Thursday, 22 June 2017

Trailer Trash: Thank You For Your Service

The screenwriter of American Sniper, Jason Hall, returns to familiar territory with another adaptation of the war in the Middle East and the repercussions on the young men who fight for American freedom, based upon the book by David Finkel.

The trailer below shows us a lot of action and drama based upon the soldiers returning to civilian life with great difficulty, following the four men who sit in an armoured vehicle and the one incident that bond them together, for the majority we follow Miles Teller's character as he returns to a young wife and two young daughters in a new home, yet the nightmares and post-traumatic stress start to surface putting a burden on relationships and behaviour.

Teller has been a polarising actor of recent years, yet his work in Whiplash and Bleed For This has garnered substantial attention. His resemblance to a young Dustin Hoffman and the calibre of work marks him out as a talent; however, for this reviewer I worry about his ability to connect to audiences due to his blank expression in performance as if he does not want the mask to slip.  However, judging by the trailer alone, his style of acting is suitable to a troubled man struggling to engage with normality after performing so heroically for his country.

Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train) plays his wife in a role not dissimilar to Sienna Miller's role in American Sniper; and that is the worry perhaps that the film is too close and too soon to that film's release to garner the same attention, nor does it have the heavyweight punch of Clint Eastwood directing and Bradley Cooper leading.

The trailer though is a good trailer that shows significant moments without giving away everything because this film is based around performance and characterisation; whereas American Sniper as a film had to contend with the inevitability of Pine's death, here the trailer leaves the door open for any eventuality.

Enthused with emotion by Rag n Bone Man's 'Human' the trailer ticks several boxes to garner your attention. Thank you for your reading.

Thank You For Your Service is released later in the year by Entertainment One UK

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

La Strada

La Strada [Blu-ray] [1954]

Federico Fellini's "La Strada" (1954) tells a fable that is simple by his later standards, but contains many of the obsessive visual trademarks that he would return to again and again: the circus, and parades, and a figure suspended between earth and sky, and one woman who is a waif and another who is a carnal monster, and of course the seashore. Like a painter with a few favorite themes, Fellini would rework these images until the end of his life.

The movie is the bridge between the postwar Italian neorealism which shaped Fellini, and the fanciful  extravaganzas which followed. It is fashionable to call it his best work - to see the rest of his career as a long slide into over-elaboration.  However, the film won Best Foreign Language Academy Award in 1957.

In almost all of Fellini's films, you will find the figure of a man caught between earth and sky. You will find journeys, processions, parades, clowns, freaks, and the shabby melancholy of an empty field at dawn, after the circus has left. (Fellini's very last film seen in this country, 1987's "Intervista," ends with such an image.)

And you will hear it all tied together with the music of Nino Rota, who, starting with "I Vitelloni" in 1953, faithfully composed for Fellini some of the most distinctive film scores ever written, merging circus music and pop songs with the sadly lyrical sounds of accordions and saxophones and lonely trumpets.

Image result for Giulietta Masina La Strada

The cast is exemplary from Anthony Quinn's loveable brute to Giuletta Masina's innocent ingenue and shot with some beautiful cinematography which transfers beautifully on this 2K restoration and is a perfect stepping stone to see where Fellini was years before his masterpiece La Dolce Vita just three years later.

The DVD from StudioCanal is released for £17.99 and £22.99 on Blu-ray and would be a welcome addition to any World Cinema catalogue.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Follow The Money - Ben Unwin Interview

Following on from my review of Follow The Money last week and on the eve of the film's European Premiere at the East End Film Festival at the Hackney Picturehouse on Saturday 17th June, I was granted the opportunity to interview Ben Unwin - one of the three intrepid British travellers - who follow a single $10 dollar bill across America where they encounter all manner of people from the centre of America to a shining sea in California.

follow the money documentary film poster

Where did the idea for the film come about?

Steve and John met to watch football and Steve told him that he was writing a book about his experiences following a ten dollar bill around the states. John thought it would be a great idea for a documentary and told me about it. We then got Steve drunk and persuaded him to do it again! 

When was this filmed? Did you plan the trip and say a specific time or was it a now or never situation to commit to?

We filmed it a few years ago but due to work commitments and being self funded it took around three years to edit and do all the post production. I guess we filmed it at the time as that was when we had the money to do it. I had just earned some extra money that I had never expected cutting a commercial and I thought well it is now or never. 

From left to right: Steve Boggan, John Hardwick, Ben Unwin

Watching the film it is like a documentary on how to make a film when you guys look at each other in point of view or at the conclusion when you don't know what to do? Was it fun or stressful?

I won’t deny that there were stressful moments most probably due to lack of sleep. We had to spend one night sleeping in the car and I remember thinking I am too old for this shit. However in general I loved the experience. At the risk of sounding pretentious how often does one have a truly existential experience with the process of decision making being removed form everyday life? 

You say in the film you preferred to not know what was coming. Was that the same for everyone?

For me yes and I think in general for all of us. Perhaps late on in the process it may have worn a bit thin for Steve but then he had been through the whole process before. 

Had you travelled to America previously? How different was this trip?

John had studied in America for a year, Steve had been a reporter there and I had lived in LA for a bit trying to make films. I had not experienced this amount of variety before though and that was what has made it a lifelong memory. I mean when else am I going to hang on a ranch with genuine cowboys? 

What was the most surprising experience?

In reality the fact that no body said no to being in the film. Americans just love a big idea and their warmth and hospitality never ceases to amaze me. 

Did any interview have to be cut? (i.e. the Texas trip in the bar?)

I would not say cut exactly but very careful thought was put it as to what to include and what to leave out. One individual had some views about Obama not being born in America. In an hour long program about them you would delve into this but when you only have five minutes to show on them that is not fair. They were decent kind-hearted people but just misinformed by certain media. I figured of you include that in a five minute segment it is what the viewer will remember about them rather than a true reflection of their characters. Obviously if they had been screaming members of the KKK that would be different but this was not the case. 

What did you take away from the whole trip?

That you can’t use phrases like “Americans think this or that”. The USA is like a hundred different countries under one flag. A person from Nebraska is very different from and person from Chicago. Having said that I was constantly amazed at how warm people were. At the end of the day real people may have differences of opinion but we just have a beer together and get on with it. We don’t end up shouting at each other like politicians. 

Have you been pleased by the critical response at film festivals?

Very much so and it has made me confront some of my own prejudices. In Mississippi we won the Audience Award which was a great honour (and  relief as they have lot of guns there and I did not want to be run out of town!) and also the fact that we were able to have great discussions after the film. I found myself having a beer with a Christian Pastor who was a staunch advocate of gay rights. You have to delve below the surface and you find that there is always a better story below the headlines. Also a guy in Kentucky (where we won best documentary) told me how great it was to see a documentary where Native Americans were portrayed in a uplifting light. You can’t help but feel good when you get that kind of response.  

ten dollar bill from belle fourche

What is the hope for this film in terms of release?

We just want as many people to see the film as possible. At the end of the day you don’t make documentaries to get rich but if in some small way it makes people feel a little bit better about how we can interact with one another and get on then I will be happy with that. I will also take an Oscar though if it’s on offer. 

What is next for the three of you or in a solo role?

We are all good friends so I am sure we will think of something. John has been mainly directing drama recently (Including the film Svengali, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and Delicious for Sky).  Steve has another great book out called Gold Fever and is working on another. As for me I am researching two projects one about the USA and one about Sport. I dare say we will all combine on something in the future but I am definitely not sleeping in the same car with them again! 

Follow The Money won Best Documentary at the Louisville International Film Festival, Audience Award at FSFX, Mississippi and was Highly Commended by the LA Film Review of Los Angeles.

If you have a spare evening then please attend the European Premiere at the East End Film Festival on Saturday 17th June and support British documentary film-making, Follow The Money is the sort of film that will leave you with something everlasting.

Rips 'Rips' - Album review

Rips <br><em>Rips</em>

Released on Friday 16th June by Faux Discx, the debut self-titled album from New York City, also release their new single Losing II which is a great introduction into the band's sound. The Brooklyn based Rips have a sound that is very much one of their own, however it is reminiscent of two eras of NYC rock.

From the pouting pomp of 1970s rock from the New York Dolls or Television with driving basslines, it also encompasses the early 2000 era of Interpol and The Strokes; hooks that will stay with you.

The album has 11 buzzing tracks of guitar rock that is full of rhythm and passion, think of it as an album that is bearing out a path to the future but not afraid to show the gratitude to the past.

One minor tripe would be that two songs - Track 2 Malibu Entropy and Track 8 Vs - both have a similar sounding bassline.  Perhaps the inclusion of both was a bit unnecessary and flounders this reviewer's overall thoughts of the album due to a sequencing oversight.

Rips is available from Faux Discx on their website for £8.00
Follow the band on their website

My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Things We Thought We Knew

Debut novels come and go, every writer has one inside of them. Some writers come later in life, some come after years of writing at university. Sometimes they come from the spirit of youth.  Mahsuda Snaith is one of those youthful writers, who wrote a novel first draft at the age of 16 went to university and returned to it finding amongst the cringeful first draft errors only experience would notice, a book that was full of well-rounded characters.

The Things We Thought We Knew, tells the story of Ravine, a young British Bangladeshi woman who lies in her bed plagued by chronic pain syndrome following the disappearance of her friend Marianne. They were best friends yet Ravine is trapped to her bed. The novel follows the belligerent mother, Amma, who will not take a no for an answer from her daughter, prompting her to get out of bed and vote knowing she is capable of progress.

Mahsuda Snaith | 'I'm British Bangladeshi, and I never came across many books from that perspective'

"Council estate life has been represented in literature before, but always in a very dark, gritty way. That just wasn’t my experience of growing up on a council estate: it wasn’t all doom and violence and drugs, some of the stuff I came across was quite comic, so I wanted to reflect that.”

Ravine is drawn as a rebellious teen who wants to remain in her fixed state and not alter her surroundings.  That is what the book is about, change and how it changes people around it. Starting at Ravine's 18th birthday party and the impending election she can vote at, Amma makes a beeline to change her domestic surroundings and move Ravine from her funk.

Written with delicate nuance with clever observations of familial relationships and interpersonal behaviour, the book is also about recall and memory - it easily could have been placed in the same genre of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, yet this is set in a Leicester council estate which gives the book greater character and realism than Green's wonderlust piece.

Snaith's debut novel is one that will contain something for everyone and wish more books were written such as it.

The Things We Thought We Knew is released from Penguin Random House on 15th June in Hardback/eBook

Sunday, 11 June 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

Keanu Reeves returns as the eponymous character John Wick, in the sequel to the surprising 2014 hit with Reeves playing a retired hit man who just cannot avoid his forcing him back into the game he wanted to walk away from.

Directed again by Chad Stahelski - whose stunt work has graced The Hunger Games, The Wolverine - the film continues not long after the first film's conclusion. On this occasion, John must do a favour for Italian crime lord Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scarmario) who wants a seat at the top table of the crime syndicate, or the crime world will descend upon him.

The film features some amazing action sequences shot in some beautiful locations especially in subways and nightclubs, the film culminates with an ingenious mirror sequence.  The other stand out scene is when John must flee the catacombs of a Roman tomb and you become almost a point of view from John as he encounters wave upon wave of people out to shoot him, it is reminiscent of a Call of Duty or other first person shooter video games. The scene is both exhilarating yet at times bewildering.

Image result for john wick 2

Whilst Reeves is never going to win Oscars for his performances, you have to admire the way he has found this niche role for his minimalist range combining his star persona and Matrix martial arts skills to promote a run of the mill action role into a franchise keeper. 

This film would be a lot different with a brooding Jason Statham or ranting Liam Neeson; and because of his zen like centre the somewhat over-the-top action scenes are believable due to Reeves holding court with his range.

The film does not hold back from the off there is a rip-roaring stunt car scene, and the scenes between Reeves and Common, who almost steals those scenes, are handled effectively as a calm down before the next dynamic explosion of pulsating action.

Exhilarating and intense, John Wick: Chapter Two is a great addition to the hitman revenge action film genre, but it the quiet moments of reflection and dialogue stop it from becoming one of the greats, despite everyone clearly having a ball whilst doing it.

The Special features include never-before-seen content including 'Training John Wick', 'Car Fu Ride Along', 'Kill Count' and three deleted scenes.

John Wick: Chapter Two is available to own on 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray and DVD from June 12th from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Laucan 'Wait for the Impact'

With his debut album FramesPerSecond being released on July 21st, Laucan has shared his new single 'Wait for the Impact' today featuring impressionistic lyrics and atmospheric soundscapes.

The alter ego of Laurence Galpin, Laucan follows up his well received debut EP Up Tomorrow with a Sunday Best release which showcases his symphonic folk with his recognisable falsetto voice with reverberating guitar sounds.

Laucan has two live dates upcoming, 21st July he appears at the Deer Shed Festival in Topcliffe and on 2nd September in Birmingham at the Moseley Folk Festival.

You can pre-order FramesPerSecond here

Follow Laucan on Twitter @laucanmusic
Thanks to OneBeatPR for the link

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Follow The Money

follow the money documentary film poster

Appearing at the East End Film Festival on June 17th at the Hackney Picturehouse, an incisive unique documentary by three British film-makers, Follow The Money marks its European premiere.

Follow the Money tells the story of three British men - John Hardwick, Steve Boggan, Ben Unwin - who travel to America and decide to follow a $10 dollar bill around the United States of America interviewing and following people who gain possession of the note. They start in the very centre of America and from there they encounter people of all creeds and colours, shapes and sizes. From farmers to rodeo riders, from British students in Texas to transgenders in California.

The film which begins on a whimsical idea becomes this other narrative of people becoming happy with their existence, it is an element of luck that they encounter the man who in his words 'hitch-hiked from Iran to America for 19 months' and now runs a highly thought of guitar store in San Francisco.

The most thoughtful moments come from a Native American in Dakota who says the intrepid trio are on a journey searching for bliss or the transient man who is happy to still being chasing his dream albeit when living out of his car.  They encounter people who have to encounter race relations, sexual relations, notions of being gay in America to poor people.

What comes across the film which is shot through hand-held cameras, mobile phones using a lovely Sepia old-time filter for the showing of moments from a by-gone era - is a genuine warmth for the country they are visiting and navigating. 

You also get a sense of the bewilderment of travelling with the wind, not knowing where you are going to end up and yet there is a good feeling towards these foreign strangers from all Americans, there is a can do attitude from all who are happy to share stories and tales with the interviewers.

ten dollar bill from belle fourche

In this day and age of fear and terrorism, the sense of Love Thy Neighbour comes firmly across through the power of story-telling, story sharing and friendship with a fascination over the unbelievable. 

Follow The Money is a feel good documentary that will leave you with moments of reflection and pride instead of the usual negative emotional tropes associated with the documentary form.

Follow The Money screens as part of the East End Film Festival on Saturday 17th June