Category Archives: Unpopped Kernels

Unpopped Kernels: Loving Vincent (2017)

The work of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh is known the world over. Iconic paintings such as ‘The Starry Night’, ‘Bedroom in Arles,’ and ‘Sunflowers’ are images people from everywhere will find familiar. His work and style are considered foundations of modern art, yet what is known of the man behind the paintings?

Despite painting over eight hundred paintings in his own lifetime, he only ever sold one. He was plagued by mental illness, that reduced him to cutting off his own ear and living much of his life in poverty. Yet with these facts still not a lot is known about such an influential figure.

Loving Vincent, a new film by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, aims to take a more intimate look at the great artist. Set after his suicide, a young man tries to delivery his final letter and meets those who knew Vincent. As well as being a thoughtful and heartfelt tale the film is a wonder to behold visually, having filmed the actors then tasking artists to paint over the images, using Vincent’s signature style. The result is a not only a beautifully crafted film but a well told and moving account of a life ended too soon.

Set a year after Vincent’s suicide Armand Roulin, (Douglas Booth) is asked by his postman father, (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver Van Gogh’s final letter. As one of Vincent few friends and supporter of his memory he wants the letter to reach Vincent’s brother. Despite his initial reservations, Armand goes and begins a journey of discovery into who Vincent really was, as told by those around him before he died, including a local inn girl, (Eleanor Tomlinson) Vincent’s Doctor, (Jerome Flynn) the Doctor’s daughter, (Saoirse Ronan) and a local boatman, (Aidan Turner).

The film has been an incredible seven years in the making and features the work of one hundred and fifteen painters. The films sixty-five thousand frames are all oil on canvas works. Loving Vincent marks the first fully painted animation feature and the results are truly unique. The project first filmed the actors in sequence then allowed a team of artists to paint over them, using Van Gogh’s signature textured brush strokes alongside his more childlike interpretations for landscape and locations.

The narrative works as a journey of two kinds. One is watching Armand physically travel around France in search of the person to give Vincent’s letter to. The other is the emotional journey of learning about Vincent. It beautifully paints a picture of the different ways in which one man is viewed.

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Simple this may be but do not let the stories simplicity fool you into thinking this is a style over substance project. The story accounts approach gives the viewers different perspectives of Vincent before his death. The sweet artistic man, the tortured soul and even the villain. The film also stands as a horrific account of how mental illness has been viewed in the past.

Visually the film has surpassed itself on craftsmanship. The painters recreated Vincent’s different oil paint styles and the animation flawlessly fuses them together, bringing the characters to life. The film has created a beautiful contrast in visuals depending on which part of the story is being told. Perhaps the most recognisable of styles is seen in the bulk of the story and Armand’s interaction with other players.

Characterised by textured brush strokes and colourful bursts. During the travelling sequences of the film it adopts a more interpretive style seen in Van Gogh’s landscape and cityscape works. Finally, when we hear accounts of Vincent from those Armand meets, the film takes on a more photographic, black and white imagery. All aspects help tell the story and create mood, atmosphere and beauty.

The film has a mixed cast led by Douglas Booth as Armand. Not only have the cast provided the voice for the characters but have been visuals muses for the painters. The results are heartfelt and passionate performances from all. It is also good to see Douglas Booth in a centre role, as someone who feels to be capable of so much more than his past roles.

A poignant, engrossing and incredibly crafted film. See this film for the visuals alone but the filmmakers have also pieced together a beautiful story of one of the word’s most renowned artists.

Loving Vincent is available to watch on Netflix! 

The Best of…Tom Cruise

I know what you’re thinking: How can anyone sluice down over forty decades of over fifty films into a compact five movie list? True, the dazzling white teethed Cruise has been the epitome of Hollywood stardom for years and years, producing countless amounts of movies, and running in a hell of a lot of them.

I also know what you are thinking: Here we go, another list of Rain Man, Top Gun, and Days of Thunder. But that is where you are WRONG! Because in celebration of the release of yet another Mission: Impossible film, we’re going to try an attempt a list of different movies that may not initially spring to mind when you think of Cruise.

But then again…if you are film lover, this may be the movies you spring to anyway…

Collateral (2004)

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White-haired and stoic, Tom Cruise took the role of Vincent, a hired hitman who uses a taxi driver (Jamie Foxx) to cart him around, committing his killings. Cruise had rarely been a villain in films (more on that later) and his turn as the brutal, and coldly cool killer that has no qualms bringing in an innocent driver into the fold. It’s a chilling performance set against the seedy backdrop of Los Angeles.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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One of Kubrick’s last films and such a brilliant drama film. The movie follows Dr Bill Harford as he embarks on an erotic and sexual night-long adventure after he finds out his wife is having an affair. Pairing Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise together, the film is an intense and layered movie about humans and their relations to love and sex. The performances are intricate against a beautiful backdrop and an alluring story. It is definitely one of the best films that Cruise has ever done.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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While it may be a joke that Cruise has become Hollywood’s running man lately, there is something genuinely enjoyable about his work in Edge of Tomorrow. Why? Because his character sucks. Not in a “it’s a bad character,” but in the sense that he’s a character who has no idea what he is doing. Playing public relations officer in a war against aliens, trapped in a time-loop dying over and over again, Cruise’s performance is about having to survive and figure out why he is caught up in this. All with the help of the ultimate heroine…Emily Blunt.

Magnolia (1999)

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Paul Thomas Anderson is one of our greatest filmmakers. He is able to move audiences with intense art and craft some impossibly brilliant movies. From Boogie Nights to Phantom Thread, his work are masterpieces and any actor who happens to be a part of them. Earning Cruise an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Cruise played a misogynistic public speaker tackling his issues with his estranged father. In a nuanced performance, Cruise reminded us of what a spectacular character actor he could be.

Interview with a Vampire (1994)

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On a personal note, this is my ultimate favourite Tom Cruise performance. Taking on Anne Rice’s infamous and dark vampire Lestat, Cruise transformed himself to a blood addicted animal all with the camp air of 1791. In our cinematic world where the actor has turned into a one note action-star playing pretty much the same character, it’s intriguing to see him play the beguiling vampire that attracts people into his murderous frenzy.


Mission: Impossible – Fallout is out in cinemas today! 

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! 

Looking Back…Weekend (2011)

To celebrate the release of Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete, we’re looking at his seminal piece, Weekend.

Have you ever had one of those one night stands? Yes, one night stands. Don’t worry, we are all adults here. A lot of us can put our hands up and say “I’ve slept with a stranger for one night for sexual pleasure because I can.” As long as it is safe and consensual, there is no qualm. From time to time, most of us would have picked up a stranger on a night out, spent a night fucking then dissolved into an awkward morning after never to see them again. But have you ever had one of those one night stands? That is just a little bit more is going on despite it being fleeting.

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Well, that is what 2011’s Weekend centres on. Except its beautiful, outstanding and extremely realistic.

It’s Friday night in Nottingham and Russell leaves his friends party early. On the way home from work, he decides that the night isn’t officially over and heads to the local bar for some drinking, dancing and drugs. To save him from a wanton admirer, he meets Glen. The pair share a passionate night together and a morning after. However, as their affections start to develop, Russell finds out that Glen is leaving to move to America. But the pair soon embark on a loving, caring and strong relationship for the weekend.

This is one of those movies where the dynamics and chemistry between the pair are vital. Luckily, this film has bouts of it. The two leads, Tom Cullen and Chris New wrap their talents around the incredible script by director Andrew Haigh. Portraying two very different people, the pragmatic and the opinionated, Glen and Russell are so intriguing and highly perceptive of their situation. But they aren’t afraid to oppose one another, argue and fall for one another over such a short amount of time. Oozing with a beautiful script and improvision, Cullen and New are entirely fantastic together. The whole relationship, while running out of time, is so delightful and entrancing to watch, with two leads as likeable as they come despite their many faults (you know, humans.)

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Haigh has created an iconic movie that is so real. There isn’t a stereotype here or a trope,  you are just watching two people actually fall for one another. With an eye for the beautiful set up, Haigh presents an intelligent movie that explores momentary lust, long lasting love and just exactly how a couple of days can mean something to someone. Much of the drama is confined to the relationship and how the pair get to know one another. Weekend is enjoyable and incredible watch that smartly overseas the tentative seas of dating.

Lean on Pete is out in cinemas now! 

Unpopped Kernel: The Villainess (2017)

by Ren Zelen

Like so many recent Korean action flicks, Byung-gil Jung’s The Villainess starts off with a humdinger of an action sequence. One is barely settled in one’s seat before being immediately thrust into the midst of a violent melee with arterial blood spraying in all directions.

The film’s intricately choreographed opening sequence offers nearly 10 minutes of nonstop carnage from a subjective POV, as in a video game, with the audience taking the perspective of the mysterious assailant – shooting, kicking and stabbing their way through a corridor of bloodthirsty gangsters, ‘OldBoy’ style.

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Having finally hacked their way to the room at the other end, the panting antagonist is now faced with the kingpin and his cronies, gearing up for another onslaught. When the intruder is thrust headlong into a mirror by one of the gang, we finally see that shockingly, it is a young girl – a black-leather-clad-killing-machine, certainly, but also a mere slip of a thing. This revelation finally explains the look of comic incomprehension on the faces of some of the victims that lie bleeding in her wake.

Ok-bin Kim plays Sook-hee, a girl trained to be a deadly assassin since childhood – this opening bloodbath is her revenge on the thugs who murdered someone she loved. During this change of perspective to the objective, the camera work really begins to get crazy (at one point it seems like the camera is on a swing) setting the tone for the rest of the insanely inventive action sequences that The Villainess inflicts upon us.

Barely escaping alive from the murderous mayhem, Sook-hee is nabbed by South Korea’s Intelligence Agency who recruits her as a sleeper agent. She accepts the chance to start a new life with a promise from her handler, Chief Kwon (Seo-hyeong Kim), of complete freedom after ten years of service.

Western audiences will see analogies with Hanna (2011), Kill Bill (2003) and the French film La Femme Nikita (1990) as like that female assassin, Sook-hee can gain her freedom only by killing government targets.

Unlike Nikita however, Sook-hee is pregnant with her dead husband’s baby. He (Ha-kyun Shin) was killed on their honeymoon, but the Agency allows Sook-hee to have her baby and raise her daughter to toddlerhood during her training, giving them a means to exert extra incentive on their operative.

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After her training is complete, Sook-hee goes out into the world taking on a new identity as Chae Yeon-soo, a 27-year-old theatre actress and single mother. Hyun-soo, (Jun Sung) an angel-faced charmer in the apartment next door, takes a romantic interest in her. There is certainly a mutual attraction, but, for someone whose previous existence has revolved around being an efficient killer, slipping seamlessly into a normal life is not an easy transition for Sook-hee.

What complicates matters is that her new beau has actually been primed and planted by the Agency to keep tabs on her, and soon there are also indications that her erstwhile beloved spouse may not be entirely dead.

Ok-bin Kim gives a marvellously committed performance as Sook-hee, expressing a subtle eroticism and, despite her femininity, striking features and petite frame, exuding a fierce energy in her combat scenes.

Stunt coordinator Kwon Gui-duck and cinematographer Park Jung-hun present some outstanding vehicle chase scenes. Kwon stages an astonishing sword fight on speeding motorbikes at night in a tunnel, and a jaw-dropping climactic pursuit that starts with an alley fight, continues in a car accident, builds to car chase choreography and acrobatics as good as anything in Baby Driver and ends on top of a speeding bus.

It’s impossible to tell where the live action ends and the crazy drone cameras and CGI trickery begins.  Kim’s action sequences come across in unbelievably long-takes, but she is so fierce in the lead role that she needs little help to hold our attention.

The fun is in the details, as when sniper Sook-hee picks off the obstacles around her target so that they crumple and give her a cleaner shot. Or when moments before her wedding ceremony, Sook-hee, in her wedding dress, is called upon to enter the venue’s toilet, fish out a sniper rifle and start shooting – and when she shoots someone’s sunglasses off from half a mile away, she gets the shock of her life.

Western audiences will see references to several Western films (although Byung-gil Jung denies any influences) while seasoned Asian film fans will recognise Nikkatsu’s ’70s female exploitation films and Hong Kong’s long history of martial arts heroines, (Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Shu Qi, Maggie Q).

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Nonetheless, The Villainess succeeds in being hugely exciting, offering delirious action choreography, breakneck pacing and even a dramatic, (if over-fussy) narrative thread. What is new about The Villainess is that it marries its revenge scenario to a melodrama of maternal suffering. She is a lover, a mother, a betrayed woman and an angel of vengeance, allowing Sook-hee to be vulnerable, tragic and ruthless.

In the West, critics have generally admired the other current, female-led, action flick, Atomic Blonde. I too enjoyed Charlize Theron’s frosty secret agent being sent into a gritty 80s Berlin to retrieve information devastating to Western intelligence. Atomic Blonde is a triumph of style thanks to the outrageously beautiful, steely Theron, but she offered us a different kind of female protagonist – a cold, focussed, female survivor, with a hollowness at heart.

The Villainess instead resembles Atomic Blonde director David Leitch’s other creation, John Wick. That film worked partly because Keanu Reeves’s Wick was allowed to show his heartbreak and mourning as he pursued his vengeance. The Villainess has a similar emotional core.

The problem with The Villainess is a muddy narrative – there are plot machinations, layers of betrayal and a jumbled chronology containing some disorienting flashbacks which all contribute to a bit of a muddle. However, the lack of a clear and coherent narrative is nearly offset by a staggering performance by Ok-bin Kim in a film which contains the kind of grim melodrama, cartoonish violence, and mayhem and destruction that Asian cinema revels in, and that makes most viewers, gasp, laugh and weep, all at the same time.

The Villainess is available on Netflix now! 

Unpopped Kernels: The Way Way Back (2013)

Due to Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney winning Academy Awards last night for their respective Supporting Roles, we’re celebrating their roles in The Way, Way Back!

We’ve all been there. We all know the story. Its happened to me, you and everyone around you. You’d think that maybe we’d be board of it by now but then a gem such as The Way Way Back reminds you why the coming of age genre will never fade into obscurity. The story of the end to adolescence is eternal, introducing us to a character finding his way in the world.

Image result for the way way back allison janneyIn this case, it is fourteen year old Duncan (Liam James), our uncertain and isolated lead. Duncan travels to a beach town for the summer along with his mother Pam, (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent, (Steve Carell) and his spoilt daughter Steph. Trent is almost emotionally abusing towards Duncan, though his mother can’t see. They travel to Cape Cod, supposedly an ideal summer destination. For Duncan, this isn’t the case and he is alone; distanced from his mother. For Duncan, it is a nightmare. With no one to communicate with, Duncan finds a pink girls bike in the shed and sets out to explore the town. He makes friends with Owen, (Sam Rockwell) the manager of a local water park where he begins working. It’s here that Duncan feels at home and with the help of Owen and his band of misfit staff he begins to find comfort from home and find himself.

The directorial debut of writing partners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The pair had previously collaborated on the screenplay for, The Decendants, which won them The Academy Award. Here the pair write and direct a stellar cast that includes acting pro’s such as Collette as well as its young lead, James. The pair have a knack for telling stories that centre on people’s dynamics. Although they have written a great story that deals with universal themes, its the characters that sell the story and indeed the film. They all bring something to the story and sparkle as a whole.

James is great as Duncan, the troubled and un-confident teenager. As the story progresses, we see Duncan’s confidence grow and thus, James grows with him. He breaks down but picks himself back up and knows that he has friends that will help him.

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He has a blossoming friendship with Sophia (Anna Sophia Robb) despite the fact that she looks like another in-crowder. Bikini clad with long blond hair she seems so far away from Duncan’s world. But the more we look, her silences tells us there is more to her than meets the eye. She is fighting her own battles and becomes intrigued by the quiet boy next door.

The adults are great too. Allison Janney plays Betty; Trent’s boozy, forthright neighbour and Susanna’s mother. She provides not only brilliant comic relief but a strong voice of reason despite the glass constancy in her hand.

Carrell’s Trent is truly despicable, (without a minion in sight). A character that can switch from charm to malice in the blink of an eye. The films opening, as he asks a hunched Duncan to rate himself before rating him a three, proves his manipualtive horrid behaivour. His character offers a life of partying and romance for Duncans mother Pam but only insults and humiliation for Duncan. Trent stands as a testament to Carell’s credentials as a serious actor as well as a great comedy performer.

Collette is wonderful as Pam who is torn between her own happiness and the happiness of her child. She wants Duncan and Trent to get along and become a family. not seeing Trent’s cold treatment of him.

From this epic cast, one performance stands out -Sam Rockwell. As laid-back, funnyman Owen, the manager of the local water park, Rockwell is on fire. His comic timing is impeccable and he delivers his one-liners with wit and flare. This stroll into comic territory shows the actors versatility as a performer. Compared to his creepy, sadistic portrayal in, The Green MileRockwell is bearly recognisable here as Duncan’s friend and hero. The film highlights that Rockwell, although playing a secondary character, has leading man charisma which hasn’t been utilised in larger roles.

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But why is the coming of age/rites of passage genre still such a thrill if we’ve seen it all before? Its an eternal tale that will always, in one one or another be relatable. The journey from innocence to experience is something that we all face and knowing that makes our own tales that much more precious. There are a lot of great coming of age tales out there and now we have one more.

The Way Way Back is a worthy edition to the bunch with a heartfelt story and lovable characters that you will route for with every viewing.

You can rent The Way, Way Back on Amazon!