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Film Review: Dear White People

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Directed by Justin Simien

Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams & Kylie Gallner

Dear White People is one of the best debuts of recent years and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Although it has been out in the US for nearly a year now, and finally being released in the UK this summer, it’s one of the few films that might get better with each viewing when one considers its representation of racial tension in the Obama era.The film follows several students at Winchester University. One of which is Sam White (Thompson), a film major who causes an uproar by hosting a local campus radio broadcast called ‘Dear White People’ that confronts white people and their pre-conceived notions of black people based on stereotypes and negative portrayals in the media. This does not sit well with many of the students, nor the Dean and the President of Winchester. This leads to a growing amount of racial tension among the students who not only start to challenge how they perceive others but how they view themselves.

Everybody involved, especially the cast, should be on every ‘up and coming’ list. However, the biggest star of the film is writer/director Justin Simien. Many have discussed how well Simien has managed to handle the subject matter, which is rather taboo Hollywood territory, in his debut film. However, very few have commented on how or possibly why he’s been able to achieve such a difficult task that even the most experienced of filmmakers would find hard to explore. Simien’s film does not solely deal with race but rather identity and how one affects the other. Close-ups, direct questions to the audience and literary devices all add up to a good mix of cinematic and theatrical elements while referencing contemporary filmmaking influences.

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Film Review: San Andreas

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 08.25.48Directed by Brad Peyton

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti & Alexandra Daddario

Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is head of a local emergency rescue unit in the state of California. The San Andreas Fault has triggered the largest magnitude earthquake in recorded history, forcing sizeable chunks of Los Angeles and San Francisco to tumble like dominoes and, as the earth gives way, Ray immediately sets out to find his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). By ‘immediately’, I mean he seems to completely forget his job title and associated responsibilities, and essentially hijacks a helicopter.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) tries to alert the national media of the area’s impending doom and urges the respective populations to get out while they still can. The audience’s POV switches from The Rock, to Giamatti and over to Daddario, saved by (and vice versa) a handsome Brit engineer, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson), as the world splits apart from three different perspectives.

The characters are briefly introduced, before the audience plummets into a solid two hours of relentless explosions and noise and mayhem and christ-when-will-it-stop action. In fact, the plot may seem quite familiar, right down to the estranged wife and child in peril. Have you ever watched The Day After Tomorrow2012or most other natural disaster films? Then you’ve already seen this one.

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DVD Review: The Duke of Burgundy

518PZWvpSSL._SY300_Directed by Peter StricklandStarring Sidse Knudsen & Chiara d’Anna

Peter Strickland became the darling of the British film scene with the excellently received Berberian Sound Studio, his second feature. This film flirted with genre expectations, was constructed as an excellent pastiche of giallo film, and was led by a bold main performance from Toby Jones. So Toby Jones follow-up, The Duke of Burgundy, has a lot to live up to.

Cynthia (Knudsen) and Evelyn (d’Anna) are lovers whose interests include butterfly research and classification, and BDSM. As Evelyn’s taste for submission deepens and becomes more complex, Cynthia is unable to take the strain of the dominant role thrust upon her, and things turn nasty. As far as plot goes, that’s essentially it- Strickland’s film is all in the style. The women inhabit a world without men, where their absence isn’t noted or important. Everyone also attends these butterfly classification lectures, and BDSM gear also appears to be in high demand- a woman the couple contact to build a lockable compartment under their bed is so snowed under with requests that she can only offer them an 8-week turnaround and a ‘human toilet’ by way of apology.

The Duke of Burgundy, like Berberian Sound Studio, takes aim at another Euro horror genre- a psychosexual piece, like those turned out near the end of the New Wave. The film is all soothing tones, jaunty folk music, disruptive edits, and soft lens flares. This is more taxing on the viewer than the trashy shock of the giallo; with a plot already light on details, The Duke of Burgundy is at times torturously slow. Or, to put it more sensuously, languid, as the style Strickland’s adopted means scenes stretch, sequences repeat, and stares hold for a long time.

 

Another problem is that when pastiche and homage are too accurate or precise, they feel like parody. And Strickland is incredibly accurate in his riffing: the low-budget sensibilities of the genre area affected in him packing out a lecture scene with obvious mannequins, the film’s sensory nature so ingrained the credits feature a perfumer. This approach to pastiche becomes an echo chamber- always repeating ideas, never adding anything into the mix. A similar problem plagued Forzani & Cattet’s The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears; now The Duke of Burgundy does it for New Wave Euro-horror. It’s entirely possible for something to be so formal, so controlled, that it feels twee.

This is in part impacted by Strickland’s indecision with his own story. At times, it appears to be a real drama- certainly the honesty and craftsmanship in the performances (from two incredibly talented actors) shows real work on this approach, and as the women’s relationship breaks down, scenes become truly affecting. But mostly, Strickland seems content to allow his love for the genre he’s parodying to interrupt the story he could tell- an interminably long, heady montage dominates the later sequence of the film, swapping an interesting character dynamic and any possibility of meaningful commentary for stylistic flourishes. Endless symbolism and held stares are fun the first time, but are grating by the end of an hour and a half (which still leaves 15 minutes to go!).

Admittedly, it’s difficult to assess even whether this is the problem with the film. After all, we’re looking at a psychodrama, portrayed through one set of symbols, reinterpreted through a style cribbed from someone else. That any meaning at all can be gleaned from it is a testament to Strickland’s skill as a storyteller. Sometimes, though, you wish he’d just stand back for a moment, look at his story, and let the actors tell it. Perhaps the most revealing symbol in the film is the butterfly collecting: the main characters attend lengthy lectures on taxonomy, identifying individual species, and try to use mounts of rare varieties like currency. The same is true of Strickland, who is ultimately more interested in collecting and classifying styles, than trading them for artistic value, than contributing his own work.

3/5

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Film Review: Unfriended

MV5BMTUwNzg3Mzg1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY2NTAwNDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Directed by Levan Gabriadze

Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm & Renee Olstead

Horror is always a really hard genre to get right. Its hard coming up with a decent horror movie these days…you’re either labelled as a gore hound (your Hostels, Saws, Evil Dead remakes) or a copycat, ripping off the classics like The Shining, The Exorcist and Halloween to name a few.

It seems that Hollywood is finding it increasingly hard to come up with something unique, and credit where it’s due, the 75 minute long ‘Unfriended’ leads the way in terms of giving viewers something they haven’t seen before. Taking place entirely on one girls’ computer screen, we follow protagonist Blaire (Shelley Hennig) as she and her friends are stalked and inevitably bumped off by an unseen figure who seeks vengeance for a shaming video that led a girl to commit suicide a year previously.

 

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DVD Review: Paddington

51FPBHZMA4L._SY300_Directed by Paul King

Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins

Buried deep within a lot of childhoods, there lies a bear, a duffel coat and a predilection for marmalade. Generations of children have grown up with the tale of a stranger from ‘darkest’ Peru, who just so happens to be a bear, and who just so happens to be in need of a home, when he is found by the Brown family at Paddington Station. Paddington the film, therefore, had rather large red wellington boots to fill; in an age where nostalgia is king, this movie needed to remain faithful to people’s memories, yet simultaneously modern enough to capture the interest of a whole new set of little – and not-so-little – ones.

Luckily, Paul King’s sumptuous film does just that. Co-wrote and directed by King, best known for his work on The Mighty Boosh, Paddington may be lacking in the surrealism department but it is certainly overflowing when it comes to laughs, gorgeous cinematography and just the right amount of tweeness. We see our eponymous hero leave his Aunt and Uncle in Peru and wind up in London, where he meets our modern-day every-family, the Browns. Dad Henry, ably played by the ever-exasperated Hugh Bonneville, is of course dubious; whimsical Mum Mary (the perfect Sally Hawkins) is enchanted; whilst children Judy and Jonathan, (the fantastic Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin) are deliciously teenaged and refreshingly normal respectively. Paddington finds a temporary home with this odd little family, and chaos soon ensues; Mr Brown is desperate to find a certain Montgomery Clyde, an explorer who visited Paddington’s family in Peru, and who promised to look after them if they ever ventured to England. Thankfully for the plot, he may or may not exist.

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Film Review: Home

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Directed by Tim Johnson

Starring Jim Parsons, Rihanna & Steve Martin

As I towered above the vibrating mass of sugar-hyped kids, standing a couple of inches over 6ft and weighing-in at around 14 stone, it suddenly dawned on me that I had become a walking cliché of the term ‘big kid’. I politely passed on the photo-opp with the extraterrestrial star of the film, sensibly declined the swollen mounds of free sugary snacks and, instead, patiently took to my seat… who am I kidding? I took 27 selfies with the damn alien and knocked back successive jelly shots, like a child trying to erase the memories of an awful week; I also binged on alien face cookies. But to the film…

Oh (Parsons) is a unique character amongst a race of conformist ‘Boov’ aliens, dutifully following the commands of their leader Smek (Martin). Boovs hold pride in their cowardice and being “the best species at running away,” but running away requires a host planet. Earth is the new target, as they attempt to escape their nemesis, the Gorg, but there’s just one issue: it’s already inhabited. Does this matter? Not at all, so long as you immediately accept the human race’s relocation to ‘Happy Humans Town’, a theme park style town in the middle of Australia.

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COMPETITION – Win The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Merchandise Pack & DVD!

unnamedTo celebrate The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 releasing on DVD, Blu-ray and as a limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook from 16 March 2015, LIONSGATE is giving three lucky winners the chance to take home a merchandise pack, as well as a copy of the film on DVD!

The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 will also be available across digital platforms 24 hours earlier on Sunday 15 March. A special “triple pack” (available on both formats) will also be released, containing all three films in the series so far – The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching   Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this question: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) sings a song in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which is called:

A) The Hanging Bird

B) The Hanging Flower

C) The Hanging Tree

Send your answers via email to jonah@screengeeksuk.com with the subject HUNGER GAMES COMP by no later than 9pm GMT on Friday 13th March 2015.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 releases on DVD, Blu-ray and as a limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook from 16 March 2015

Film Review: Appropriate Behavior

DireABcted by Desiree Akhavan

Starring Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson & Halley Feiffer

OMG! Not another Bisexual Persian in Brooklyn Story!  Girls Co-Star Desiree Akhavan writes, directs & stars in her frank & painfully hilarious debut feature Appropriate Behaviour, a tale of a young woman looking back on her failed relationship.

When Shirin (Akhavan) breaks up with her live-in girlfriend Maxine (Henderson), we go on a criss-crossing non-linear journey through Shirin’s post-Maxine singledom as she fumbles through a series of offbeat sexual encounters with men, women & a hipster swinger couple juxtaposed with her rollercoaster relationship with Maxine – from their meet-cute on the steps of a brownstone outside a New Years Eve party just before midnight, to their many spats & fun times. This is essentially a relationship post-mortem movie akin to Blue Valentine, (the criminally little seen) Two for the Road and, of course, Annie Hall only without much focus on the other half of the relationship – Shirin is the main character whose heartbreak journey through hipsterville we follow.

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DVD Review: Serena

Serena-2015-movie-posterDirected by Susanne Bier

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence & Rhys Ifans

Kind words were few and far between for Susanne Bier’s latest Serena, when it was released last October which came as no surprise considering its troubled production and distribution problems. The film started filming in early 2012 and took a year and a half to complete. During this time Bier had directed two other projects and cast members Cooper and Lawrence had already starred in two other successful films together, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, in addition to becoming household names in Hollywood. The question is does Serena fare better on DVD or are the problems that plagued the production of the film still holding it back? Well yes and no.

George Pemberton (Cooper) is struggling to keep the future of his timber business afloat in Depression-era America. In order to secure a better future for his business his loyal business partner Buchanan (David Dencik) decides to make some illegal business deals and  alerts the already suspicious local Sheriff McDowell (Toby Jones). Things become even more complicated when Pemberton falls in love with and marries the eponymous Serena (Lawrence), who is not what she seems and becomes depressed when learning that she cannot bear children.

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