehow makes that change feel vital. His film is a twisting, turning delight, with great performances illuminating a deceptively complex and well-structured narrative that crackles with erotic tension, dramatic weight and thrilling unpredictability. Park blends these elements together in something approaching gothic tradition, and in doing so creates a thoroughly idiosyncratic, mesmerising psychological drama not quite like anything else released this year.

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

Three documentaries about, or at least partially about, race in America were nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category at this year’s Oscars. The one that won, OJ: Made in America, I confess I haven’t yet seen, but of the other two, which I have seen, I Am Not Your Negro was the standout for me. Ava DuVernay’s 13th is an equally important film and worth a watch, but the lyricism and beauty of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, based on an unfinished manuscript by social critic James Baldwin detailing his friendships and interactions with civil rights leaders, has stuck with me. Peck’s film fluidly blends archive footage with Samuel L Jackson’s narration, and elucidates its issues with intelligence and passion. It also benefits hugely from the eloquence and wit of Baldwin himself, who appears in numerous clips, and whose speeches resonate with power.

La La Land

La La Land

One of a few films on this list that feel like they came out ages ago, but were actually released in the UK in January, is Damien Chazelle’s wonderful musical La La Land, which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as star-crossed lovers both attempting to make their way in Hollywood. He’s a struggling jazz pianist, she’s a struggling actress, and as success begins to come their way, it will test the limits of their feelings for one another. The film harks back to classic musicals, perhaps chief among them Singing in the Rain, but does so in a way that is affectionate and original. The performances are great, the songs are great, and the whole thing is beautifully shot by Linus Sandgren. Chazelle paces the film with confidence and the tone is always just right, moving effortlessly between laughs, tears and dance routines, sometimes all at the same time.

Manchester by the Sea

 Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s beautifully taut, emotionally raw Manchester by the Sea stars an excellent Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a man struggling to deal with a tragic event in his past who is suddenly called back to the town in which it happened and entrusted with the care of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges, also excellent). Lee’s estranged wife Randi (Michelle Williams, sparingly used but great) still lives in the town, so he will be forced to confront his grief alongside his new and frankly unwanted companion. Depression is not an easy thing to depict on screen, but Affleck’s performance and Lonergan’s strong script make Lee a sympathetic protagonist. The film is a strong, surprisingly uplifting piece of work, some of the scenes in which have stayed with me throughout the year, in particular a beautifully choreographed sequence in a police station and a heartbreaking conversation between two characters late on.

Moonlight

Moonlight

Barry Jenkins’ affecting adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year (after a brief fiasco in which La La Land was announced as the winner) and it was one one of the few occasions when the Oscars gave out a prestigious award to very little backlash. Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a conflicted boy growing up in Miami, through three different time periods and three different actors. It’s tough when it needs to be, but the film is also capable of channeling both raw emotion and great delicacy. Quite apart from the film’s importance in terms of the mainstream profiling of prominent social issues, Moonlight is a dramatically rewarding, heartfelt piece of work, and deserves to be seen.

Raw

 Raw

Julia Ducournau’s cannibal coming-of-age tale will probably make you uncomfortable at times, but Raw is so much more than a shocker. Ducournau, who also wrote the script, injects the film with thrills and bold, concise moments of horror, but also more wit and dark humour than perhaps we might expect. Garance Marillier is terrific as Justine, a vegetarian student who joins a veterinary college and is horrified to find herself developing a taste for a very particular variety of meat. The film uses its subject matter as a lens through which to explore growing up and sexual discovery, among other things, but does so in a way that not only has depth, but which is visually inventive and at times impressively sinister. I can’t wait to see what Ducournau does next.

Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann is regularly described as a comedy, though that description perhaps suggests an altogether different film. While there are laugh-out-loud moments in Toni Erdmann, Ade’s film is nevertheless dealing with difficult issues, particularly a broken father-daughter relationship and the domineering role that careers play in modern life. The film will make you laugh, yes, but it’ll also make you cry. Possibly at the same time, and possibly through a grimace as you cringe at some of the outrageously uncomfortable scenarios on screen. As a prankster father trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Peter Simonischek, with his daft wig and fake teeth, is great, and so too is Sandra Hüller as his daughter, whose professional exterior cracks just enough that we can see the woman, indeed the child, underneath. Quite apart from the great performances and sharply written dialogue, there are some truly memorable sequences and a wonderfully disconcerting touch of the weird.

Honourable mentions

Baby Driver, Lady Macbeth, Get Out, A Ghost Story, The Last Jedi, The Lost City of Z, mother!, Personal Shopper, Your Name

Design mainstays Muji reimagine micro-living with their remarkable, multipurpose one-room Hut

Posted in Architecture, Design
By Sam Bathe on 22 Dec 2017

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After wowing the design community back in 2015 with prototypes of their minimalist micro-home, the Muji Hut is now on sale in Japan. With a compact 9 square-metre interior, double-pane glass front and covered porch, the Hut is just about big enough for 3-4 people to relax in and sleeps a single. Using traditional materials to blend into its surroundings, the Hut is built from wood entirely sourced in Japan. The outer walls are constructed of burnt cedar for its enhanced antiseptic properties and treated with an oil stain, while the interior has a minimalist finish to let the owner stamp their own style. The Muji Hut is on sale now for ¥3,000,000 (£20,150) including materials and construction, though they are currently only available inside Japan, hopefully an international service is soon to follow: www.muji.com/jp/mujihut

Mica Warren’s fun illustrations use bloated forms and chunky outlines to create each hectic scene

Posted in Art, Illustration
By Sam Bathe on 14 Dec 2017

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With a stylised, almost Morph-like human form, Mica Warren‘s illustrations combine block colours and thick linework. Originally from Wicklow in Ireland but now based in London, there’s a sense of joy and energy in Mica’s work, creating almost cluttered scenes with so much absorb and take in. Show the rest of this post…

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DVD Review: An Inconvenient SequelFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in DVDs, Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 11 Dec 2017

In a way, the most prescient thing about the sequel to Al Gore’s 2006 zeitgeist-hitting documentary An Inconvenient Truth, is that 11 years after the first one came out, the issues at its core are more prominent than ever before. While this sequel may not have hit the box office as hard as its predecessor, the message is no less important. Show the rest of this post…

As former US Vice President Al Gore continues his global climate change training programme, around which much of this documentary is built, his overriding feeling is clear: frustration. And that frustration comes through in the film, and is its strongest asset. Much like in the first film, Gore comes across in An Inconvenient Sequel: A Truth to Power as someone who simply cares, and believes what he is doing is the right thing. In fact there’s a speech near the end that attests to this, which is genuinely moving in its sincerity.

It’s the sincerity at the heart of the film that makes it work. As a documentary, you could argue its construction is somewhat perfunctory, and its cinematic qualities relatively sparse (barring some impressive footage of ice floes at the beginning) but it is nonetheless filled with interesting information that illustrates the struggle Gore is fighting. Home media is perhaps its natural home.

The film is a polemic, not designed to be balanced, but thought-provoking. Your enjoyment of it may depend on what side of the argument you come down on, although climate change deniers are hardly likely to be watching this in the first place.

For the rest of us, Gore’s message is a handy reminder that this is a subject we as a collective cannot afford to forget. The presence of Donald Tru mp in the final stages casts a grim shadow over much of the optimism that powers Gore’s efforts, but that shadow will hopefully help what came before to linger in people’s minds.

4/5

Film Review: Stronger

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Bathe on 8 Dec 2017

In 2013, Jeff Bauman lost both of his legs below the knee in the Boston Marathon bombings. David Gordon Green’s film Stronger is an adaptation of Bauman’s memoir of the same name, and depicts Bauman’s struggles coming to terms with his new life dealing with disability and living in an area of Boston that is not exactly conducive to his needs. Show the rest of this post…

In the opening scenes we see Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) hanging around with his friends and trying to reignite his relationship with on-again-off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany). That seems to be going moderately well until Bauman attends the marathon as a spectator to cheer Erin on. In the aftermath of the bombing, their relationship will be tested again, but in wholly different and more stressful circumstances.

Green’s film is, of course, a story of triumph over adversity, but for the majority of its runtime it tries to sidestep most of the clichés that can creep into the genre, and in general avoids the kind of mawkishness that can derail emotional impact.

Although Stronger depicts people admiring Bauman as a hero, the film wisely doesn’t elevate him as such. In general, the focus stays on at ground level, and doesn’t try to deal with the political side of the story. Gyllenhaal plays Bauman as a likeable but flawed character, and the film wisely doesn’t shy away from either of those traits after the accident. In the first act there are some jarring tonal shifts that prevented me from really settling into the film, and some scenes with Bauman’s family and friends that felt like they were trying a little too hard, but once I relaxed into the characters I discovered a well made, if not exceptional, film.

If some of the scenes involving the supporting cast aren’t always as solid as they could be – despite the presence of Miranda Richardson as Bauman’s alcoholic mother – the leads are capable of carrying most of it by themselves. Gyllenhaal’s is a strong performance – there are moments when he’s called upon to emote in a fairly visceral way, but in general it’s a performance not afraid of subtlety. The real star of the film for me, though, is Tatiana Maslany, who is really impressive as Erin, a woman who gives up her time and emotions to a man who, prior to the bombing, she wasn’t technically attached to. Maslany convinces as a woman offering a lot but not necessarily receiving much in return, and makes the character of Tatiana as vital to the narrative as Bauman himself. She also gets the film’s last and best-delivered line of dialogue, which rounds things off on a powerful note.

Stronger is the second film in just four years to deal with the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon, after Peter Berg’s Patriots Day last year, although they approach the subject matter from very  different perspectives. Stronger takes a stripped-down approach and focuses in on the way that day affected the lives of just a few people, and is generally successful in doing so. It doesn’t stray too far from the conventions of the genre in which it sits, but there are a couple of scenes where it takes risks – most notably one in which Bauman has his legs bandaged – and is successful in doing so.

It treats its subject matter seriously and apolitically and makes the admirable decision to stay grounded. Even if not all of its elements are entirely successful – the supporting cast didn’t add a huge amount for me, beyond  one scene in a cafe, and the script is tonally a little inconsistent – Stronger is nevertheless a well-acted double header and worth a look for Gyllenhaal and Maslany alone.

3/5

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

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