Tag Archives: Featured

Teen Spirit – Fragments Festival Review

By Sandra Collingham

It is a tale as old as time. A young pop starlet dreams of fame and fortune with their singing and are soon thrust into the terrifying world. We’ve seen it over and over again in movies such as the recent Oscar winner A Star Is Born, and before that the 1976 A Star Is Born, and before that Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born, and finally the 1934 movie A Star Is Born.

Anyway, regardless, pop stardom and ingénue fame have sparked many outings on the big screen. Teen Spirit is a film hoping to twist the narrative into a more contemporary feel with Elle Fanning leading the way.

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Directed by Max Minghella (best known for his acting roles in movies such as Horns and 10 Years,) the film revolves around Violet, a shy Polish born British teenager who dreams of life beyond her small town. Wishing to pursue her passion of singing, relegated to wailing in pubs, Violet enters a singing contest with the help of an unlikely mentor. Soon she is thrust into the competition and the bright lights of the pop-world.

Set to an outrageously catchy soundtrack that ranges from Ellie Goulding to Sigrid, Teen Spirit is a vivid and energetic film that captures the ferocity of a pop-singing and being a teenager in equal measure. Shot by cinematographer Autumn Durald, famed for crafting music videos such as Janelle Monae and Haim, Teen Spirit has a definite look and feel that embellishes colour and crafts this modern vivid feel to the film. It’s a stunning watch that matches the confidence of Minghella’s direction and the catchiness of whatever tune is blasting out. It is somewhat of an addictive watch.

Elle Fanning perhaps acts her hardest and brushes off any naysayers she has about her acting talent. Here she imbues Violet with a vibrancy, a hopefulness and also has pipes to match. Fanning also gifts Violet a complexity that may not have been there in the initial script and whilst Violet may seem like a character without too much writing, Fanning gives her personality which triumphs here.

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The biggest problem with Teen Spirit is that it is desperately clichéd, presenting us with a story that has been told over and over again with only the flare to set it apart from the rest. This may make the film a predictable watch as well as a very shallow one too. The script and subsequent film somewhat wastes the character by never delving deeper than it should’ve done which is a great shame.

That being said, whatever surface level it skims, it does so gleefully – with all the talent of Elle Fanning and all excitement of the titular Teen Spirit.


Fragments Festival plays 7th – 15th June! 

Late Night – Review

Comedy-drama films are a great little subsection that are struggling. In between movies juggernauts such as Avengers: Endgame and small independent movies, mid-level movies that are perfect family watches seem to be struggling.

Hopefully, latest venture Late Night can change the curve.

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Late Night revolves around Katherine Newbury, a legendary talk-show host and pioneer in her field, being the only woman in the profession. However, her ratings are low and the head of network is firing her. In order to turn this around, Newbury demands more women in her writing team to shake-up the status quo. In comes Molly Patel, a chemical plant expert with a penchant for writing comedy. This is much to the chagrin of the other male writers. As the tough Newbury battles down on Molly, as well as the bullying from her co-workers, can she survive this new position?

Directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Kaling herself, the film is a smart and ultimately hilarious movie about two women at two ends of their respective professionals, learning to work with one another. There is a lot of rapid-fire lines that truly make you laugh but there is absolute heart . It’s a very droll piece that gets to the soul of the characters.

These are played perfectly by Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. Thompson brings a brilliant charisma to Newbury whilst still balancing her cold aloofness as the talk show host learns to grow. As always, Thompson digs into the root of emotional turmoil for Newbury and fleshes her character out greatly. Kaling makes a good accompaniment, crafting her own path as the sweet but naïve Molly. Though you’d have to suspend true belief (as with all comedy films in this ilk) that her character could make a quick progression through her career, she is still an carefully written and performed character with all the charm of Kaling.

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Kaling and Thompson have loads of chemistry together which makes for an extremely watchable film. It’s sweet and tender, even if the movie may lag a little bit. Late Night particularly struggles when it tries to stick it’s highest emotional moment and has a seriously underdeveloped somewhat antagonist who is thrown away after he commits the worst act.

Still, Late Night is an endearing comedy that has all the right laughs. You’ll root for all the characters including it’s sweet romantic elements that aren’t necessary but still add a layer to the proceedings.

On a final point, it is great to stress how superb the outfits are here. Whilst this does lean more towards Emma Thompson’s outfits (they are literally gag-worthy), Mindy Kaling also has great   It is a phenomenal use to convey characters through their clothing.

OK, actually, one more final point – wouldn’t this make a lovely accompaniment to the highly underrated movie The Intern?



Late Night is in cinemas now! 

The Last Tree – Sundance Film Festival London Review

Writer-director Shola Amoo’s debut feature, A Moving Image, about the gentrification of Brixton, a neighbourhood of South West London predominantly occupied by Afro-Caribbean residents from the 1940s to the early 2010s, was a didactic and at times tedious work that straddled drama and documentary. It does not prepare you for his exceptional second feature, The Last Tree, in which Amoo redefines what we think of as a British film.

It tells the story of Femi (played as an eleven year old by Tai Golding and as a late teenager by Sam Adewunmi) who is reclaimed by his Nigerian birth mother (Gbemisola Ikumelo) and taken from rural Lincolnshire to inner city London. In his new home, where love isn’t demonstrated and his mother leaves him alone, Femi is expected to sweep the floor, keep his room tidy, feed himself and not watch television. In his new classroom, he is mocked for his name. Cut to several years later and he is sure of himself but drawn into unspecified criminal behaviour, which coincides with his disinterest with his exams. He is given a mobile phone by a criminal with the promise of an upgrade.

You might expect the story to be told in a social-realist way or else with an agenda. Not so. The stylised opening, set against golden wheat fields has Femi indulge in horseplay with white kids in an unproblematic manner. Each boy yells in sequence at the others whilst in a circle, the camera panning around them. In a second sequence, Femi breaks away from the group and yells alone. This prefigures the rupture to come.

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His middle-aged foster mother (Denise Black) doesn’t want to give him up. Femi does not want to leave. He is compelled to do so. The car journey to London in which the landscape changes from rural to urban, always out of focus, takes longer than you might ordinarily expect. Amoo does not obey the conventions of economical storytelling. He wants to give sequences a weight, as well as their own momentum. It is as if he wants you to forget about expectation, to break cinema’s shorthand of cause and effect and with it our understanding of Femi’s psyche, so that there is no clear cut way he will react. His destiny isn’t written by the things that happen to him.

The adjustment in the storytelling has the effect of challenging stereotypes. There are two sequences that exemplify this superbly.

First is a scene in which Femi is beaten up in the street and he lies off the curb in the road for the longest time, getting up slowly. In another movie, this would be the catalyst for a revenge attack, but the way Femi gets to his feet is considered. It is hard; Femi’s sense of hurt is conveyed. Yet the sequence stresses his endurance; he has taken the worst someone has thrown at him.

In a later sequence, in Lagos, Femi is in a front room and waits. In front of him is an ornamental elephant tusk. Behind him is a tall, ornate staircase. A maid asks him if he wants a drink. He refuses. She asks the question several different ways, but neither receives the acknowledgement nor gratification of receiving a request, as if he had rendered her purposeless. Femi then sits alone, waiting for the longest time before his mother reappears. Then he has cause to go into another room. Amoo makes the delay the point; what happens next is an anti-climax – one he has prepared us for.

With the un-naturalistic lighting and out-of-focus backgrounds (cinematography: Stil Williams) Amoo creates an atmosphere that is slightly dreamy. We are not entirely sure when the film is set – the mobile phone suggests the last decade. Femi is at odds with both his mother and his teacher (Nicholas Pinnock) but becomes protective of a girl in class who is mocked for her blue braids and called either ‘Blix’ (slang for a gun) or ‘blick’ (slang for smoking pot) – I’m not sure of the meaning; I may need that 2008 video by Dizzee Rascal to help me. Amoo isn’t interested is establishing a relationship between them, rather to show Femi’s changing state of mind.

The film does not pit two cultures – Nigerian and British – against one another. Femi questions his foster mother’s motives and receives an explanation that he sort of accepts. He isn’t defined by ‘street music’ either. Femi finds that he likes the synthesized sound of New Order, perhaps because he is culturally synthesized himself.

The Last Tree is a vividly alive film that pulls you away from a ‘reading’. It is not a film that anchors itself to a value system. Femi is no more defined by his Nigerian heritage than by his English upbringing. The film makes a really compelling case for making us rethink identity and for appreciating people in the here and now, not as individuals severed from an authentic, defining culture but as adaptable people who can, as Amoo does in a compelling manner, create something new. It also makes The Last Tree one of the most important British films of the year.


The Last Tree screens at PictureHouse Central, Piccadilly, Central London, on 1 and 2 June and is on general release in September 2019.

The Death of Dick Long – Sundance Film Festival London Review

Swiss Army Man is arguably one of the best (and misunderstood) movies of 2016. The black comedy titled from directors’ Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as Daniels) revolved around Paul Dano’s castaway character who finds a dead body (played by Daniel Radcliffe in what is, again, arguably his best performance) and uses it to get off the island.  The movie is a splice of magical realism that balanced the downright bizarre with an absolute emotional journey, Swiss Army Man was a tender and hilarious film that most need to see.

I’m saying this because the minute Scheinert’s name appeared on the screen for The Death of Dick Long, I knew it was going to be an absolute fucked-up ride with emotional beats throughout.

Part sick comedy, part mystery, and part family drama, The Death of Dick Long revolves around three friends, Zeke, Earl, and the titular Dick who are in a band together. After practise, they decide to kick their drinking up a notch and things get a little weird.  Starring Michael Abbott Jr, Virigina Newcomb, and Andre Hyland,

The Death of Dick Long is a ultimately about two dopey men who have fucked up massively and continue to do so as they try to cover their tracks. The pair are a naïve and bumbling duo who come across as teenagers stuck in men’s bodies. There’s a scene where the flippant Earl has to lie to Dick’s suffering wife. The scene is treated as though Earl is a child who avoids eye contact because he knows he has messed up and it’s great to watch Andre Hyland play with this adolescent filming. It’s even set at a school! Their absolute travesty in shirking responsibility and their crimes make for a compelling watch.

What pulls Dick Long out of the ham-fisted slapstick territory is Scheinert’s ability to flesh these characters out, namely Zeke. Played greatly by Michael Abbot Jr, Zeke’s journey here is a complex one and yet surprisingly a tragic one too. The film may be about that moment allude to in the title but it’s also about Zeke accepting that parts of himself are just…fucked up. As he tries to hide it from his family – getting into all sorts of hi-jinks along the way. Not the most likeable of heroes, but certainly one that you empathise with most, Abbott is terrific alongside Scheinert’s confident direction.

The Death of Dick Long is picturesque too which does wonders in juxtaposing the tone. As mentioned before, this could easily have become silly. Yet linger shots that allow the actors to open up, the back-streets of small town Alabama, and reflections across a quiet lack leave inedible impressions.

With shades of The Coen Brothers, The Death of Dick Long is a reverent film that subverts its own twist. By piecing together beautiful cinematography and incredible performances from Michael Abbott Jr, Newcomb, and Andre Hyland, Scheinert’s film burns with an almost poetic heart.

Those special “things got weird” nights have happened to the best of us and what Scheinert’s does here is humanize the weird and whilst Dick Long is a funny watch, it is also an impossibly tragic one too.


The Death of Dick Long is playing at Sundance Film Festival London 30th May to 2 June! 

Thunder Road – Review

If you’ve been around Twitter for just one iota, you’d have seen Jim Cummings tweets. Not that it is a bad thing – it’s actually really inspiring. As an independent filmmaker, armed with a loads of determination and a vision, Jim Cummings speaks passionately about picking up the camera, gathering whoever can help, and producing your own work without the influence of studios and Hollywood.

Because that’s exactly what he did with Thunder Road. His hard-work and talent certainly pays off in this outstanding film.

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Based on his award-winning short of the same name, Cumming’s stars, writes, and directs Thunder Road. The movie, based off of a Bruce Springsteen song revolves around Jim, a police officer who is going through the worst of times. After delivering a misguided eulogy at his mother’s funeral, and attacking a man whilst trying to arrest him, those around him start to worry about his mental state. It worsens when his ex-wife Crystal serves him with divorce papers and battles with him over custody of their young daughter. On the verge of a break-down, can Jim pull himself together for those around him and most importantly, himself?

Acting, directing, writing, producing, and basically having a hand in every department, Jim Cummings has put his heart into Thunder Road and the pay-off is electric. His biggest strength here is certainly his performance. Especially at the beginning of the film – the epitomes breakdown at the funeral is simply breath-taking as Jim fluidly changes demeanour from trying to keep himself together to feeling the full impact of grief. His need to keep himself calm actually pushes him to breaking point and that is wonderfully fleshed out by Cummings.

Thunder Road is also greatly shot – bringing the aching and sad beauty of the small town life to the big screen.

Whilst there is a lot to enjoy with Thunder Road, the story lacks a certain cohesion that makes powerful emotional moments land. There’s a death and reaction that has no set-up or conversation. One can read that this is part of the chaotic nature of the breakdown and how life gives no rhyme to throwing obstacles in your path but at times it just didn’t land as perfectly as it should.

Image result for Thunder RoadThe biggest problem with this is that there is a huge story-line that could’ve been explored better and that’s the custody battle. Framing Jim’s funeral breakdown as the reason to take his child away from him and into the arms of a careless mother is a spectacular storyline that has a lot of potential. It just isn’t explored that well here, which is somewhat frustrating.

That being said Thunder Road is a terrific exercise in putting all your might behind a project and seeing it come into great fruition. Jim Cummings is an adept director and performer. When film hits the right spots, it is a visceral and poignant movie that delves deep into the psyche of our leading character. Darkly comic but also highly emotive, Thunder Road is a must-see watch.


Thunder Road is out 31st May! 

Destroyer – Review

Nicole Kidman has had a long history of transforming in her roles. From her Academy Award winning performance in Hours saw her wear a crooked prosthetic nose to her scruffy look for The Paperboy,

Look at her gaunt and sunken face in the brittle Destroyer, it looks as though Kidman goes to great lengths for this gritty thriller.

Directed by Karyn Kusama, who also gave us phenomenal films such as  The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body, the film revolves around LAPD detective Erin Bell. When she was young, she was placed undercover with a gang of grungy bank thieves. However, the whole operation went haywire and now Erin suffers from the consequences. Alcoholic, gruff, and estranged from her daughter, when a murder arrives on her beat

Like a combination between True Detective and Point Break, Destroyer is a formidable piece of work that is anchored by Kidman’s gruelling performance. It really is the actress who keeps this piece moving and, in a similar way to Atomic Blonde, when she takes the punches, she truly takes the punches. She is affected by everything and Kidman makes us feel every bruise. There’s great support from Sebastian Stan and Tatiana Masalany but Bradley Whitford’s performance is the true scene-stealer here as a pompous and crooked lawyer.

Nicole Kidman in Destroyer

Toby Kebbell’s villainous Silas should stalk the whole film. His menace or craze should be haunting, just as Kidman’s Erin is stalked by the mere thought of him. But he is barely seen and underused (as per the norm in Kebbell’s portfolio.) With a ridiculous hairstyle reminiscent of a Charmed villain, It’s a shame because the film has to have Erin brood on a proper monster of a man but, instead, it never comes to fruition.

Karyn Kusama’s previous work The Invitation was an adept and different look at the horror/thriller genre but with Destroyer, it feels like a step back because there is a lack of originality. The story does twist in an unpredictable manner and is shot gorgeously but then falls back on usual clichés. For once it would be nice to see a film with a detective who isn’t gruff nor an alcoholic but still has the battle the seedy underground. The genre-tropes, much like the punches, are felt here.

It is the same with the music. Theodore Shapiro’s score is reminiscent of Johnny Greenwood’s for You Were Never Really Here which gives it this generic feel. Synth heavy night time scenes with some softer violins – it’s like composers have the archetype and it doesn’t feel original in Destroyer. That being said, the sound design is impeccable and every crunch of bone upon bone

Overall, the film is a good maudlin police drama where you are gripped enough to follow the story to the bitter end. There are some absolute gorgeous scenes here including a snow-scape that is one of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen. Kidman goes to massive depths in order to transform into this character and it shows here. Though the film may feel somewhat predictable in places, the emotional and physical heft that Kidman goes through is enough to keep you invested.


Destroyer is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!