Dunkirk

This much-anticipated release from director Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) is not a typical war film. In fact, it could be argued that it’s hardly a war film at all. Sure, it is a story set during World War 2, but it is more a rescue story than a combat film. Nolan isn’t interested in churning out another story that pits young men from both sides of the conflict against each other on the battlefield because, let’s face it, that has been done plenty of times before. Instead, Nolan’s focus is on the logistical efforts to move British soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk, having been driven into retreat by German forces, an enemy that remains unseen throughout the course of the film. With British naval ships under assault from air and sea and the docks extensively damaged, a fleet of over 700 vessels – fishing boats, ferries, private yachts and anything that could navigate shallow waters – were recruited to assist in the operation that ultimately resulted in the successful rescue of more than 300 000 allied soldiers, the overwhelming majority of whom were French and British. More than 200 ships were sunk, including nine naval destroyers, 145 aircraft were lost and the British were forced to abandon ammunition, vehicles and equipment while as many as 1 in 7 men were left behind to become prisoners of war.

Dunkirk poster

Nolan covers the events from three perspectives – the cockpit of a British fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) trying to ward off German airstrikes; on board a small civilian boat heading to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation; and through a group of soldiers trying to secure passage from the beach by whatever means necessary. Each story offers context into a particular aspect of what seems an exercise in futility. For Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), there is little he can do to prevent British ships from being torpedoed from both air and sea, sending hundreds of men to their death as others scramble clear to await the next attack or secure passage to safety, whichever comes first. Meanwhile, a group of soldiers that includes Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneuron Barnard) and Alex (One Direction’s Harry Styles)  take refuge in a beached fishing boat in the hope that the returning tide will carry them out to sea, only to find themselves under attack when the boat’s exposed position places them in the line of enemy fire.

Dunkirk 1

Nolan creates tension in almost every situation, from the eerie footstep-punctuated quiet of the opening sequence as English soldiers walk the abandoned streets of Dunkirk before coming under fire from an invisible enemy, through to the final moments as Hardy tries desperately to land his plane safely on the beach, fully cognisant of the fact that to do so will most likely see him captured by the Germans. The sound design amps up the sense of impending doom, while the cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) effectively captures the overwhelming scale of the exercise via sweeping overheads of the beach and an ocean strewn with capsized ships and downed planes, while also revelling in the intimacy of the Spitfire cockpit, on board the small boat captained by Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) or inside the hull of the fishing boat as is it is peppered with bullets.

Dunkirk 2

This is very much an ensemble piece, with only a few characters being identified by name and we learn very little about them, other than the fact they are in this together, but the younger cast members (including Styles) more than hold their own against the likes of Branagh, Hardy and Cillian Murphy, who features as a shell shocked soldier plucked from the sea. Despite the fact that Van Hoytema holds many shots longer than is absolutely necessary, this is Nolan’s shortest work by a considerable margin. The screenplay, also written by Nolan, is light on dialogue and many scenes play out with nary a word spoken, but it all comes together exceptionally well to create something that is both poetic and powerful. The end result is that Dunkirk emerges as a grand story that is perhaps defined just as much by its quieter moments (sea foam gently caressing the bodies of dead soldiers) as it is by the execution of the action and, whilst it might not offer an individual moment that shines as bright as the beach scene in Atonement, Nolan has nevertheless produced something quite special.

The Lure

If you have a penchant for Polish cannibal mermaid musicals, then The Lure is the movie for you. Combining elements of horror, romance and fantasy, first-time feature director Agnieszka Smoczyńska has created something quite unique that works remarkably well as a contemporary fairy tale. Although far removed from Disney’s The Little Mermaid (although who knows what the shelved Sofia Coppola version might nave produced), this comes closer to the tragic spirit of Hans Christian Anderson’s original work, except for the singing and dancing perhaps. Using song to lure men into the ocean so they can eat them, mermaid sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszańska) have their latest targets in sight when their serenade is interrupted by cabaret singer Wokalistka (Kinga Preis), who recruits the two girls to perform in her show.

The Lure poster

Possessing human form – sans genitals – when out of the water, the girls are soon the darlings of the cabaret scene, wowing the audience when the act incorporates them transforming back to mermaids in a glass tank. While Silver finds herself falling in love, Golden is guided by her darker urges and tensions mount between the two, all of which plays out in song. There is a distinct dichotomy between Golden’s quest for blood and the delightfully kitsch musical numbers that seem drawn straight from the Eurovision songbook, which is not a criticism in any way. As Silver’s relationship with bass player Mietek (Jakub Gierszal) blossoms, she undergoes a physical transformation in the pursuit of love that will ultimately have disastrous consequences.

The Lure 1

This is a uniquely Eastern European film and, whilst there is no specific time period identified in which the events take place, the cars, clothing and club décor very much suggest the early 1980’s. Almost all of the action takes place within a garish cabaret restaurant and was filmed, apparently, in an abandoned Warsaw nightclub at which the parents of songwriters Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska – who co-wrote the music that plays such a big part in the film – were performers. This is a world where the idea of mermaids as cabaret performers is seemingly accepted without question. The work of production designer Joanna Macha and costume designer Katarzyna Lewinska have combined to create a wonderfully lurid world in which everything shines and sparkles, bathed in a delectably garish hue by cinematographer Jakub Kijowski. The CG rendering of the mermaid tails is terrific and the choreography is exuberant, with several scenes – including an early sequence, in a department store – that dazzle every bit as much as the dancing in La La Land.

The Lure 2

The performances from Mazurek and Olszańska go a long way to making this whacky concept work so well and the supporting players are certainly enthusiastic in embracing the lunacy of it all. As the brooding Golden, Olszańska is particularly enthralling and it is very easy to become drawn into her mesmerising allure, despite her predilection to chow down on human flesh. Silver is much more idealistic and hopeful of a new life on dry land, but is ultimately her own worst enemy when she agrees to an elaborate procedure that makes for one of the most bizarre and amusing scenes in the film. There is no disguising the filmmakers’ enthusiasm for the characters and Smoczyńska has created something that defies the sheer lunacy of the plot – Triton appears as the lead singer of a metal band among many other absurdities – to emerge as an entertaining, original and consistently oddball vision. A wonderfully demented musical, The Lure might just be the greatest cannibal mermaid movie ever made.

Certain Women

When you have three of the best female actors working today in your film, it makes sense to have them on-screen together as much as possible, right? Not if you are Kelly Reichardt. A darling of independent American film, Reichardt has never been one to follow a particular formula and with Certain Women she has secured the services of Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams without having any of them interact on screen. Instead, the film is segmented into three separate stories and although there is a character crossover between two of them, the stories are linked primarily by geography. All three stories are set in small-town Montana and each of the women are intelligent yet filled with disappointment about the state of their lives, each quietly suffering and enduring the emptiness that each day brings. Despite the undeniable talent of the Dern/Stewart/Williams triumvirate – each of whom is every bit as good as we might expect – it is Lily Gladstone who is perhaps the standout in an understated yet undeniably powerful performance opposite Stewart. There is an extraordinary stillness in Reichardt’s imagery that articulates the mundane lives of the women whilst emphasising the beauty of this part of the world.

Certain Women poster

The first segment features Dern as Laura, a lawyer who returns to her office following a lunchtime dalliance to be met by Fuller (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), a client who refuses to accept that he has lost a compensation claim and demands that Laura continue to fight his case. Exploring the lack of respect that female professionals endure – perhaps in small towns more than elsewhere – it is only when a male attorney endorses Laura’s assessment of the case that Fuller is willing to accept his fate, a realisation which triggers a stand-off that Laura ultimately has to resolve because the local policemen have no interest in putting their lives on the line. From what we learn of Laura, she lives alone and is seemingly prepared to put up with the quasi-friendship she has developed with Fuller simply for the human interaction it provides.

Certain Women 1

In the next story, Gina (Michelle Williams) is a wife and mother with plans afoot to build a house on a picturesque site in the Montana countryside. Her relationship with her husband Ryan (James LeGros) seems stilted and fuelled by the flames of familiarity more than anything else and there is no doubt her project is about trying to find a place of happiness. Television veteran Rene Auberjonois (Boston Legal and Madam Secretary among many others) appears as a somewhat muddled old man from whom Gina wants to secure a pile of limestone blocks that have been sitting unused in his front yard for decades. Despite being married with a teenage daughter, Gina cuts a lonely figure within the family unit, seemingly a third wheel to the bond between father and daughter. Most content when alone in the bush, it is obvious that the new house is more about providing an escape for her than anything else and it is another fine turn from Williams, who has worked with Reichardt twice before on Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff.

Certain Women 2

The third segment is a heartbreaking commentary on the challenges and pitfalls facing those trying to escape the daily drudgery of their lives. Gladstone is Jamie, a young woman responsible for the care of animals on a ranch, her days spent alone engaged in the monotonous repetition that her responsibilities necessarily demand. When she stumbles into a night class being taught by EIizabeth (Kristen Stewart), she is immediately captivated by the out-of-towner and a friendship ensues, a connection that Jamie craves, but for Elizabeth is merely a friendship of convenience given that she knows nobody else in the town. The sense of loss that Goldstone articulates without words is remarkable, her eyes alone conveying an array of emotions – embarrassment, sadness, confusion – much more than words ever could.

Reichardt, who also edited as well as writing and directing, holds many scenes for a few moments beyond the cessation of the action, enabling the audience time to ponder on the sub-text that permeates each scene and she uses the extraordinary quiet and stillness of the landscape in an emotionally powerful manner. These are intelligent women whose lives are filled with disappointment and despair, each enduring the emptiness of each new day with a sense of resignation, a feeling of isolation even if they aren’t truly alone. The cinematography is exquisite and the acting is expert from all concerned, with Goldstone perhaps upstaging her more famous co-stars. There is no conventional beginning-middle-end narrative arc in these vignettes – which were adapted from a collection of short stories by Maile Meloy – but it matters little that we have been dropped into these lives with no back story because every character feels as though they are normal people and it’s this relatability that makes Certain Women so effective.

 

Good Time

Make no mistake, the Robert Pattinson in Good Time is nothing like the Robert Pattinson we have seen on screen before, and that is a very good thing. Cast aside what you think about Pattinson from the body of work he has produced thus far and be prepared to discover just what he is capable of when given the right material. That is not to say that Pattinson’s character here is in any way likeable, but his performance is very impressive in a role that is far removed from anything he has done previously. As deluded deadbeat Connie Nikas, Pattinson takes on a character whose moral compass is off the dial, seemingly unable to comprehend the depths of his own ineptitude in his bid to stay ahead of the authorities and rescue his brother from police custody. Directed by siblings Ben and Joshua Safdie, whose previous release Heaven Knows What secured plenty of critical love and a few awards as well, Good Time is anything but for the various characters who become ensnared in Connie’s chaos. The plot is bonkers, but a throbbing score by Daniel Lopatin and a strong, charismatic turn from Pattinson combine to keep you invested even though you know there is much about what transpires that doesn’t make much sense.

Good Time poster

We first meet Connie when he ‘rescues’ his intellectually-impaired brother Nick – played by Ben Safdie – from a counselling session, ostensibly so that Ben can accompany him on a bank robbery that seems to run smoothly enough but ultimately proves the catalyst for everything that follows. When Nick is snatched up by the police, Connie’s focus switches to securing sufficient money for bail, only to learn that Nick has been hospitalised after being assaulted in prison. From here, things spiral out of control as Connie bounces from one setback to the next with an ineptitude, and complete lack of self-awareness, that is hilarious at times and somewhat horrifying at others. When Connie’s attempt to heist Nick from the hospital goes awry, he subsequently finds himself embroiled in somebody else’s misdeeds, teaming up with a recently released prisoner and a teenage girl in his increasing desperation.

Good Time 3

In an all-too-brief performance, Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) is funny/sad as Corey, a delusional girlfriend of Connie’s on whom he – somewhat ambitiously perhaps given how beholden she is to her mother’s purse strings – pins his hopes of providing the bail money to free Nick, only to find she is far more fixated on a holiday he has promised her than she is in securing Nick’s release. Newcomer Taliah Webster is a real find as Crystal, a 16-year-old with a seen-it-all unflappability who finds herself in Connie’s orbit when he holes up in her grandma’s house overnight. Webster’s moments with Pattinson are some of the films warmest and most unsettling but, having encouraged the audience to become emotionally invested in Crystal’s plight, the Safdie boys don’t seem to know how to bring her arc to a satisfying conclusion and she simply disappears from the plot. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Eye in the Sky) also pops up as a security guard, featuring in a scene that plays out more comically than perhaps intended, while Buddy Duress – who has worked with the Safdies previously in Heaven Knows What – plays the hapless parolee who finds himself being dragged along for the ride.

Good Time 2

The film is brimming with a mad energy and Pattinson is almost unrecognisable, both in appearance and in the quality of his performance as Connie. Even though he manages to defeat the odds on more than one occasion, there is never a moment when you think that it will end well. With street lamps and neon lighting the way, cinematographer Sean Price Williams creates a vivid, almost hallucinatory feel to proceedings, while Lopatin’s score – which won the Soundtrack Award at Cannes and includes a collaboration with Iggy Pop – elevates this sombre, downbeat movie into something quite thrilling despite the inevitabilities that await the various players.

Festival Photos

The recent Teneriffe Festival and Currie Street Music Crawl produced of plenty of free live music performances, showcasing a diverse collection of talented local artists. Featured over the two weekends were the likes of Screamfeeder, Sahara Beck, Waxx, Tia Gostelow and plenty more.

Photos from both events have been added to the gallery.

It Comes at Night

A tense post-apocalyptic thriller starring Australia’s Joel Edgerton, It Comes at Night is a creepy, claustrophobic descent into (justifiable) paranoia in the wake of a plague-like outbreak that has seemingly decimated the human population and remains uncontained. This is a story about a family teetering on the edge of a collapsed civilisation in which distrust, desperation and determination are the cornerstones of their survival. Written and directed by Trey Edward Schults, whose only previous feature is the award-winning Krisha, this is a gruelling, unsettling survival drama in which the merest oversight or lack of adherence to the strict rules and routines (always travel in pairs, never go out at night) can have catastrophic consequences for patriarch Paul (Edgerton) and his family.

It Comes at Night poster

The film opens with an introduction to the dangers being faced by the family – which also comprises Paul’s wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenaged son Calvin (Kelvin Harrison Jnr) – when Paul executes his infected father-in-law and burns his body in a shallow grave in order to avoid any further spread of the virus. Their remote woodland home-cum-prison is boarded up and the only access is via a locked door at the end of a narrow corridor. The lack of light within the labyrinthine layout of the house creates an atmosphere of foreboding; lamps and torches flickering in the gloom and offering the merest morsels of illumination. The world outside the house looks normal enough and the fact that the threat is an invisible one leaves you questioning whether any remotely odd behaviours – such as Calvin’s vivid dreams – are more than just a consequence of the horrors he has witnessed. After a stranger tries to break into the house, Paul is forced to consider joining forces with Will (Christopher Abbott), offering shelter to him, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew, in exchange for the valuable resources they can provide, such as food and livestock.

It Comes at Night 1

Intentionally or otherwise, It Comes at Night has elements that seem to draw from great films that have come before it, such as George Romero’s Night of Living Dead, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and John Boorman’s Deliverance. This carefully constructed world is one of isolation, suspicion and an ever-present threat and tensions build in the house when it appears as though the various precautions in place have been breached, putting everybody at risk. Unlike, say, 10 Cloverfield Lane, the narrative tension is not based on whether or not the threat is real but whether or not it can be stopped and, with no back story that explains the origins of the contagion or how it is transmitted, we don’t know if keeping it at bay is even possible. Heck, even the family have no idea where this virus came from or how much of civilisation remains.

It Comes at Night 2

Combined with an unsettling score from composer Brian McOmber, Karen Murphy’s production design creates an atmosphere of distorted menace that makes for uncomfortable viewing. Edgerton and Ejogo make a believable couple trying to cope as best they can given the circumstances in which they find themselves, while Abbott and Keough are also very effective as a couple who may, or may not, pose a threat to the sanctity and security that Paul has created for his family. However, 22-year-old newcomer Harrison Jr is quite remarkable as Calvin, a young man having to cope with coming of age in the most oppressive circumstances. This is a bleak story about ordinary people trying to survive in extraordinary circumstances, and it is somehow both poignant and alarming as they are forced to take drastic measures to ensure their safety. The cast perform brilliantly, both individually and collectively and, with a constant unease lurking beneath the surface of every action and interaction, It Comes at Night keeps you interested in the plight of our protagonists and makes for a riveting experience.

Baby Driver

The opening moments of Baby Driver – a bank heist followed by an elaborately staged car chase sequence – sets the scene for what is to follow and introduces us to the particular skill set of the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young man with a tragic past who is beholden to crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey, in perhaps his hammiest performance ever). Written and directed by Edgar Wright, Baby Driver is light on plot but packed with action and over-the-top, clichéd characters, yet remains an enjoyable enough experience for most of its running time. Whilst it certainly isn’t the comedic enterprise for which Wright (Hot Fuzz) is best known, everybody involved seems to be having a lot of fun and there seems little expectation that anybody should take any of it too seriously. The action sequences are plentiful and very impressive, without ever resorting to the sheer nonsense that renders the Fast and Furious films beyond redemption in their utter ridiculousness.

Baby Driver poster

Many of the traditional action tropes are on display here, but it is the music that Wright wants us to believe sets this apart from other films, and the tunes certainly do bring an extra dimension to proceedings. Cursed with tinnitus following a childhood accident, Baby is never without earphones inserted in a bid to drown out the constant humming in his ears and it is his iPod playlist – featuring the likes of Queen, Young MC, The Damned and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – that drives the action. Spencer is one of several music artists (including hip-hop stars Big Boi and Killer Mike) who appear on screen for the merest of moments, while Sky Ferreira and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea take on much more significant roles. When the moment arrives that Baby has satisfied his debt with Doc, it will come as no surprise to anybody who has seen this scenario play out umpteen times on screen before that he finds himself unable to make a clean break. Throw a deaf, wheelchair-bound foster father (C.J. Jones) and a love interest (Lily James) into the mix and Baby is plunged into several spots of bother with both police and his criminal cohorts in hot pursuit. Amongst the collection of crims recruited by Doc to undertake the meticulously planned robberies are Bats (Jamie Foxx), Griff (Jon Bernthal), Eddie (Flea) and the loved-up Bonnie-and-Clyde duo Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), all of whom possess personalities that situate them on a spectrum that runs from somewhat unstable to dangerously deranged.

Baby Driver 1

As Debora, the object of Baby’s desire, Lily James is a luminous presence. Despite being burdened with a role that is under-written, James soars as a waitress with visions of “heading west on 20 in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have”. Beyond that, she remains a mystery and, whilst she obviously sees something in Baby, we never get a back story for her that might help understand the connection. After all, he is not particularly charming and Elgort is very one-dimensional in his characterisation, which is perhaps intended to appear as stoicism in the face of the myriad adversities he has endured, but ends up as bland and aloof to the point where you are questioning whether it is Elgort’s lack of range as a performer that might be the problem as it is not the first time that the 23-year-old has been outshone by his female co-stars (The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent). Certainly, Baby’s music is the most interesting thing about him while Debora, on the other hand, is an intriguing mix of innocence and breathy sensuality; with her blonde ringlets and southern accent, she is sexy without ever being sexualised.

Baby Driver 2

The editing from Jonathan Amos and Australia’s Paul Matchliss, both of whom have worked with Wright before, has created a masterful synchronicity between the driving and the music and this synergy of music and movement is the most accomplished element of the film. There is no doubt that Wright is paying homage to 1970’s films such as Walter Hill’s The Driver and, despite the fact that a lot of what we see here has been done before, there is an energy and a sense of reverence that make it an enjoyable romp in which the various stunt drivers are the real stars.