Review: Blue Story

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Simon Stolland • ED: Mdhamiri Á Nkemi • DES: Gini Godwin • PRO: Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Paul Grindey, Damian Jones • MUS: Jonathon Deering • CAST: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Blue Story is a compelling commentary on the contemporary postcode wars between London’s youths. It follows two young black males from different areas of London growing up as friends, external to the criminal backdrop and societal issues they live amongst. Timmy (Stephen Odubola) is a young naive romantic from Deptford who attends school in Peckham for a better chance at an education. Timmy becomes best friends with Marco (Michael Ward), who is from Peckham and has ties to local gangs due to his brother. The two are foreshadowed with over-looming conflict throughout, eventually leading to tragedy as both pick sides and indulge in the ongoing postcode war between Peckham and Deptford. 

This crime drama comes at a very relevant time as London gang crime becomes more and more prominent in mainstream media, including the recent release of the widely popular Netflix series Top Boy, in which Michael Ward also plays the lead. Though a grasp of the ‘Roadman’ vernacular is required for both,  Blue Story focuses primarily on the detriment of gang life and first time feature-film director Andrew Onwubolu, also known as ‘Rapman’, allows zero romanticisation of the crime within the narrative. Based on personal experience from Rapman’s childhood, the story does not conform to the good-guy vs bad-guy format but instead produces equally charismatic and likeable characters on opposing sides of the events. There are no winners and the true implications of the rampant hate and peer pressure within these urban melting pots illustrates the harrowing nature of the transition into adulthood young working-class London teens face. However, though the topical issue is that of grave severity Blue Story is not without its light-hearted laughs nor is it void of romance and relatable moments for the majority of the audience. 

Whilst the intention of the film was noble and the plot structure was of sound quality, the execution on screen at times was lacking. The general standard of the film felt very B class and certain avenues the director took were questionable. A primary example of this is the choice of narration Rapman himself decided to orate. Following each pivotal event of the film Rapman would emerge, in an omniscient manner, breaking the fourth wall and conveying the previous or future events through rap form, as a catch-up method. This seemed extremely out of place and completely broke the reality of the story multiple times. It also gave the sense that the production of the film was paced poorly and the plot needed to unfold at an unnatural rate for the story.

The film also begins with real life archival news footage of knife-crime and gang violence sweeping London. This set a level of expectation concerning both aesthetics and what level of realism the director wanted to connote. Unfortunately, in possibly an endeavour to dramatise, the main focus of the crime surrounded gun violence is far less of an issue compared to the knife-crime epidemic London faces today. The acting was not entirely noteworthy and there were many relationships that came across as forced in certain scenes. This being said, all characters performed the colloquial language of the real ‘Mandem’, which must be praised.

Overall, Blue Story stylistically illustrates the gravity of urban crime on English youths through a first-hand source of director Andrew Onwubolu. With many enjoyable and shocking moments there is rarely a dull scene amongst the drama. However, with a budget of 1.3 million this feature felt badly paced and poorly managed not allowing the actors to fully develop their characters to the extent that they could have. Having the potential to be a hard-hitting commentary on societal issues Blue Story instead comes across as a low-budget street-violence drama.

Tiernan Allen

91′ 16″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Blue Story is released 22nd November 2019

 

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Review: Doctor Sleep

DIR/WRI: Mike Flanagan • DOP: Michael Fimognari • ED: Mike Flanagan • DES: Maher Ahmad, Patricio M. Farrell• PRO: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy • MUS: The Newton Brothers • CAST: Rebecca Ferguson, Ewan McGregor, Jacob Tremblay, Kyliegh Curran

 

Almost forty years have passed since the infamous events in the Overlook Hotel occurred and the Torrance family were tormented in Stephen King’s The Shining.  This iconic psychological-horror was adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1980 and was notoriously disliked by King. Doctor Sleep acts as a sequel and follows Danny Torrance, played by Ewan McGregor, dealing with the post-traumatic effects of that harrowing night in Colorado. 

The audience is reintroduced to the gifted Danny, where The Shining left off, as a little boy with his mother, Wendy. Danny, still plagued by the ghosts of his past, is taught how to hone his Shine abilities by the apparition of his old mentor and friend Dick Hallorann. This nostalgically eases the viewer into the new storyline as we are brought back to the now grown-up Danny, dealing with a drinking problem, and searching for solace in a small town in New Hampshire.

During this time we are introduced to both the young heroine of the story Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran, and the villainous Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Both these characters and Dan become inextricably linked as the plot unfolds and Dan must face his past in order to protect Abra. 

Both director and writer Mike Flanagan not only had the task of establishing this film within the repertoire of cinematic classics adapted from King’s works, but also to follow the act of  Stanley Kubrick. In this regard, Flanagan produced a film that was not only its own enjoyable and independent narrative, but also fleshes out and brings light to the mysterious King universe in which The Shining  resides; and answers forty-year old questions. The shining ability conveyed in Kubrick’s original was always secondary to the psychological terror, however Doctor Sleep focuses heavily on these ethereal gifts of the main characters, while staying true to the stylistic horror of its predecessor.

Flanagan meticulously recreates renowned longshots of lonesome cars driving through the night and reintroduces the ominous score by the Newton Brothers. The film also demonstrates the marvel of what CGI and camera magic can do, when characters on-screen in 1980 appear as they were decades later in 2019.

This being said, whilst Flanagan has filled every nook and cranny with a nostalgic reference, Doctor Sleep by no means piggybacks off of the success of The Shining. Ewan McGregor, as likeable as ever, brilliantly carries on the Torrence story, but acts as a great accompaniment to the new story of Rose the Hat and Abra Stone. Rose the Hat brings the terror to this story as a leader of an occult group of child killers. Searching for children who project similar shine abilities to Dan. This leads to scenes of an extremely violent nature featuring some promising child actors such as Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House) and Jacob Tremblay (Room). Although Tremblay has a brief scene, his capabilities shine through in his participation in one of the more gruesome showings of gore and terror to date. This unfortunately undermines the performance of Kyleigh Curran as the leading girl, who becomes of less interest as the plot comes to a conclusion.

The film does unfortunately start in a rather staccato manner jumping between storylines and toward the end loses traction as the pace of the film quickens quite abruptly. This leads the film to prioritise Danny and his past over Abra and Rose, who become secondary characters in the final act of the film.  Other elements conspire to break the reality, such as Rebecca Ferguson’s rather peculiar Irish accent breaking through in certain scenes, estranged from her cross-atlantic Hollywood voice the viewer knows from the start of the film.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is not only a respectable sequel to a classic but is a great movie in its own right. Not for the faint-hearted, this film is one for fans showing Mike Flanagan’s appreciation for what the cult following of The Shining needed whilst also creating a unique and atmospheric horror to hold its own within the genre.

 

Tiernan Allen

150′ 48″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Doctor Sleep is released 31st October 2019

Doctor Sleep – Official Website

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Review: Western Stars

 

DIR: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimmy

Following the Emmy award-winning success of ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ the duo of Thom Zimmy and Bruce Springsteen set off on their next project to create the film Western Stars. The Boss, now 70 years of age, decided not to tour his recent 13-song album of the same name as the concert film, but instead to explore through a cinematic lens the inner workings and inspirations that went on behind the scenes in producing the music of  ‘Western Stars’.

The film is set from within Springsteen’s 100-year-old horse barn, turned concert hall, on his and his wife Patti Scialfa’s ranch in New Jersey. The barn itself acts as a spiritual Mecca of inspiration to Springsteen, creating a setting that exudes authenticity. Followed by the meticulous lighting surrounding the exclusively selected patrons of the concert, Joe DeSalvo. the cinematographer and the cameramen, maintains the aura of an intimate venue where the viewer almost feels the need to clap along with the audience as Springsteen transitions from song to song.

Accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra and Scialfa on stage, Springsteen chronologically performs the album and creates this marvellous dichotomy between the eloquence of the orchestral strings and the rustic acoustics of his classic sound. Each song is followed by an interlude in which Springsteen shares his personal memoirs and archival footage from his own life, all in explanation surrounding the song at hand and the reasoning behind it. This formula unfolds for all 13 songs up until the finale where Springsteen indulges both the physical and cinematic audience with an all-time classic.

Thom Zimmy’s directional approach preaches simplicity, which complements the film enormously and reaffirms the purpose in giving this intimate concert to the world through film. The performance and progression of the film is paced like a symphony and Springsteen’s original score takes us subtly from one song to another behind his explanatory monologue. However, the manufactured footage shot for these intermissions between songs, at times, comes across as cliched and repetitive. Such as, the hero shot of Springsteen walking a horse down a stable or driving aimlessly into the sunset in his El Camino. These shots are usually narrated over with rather pious philosophical insights that Springsteen has seemingly come to in his older age. Although these qualities are redeemed in a sense by the nostalgic family footage shared with the audience, giving a greater sense of both Bruce and Patti’s relationship and the events and emotions that predetermined the eventual composing of ‘Western Stars’.

Another disappointing feature Zimmy and Springsteen fail to capture is the raw unadulterated Springsteen and his interactions with the audience and the crew. The film portrays the concert in such a coordinated way that instead of feeling like a member of the audience watching Springsteen live, the viewer is very aware of the fact that they are watching an edited version of Bruce’s performance. 

Overall, through Springsteen’s ode to past lovers and metaphorical stuntmen, the complexities of this album are illustrated beautifully through both the stylistic approach Zimmy takes in directing this film and the level of insight Springsteen grants the audience into his life and emotions that inspired this work.

In the end the film Western Stars comes across as less of an old cowboy’s endeavour into lowbrow philosophical preachings, as it does a homage to the life he led and the love he felt that allowed for this album to come to fruition. A captivating musical experience brought to the screen that expresses both the nature of Bruce Springsteen and the meaning behind his album ‘Western Stars’.

Tiernan Allen

 

82′ 58″
G (see IFCO for details)

Western Stars is released 28th October 2019

Western Stars – Official Website

 

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