Liquid Sky 1982 ***


Liquid Sky sounded like quite an amazing movie when it first came out in 1982; aliens who invade New York to harvest the opiate produced at the moment of orgasm from beautiful clubbers? Sign me up, thought my 13 year old self, only to be somewhat stymied and baffled by the art-house, post-Warhol leanings of Liquid Sky itself. Don’t expect any aliens, in fact, there’s only a paper-plate flying saucer, and special effects are restricted largely to basic chroma-key which interrupt rather than illustrate Slavia Tsukerman’s sci-fi drama. The focus is not really sex, or sci-fi, but drugs, specifically heroin and cocaine, both of which seem to be widely popular in the slice of NYC rooftop club-land featured. Margaret (Anne Carlisle) plays both Margaret and Jimmy, two characters who get caught up in the alien’s enthusiasm for heroin; with glass shards appearing embedded in the heads of victims, who then vanish into thin air, it’s clear that there’s something allegorical going on, but Liquid Sky is too slippery to allow an easy definition. Whatever’s going on, the costumes are wild, the NYC club scene is well caught, and the print on Amazon Prime is surprisingly good; Liquid Sky has become a huge cult movie, and if you’ve never heard of it, broad-minded viewers will always find something outré in this weird and occasionally wonderful film.


We Are Your Friends 2015 ****

Film Review-We Are Your Friends

‘Secret success’ is a phrase the critic Nathan Rabin coined for his excellent My Year of Flops project; while Zac Efron vehicle We Are Your Friends fell pretty hard at the box office on release, it’s probably a better film that it’s unheralded nature might suggest. Efron plays DJ Cole Carter, who is trying to make a name for himself in the electronic dance music scene, and gains a mentor in James Reed (Wes Bentley), who encourages him to use real sounds rather than computer-generated ones. Reed does not like Carter’s friends, and Carter’s relationship with Reed’s girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) only complicates matters. That’s not the most compelling story for a feature, but Max Joseph’s debut film uses a loose Star is Born structure to hang an ambient rave simulator on. It’s kind of fun to compare this high-gloss, super-slick production to the Scottish movie Beats, which has a black and white, gritty aesthetic in its consideration of rave culture. As entertainment, We Are Your Friends has plenty to recommend it, including an animated sequence in which Cole starts tripping in an art gallery and the paintings come to life, plus lots of montages overlaid with well-chosen music. And the ending, which reveals that Cole Carter has been secretly following his mentor’s advice all through the picture, really packs an emotional punch. Like the central character, We Are Your Friends has a bad reputation, but if you’re prepared to shut up and enjoy the music and blissed-out visuals, it’s a surprisingly smooth ride.

Beats 2019 ****


After the pioneering work of Bills Douglas and Forsyth, then the bursts of energy created by the Trainspotting/ Braveheart era, the Scottish film industry has had feet of clay every since; a slew of Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland funded duds which not only failed on their own merits, but also stopped any indie scene from developing. Brian Welsh’s Beats feels like the kind of low-budget, high yield drama that could have been made at any point since the millennium; a simple story of friendship between two Scottish boys Johnno and Spanner (Christian Ortega and Lorne Macdonald), this adaptation of Kieran Hurley’s play is shot in a spare black and white, with occasional bursts of colour when the music takes over, notably in an eye-popping rave scene. The spirit of the mid-90’s period is well caught, and the narrative is carefully charted to avoid the clichés that hobble most local films. Beats is the kind of accessible, entertaining film that looks easy to make, but requires considerable skill all round; anyone who ever lost their mind outside a Portakabin in a field goodness-knows-where will know exactly what Beats is all about.

Beats has a UK release on DVD and blu-ray from September 9th 2019. Or Stream Below.

The Jazz Singer 1980 ***

The-Jazz-Singer-1980-film-images-647f42f0-a04e-4e4b-9126-eceb608df93Richard Fleischer’s 1980 vehicle for Neil Diamond is something of a strange proposition; after all, what’s Neil Diamond got to do with jazz? The AOR Singer presumably wasn’t a title that appealed, but Diamond’s music has endured, and he certainly brought his A-game to providing an ace set of songs for the soundtrack. America, Hello Again and Love On The Rocks are belters in any era, and it’s no surprise the soundtrack made more money than the film. On reflection, could there been conceptual errors behind a film that starts in rather offensive fashion with Neil Diamond in black-face? Probably; the point of this cultural -identity crisis is that only by blacking–up can Jess (Diamond) escape the Jewish traditions his father (Laurence Olivier) wants him to take on board, and the more popular his music is, the more his father disapproves.  ‘Ay hef no son!’ is Cantor Rabonovich’s much-quoted dismissal of Jess’s career choice, but things end happily enough with Olivier jigging away in a stadium gig to the synth-blast opening of America. The Jazz Singer is an amusing film, a vanity project from a star who has got little to be modest about; Diamond has maintained a sky-high level of stardom by touring and reinvention, and The Jazz Singer is exactly the kind of excessive project a real star creates. Bonus points for Paul Nicholas’s wonderfully awful cameo as a British rock star whose speed-metal cover of Love on the Rocks irks Diamond.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love 2019 ****


Nick Broomfield has made plenty of socially-conscious documentaries, but he was obviously posh enough to be hanging out on the Greek island of Hydra back in the 1970’s where an artistic community were engaged in the process of getting mashed up in the service of creative indulgence. Amongst those Broomfield seems to have been hanging out with, or at least in the same circle as, was Leonard Cohen, who was writing an unreadable book under the influence of acid, and his lover Marianne Ihlen. The two were lovers, but Cohen’s insatiable appetite for banging groupies proved to be too much for her to take, and they reluctantly went through a conscious uncoupling long before it was fashionable. Broomfield has good access to private and public footage, and some very salacious talking heads who testify to the excess of the 1970’s; while the story may not be extraordinary in itself, the punch-line is heart-breaking and well-documented. It feels like a welcome personal film from Broomfield; not a biopic, but a love story, and one which reflects thoughtfully on both male selfishness and female forgiveness.

Green Book 2018 ***


Why don’t the Academy Awards reflect my own personal politics and prejudices? That seemed to be the main argument against Peter Farrelly’s Green Book in the 2018 awards season, and winning Best Picture seemed to alienate many. But with voters split between Black Klansmen and Black Panther, it’s not surprising that there might be enough white and elderly voters to propel Green Book to the top of the pile. It’s an upgrade on Driving Miss Daisy, with Viggo Mortensen as chauffeur for Maharshala Ali, driving around the Southern states in the 1960’s and encountering racial prejudice that tests their friendship. While there are familiar elements of despised white saviour and magical Negro tropes in here. Green Book slyly dodges most of the expected lecturing and hones down on a more gentle conflict of characters between the two men. It might not be the most challenging, outspoken or creative in the awards-season crop, but it’s also an effective civics lesson that’s not really deserving of the levels of abuse it got.

End of Sentence 2019 ****


Sometimes it’s the tiniest detail that sparks a good film into life; as Frank Fogle (John Hawkes) enters an American prison alongside his terminally ill wife, she’s asked to remove her head-scarf, revealing her bald head and suggesting how short her remaining time on earth will be. A small moment, but one that elicits sympathy and interest; her death and funeral are not seen, but it’s obvious that Frank is left bereft by her passing. When their son, Sean (Logan Lerman) is finally allowed back from behind bars, Frank manages to persuade Sean to accompany him on a trip to rural Ireland, with the intention of spreading her ashes. But Sean would rather be in California, and the parental clash is sharpened when Sean picks up a girl in the form of Jewel (Sarah Bolger).
Audiences might feel that if they’ve seen one bitter-sweet drama about a father and son’s unlikely road trip to spread their mother’s ashes, they’ve seen them all. But End of Sentence comes up fresh as a daisy under the direction of Elfar Adalsteins, with Michael Armbruster’s script given space to sing. Hawkes has been a powerful force in films as diverse as Winter’s Bone and The Sessions, and manages to convincingly depict Frank as a man strong in conviction, but weak in action. Just as good is Logan Lerman; in his Percy Jackson series, Lerman seems to have been encouraged to play up the Jack Nicholson in his looks, but here he dispenses with the mannerisms to make something dour and forceful about Sean’s inner demons. Bolger’s striking turn as a hitch-hiker with unexpected musical abilities completes an intriguing trio; End of Sentence ends up as a road movie in the vein of Five Easy Pieces, and that’s high praise indeed for a drama that skilfully turns some venerable indie clichés inside out. An Irish/Icelandic co-production, this comes from Samson Films, who hit big with Oscar-winner Once, and End of Sentence is every bit as good as that popular success.