Film Review: Vacation

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 19 Aug 2015

Watching Vacation, a remake of the first in the National Lampoons Vacation series, feels like watching an inexperienced comedian spitballing new material without any real idea where it’s going: every now and then, there’ll be a hit, but more often than not there are misses. He or she will often resort to crassness for lack of any stronger material – might even make meta-gags about the show itself. Show the rest of this post…

In other words, Vacation is a film without much holding it together. It’s earnest, and that’s to the credit of first-time directors (and co-screenwriters) John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who co-wrote Horrible Bosses), but it’s also scattershot and, in its lowest ebbs, slightly cringeworthy. It’s a film that begs you to laugh at it, and sometimes you might – even if, as with a surprisingly funny Chris Hemsworth cameo, you feel a little embarrassed to have laughed at all.

Ed Helms stars as Rusty Griswold (playing the grown-up version of Antony Michael Hall’s character from the original film), who drags his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons James and Kevin (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) across America on a road trip to Walley World, which was the plot of the Chevy Chase-starring original (Chase, incidentally, reprises that role briefly here).

The approach to humour in Vacation is pretty varied: Daley and Goldstein throw out everything they can, hoping that some of it sticks. Some of it does. There’s an amusing recurring gag about how James is bullied by his younger brother, and another about the weird Albanian-made car Rusty has rented for the drive. “There’s a Swastika button on there,” says Debbie, looking at the new car’s elaborate key fob. “We won’t use that,” says Rusty. There are also a couple of well played individual scenes, including a meeting of police officers from four states at the Four Corners Monument, a bizarre little scene in which James’ father pretends not to know him in order to act as his wingman, and a brief look at Clark Griswold’s cleaning skills.

But sadly there are at least as many bad jokes as there are good ones. Some of the more crass humour (an extended vomiting scene; James misunderstanding the meaning of ‘rim job’) is pretty laugh-free, and every time there’s a dud joke, the film has to work to rebuild its audience good will. There are set pieces throughout that feel undercooked, as though they could’ve been much better with more refined writing. It’s not that the performances are bad – the film just fails to blend them into something cohesive or consistent. It’s also quite happy to forget about most of its characterisation until right at the end, which I suppose is par for the course for a lot of comedy films, but it does feel a little cynical.

2/5

This road trip isn’t as bad as you might have heard, but it’s not a journey I can honestly recommend taking.

Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.Fan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 12 Aug 2015

Guy Ritchie has always made films about men – usually charismatic men who are very good at what they do – and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., his adaptation of the TV series of the same name, is nothing new in that respect. But it is nevertheless one of his best films, because it fits his style better than most. Show the rest of this post…

The men in question are Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), secret agents for the US and Russia respectively, who are forced to team up in order to uncover a nuclear plot. They are joined by Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), whose father may or may not be helping build a bomb for some bad people.

Although Gaby plays a fairly crucial role in the narrative (and is nicely played by Vikander), the film is primarily about the suave, comedy-inflected hijinks of Solo and Kuryakin, and it has to be said that Ritchie and his co-writer Lionel Wigram have penned a script which is frequently pretty funny. It helps that the two leads, in particular Cavill, give confident performances that play to their strengths. Cavill – in a role originally earmarked for George Clooney – shows heretofore unseen comic talents, delivering a few brilliantly droll one liners, while Hammer does well opposite him in a slightly less glamorous, slightly more straight role.

Ritchie and his set/costume designers conjure up a believably comic-book take on the 1960s – the film is an adrenaline shot of colour and whimsy, not attempting to portray an entirely ‘real’ world. In much the same way that he did with Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie chooses a world that his style can inflect, but wisely chooses to keep his more flamboyant directorial urges to a minimum, making this a much more enjoyable experience than, say, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, in which he let his attempts at flair inhibit the fun.

First and foremost this is a fun ride. The plot, if one actually looks at it, isn’t as complex as the film would like us to believe, but that doesn’t matter because the interplay between the characters is winning, and some of the set pieces – in particular an escape involving a speedboat and a truck – are genuinely memorable. There are instances in the first act where the script isn’t quite so slick, but as the characters settle down, these are mostly ironed out. There’s good support, too, from Elizabeth Debicki as chief villain Victoria Vinciguerra and a cameoing Hugh Grant, who gets some terrific lines late on.

It’s not all entirely smooth sailing – one action set piece involving a three-way chase across an island is pretty dull – but this a gutsy and broadly successful attempt at establishing, let’s face it, a new franchise. It’s been compared to the Bond films, inevitably, and the comparisons certainly ring true (just don’t expect any Daniel Craig-era brooding), but this is a far funnier film than Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was more farcical but occupied broadly similar territory.

The Man Fr om U.N.C.L.E. is pulpy and fluffy, but knows it is, and never sacrifices its joie de vivre. I’d like to see this cast together again – it’d probably be a lot of fun.

4/5

Film Review: Pixels

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 11 Aug 2015

As someone to whom the idea of giant 80s video game characters attacking Earth actually sounded quite fun, I thought that if Pixels was going to work for anybody, it might work for me. But this action comedy from Christopher Columbus is a soulless experience. Show the rest of this post…

Characters talk repeatedly about the “patterns” one has to learn in order to beat old arcade games, and this film feels rigidly bound to a pattern of its own: that of the only-just-passable Hollywood comedy.

Adam Sandler, playing the same slightly-put-upon-and-schlubby-but-ultimately-quite-charming-and-attractive-to-the-ladies role he’s got down pat, stars as Sam Brenner, whose only real skill is that he was extremely good at arcade games when he was young. This is detailed in an introduction in which we see him coming second in a national video game tournament to ‘the Fireblaster’, an obnoxious kid who is later played, in grown-up version, by Peter Dinklage. A time capsule, including footage of the tournament, is then fired off into space and, unbeknownst to humanity, intercepted by a race of aliens who interpret it as a declaration of war. The aliens, who obviously possess extremely advanced tech, for some reason then decide to invade Earth by challenging its inhabitants to take part in life-size recreations of video games.

If that all sounds silly and incomprehensible, that’s because it is. But hey, this is a comedy – silly and incomprehensible shouldn’t really matter. Except Pixels is so average for most of its runtime that we’re left to mull over how little sense it makes, particularly when it deigns to try to explain what’s going on. Michelle Monaghan co-stars as Lieutenant Violet van Patten, whose division of the military develops weapons to fight the invading aliens, which Sam and his old buddy Ludlow, a borderline-psychotic conspiracy theorist played with scene-stealing vim by Josh Gad, will use in the action scenes. Monaghan is saddled with the must-fall-for-Adam-Sandler role, and she does what she can, but it’s a thankless and underwritten part.

The film’s action sequences, to give credit where credit is due, are efficiently done. There’s nothing overly memorable or thrilling, but there are a couple of nice touches, and the film does have an affection for the arcade characters it summons up, including an adorable Q*bert who becomes a sort-of sidekick. There’s also a nice blocky pixel effect when things touched by the invaders explode and fall apart. Indeed, the special effects overall are competently done, although the 3D is largely pointless.

There are one or two funny jokes in here but they mostly serve to remind us (as does a brief cameo from Dan Akroyd) that there are funnier films we could be watching. Josh Gad at least tries to inject some fight into proceedings, shrieking until the audience concedes a smile. Sandler isn’t awful as Sam, but it’s another of his sleepwalking roles: he doesn’t look like he’s really trying to do anything except finish the film. I also wan ted more from Peter Dinklage, who tries hard but is saddled with pretty average material. The less said about Kevin James as the President of the United States the better. Game over.

2/5

The London List Abroad: The Hoxton hotel group begin their international expansion with a suave hotel in trendy AmsterdamThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 10 Aug 2015

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Their first international location ahead of expansions into New York and Paris in 2016, The Hoxton hotel group have opened doors on the trendy canals of Amsterdam. Transforming five 17th century canal houses for the residence, The Hoxton Amsterdam boasts 111 rooms over five floors, with mid-century inspired-interiors and furniture throughout. Show the rest of this post…

Housing Soho House’s new Lotti restaurant, plus a coffee shop, bar, conservatory and event spaces, The Hoxton will fit right in to a city undergoing a real re-invigoration.

The Hoxton Amsterdam, Herengracht 255, 1016BJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
www.thehoxton.com/holland/amsterdam

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Film Review: Fantastic Four

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 6 Aug 2015

Although we live in a comic book movie nirvana, the increased number of films being made will inevitably mean we see more duds along the way. Fans of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics must be thinking ‘why us?’ Show the rest of this post…

Tim Story’s 2005 and 2007 adaptations were not well received critically, and hardly set the box office alight. This reboot, directed by Chronicle’s Josh Trank, attempts to approach the franchise from a completely different angle: darker, smarter, more believable. And yet, ironically enough, it suffers from a lot of the same issues.

Much like the titular superhero team – which includes a rock man, a stretchy man, an invisible woman and a human fireball – this film feels like an amalgam of disparate ideas. The great shame is that Trank has assembled a winning cast: Mr Fantastic, Johnny Storm, Invisible Woman and The Thing are played respectively by Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell, and the initial signs are relatively good.

Trank spends time (far too much time, in hindsight) setting up his characters and their relationships, and does it relatively well, but it’s amazing how quickly the good will evaporates when the film remembers it should probably have a plot. Amid some turgid technobabble and boring ‘doing science’ montages, our young protagonists (alongside Victor von Doom, played by Toby Kebbell) come together to build an inter-dimensional transportation device which, in classic fashion, they use themselves in order to prevent military types from sailing in and stealing their scientific thunder.

The mysterious planet they end up on gives them all frightening and powerful abilities, except Victor, who is left behind and presumed dead, as the others escape. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that he makes another appearance further down the line as primary franchise villain Doom. The aftermath of this science experiment is one of the film’s strongest sequences: there’s a genuine sense of horror as the four wake up, each unable to understand what has happened to them, terrified by their new bodies.

But then, in a drop in quality so pronounced it’s almost impressive, the film throws it all away. The action must be ramped up, of course, but you can almost feel director Trank losing interest as he finally has to stop prevaricating and get on with the spectacle. As Doom returns and the others are forced to put a stop to his throwaway ‘I want to end the world’ plan, Trank allows his characters to vanish. The plot is so threadbare that the only chance we have of investing in the finale is for the characters to remain prominent, but all we get are a couple of bafflingly edited and unimaginative action sequences. The film doesn’t revel in the fun of these characters – not for a minute – and we’re just left watching a bland, dreary scuffle in the desert. It doesn’t help that the visual design on Johnny Storm and The Thing is adequate at best, while Doom just looks awful (though he does at least get a cool intro sequence earlier on).

In short, the film feels like a $120m rush job, made by people who, for whatever reason, have no faith in the material. This is a superhero film: you simply can’t make something purporting to be this big without spectacle or enjoyment. The 2005 film was flawed in many ways, but at least it had fun with its characters. I can understand a director wanting to get to the heart of the protagonists and focusing less on the action, but although the actors are good, these are performances rather than characters. Where is the drama in their interactions? The Thing’s chilling fate – always one of the strongest elements of the Fantastic Four – is sidelined to a frankly unforgivable degree.

It’s a real shame that a likable ensemble has been squandered in this reboot. It feels like these four leads could’ve been fantastic, but  in reality they’re a pretty unremarkable bunch. If this film bombs at the box office, we may never get to see a sequel, which would at least have provided a chance to get it right.

2/5

Film Review: The Diary of a Teenage GirlFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 5 Aug 2015

Here is a film unafraid to portray a teenage girl as sexually curious, even voracious; as someone fascinated and, in her own way, liberated by sex. In other words, here is a film prepared to shoulder its way into the mainstream coming-of-age pantheon of movies about teenage boys and say ‘hey, what about us girls? We have to grow up too, you know.’ Show the rest of this post…

Marielle Heller’s debut feature as a director is a triumphant tale of sexual discovery, yes, but also a delicate depiction of the transition from youth to adulthood, from innocence to experience. The Diary of a Teenage Girl – which tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley), who engages in an affair with her mum’s 35-year-old boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) – reminded me in some ways of Abdellatif Kechiche’s terrific Blue is the Warmest Colour, and I mean that as a huge compliment. That film was driven by an outstanding performance from Adele Exarchopoulos as a young woman transitioning into adulthood, and this film boasts a bewitching, powerfully rich turn from British actress Bel Powley (playing drastically below her age) as a teenager discovering sex, powerful emotions and art for the first time.

The success of Heller’s film is that it allows its subject matter to be both deadly serious and playfully funny. It smartly seeds the character traits we see in its protagonists, but we are never encouraged to think that single events or signifiers have solely defined these characters. Minnie’s burgeoning sexual identity, although it is initially drawn out in a corrupted sort of way by the much older Monroe, is portrayed as life-affirming, because Minnie is a smart young woman determined to understand just what on Earth this ‘growing up’ business is all about. She records her feelings out loud in audio logs (the diary of the title), and expresses herself by drawing her fantasies and inner thoughts as cartoons and sketches, some of which come to life in the form of brief animations that segue into and out of the live action. The film portrays the journey of an adolescent mind through Powley’s performance and through its visuals, which is a smart move that gives the film (alongside its well-realised 70s setting) an identity of its own.

At no point does the film forget that what is happening between Minnie and Monroe is fundamentally wrong, but nor does it make any excuses for it. In fact the un-histrionic way Heller deals with this relationship is one of the film’s strengths. It’s also helped by the fact that Bel Powley is so good at portraying on the one hand a mature, smart girl who is keen to explore her sexuality, but on the other an indisputably young and emotionally undeveloped person who, despite her precociousness, is simply not fully ready to experience the things headed her way. Alexander Skarsgård has a tough job on his hands here playing a character who is simultaneously charming and pitiable, a cowboy and a creep. Their relationship is convincing, eerily so at times, but their emotional engagement, particularly in the lovemaking scenes, always carries a profound sense of the out of place, often of the genuinely harrowing. It is to both actors’ credit that they convince as a couple that should never be, and which we as an audience are always torn between wanting to watch and wanting to look away from.

There’s also an excellent supporting cast to enjoy, including Kristen Wiig as Minnie’s mother, who has her own issues behind the scenes, Abigail Wait as Minnie’s adorable sister Gretel, and, in a short cameo, Christopher Meloni as their mother’s ex. Heller allows these characters to breathe just enough that they play important roles but do not intrude on what is fundamentally Minnie’s story, while Nate Heller’s soundtrack coats the whole thing in nostalgia and charm.

If one wanted to be picky, it could be argued that there are times when the script states things a little too obviously, with a whiff of cliché, but it would more apt to champion what is good about the script, which is pretty much everything else. Although some of the film’s content dictates that much of its target audience may not immediately be able to see it (it is rated 18  in the UK), The Diary of a Teenage Girl is surely destined to become a tentpole coming-of-age movie and, I imagine, a significant vehicle for the careers of everyone involved.

4/5

Photographer Julien Balmer captures the colour and culture en route to the ancient Morrocan city of Fès

Posted in Art, Photography, Travel
By Sam Bathe on 31 Jul 2015

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Returning to Morocco for a week-long home swap, photographer Julien Balmer took a road trip to the ancient city of Fès, in the north of the country. A labyrinth of winding paths, left without a map or a plan, shooting the magnificent landscapes and local culture en route. Show the rest of this post…

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Check out more of Julien’s work on his site: www.visualspectrum.ch

Alex Karprovsky takes method acting to the extreme in Michael Tyburski’s funny short ‘Actor Seeks Role’

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 30 Jul 2015

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An aspiring New York City method actor, Paul (Alex Karprovsky) takes on a part-time gig, performing the symptoms of various illnesses for the student doctors at a local school. Though he’s overlooked for the stage and screen, instead Paul attracts the eye of the medical instructure, who himself has a flair for the theatric. Another interesting side-project for Girls‘ actor Karprovsky, Michael Tyburski’s Actor Seeks Role is a smart and gently comic short with ambitions beyond its micro-scale budget.

Herschel Supply Co. go sleek and minimal with their Fall 2015 Studio Collection

Posted in Products, Style
By Sam Bathe on 29 Jul 2015

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Already the go-to urban duffle bag, Herschel Supply Co.’s Fall 2015 Studio Collection takes their bags and accessories down a minimal, ultra stylish route. In monotone – black, white or army surplus – plus a camo colourway, the collection includes a tote, travel bag, backpack, hippack, pouch and duffle. Show the rest of this post…

All products are water-resistant, with numerous hidden pockets and compartments, and are available in-store and online from the Herschel online store: www.shop.herschelsupply.com/collections/studio-fall-2015

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Delorean break a relationship apart in the trippy, animated video for new summer single ‘Crystal’

Posted in Music, Music Videos
By Sam Bathe on 28 Jul 2015

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Ahead of a new album in 2016, Delorean have released a psychedelic video for summer one-off single, Crystal. Directed by Joan Gausch, the video is an abstract look at the different stages in a relationship. Using a photogrammetry technique to create the models and textures, from more than 2500 still pictures, Gausch has created a mesmeric sequence to accompany the pulsing electronic track.

FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

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