Everybody Wants Some!! Sing Street – Film Review(s)

The Boys

Last week I inadvertently scheduled myself a thematic weekend of cinema by seeing Everybody Wants Some!! and Sing Street on consecutive days. The films are quite different but I can’t find a way to talk about one without bringing up the other and so I have decided to review them both completely separately and intertwined. Excuse me while I try to impress you.

In Autumn 2014 Richard Linklater returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Texas and filmed Everybody Wants Some!! in which Jake (Blake Jenner) starts at a new college and joins his baseball teammates in pursuit of girls. For Linklater the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of childhood and adulthood running through his earlier work Dazed and Confused and more recently Boyhood.

In Autumn 2014 John Carney returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Dublin and filmed Sing Street in which Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) starts at a new school and leads his reluctant bandmates in pursuit of a girl. For Carney the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of music and romance running through his earlier work Once and more recently Begin Again.

In Everybody Wants Some!! we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe unfamiliar to myself: the jocks. We follow the jocks from party to party as they clash with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the girls they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from pursuing girls in a country club to chasing girls in a grunge club their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be grinding to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a cassette release alongside the more traditional CD.

In Sing Street we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe familiar to myself: the nerds. We follow the nerds from genre to genre as they sing with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the music they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from imitating the style of Duran Duran to writing music like The Cure their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be singing to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a vinyl release alongside the more traditional CD.

The Girls

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Everybody Wants Some!! also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young college student, played incongruously by a man in his twenties, pursuing sex in sun drenched America is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a jock or stepped foot on American soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Sing Street also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young school student, played accurately by a boy in his teens, pursuing escape in grey and drizzly UK & Ireland is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a musician or stepped foot on Irish soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

At the film’s core is a story of lust and the pursuit of many women. Aside from his love for all women the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Beverly (Zoey Deutch); a performing arts student who catches Jake’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) passing the Bechdel test the film spends no amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Beverly is a two-dimensional character of whom we learn very little and probably isn’t even developed enough to earn the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Beverly is primarily treated as something to be won and I wasn’t convinced that our protagonist deserved to “win” her.

At the film’s core is a story of love and the pursuit of stardom. Aside from his love for songwriting the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Raphina (Lucy Boynton); an aspiring model who catches Conor’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) not passing the Bechdel test the film spends a good amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Raphina is a three-dimensional character of whom we learn a lot and the film slowly reveals enough for her to ditch the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Raphina is treated as a character in her own right and any romance feels authentic and earned.

Overall the film is a success within the familiar framework it is working and will likely be enjoyed by fans of the genre or the director’s work that it follows on from. The soundtrack will be what sticks with you the most once you’ve stepped back out into the real world and will run through your head on your journey home. I had fun.

Both films are on release in the UK now.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Film Review

X-Men Apocalypse 1

If you read the title of this latest X-Men film out loud, punctuation and all, it gets the unfortunate subtitle of “colon apocalypse” which makes me wish the film were slightly worse so I could use that as a clever “the title reviews itself!!!” remark. Alas X-Men: Apocalypse is not terrible enough to be worth of a weak diarrhea joke despite trying incredibly hard to be.

Set ten years after some of the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the mutants we know and love are looking very young for their age and are scattered about the globe. Professor X (James McAvoy) is preening over his academy, Raven/Mystique/Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is roaming the world being heroic, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has hung up his bad guy helmet to grow a beard and do manual labour like he’s in the series finale of Dexter. When an ancient mutant with the ominous nickname Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awoken by four chanting men the end of mankind becomes a possibility and the heroes must reunite, grab some newbies, and save the world. Apart from Magneto of course who can’t resist scratching that homicidal itch and joins the baddies for a bit instead.

What follows is a bit of a mess: Beloved characters return but are sidelined by a boring bad guy, humorous interludes are laugh out loud funny but are inserted into scenes of real drama in a way that really jars, endless barrels of CGI are unloaded in a manner that becomes almost incoherent, and the 3D does little more than make the subtitles pop. There are many reasons to dislike the film; it is confusing, occasionally boring, and uses Auschwitz in a questionable way, but I still had a good time.

X-Men Apocalypse 2

X-Men: Apocalypse relies heavily on the audience’s love for its cast and its characters. It even sticks in a Wolverine cameo and poaches Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones to get the fanboys onside. Director Bryan Singer does this because he thinks he can get away with it and to a large extent he can. The young cast of this more recent X-Men trilogy are all perfectly lovable and it is their presence that took me through the film. I was five films deep, ignoring Wolverine films and Deadpool for the sake of sanity, at the start of the film so genuinely care what happens to the regulars involved. It is a real shame that there wasn’t more of Fassbender, Lawrence, and McAvoy as too much time was spent with Apocalypse and his penchant for Batman & Robin style superhero costumes and not enough with the faces I had come to see.

Apocalypse wasn’t a villain with a relatable backstory or understandable plan; he was just an egotistical maniac who felt that the way to save mankind was to kill it indiscriminately. It’s a plot I struggled to get behind and it was never really explained why Magneto got so swept up in it. The film uses cheap tricks to give Magneto some motivation but considering the character’s moral yo-yoing you’d have expected him to pause before manipulating the whole earth’s magnetic fields. A good baddie needs conflict and charisma; something Magneto provides in spades but Apocalypse severely lacks.

As mentioned before the film’s tone is all over the place. I was pleased to see the return of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver but his comedic time to shine is tarnished when you pause from laughing and realise the horrific reality of what has been going on while he was running around being the very definition of a superhero. The tonal rollercoaster makes it hard to take the serious bits seriously and tricky to fully enjoy the fun bits. X-Men is a fun franchise and is at its worst when being too straight faced.

X-Men: Apocalypse makes no real sense in the context of the original trilogy of X-Men films and includes at least one character who shouldn’t be around for another decade or three. That said comics make good use of alternate realities and thanks to the last instalment’s time travel joy all manner of plot holes are fair game now.

X-Men: Apocalypse may be messy but I am grading on a curve and Batman v Superman is still a painfully recent memory. This is the weaker episode of your favourite TV show; forgivable but forgettable. Despite all the grumbling above there is an enjoyable film in a strong franchise if you look hard enough and try really hard not to think of The Mummy.

X-Men: Apocalypse is out in the UK today.

Green Room – Film Review

Green Room

A punk band fighting to become neither mainstream nor anonymous end a low-key tour with a last-minute gig at a club for neo-Nazis. As they arrive at the club they are hesitant and unsettled but decide to not back down, instead planning to simply play the gig, grab their money, and get out. Having successfully played the gig and grabbed the money one member of the band sees something he shouldn’t have and the final part of the plan, the getting out, becomes all the more important and all the less likely. Trapped in the club’s green room the band are up against a horde of violent skinheads, fighting dogs, and a ruthless leader in the shape of Patrick Stewart. What follows is ninety minutes of nerve shredding terror and bloody violence.

Jeremy Saulnier shot into the world’s consciousness last year with his second feature Blue Ruin. The film impressed with its grim story of revenge, stripped down aesthetic, and shockingly unpredictable narrative. Saulnier was flagged as a writer and director to keep you eye on and with Green Room you will be glad we all did. Green Room is a beautifully dark film that quickly ratchets up the tension and never ever lets you take a breath. Repeatedly what you considered to be core characters are brutally dispatched or critically maimed leaving you painfully aware that nobody is safe or guaranteed to make the final reel.

Green Room 2

Saulnier has assembled an eclectic and skilled cast consisting of his frequent collaborator Macon Blair alongside indie heavyweights such as Alia Shawkat and Mark Webber and more mainstream stars including Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart. No actor is given special treatment with Stewart dialing his performance down to a calm and collected simmering menace and with Blair far from sidelined as a strangely emotive skinhead. Despite varying degrees of experience both take to the stage with confidence and bring complexity to their characters. The film is an ensemble piece with good characterisation on both sides of the barricaded door. When someone dies you know who they were and so each death matters.

And there are plenty of deaths. And blood. And gore. Green Room is at its heart a horror film and is most importantly deeply terrifying. The threat on hand is not a spooky ghost or a chainsaw wielding maniac but relatively intelligent human beings who simply wouldn’t hesitate to cut, maul, or (as a last resort) shoot you if it got you out of the way. What makes Green Room a success us that the film is, within the realms of horror, so scarily plausible and plays on the fear that if someone wants to do you harm there’s very little you can do to stop it.

As a horror film Green Room is near perfect. It is without frills and fuss with no extraneous details or distractions. The premise is simple; a group of people are tapped where they do not want to be and must get past scary men to escape. The joy of the film is in its execution. An execution that holds nothing back and constantly surprises and horrifies. I gasped, I groaned, and I hid my face.

I loved it.

Green Room is out in the UK on 13th May 2016.

Victoria Wood 1953 – 2016

Victoria Wood

19th May 1953 – 20th April 2016

“Everyone’s a national treasure these days; you can’t move for them. But there should only ever be one at a time. For years, it was Dame Thora Hird. After she died, it was going to be Judi Dench, but then Joanna Lumley saved the Gurkhas so she got the gig.”

High-Rise – Film Review

High-Rise

What do I even say about High-Rise? Everything about this film is so distinct and unique it defies description or definition. It is a unique entity and so is hard to line up and compare against all other films. I’ll do my best for you.

In a slightly askew version of London in 1975 Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a modern concrete high-rise. Inside he meets all manner of unusual character brought to life by an impressive cast list you’re better off finding on IMDb than me typing out here. The tower has everything a resident might need from a swimming pool to a market and Laing soon realises it has its own social structure too. On the lower floors live the families and poorer residents while at the top reside the wealthier residents and local celebrities. In the penthouse Laing finds the building’s visionary architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons).

All is well, if a little surreal, for a short while but before long a riot/party/social uprising begins and all hell breaks loose. In a surreal manner naturally. By this point in the film I entered an almost dreamlike state in which I felt like I was watching the film through a haze. Could this have been down to it only being 3pm and my watching my third film of the day or was I being elevated to a higher plane through cinema? I’ll let you decide.

High-Rise 2

The combination of screenwriter Amy Jump, here adapting J.G. Ballard’s novel, and director Ben Wheatley once again produce a unique beast. Not only is it different from all the other films at last year’s film festival but distinct from everything their collaboration has produced before. The tone veers wildly, and sublimely, from comedy to horror to drama. This is the film you expect Ayoade or Gilliam to make and yet the result is distinctly Wheatley.

And the set! The set is that of a gorgeously brutalist tower block with, presumably fake, cast concrete inside and out. Having recently toured the Southbank Centre as part of a celebration of brutalism I feel especially qualified to say the set design was top-notch; both bleak and beautiful as life in London so often is.

I have pages of notes with various thoughts and comments on the film but on reflection I can’t help but feel that sharing these would you might take away from the surprise and delight that High-Rise has in store for you. You will laugh, you will wince, you will marvel at the almost naked sight of Tom Hiddleston. If there’s one film you need to see to stay relevant at a cinephiles dinner party, this is it.

It’s like Snowpiercer but vertical. I loved it more than I understood it.

I will admit that the film did lose me at times but for sheer no hold barred inventiveness I can’t withhold a single star.

High-Rise is out in UK cinemas now and I dare you not to watch.