Chicken – the brilliance of this British debut

Chicken_stillDirector: Joe Stephenson
Title: Chicken
Production: B Good Picture Company Ltd.

This film was screened in the official selection at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015.

Fiona is the chicken. She belongs to Richard (Scott Chambers) who lives in a caravan with his distressed elder brother Polly (Morgan Watkins). There is also a privileged girl who lives ‘next door’ called Annabell (Yasmin Paige), but she comes later. It is correct, Polly is a dude and the chicken has a name, but these are positively not the only measurements of individuality in the film. Richard has learning difficulties. I do not want to diagnose Richard, and the film is wise not to ask this of us. Richard is able to live out his life with the idiosyncrasy defined by his own actions, rather than any pre-described definition being attached to his being. This is perhaps the most beautiful thing about the film: its evenhanded approach and ability to make the audience live alongside Richard’s curious sensibility. We are able to laugh through the eyes of Richard and equally handle his heartfelt and enriching emotions.

Joe Stephenson, the debut director with a vision to behold, is effortlessly tailored towards the uncensored and picturesque world of Richard. Richard really has a stronghold over this picture. He is utterly compelling. The majority of this traction comes from his love-hate relationship with Polly. They are both victims of each other, victims of genetics (“born wrong” as Polly cries in a pivotal scene), and victims of their own poverty. Polly knows this and it frequently causes him to lose his cool and release the fire of a most austere temperament. He blames Richard for their world of monotony and is desperate for a new chapter in his life. Polly no longer wants to look after Richard, but the irony is that Richard does a very good job of looking after himself. He is seemingly content with very little: he has chickens, fields to play in, and baby tigers to catch!

Richard_chickenThe most touching scene in the film takes place between Richard and his unlikely new friend Annabell, a lively young lady with plenty of charm and pretty looks. They warm to each other as Richard shows her the forest where his adventurous imaginings of nature take place, hence the baby tigers and other similar conceptions. The relationship dynamics are reminiscent in spirit of Before Sunrise or The Spectacular Now, but unfortunately without the promise of love blooming. There is no denying Richard’s charm, but can he really fit into Annabell’s world? There is a harsh truth running under the surface, it fills the picture with incessant sadness.

The film does a powerful job of crosscutting between the innocent daily activities of Richard and the more corrupt habits of Polly, which include a sidesplitting attempt at stealing a motorbike from the local scrapyard. Unfortunately for Polly, he is not well versed in the art of manipulation and will land himself in frequent scenes of difficulty. While moments of laughter are allowed, the film is adamant not to shy away from the realities of such situations. It is a hard life and heartbreaking conclusions will be reached. Richard is merciful and Polly utterly merciless. A scene of impermeable strain shows the two brothers come head to head in a ferocious battle that is instantly a memorable piece of drama. At times, the dramatics can come close to overcooking, the theatrical context rather explicit, but the ingredients are just so fine and authentic that the latter can easily be forgiven.

Polly_chickenAdapted from a play of the same name by Freddie Machin and written for the screen by Chris New (known for his lead performance in Andrew Haigh’s breakout LGBT drama Weekend), the script is sealed impeccably with every beat pushing the audience deeper into the conflicts of its characters. The story is simple and almost too efficient in structure for its own good, but the many layers of intention and the inevitable complexity of such characters is munificent and suffice to say, enough to keep our thoughts alive and stirring. Regardless of formatting and any other rubric, Scott Chambers is so unreservedly unique in his performance as Richard that one feels he could hold the floor by himself without any direction whatsoever. A film made up of these observations could reap great reward, and the viewpoint of Stephenson’s filmmaking fits perfectly into this mold.

It is a formidable challenge for a play to be adapted onto the screen, retain its core in a plausible manner and still be original. Chicken goes beyond these expectations, everything from impulsive performances to bottomless shades of green are presented with the utmost distinction. It is an astonishing piece of work that stands all alone. The film has no companion piece and doesn’t aim to make comparisons. It treats cinema like gold dust and shares a rich profit. 5/5

Watch a clip from CHICKEN below:

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The Drop – There’s enough to play with

The_Drop

The Drop (US/2014)

UK Release by 20th Century Fox – 14th November 2014

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam

Brief Synopsis: Everyone in the neighbourhood works together to make a living. The past can be haunting and the future must be sourced at any cost, law abiding or not. Bob Saginowski finds himself entangled right at the centre after a string of unfortunate events. 

There is an assuring sense of dread, morbid humour and a fine American setting for a simmering thriller: the deep of Brooklyn. This weighted tale from Dennis Lehane (we know the work must be formidable coming from the guy who wrote Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone) is deliberately paced with a natural development of cause-effect. However, it can feel all too similar at times, and the plot can certainly dwindle depending on your viewpoint. I think the key to this film is that it is character driven, the dialogue is intriguing through its disparate layers of meaning, and that it has Tom Hardy approaching the material with absolute sensitivity and an extraordinarily convincing Brooklyn accent, especially for a born Londoner.

Although, it is not quite the memorable James Gandolfini performance I was hoping for, perhaps Hardy is too impressive; it is certainly exciting to see Hardy rise to similar heights as Gandolfini and even beyond. Whilst great actors pass, new generations continue to bring their organic insight to the field; there are more great stars in the making today (and certainly more actors lingering for the near future) than, I believe, there ever have been.

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam, in what is only his second feature, it is great to see more European sensibility come to the screen. The mood is tinged with uncooked sadness, but there is a contentment to be found in the Brooklyn low-life. Roskam directs with hope, he captures even the smallest acts and moments that give purpose to Hardy’s life. These moments creep up on us and draw to a riveting conclusion, but a conclusion that still has plenty of room left for reflection and doesn’t defy the depth of mystery under the veil of Hardy’s character, Bob.

3.5/5 stars

Mr. Turner – Impressive, but not quite worth it

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Mr. Turner (UK/2014)

UK Release by Focus Features – 31st October 2014

Directed by Mike Leigh

Brief Synopsis: A portrait of J.M.W Turner’s life that chronicles various exploits and artistic endeavours. 

Scene by scene Mr. Turner is exquisite in portrait and admirable in context. However, this does not make it compelling, rather the steady pacing and acts are underwhelming in their progression and execution. The drama is not as thirsty as one feels it should be; the cog driving the machine seems to be missing. To be even more disparaging, it could come under the category of a bit messy and predictable. Whilst many elements of the filmmaking process (design, costume etc.) are flawless and no doubt award winning, the character of Mr. Turner does not express the emotional range, which I’d hoped for from an artist, to carry this great spectacle. The performance by Timothy Spall is clearly engrossing of certain behaviours but only adequate in whole.

This is not a critique of Turner’s works of art, which are glorious and formidable, it is a critique of the non-apparent flexibility and miscellany of occurrence that should be prevalent in a mans life. It is not an easy film to pull apart, for it is most likely very accurate indeed and Mike Leigh, of course, has the masters’ touch. Yet, at two and a half hours long, the virtuosity and steady pacing run to the end of the line. I struggle to find another way to express my dissatisfaction, it is perhaps just one of those films you expect to be wholly great, but turns out just to be good.

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner is grumpy, methodical and plain rude. This is not surprising of an artist, who must have their ups and downs, yet it ends here; there is no further insight into the man, he doesn’t let us in and perhaps that is more powerful for this picture. But, what about the touching spirit that brings out those raw brush strokes? Where is the life of this man who finds such inspiration? This critique may be more suited to Turner himself than Leigh’s film; I obviously cannot know this fact. What I do know, is that film is fortunate enough to be accepted and advantageously allowed to explicitly dramatise into fiction, and therefore I want to see an altogether noteworthy and enthusing character up there on the screen.

Turner’s fellow artists (Haydon, Constable, Eastlake, Soane et al.) bring together the most prosperous and exciting scenes with great wit and thought on display. Mark Stanley as Clarkson Stanfield is particularly amusing in his perceptive mode of sheer aristocratic persuasion. The vibrant lifestyle of the artists is eminent, yet once we are back with Turner it is only desolate, solemn and sexually frustrated. The housemaid is the primary asset of Turner’s desires; she is submissive and disarmingly played by Sandy Foster. The rest of the supporting cast rightly deserves a nod and Lesley Manville is noticeably in full swing to continue her extensive work with Leigh.

The cinematography by Dick Pope can be breathtaking and masterful; in particular the shots of Turner walking the hills at dawn with his little sketchbook. If only there were more of these intimate sequences with nature, which so dearly express where Turner’s vision lies and which showcase the beauty of the United Kingdom. Admittedly, they must have been very time-consuming shots, the weather being as unpredictable as it often is in the UK! The framing and composition is indeed flawless, but it is not always as powerful as one should hope. There just isn’t the reticence of cinematic language I feel could have been reached. It is another impressive work by Leigh, but I am sure he could have sharpened his brushwork.

3/5 stars