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Django Unchained

19 Jan

Director: Quentin Tarantino (2012)

djangounchainedWhen Quentin Tarantino first announced that his next film, to follow the Nazi bashing, scalping frenzy of Inglorious Basterds, would be a blaxploitation meets spaghetti western slave revenge film, many will have thought he’d gone too far… But Tarantino has made it his business, his forte and his privilege to create films for mainstream cinema while covering some of the most horrific, violent and shocking events in history and society. Having already ticked off fascism, racism seemed a natural progression as he presents the hotly anticipated Django Unchained.

With Jamie Foxx as the eponymous Django, the wronged slave on the path to vengeance, Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter Dr King Schultz and Leonardo DiCaprio as the repulsive plantation owner Calvin J Candie, Tarantino has muscled together another cast of movie heavyweights to bring his vision to life – and what a vision it was.

Selling itself as a ‘southern’ rather than a ‘Western’, Django Unchained transports us to pre-Civil War Deep South, where plantations are populated by legions of black slaves owned by suited white overlords. It’s a brutal existence. The opening scene reminds us of this brutality and the truth of the history as a chain gang of slaves, their backs raw with lash marks, covered only by threadbare blankets as their unrelenting drivers lead them through the night. But with a clatter of hooves, a rickety carriage, topped by a huge tooth on a spring, calamitously makes its appearance on the screen – we’re back in the (relative) safety of Tarantino’s world of the darkest comedy and, of course, the cartoonish violence we adore from QT. Introducing Dr King Schultz, perhaps one of Tarantino’s best characters in recent years and a role that rightfully earned Waltz an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Waltz is truly magnificent, complemented perfectly by his thick German accent, Waltz delivers Tarantino’s ‘silver tongued’ lines with a vigour that only he can.

Saved from his new owners, the vile Speck Brothers, Django and Schultz join forces as they begin their mission to find the revered Candie, who incidentally now owns Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Surely earning his place alongside some of the most venerable onscreen villains, DiCaprio is inspired, as is Samuel Jackson as his black hating sidekick at the plantation. Convincing Candie they are there to buy one of his prize slave fighters, Django and Schultz hatch a plan to retrieve Broomhilda, but they may just have underestimated the lengths this despicable creature will go to keep hold of his purchases…

From Mandingo fights, dog baiting and glass house torture to witty, sharp tongued dialogue as biting and visceral as the spectacularly choreographed gun fights combined with beautiful scenery and accompanying training montages, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s most recent masterpiece.

Expect outlandish violence that will makes Kill Bill look like the result of a mere papercut and will provide enough bedtime fodder for fake blood  and pyrotechnic enthusiasts  to last a lifetime, too many one liners to mention and a soundtrack that will have you actively seeking out explosions to slo-mo walk away from.

He’s done it again. The question is – where will he take us next?

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Good Vibrations

29 Oct

Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (2012)

Some of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have ever received have originated in record shops. Whether it be during the many teenage hours whiled away in Manchester’s Vinyl Exchange or the introduction of High Fidelity’s ‘Top 5’ tactic into my standard conversations with new friends, potential lovers and bus stop companions, the record shop is primed as a safe haven for the disenfranchised. And in Good Vibrations, receiving its UK premiere at London Film Festival, we are presented with another inspirational record shop tale, straight from the Trouble-ridden streets of Belfast and the peace-loving, radical mind of Terri Hooley.

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, Good Vibrations is a heartfelt and vibrant biopic of the ‘godfather of Belfast punk’, Terri Hooley, the ‘one eyed bastard’ who defied the segregation of the city’s Troubles to set up the Good Vibrations record label, record store and way of life that put the underground Belfast punk scene on the map.

With Richard Dormer in the lead role as the impassioned Hooley, the film permeates an unapologetic Irish feist from the first scene with Dormer embodying the cheeky and infectious charm that caused such an uprising in Belfast at the time.  Only this uprising was rooted in empowerment and the unity of music. DJ-ing to an empty room at Belfast’s Harp Bar, Terri simply lives for the music, narrating his own life through his extensive record collection. When he first meets his beloved Ruth, touchingly played by Jodie Whittaker, it is of course a moment for The Shangri-Las. Music acts as a guiding force for Terri, and is a force that he seeks to guide others towards peace, despite the violence and terrors outside.

Experiencing a slow-motion epiphany amidst the sweaty, pogo-ing leather clad youths at an gig, Terri realises that the power to survive the Troubles isn’t through violence but through solidarity and, ultimately, music like this. These kids, ruling over the pulsing crowd with raw angst and anthemic lyrics, embody Terri’s entire philosophy.

To counter the bad vibes around him, Terri decides to open the aptly named record shop, Good Vibrations, bringing the uniting power of music and youthful ambition to one of the most bombed streets in Europe. From here, he creates the Good Vibrations record label, signing Belfast’s rawest talents including Rudi and The Outcasts, and perhaps most famously, The Undertones. While none of the bands ever made it into the Top 40, Hooley springboards the voices of Belfast’s disenfranchised youth around the country and beyond, from small town halls to the groundbreaking gig at the Ulster Hall that no one thought they could fill.

Interspersed with grainy archive footage, Good Vibrations has a gritty authenticity that matches the underground aesthetic but also the realism of the film itself. Capturing defining moments such as the recording of The Undertone’s iconic Teenage Kicks and the legendary John Peel’s first play of the track on the BBC – loving it so much he played it twice, Good Vibrations is a perfect scrapbook of this infinitely exciting time for Belfast’s punk scene and the man who made it happen. With fantastic performances from the cast and a riotous soundtrack, obviously, Good Vibrations is an unmissable tribute, championing the ‘revolutionary power of the seven-inch single’ and all those who scream on it and my highlight of this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Attending the London premiere, Terri Hooley himself provided the perfect closing statement, declaring that while ‘New York had the haircuts, London had the trousers – Belfast had the reason’, a phrase that rings true as the credits rolled to the sounds Hooley brought to the world.

(Originally published on The London Word).

The Dark Knight Rises

12 Aug

Director: Christopher Nolan (2012)

When we last saw Batman, he was riding off into the night (obviously) ready to embark upon a life on the run after he took the rap for the horrendous crimes of Harvey Dent. As Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) said, following the Joker’s escapades and the whole freeing of Gotham’s lunatics incident, Gotham needed a White Knight, one the people could believe in to save them from their own city, and as with any good ying and yang analogy, that means Gotham needed its Dark Knight. Stepping up to the mark as only Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) can, Batman vanishes with a flick of his cape and a suitably dramatic and brooding voiceover.

Cut to eight years later. Thanks to the anti-crime Dent Act, Gotham has been living in respective safety with organised crime on an all time low – the plan worked. For now.

In the third of Nolan’s frankly fantastic Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises manages to transcend the textbook superhero template action to reveal a thrilling crime drama. Helped along with the almost entire cast of Inception. Which can only be a good thing. Like a well attended reunion, the stellar cast of characters from throughout Nolan’s trilogy come together for the final time (so we’ve been told) to bring it to a suitably dramatic end.

Seduced out of hiding by a mysterious cat burglar, Selina (Anne Hathaway) – not to be confused with C-woman – trying to pilfer his late mother’s necklace, Bruce Wayne is forced to resurrection and not a moment too soon. There is a new rising happening elsewhere in the city, threatening more than the shiny jewels of the upper classes – someone’s left one of those thermonuclear weapons unattended.

In a not-so-veiled metaphor of recession riots and the hated 1%, The Dark Knight Rises’ villain, the masked terrorist Bane, rouses the troops against the corporations that rule over Gotham with icy and frighteningly muscular grip. A new addition to Team Save Gotham is Blake, a do-good cop played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who joins forces with estranged Commissioner Gordon to lead the fight against Bane’s uprising while Batman sorts himself out. Blake is fresh and fantastic, and for any Batman fans out there, will perhaps provide one of the most tantalising story arcs in the film – albeit a deviation from the original comic.  But who cares? In Nolan’s Batman franchise, he has reinvented his own Gotham and its twisted inhabitants with an eerie realism alongside spectacular special effects. And perhaps one of the most exciting teasers of a final scene we’ve seen in a comic book film in a long time.