Argo review – DMU’s James Stevens


James Stevens

Not content with being a leading man and A-lister in Hollywood, Ben Affleck has recently turned into quite the film director. Affleck is back with his third feature film as director following Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town with his latest. Argo is the true story of the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 American embassy personnel were imprisoned from 1979 to 1981 in Tehran. However, 6 of the hostages managed to flee the embassy and wind up in the Canadian ambassadors house. With nowhere to turn and no escape, a small CIA team headed by Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting) and the brilliant Bryan Cranston (Drive) decide the only way to get them safely back to the US, is by making a fake sci-fi movie with some Hollywood bigwigs backing them and the 6 hostages acting as film crew for the movie. So it looks like Ben Affleck is finally putting that degree he has in Middle Eastern affairs to good use then.

Argo has three very distinct settings. DC, Hollywood and Tehran. The biggest problem for Affleck in this movie is how to fuse all three of these together. DC is all about the political heavyweight brass and the chauvinistic CIA. Hollywood has all the glitz and the glamour that only the late 70′s Hollywood knew. Tehran is a grainy, gritty and full of suspense, a very good set piece involving a re-con of the local bazaar turns into a sweaty-palm knuckle-biter which lets Ben Affleck show off his directorial flair. But Affleck manages to create and fuse all three settings expertly as they all feature very contrasting moods…

Argo has a cast where you’ll say ‘I know that person, but what have they been in?’, not many huge Hollywood heavy hitters here but most, if not all, are very accomplished actors and all carry their weight. John Goodman’s movie FX genius and Alan Alda’s upfront and pithy producer standout as a great double act combining laughs with suspenseful moments. The script sizzles and zings with one liners, not what you would expect in a politically driven movie, but it helps the characters and story move along at a snappy pace.

Argo does have a few niggles here and there with the characters involved but nothing that detracts from yet another hit on Afflecks new director sheet.


Argo is part comic caper and part political thriller delivered with style and confidence from a Hollywood heart-throb who now finds himself as one of the hottest and most in demand directors out there. Unlike the phrase uttered throughout this movie… Argo and see it!

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Argo review – DMU’s Tom Foster


Tom Foster

Ben Affleck returns for his third directorial outing in Argo, a film loosely based on the account of the ‘Canadian Caper’ where a CIA operative successfully rescued six American diplomats from Iran during the 1979 revolution. How exactly did he do this? He used the guise that the diplomats were in fact Canadian film makers who were location scouting in Iran for a fake sci-fi film entitled ‘Argo’. It sounds absolutely ludicrous, something that you’d only ever see in a movie, but surprisingly it happened and here we have Argo, a film which depicts these peculiar events.

Affleck has recently reinvented himself as a brilliant director; his first two directed films Gone Baby Gone and The Town were well made crime films and proved to me that Affleck had genuine talent behind the camera. I wasn’t particularly fond of Affleck as an actor; this was likely down to his roles in painful viewing experiences like Pearl Harbour and Gigli; but now with Argo, Affleck has fully cemented himself as a director whose films are well made and thoroughly entertaining which are sure to always engage the viewer.
Argo is a tense, thrilling and surprisingly funny film which hops along at a nippy pace entertaining the hell out of you. Our lead is Affleck who plays Tony Mendez, the CIA operative who is tasked with carrying out the mission, his performance is nothing special, but he is likable as Mendez and gets the job done. In the end it’s the film’s supporting cast that really rock the show; John Goodman and Alan Arkin play the Hollywood contacts who Mendez turns to for help; they both put in enjoyable performances and are damn funny, spewing out great lines between them. Bryan Cranston is great as always as Mendez’s supervisor overseeing the mission.

Argo is very much a combination of a hostage-thriller and heist film. The whole build up to the mission feels like the preparation to a bank heist, and then of course we get the escape/getaway involving Mendez and the diplomats which is crafted brilliantly to shred your nerves and keep you gripped until the very end, showing that a movie doesn’t have to rely on guns and explosions to be a tense viewing experience.

The film is fascinating in its look at this historical episode in one of Iran’s most troubled periods. Affleck’s direction is sublime with him being treated to a wonderful supporting cast. Argo is also able to effectively balance its comedic and dark elements; and while the film isn’t fully accurate, it’s nonetheless a fascinating and rip-roaring 120 minute thrill ride.

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Argo review- DMU’s Melissa Hagar


Melissa Hagar

Argo (2012) is a thriller film about a group of CIA operatives who go under cover as exotic film location scouts to rescue six American diplomats trapped in Iran. Directed by Ben Affleck, who also directed critically acclaimed The Town, (2010) the film is based on actual events that transpired in 1979 and the accounts published in 2007 regarding ‘the Canadian Caper.’ The film focuses more on the CIA’s efforts in rescuing the diplomats, and featuring an incredible ensemble cast, makes this film certainly one to watch.

The film follows Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) a CIA operative who formulates the idea to retrieve the diplomats and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston). Together, they seek the help of John Chambers, (John Goodman) who is a professional Hollywood make-up artist and Lester Siegal, (Alan Arkin) a film producer, to make their elaborate escapade more believable. I was a bit skeptical after seeing Affleck in less enjoyable films in which he acted, but in this particular piece, Affleck proves tome and to an observant and critical audience for the third time, that he is capable of directing a film with considerate skill, which possesses a clever script and plenty of suspenseful moments to keep adrenaline junkies pleased.

The supporting actors in the film do much more than just support; they add a much-needed element to the film, providing humor and entertainment to this relentless, tension filled and nerve wracking piece.

Argo is a fast paced, captivating thrill ride that is sure to maintain your interest and keep you on the edge of your seat. Even if films that are based on historical events don’t usually attract you, this will not disappoint, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Overall Argo is thoroughly gripping, and gives an insightful take on the efforts of those who risked everything to rescue the diplomats. Although the film suffers from some inaccuracy as all films based on historical events do, the cast is undeniably great, the musical score appropriately captivating and the complete piece packs enough punch to appeal to a range of audiences who may have overlooked this film first time around.

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Staff Reviews: The Muppets by Andy Leeke, Front of House Assistant

It’s been a long time. Far too long. And I’m not just talking about the Muppets. I’m talking about good films that really do appeal to everyone.

Going in, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I loved The Muppet Show as a kid, and the movies are largely successful (especially The Muppets Christmas Carol, possibly the best filmed version of the classic story in recent years.) The Muppets never really go wrong; even when they’re average, they will be the highlight of your day. And it’s for that reason, that I can’t really write a real review, because you just owe it to yourself to see this. Go on, you deserve it.

You want more? Fine, but it’s going to be nothing but praise from start to finish.

This iteration of the Muppets is a “getting the band back together” story. Much as in real life, the world has largely forgotten just how entertaining the Muppets are. But they still have fans, and by far their biggest is a kid named Walter. He shares many of the qualities of the Muppets themselves, and not just the felt based complexion. He understands the joy of this form of entertainment, and by the end of this story, you’ll remember it too. Just like any Muppet story, there are humans in it too, but even Jason Segal (who played a key role in bringing Henson’s creations back to the big screen) knows that this isn’t his movie. His film belongs to Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker and of course Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (not forgetting Animal, their drummer.) Yes, there are human cameos but they never take centre stage.

One real standout element is the music. If you’ve ever watched Flight of the Conchords, then the name Bret McKenzie should be all I need to say. And if you haven’t heard the name, you’re in for a real musical treat, whose composer is now in possession of a little golden Oscar, for his work on this very film.

Honestly, it’s just a joy from start to finish. While you may not laugh out loud for the whole film, your face will ache from all the smiling you’ll be doing. And it stays with you. This is just pure happiness captured on film. And remember, the art form of the muppeteer often goes unnoticed – and that’s exactly what they want. They want to make you smile more than you ever thought possible, with just some felt and imagination.

One negative point? I really hate that it ended, and I had to go back to reality.

Andrew Leeke works Front of House at Phoenix Square, where he is also a Production Assistant and provides animation workshops for kids. He is also a freelance animator and visual effects artist. Despite being 27, he still spends all of his pocket money on toys.

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Staff Reviews: Margin Call by Fran Jaffa, Front of House Assistant

So who doesn’t like men in suits? Seriously, if you don’t like them this is probably not the film for you. There’s such a wide variety! Paul Bettany goes in for the traditional waistcoat and jacket, Kevin Spacey bulges out of braces, Zachary Quinto flies the flag for the more relaxed “I’m just a lowly intern and also under 40” shirt-and-tie-combo while Jeremy Irons is flat out scary as he looms out of shadows in a colour which could only be described as Funeral Black. The only thing missing is Bowler hats all round. Actually this lot are about as far from the slightly cuddly bowler-and-briefcase, ulcer-riddled image of businessmen as it’s possible to get and still be on the planet.

At first this film felt to me like a long list of clichés, Zachary Quinto is the young hopeful intern-with-a-conscience, helpfully highlighted by his sidekick Seth (Penn Badgley) who cheerfully has none whatsoever. Paul Bettany is every Wall Street stereotype rolled into one, a brash, harsh, world-weary, ex-smoking cynic; while his boss (Kevin Spacey) is more upset by his dog’s illness than the majority of his floor being put out of a job with no warning. However as the plot develops these clichés become character flaws and the sight of a tearful Spacey at the vets is genuinely upsetting. It helps that just when you’ve decided that this boss is the highest level of evil you could possibly encounter another one turns up and trumps them thoroughly with fresh degrees of callousness and unashamed money-grabbing until you feel almost fond of Kevin Spacey and his braces, and his pep-talks seem less like heartless jargon and more like an actual liking for the people who work for him. This constant one-upmanship (or one-downmanship, if you like) still doesn’t serve to make any of them likeable people, even doe-eyed Quinto, by the end of it, is hiss-inducingly sanguine about his career prospects after a night and day which ruined so many lives. Remember, this film is set in 2008 at the beginning of some very interesting financial years.

With a cast list like this one the range of performances is unsurprisingly spectacular. Did I mention Jeremy Irons is in it? You would think he’d get bored of playing out-and-out baddies but nope, clearly he realises a voice like that is just made for smooth, insidious evil. Lots of comparisons have been made between this and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps but I get the distinct impression that Jeremy Irons could eat Shia LeBeouf for breakfast quite happily, or at the very least persuade him to exile himself over the wildebeest-trampled corpse of Michael Douglas. The biggest difference and, for me, the most interesting thing about this film is it’s musings on money. As the root of all evil, as a fictional concept, in a greedy dragonish fashion or with casual disdain, each character has a different take on the reason they’re doing their job and their conclusions, especially Paul Bettany’s, (delivered with the razor sharp diction of a man who really knows how to swear,) are scarily right on the button.

Unlike the slightly sexy, almost blame-free previous Hollywood attempts on Wall Street and its inhabitants, this is a movie that pulls no punches in pointing fingers. The similarity between the names of CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) and Richard Fuld (real life bad guy, in charge of the Lehman Brothers) can’t really be a coincidence, can it? Although despite its hard-hitting intent, director JC Chandor goes to great lengths to make all these people seem human, even Irons is allowed to display a few cracks, though by the end of the film he’s back on form, spewing conscience-easing platitudes to a shaken Kevin Spacey. This was a genuinely tense and gripping film, which makes its very relevant point in an inescapable fashion. Be prepared.

Fran works at Phoenix Square as a Front of House Assistant and has a thoroughly useful degree in Drama. Her interests aside from films are mainly tea and cake. Occasionally biscuits.

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Ordet: A View From The Projection Box

“My Only Great Passion” – so said Carl Th. Dreyer of his lifelong love affair with the cinema. Few if any filmmakers have come close to translating this passion so completely into their work as Dreyer. Although he made relatively few films during his long career (only 14 features from The President in 1919 to Gertrud in 1964), quality well and truly took precedence over quantity and what he gave to us is a collection of films that are quite simply without equal.

Far from wallowing in clichéd Nordic gloom, and contrary to many people’s view of his work, Dreyer’s method is so quiet and so open that his films positively glow with the day to day act of living: of enjoying happiness, of suffering pain, of feeling love and of needing love. The day to day experience of existence. We may find ourselves in obscure or unfamiliar historical surroundings but the convictions and transgressions are the same as they’ve always been and always shall be. It’s this unflinching and uncompromising approach to truth that goes towards making his films such overwhelmingly intense experiences.

Those partial to films about silent, empty, breathing spaces will find in Dreyer’s films a true kindred spirit. So much of his work feels next to impossible to sufficiently articulate in words (always a mark of great art/cinema). They are filled with open routes to an abundance of meanings and levels of nuanced human understanding. What it is that draws us into these austere landscapes is, of course, a lot to do with what’s going on in our heads. It’s about the spaces that open up and the thought processes which are ignited to fill it.  These voids which Dreyer creates kick off our own subconscious memories and it’s that marriage of the work with the viewer that gives Dreyer’s work such ambiguity and longevity. Not finding definite answers to difficult questions is a wonderful side to our existence. It’s stokes the fires of our curiosity, it keeps us going and sustains our inquisitive nature. Thankfully, some things are mysterious and they will forever remain that way. And that’s certainly the case with a Film by Carl Dreyer.

He was never afraid to tackle “big themes”. He was only concerned with his own ability to match his own expectations. He accepted nothing less than what he wanted and his work was all more beautiful for being so unsparing. This unshakable unwillingness to compromise certainly contributed towards his long periods of inactivity and when things did go array, as was the case with his 1944 film Two People, he wasted little time in voicing his distain and disapproval. Disowning the film almost before it was released. But when everything fell into place, as was the case with La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and with Gertrud, the results were remarkable.

His unparalleled mastery of structure and space (both on-screen and off-screen space) is akin to an almost primeval gift for alchemy. So much is achieved by – apparently – doing so little. For instance, you can never be entirely sure who is sitting or standing just out of frame or when or where from a particular character may reappear. Are they alone, or are they being watched? It’s a disorientating yet thrilling sensation. Gesture and the way that characters carry themselves are just as important in Dreyer’s films too. Throughout his filmmaking life he remained steadfastly a man of the silent screen and this startlingly cinematic and economical means of relaying information was always profoundly important to him.

Ordet, which Dreyer himself said was the film that he had most affection for, is especially wondrous in this regard. As with the rest of his mature works, it is completely devoid of embellishment or needless excess. Stripped bare of anything and everything that is either indulgent or unnecessary. Even the credits for the film consist of nothing more than the main title card: “Kaj Munk – Ordet” (Munk, the author of the original play, was murdered by the Nazis in 1944). Not even Dreyer’s name appears anywhere on the finished film.

Even though they live a remote rural existence in a devoutly religious corner of a far off foreign land, the Borgens are a recognisably real family. Theirs is a house of love and laughter, of daily routines and chores, and of a deeply felt concern for the mental state of one of their kin. At the Borgensgaard farmstead we find old man Borgen, as stubborn in his ways as he is stubborn in his faith; Mikkel, his eldest son, a pragmatist and a man who no longer has any time for the petty superstitions of religion; Johannes, the second son who, for reasons not fully explained, has seemingly lost of mind and is now of the belief that he is the risen Christ; the youngest son Anders, a gentle soul on the brink of adulthood and longing for the hand of the tailor’s daughter; and then there are Mikkel’s two young daughters, Maren and Lilleinger, innocents whose cherishable youth grants them the uncomplicated capacity for unwavering trust. Finally, at the centre of them all, there is Inger. Beautiful and wonderful Inger: Mikkel’s wife and a loving mother to the two girls. She is also expecting their third child. An earth mother if ever there was one, she is a woman of wisdom, humour, fortitude and never-ending diplomacy.

As in all his major films (and principally in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Day of Wrath and, in what is for me his greatest film, Gertrud) Dreyer presents us with an almost mystical portrait of womanhood. Inger is the very heart of the household and she binds the family together: a mum, a sister, a daughter and a rock that they all adore and rely upon. She embodies that inner strength which to a greater or lesser degree we all possess so that we’re able to cope the best that we can with the trials and tribulations that life throws at us. And the Borgens have a tragedy to cope with that will put them all to the test.

Although championed as a masterpiece of abstract and spiritual enlightenment, it’s the physically of human desire and of human contact (hands holding hands, lips touching lips, flesh pressed against flesh) that is most central to Dreyer’s view of our life’s blood. To have lived and never loved must be a dreadful thing and Dreyer’s characters fight against this torment for all they’re worth. Never more so than in the devastating final act when the rational and the miraculous converge and convince in a way that utterly defies description. [Minor plot spoiler ahead]: The gut-wrenching cry from Inger’s broken husband (“But I loved her body too”) has to be the most violently honest and shiningly beautiful proclamation in all of cinema. It chills to the bone and you almost feel ashamed to have been witness to this most private of declarations.

For me, Ordet is also at its most extraordinary when capturing those moments from childhood that we all remember; fleeting memories that immediately transport us back to those Blue Remembered Hills. The sound of washing flapping in the wind; the smell of baking drifting from the kitchen; the dappled sunlight casting shadows through the curtain lace; a kiss before bedtime. Sounds and images that trigger off all sorts of distant reminiscences of times long past. Life is transient, ephemeral, nothing is forever, and although it might sound like an obvious thing to say, you really get a sense with Dreyer that we all live our lives through our own experience.

Our walk with love and death is mediated by our own personal histories and by our upbringing. Whether they be sacred or profane, we are the sum total of our beliefs and circumstances. These are the devices and desires that have made us who we are. Rather than searching for any godlike presence, Dreyer’s characters seek peace and solace primarily with themselves, yearning to fulfil their mission in life, a mission that thrives on the physical longing for spiritual fulfilment. To be able to say nothing more than: “I am content”.

You cannot leave a Dreyer film as quite the same person you were when you entered it. The intensity and beauty of his films leave no stone unturned when it comes to burrowing into our very core. But Dreyer never positions himself as preacher or as either judge or jury. His films astonish us through their bold simplicity as he seeks to illuminate our understanding of ourselves and of our place (or role?) in this world. To sit before The Parson’s Widow, Master of the House, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Vampyr, Day of Wrath, Ordet or Gerturd is to be in the company of the richest and most rewarding films ever made. They are not films to be revered from a distance but rather living works that both require and deserve to be experienced and remembered in just the same way as the sight and sound of that blindingly white linen, fluttering in the breeze.

Paul Marygold – Projectionist

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Staff Reviews: J Edgar by Martin Barker, Screen Lounge Assistant

As a big fan of biopic films, I love to see whether the actor or actress can capture the essence of a person we all know so well that I start to think I am watching that actual person on screen. I love to see how the director chooses to interpret the character, how he has chosen to show him and whether he has captured the iconic figure and done them or their story justice. I also love to see what they choose to focus on, do they capture the whole story of the person, or do they omit parts I would consider important, do they stick to fact or do they go for a magnified version, this job I guess falls to the writer. For J. Edgar my hopes were high. You have who I believe has without a doubt proven himself to be a brilliant character actor, Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. You have Clint Eastwood directing (of whom I could spend the rest of this review listing off his achievements.) Then there is also the writer Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for his excellent screenplay for the brilliant MILK on the life of political activist Harvey Milk. The result… a fascinating take on a fascinating man, though just like the man the film too is not without its faults.

The film follows the career and personal life of the man who made the FBI what it is today, J. Edgar Hoover. The film focuses on his early career as he sets out, encouraged further by his ambitious mother (Judi Dench) to achieve the greatness he is so destined to do. From the off it is clear Hoover has great ability and pushes for the change to focus greater resources on fingerprinting and alternative detective methods, moulding the FBI into one of the most efficient forces on the planet, a planet which he sees as constantly posing a threat to his beloved United States.  The film often is narrated by the older Hoover dictating his memoirs and looking back and forward to his legacy. The film covers many of the high profile moments of Hoover’s career, but also poses many questions over the methods used to achieve them.

The other side to this film is the personal struggles of the man himself and also his close relationship to his personal assistant Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Hoover at times is arrogant and vindictive yet at others nervous and emotionally torn. It is hard not to admire his dedication to something he believes in so strongly, but this admiration is stretched at every point when you see the dedication is to the detriment of those around him. Hoover was also clearly a torn man when it came to his sexuality, and for someone who was quick to use peoples secrets against them, especially with many of the Presidents, it’s difficult sometimes to feel sympathy for him. However some of the scenes between Hoover and Tolson are very moving and for a man whose business was to know everyone else’s secrets,  it’s sad that the person he knew least about was himself.

DiCaprio has not done a bad film in a long long time, and this film continues his trend of putting in brilliant performances. I felt he captured both the younger and elder Hoover excellently and he’s only let down in my opinion by the makeup which at times I found a tad unbelievable. Especially the elder Clyde Tolson who I thought looked like a bad waxwork model, however considering the heavy makeup, they maybe even deserve more credit for getting the performances to shine through. Eastwood puts in another excellent directorial display, the film has a great feel to it and with any Eastwood film the musical score is brilliant. What does let the film down slightly for me is sadly the writing. The film moves often between the younger and elder Hoover and often not in chronological order which I found led to the film feeling like it wasn’t going anywhere with any pace at points, however this was only a few moments. I also think it was simply a difficult job to fit in the story of a man who played a prominent role for close to 50 years. I read somewhere else that it would have been brilliant as a 3 or 4 part miniseries and I can completely see this. However Black does a great job on the portrayals of Hoover’s personal struggles.

For me the star of the film is Hoover himself, and it is worth watching the film just to make your own opinion on the man. Where the film shines is not the recreations of investigations, so I wouldn’t expect a heavily fact laden film based on these. However it’s difficult not to be fascinated by the man and his internal struggles, and I found this at moments quite touching, more than I did the shock at some of the methods he used, whether this is what I was meant to feel I’m not sure, but it’s a credit to the film that it leaves you to make your own mind up. A fascinating look at a man who knew everything about everyone, whilst struggling to know himself.

Martin Barker works in the café bar and when not struggling to balance your meals from the kitchen to the table or watching films, he enjoys live music and exploring new places.

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Staff Review: Resistance by Iain Jaques, Front of House Assistant

It’s 1944 and D Day has failed. Britain is being invaded by German troops, radio news reports city after British city is being conquered. In a distant remote Welsh valley, the sense of an impending, threatening and unwelcome arrival is in the air.

And so, with skeletal preparation, and accelerated plot uptake, the Women of Olchon valley are met with an invasion force.

Resistance (PG) focuses on the relationship between a German Army Captain (Tom Wlaschiha) and Sarah (Andrea Riseborough,) a war wife hopeful of her husbands’ safe return. With all men from the valley absent, the captain is surprisingly tender and fosters the same spirit amongst his men, with the women of the valley becoming uneasy collaborators. The key relationship is as remote as they come, flashes of desire marred by the unease of the wartime context, mini‐acts of defiance and the aching Sarah feels for her husband, Tom. Flashbacks and dreams are appropriately used to deepen the emotional backdrop. However, the full potency of this relationship is never realised, but it does very well to frame the human, emotional and relationship discourse within the far off arena of war.

The film’s aesthetic is austere, reflecting the era of its setting. Often graded down to cinefilm quality with glitches and muted greens is pitched perfectly and gives the film a sense of time and place. Somehow German voices sound at home in this landscape, their grizzly industrial tones echoing beautifully with the valleys bleak aesthetic. All cements the sense that it is now the women of the valley who have become displaced.

There is superb sound design throughout. Especially during a battle flashback the captain endures. However the sound might have been used to better effect for deepening the impending doom, the seriousness of the countrywide invasion and raising the fear by using the powerful medium of radio a little more. A wooden AM set makes a momentary appearance with a wonderfully adept news reading but personally I would have like to have heard much more. The sheer amount of German language in the film is highly commendable though.

This feature film by Leicester director Amit Gupta is a potent wartime story, which portrays beautifully an alternate past. What is does best is to so effectively frame the hardship a whole generation endured to defeat Germany in World War 2 and brings the human emotional viewpoint to the fore from a contrary, unexpected and interesting viewpoint.

Iain is a Front of House Assistant at Phoenix Square. He has an all too special interest in photographing cities and infrastructure. An exhibition of his black and white images is currently showing at Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery until 16th April 2012.

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Staff Reviews: Martha Marcy May Marlene by Fran Jaffa, Front of House Assistant

Did you know Mary-Kate-and-Ashley, of early 90’s TV fame, are two of six siblings? Six. So there’s a pretty good chance that at least one of them is going to have talent, turns out it’s this one. Elizabeth Olsen is two years their junior and I promise that will be the last time I mention all three in the same sentence because she’s probably sick of hearing herself referred to as their sister. Plus she completely blows them out of the water with this fantastic performance as the damaged and deranged escapee who can lay claim, in part, to all four names of the tongue-twisting title.

Martha is her actual name, just to clear up any confusion, Marcy-May is the name given to her by commune boss Patrick (John Hawkes), and Marlene is the false name given to anyone who calls up the commune for any reason.

Personally I found this film hugely disturbing. It didn’t help I’m already half in love with John Hawkes after his scary performance as kind-hearted bad guy Teardrop in Winter’s Bone, a film with which this one has a surprising amount in common. Both, obviously, feature John Hawkes’ skinny frame and his uncanny ability to switch from friendly to menacing without actually moving his face, both focus on familial ties and the bonds between people who live slightly isolated from society and both feature an absolutely stunning female lead, the fact that Jennifer Lawrence didn’t win every award going including best soundtrack is practically criminal. Interestingly, when Jennifer Lawrence auditioned for the part of Ree in Winter’s Bone, the casting director was initially worried she was “too beautiful” for the role. I wonder if Elizabeth Olsen had a similar problem with Martha or if, like Lawrence, her beauty adds something to the character (in this case a perceived vulnerability and an assumption, easily made by her sister, that she would want to show it off.)

In an interview at last year’s Sundance festival John Hawkes claims he doesn’t think of his character Patrick as a “cult-leader”, and that he tried to forget everything he knew or had heard about cults and just play him as a human being. Which is unfortunate as this film trots out pretty much every culty stereotype going. Hippy morals, almost Amish-style life, subservient women, creepy guitar-playing godlike older man and a bit of “sexual cleansing” thrown in for good measure. The only thing missing is some good old-fashioned religious fervour and it is this absence that gives it more the feel of a commune than a cult and allows it to be that little bit more seductive to the lost young souls that wander into it.

Although this film isn’t exactly a revelation in its presentation of cults, what it deals with more effectively is what happens afterwards. Martha struggles to reconcile her fractured memories and dreams with her current luxurious surroundings, leading to confrontations with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy’s husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) whose beautiful lakeside holiday home she’s staying in. Paulson and Dancy are good as this recently married yuppie couple, they have hideous schmoozy parties and shrug off Martha’s questions as to why they have such an enormous place all to themselves, especially considering they don’t actually live there. I did find myself wondering at the slightly one-dimensional feel of their characters though, they seem to be there simply to highlight the difference between the initial caring, familial feel of the commune and the conform-or-else attitude and lack of concern her actual flesh and blood seem to feel towards her. There’s an awful scene in which Lucy’s attempt at sisterly bonding leaves Martha feeling exposed and results in an attack of the paranoia that follows her throughout the film and could possibly, we are encouraged to wonder, follow her for the rest of her life.

The dense woodland of the Catskill Mountains of New York really give this film a claustrophobic feel, very few “outside” people are seen. Even in the safe haven of her sister’s home, the woods gather menacingly on the edges of the lake and we are only given a very few glimpses of urbanity. This adds to the ominous feeling that Martha will somehow be drawn back into the world she’s so desperate to escape from, whether by force or by choice.

With some impressive performances all round, a very clever, natural script and some terrifyingly accurate psychology, this is definitely a film that will have you looking over your shoulder all the way home, not to mention instil a lifelong suspicion of men with guitars.

Fran works at Phoenix Square as a Front of House Assistant and has a thoroughly useful degree in Drama. Her interests aside from films are mainly tea and cake. Occasionally biscuits.

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Sean Carroll Sounds It Out

Sound it out, directed and presented by Jeanie Finlay is a documentary about the last independent record shop in Tee-side. The last ten years have seen a massive decline in vinyl sales due to the low cost and high quality of digital file formats. This has caused most Indie shops to close. Sound it Out, however is a thriving musical hub within the community, catering for everything from popular genres through to little known Makina and DB Kore. The film introduces us to Tom, the owner of the shop and also some of his regular and not so regular customers in an attempt to discover why Sound it Out is so successful when so many other Indie shops have fallen victim to the changing face of the record industry.

Okay, so nine years ago I worked in an Indie record shop, at the time it was the best job ever. One of my earliest memories is an old 7′ single of Buffalo Soldier wobbling about on this really old turntable warped so badly I could only listen to half of it. I still own that record, in fact I own about 2000 vinyl and have only ever bought 2 CD’s in my life, yet when I saw this film in the brochure I felt a bit sad.

I was sad because the record shop where I used to work isn’t a record shop anymore, because the three of the four independent record shops in the city centre at the time aren’t there anymore, because I haven’t bought any vinyl in at least three years, because after so long treating Itunes as if it were a rabid dog, I made my first purchase a few weeks ago, because my Ortofon stylus has now collected more dust from lack of use than dodgy vinyl. Really, I was sad because I felt like I’d lost something.

I don’t really want to talk about the future, but the truth is that things change. We live in an age where communities are becoming more and more digital. Not many people will pay £7 for a vinyl when they can buy a virtual copy for 70p on the web. It is becoming cheaper and more convenient to shop online instead of going into town or talk to your friends online instead of going to the pub. The truth is our shop like so many others was just a victim of that future.

I don’t really want to talk about society, what I wanted was to understand how this record shop in an area of Tee-side with social and economical issues is continuing to thrive when ours and so many others around us went under. It’s an uncanny feeling to look at a business you have never seen before in an area you have never been to, run by people you have never met, and yet feel so familiar. From the fanatical collectors that will examine the same vinyl racks every other day and tell you when your filing is off, to the people who are sure that you’ll know what they’re looking for if they just whistle it at you for a few more minutes. What I realised was that I had lost something, and I wasn’t just being nostalgic. What I had lost was a sense of community.

I don’t really want to talk about social struggles but it’s fair to say that there are places all over the country that have suffered heavily with unemployment, underinvestment and underdevelopment. You can see how lack of opportunity, especially for the younger people in this film is causing struggle in this area, but they do still have a sense of community. We are introduced to several of the shops regulars throughout the film who invite us into their homes to talk about music, but this film is also a fascinating snapshot of their lives, their obsessions, their beliefs about their selves and their community and also the smaller community that revolves around the shop. Whether this is brought about by their situation, by their love of music and records, by the owner Tom who has taken the time to listen to all 70’000 vinyl it is hard to say, but there is a real sense of community that comes from each of the characters.

Maybe sometimes it’s not such a big deal to message your friend on Facebook instead of going round, maybe it is more convenient to order your shopping online rather than to go to the local shop and I’m honestly not knocking the value of online communities. There is however, something innately human about this film that is grounded in relationships and social interaction that could never have been captured with a script or a studio.

To summarise, in a unique way Sound it Out is not brash, not loud, not arrogant but this film is more Rock’n’Roll than pushing Stonehenge down a hill. I didn’t really want to talk about society, or social struggle or the future, or the economy, or community, or people but to be honest…this film is not really about records.

Sean Carroll is a Technician, Projectionist and Screen Lounge operative at Phoenix square. His interests, when not watching films include and are almost exclusively limited to the realms of improvisational music composition, software design and loud noises.

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