Saturday, 2 November 2019

MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND review

Featuring acclaimed sound designers Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom and countless more, now in cinemas and on demand is Midge Costin's documentary about the journey of sound at the movies.



Making Waves starts with a big idea that is hard to dispute. Sound is the first thing we're exposed to, in the darkness of the womb, making what sense we can of the world with the information we're given. It's not too big a leap to equate this to the experience of cinema, with storytellers like Spielberg, Lucas, Kubrick and Coppola name checked as creative pioneers who understood the importance that sound was to their films. That might sound like an obvious statement (as Ang Lee states in the film "movies is sight and sound"), but by charting the history of cinema this film digs deep into how the art of cinematic sound has expanded its role.

Within the first few minutes of Making Waves, we're introduced to talking heads from Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom, three hugely important contributors to how we experience sound at the movies; and they're just the tip of the iceberg for this film, which has an astonishing line-up of key industry figures on show. The film is largely split into two distinct chapters, firstly following the emergence of sound in cinema from the days of silent film to the introduction of sync dialogue and "talkies" in 1927's The Jazz Singer, and right up to the use of digital sound editing techniques in The Matrix and Pixar films that use numerous layered tracks to create this orchestra. Then the film pivots to be an in depth breakdown of every facet of the "Circle of Talent" that creates what we hear when we go to the cinema; so if you've ever wanted to know what ADR is, here you go. Understanding all these different areas of expertise can be a bit overwhelming, so the film uses some helpful on screen graphics to illustrate each discipline which seem daunting enough to make you wonder why anyone would want to make anything as labour intensive as a film, let alone a big budget blockbuster.

During the first half of Making Waves, there's a sense that with the focus on Walter Murch and his work with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas at American Zoetrope, that we're headed to one film in particular; Star Wars. This actually comes surprisingly early into the film, with the Oscar winning achievements of Ben Burtt well documented (answering the question of what a Wookie sounds like by recording and manipulating the many noises of a bear). It was a given that Star Wars and the Star Destroyer roaring into frame was going to be a feature of this film, but what's surprising is the other films that played an important role in how we experience sound at the cinema today, chiefly the pivotal role Barbra Streisand and her version of A Star Is Born played in introducing stereo sound to cinemas.

There's a danger to films of this ilk that they become 'Film Studies for Beginners' whilst also largely appealing to people who've already studied it. Although there's a certain degree of that when covering the history of the medium, there's also genuine insight from professionals that you won't hear anywhere else that's sure to leave you with the burning desire to immediately re-watch an ever expanding list of cinematic greats. The enthusiasm for their craft is clear, and it's easy to be in awe of their achievements.

Listen up. Making Waves is not only a must see for film fans, it's a must hear.

Verdict
4/5

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

THE BEACH BUM review

Now in cinemas is Harmony Korine's follow up to Spring Breakers, the Matthew McConaughey starring stoner comedy, The Beach Bum.



McConaughey stars as Moon Dog, a one time respected writer who know lives his days in Florida with wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) and hanging out with his best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg). When events take a tragic turn, Moondog hits the road looking for inspiration for his next novel, meeting up with friends and like minded miscreants along the way.

McConaughey is no stranger to playing people under the influence of drugs. Never mind the naked bongo playing of his personal life that became the talk of the tabloids, he played one of the all time classic stoner characters as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. That character was a cool guy who found common ground with those a few years younger than him through recreational drug use, exuding that natural McConaughey charm with his now ubiquitous catchphrase "alright, alright, alright". Here McConaughey plays Moondog, a character that can only be seen as a de-evolution of Wooderson, waxing lyrical and pontificating like James Franco's Alien in Spring Breakers. That's fine, and Wooderson is a hard act to top, but whereas that character seemed wholly believable, Moondog can only exist in this bizarre world that Korine has created, full of obnoxious, entitled people with no regard for how their choices are effecting those around them. As an uncredited Jonah Hill states, "d'ya know what I like most about being rich? You can be horrible to people and they just have to take it".

Korine has clear designs for The Beach Bum to be some sort of stoner odyssey as Moondog wanders around with his typewriter hoping to find stories to include in his next book like some sort of whacked out Kerouac, and so McConaughey has many short, sweet and seemingly improvised interactions with a variety of larger than life characters played by a roster of famous faces with mixed comedic results. Martin Lawrence's Captain Wack struggles to land the (admittedly wayward) tone of the film, resulting in a ship's captain who doesn't know the difference between a shark and a dolphin, whereas Zack Efron's stripey bearded, Christian rock loving arsonist Flicker leaves an impression as unforgettable as his fashion choices. The most memorable of the supporting cast is Lingerie, a ladies loving rapper and stoner played by Snoop Dogg. Yes, I know he's hardly stretching himself with this role, but he's a welcome grounded presence among some of the more ridiculous posturing in the film.

Shot fast and loose by Benoit Debie, Korine's (and Gasper Noe's) regular cinematographer; it's a vibrant, colourful, almost psychedelic film that never looks less than beautiful. It's perhaps a credit to McConaughey that he feels comfortable enough in his career to start making bold choices again, and although Moondog shows some sort of direction in life and depth towards the finale with his credo that "this life gig's a rodeo, and I'm going to suck the nectar out of it and fuck it raw dog until the wheels come off", most of his actions in the course of the film make him appear to be a largely unlikeable clown with a complete disregard for anyone else. It never appears that Korine wants us to dislike his fantastical characters, that I would worry aren't too much of an exaggeration of people he's encountered in his own life. One thing's for certain; by the end of the film you'll be sick of hearing people say the name Moondog.

The main fault with The Beach Bum is that it aims to be an aspirational, if juvenile, experience, but instead comes over like a fever dream of relentless misogyny, debauchery and abuse of privilege that even the cast of Jackass would say had gone a bit overboard. The party soon turns into one you wouldn't want to see through to the end, even if Moondog has promised you some of his best drugs once the sun has set. Fans of Korine's previous film may find moments to savour amongst all the madness, but on the McConaughey scale, this one is just "alright".

Verdict
2/5

Friday, 25 October 2019

A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND review

Grieving over the unexplained murder of her husband, Sarah (Sarah Bolger) continues to raise her children in a rough neighbourhood whilst forever under the judgemental eye of the locals. When small time thief Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her house and uses it as a place to store the drugs he's selling, Sarah is forced to defend her family in an extreme way. One of the hits of this year's Frightfest, Abnor Pastoll's A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is out now.


Sarah is a typical mum, trying to stop her kids from eating the sweets as they go around the supermarket and taking apart her kids toys to get batteries for her vibrator, just for a moment of relief from the pressures she's under. Her son Ben hasn't spoken since witnessing the murder of his father, with rumours around the community that it was drug related something Sarah is eager to quash. Her problems only worsen when after stealing a stash of drugs from the boot of some local dealers' car, hoodlum Tito decides to prey upon this vulnerable woman and use her house as a base for his nightly drug dealing operation. Sarah hopes Tito might be able to offer some information about her husband's death, but when the situation becomes too dangerous, she takes drastic steps to ensure the safety of her children.

The closing night film at this year's Frightfest, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is categorically not a horror film in the traditional sense, but is a thriller that pushes the boundaries of what an audience might be able to handle. Once Tito descends upon Sarah's world it's edge of your seat stuff that will probably have you sitting on the seat in front by the end of the film, although there's also plenty to make you look away due to its stomach churning moments of graphic detail.

As the young mother at the centre of the film pushed to do unimaginable things to protect her family, Sarah Bolger is fantastic throughout. Able to express so much frustration about her life with just a look, it's one of the performances of the year, and when pushed to extreme lengths and revealing unexpectedly dark depths, Sarah remains an empathetic and engaging character. Edward Hogg's local gang boss on the hunt for Tito is a little bit larger than life, but the threat he offers is still shockingly believable.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a dark, disturbing and pleasantly grisly thriller with an astonishing lead performance from Sarah Bolger, a definite star in the making. Well worth seeking out, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find will chill you down to the bone and then keep on going.

Verdict
4/5





Wednesday, 23 October 2019

NOCTURNAL - London Film Festival review

 
One of two films at the festival that starred Cosmo Jarvis, Nocturnal follows Pete (Jarvis) as he forms a close bond with school girl Laurie (Lauren Coe). But what are Pete's motivations behind his obsession with her? A labourer and all-round handyman at the school where Laurie goes, Pete starts to watch her beyond the fence of the running track where she trains. As the new girl at the school with few friends, Laurie latches onto the attention being paid to her by this older man, befriending him and agreeing to meet up with him after school for drinking late into the night.

I'll preface this review with a warning that potential spoilers may follow about the plot of the film. I say 'potential spoilers' as I'm not sure whether the big reveal of the film is meant to be a mystery to the audience at all, because to me it was blindingly obvious from the moment Pete set eyes on Laurie that he's the father that wanted nothing to do with her when Laurie's mother (Sadie Frost) fell pregnant. It's something that isn't "revealed" until then end of the second act, but every preceding scene between Pete and Laurie is spring-loaded like a jack in a box with Pete desperate to tell her the truth but without the emotional maturity to do so.

I would say that despite this frustrating element of the film there's still plenty to recommend, chiefly the performances of the two leads. As a show of acting skill, both Jarvis and Coe should be commended for delivering compelling performances that are better than the material they're working with. With this and Calm with Horses, Cosmo Jarvis is carving out a niche as a loveable lunkhead with questionable decision making abilities. He's fantastic in the film, as is his co-star Lauren Coe, but it's a shame the film is plagued with logic issues that render some of the more dramatic scenes a bit laughable. The film builds and builds towards the reveal you know is coming, but boy, the way Pete reveals his big secret to Laurie is staggeringly thoughtless, even for a character who's unable to articulate his feelings.

Worth seeking out for the performances, Nocturnal has all the hallmarks of a gritty relationship drama and is attractively shot for the most part (don't film your characters in front of a huge window and not expect the camera crew to be visible), but has flaws in its believability and execution that are hard to ignore.

Verdict
2.5/5

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA - London Film Festival review

One of the weirdest films shown as part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Johannes Nyholm's Koko-Di Koko-Da sees married couple Elin & Tobias (Ylva Gallon & Leif Edlund Johannson) embark on a camping holiday in order to salvage their relationship after a tragic loss that has affected them both deeply. But when a trio of murderous oddballs appear from the woods, Elin & Tobias find themselves trapped in a bizarre recurring nightmare from which there appears to be no escape.


During one night of camping in a wooded area just off the main road, Elif wakes in the night in desperate need of a pee. When her husband Tobias rejects her idea of peeing under the tent flooring, she ventures into the trees and encounters a trio of psychopaths merrily sauntering by, singing "Koko-Di, Koko-Da" over and over again. Elif and her husband are both attacked and killed, but the film then returns Groundhog Day style to the moment Elif wakes Tobias needing a pee, with Tobias assuming what he's just experienced to be a dream.

It may share a basic plot function with Groundhog Day, but this is a very different animal, offering a very real and poignant study of grief and marital breakdown and very little in the way of joy. There's plenty to dissect about what it all means and what the three characters represent (a large mute man dressed like a lumberjack and carrying a dead dog, a lank haired woman with pigtails and lead by Peter Belli's jolly little man who resembles Lyle Lanley from The Simpsons), but at times there's an overwhelming feeling that Koko-Di Koko-Da is being weird for weird's sake.

I couldn't tell you how many times the film cycles through the same scenario with very little learned from the previous go around, which does test your resolve to see the film reach something akin to a logical climax. To be fair, there are occasional breaks away from the repetitive nature of the story with some kabuki theatre segments that are undeniably gorgeous to look at, and the final act does offers a jarring conclusion that will make you think back over everything you've just seen. There is an issue with the focus of the film which, although the story is spurred on by the shared trauma this couple has and always returns to the same jumping off point of the wife needing to take a leak, the film is solely told from the point of view of the husband. It's a cyclical film so it's more of a case of a minor grievance being amplified due to repetition, but on one of the goes around could they have not given the wife a bit more agency on what is going on?

At times a frustrating watch due to being SO F**KING WEIRD that may make you wonder if the experience is worthwhile, but like the infectious little nursery rhyme ear worm the characters sing as they appear out of the woods, the surreal scenario of Koko-Di Koko-Da will by cycling through your brain for a long while after the film ends.

Verdict
3/5

GOOD POSTURE review

The feature directorial debut of Dolly Wells sees an aimless young woman, Lilian (Grace Van Patten), move in with some of her father's friends after a break up. The home of famous author Julia Price (Emily Mortimer), Lillian forms a combative bond with her reclusive benefactor via notes left in her journal that leads her to think Julia might be the perfect subject for a documentary.


Formerly a regular face on British TV screens in the like of The Mighty Boosh, Peep Show and The IT Crowd, not forgetting big screen appearances in the Bridget Jones series, Dolly Wells is perhaps best known for the TV series she co-created and starred in with her long time best friend Emily Mortimer, Doll & Em. Here she takes on the role of writer/director to tell the story of Grace Van Patten's Lilian, enlisting Emily Mortimer as a famously reclusive novelist forced to house this young woman in search of a direction in life.

Grace Van Patten has slowly been building a career as an in demand indie darling, appearing in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories, Adam Leon's Tramps, and from earlier this year, David Robert Mitchell's Under The Silver Lake. Here she's front and centre, appearing in nearly every frame of the film as a spirited Lilian, unsure of what direction to take and waiting to start looking for a new apartment with her father, currently in France with his new girlfriend. There's a risk that some of Lilian's social flaws that lead to the break up of her relationship with Nate (Gary Richardson), like always forgetting to take a towel for after a shower and using other people's toothbrushes, could have been presented as cutesy manic pixie dream girl foibles to be cherished and adored, but the other characters around her, namely Mortimer's Julia and Timm Sharp's dog walker, George, can barely tolerate her presence at the start of the film. Julia even dubs her "the entitled oaf", a title Lilian is keen to prove Julia wrong about.

Good Posture is one of those delightful little indies that makes you realise how inherently cinematic New York is. Filmed in and around the Bed Stuy neighbourhood Dolly Wells now calls home, there's lingering, static shots of the beautiful houses with the steps leading up to the front doors and tracking shots of the local streets and their inhabitants, staring back at the ethereal spectator of the camera. If Lilian isn't in a situation you would want to experience, at least hers is a world you would like to visit.

Having said that, a lot of the action takes place within the four walls and garden of Julia Price's house, with the majority of Julia and Lilian's interactions delivered via snippy notes they leave for each other in Lilian's journal as they argue over dinner (helpfully narrated for us). Mortimer's Julia is an ever present character, but she doesn't actually appear in the film very much, leaving Julia Price to be something of an enigmatic figure mostly hidden behind a closed door, right up until the end of the film. This is partly offset by a device the film has of having real life well known authors such as Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis waxing lyrical about their love for (the fictional) Julia Price's work. It's a little jarring at first, but once it's apparent this is footage collected by Lilian and her cameraman Sol (a hilariously on form John Early) for their unauthorised documentary, it makes a lot more narrative sense.

Owing a debt to some of the big hitters of the independent movie scene like Noah Baumbach and Daryl Wein, it's at times a little rough around the edges in its presentation but thanks to its witty, engaging script and hugely likeable cast, Good Posture is able to stand up straight and hold its head up high as a delightfully charming little indie. Expect great things from Wells and Van Patten in the future.

Verdict
4/5