Wytches

 ★★★★★ 

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During Suspiria, Dario Argento’s Italian masterpiece from 1977 about a witches coven masquerading as a dance school, there is a brilliant, audacious moment concerning the fate of a blind piano player. It sticks in my mind even now as a perfect example of how a horror film should manipulate the viewer, undermine expectations and use it against them. Take away the safety net. There should always be a splash of madness in the best horrors too. Something that crawls inside your mind and takes up residence.

Scott Snyder and Jock’s comic Wytches opens with a similarly brutal scene that promises the rest of the story isn’t taking any prisoners, including you, the poor reader. Snyder’s fast-paced, twisted narrative borders on obvious, but is grounded by strong characters, the classic Gothic fantasy horror mirrored by real-world demons. It even captures a sense of childish fables, of being captured and eaten (hopefully quickly!). But these are not the cackling pointy-hatted cliches living in ginger-bread houses, but horrific elemental… things. They live in the woods, the very trees themselves and they can give you anything you want. For an awful price, that is. Perhaps the ending seems rushed and has to give in to more routine chills, but chills they are nonetheless and the great thing is that the groundwork has been set-up for wider universe. It’s clear Snyder has only scratched the surface of his own idea and these nasty creatures are dug in very deep.

Jock brings the story to twisted life; the Wytches themselves literally so. His art distorted and frequently, purposefully messy, almost a visual equivalent of some bastard running their nails down a blackboard, and as uncomfortable as it is engrossing. The collected edition doesn’t take too long to read, but promises to linger for a lot longer. Probably while you’re trying to sleep and ignoring that “chit chit chit” noise scratching at your door… Well, pledged is pledged, eh?

Why am I reviewing a comic when normally I’m waffling on about movies? It’s because there is nothing like Wytches in Hollywood and probably never will be. I strongly believe the glory days of real horror are behind us. Foreign work like Let The Right One In or little-known fare like McKee’s The Woman shows the talent is there, but mainstream has given in to sentimentality, remakes and diminishing sequels. I seem to have misunderstood the universally acclaimed Babadook, a film I found dull and lifeless. Clever it may be, but it lacks the substantial sense of dread that Snyder’s wonderful book generates.

I highly recommend picking this up. It’s not at all expensive, even the versions with the bookplates.

https://forbiddenplanet.com/125281-wytches-1/

https://forbiddenplanet.com/144130-wytches-volume-1-bookplate-edition/

http://www.goshlondon.com/2015/06/gosh-exclusive-bookplate-edition-wytches-tp-vol-1/

Jurassic World

Jurassic-World1

 ★★★★☆ 

This year is the fortieth anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a film that defined the modern monster movie. And it’s a little over twenty years since he redefined it and set a milestone in special effects with Jurassic Park. Now we have the third sequel, although it feels more like a reboot, in Jurassic World. The most enduring thing you’ll take away from this one is a reassurance of just how brilliant and ambitious the first film was. Like Jaws, Jurassic Park still feels fresh. In some ways, Jurassic World is already a dinosaur.

You see what I did there? Oh never mind…

Actually the new film is really good! It only really suffers from its association with the original film and otherwise Colin Trevorrow has fashioned a satisfying b-movie with ideas above its station, typical of the monster genre. It’s great fun and proper family entertainment.  Avengers: Age of Ultron was a better film, but comes with Marvel Universe baggage and Mad Max: Fury Road is only for grown-ups, as it should be. Monster movies boil down to big snarly thing chasing little things (us) and when it gets on with it, Jurassic World does that brilliantly. It takes a while to get there and the human characters range from insufferable to essential while navigating a confused plot. The original Park had better boundaries, narratively and literally, than the new improved theme World.

It does try and largely succeeds in playing up to the cynicism it was always going to attract, almost in a 22 Jump Street ‘I-know-I’m-a-sequel’ sort of way. We get remixed versions of scenes and characters, including fan-friendly moments like finding the original Visitor’s Centre, while the predictable bigger and nastier angle is tackled head-on by creating a bigger and nastier creature that half the cast question as much as might. They thankfully stop short of winking at the screen while their characters debate how necessary this beast really is, but this self-aware aspect helps with accepting the sillier aspects. For instance the name of the Big Bad is “Indominus Rex”, which causes Grady (Chris Pratt) to laugh out loud when he hears it and sets up a funny scene with him and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) as he argues how stupid the name is. Just imagine how much better Avatar would have been if it had the balls to laugh at its own “Unobtainium”. Same thing. Jurassic World knows how absurd it is and it embraces it. The only recurring Jurassic Park character, Dr. Wu (B. D. Wong), even addresses how these dinosaurs might not look like their real ancestors, which is basically a disingenuous  “up yours” to the Palaeontologists.

In truth what really lets this one down is a lack of human characters you give a damn about. It also misses the discipline and ambition from the first film, or even the eccentricity of Lost World, but especially the discipline. Take the kids… Like Joseph Mazzello’s Tim in Jurassic Park, Gray (Ty Simpkins) clearly knows his stuff about dinosaurs, but this is never used (well, once). Nor is the fact that his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) likes looking at girls; I really expected him to hook up with someone and for her to add context or at least another potential dino-snack, but no. He just, looks at girls a lot. Oh and apparently he’s a mechanic, but only when the plot really needs him to get twenty-year-old jeeps running.

That pair really weaken the film; they’re detached from the rest of the cast for far too long and their anguish over their parent’s potential divorce is just drivel slowing down the plot. The adults are generally much better, such as Bryce Dallas Howard making the most of an under-written role (Joss Whedon might have a point) and especially Chris Pratt who anchors the whole thing in a Harrison Ford manner. Those two work really well together, even lifting a scene from Romancing The Stone. Pratt pretty much is ‘Indiana Jones And The Dinosaur Theme Park’ and that’s no bad thing. He gets great support from Omar Sy as his colleague and Vincent D’Onofrio as a military advisor that wants to exploit Owen’s Raptor skills. Irrfan Khan plays the owner of Jurassic World and he is a strong character; a playboy billionaire with a conscience and morals.

But the film belongs to the lizards and the Raptors almost steal the show again, right from under the over-large nose of the Indominus. The dinosaur battles are amazing and the film really cuts loose with an airborne attack on a crowd (and the poor Petting Zoo!) by Pteranodons or in the earth-shattering monster-mash final battle, yet we never get the awe that Jurassic Park still causes like the glorious ending, nor the cheeky splashes of gore that Spielberg could handle so well even in a kid’s movie. As well as hiding some jungle action in Aliens style video-feeds, there’s a lot of cutting away instead of lingering on victims as the earlier films occasionally did. There is barely anything here to rival lawyers on toilets or limbs popping up at inopportune moments.

Take Jurassic World as a straight-forward monster movie and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Very much the sequel Jurassic Park deserves. And if there is another one on the horizon, maybe smaller rather than bigger wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just needs more teeth.

The Guest

Dan Stevens in the Guest

 

 ★★★☆☆ 

Just what state is the thriller genre in when such a derivative film like The Guest is considered exceptional? Because that seems to be the consensus, and it simply isn’t deserved.

From the trailer it appeared to be a modern twist on Shadow Of A Doubt or a nasty cousin of Drive, either of which would have been more interesting. Certainly it shares the aesthetic of the latter, but none of the consistency, and it has little of the powerful suspense found in Hitchcock’s classic. Rather it wants to be thought of alongside the b-movie inspired oeuvre of John Carpenter. This it could easily have done if it hadn’t been so bloody dishonest and that’s what really annoyed me.

The first half of the film is brilliant. Dan Stevens is superb as David, charming and charismatic one minute, steel-eyed menace the next. He easily ingratiates himself into the grieving family of his old army buddy, although the teenage daughter (Maika Monroe) is suspicious and soon starts digging into David’s past. Her brother, played by Brendan Meyer, however latches onto the stranger, especially when David deals with bullies in spectacular crowd-pleasing fashion; a bar brawl channels the brutal violence of movies like The Hitcher.

So far all good, but once the military get wind of David the narrative turns into a boring and predictable cul-de-sac of nonsense action, fun enough if all you wanted was a brain-dead slasher. Meanwhile the weight shifts to the teenagers and they, like the rest of the supporting cast, are uniformly weak and unable to push it forward. Meanwhile Stevens is lumbered with being the Bogeyman instead of the substantial threat he had been.

A weak cast in general is not to blame though, especially when experienced character actors like Leland Orser and Lance Reddick are in the mix. Nor is director Adam Wingard at fault, who wrings all the potential out of the thing and makes it more than watchable. Rather all the problems are squarely on the shoulders of Simon Barrett’s script which was one decent character in a half-arsed plot he didn’t know how to finish. It’s such a shame because David is a fantastic bastard and gloriously entertaining; his wrapping up of loose ends is particularly funny, in a grimly ironic sort of way when one leads to many others. He’s like Jason Bourne off his meds and both Stevens’ and his role deserved a better film.

It is entertaining and with low expectations you’ll likely enjoy it a heck of a lot. I basically did, it’s just that the first half promised so much more.

Last year this film and Two Faces Of January both garnered superb reviews and both feel short. Blue Ruin and especially the incredible Cold In July were both far better. Look those up long before this one.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

 ★★★★☆ 

The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron is fantastic entertainment and, like the first Avengers film, it can’t have the focus of one of Marvel’s solo outings, but Joss Whedon has nevertheless made a comic truly come to exuberant life. For being able to do that while managing such a huge script, he might have just made a milestone in the comic genre, albeit one with all the grace of The Hulk on a rampage! The moment in the opening scenes where the heroes slow-mo leap into battle could have been lifted directly from a page of wonderful, garish Jack Kirby inspired art.

There is no room here to focus on an individual character’s arc, that’s all been done in the last few films. Instead this is about exploiting all the hard work built up and having a ton of fun with it (each Avengers is the end of a phase and we’re moving into the third). The Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films range in quality, but have an identifiable style with an effort to progress the characters. There is little such progression in the Avengers films; shit happens and they deal with it, because from a character perspective this is their sandpit and the only point at which they are properly exploited to just be who they are. It’s a playground for the actors too and they must love being able to cut loose and keep their roles going, even if like Iron Man there are no more individual outings on the cards. The comics are just the same whenever they do a crossover. It’s the equivalent of throwing brightly coloured mud at a wall just to see what sticks. Compared with the likes of the superb Captain America 2, possibly Marvel’s best film, The Avengers 2 is a bit of mess, but then, it’s kind of supposed to be.

Marvel and DC comics in their daftest moments pile more and more super-people into increasingly absurd plots. Any one character on their own is treated with development and moral choices that can be emotional and affecting (take Peter Parker, haunted by an early decision that led to the death of his Uncle Ben), but once all the egos are together it’s balls-to-the-wall action, flinging themselves around, smashing stuff up and somehow claiming to take it all seriously. Welcome to comics. It’s awesome.

In film it’s hard to recreate that unbridled destructive joy and Whedon has done a phenomenal job to balance all those characters and keep it as fast and as fun as he does. Frothy and funny dialogue with narrative sleight of hand to use the least-super-person as the anchor (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye) while developing a romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) keeps the film from falling into noisy Transformers style nonsense. The set-pieces are jaw-dropping (Iron Man versus The Hulk is a stand-out; “Go to sleep! Go to sleep!”), while repeat viewings will bring out the details that are setting up the next few films, such as the seeds of distrust that will lead to the devastating Civil War storyline rumoured for Captain America 3.

And then we have nostalgic geek moments like bringing Vision to life. Vision is incredible and Marvel are almost vulgar in their confidence to be able to bring him into the mix! Paul Bettany is great in the role and must have loved the upgrade from phoning-in Iron Man’s voice-only PA to a fancy cape and a sunburn. I’m really looking forward to where he appears next, hopefully not far away from The Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

DC can claim to have the best individual film with Christopher Nolan’s magnificent The Dark Knight, but quite frankly, Zack Snyder cocked up Man of Steel and the trailer for Dawn of Justice doesn’t bode well. The relationship between Superman and Batman in the comics is brilliant and clever, but the new film appears to be as miserable and serious as the last one. They should always be different to Marvel of course, but can they be as much fun?

Cold In July

 ★★★★★ 

I want to talk about Cold In July, mainly because not enough people already are and it’s a cracking thriller, probably my favourite film released in 2014. That’s not to say it was the “best” film of the last year; nor the most action packed, the funniest or scariest, but we spend too long judging films as if it were a competition especially at this time of year. I’m a sucker for the awards season, but when you take a step back many titles are conspicuous by their absence. Despite some initial attention on the festival circuit, Cold In July is one such gem.

The story has a deceptively simple premise, based on one of a series of novels by Joe R. Lansdale and adapted by Nick Damici with director Jim Mickle. Richard Dane (Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall) is woken in the night by a burglar in his home. His first thought is to protect CIJ_STILL-081his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and infant son. Following a brief, tense confrontation with the intruder, Dane shoots him dead. The police arrive and the scene is quickly cleared up as they know this particular villain and assure Dane that he did the right thing. He won’t face prosecution, in fact, he’s a hero.

He doesn’t feel like a hero. Dane is one of life’s normal guys, with a reputation to match. So normal that Hall found playing him cathartic after several seasons of Dexter. Well known in the local town, no-one would ever have expected Dane to have killed another man and the praise he receives makes him feel awkward. Plus he now has to deal with the ominous, simmering threat posed by the intruder’s father Ben Russell (played with considerable style by Sam Shepherd), recently released from prison and a far more substantial opponent than his petty criminal son.

That alone would make for a decent plot of a dozen other films, if somewhat predictable, but an early twist reveals the man Dane shot and killed was not Ben’s son. Why are the police so determined to ensure it was? And why are they relishing any excuse to put Ben down as well? You might think that’s a spoiler, but it’s worth knowing that much more. The real story is a far more gruesome and complicated affair. It’s rather typical of the saturated American crime novel genre, so much so it may explain why so few break out into screenplays.

There’s an ace up the sleeve of this one though in the shape of Don Johnson, playing pig farming private detective Jim Bob Luke. Awesome name! And he’s a heck of a character; Johnson has great fun with him. His arrival gives the film a kick up the backside, even though it didn’t really need it. The seedy screenplay has a good dose of comedy and Jim Bob is just one of the bonuses that help Cold In July stand out.

Some of the dark humour comes from the contrast between Dane’s reaction and, it seems, everyone else’s. He needs to see this through much further than his friends and family, especially his wife. While she is still somewhat affected, a sofa soaked with blood is still a good reason to get a new one that matches the decor a little better! That odd tone isn’t overplayed, it’s just that for her and everyone else, the story ended with the first bullet and they assume it’s the same for Dane. Except he’s sneaking about at night, unable to resist getting stuck into the excitement of the horrific real story that Jim Bob is uncovering.

Cold In July was released at a similar time to Two Faces of January, a glossy thriller that was critically acclaimed and given that over used label, “Hitchcockian”. Actually it was weak, vacuous and bore little resemblance even to To Catch a Thief, one of the Master’s least remarkable films. While still an unashamed genre piece, Cold In July is more deserving of shelf-space next to Hitchcock’s classics, featuring as it does his favourite conceit; the normal guy who finds murder on his doorstep.

What really makes this conceit work as well as it does in this instance is an excellent risk-taking narrative in Mickle and Damici’s screenplay (a similar approach they took with Stake Land). Potentially it is a messy plot with too many angles, but the focus is so tight on Dane that it feels even and measured throughout. So far so it’s worth using as an example of Todorov’s narrative equilibrium theory. Don’t yawn! As with many such theories you can bore people to death by making any film fit it to some extent. It’s only worth mentioning if the example explores it in particular and I’ll stick my neck out; the structure and, in particular the ending of Cold In July is so perfectly done it’s actually one of the best examples of the equilibrium stages since The Ladykillers of all things.

CIJ_300DPI_2048x1152.01030402The well judged fast and loose style of director Mickle disguises such structure. Essentially it’s a modern western cum pulp noir, but an 80s setting and occasional music from the era evoke a mood not unlike the peerless Drive in moments. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This isn’t some minimalist piece, what with the pig farmer called Jim Bob, an irreverent sense of dark humour and sporadic, often brutal violence. One memorable execution sees a thug shot through the head and his blood splatters the only light bulb, bathing the rest of the scene in deep red! The mid-range tones come out well on Blu-Ray, but moments like that look astonishing. Mickle has an old fashioned, but cheeky sensibility that comes throughout the movie, though not always in such spectacular fashion.

Cold In July is a great example of classical filmmaking given a modern twist and a confident identity all of it’s own thanks to Mickle and Damici’s grasp of genre. It’s effortlessly watchable and hopefully we’ll see more of Johnson’s hilarious Jim Bob in the future.

Review originally posted on www.find-dvd.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

 ★★★★★ 

BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play.  In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.

Birdman might feel fresh and exciting, but it’s all been done before. That isn’t a critiscm though when the predecessor is Fellini’s 8½, the 60s pinnacle of Italian Neo-Realism and one of the most important films ever made. This is arguably filmmaking at it’s most pure, and impossible to ape; it either works completely or it feels fake and pretentious. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film goes all in and it’s an utter joy. Actually, it’s much more fun and accessible than Fellini’s intensely personal film.

In fact the script makes it feel more personal for Michael Keaton. It’s a superb performance anyway, but it could really be his ego on show; it’s almost awkward to watch. Birdman? Of course they mean Batman and there’s also his casual jealousy of Robert Downey Jr., superhero movies in general and his inability to use social networking. ‘Meta’ is so cool and modern, isn’t it? Yawn. Don’t let this put you off though because it’s what adds to the realism. The story is now, in our world, and Keaton has never been better, the dialogue-heavy role playing to his strengths, giving him more emotional room than he’s ever had before. This isn’t some (deserved) Oscar-baiting, navel-gazing turn either. Much as he has demons to battle and you empathise with the seriousness of him risking everything on a play while trying to deal with his ego, he’s never allowed to take himself too seriously. For one thing the voice of Birdman (Keaton again) taunts him and for another the brilliant Edward Norton is a complete arsehole, undermining Keaton at every opportunity to hilarious effect.

The film itself contradicts him as well, batting along at a terrific pace. With no discernible editing the camera roams the theatre corridors, closely following the cast and capturing the mood of a play rather than a film. It gives no time to establishing a plot, instead starting with Keaton floating in his dressing room before he goes to a rehearsal scene (which in turn demonstrates a deft script that seamlessly blends roles within roles). It ventures outside rarely (memorably so when Keaton gets locked out in his underpants!) and scenes pass with no regard for time in between. It’s a masterpiece of editing and makes for an exhilarating experience, especially when it plays with your perception too; purposefully predictable in one moment, throwing a curve-ball in the next.

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Easy as it is to focus on Keaton’s blistering performance, this like any theatre production is a cast effort. As well as Norton, standouts include Emma Stone and Naomi Watts, at her best probably since Mulholland Drive, with Zach Galifianakis in an effective part as Keaton’s long-suffering agent.

Birdman is vibrant and confidently ambitious. It’s classic film nerd Realism with a punchy, modern twist and makes for an interesting companion to Black Swan, another bird themed theatre story! It’s thoroughly entertaining and we’re unlikely to see anything quite like it for some time.

Much as I love cinema there is little real originality these days. Audiences want formula (which Birdman himself demonstrates at one point, teasing Keaton with a fantasy set-piece that surely his audience would prefer) and attempts to deviate from the predictable become just that. There’s nothing wrong with assured, classical filmmaking, in fact I embrace it, but it’s reassuring to see someone like Alejandro pushing the boundaries of what is typically acceptable and succeeding so completely.

What We Do In The Shadows

WWDITS_ONESHEETViago, Deacon, and Vladislav are three vampires living together and trying to cope with modern life; from paying rent, doing housework, and trying to get into nightclubs, they’re perfectly normal – except for their immortality, fangs, and thirst for human blood. When their 8000 year-old housemate, Petyr, turns 20-something Nick into a vampire, the guys must guide him through his newfound eternal life.  In return, they are forced to learn a thing or two about modern life.  

Meeting Nick’s human friend Stu, radically changes the vampires’ lives and attitudes towards the ever-changing world around them.  When Stu’s life is threatened, the vamps show us that maybe humans are worth fighting for, and that even though your heart may be cold and dead, it doesn’t mean you have no feelings.

In short, What We Do In The Shadows, probably the best mockumentary since This Is Spinal Tap, is bloody funny. Groan.

It’s almost the law to use the phrase “bloody funny” in a review of a vampire comedy and, quite frankly, it’s a relief that it deserves it and then some. Normally “not bloody funny” is more appropriate.

This works because of the obvious affection directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clementhas (Flight of the Conchords) have for the horror genre, in much the same way that Edgar Wright made Shaun of the Dead. There isn’t a hint of irony or sarcasm; instead of trying to find some original twist, the predictability of these characters is embraced, which is exactly what long-time horror fans do anyway. And placing them in a modern, typically mundane setting makes these ‘monsters’ charmingly awkward. It’s all well and good achieving immortality, but someone still has to do the dishes everyday.

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It lampoons fly-on-the-wall documentaries brilliantly. We almost never see the camera crew, protected by crucifix so their subjects don’t get too hungry, and so the housemates are left to nervously introduce their home before slipping into their regular routines. The very first scene sets up the whole film perfectly as Viago, looking like Lestat’s less successful cousin, shows us why curtains are so scary and then struggles to arrange a meeting to discuss the mess with his lazy housemates. Well Nosferatu styled Petyr isn’t so lazy, being 8000 years old and living in the basement.

It may sound a bit silly and I suppose it is, but if you get the joke from scene one, you’re in for a treat. It helps if you’re an old-school horror fan, because most of the humour comes from good hearted mickey taking of classic rules; just how do vampires dress so impeccably when they haven’t got a mirror?

The fairly low budget is used really well and combined with some superb effects, so it’s always low key, as if it really has been followed by a couple of blokes with a single camera, but this isn’t stretched by the later action sequences. The scene where the vampires tease the local werewolf gang, who are trying to resist getting angry (“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”), is hilarious and sets up a petty, but messy battle. Other moments like the aftermath of an attack by a vampire hunter are equally impressive.

Ultimately this is great fun and not to be taken in the least bit serious. Hopefully it will find a cult following and do for vampires what Shaun did for zombies.

Of Time and The City

 ★★★★★ 

Terence Davies’ Of Time And The City might be his finest work; the epitome of his style and method, and also his most accessible and relevant, probably so for years to come.

Just as with his story based films this tribute to Liverpool -the director’s beloved home city- is told through fractured, disparate memories. Normally when someone tells the story of a place, they start at the beginning and then relay chronological facts and, bizarrely, despite all the information, the essence of the place becomes more distant. Davies’ free-wheeling approach threatens to ignore the facts and figures a geography student would need, yet his intensely personal approach brings the place to life and relates it to every one of us. We see the history of the city and the way it has fed into everyday life, yet more, we get a feel for the place, warts and all.

Terence narrates the film himself and he does so with entertaining and sometimes aggressive passion. He is an excellent speaker anyway. He avoids the obvious and reduces his voice-over to minimum, employing quotations and sound-bites. For example, Liverpool’s most famous export is arguably The Beatles and 1960s ‘Merseybeat’ pop, which he summarises in sarcastic disdain with the simple phrase (from She Loves You), “yeah, yeah, YEAH”. I don’t think he likes them! Certainly he resents the way Liverpool has been somewhat reduced by its association with the band. You may disagree with this and other points he makes; I did, but I enjoyed doing so, because everything he says is intelligent and colourful. It all adds to building an accurate vision of a proud city and you may find yourself wishing someone could unlock your own hometown in a similar way.

Davies narration is occasionally in contrast to the film (a mix of archive and new footage). For instance he films a beautiful church with respect, while speaking of his difficult Catholic upbringing. Throughout there’s a varied and stunning soundtrack and the whole package works brilliantly, giving us a piece of work that runs through so many emotions that it is an exhilarating experience. While Liverpool is the focus, Of Time And The City creates a textured and humbling testament to British life. Perhaps I should be bold and just say “to life”, British or otherwise, because I dare say everyone will find something relevant here.

The Long Day Closes

 ★★★★☆ 

The Long Day Closes feels similar to Distant Voices, Still Lives, yet it is still quite different, genuinely moving and makes for an effective companion piece. It’s still a film of moments and no plot to speak of, drawn from the directors own memories, and tied together by feeling and emotion rather than action, but whereas in Distant Voices, Still Lives the father (Pete Postlethwaite) was a constant influence on the family even after death, it’s a telling difference that he isn’t in this one at all. Without Postlethwaite’s rock, The Long Day Closes is even more dreamlike because we focus on a young boy (Bud, played by Leigh McCormack) who is more like a leaf, carried by the story rather than forcing it. Davies didn’t include a character to represent himself in his own family in Distant Voices, Still Lives, yet here he clearly is, and fatherless. That’s a telling difference between the films and one a psychologist could have a field day with. It makes for an interesting point in the first part of Davies’ Trilogy too, which preceded both of his features.

Of course the real constant is his mother, here played by Marjorie Yates. Bud is the youngest of her children and very lonely, but his relationship with her is all the more powerful for both of them and is very touching. It’s small and simple moments that linger in the memory; Bud asking his mum for enough money to go the pictures (he has a penny and just needs eleven more) for instance. Cinema plays a big part in this story. Bullied at school, unable to rely on childhood friendships and excluded from activities that his older brother and sisters do (despite them clearly adoring their kid brother) Bud regularly retreats into films that form an exotic escape.

Two more elements of Terence Davies’ history are tackled here too: religion and homosexuality. The brave writing exposes Bud’s difficulty in following his family’s Catholicism and confusion in his subtle attraction to older boys. Catholic and sexual guilt, as well as the grimness of 1950s Liverpool and canings at school, makes this film sound like a real struggle to watch, but it’s so brilliantly presented from Bud’s perspective that there is a pervading innocence and sense of nostalgia that never feels exploited. Along with the gorgeous photography and the idle camera that maintains a discreet distance it is a rewarding and poetic experience. There is a lot less singing here than in Distant Voices, Still Lives, but Davies also employs a wonderful soundtrack that carries through the film. His knowledge of music is clearly exceptional.

It’s his writing though that really brings the film’s themes together. To be able to tackle such an openly personal story with such humour and a lightness of touch is a gift. The banter between the older children and their friends is especially and frequently very funny (a couple of the friends from Distant Voices, Still Lives clearly continue to have an influence), yet it never once feels contrived. It may well be a case of writing what he knows, but Terence Davies is a master at making it relevant to all of us.