Indie writer and director Jamie Adams rounds off what is referred to as his ‘modern romance trilogy’ with ‘Black Mountain Poets’; a mistaken identity comedy of errors. His improvisational trio of movies began in the music industry with Benny & Jolene before tackling the festive period in A Wonderful Christmas Time. Concluding on a slightly darker note in the poetic, yet wacky world of wordsmiths, we meet con-artist sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells) as they commit the latest in their series of petty crimes and are forced to go on-the run. To keep a low profile from the pursuing authorities, they grasp at an unexpected opportunity to assume the identities of another set of sisters, who happen to be well respected bards expected at a camping trip with their creative crowd of poetry enthusiasts. Can they keep up the pretence for an entire weekend of writing and recitals, or will they be unmasked as the fraudsters they are?
The narrative is thematically deeper and darker than the other films Jamie Adams has made, and I think this is because the fun is poked at older characters with less time left to make a mess of their lives. Lisa and Claire live their lives with little direction and although there are still laughs, there is an underlying sadness that goes along with them. The Allen-esque struggling artist idea toyed with in Richard, the brooding man that comes between the sisters played by Downton Abbey’s Tom Cullen. The improvised script is playful but razor sharp as the cringe-inducing scenarios are executed naturally, avoiding the staged awkwardness that can plague comedies of the same ilk. Lowe and Wells excel in their co-leading roles, as their alter-egos enjoy screen time with one other, lampooning not just each other but everyone around them. Excellent support comes from Rosa Robson as Richard’s on-off snooty girlfriend Louise and Richard Ellis is hilarious as possibly the most Welsh man alive, Gareth Jones.
Filmed in just five days, ‘Black Mountain Poets’ is low-budget brilliance. The ‘modern romance trilogy’ has matured and gives an assured and interesting finale which has all the attributes of the predecessors and more to boot. It is tightly written and intimate yet the story unfolds on the wide and wonderful landscape of Wales’ black mountains. Despite the bizarre predicaments Jamie Adams’ characters find themselves in, they offer up a brutally amusing yet entirely relatable and down-to-earth representation of the highs and lows, or in this case the peaks and valleys, of life as a British adult who should really be settling down by now, but doesn’t quite know how.
A decade has passed since the last lightsaber battle on the silver screen, and the anticipation around the latest instalment of the franchise has been rife. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is the seventh episode so takes place approximately 30 years after ‘The Return of the Jedi’, revisiting the characters of the original trilogy as well as introducing a host of new faces. British rising star John Boyega stars as Finn, a stormtrooper who rebels against his master Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to assist captured fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) escape from the clutches of the dark side. Following this, Finn meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku and together along with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join forces to track down the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and overturn the First Order.
Straight from the iconic opening titles, there is an air of nostalgia that is ever-present in director J.J. Abram’s foray to a galaxy far, far away, and John William’s recognisable score is used to good effect in key moments which hark back to previous incarnations. The plot has a familiar structure and retreads themes of inner conflict and ‘good versus evil’, but still feels fresh in its rejuvenation. The team of writers superbly handle the combination of using old and new characters, the story never feeling cluttered or convoluted despite there being so much going on between the grandiose action sequences and the more intimate dialogue driven duels.
A lot of pressure lies on the young shoulders of Boyega and Ridley to deliver their in their pivotal central roles, and I am pleased to say that they do. Finn, or FN-2187 to give him his stormtrooper title, is far from the stereotypical hero. He has his flaws but has a good heart and Boyega captures this depth well. Daisy Ridley is equally excellent, Ren carrying the torch for the trend of strong female characters in film. Harrison Ford brings playfulness and exuberance to proceedings, Han Solo and Chewy working well with the youngsters and recreating the team dynamic on the Millennium Falcon first established back in ‘A New Hope’. There’s an abundance of solid turns from the cast including Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson among others, each making the most of their given opportunities but Adam Driver stood out in particular in his complexly villainous portrayal of Kylo Ren, his performance putting him up there with my favourite cinema baddies of the year.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ lives up to the almighty hype and does enough to tick the boxes for fanboys as well as welcoming a generation of new fans along for the ride. The sentimentality might be a tad indulgent for some, but it wasn’t overdone and looks forward to the future as much as it looks back into the past. J.J. Abrams has revitalised the classic series for the 21st century, directing with bravery and skill, and with respect for the enormity of the task at hand. The force is strong with this one.
Nicholas Hoult first rose to fame in 2002 at the age of just twelve in comedy drama About a Boy and has went from strength to strength ever since, starring in teen-series Skins as well as hitting Hollywood in Marvel’s X-Men movies. Now he has his most extreme role to date in dark comedy crime thriller ‘Kill Your Friends’, directed by Owen Harris. Based on the controversial novel of the same name by Scottish author John Niven, the plot takes place in the cut-throat music industry at the height of the Britpop era, following cocksure A&R man Steven Stelfox (Hoult), as he tries to work his way to the top. When a promotion comes up at the expense of his hapless manager Schneider (Dustin Demri-Burns), Steven and his colleague Roger Waters (James Corden) are in competition for the sought-after position. With label rival Tony Parker-Hall (Tom Riley) thwarting his efforts at every turn, can he do enough to impress company boss Derek Sommers (Jim Piddock) and get the job he believes he deserves?
From the off, the satirical style is made very apparent as the ruthless protagonist smashes down the fourth wall in the opening five minutes, and proceeds to talk straight down the lens of the camera, introducing his friends and foes around the office. Stelfox’s articulate internal monologue invites the audience into his twisted state of mind, giving the film an amusing swagger that is complimented by a brilliant yet blindingly obvious soundtrack featuring Blur, Oasis, Radiohead et al. The storytelling hinges on a substance-influenced mix of snap decisions and calculated mind games of the central character, and director Harris is not afraid to shock with moments of bloody violence that earn the picture an 18 rating certification; a rare occurrence in a time where brutality is watered down.
With clear similarities to Filth’s junkie policeman Bruce Robertson or psychotic investment banker Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, the unenviable challenge for Nicholas Hoult is not to simply come across as copycat, and to make Steven Stelfox just as memorable. While I feel that the film itself borrows too much from its influences in terms of the visual approach and editing, I think Hoult carries enough weight to give the villainous Stelfox proper depth, and although his views are skewed and his actions are mostly unforgiveable, he is a lot of fun to watch. The supporting cast hold back enough as not to get in Hoult’s way as he chews the scenery, but among the stand-outs are Craig Roberts as Stelfox’s timid but loyal scout Darren, and Ed Hogg as DC Woodham, a sleazy cop and wannabe songwriter.
‘Kill Your Friends’ relies heavily on the stylised approach adopted by past works tackling similar subject matter, and because of this there is a distinct lack of originality. However, as it borrows its ideas from enjoyable material, it turns out well. Nicholas Hoult’s wildly charismatic performance as the despicable yet at times hilarious Steven Stelfox is interesting enough to steer away from simply emulating others. I think that John Niven’s book is worthy of the cinema treatment it has received and whichever label you stick to it, whether it’s Britain’s answer to American Psycho or Trainspotting with money, it is an entertaining and energetic piece of guitar heavy, drug-fuelled and exaggerated nineties nostalgia.