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 Martin Roberts 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

Netflix channel Scandi murder mysteries with new supernatural detective series ‘Dark’

Posted in Trailers, TV
By Sam Bathe on 13 Nov 2017

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With all the overtones of a Scandi detective thriller, Dark is a tense new 10-parter from Netflix. Set in the small German town of Winden, Dark follows the investigation into the disappearance of two local children, only the series takes a supernatural twist when the question shifts to not whom kidnapped the children, but when. Shot on location in the beautiful yet thoroughly eerie German woodland, Netflix’s run of hit shows looks like its set to continue. Created by Baran bo Odar and co-written by Jantje Friese, all 10 episodes of Dark premiere Friday 1st December.

Film Review: Revolution: New Art for a New World

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 23 Oct 2017

Margy Kinmonth’s documentary Revolution: New Art for a New World aims to elucidate the connection between political events in Russia in the early 20th century and the art that its citizens produced in response, much of which is little known in the wider world.
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The documentary focuses primarily on the October Revolution in 1917, during which the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government of the country, which itself had been installed not long before as the result of another political upheaval. Kinmonth’s film, which she also wrote and narrates, attempts to paint the connections between a tumultuous time period and the art that it spawned.

For art enthusiasts, the greatest draw of the film will be the revealing of many significant works that have, to date, been little seen outside of Russia. Even for an art novice like me, the film did a good job of explaining the significance of these pieces and, crucially, how they relate to the events that, at least in part, inspired their creation. There are also some interesting interviews with contemporaries of the artists discussed, in some cases with their actual descendants, and seeing the physical similarities between them and the old photos is a treat in itself.

The film is ultimately a little televisual and perhaps did not require a cinematic release, but even so there is an interesting discourse in here not just how this art related to its period, but how any art can do so, and the importance of that relationship. The music is a little distracting at times, and some of the dramatic voiceovers – recreating speeches from historical figures such as Lenin (Matthew Macfadyen), for  example – don’t really add much, but for those with an interest in the period, or indeed in the relationship between art and politics more generally, it’s an interesting watch.

3/5

Film Review: The Death of StalinFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 18 Oct 2017

As anyone who has seen The Thick of It, its feature length spin off In the Loop, or the US series Veep, will know, writer Armando Iannucci has a certain unique flair for political satire. Show the rest of this post…

The thought of him tackling La Mort de Staline, a graphic novel by Fabien Nury dealing with the aftermath of the death of Joseph Stalin, was a promising one.

When Stalin died in 1953, he left behind a power vacuum at the head of the Soviet Union. Iannucci’s film depicts the ensuing struggle for power among the political elite, from Stalin’s son to his heads of state, choosing to approach what in real life was a tremendously fraught and dangerous era with his usual lightness of touch.

It’s not perhaps an obvious period to play for laughs, but the result, for the most part, lives up to the billing. Iannucci extracts humour from potential darkness, and at times plays wonderfully on the idea of political paranoia and infighting.

The film boasts a large and talented ensemble cast playing a roster of real life characters, most of whom Iannucci depicts as either bumbling, bickering fools or, in the case of Simon Russell Beale’s secret police chief Beria, in particular, tyrants desperate for power. Their interactions are the heart of the film, indeed the very point of the film, and there is much enjoyment to be had therein. If there’s a criticism to be levelled at the casting, it’s simply that there are too many talented performers here to feel that we’re getting the most out of them. As a result, some of the supporting characters feel a little undersold, and unable to leave the impression they might have done.

Alongside Beria, the chief conspirators are Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Nikita Kruschchev (Steve Buscemi), names which will be familiar to anyone with a vague knowledge of Russian history. Malenkov, upon whom the responsibility of stepping into Stalin’s shoes initially falls, is played by Tambor as a man desperately wanting to appear stately and responsible, but in fact displaying neither of these traits, and perennially trapped under the imposing Beria’s finger.

Lingering around behind them is an amusingly pitched performance from Michael Palin as Vyascheslav Molotov, who over the years has been so indoctrinated into Stalin’s regime that he has trouble remembering who he is meant to be fawning over, and what his opinions actually are. There’s also an amusing introduction featuring Paddy Considine that gets things off to a strong start, and a scene-stealing turn from a belligerent Jason Isaacs. Andrea Riseborough, meanwhile, brings an all-too-brief feminine presence to what is otherwise very much a boys club.

Although there’s some great stuff in here poking fun at the inner workings of the government,the film coasts a little towards its final act, which, though still funny, is a bit rushed and dramatically uneven. It feels as if the film is enjoying itself much more when its ensemble is bickering and fighting than when it has to tell the story, which isn’t a criticism as such, but leaves the narrative element of the film feeling a little lukewarm.

Generally, though, The Death of Stalin is an entertaining and often funny film, the  tone of which will be familiar, if not wholly so, to fans of Iannucci’s excellent previous work. It’s not as consistently funny as some of his best output, but well worth a look.

4/5

Film Review: The Glass Castle

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Liam Nicholls on 22 Sep 2017

Based on the bestselling memoir of Jeanette Walls’ childhood, The Glass Castle explores the fraught and fractured relationship between a father and daughter, played superbly by Woody Harrelson and Brie Larson. Show the rest of this post…

The story follows Jeanette (Brie Larson), one of four flame-haired siblings living a nomadic, poverty-stricken life, dragged from shack to hovel by their free-spirited and eccentric parents Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). Cutting back and forth in time between her younger years and her life as a a successful gossip columnist in New York, her emotions unravel in the midst of a manicured existence with Wall Street fiancé David (Max Greenfield).

The first we see of her wild-eyed parents is scavenging in bins on the Lower East Side as Jeanette drives past in a taxi, setting the tone for the disconnected relationship she has with them, born from years of reckless abandon. Her mother is an artist, more interested in her work than the welfare of her children, brought into sharp focus early on when a young Jeanette badly burns herself cooking hotdogs on the stove. Rescued from the hospital by her family before she has properly healed, she bears the physical and emotional scars for the rest of her life as she becomes protector to her brother and sisters in the absence of conscientious parents.

The beating heart of the film is the relationship between Rex and his “Mountain Goat” Jeanette, who is played as a child with brilliant poise by Ella Anderson. Rex is the film’s force of nature; a poetic soul battling with an undercurrent of darkness and repression. A Jekyll and Hyde character, he’s charismatic, warm and wise when sober but volatile and vicious when drunk, suffocating his children while living in fear of them leaving him. His grand design of building a solar-powered glass house, which gives the film its title, connects him and Jeanette to a shared hope of a better future.

Whether it’s throwing her repeatedly into a swimming pool to teach her how to swim, or begging her for alcohol when chained to a bed while going cold turkey, Rex certainly lives up to his mantra of “You learn from living”. As Jeanette grapples with rising anger and despair as her life plays out, the film is a depiction of her journey in coming to terms with the suffering she endured and accepting the pain that has ultimately shaped who she is.

Both Harrelson, Larson and Anderson carry the story magnificently with powerful performances, but they’re held back by the jarring movements in time which hinder the development of the narrative, rather than building  it. A film full of poignant symbolism and several emotionally-charged moments, its story is one that deserves to be seen on screen, despite losing some of its power in translation.

3/5

Film Review: Wind River

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 15 Sep 2017

Wind River is the final part of what director Taylor Sheridan has called his “frontier trilogy”, which began with Sicario and continued with Hell or High Water. Although Sheridan wrote all three films, it’s the first he has directed, and his first directorial credit since a little-seen horror called Vile in 2011. Show the rest of this post…

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star as Cory Lambert and Jane Banner, who become unlikely partners in a crime investigation. She works for the FBI and has been summoned to freezing Wyoming to run an investigation into a body that Cory discovered in the snow. Cory is a hunter/tracker and proves useful in assisting Jane who, while competent as an investigator, is not used to the extreme wintry conditions in the area.

The body is discovered on a Native American reservation – the titular Wind River – which causes jurisdictional issues for the investigation, while the harsh nature of the landscape becomes a driving factor in the narrative. Wind River is home to many disenchanted people, for whom the difficulties presented by the environment have either broken their spirits, or made them cynical. The world-weary inhabitants of the area, combined with the excellent sense of place established by Sheridan and his cinematographer, Ben Richardson, lift some of the film’s more generic elements into thoroughly watchable territory.

It also helps that Renner gives one his strongest performances to date as Cory, who clearly has an attachment to the area, but is nevertheless challenged by the toughness of the environment, which has not been altogether kind to him. Opposite him, Olsen is reliably strong as Jane, who despite playing more of a supporting role than we might initially expect, adds both vulnerability and strength to proceedings, albeit in different ways to Renner.

The film has a gritty edge to it, as we might expect from this loose trilogy, and is adept at establishing a scenario in which the vastness of the landscape serves to heighten the events being depicted. There are visual compositions that at times reminded me of the establishing shots in Sicario, and some of the recurring motifs in the soundtrack called to mind the whispered poetics of Andrew Dominik’s excellent Western The Proposition.

As things unfold and we being to learn where the narrative is going, it’s perhaps a little disappointingly straightforward, and the final movement of the film feels a little less sure of itself than the rest, but the interest is held throughout, and the film doesn’t lose sight of the characters at its heart. There’s one late scene on top of a mountain that is a little too broadly played, but in general the film conveys a sense of realism and believability. There’s also an almighty Mexican standoff in the final act that is beautifully choreographed.

Wind River is a compelling watch, with a strong sense of place, convincing performances and a welcome, if subtle, undercurrent o f political awareness. It’s not perfect, and perhaps a little generic at times, but well worth a watch, particularly if you enjoyed Sicario and Hell or High Water.

4/5

Saoirse Ronan stumbles through the last year of high school in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’

Posted in Film, Previews, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 6 Sep 2017

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The solo directorial debut from Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird follows high school senior Christine McPherson – or ‘Lady Bird’ as she goes by – as she navigates a turbulent 12 months before leaving home for college. Starring the amazing Saoirse Ronan in the titular role, Lady Bird clashes horns with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), girls at school and a handful of love interests as she plots a route to the Big Apple. Gerwig’s mumblecore dramedy received rave reviews at Telluride Film Festival just last weekend, and hits theatres 3rd November in the US and 16th February 2018 in the UK.

Director George Clooney channels Coen Brothers farce in suburbia-gone-wrong comedy ‘Suburbicon’

Posted in Film, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 21 Aug 2017

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Set in a seemingly idyllic suburban community, after a home invasion robbery ends in the death of beloved wife and mother, Rose, her twin sister (Julianne Moore) moves in to help widowed Gardner (Matt Damon) and the kids cope with their great loss. However, when a company agent pays the family a visit to sign off on their life insurance claim, it becomes quickly apparent all might not be as it seems, Gardner must quickly learn to navigate the town’s dark underbelly if he’s to make it out alive. Directed by George Clooney from an all-star script by Clooney himself alongside long-term collaborator Grant Heslov and the Coen Brothers, Suburbicon is a dark comedy that hopes to hit the heights of the likes of A Serious Man. Suburbicon hits theatres in the US on October 27th, and in the UK on November 24th.

Film Review: A Ghost StoryFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 7 Aug 2017

The title ‘A Ghost Story’ might put you in mind of any of the myriad haunted house films that have spooked cinema throughout its history, but David Lowery’s low-key drama is one of the few in which the protagonist himself is definitively a ghost. Show the rest of this post…

Casey Affleck plays that protagonist, who in an early scene is killed in an accident and from that moment on appears only as figure draped in a huge white sheet, with nothing more than a pair of pitch black eye sockets (and later some dirt and scuffing) for detail. After his death he stands vigil in his old house, watching his bereaved partner (Rooney Mara) struggle on with her life.

This is a melancholy meditation on death, clearly designed to inspire an emotional reaction, but without the cynicism that often hampers projects with that intention. Lowery’s film feels tender and honest, and while the score is relied upon to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of emotional delivery, it doesn’t feel manipulative. There are few characters in A Ghost Story, none of whom are named, and very little dialogue – indeed, for long stretches it plays like a silent film. Daniel Hall (who scored Lowery’s previous two films, Pete’s Dragon and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) conjures up a dreamy, emotionally rich sonic environment that blends well with Lowery’s very mannered, restrained direction.

Lowery and his cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo shot the film in the 1:33 ratio with unusual rounded edges – an intimate form closer to a square than most modern films – which gives the visuals a close-in feeling. The film routinely features shots that move into or out of a resting position that looks straight at the environment, framing the scene almost as if it were flat, accentuating intentional symmetries and quirks in the set design. This aesthetic brings out the fundamental weirdness of the ghost’s presence, offset as it often is against very ordered surroundings, and also lends a sense of loss when that order is fractured. There’s a simple but wonderful inversion of this aesthetic when a character drives away from the house.

All of this gives the impression that Lowery has really considered how to tell his story visually and sonically, leaving dialogue mostly in the background. In fact the most verbose scene in the film, set during a house party, is clearly the film’s weakest – an unnecessary addition that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.

The design of the ghost is wonderful. He comes across as tremendously expressive even though he has almost no moving features (indeed, in some scenes, he doesn’t move at all), capable of looking both angry and threatening, although he primarily conveys a sense of profound longing. Again, the staging of the shots and the score play a big part in making the character work. There’s even a strange undercurrent of dark humour in his low-budget, Halloween-costume appearance.

Not every element of the film works – the second half isn’t as well paced, and features a central plot point that isn’t wholly satisfactory – but in general, A Ghost Story works on the level it is aiming for: emotional depth. I was moved by the picture and felt it had things to say about loss and death. Two scenes involving Rooney Mara’s character will certainly stick with me: in one, she listens to headphones in two time periods, and the simple movement of an arm had me unable to hold back the tears; and a protracted scene in which the consumption of a pie becomes a tough and emotionally draining ordeal.

4/5

The film won’t be for everyone, but it’s a unique take on the ubiquitous cinematic theme of death and what happens after it, and deserves to be seen.

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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