Film Review: A Ghost StoryFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 7 Aug 2017

The title ‘A Ghost Story’ might put you in mind of any of the myriad haunted house films that have spooked cinema throughout its history, but David Lowery’s low-key drama is one of the few in which the protagonist himself is definitively a ghost. Show the rest of this post…

Casey Affleck plays that protagonist, who in an early scene is killed in an accident and from that moment on appears only as figure draped in a huge white sheet, with nothing more than a pair of pitch black eye sockets (and later some dirt and scuffing) for detail. After his death he stands vigil in his old house, watching his bereaved partner (Rooney Mara) struggle on with her life.

This is a melancholy meditation on death, clearly designed to inspire an emotional reaction, but without the cynicism that often hampers projects with that intention. Lowery’s film feels tender and honest, and while the score is relied upon to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of emotional delivery, it doesn’t feel manipulative. There are few characters in A Ghost Story, none of whom are named, and very little dialogue – indeed, for long stretches it plays like a silent film. Daniel Hall (who scored Lowery’s previous two films, Pete’s Dragon and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) conjures up a dreamy, emotionally rich sonic environment that blends well with Lowery’s very mannered, restrained direction.

Lowery and his cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo shot the film in the 1:33 ratio with unusual rounded edges – an intimate form closer to a square than most modern films – which gives the visuals a close-in feeling. The film routinely features shots that move into or out of a resting position that looks straight at the environment, framing the scene almost as if it were flat, accentuating intentional symmetries and quirks in the set design. This aesthetic brings out the fundamental weirdness of the ghost’s presence, offset as it often is against very ordered surroundings, and also lends a sense of loss when that order is fractured. There’s a simple but wonderful inversion of this aesthetic when a character drives away from the house.

All of this gives the impression that Lowery has really considered how to tell his story visually and sonically, leaving dialogue mostly in the background. In fact the most verbose scene in the film, set during a house party, is clearly the film’s weakest – an unnecessary addition that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.

The design of the ghost is wonderful. He comes across as tremendously expressive even though he has almost no moving features (indeed, in some scenes, he doesn’t move at all), capable of looking both angry and threatening, although he primarily conveys a sense of profound longing. Again, the staging of the shots and the score play a big part in making the character work. There’s even a strange undercurrent of dark humour in his low-budget, Halloween-costume appearance.

Not every element of the film works – the second half isn’t as well paced, and features a central plot point that isn’t wholly satisfactory – but in general, A Ghost Story works on the level it is aiming for: emotional depth. I was moved by the picture and felt it had things to say about loss and death. Two scenes involving Rooney Mara’s character will certainly stick with me: in one, she listens to headphones in two time periods, and the simple movement of an arm had me unable to hold back the tears; and a protracted scene in which the consumption of a pie becomes a tough and emotionally draining ordeal.

4/5

The film won’t be for everyone, but it’s a unique take on the ubiquitous cinematic theme of death and what happens after it, and deserves to be seen.

Film Review: Baby DriverFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 27 Jun 2017

For all his obvious talent and the high esteem in which he’s held by British audiences, Edgar Wright – director of the ‘Cornetto trilogy’, which began with Shaun of the Dead – has yet to make a bona fide international box office hit. Show the rest of this post…

He probably would’ve done if he’d stayed on as director and writer of Ant-Man, a project he left for creative reasons, but with the release of Baby Driver, the clamour around what the Edgar Wright Ant-Man film would’ve looked like fades rather into the background.

Baby Driver is Wright’s second attempt to crack the international mainstream market after Scott Pilgrim vs the World, a divisive film which I liked but some found difficult to get on with. Certainly the film was not a financial success, as with so many passion projects. Baby Driver, the story of a young man called ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort) who works as a getaway driver for a crook named Doc (Kevin Spacey), deserves to be Wright’s first smash – it’s an exuberant, infectiously entertaining film and, despite how ‘big’ a production it is, retains a sense of individuality.

Baby is a hero to cheer for, and Ansel Elgort makes him a likeable, witty presence

On the face of it Baby Driver looks like a heist movie, a genre hardly starved of entries, but Wright’s inventive script, with its music-obsessed antihero who constantly wears headphones to focus his mind, and his witty direction, which fleshes out Baby’s love of music so that it becomes part of the mechanics of the film itself, make this picture stand on its own. From the opening stages, in which the film embraces Baby’s musical obsession to the point that it visually and sonically interacts with it, to the later movements in which that relationship begins to break down, Baby is a hero to cheer for, and Elgort makes him a likeable, witty presence – adopting some of the moody cool of Ryan Gosling’s character inDrive, but with a more carefree attitude. The supporting cast of hired goons provides a colourful backdrop laced with both comedy and threat – from Jamie Foxx as the unpredictable Bats, to John Hamm and Eiza González as dangerous lovers.

The other significant cast member is Lily James, who is really great as Debora, the waitress with whom Baby forms a burgeoning relationship. Their interactions are a joy to watch, and there’s a short, standout segment in the second act depicting their courtship, which runs entirely on their chemistry and the witty script. If the final movement – which, though fun, is a little rushed and all-too-easily resolved – leaves this relationship a little underserved, it can be forgiven, because Wright ramps up the tension and thrills.

I haven’t even mentioned the numerous car chases, which are well shot and exciting, because for me the real action in Baby Driver took place in the dialogue; or indeed the excellent soundtrack, around which most of the action is choreographed. A common criticism of blockbusters these days is a perceived lack of wit or invention – the sense that big bu dgets and special effects are often used to paper over fundamental cracks. Baby Driver is an antidote to that feeling, and deserves to be one of the summer’s biggest hits.

4/5

Film Review: Dying Laughing

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 6 Jun 2017

The prospect of standing on a stage in front of strangers and trying to make them laugh is a terrifying one for most people, and is perhaps part of the reason why stand-up comedy is a good subject for documentary. Show the rest of this post…

It takes a special kind of person to want to do that, indeed to be able to do that, and Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood’s documentary Dying Laughing attempts to shed some light on who those people are, and why they put themselves through what for most of them seems to be a kind of beloved torture.

The film consists primarily of comedians – shot in monochrome in a basic setup – talking about their experiences on stage, and what makes them, and their art form, tick. Its treatment of the subject matter initially is fairly light, to the point of being somewhat unremarkable, but as the talking heads begin to discuss aspects such as hecklers and, most affectingly, the feeling of bombing onstage, it enters darker and more elucidatory territory, and becomes a vibrant, more interesting piece.

It helps that the majority of the talking heads are likeable people with interesting things to say. Bringing together a wide range of well- and lesser-known comics, including Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Stewart Lee, the film’s diverse cast speak openly about themselves and their chosen profession. While many of the insights offered may not be revelatory, there are nevertheless moments of pathos and power in Dying Laughing, as well as some laughs – though perhaps fewer than you might expect, given the comic talent on show.

The film intercuts their observations with generic footage of crowds and street scenes, which doesn’t add a huge amount to proceedings and gives the film a somewhat televisual air, particularly at the beginning. The lack of footage of actual stand-up routines – whether was this was a decision borne of budget restrictions or artistic choice, I’m not sure – initially seemed like a chance missed, but as th e film moved towards its low key but rousing conclusion, I no longer felt the absence. The point of the film, after all, is that we are looking at an art form from behind the scenes.

3/5

Film Review: The Shepherd

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 1 Jun 2017

Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s The Shepherd (or El Pastor) is pitched somewhere between kitchen sink realism, the naturalist leanings of a Terrence Malick film, and slightly misjudged thriller. The result is a compelling, well acted drama that doesn’t quite live up to its own high standards. Show the rest of this post…

Miguel Martin plays Anselmo, a shepherd who leads a simple life outside a village. He’d previously been offered a property in the village but rejected it to go on living in his little house without heating or electricity, and only his dog, Pillo, for company. He drinks wine, he reads, he herds sheep. The film begins in deliberately gentle fashion, allowing us to ease into Anselmo’s genteel way of life, which is soon to be disturbed by a pair of developers who want to buy up the local farmland to build a modern housing development. Anselmo’s house, they tell him with straight faces, is where the squash courts will be. Unsurprisingly, Anselmo doesn’t want to sell – he likes his quiet life – and politely refuses. What he doesn’t count on is the disgruntlement his decision will cause in the local neighbourhood.

From that point onward, Anselmo’s sleepy lifestyle gets more and more regularly interrupted. We feel his frustration as the world outside his little farm brings itself to bear on his innocent existence. This manifests itself not only in the drama itself, but in the pacing, which picks up as Anselmo begins to feel more and more put upon.

Martin, who won the best actor award at Raindance, brings quiet grace to Anselmo – it’s not a showy role, nor one that demands a massive range, but crucially we warm to him as a protagonist. This feeling is helped by his pleasant but brief interactions with the village folk, in particular with Concha (a very warm, if sparsely used, Maribel Iglesias), who clearly has an interest in Anselmo that is only partially reciprocated.

In the final act, Burley moves the narrative into something approaching thriller territory, at which point the film begins to lose its sheen of believability. The tonal shift struck me as a slightly laboured attempt to inject excitement, and I found it dramatically unconvincing, while the abrupt ending felt like it was doing a disservice to a well-established character. It doesn’t help that there are one or two contrivances brought into the narrative, in particular one involving a well, which disrupt the pacing.

But despite those issues, I still enjoyed The Shepherd. It establishes a lov ely atmosphere in its first half, benefits from some good performances, and it looks and sounds great. It’s just a shame that the film departs with a sense of what might have been.

3/5

Film Review: Mindhorn

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 5 May 2017

Richard Thorncroft, the character at the centre of Mindhorn, is clearly intended to join a very specific group of British comedy antiheroes. Show the rest of this post…

Along with the likes of Alan Partridge and David Brent, Thorncroft is a pitiable dinosaur trapped in a world in which he clings to the belief that he is a charismatic, well-liked person; what he lacks in talent he makes up for in ego.

In Sean Foley’s very British comedy, Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) is a washed-up actor who had short-lived success many moons ago with a now-cancelled TV show called Mindhorn, in which he played a detective with a bionic eye that could ‘see the truth’. Many of his co-stars went on to bigger and better things: Patricia Deville (Essie Davis), love interest of both Mindhorn and Thorncroft, is now a news presenter living with Thorncroft’s old stunt double (Simon Farnaby), and Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan), whose role in Mindhorn was miniscule, somehow had a hit spinoff series and became fabulously wealthy.

What makes Mindhorn a success in spite of its flaws is Barratt’s performance

The presence of Coogan, whose Alan Partridge is such a classic British comedy creation, reinforces the similarities between the two characters – even the plot, which sees Thorncroft asked to reprise his defining role when a killer emerges who will only speak to ‘Mindhorn’ – resembles some elements of Alpha Papa, the first big screen outing for Coogan’s character. But despite the obvious inspirations, Thorncroft manages to stand alone as a compelling comic force. Much of his success is down to Barratt’s winning performance and the high points of the script written by Barratt and co-star Farnaby.

But while there are certainly laugh-out-loud high points (including a running gag late on about Thorncroft’s physical incarceration in the Mindhorn costume), there are some elements that feel underdeveloped or misjudged. Some supporting characters, such as Thorncroft’s stunt double and manager, and his eventual sidekick, don’t bring much to the table in terms of memorable moments; while potentially amusing subplots, such as the runaway success of Coogan’s character, aren’t really played strongly enough. There’s also a fairly uninteresting plot holding all of this together, which, while it might not have been much of an issue in a more consistently funny film, means the story sections feel a little dull when they happen.

What makes Mindhorn a success in spite of its flaws is Barratt’s performance, a smattering of very good jokes, and the scant 90-minute runtime, which allows the material enough room to breathe but ties thing up b efore it runs out of steam. Those 90 minutes may be inconsistent, but there are enough comic high points, mixed in with just enough pathos, to make Mindhorn worth seeking out.

3/5

Film Review: Neruda

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 6 Apr 2017

Pablo Larraín’s unconventional biopic Neruda comes hot on the heels of Jackie, which saw Natalie Portman garner an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character, although it was actually made before that film. Show the rest of this post…

Neruda is a pleasingly left field entry in the genre – indeed, the term ‘biopic’ is perhaps a little misleading as regards this film – and while its eccentricities didn’t always work for me, I found it to be an entertaining and enjoyable piece of work nonetheless.

The film contrives a game of cat and mouse between the poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), who publicly denounces the Chilean president and must go into hiding to escape arrest, and a fictional detective, Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal). Larraín divides screen time between his two leading men, if not equally, then equally enough to build them both up as worthwhile presences. Neruda is shown to be flamboyant and popular but also stubborn and flawed. This works in the film’s favour. Larraín is not interested in claiming that Neruda was a hero, just a flawed and talented man. As Peluchonneau, Bernal brings charisma and dry wit to a roll that is perhaps made to feel more important by the film than it actually is.

The film isn’t afraid to flirt with darkness but most of the drama takes place in a fairly light hearted tone. Larrain uses noir voiceover, and old fashioned rear projection during many of the film’s driving sequences, to bring a jovial sense of fun to proceedings, even when the subject matter is comparatively serious.

Larraín presents the story as a grand chase (albeit one whose political importance is revealed to be questionable) between his two central figures, although the significance of that narrative sometimes gets a little lost in the style. The relaxed tone means that while the film is enjoyable to watch, the central thrust of the story doesn’t have the weight it seems to be searching for. I also felt that although Gnecco and Bernal are on good form, their characters, although interesting on a surface level, weren’t as deeply explored as perhaps they could have been.

As the film goes on, the fleet-of-foot pacing of the earlier stages gives way to a more mannered, focused style, and this suits the conclusion perfectly. There is a sense, as the two characters get closer together, that they have become increasingly single minded in their respective goals, and the story ends with more conviction than it begins with.

Neruda is an interesting film with good performances and a well-established sense of place and time. I felt a little distanced from it as I watched, and unable to connect with the characters the way it seemed to want  me to, but that said there are plenty of excellent scenes to enjoy along the way, and an unusual tone that makes the film stand out among other cinematic portrayals of real figures.

3/5

Film Review: Personal ShopperFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 13 Mar 2017

In this unusual psychological chiller from director Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper – essentially a personal assistant, primarily responsible for sourcing clothing and accessories – to a high-profile celebrity whom she rarely sees. Show the rest of this post…

She, dislikes the job, but is persisting with it because the money allows her a flexible lifestyle in Paris, and the time to repeatedly visit the old, creaking house where her twin brother died. Maureen and her brother were not only twins, but twin mediums. Maureen is waiting for a sign from her dead brother to confirm that he has ‘moved on’.

The film is a concoction of multiple genres, and has a genetic connection to haunted-house horror films, although filtered through a lens of cerebral drama and Hitchcockian suspense. These elements blend into what is primarily a character study – just what is Maureen really waiting for, and why? To what extent is what we know about her true? These are clearly tropes of the psychological thriller genre, but Assayas renders them in a fresh, engaging drama.

This is Stewart’s second role in an Assayas film, and there are cosmetic similarities between the characters she plays, most obviously that Maureen, like Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria, is in the service of a celebrity. This is a different, more tightly wound performance, though, and Stewart again is very convincing. Whereas in Clouds of Sils Maria she was required to spar intellectually with Juliette Binoche’s actress, here she is very much the centre of the film, both physically and emotionally. She, along with the convincing tone established by Assayas – helps carry the film through its potentially risible elements.

Personal Shopper is a balancing act between the supernatural and the real, and Assayas handles the switches in tone well. Maureen believes her job is simply a necessity to keep her ticking over while she deals with her brother’s absence, but we quickly realise there may be more to it than that. It’s impressive that the atmosphere is maintained whether Maureen is wandering around a spooky house or sitting on a train reading text messages (in what is an effective, if overly protracted, sequence) and Assayas and Stewart hold everything together right up to the nicely staged conclusion.

If there is a significant issue with the film, it’s that the disparate elements work together only up to a certain point, and as a result Personal Shopper is neither truly scary or emotionally involving. But having said that, I enjoyed the blend of genres and appreciated the fact that Assayas was trying something bold. That boldness, couple with Stewart’s winning lead performance, make Personal Shopper worth a look.

4/5

 

VOR’s sleek 1B high-tops work for Wednesday in the office, or the weekend around town

Posted in Products, Style
By Sam Bathe on 9 Feb 2017

VOR-1B-HIGHTOPS-2

VOR-1B-HIGHTOPS-3

From German footwear label VOR, the 1B high-tops are a suave and sophisticated sneaker, hand-made from tongue to sole in Germany. With supreme attention to detail in the stitching and finish, 1Bs are available in five colourways; white, white with gum rubber sole, off-white, rose and black. With an upper in full grain leather, 1Bs are lined with soft calfskin leather, tonal laces and a rubber cupsole, also available in an ankle-cut style. VOR’s 1B high-tops are available from their online store for €349: www.vor.shoes

Cold War Kids return with a defiant and joyous video for new single, ‘Love Is Mystical’, their ode to Los Angeles

Posted in Music, Music Videos
By Sam Bathe on 8 Feb 2017

Cold-War-Kids-Love-Is-Mystical-2

Cold-War-Kids-Love-Is-Mystical-3

Off the back of their most successful ever single in 2015′s First, Cold War Kids return with a new line-up, new album, and new video. The first single off the forthcoming LP, LA Divine, Love Is Mystical is frontman Nathan Willett’s ode to his home city, about seeking spiritual and creative fulfilment while living in place that can be so image-centric. Directed by Phillip Lopez, the video sees the band walk backwards through a windy dance routine before the troupe comes together for a make-out flashmob surrounded by flowers and torrential rain. LA Divine is due for release on April 7th.

The London List: teamLab take over the Pace London gallery with interactive exhibition, ‘Transcending Boundaries’The London List

Posted in Art, London, London List
By Sam Bathe on 3 Feb 2017

Transcending-Boundaries-Pace-London-2

Transcending-Boundaries-Pace-London-3

Transcending-Boundaries-Pace-London-4

Reminiscent of the iconic Rain Room in Barbican’s The Curve gallery, Transcending Boundaries is a collection of remarkable interactive, digital artworks from Tokyo-based, teamLab. Including eight installations across three rooms in London’s Pace Gallery, the artworks surround visitors, transforming and changing shape as guests move through the space. From a virtual waterfall that flows around your feet, to flowers that bloom across visitors’ clothing, pieces are created in real time depending on how you interact with the gallery space. Exploring the role of digital technology in transcending physical and virtual boundaries, Transcending Boundaries runs until March 11th at Pace Gallery.

Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET
www.pacegallery.com/exhibitions/12840/transcending-boundaries

FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

We’ve been featured on the front page of Reddit and produced off-shoot club night Friday Night Fist Fight, launched a Creative Agency and events column The London List.

FAN THE FIRE is edited by founder, Creative Director and Editor-in-Chief, Sam Bathe. Site by FAN THE FIRE Creative.

You can contact us on: mail@fanthefiremagazine.com

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Dribbble, Instagram and RSS.