Archive for August, 2015

image

Directors: Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine

Writers: Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine

Country: UK

Runtime: 98 mins

Cast: Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Nina), Abigail Hardingham (Holly), Cian Barry (Rob), Elizabeth Elvin (Sally), David Troughton (Dan)

This blood-soaked modern-day Blithe Spirit is a real treat

Nina Forever is a perfectly-realised first full cinema feature by the Blaine brothers, Ben and Chris, in which a young couple, Holly and Rob, find theselves haunted by Rob’s deceased former girlfriend, Nina. A rather moving comedy-horror, Nina Forever is like a modern-day rendering of Blithe Spirit. Here, though, Noel Coward’s posh drawing rooms are replaced by a cramped flat on a fog-bound housing estate, the stock room of a supermarket, and a graveyard over which an electricity pylon looms ominously. Oh, and there is lots of blood and sex.

Holly is a trainee paramedic with slightly morbid leanings, who works in the supermarket during the day. There she meets Rob, who is trying to get over the death of his girlfriend Nina, the victim of a car crash. Unfortunately, whenever the two of them try to get it on between the sheets a scarred and bloody Nina appears and makes it clear to “silly little girl” Holly that death is not going to stop her staking a claim to Rob.

It is a credit to the Blaine brothers’ script and Abigail Hardingham’s performance that we are able to engage in a pretty big suspension of disbelief by accepting Holly’s return to Rob after the first alarming bedroom encounter with Nina. Credit must also go to Cian Berry who gets laughs as the bereaved Rob, by playing it completely straight. Fiona O’Shaughnessy revels in the role of Nina, coming on as a wide-eyed (blood-soaked) innocent whilst delivering the bitchiest of comments.

There are some recognisable and delightful everyday observations that add to the comedy, such as when a long-awaited text message turns out to be a special offer from a local pizza parlour, and when a luckless chap on a bus finds himself stuck between a quarrelling Rob and Holly. But beneath the comedy there is a very real recognition of the pain of grief and the difficulty of moving on with life after a loved one dies.

Nina Forever brings a refreshing originality to the comedy-horror genre.

Rating: 4/5

Hard_to_Be_a_God_(2013_film)_POSTER

Director: Aleksei German

Screenplay: Aleksei German and Svetlana Karmalita

Country : Russia

Runtime: 177 mins

Cast: Leonid Yarmolnik (Don Rumata), Evgenyi Gerchakov (Budakh), Alexandr Chutko (Don Reba), Yuri Tsurilo (Don Pampa), Natalya Moteva (Ari)

A mad, unique cinematic masterpiece

Hard to be a God is a mad, epic masterpiece unlike any other film I have ever seen. Ostensibly a science fiction film it is a mud-spattered vision of the Middle Ages, channelling the rain-drenched monochrome of Winstanley, with the sensibility of Tarkovsky, as imagined by Terry Gilliam without any studio interference.

Based on a 1964 novel of the same name by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the story is set on an earthlike alien planet where the technology is on a par with ours about 800 years ago. A group of earth scientists have been sent to monitor the planet and help it progress, but without interfering in their politics. One of these, Anton, has taken on the guise of a nobleman, Don Rumata, who lives in a castle in the Kingdom of Arkanar. There, he has taken a young local woman, Ari, for a bride. The village around the castle is populated by a poverty-stricken parade of grotesques, clad in rags and stumbling around from one dirty puddle to another. The plot concerns a quest of sorts: Don Rumata sets out from his Castle to track down Budakh, a doctor who has been kidnapped by the tyrannical Prime Minister, Don Reba, and his militia, known as the “greys”.

However, the story really takes second place to the film’s extraordinary visual inventiveness. The costumes and sets are convincingly real and the wonderful cinematography seems to violate the rules to great effect. Many scenes contain tracking shots that last several minutes. Primary and secondary characters often break the “fourth wall”, gazing into the camera as they amble about, rather as working-class people used to do when early film-makers set up their cameras in the street (check out some of the old footage of Petticoat Lane on YouTube). People wander into shot from the side, only to shuffle off again. In almost every scene there is some sort of business going on (at one point, for no apparent reason, someone off-camera is waggling what looks like a chicken’s legs in front of the lens).

It is probably only fair that I should mention that not everyone in the cinema appeared to share my enthusiasm. There were a few walk-outs mid-way through the screening. In terms of length and pacing this is more akin to Stalker than to Shaun of the Dead, and the plot does get a bit hard to follow at times. It is a film that might not satisfy the less patient kind of viewer. However, once I realised that this was not going to be a fast-moving story I simply relaxed, sat back, and allowed myself to become immersed in this marvellous and unique cinematic experience.

Rating: 5/5

Amy_Movie_Poster

Director: Asif Kapadia

Country: UK / USA

Runtime: 128 mins

A tale of a tragic downfall by the director of Senna

There are many popular musicians who have followed a drink- and drug-fuelled pathway to an early death but few, if any, who have done it as publicly as Amy Winehouse. In the same way that he did with his earlier film, Senna, director Asif Kapadia has woven a highly affecting picture from contemporary footage taken from a variety of sources, including home movies, news items, fans’ mobile devices and camcorders, and an ever-present video camera in recording studios, cars and hotel rooms. There is no commentary but the visuals are regularly overlaid by the voices of participants in Amy’s story.

At the time of her death there was much criticism of the paparazzi’s intrusive behaviour but Kapadia’s documentary makes clear that the causes of the star’s death were multiple and complex, and that the seeds of her destruction were sown much earlier. Winehouse appears to have been a wilful force of nature, even as a child. She describes herself as uncontrollable once her father had left home. As a teenager she was bulimic.

Winehouse cheerfully states that her real ambition is to be singing jazz in clubs. Fame, she says early on, is something she wouldn’t be able to cope with but the success of her first album and the touring that follows means fame is unavoidable. From this point on Winehouse’s life is complicated by a dangerous cocktail of negative influences, including an obsessive relationship with Blake Fielder, heavy drinking and drug-taking, and the reappearance of her father who becomes involved in her professional life in a not wholly helpful fashion.

What I found particularly disturbing is the way that, as both Fielder and Winehouse begin to fall apart in front of the world’s cameras, they are treated as a source of laughs by various popular television comedians (the guilty parties include Graham Norton and Jay Leno; by contrast, former drug addict-turned comedian Russell Brand tried to get Winehouse to rehab).

As someone who was only passingly familiar with the music of Amy Winehouse this documentary made clear what a huge talent and charismatic star she was. None other than Tony Bennett hails her as one of the all-time great jazz singers. Amy is a gripping tale of a brilliant life cut tragically short.

Rating: 4/5