Film Review: Suffragette


Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep

Rather than focus on figurehead of the suffragette movement Emmeline Pankhurst (seen only in a disappointingly brief cameo from Streep), director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) chose instead to follow Maud Watts (Mulligan), a fictional lower-class laundry worker. Although initially reluctant, Maud is drawn into the epicentre of the suffragette movement, her fervour bolstered by steady germination of the notion that “there’s another way of living this life.”.

Suffragette has turned up the volume on conversations about the enduring imbalances of gender equality, wage gaps and workplace discrimination, but that’s not all. Uproar was caused by a Time Out shoot featuring the (white, privileged) lead actresses wearing t-shirts bearing famous Pankhurst quote “ I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” and criticised for racial insensitivity, connotations to the American confederacy, and presenting slavery as a ‘choice’, leading to widespread condemnation of the film for ignoring the contribution ethnic women made to the movement. Then, the London premiere was delayed when members of Sisters Uncut staged a ‘die-in’ to draw attention to government cuts affecting domestic abuse services, their message: two women a week die from domestic abuse, and “dead women can’t vote”. Suffragette is a good, if flawed, film but moreover deserves applause for reminding us all how far we have come, and how much further we have to go.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Irrational Man

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Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley

Abe Lucas (Phoenix) is a maudlin, alcoholic, borderline-nihilist philosophy professor newly appointed to a Rhode Island college. Preceded by tales of notoriety and philandering, his arrival on campus incites the attention of two rather disparate love interests; married Science professor Rita (Posey) and ingenuous student Jill (Stone). Distracted by his depressive cynicism, Lucas does little more than concede to their attentions until overhearing a chance diner-booth conversation. In a swift diametric to earlier narrative musings, he decides that he has one clear purpose, the achievement of which will give his life a rich depth of meaning previously lacking, and begins to plot a murder.

Although Phoenix and Stone undoubtedly deliver, Posey is the standout performance as Rita, throwing herself at Abe with an impressive mix of confidence, candour and desperation (“you’re not going to send me back out into the rain without sleeping with me, are you?”). Darius Khondiji’s luminous cinematography and the repeated cadence of jazz track ‘The In Crowd’ (Ramsey Lewis Trio) offer a sunny contrast to the darker events unfolding onscreen. For fans of Allen’s extensive back catalogue it is an entertaining watch, although certain elements may seem so familiar as to become predictable. Eventually, Allen (now 79 and you expect, considering his own mortality more than ever before, an issue that he claims has troubled him since age 5) leaves us with the bleak thought that despite our intentions – bad or good – there is nothing any of us can do to escape the seemingly random hand of fate.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Magic Mike XXL

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Director: Gregory Jacobs
Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Joe Manganiello

In the follow-up to 2012 runaway hit ‘Magic Mike’, we join the remaining Kings of Tampa on a ramshackle roadtrip, with the eventual destination of a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. They convince retired Mike (Tatum) to join them as they engage in a series of bizarre and desultory adventures enroute. The success of Magic Mike was due to a few simple factors: it was fun, it was silly, it was fast-paced, and most importantly, it unashamedly and unreservedly objectified men in the way that women are so often objectified. All the sequel needed to do was stick to this formula, but they wanted to go bigger and better, and ended up with a hot mess.

No one is seeing this film for the storyline, no one is expecting emotional depth, and absolutely no one, ever, wants to watch a male stripper have an existential crisis over their life choices. All the audience wants is abs, abs, and more abs, with a few close-ups of Tatum staring into their eyes like he is going to do bad things to them and they’re going to love it. While the films ambition of ‘equal opportunity objectification’ and focus on the female gaze – a counter to the male gaze theory posited by British feminist Laura Mulvey – is to be encouraged, you may as well save your money, stay home, and watch the trailer on repeat as that’s got most of the good shit in anyway.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Mr Holmes


Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker

In ‘Mr Holmes’, based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, we are confronted with a very different Sherlock (McKellen). Now 93 and long retired, he resides with his housekeeper (Linney) and her precocious son Roger (Parker) in a Sussex cottage, where his primary avocation is the tending of an apiary. Through multiple flashback sequences we see both a trip to Japan in pursuit of the prickly ash plant, and his last, unsuccessful case; a defeat that haunts him. Holmes wants to rectify Watson’s erroneous account of the latter, but his great mind has begun to unravel and we are drawn into a murkiness surrounding the proceedings; are his recollections fact, false memory or wishful thinking?

The film unfurls itself slowly, and the ponderous pace certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but McKellen, Linney and Parker give staggering performances, and it is no shame that an unusual amount of screen time is devoted to these three alone. It plays cleverly with the idea of Holmes’s identity; portraying him as a real person embroidered with Watson’s fabrications, in a wink to his extant fictional status. Ultimately, the sub-plots reach unsatisfactory conclusions – causing me to speculate on alternate possibilities beyond those proffered by the film – as after all, there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Tommorrowland: A World Beyond


Director: Brad Bird
Cast: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is Disney’s pitch at a big summer blockbuster. Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and written by Bird in conjunction with Damon Lindelof (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Prometheus) the credentials are solid. It’s a sci-fi adventure including jetpacks, spaceships, George Clooney and the occasional ejecting bathtub but unfortunately, no discernible storyline. This is the part of the review where I would normally summarise the plot, but I can’t, because there isn’t one. It moves between the past, the present and the future, in both our world and ‘Tomorrowland’, from the perspectives of Frank (Clooney) and Casey (Robertson). Chunks of exposition are hurled at random, pivotal information briefly mentioned once and never expounded upon. The script is terrible. The acting, with the notable exception of Raffey Cassidy, is terrible. The ham-fisted ecological proponent is terrible. It’s all terrible.

Once, maybe twice, childish gleefulness breaks through the deluge of excrement and you feel genuine thrill at seeing a youthful fantasy come to life – see aforementioned jetpack – before being pulled back under the shitty, shitty current. I struggled heroically through 90 minutes before conceding defeat and leaving, the relief of escape doing little to lessen my misery and regret at having wasted any of my life in Tomorrowland.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Lost River

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Director: Ryan Gosling
Cast: Iain De Caestecker, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith 

Directorial debut of Ryan Gosling, Lost River was originally titled ‘How to Catch A Monster’ before a first outing at Cannes in 2014 was received with untempered vilification. 10 months later and 10 minutes shorter it has re-emerged for nationwide release. The question remains: is it any good? Single mother Billy (Hendricks) lives with her two sons in a ghost town mirroring Detroit, desolate streets haunted by burning buildings and ruled by sociopathic hooligan Bully (Smith). Billy is struggling with mortgage repayments and in desperation accepts a job offered by Dave (Mendelsohn); bank manager by day, proprietor of a torture salon by night. Meanwhile, Bones, Billy’s eldest son, becomes convinced they are trapped in a spell – and it is up to him to break it.

The film is, essentially, a very long, beautiful, meaningless music video. While it achieves Gosling’s aim of portraying the American-Dream-turned-nightmare, it has no social commentary or insight to offer, making the portrayal a rather one-dimensional affair. Strong currents of David Lynch, Terrence Malik and Nicolas Winding Refn run through the film, to the extent that I begin internally debating where the line between influencing and copying is drawn. Although Lost River is at times self-indulgent and over-orchestrated, its saving grace can be found in its reflection of the struggle most of us will be familiar with; the internal fight between fear of the unknown and a longing for escape.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Kill the Messenger



Director: Michael Cuesta
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen

Kill the Messenger is an American crime thriller following the publication of, and aftermath caused by, a 3-part investigative series written for the San Jose Mercury News by journalist Gary Webb. The articles allege that the CIA was involved with the importation of cocaine into the USA, and that the profits were used to support the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. The expose is initially lauded but it doesn’t take long for the mainstream media to turn against Webb (Renner) and, with some help from the CIA, his work is discredited, his family threatened and his career ruined. The strength of the subject matter – a true story – isn’t quite enough to mask the feeling that Cuesta (whose credits unsurprisingly include Homeland and Dexter) was following ‘A Dummies Guide to Crime Films’ during shooting. Archive footage montages, string webs linking together evidence and a hushed meeting on a park bench – it’s all there. You can practically hear eyes rolling around the cinema when The Clash’s ‘Know Your Rights’ soundtracks the films climatic ‘little guy sticking it to the man’ sequence.

Despite slight redemption by what feels like real effort from Jeremy Renner and a solid supporting cast, giving the dark and tangled chain of events such formulaic Hollywod treatment is a total cop out. The story deserves a more complex and original treatment than it receives, and ultimately Kill the Messenger feels resoundingly like a wasted opportunity.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter


Director: Nathan Zellner
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Nobuyuki Katsube

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), an isolated Japanese ‘Office Lady’, finds a grainy VHS of 1996 Coen brothers hit Fargo, and becomes certain it is her destiny to find and retrieve the treasure depicted in the film. It’s based on the true story of Takako Konishi, who committed suicide in Detroit Fields in 2001. Takako’s story was largely misreported in the media, leading the Fargo rumour – that she had died searching for the hidden money – to grow, when actually it was a deliberate and unrelated choice, provoked by factors including job loss and heartbreak.

Kumiko is a powerfully desolate film, with Kumiko’s loneliness equally apparent whether in bustling Tokyo or the wastelands of Minneapolis. There are moments of genuine tenderness exhibited by the characters she meets along the way, including a quietly brilliant performance by David Zellner as a maladroit sheriff, trying his hardest to reach her as she wanders further into her own mind and an old lady (Shirley Vernard) who has the two best lines in the film: “Hardbacks are for showoffs” and “Solitude is just a fancy word for lonlieness.”. Aesthetically, Kumiko is a beautiful and haunting film, but somehow the real sentiment behind the story seems to have been lost, like Kumiko, to the snow fields.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Whiplash

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Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

Chances are you’re aware of Whiplash, and not just in the neck injury sense. After claiming both the Audience and Grand Jury prizes at Sundance the buzz was noteworthy; a heft of well-deserved Golden Globe nominations raised it to frenetic.
Precocious talent Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a jazz drummer studying at the Shaffer Conservatory, the ‘best music school in America’. One late night practice session leads to a somewhat unconventional audition for the school studio band, an outfit presided over by the masterful and sociopathic Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). What follows is an uncomfortable yet captivating examination of the cost of perfection; a cost that rises exponentially on collision with Teller’s untempered ambition. Simmons performance is faultless, his physiognomy by turns a landscape of volatility and then, suddenly, destitute of all emotion.

Shot in just 19 days and only the second film from writer/director Chazelle, it is a remarkable feat. From the second those first slow, steady drumbeats reach your ears, the nervous anticipation begins to build. It will build and build until it devours you in a delirious, painful, satisfying climax. Satisfying enough that it caused the entire cinema of jaded, cynical Londoners surrounding me to break into a rampant bout of spontaneous applause as the credits rolled and they stumbled to their feet dazed, disconcerted and slightly overwhelmed.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: The Imitation Game

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Director: Morten Tyldum
Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode 

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), the mathematician and cryptanalyst credited by Churchill as making ‘the single biggest contribution to Allied victory’ during the Second World War. Cumberbatch is magnificent in his portrayal of Turing and the plethora of well-justified Oscar buzz after a career affirming 2014. The supporting cast (Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley) put in solid efforts and the original score by the award-scooping Alexandre Desplat adds to the films highbrow aspirations but functionally serves to smooth over the occasionally formulaic and clunky script.

The Imitation Game fails to fully cover all its chosen topics (the war, the development of computer science, the repression of homosexuality), in particular the latter. Choosing not to show Turing with a male partner whilst ‘overplaying’ his relationship with colleague Joan Clarke (Knightley) is a result of a script feeling as old-fashioned as the year it was set. Despite these shortcomings, it has had a vital impact, both in engendering awareness of Turing and his astonishing body of work and provoking a long-overdue conversation about the persecution him and thousands of others faced, at the hands of the country he was instrumental in saving.

Originally published in Crack Magazine