Unpopped Kernels: Beach Rats (2017)

British actor Harris Dickinson is a star in the making. He has nabbed the lead role in director Danny Boyle’s new ten-part television series, Trust, in which he plays John Paul Getty III in the other screen version (after Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World) of the infamous 1973 kidnapping. You’ll see him in September opposite Amandla Stenberg in director Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s film version of Alexandra Bracken’s young adult novel, The Darkest Minds, about young kids with superpowers placed in internment camps – fortunately beating the similarly themed, The New Mutants, to the screen. Before then and emphatically not suitable for viewers under the age of seventeen, you can catch him in the small screen release, Beach Rats, for which the London Critics Circle named him ‘Young British/Irish Performer of the Year’. OK, I would have given the award to Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country) but we’ll let that pass.

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The follow-up by Brooklyn-born writer-director Eliza Hittman to her 2013 feature debut, It Felt Like Love, this tells the story of a deeply troubled young man. Frankie (Dickinson) has moved down to the basement of his home to visit a gay chat room website in private. He’s attracted to men, but in his words, ‘doesn’t know what he likes’. He is addicted to his father’s medication, which he grinds into powder and snorts. His father meanwhile is in a catatonic state, dying from cancer. Frankie hangs out with three other men on Brooklyn Beach near the fairground, picking people’s pockets and sharing weed. Frankie does not discuss his sexuality with them; in fact, there is very little conversation between them, full stop. They are a criminal gang on the watch, looking for victims and talking small. Frankie catches the eye of a young woman, Simone (Madeline Weinstein in her film debut) who beelines for him at the dodgems. She provides the perfect cover in front of the guys but, of course, he’s not attracted to her. Naturally, their relationship does not go smoothly. In the mean time, he meets up with men for casual sex, knowing at some point he’ll have to be open about his sexuality, once he is confident about it himself.

The result is knife-edge viewing. You watch Frankie as if he is in a state of constant danger. Yes, he’s young and works out – we see him photograph his own torso with an i-phone, one interestingly he doesn’t sell when he needs money. But he is vulnerable, emotionally and physically, certainly capable of causing emotional harm to others – notably Simone – and physical harm to himself.

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Beach Rats is not a gay ‘coming out’ film. Rather, it is about how inward you can turn yourself when you are with others. Frankie isn’t a talker, but a doer. He lives through physical action, whether playing hand tennis, inhaling in a vape bar or having sex. The story is entirely told from his point of view. We see how his young sister reacts to their father’s illness by exploring her own sexuality, asking for a belly button ring and wearing a bikini top to the beach and how, in his unspoken way, Frankie doesn’t want her to share his own sexual turmoil. We watch his mother (Kate Hodge) trying to get through to him, to get him to share, and his stubborn resistance to reveal himself through words.

Hittman’s film has been promoted for gay audiences, with images of the four men with their shirts off on the poster. It is a film that speaks to anybody who has had an identity crisis in the face of losing a parent. Utterly gripping and poignant, it is also uncompromising. It is not the kind of film to watch on your home computer – you feel almost like Frankie browsing through men who display themselves for future gratification, but it is certainly an emotionally honest drama that captures the turmoil of late adolescence.

Beach Rats is available on Netflix! 

The Hate U Give – Trailers & Clips

The first powerful trailer for The Hate you Give has landed. Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name, by author Angie Thomas. The Young Adult Fiction novel moves the genre from post-apocalyptic dystopia, to the grounded reality of Police brutality in America.

With a brilliant ensemble black cast, led by The Hunger Games Amandla Stenberg alongside Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie and Common.

Young Starr Carter, (Stenberg) divides herself between two worlds. The black neighbourhood her family live in and the elite prep school she attends. When her childhood friend Khalil, (Algee Smith) gives her a lift home, the two are pulled over by the Police. Khalil is shot by an officer in front of her. The aftermath for Starr and her community reflects the growing pain and struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement in America

Directed by George Tillman Jr. who has directed episodes of Luke Cage as well as This is Us and feature film Notorious. The film has been adapted from the original novel for the screen. The subject matter and themes explored could not be more relevant or current. With barely a week going by without another video of a black male killed by Police. The aftermath of each shooting seems to play out the same with no charges or consequences for any involved. Can a narrative that reflects the broken system inspire and educate its audience?

Can this live up to the hype of the book and truly reflect the current social movement it features?

The Hate U Give is out in cinemas 22nd October!
It screens as part of the BFI London Film Festival 

Mansfield 66/67 – Review

Jayne Mansfield will always be remembered as one of Hollywood ultimate icons. The blonde, curvaceous bombshell burst onto the screen in a time of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. Despite the clear similarities to Monroe, her distinctive vocals, turbulent personal life, and continued wardrobe malfunctions made her a media sensation. Yet little is known about the women behind the drama and the camera lens.

In new documentary Mansfield 66/67,  the filmmakers aim to separate the fact from the rumours. Despite an interesting perspective, archive footage and interviews with those close to her, the film is a fractured mess that never really focuses on Mansfield as a person.

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Starting with the actress’s gruesome death, the film introduces Jayne Mansfield from her blonde hair, exaggerated figure and squeaky signature noise’s. The film charts her rise to fame, her multiple relationships to her fall from stardom and later connection with Anton Levey, (Head of the Church of Satan). With legend stating that she died from a curse placed on her last partner, what was her connection to the occult and Satanism?

Directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes. The directing pair have previously worked together on Dear Mon, Love Cher. Mansfield 66/67 was made to celebrate the stars life, on the 50th anniversary of her death. The filmmakers interviewed those closest to Mansfield including director John Waters and co-star Mamie Van Doren.

The film uses footage of Mansfield from her films as well as professional and personal photographs. With her looks and screen presence its clear why she became a star as the footage is iconic and the films subject is always amazing to behold. With multiply interviews the film begins to suss-out the hearsay from the real woman.

The talking heads offer different and intimate takes on Mansfield as a person and icon and they are drastically overused. They also never feel matched to each other. The topic changes rapidly within each section and never feels like a coherent narrative.

As the film progresses, sadly, it loses sight of what the subject is and, at times, strays from Mansfield completely. The film offers no real insight to her as a person and focuses solely on the more sensationalist elements of her life and death.

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The approach taken with this documentary is indeed unique. Told in titled sections, each part is intercut with dance pieces and performances that reflect the story being told. Men in suits and women with platinum blonde wigs, appear and disappear throughout the film. This is a unique take but as the style of the documentary is already fractured, these sections only add to the disorientation.

Despite a unique look at a fascinating subject matter, the documentary fails to uncover any deepr insight into the iconic Jayne Mansfield. Even with its striking footage and interviews Mansfield 66/67 is a flat watch.

Mansfield 66/67 is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

The Shape of Water – Review

Guillermo Del Toro is a visionary filmmaker. There is no denying that: He is one of the few filmmakers out there with a particular and pretty peculiar look on the world. His films are imbued with darkness and intrigued, coloured with murky cinematography and inventive fantasy. From The Devil’s Backbone to Crimson Peek, Guillermo Del Toro is an outstanding filmmaker who believes in the powers of monsters and all that they gift to cinema. He is also bereft of an Academy Award; one that he has earned many times over.

Now he is back with romantic drama The Shape of Water, which has been making waves since it premiered at film festivals last year. Could the film finally bag him that coveted Best Director Oscar?

Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, The Shape of Water revolves around Elisa, a janitor who works in a scientific lab , cleaning up after shady and secretive experiments. Elisa is mute and speaks with hand signals, translated thorough her friends Zelda and Giles. Elisa lives a simple life above a cinema, working to a routine almost rigidly. This all changes when a sea creature is transported to the facility alongside a disgruntled and vicious Colonel. When Elisa connects with the creature, on a personal and passionate level, it becomes her mission to save him. But she’s going to need a lot of help…

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Waves of praise have been crashing onto this movie since its premiere at Toronto Film Festival. It is no wonder;  this is a magical marvel and an enthralling enchantment that is impeccably weaved. The detailed lusciousness of Del Toro’s work here is a spectacle that must be witnessed on the big screen. It oozes with magic and breathes new life into the classic culture of monster movies. Sure, at times the film follows formulaic structures and its plot is mostly predictable but the flourishes that Del Toro adds make it feel original and grand. From the hue of mystical green, making the film shimmer with a watery aesthetic constantly, to the grand set pieces that house this intimate and daring story, there is a Del Toro touch to it all. It’s a great feat, a tale of love nestled in this peculiar horror sci-fiction.

Sally Hawkins is impeccable here. We are truly blessed with Hawkins in our lives. Without dialogue, Hawkins conveys so much richness of Elisa’s plucky and rambunctious nature that is spirited throughout the film. The Academy Award nominated actress is terrific, with intricate levels of emotion and simply engaging from the moment you see her wake into her daily routine. Elisa is an enriching character who is undeterred from what her heart wants. Brave, sexually confident, and brazen in her apparent meekness, she is an undeniably fierce heroine.

Hawkins is flanked by a monstrous Michael Shannon, the endearing Octavia Spencer, the scene-stealing Michael Stuhlbarg, and the fantastic Richard Jenkins who lend their support to Elisa’s plight.  Of course, here screen partner here, the equally worldess Doug Jones, is brilliant. His Abe Sapian/Creature From the Black Lagoon costume, make-up and prosthetics, vividly bring to life this beguiling blue and curious creature. Jones is no stranger to monster portrayals and his work here is equally impressive: an innocent yet dangerous soul who finds a kindred spiritin Elisa.

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The Shape of Water is an unconventional yet timeless romantic romp here that courses through horror and action like a dew drop down a leaf. It’s delicate and dream-like; a fantastic piece deserving of the praise it was been drenched in.

The Shape of Water is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

I, Tonya – Review

You know when you see a true story that’s so bizarre that you almost can’t believe it? This is a blessing I have as someone with very little knowledge of history in any category, as it heightens many films to levels that I may not see them on if I had a single clue about it. There was no better example of this than I, Tonya.

I, Tonya is the story of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), a Portland girl forced to take up skating by her abusive mother (Allison Janney), and soon finds a passion and dedication for it. Despite her talent, she struggles to escape her white trash image, as well as dealing with her abusive husband (Sebastian Stan), the lasting effects of her mother’s cold approach to parenting, and a career shaking scandal orchestrated by her “bodyguard.”

As great as this film is, I wish it had come out in a different year; Margot Robbie was always a lock for a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars, Allison Janney was always a lock for Best Supporting Actress nomination, but this film deserves so much more. It deserves nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography.

Unfortunately, this was a very stacked year.

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In any other year, I bet we’d be seeing this all across the board, but in a year as brilliant as this, it didn’t stance a chance.  I, Tonya is an exhilarating biopic that takes a surprisingly respectful approach to someone who couldn’t gain it in real life, but still manages to be honest. There’s no need to sugar coat anything, Harding’s issues are all present but they’re all rooted in much deeper issues. From the way it’s shot to its quick editing, and the fluidity of the camera, it’s a vibrant film that never stops. It holds a lot of pride and a lot of shame, and whether you like scandals/gossip or not, the drama is tantalising and impossible not to eat up. I don’t know how accurate this film is. As far as I can see, it seems pretty fair – but this has to be one of the most jacked up and slightly hilarious true stories I’ve ever seen on film. Everything regarding the character of Shawn Eckhardt is as funny as it is disturbing, and if you don’t already know the story of the Nancy Kerrigan attack, it’s worth reading up on. It’s one of the biggest scandals in American sports’ history and this film gives it the gravity and impact that it deserves.

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Beyond just being a phenomenally put together film, the performances are outstanding; some great supporting performances – particularly from Paul Walter Hauser – but it really comes down to the three central actors. Allison Janney offers something we’ve never quite seen from her. We love her comedic performances and her bit parts in dramas, but here she embodies a totally cold and detached woman, and what sells this character is her absolute refusal to every believe that she’s wrong. This is what Janney does best; bringing such stubbornness and ignorance to her character that makes her down right despicable. We’ll all be pleased to see her pick up an Oscar next year.

Sebastian Stan is beyond words brilliant, another performance that we haven’t really seen from him before; he’s irritable, psychotic, and just a down right weasel. Stan takes you through all the possible reactions to this bizarre character in all of his ups and downs, and the fact that he’s not nominated for Best Supporting Actor is absolutely criminal.

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But of course, it all comes down to our leading lady, an actress who has finally found her perfect role. Margot Robbie is very talented, but her talent has been wasted in recent films like Focus and Suicide Squad, so for her to take on a real and powerful role is not only refreshing, but reassuring. Robbie embraces the standoffish and foul mouthed nature of Harding and joins it greatly with the graceful and mesmerising talent she possessed. It’s a sympathetic and magnificent performance, and while Frances McDormand is a lock for this year’s Best Actress, I would be far too happy to see an upset.

It has some minor issues; the CGI ice skating is a little bit distracting, and the film has a weird habit of switching from narration to fourth wall breaking for no good reason. Regardless of that, I, Tonya  is an exciting, tantalising, oddly hilarious and brutally honest. It’s only February, but this is already one of the best films of the year.

I, Tonya is out DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

The Festival – Brand New Trailer!

Most of us, in our lifetimes, will attend a festival. Covered in mud without being clean, drinking whatever and eating whatever, the whole experience is so

The Festival revolves Nick who has a bit of a breakdown at University and is taken by his friends to a festival where things go a bit madd.

From those behind The Inbetweeners and starring Joe Thomas, this could be a lot of British fun. What do you think?

The Festival is out 14th August