AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


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the bomb

the bomb was another film that I managed to catch at Sheffield DocFest, but something struck a chord with me when watching it as I went back to see it again. (and again later on streaming service through DocFest) And I believe it comes down to sheer audio and visual experience that is the bomb.

It opens in the quite a bizarre way but remains strangely captivating, with a compilation of army parades whilst music pumps. What starts as innocent footage of army parade soon descends into the parading of vehicles and nuclear weapons that is at the disposal of the armies nowadays. But the opening sequence becomes quite seductive as the weapons of mass destruction are paraded whilst The Acid thumps in the background and finishes almost in celebratory fashion as snapshot footage of rockets being fired fills the screen.

As the scene changes, The Acid’s music becomes quite intoxicating as it drives the bomb from one scene to the next. It should be noted that the bomb doesn’t feature a traditional narrative, but rather a compilation of archival footage throughout the sixty minutes of running time, whilst The Acid back the footage with their music.

With the help of this archival footage, Eric Schlosser, Smriti Keshari and Kevin Ford bought to life this audio and visual experience about nuclear bombs. But what becomes the triumph within this film is that the awareness they are bringing to the forefront about the dangers of these bombs that isn’t necessarily common knowledge. This message isn’t forced down your throat either, but shows enough footage for the audience to engage in their own way.

Whilst the opening scene thumps away in this seductive way, the footage of the nuclear weapons failing contrasts that strongly. The failing weapons have an abundance of mishaps, from misfires to failing to stay the course and some even falling from the sky as they fail to take off. This contrast is really powerful, especially as it is a far sight from the innocent-looking parade captured earlier.

the bomb brings an awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, but the way in which this message is presented is the thing that stays with you. You are not force-fed information, but rather the visual and audio experience of the bomb really sticks with you. It’s structure is perfect as well as it shows the contrast from Oppenheimer creating the first bomb to the aftermath of the Japan bombing in the Second World War in some painstakingly striking footage.

Schlosser, Keshari and Ford, with the aid of this structure found a way to tell the story about nuclear weapons keeping it informative and enjoyable, but most importantly, thought-provoking.


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Berlin Syndrome (2017)

A common theme from the promotional footage of Berlin Syndrome is that it seems to escalate quickly. Like, really quickly. What seems to begin as a rather innocent story, suddenly progresses into a nightmare-inducing scenario.

The director Cate Shortland showed an unbelievably ability to perfectly play out the tensest of scenes in Berlin Syndrome, as she navigates the spaces between Clare (Teresa Palmer) and the antagonist Andi. (Max Riemelt)

There are no prizes to guessing where the film is set, and that is where we find Clare, clad in the classic tourist attire of bags and a flashy camera. Not a great deal is revealed about our heroin Clare, other than that she is Australian. Through her camera lens she sets to discover Berlin on her own accord, until she meets the lovable and charming Andi who shows her the backstreets of Berlin and his fathers strawberry patch.

Shortland had Clare pick up a wolf’s mask during this scene and remark she is a wolf at Andi, unbeknownst to her, Andi was the wolf but in sheep’s clothing. The charming ability Andi possesses soon wears off, as he brings Clare back to his place and spends the night with her. He whispers ‘nobody will hear you’ as they engage in a sexual manner, only to replicate that with sinister undertones later in the film.

Andi casually resumes his daily life, going to work and seeing his father, whilst Clare panics and becomes a wreck as she is trapped in Andi’s apartment. And this is where the tension arises, as the film picks up its pace over the just shy of two hours runtime. It doesn’t feel as though the film lasts for two hours as you become swept up in the ensuing madness that evolves between Andi and Clare.

As well as showing a terrific use of tension throughout the film, Cate Shortland also manages to use the claustrophobia of Andi’s apartment to show Clare almost as a caged animal for Andi’s pleasure. The relationship really gets under your skin, as you see Clare’s deflation as the story leads into Christmas and New Year.

This comes down to the characters that Shortland has managed to create, but also the brilliance of Teresa Palmer’s and Max Riemelt’s performance as the leads. They give thoroughly convincing performances so much so, it begins to make you think twice about who you meet when you travel to another city.

What I really enjoyed about Berlin Syndrome is that the film doesn’t allow itself to fall into any horror tropes that this genre could easily slip into. It remains in the thriller category as it continues to show the differing stories between Clare and Andi. Unfortunately the film does fall into the run of the mill for this genre, as Clare continually tries to escape.

Although the film does fall into this trope, it is still played out fantastically as the tension continually rises during the latter hour. Berlin Syndrome also transpires the narrative, as Andi does evolve into a sympathetic character, but the overarching casualness when it comes to the imprisonment of Clare remains, lurking in the background, which just emotes anger.

Berlin Syndrome becomes an enjoyable film, especially as it doesn’t fall into the expected tropes that previous films usual do. The performances are near-perfect from Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt and unbelievably convincing as especially Andi gets under the skin as he is incredibly casual about the situation at hand. Cate Shortland manages to paint Berlin in a beautiful light, and yet sticks this horrifying situation in the centre as everyone around Berlin celebrates the New Year.


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Wonder Woman (2017)

As DC tries to combat the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, they have begun by building towards the Justice League film. In the meantime, we are treated to their standalone backstories. Wonder Woman is the latest film to get the treatment with Gal Gadot returning as the legendary Amazonian.

What I have recently disliked about the comic book movies is that they all seem to be using the same framework. (mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe) But what is more enjoyable about the DC Cinematic Universe is the darker and grittier undertones they have taken, which was present in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman even though the latter wasn’t as enjoyable.

Wonder Woman is continuing this trend, but referencing the picture that was seen in Batman vs Superman with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) herself stood with four men during World War One. Before Wonder Woman leaps into how Diana found herself there, they divulge in the backstory and the mysterious land of Themyscira, home of the Amazons.

What was great about Patty Jenkins’ interpretation of this story was that there was enough in the narrative to allow for the audience to interpret things themselves, something that has been missing in my recent cinema outings. And there was some gorgeous graphics in the opening sequence as Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) reveals the origin of the Amazon race and of the battle between Zeus and Ares.

Zeus cast out Ares, and hid the Amazons from the world until Ares rises again. The rest of the Amazons and Diana train on the beautifully landscaped island of Themyscira away from the worlds view. That is all until Steve Travers (Chris Pine) crash lands on their private island.

And this is where the film really picks up the pace as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine come into their own as characters. Gal Gadot becomes the focal point of her scenes as Diana believes that the atrocities of war are at the hand of Ares, the God of war. Although he has found a new form in the body of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as his sidekick Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) concocts a poisonous gas capable of killing everyone. Diana forces Travers hand in taking her to front line to help the war effort and she just looks fantastic whilst doing it.

It has to be said though that she isn’t objectified in anyway, she rather manifests Wonder Woman as a character in such a way that she is incredibly strong and rather independent, especially as she continually defies her mother and Steve. With Batman v Superman the film felt long, Wonder Woman on the other hand doesn’t. This could down to the enjoyment of the characters and the narrative actually being enjoyable instead of the usual cut and paste method Marvel and DC films are currently using.

As I mentioned, the DC Universe films like to be grittier and Wonder Woman has majority of the film centred around World War One. Patty Jenkins effectively manages to instil the atrocities of war and it really works from the dirt of the Belgian trenches to the empty celebrations of a victory for one evening.

My only grief is the overbearing music that is used. The musical cues aren’t established very well, as it clearly tries to evoke emotions at the correct times and at times this took me out of the picture and made the enjoyment considerably less-so.

Gal Gadot is truly a wonder as the titular character as the film progresses into it’s climax. The final third of the film looks as though it is going to enter the realms of similarity as with previous comic book films, it still tiptoes on those, but doesn’t dive head first into it. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is electric, especially as Jenkins’ captures Steve Travers occasionally glancing at Diana with astonishment at her beauty, but not in that objectifying way that I mentioned earlier.

Just as I thought I was losing patience with comic book adaptations, Wonder Woman comes along and manages to give some life into a merciless machine. I realised after coming out of the cinema that Wonder Woman tried something new, it left the comedy (that has become a staple point for comic book films now) to a minimum and perfectly integrated it into the film. This worked and garnered appropriate laughs when needed, but on a whole, Wonder Woman was an enjoyable and terrific watch and this has to be down to the enjoyable narrative and brilliant characters that can be connected with.


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Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge drew no attention from me, and offered very little to try and ‘woo’ me into watching it. Majority of my interest of this franchise was soon lost after the second instalment of Dead Man’s Chest. I find the Pirate of the Caribbean franchise entering realms of similarity with Fast and the Furious with the rinse and repeat formula.

Salazar’s Revenge is taking this rinse and repeat formula and caking it on by the pounds. I’ve become disenchanted with the figure of Captain Jack Sparrow, as Johnny Depp seems to be offering new to the character, but rather a further drunken stupor.

In the presence of rinse and repeat formula, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have decided to take the Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner roles and replace them with Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites. However, Ronning and Sandberg had a role reversal, with Scodelario’s Carina Smyth as a smart young woman, who shows a deft hand at keeping out of trouble. Whereas Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner just offers the run-of-the-mill love story, replicated from the first instalment.

Majority of the performances throughout the 130(ish) runtime, are very mundane and uninteresting. Aside from Scodelario’s performance as Carina, I found myself bored with the characters as they fall into very two-dimensional characters and offer nothing new.

I imagine this is potentially down to the world building not being that immersive either. If anything Salazar’s Revenge offered a truly ridiculous world where pirates once ruled the seas. The film had lost me at the point where Salazar (Javier Bardem) releases undead sharks. I mean, come on.

Seriously.

Salazar in his own right was an intriguing character, but there was nothing built around him as Ronning and Sandberg layered the film with exposition and the cast pointing out the plot to one another over and over and over. His revenge of Captain Jack Sparrow could have been played out brilliantly, rather than becoming the lacklustre affair it is.

As for Salazar’s curse, there wasn’t that much to be invested in as majority of the screen time is faced with Jack Sparrow and his quest for the Trident of Poseidon to break his run of bad luck. And it seems as though the curse isn’t that original either with the undead wreaking havoc once more.

I think therein lies my issue with Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge as it becomes very lacklustre. I often found myself bored throughout the plus 2-hour runtime and very bored with the over-egged performance of Jack Sparrow. The plot doesn’t do a great deal of justice to the massive runtime, and doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t already been witnessed in the previous instalments.

I tried to go into Salazar’s Revenge with an open mind, but left still disappointed as I mentioned it did little to peak my interest in the first place. Aside from Scodelario’s performance, there was little else to enjoy about this film. I find the investment in this film just was not there for me. Everything that could’ve potentially immersed me, did not, from the characters to the CGI. It’s fair to say Salazar’s Revenge just did not do it for me.


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The Levelling (2017)

I never knew that a film that entirely took place on a farm could be so gripping. The Levelling is Hope Dickson Leach’s first feature and it’s quite a remarkable piece. There is a certain realisation of talent she possesses with her first feature.

Aside from a few dog walks, the film take places entirely on the grounds of the farm where Clover (Ellie Kendrick) grew up whilst not at boarding school. But what Hope Dickson Leach managed to do was create a realistic feeling that you were there on the farm with her and her father, but using the natural sounds around the farm.

Clover comes back to the farm for her brother’s funeral, after it transpired that he shot himself during a party. Clover cannot get the story straight and there is a clear resentment towards her father, whom she refers to as Aubrey (David Troughton), rather than the usual pleasantries. Instead of having the film adhere to that one narrative, Hope Dickson Leach decided to interplay the story surrounding the out of favour farm and her brother’s death as well.

The night in question was supposed to be a celebration, as Clover’s brother Harry (Joe Blakemore) was taking over the farm, but it ended in tragedy. Clover tries to address the issue surrounding his death whilst Aubrey and James (Jack Holden) try to downplay and dance around the issue.

This is where the narrative is head and shoulders above majority of films today, as the tragedy of Harry is pointed to and displayed right out in front of our eyes, but rather in the reactions from James, Aubrey and Clover. Their conversations are disjointed, but the nuanced movements between the characters really accentuate the story that is behind this.

Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is incredibly moving and doesn’t rely on any strong visual effects, but rather the powerful story and characters throughout the 83-minute runtime. It’s shorter than I anticipated, but this is irrelevant due to the fact that you become wrapped up in Clover’s story.

That’s not to say that Hope Dickson Leach manages to create some beautiful shots of the English countryside, especially as the birds dance against the greying overcast skies. This adds to the reality that Hope Dickson Leach is trying to convey with the setting being in the countryside.

And this reality is conveyed through Aubrey and Clover as well, with their British mentality. Although the farm is drastically failing, they continue to work throughout the day and milk the cows. Clover falls into this routine, whilst trying to tie up loose ends surrounding the events that brought her home.

But these are real characters that are unfolding on the screen and it becomes incredibly moving as they try to negotiate a way to talk to each other and not be at each others throats night and day. The small knit cast works, as their conversations, or lack of, are the key to this film as Clover finds herself in a place she doesn’t want to be anymore.

It’s a strange film to try and review, because of the calibre of The Levelling. It is best to let Hope Dickson Leach’s directorial debut do the talking, because it can certainly walk the walk. Ellie Kendrick is the centrepiece of this and she is just fantastic in this as she tries to come to terms with her brothers death and also reconcile with her estranged father. The Levelling is a film of true brilliance and really emotes empathy in a strong way. A gem truly worth seeking out.


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Mindhorn (2017)

One of the biggest things that attracted me to Mindhorn was the casting of the Mighty Boosh pairing of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. The trailers had me in fits of laughter everytime and it just looked brilliant with Julian at the helm.

Brilliantly the story seemed very simple (which stemmed from a idea by Simon Farnaby) as an old washed-up television detective helps real detectives bring justice. Of course, you just know that Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barrett) is going to be completely inept and if anything, an hindrance to the police.

So why is he helping them?

Well, the accused killer Paul Melly (Russell Tovey) believes Detective Mindhorn to be real. The set up is brilliant, especially as the opening sequence shows Richard Thorncroft severing all ties with the Isle of Man as he exclaims he is off to Hollywood.

Fast-forward to the present day and he is extremely rotund, balding and struggling for work. He reluctantly returns to his old stomping ground to try and help bring justice, but that’s not without scorn from the locals remembering his departure.

Richard Thorncroft soon becomes the butt of the joke as he tries to keep it together and continue the air of arrogance that he possesses, although he is effectively washed up. He interacts with his former co-stars including Pete Eastman (Steve Coogan) who played Windjammer (a now 16-season successful show) and his stuntman Clive (Simon Farnaby) who is now shacking up with Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) who has become a lead journalist for Manx News.

Mindhorn slowly slips into becoming a run of the mill comedy, as Richard becomes Mindhorn once more to try and bring justice to the Isle of Man. But this doesn’t happen without mishaps, as one would expect with Julian Barrett at the helm of this film.

The use of the Isle of Man begins to work; because it becomes a film where there is a feeling that everyone knows everyone, which leads to more comedy at the expense of Richard Thorncroft. The characters throughout the 89 runtime aren’t exactly the most concrete, especially as Richard has the run-of-the-mill epiphany about his life. But it’s not necessary for film like Mindhorn to have the most engaging plot or characters, as long as it keeps you laughing.

And it does. As I mentioned majority of the comedy is situational and at the expense of Richard Thorncroft, but it works, especially as he continues to carry himself through his interactions with the locals and his former co-stars. Unfortunately, majority of the bigger laughs were kept in the trailers, and as it got to these points, I had already seen the sequence numerous times.

The narrative as I mentioned isn’t the most engaging, but has enough to keep the pace of the film chugging along the 89 minute runtime as everything isn’t quite as it seems on the Isle of Man. Mindhorn is quite enjoyable and continues to have laughs throughout, which is what is needed for a film of this calibre.

I was expecting the comedy to be a bit more oddball, but thankfully it didn’t go down that route and stayed under its own influence. Julian Barrettt does channel his Howard Moon character in certain sections, but nothing to move Mindhorn into the realms of the Boosh. It’s of perfect length, especially as the film is a comedy, anything longer would’ve been a detriment to the film. For a good laugh, Mindhorn is top.


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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

As soon as Guy Ritchie’s name pops up for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it immediately becomes clear what we’re in for. But that isn’t a bad thing. But who better to make a legendary English tale, and turn it into a cockney-themed battle of wits?

I knew little about the story of Arthur, other than him pulling a Excalibur from the stone and becoming king of England. So I was quite excited to see what other elements Ritchie was going to include and do with this film. And what better way to open the film with an incredibly fun action sequence.

Arthur’s father home of Camelot is laid to waste by the fearful mage Mordred, as the balance between the humans and the mages is demolished. In the aforementioned glorious action sequence, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) beheads Modred to save his kingdom. In the aftermath of the battle, Uther is betrayed his power-hungry brother Vortigern (Jude Law) as he sacrifices his wife to feed his need for power.

It becomes quite interesting, because as Uther is celebrated, you see Vortigern looking onward with jealously and it immediately becomes clear on the direction this film is going in. Especially as Vortigern, his right hand men and their army of Blacklegs reek havoc on the Kingdom of England as he is pronounced king of England.

After the whirlwind opening, Uther’s son wakes up on the banks of Londinium. And you immediately know where Guy Ritchie is going to be taking this film. We see the young child grow up, now named Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), into a quite arrogant and street-smart man running the brothel he was raised in. A reputation blossoms for him around Londinium, which gets him in trouble with the Blacklegs, but he also is a bit rough around the edges to go along with his street smarts.

With this street-smart Arthur, comes a sense of arrogance and attitude to anyone that aren’t his lackies. His performance becomes animated and with the help of Ritchie’s distinct filming style and it kind of begins to work well over the two hours runtime. With how the film opens, its quite unsurprising with the direction that the story takes.

What I was surprised at was that there were some incredibly dark scenes held within King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Although the film shied from showing these dark scenes, they were still there. Most of them were centralised through Jude Law’s Vortigern and his ruthless ambition to stop at nothing to keep the crown.

I wasn’t quite sure which angle Ritchie was choosing with the music, because there was often the twang of music that perfectly resonated with that time period, but then was juxtaposed with heavy renditions of soulful music like Sam Lee’s The Wild Wild Berry. Don’t get me wrong, it worked, but seemed very odd, but then again, so is King Arthur sporting an air of arrogance and cockney accent.

So there are a few problems with the film. The narrative isn’t overly imaginative and the end point is clearly visible from the get-go. And the build-up to the climax is fairly ridiculous. During the 120 minutes there is an abundance of exposition upon exposition, and shots of Arthur training or learning to wield Excalibur. It doesn’t feel 120 minutes, it feels more like it’s 240 minutes long. The climax begins to feel as though you’re almost in a video game with the amount of CGI-heavy action and slow-mo sequences held within. That being said, I didn’t find myself bored with the film in anyway.

As I mentioned Hunnam’s performance becomes quite enjoyable, especially as it’s a different take on the King Arthur story, but it’s not an electric performance that had me vying for more. His lackie’s filled in a similar sort of role and provided apt laughs along the way with their advantages in street-smarts. Merlin’s mage friend seemed to be a pivotal character, but hardly offered anything other than a push to help out Arthur and some spells.

Is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword an immediate classic? No. But it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. There are some incredibly fun scenes throughout, especially Arthur’s conversation with Jack’s Eye (Michael McElhatton) in true Guy Ritchie style. As I mentioned, the narrative and the characters aren’t exactly the most electric, but it’s a fun take on the legendary King Arthur story.