Lovers Rock – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and Courttia Newland
Length: 70mins

The first of Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ series – an anthology of films released through the BBC at the tail end of last year – ‘Lovers Rock’ is probably the closest anyones going to get to a party for the next few months. Set in London during the early 1980’s, for the entire seventy minutes of the film’s runtime, you become completely engrossed in the celebrations as they play out on screen, feeling every change in rhythm and song.

The story’s concept is fairly simple – following a few key characters as they enjoy their night out. However, the execution is entirely different, with moments of joy and intrigue being portrayed through a wide variety of film and story devices. McQueen knows exactly when to draw back from the high intensity of the party and allow characters to have more intimate moments, before bringing the sound and movement back together in a crashing wave of energy. 

McQueen has clearly shown himself as the master of either celebrating or highlighting the stories of people of colour in cinema, particularly in his 2012 release, ‘12 Years a Slave.’ The ‘Small Axe’ series looks to further explore and celebrate black culture, and whilst this will mean delving into stories of prejudice and hatred, ‘Lovers Rock’ feels like the perfect way to begin the anthology. It’s a film of pure joy and energy, and whilst there are a few cracks that show moments of bigotry and hate, for almost the entire runtime the viewer is drawn into a world of celebration. 

Everything in this film works to immerse the viewer in the party that’s taking place, with the camera gliding effortlessly from one character to the next, and the soundtrack playing one great song after another. Despite there not being too much time for overt character development, you still feel engaged in the stories of those at the party, with particular traits being shown within different people, allowing the story to feel believable throughout and preventing the audience from ever feeling as if the energy of the party has lost its momentum.

Overall, I would definitely recommend ‘Lovers Rock’ to anyone looking for something to watch. With its short runtime and joyful, high-energy story making it less of a film and more of a party in your living room – exactly the kind of thing that’s needed during a global lockdown.  

Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga

Rating: 12A
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan
Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Directed by David Dobkin
Length: 123mins

A Netflix release in the height of lockdown amidst Covid:19 fears and concerns, this film carries so much joy and silliness that helps to focus on positives amongst worrying times. Though at first glance it may look like a classic Will Ferrell comedy, surprisingly, it carries some moving moments; these moving moments intertwined with catchy songs, amusing accents, magical Elves and so much more…

Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) has always dreamed of winning the Eurovision Song Contest, with his doe-eyed childhood friend and not quite sweetheart, Sigrit (McAdams). Their band, Fire Saga, was selected at random to compete in the contest, representing their beloved Iceland. The drama that follows the pair is mostly nonsensical, but the story holds its own and keeps moving with the fun of outrageous ‘Eurovision-eque’ songs and dance routines paced throughout the film.

One of the most brilliant elements of this film is that it feels like Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele sat down to write the script and every possible hilarious idea that popped into their heads they wrote down and found a place for it to fit. There is a lot of detail in every scene, nothing is there to just connect the story and with each watch I found myself noticing more intricate choices.

What is truly lovely about this film is that amongst all of the busy, vibrant scenes are really well written characters with whom the audience can connect. Seen by most peripheral characters in the film as ‘freaks’, the performances of the lead pair are full of brilliant choices which allow the characters to feel authentic, if a little ‘out there’. Whilst some of the action is extreme, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching actors perform these characters, you are allowed into their sheltered world which encourages empathy. It almost creeps up on you as you enjoy the comedy and the silliness, then you’re hit with a moment that you can relate to in some way. With themes of perseverance, friendship and chasing your dreams there is something for everyone to take away.

This film isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it might just lift your spirits. It’s an easy, entertaining watch with positive messages of inclusivity and finding what is important to you. It is worth warning, however, that you will most likely find yourself singing some of Fire Saga’s songs and they are not easy to get out of your head! If you need a bit of a release, a break from the worries of today, I suggest you give it a watch. Let yourself fall into silliness and have a good laugh.

La La Land – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K Simmons
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Length: 128mins

In 2016 Damien Chazelle brought the highly anticipated ‘old Hollywood’ style musical, La La Land, to the big screen. The film itself seems to have split audiences into passionate opinions of ‘love it or hate it’ and for that response in itself I think its worthy of comment. I have found it so interesting to enter into conversations with people who disagree with my own views; I would confidently say that this is one of my absolute favourite films.

Our story follows two artists in Hollywood – Sebastian, a hot headed but passionate pianist with a deep love for Jazz music and Mia, an actress, taking on the industry one audition, one rejection at a time. Their paths cross a couple of times before their conjoined story begins, but what seems to be key is that they are connected – both young people, with big, possibly unrealistic dreams. This story has a very raw feel, assisted of course by the cinematography and directorial choices, our main characters have such a normal feel about them. I find both Mia and Sebastian very easy to relate to, sharing explicit moments of vulnerability; weakness, frustration and emotion. All performed beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both of whom received high accolades for their work including multiple nominations and awards. I feel that what this film has done so brilliantly is create something that people relate to. Mia and Sebastian express so much of human nature making it almost impossible to not connect with the characters on some level. This makes me question the impact that this level of empathy instills within it’s audience, perhaps some dislike the outcome of the story because choices made aren’t the ones they would have made? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting idea to consider.

In comparison to one of Chazelle’s previous hits, ‘Whiplash’, La La Land was an opportunity to show a whole different side to his vision and creativity. Where Whiplash is said to have been a very ‘tight’ production – heavily relying on editing with lots of shots, focussed on exact, predestined moments. La La Land was a much more ‘free’ production, relying on less shots than Whiplash but allowing time for rehearsal and regular retakes (to assist in the practicalities of syncing actors to playback etc…) I understand that there was plenty of opportunity for improvisation within the script – though the visuals were predesigned the key relationship needed a real casual essence as its driving force and so the relaxed atmosphere of two professionals, totally in character, improvising gave new layers of truth while keeping the relationship and story telling light. In considering the visual presentation on a whole you cannot miss the sheer attention to detail. Everything is so deliberate from the colour schemes, camera angles to moments of quiet and a small glance.

I’m not sure you can discuss La La Land without commenting on the music, another element that divides people. I for one was slightly confused at some peoples outrage at the use of seemingly ‘normal’ vocals. These vocals, though of an extremely high standard, rarely sound polished or like recording artists and perhaps it’s just not to some peoples taste, but I feel that, firstly; it was a deliberate choice and therefore was selected to allow for the tone of the overall story and, secondly; it still sounds great, it just doesn’t necessarily fit with the framework of modern day ‘moive-musicals’. For me, the music and the lyrics provide extra layers to the storytelling, layers that are perhaps unreachable through alternative methods. I feel like Justin Hurwitz, the films composer, has outdone himself. In the films that he’s worked on I always find myself paying attention to the music, not as a distraction, rather as another thread of the canvas so to speak. As someone without much musical knowledge I wasn’t sure i’d ever really have a ‘favourite’ composer, but I certainly do admire and respect Hurwitz’s ability to tell story through music. Each piece of music, each song is so deliberate and powerful.

This film is truly a piece of art. By nature it wont be loved and adored by everyone, but it will speak to people in different ways. I encourage you to look at this film through a slightly different lens than just ‘popping something on the tv’. Consider the films intentions, the messages hiding in each detail, in each lyric. It might teach you something about yourself or encourage something in you that you had pushed aside.

“Here’s to the fools who dream”