Films of 2017 (…..so far)

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Not quite the mid-point of the year but it’s always good to follow this particular trend.  Below we list the five films that have impressed us most. What films have we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.

5. The Graduation. Dir: Cristian Mungiu

A strong start to the list from a director whose consistency in excellence continues to shine with this taut moral drama. It doesn’t quite reach the compelling intensity of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or Beyond The Hills but is still filmmaking of the highest order. Genuinely riveting and genuinely brilliant.

4. The Handmaiden. Dir: Park Chan-wook

A very dark, disturbing erotic thriller with a complex story told with remarkable expertise and skill. Told in three parts with each one offering a different perspective on the mechanics of the plot, it’s an examination of humanity’s obsession with sex from the dark and vulgar to it becoming an exploration of love and passion. It is a film in which you cannot reveal too much of the plot much beyond its basic set-up in which a handmaiden goes to work for a rich lady in order to pull of an elaborate and long-winded con on her. What happens beyond that is mysterious, intriguing and never predictable – this is, after all, the director of Oldboy at the helm.  Measured, skilled film-making that expunges just about every human feeling and emotion – a staggering piece of work.

3. Jackie. Dir: Pablo Larrain

Pablo Larrain makes his much welcome English Language debut with this tale of American’s most famous first lady and manages to bring his own unique style to proceedings. As with many biopics these days, it focuses on one moment of a famed individuals life to expunge the themes and provide an insight to the character (see also – Steve Jobs, Invictus). In this case, the film is structured around a newspaper interview with Jackie Kennedy following her husbands death, with flashbacks to the event itself and those just before and afterwards. To that end, a portrait of Jackie is created as a person who portrayed an image that at times juxtaposed that which was maybe going on beneath the surface. There is an element of body vs soul going on here, and it is brilliantly captured by Portman’s staggering performance. The stress and trauma is hidden beneath the surface but she still manages to portray it with a glance or a brief facial expression – it’s acting that, ironically, goes beyond that which she is showing on the surface. Yet there is more to the film than just Jackie. The score is memorable and at 95 minutes, it never outstays its welcome. A brilliant film by a special talent.

2a. Dunkirk. Dir: Christopher Nolan

What we have here is a lot of very talented people working together at the top of their game to create something quite special. Set in what feels like real time, Nolan manages to make a film about an evacuation of 350,000 men during a war feel focused, coherent, engaging and utterly, utterly gripping. It just might be the tensest film you’ll see. The photography is quite sensational, the editing done to a tee, the ensemble cast faultless and then there is the score. The haunting, silent opening shot soon gives way to gunfire, dogfights, boats, explosions and much more besides and Hans Zimmer’s music weaves almost seamlessly into the narrative, adding to the real feeling of what Dunkirk must have been like.




2b. Moonlight. Dir: Barry Jenkins

This is a deftly subtle character study, a coming of age drama with issues of sexuality, race and class that are relevant but never dominate. It is brilliantly performed by the three leads, each showing Blue at a different stage in his life. From ‘Little’, the scared and unsure youngster to the teenager trying to find his way and culminating with him as a hulk of a man whose physical appearance juxtaposes his internal struggles, shyness and confusion. Internally, he is still the same scared and unsure individual we met at the start. There are some scenes of sex and some of violence but it is measured, it feeds into the story and subsequently, this feels real. It’s a far cry from melodrama, a poetic and moving film that managed to win over audiences who were more willing than usual to give it a chance. It was compelling despite the lack of much action or even plot development, but then that is the point – this is about the characters, and it’s all the better for it.

1. The Salesman. Dir: Asghar Farhadi

The one and only Asghar Farhadi returns and manages to further his reputation as one of the most interesting directors currently working. The opening shot is a remarkable set-up to proceedings as we see a building shaking from the inside. It’s not clear why or what is causing it, but the unbroken shot gives you the real sense of dread before we see the root cause of the danger which is a sly commentary on authorities in Iran. This sets up the film and its themes as husband and wife Emed and Rana are forced to find somewhere else to live. While the play Death of a Salesman plays out (with the couple in the lead roles), a violent attack, linked to their new homes previous incumbent has ramifications for the couple. Farhadi creates a great sense of tension and mystery from the set-up and while we, and Emed try to decipher what actually happened, the themes come to the fore.

It’s flawless. From the acting to the scriptwriting to the pace to the direction. The ideas, the themes, the grittiness and the honesty all flow naturally but yet the events of the film are quite theatrical. This takes some doing to make it work but Farhadi, of course, can do this because he is a phenomenal filmmaker.

The sexism of society which lends an eye to the notion of the female victim being partially responsible, the lack of faith in the authorities results in them being kept out of the loop – ideas Farhadi always explores and keeps you thinking about for days afterwards. Brilliantly, he doesn’t dwell on them or labour the point – they simply exist as part of the societal norm. This is a far cry from melodrama. It might nudge 2 hours, but it’s measured, thought out and brilliant film-making, wonderfully acted and smartly written. Tension is extracted from the characters and the mystery in the central conceit and you just have to sit an applaud a true artist at the top of his game.

Desert Island Flicks – Episode 4: Chris Olson from UK Film Review

UK Film Review LogoOur latest castaway is Chris Olson from London based film review website UK Film Review

From the latest blockbusters, to small indie cinema, UK Film Review tackle as many films as possible.

UKFR promote not just films but also movie trailers from around the world. They also help support indie films that are using kickstarter to raise money.

Film 1 – The film you’ve seen more than any other

You’ve watched it countless times, but it never tires and you could watch it many more times and it will still have an effect.

CO: Funnily enough, it would be a musical! And I say that as someone who rarely indulges in that genre voluntarily. But it is also an animated, very adult, comedy: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. I’ve seen this movie so many times, growing up and as an adult, and it still makes me cry with laughter. The jokes are great, the characters are brilliant, the songs are incredibly catchy, and I dare anyone not to laugh at Saddam Hussein in bed with the Devil!

South Park

Film 2 – The Classic you’ve never seen
We all have classics we’ve meant to watch but haven’t…yet. Which one would be top of your catch up list. Why haven’t you seen it? What would make you put it on?

CO: At uni, I used to make a list of the “50 Films Everyone Says I Should Watch” – and then make my way through them. These were chock-filled with so-called “classics”, and when you’re a film critic if you ever tell someone you haven’t seen a certain film they like, their instant reaction is utter astonishment and outrage. The film that keeps doing this for me is The Sound of Music. I just can’t bring myself to sit down and watch it. I think if I was on a deserted island, someone had just deflated my best friend, and I overcooked my lizard dinner, then perhaps it would be time to indulge.

Film 3 – The film that will definitely give you a lift
It can be sad and depressing when you’re all alone. Which film would you put on that is guaranteed to lift your spirits

CO: Spaceballs. I have seen this countless times and constantly quote the lines to my brother over text. For me, Spaceballs is better than Star Wars. There it is, I said it.

SpaceBalls

Film 4 – The so-called masterpiece that deserves a re-visit
Sometimes everyone seems to love a film but it doesn’t work for you. Maybe being on an island will enable you to try and see what everyone else was seeing

CO: With a reboot due soon, it seems fitting that I reveal a lukewarm enjoyment for Blade Runner. I feel like I need to see this film in complete isolation with every comment about it wiped from my memory though! Perhaps the desert island will treat me to a coconut to the head which will erase the hyperbolic praise I have heard over the years.



Film 5 – The film you wished you’d made
Either as writer, director, actor, editor, D.P. or in any other role, which film do you wish you’d had a hand in and what role do you wish you’d played?

CO: As a writer, I wish I could have written the dialogue for Glengarry Glen Ross. That film is a masterpiece, and to then see that stellar cast bring it to life would have been orgasmic. “Always…Be…Closing”…getting chills thinking about it.

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Film 6 – The film that had the biggest effect on you
Which film influenced your life, either personally or professionally, the most?

CO: Most likely Fight Club. My dad let me watch this when I was probably a couple of years too young, but he knew I would love it. After that I chased any film by David Fincher. I also tried to start a little fight club with my friends, which resulted in four very unfit lads huffing and puffing in a park having managed to hurt absolutely no one.

Films 7 & 8 – Wild Cards
Pick any other two films that you’d take along and tell us why

CO: The Prestige by Christopher Nolan. I would have to take one of that man’s films and I feel that this is one of his most underappreciated.

Then it would be Rope, the Hitchcock movie. I think this is excellent filmmaking and it stands up better than some of his other movies.

Rope

The rogue disc – The film you wished you’d never seen

Even bad films can teach us in some way but there are some that seem to be without any merit at all and you wish, like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you could erase them from your memory. Which film, if it somehow made its way onto your desert island, would you gladly throw out to sea?

Eraserhead. David Lynch is an auteur but not one I enjoy. Blue Velvet is okay and Mulholland Drive is good, but this is something I will never endure again! Ironically the time I saw it was at a BFI screening, and the guy in front of me had brought a date. On the way out it became apparent that he was a cineast, lauding Lynch’s filmmaking prowess to his obviously unimpressed partner. After he was finished she simply said, “I’d like to go home now”…my thoughts exactly.

Chris Olson is the editor and founder of www.ukfilmreview.co.uk You can find him on Twitter @UKFilmReview and follow the site itself @UKFReview




Desert Island Flicks – Episode 3: Mike from Midland Movies

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Based on the popular Radio Two show, this takes into account film lovers and what they’d need if they ever ended up on an island with only a Beach Ball for company, an ice skate for a tool and an un-opened package they need to deliver.

What eight films would you simply have to play on your waterproof, solar powered blu-ray device?

This week Mike from Midlands Movies shares his Desert Island Flicks.

FILM 1

The film you’ve seen more than any other

back to the future

Great question! At a guess it’s probably Ghostbusters or Weird Science as a friend and I watched them almost daily back in the 80s/90s. I can also add in Back to the Future 2 – which is a film I can quote more than any other – and more recently it’s been The Force Awakens which I saw 5-6 times on the big screen. I have to add that none of these are my favourite films of all time – more probably just fluke the amount they’ve repeated in my life.

FILM 2

The Classic you’ve never seen

I can answer this one very quickly – The Lion King. As I was 14 years old on its release, it wasn’t something I was massively interested in – along with a lot of the 90s Disney films in fact. Over time I’ve sadly never caught up with it.

lion king




FILM 3

The film that will definitely give you a lift

this-is-spinal-tap

I think I go straight for comedy and one of my favourites is This Is Spinal Tap. As a musician who’s done a bit of touring, it’s so spot on – even after all these years – that it makes me laugh and remind me of my own good times with my band mates ‘on the road’. Whilst I think of it, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous can be added here too.

FILM 4

The so-called masterpiece that deserves a re-visit

I’ve got quite a few of these but will opt for a very controversial opinion. I’m the biggest sci-fi fan of all time yet I’ve never been huge admirer of Blade Runner. I watch it about once every 2-3 years though and with the sequel out this year I definitely need to give it a re-watch – hopefully on the big screen somewhere.

blade runner

FILM 5

The film you wished you’d made

For entirely selfish (and quite un-cinematic) reasons I’m going to choose Ocean’s Eleven (Soderbergh’s remake) and be an actor on set. A great group of respected actors (and Scott Caan, lol) hanging around in Las Vegas whilst playing pranks, talking film, giving OTT performance as well as getting to work with a great director seems a pretty fun experience.

FILM 6

The film that had the biggest effect on you

I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind resonated with me greatly, not just for echoing a relationship I was in at the time but it showed that film can still be magical, innovative and original. The idea of past relationships and things like memories that you always take with you – a bit like a desert island if you will – is intrinsic to all of us and shapes who we are. Plus it’s funny, clever and has two great performances from actors playing against type.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE COEN BROTHERS

FILMS  7 & 8

Wild Cards

As I’ve not picked any of my regular favourites yet I would reserve a place for Terminator 2: Judgment Day and JFK. T2 was one of the first really exceptional films I saw and realised I didn’t just like fun movies but movies with great stories and deeper meanings (well, as deep as a 12 year old can fathom at that time). JFK has so many layers and techniques that Stone has created a really remarkable cinematic movie by taking hundreds of story strands to piece together those days in Dallas and the subsequent trial.

terminator 2

THE ROGUE DISC

The film you wished you’d never seen

I’m going to stick with the theme I’ve been talking about in all my answers and recollect my distant past when I first came to the realisation that not every summer blockbuster was good. Batman and Robin was hired from my local video shop, stopped halfway through and returned the same day. Didn’t even rewind it for them! I became a man that day. LOL.

BatmanRobin

Thanks to Mike from Midlands Movies for taking part. Check them out at Midlandsmovies.com

Fancy sharing your Desert Island Flicks? Leave us a comment below showing your interest and we'll be in touch!

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Desert Island Flicks – Episode 2 Giles Logan

Inspired by the popular Radio Four show, we take into account film lovers and what they’d need if they ever ended up on an island with only a Beach Ball for company, an ice skate for a tool and an un-opened package they need to deliver.

What eight films would you simply have to play on your waterproof, solar powered blu-ray device?

We’ve given you some rules though to help our castaways shape their choices.

Episode 2 is with Giles Logan, Editor of Birmingham Wire and Brum Cinema Addicts.

FILM 1

The film you’ve seen more than any other

Napoleon Dynamite. This is such a perfect film. So hard to get the right balance of humour and storytelling in ‘quirky’ films and as I rule I usually hate them. Not a lot really happens, but it doesn’t happen so well if you see what I mean? There’s not a bad bone in the film, even the school jocks are likeable. I love every second; the stunning scenery, the cool soundtrack, every character is delightfully off kilter and the final scene with Napoleon and Deb playing ball always makes me cry. It does have a strong personal resonance as my son who passed away in 2011 loved it.

Napoleon Dynamite

FILM 2

The Classic you’ve never seen

Satantango. I’m actually desperate to see this and have been for years. I have a pile of films which are my ‘watch next’ movies and it’s been in that mound of discs forever. I love Bela Tarr but want to watch it in one sitting without interruption or distraction, finding a 432 minute window is not very easy.

Satantango




FILM 3

The film that will definitely give you a lift

Laughing Gravy. I always default to Laurel and Hardy when I need a lift. The 21 disc box set is such a treasure chest I’d love to take them all but have narrowed it down to Laughing Gravy. It’s such a perfect L&H film. Two decent and unfortunate men always trying to get by and do the right thing and always thwarted by the cruel vagaries of fate and life. There’s such beautiful innocence about them and no matter what befalls them, they pick themselves up, dust off their hats and get on with it. Particularly poignant as in this film Stan is given a way out of his difficult circumstances to a life of great wealth and privilege but only on the condition he dumps Ollie. A great lesson in friendship and loyalty, when the chips are down you don’t just walk away, that is for the weak willed.

Laughing Gravy
FILM 4

The so-called masterpiece that deserves a re-visit


Last Temptation of Christ.
I’ve tried hard to like this because apparently it’s a classic but I just find it silly and overbearingly dull. Also I just can’t stop thinking about Life of Brian when I watch it which doesn’t help. I find films with ‘wise’ character’s in annoying, all that ‘he is the chosen one’ (see Matrix) cobblers. I know Jesus should possibly be taken more seriously because he’s like well, the messiah and stuff, but I find him irritating.

FILM 5

The film you wished you’d made


Withnail and I.
What a film? Quintessentially English and I love that the rest of the world will be mystified by the whole thing. Hilariously potent dialogue and characters with each line crafted to pure perfection. Must be an actor’s dream to have a script like this.  It’s not just drunken high jinks though, beneath the raucous behaviour is a subtly moving story about growing up. Another film with an ending that will get the old tear ducts pumping.

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FILM 6

The film that had the biggest effect on you

If… I was a teenage anarchist, no really. Lindsay Anderson’s film really connected with me in a big way. Films were more than entertainment, they could energise, agitate, educate and send you to the barricades. Malcolm McDowell’s Mick Travis was an anarchist too and whilst I never had to put up with buggery, fags and elitism in a public school, Travis’ battle with the system and the incredible final sequence resonated with me in a big way. I love the anarchic way the film is shot too, with random black and white sequences appearing throughout giving the whole film an edgy dangerous feel.

FILMS 7 & 8

Wild Cards


Faust
(Jan Svankmajer) When TV was good you’d get films like this all the time on BBC2, nowadays there’s a horrible over saturation of absolute rubbish. I randomly came across this one evening and have loved it ever since, all his film in fact but this was the first one I saw. Utterly chaotic mix of puppetry, stop motion and live action that is jaw droppingly mental throughout. Svankmajer creates beautiful otherworldliness in all his films where nonsense makes sense.

El Topo. The daddy of the exploitation film. Jodorowsky is untouchable when it comes to creating surreal and bizarre worlds that unsettle and disgust in equal measure. There’s a singular ugly beauty to his artful vision. There is no other film maker like him and there is no other film like El Topo.

El topo

THE ROGUE DISC

The film you wished you’d never seen

Bridget Jones. I had the unfortunate experience of having to sit through this shoddy piece of crap with a girlfriend. I also had to pay a new release premium surcharge for the privilege. Horrible from start to finish, a ridiculously stupid storyline, vapid unsympathetic characters that made me wish it would turn into a Friday the 13th film and Jason would disembowel them all, an irritating you should laugh because it’s true thread aimed cynically at women, ‘it’s funny because I have periods too’. Bridget even goes to Glastonbury and she’s so like wacky and stuff, the vomit reflex usually reserved for hangovers haunted me throughout. Worst of all the cinema was packed and everyone was laughing, I really am out of kilter with this world.

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#18 Interview with Zoe Cunningham

zoe cunningham outward film networkZoe Cunningham is an award-winning technology professional and currently Managing Director of Softwire Technology, one of the Sunday Times “Best Places to Work”. In 2013 she was named as one of the 100 most influential people in Tech City, selected by the BBC as the Brightest Woman in Britain and she accompanied Prime Minister David Cameron on his trade delegation to China. Zoe also works as an actor, recently playing the lead role in Marianna Dean’s award-winning short film Symptoms and an award-nominated role in seasonal short The Christmas Movie. Zoe has published three books, her most recent entitled “An Actor’s Life” detailing her journey as an actor.

What or who was it that inspired you into a career as an actor?

I was working as the CEO of a tech company and I read a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, for unblocking creative people. I didn’t think I was a creative person (or blocked) but… With The Artist’s Way, you do exercises and read essays each week and on week 8 they asked “what do you really want to be doing?” and BAM I realised that I wanted to be a film actor.

Are there any actors that influenced your approach or style?

I find that acting is quite an internal process so I try not to watch other actors and mimic them. The actors I respect most are those who are versatile and draw your attention.

What’s the best bit of acting advice you’ve been given?

Oh my goodness, there is just so much. I think the best is the one that I am always trying to strive for, which is to “not act” but instead to let the work “act you”. It’s an extremely risky, terrifying and hence difficult way to go about it but you get results like nothing else.

Zoe Cunningham Look of Love

Zoe Cunningham in Look of Love.

What do you look for in a director?

I started acting in theatre and worked with two incredible directors, Peta Lily and Jeremy Stockwell. They both pushed me a long way out of my comfort zone, while only challenging me with what I could cope with. It’s really easy to either “break” a new actor or to let them be lazy about stretching themselves so I appreciate what a difficult job it was for them to get this balance right for me. In film I have a fantastic working relationship with the award-winning female director Marianna Dean. She has this unbelievable vision for the films that she directs, which means that as an actor you look great because you fit into a well-orchestrated whole. She also has a lightness of touch in directing actors. She will get the performance that she needs by working with you, not by fighting you. Every actor I know loves to work in this way.




What do you look for in a script?

Selecting scripts is a tricky business. I’ve read a lot of scripts now and things that immediately put me off are poor spelling or grammar, unrealistic dialogue or tasteless use of difficult subjects (you’d be surprised…!). Having said that it is also very personal, so anything that hits my personal passions (sci-fi, fantasy and strong female leads) can get away with a lot more J

zoe cunningham outward film network

You have experience in both acting and producing, how do you find balance within these roles during production?

Producing fits well with acting as a role. I know some people who act and direct in the same film, which seems impossible to me as I can’t imagine being both in front of and behind the camera at the same time. Production is mostly done in advance of the film starting, so prep is quite stressful but once I am on set I can hand over to a line producer and just focus on acting.

An Actors Life For Me zoe cunningham outward film networkYour third book ‘An Actors Life for Me’ is available from April. What motivated you to write the book and how did you find the experience?

My third book was inspired by my acting coach Jeremy Stockwell. He couldn’t believe that I was starting to learn to act, aged 35, without giving up my job and going to drama school. Drama school followed by a sole career as an actor is increasingly an unfeasible choice for many people, and Jeremy saw the potential in working my way, alongside a day job. He encouraged me to write down what I was doing in order to help a wider audience.

You’ve found a healthy relationship working within both technological and creative environments. What’s been the key to successfully maintaining this balance between roles?

Technology is a fantastic environment to combine with a creative one. Jobs in technology tend to be modern (the company I work for didn’t exist 20 years ago!), well-paid and flexible. Creative work is poorly paid and you are often called on to do something with very short notice. At Softwire we have many creative people as well as me, including semi-professional musicians, authors, games designers and graphic novel writers. Balance really is the key word here – you need to make enough money that you are not drained by the lack of it (so many artists quit their art because the living conditions are just too draining year after year) but dedicate enough time to art that you are fulfilled as a person and not let all your energy get sucked into your day job.

Is there anything you’d change in the film industry?

Oh goodness yes! But I’ve just started re-reading The 7 Habits of High Effective People by Steven Covey and one key principle is to work within your Circle of Influence rather than your Circle of Concern. In a nutshell that means you will achieve more by focusing on what you can change rather than fretting about what you can’t. I don’t have enough clout to impact the film industry in general, but I can make fantastic feature films featuring kick-ass women, so I’m going to focus on that instead.




Would advice would you give to any young actors starting out?

Have another way to earn a living, and make it a career, not just a side job. I get so many more things from my job than just money – connections, self-esteem and knowledge and skills. If I’d started as an actor in my 20s and waited tables to make ends meet I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop any of these skills. Don’t rely on acting for your income and make the time you spend in a second career count for you.

Website: www.zoefcunningham.com

http://bit.do/anactorslife

Twitter: @zoefcunningham

Facebook: facebook.com/zoecunninghampublic

IMDB: www.imdb.com/name/nm6147111/

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