The London List Abroad: The Arcade Bakery invites patrons into NYC’s historic Merchant Square BuildingThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 10 Jan 2017

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Found in the lobby of the historic Merchant Square Building in Tribeca, NYC, the Arcade Bakery makes ingenious use of space, filling the picturesque hall with aromas of its fresh pastries, flatbreads and traditional loafs. With tables folding down from the gorgeous wood-panelled alcoves, everything is baked on-site, with patrons invited to peer through large glass windows into the plush, tiled kitchen within. The Arcade Bakery open Monday to Friday, 8am-4pm, with the menu and fresh baked goods changing throughout the day.

Arcade Bakery, 220 Church Street, New York City, NY 10013, USA
www.arcadebakery.com

The London List Abroad: Copenhagen’s Väkst restaurant creates a wholly-upcycled, idyllic greenhouse escapeThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 4 Jan 2017

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Serving a monthly rotating Modern European menu, Väkst is an extraordinary restaurant furnished entirely from upcycled materials. Designing the interior in collaboration with upcycling company, Genbyg, restaurateurs Cofoco used a variety of salvaged wood, reclaimed furniture and life-worn garden pots to create an idyllic space that feels welcoming and alive. Stepping up into the restaurant through a would-be greenhouse, Väkst bases all of its princicple on sustainability and producing as little waste as possible and seats guests everyday, though Sunday is evening-only.

Väkst, Sankt Peders Stræde 34, 1453 Copenhagen, Denmark
www.hostvakst.dk/vakst

Our favourite films of 2016

Posted in Film
By Martin Roberts on 28 Dec 2016

It’s that time of year again, when critics struggle valiantly to put together lists of the best films released in the preceding year. Show the rest of this post…

My own list comes with the usual caveat that, as a part-time critic, there are a lot of films I haven’t seen. I still haven’t caught up with critical darlings such as Room, Son of Saul and Spotlight, and am sad to say that I’m yet to see, among others, Embrace of the Serpent, Hell or High Water and Julieta. There are also two Japanese animations – When Marnie Was There and Your Name – that are high on my list of must-sees.

But even without those titles, 2016 has been a strong year, and I was reminded, looking back, of how varied and unpredictable a year it has been. The list was difficult to assemble and I wrestled with some titles that, even now, I’m not quite sure deserve to be left out. The strength and variety of 2016 is summed up by the ‘honourable mentions’ list at the bottom of this article, which in itself represents a high-quality watch list of 2016.

The top 10 below, presented in alphabetical order, is comprised of the best 10 films I saw in 2016. Enjoy it, and be sure to catch up on these if you haven’t already.

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 Arrival

A smart, touching sci-fi from Denis Villeneuve, who is currently on a strong run of form that bodes well for next year’s Blade Runner 2049. Amy Adams, who will appear again on this list, stars as a linguistics expert called in to help the US military communicate with a mysterious race of aliens who appear without warning or explanation, hovering in giant egg-shaped ships above the Earth. Jóhan Johansson’s eerie score – reminiscent of Mica Levi’s work on Under the Skin – and Villeneuve’s restrained direction combine with strong central performances for a sci-fi that is intriguing, thrilling and ultimately rewarding.

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Bone Tomahawk

S Craig Zahler’s directorial debut is one of those films that surprises and entertains in equal measure. Considering it was Zahler’s first feature, it’s remarkable how Bone Tomahawk manages to shine on so many levels. It’s a gritty Western at heart, and a convincing one, but Mahler’s script is infused with playful black comedy that really hits home, artfully shifting the tone as we follow a posse, lead by Kurt Russell’s sheriff, through the desert on a mission to rescue kidnapped townsfolk from the terrifying Troglodytes – a tribe of cave-dwelling cannibals. The central performances are terrific; the action nerve racking; and there are moments of genuine horror that will shake you to the core.

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The Hateful Eight

It’s been a good year for Kurt Russell. His second appearance on my list sees him playing another sheriff – this time John Ruth in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a taut Western over half of which takes place in a single room. Tarantino’s decision to shoot an enclosed location in super widescreen 70mm format initially raised a few eyebrows, but watching the film it makes complete sense. The haberdashery in which the action unfolds is shot in such a way as to make it feel like a landscape, a microcosm of the US, and a playground for the actors to spar with Tarantino’s crackling script. It may not be perfect, and like a lot of Tarantino’s work it does have moments of indulgence, but its a thrilling ride.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This offbeat coming-of-age comedy from Taika Waititi, in which juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is placed in the foster care of a new family and ends up lost in the woods with Hec (Sam Neill), was an unexpected gem in 2016. Newcomer Dennison’s performance is so good that Ricky Baker is sure to become a cult hero, and his chemistry with Neill’s grouchy Hec is a winning combo. The film has heart and laughs and, just when it begins to look like it might be running out of steam, Rhys Darby shows up in a hilarious cameo to help carry the film to its conclusion.

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I, Daniel Blake

Treasured British director Ken Loach may now be 80, but I, Daniel Blake is charged with the same political fury that has powered much of Loach’s career. This Newcastle-set drama, which depicts a man’s struggle with the UK welfare state, is thoroughly convincing in its portrayal of stultifying bureaucracy, and will frustrate and charm in equal measure. Dave Johns is excellent in the title role, and opposite him Hayley Squires, as a young single mum trapped in the same system, is equally good. The film proved too polemical for some, but the lives it depicts ring true, and the relationships are entirely believable. Loach and his team did significant research for the film and most of what we see is founded in truth. An important work not to be ignored.

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The Neon Demon

After the misstep that was Only God Forgives, Nicholas Winding Refn made a triumphant return this year with The Neon Demon, a twisted fairytale set in the fashion world of Los Angeles. Starring Elle Fanning as a beautiful young model who immediately makes an impact on the LA scene – and in doing so inspires jealousy in her older, more sculpted peers – The Neon Demon immediately establishes a brooding atmosphere and runs with it right up until the inevitable exploitation trappings of the final act. The cast are on great form, fitting beautifully into Refn’s hyperreal sensibilities, and the technical aspects are a delight; visually and sonically, the film is totally absorbing.

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Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s second feature came seven years after his first, but was very much worth the wait. This adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, in which a woman’s ex-husband sends her a manuscript of a novel he’s written depicting thinly-disguised versions of their younger selves, masterfully juxtaposes the present day with dramatisations of the novel itself. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are excellent in the lead roles; the rest of the cast provides winning support; and Ford successfully blurs together time periods while holding the emotion core of the film intact, right up to the beautifully judged ending.

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Paterson

A beautifully reserved tonal piece by Jim Jarmusch starring an understated Adam Driver as Paterson, a poetry-writing bus driver living in the town that shares his name. We follow Paterson through seven days of his life, most of which is entirely ordinary and for the most part uneventful. The drama in Jarmusch’s touching film comes not from big statements but in the gentle depiction of a man’s thoughts as he goes through life. It’s a lovely film that captures something profound in the everyday.

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Sing Street

Few films in 2016 made me as happy as John Carney’s Sing Street. I grinned practically all the way through it, shed a tear or two, and wished the projectionist would start it up again. Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor, a down-on-his-luck kid who starts a rock band to impress a girl (Lucy Boynton), the film is full of laughs, catchy tunes, touching teen romance and the odd splash of kitchen sink realism. Walsh-Peelo and Boynton are great, and their chemistry effortlessly ushers the film through its drama and musical sequences. A real treat.

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Youth

Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to the much garlanded The Great Beauty didn’t receive quite the same level of critical acclaim, but Youth, which stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as 70-plus best friends staying at a luxury retreat in the Swiss Alps, has a strange and profound magic. It isn’t perfect and takes a while to settle down, but once it does, the impressive cast (including Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano) and Sorrentino’s magical storytelling blend into something truly memorable. The emotional conclusion is one of the most rousing sequences of the year.

Honourable mentions:

Anomalisa, The Big Short, Captain America: Civil War, Green Room, Love and Friendship, Under the Shadow, The Witch, Zootropolis

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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…

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

FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

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

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

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