“Us” – Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele is the master of the horror subgenre horror noir. Two years after his masterpiece “Get Out” (2017), he releases another horror film with Afro-American protagonists as a piece of social criticism.

The story starts in 1986, when the young Adelaide gets traumatised after walking off to a mirror palace by the beach all by herself. Two decades later, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) visits the same beach with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two kids, where they meet their friends, a Caucasian couple (played by the phenomenal Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), and their twin daughters. That same evening, the family gets terrorised by a doppelgänger family, looking exactly like them, but wearing red suits and carrying golden scissors. What starts off as a cosy family trip, ends in a nightmare.

The doppelgängers are referred to as their shadows, called ‘The Tethered, chained to their originals by sharing one soul in two different bodies. The Tethered are here to claim their place in the world by replacing their original human beings. A recurring motif are the rabbits – a lot of rabbits!- referring to the rather unholy experiment the doppelgängers are submitted to by not being able to live in the world like normal people. These rabbits are a reference to “Alice in Wonderland” (book by Lewis Carroll, 1986) , where the wonderland in “Us” is rather dark and sinister.

“Us” is a dark piece of social criticism, since the title can also be read as the abbreviation of United Stated (one of the characters says ‘We are Americans’), by which Peele rather unsubtly refers to racism, poverty, class privilege and violence in his country. Unlike “Get Out”, this film is less about race inequality, but more about the haunting social conscience of the American middle class. There is no longer something like the so-called ‘American Dream’ everyone strives to live by.

Peele is originally a comedian, known for his sketches later turned into memes. For him to find his resort in the horror genre is not that surprising. Unless the genrespecific shift between scary elements and humour (p.e. a boat called ‘B’yacht’ch’), Peele gives a twist to the specific elements and turns the film into a unique piece of art. He manages to keep it subtle and mysterious, almost sophisticated. “Us” is not a slasher or gory horror. Most of the times you can see the blood, but you can’t see any actual stabbing. Violence and murder is shown implicitely.

When it comes to acting performances, Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”, 2013) stands out, giving substance to the term of the ‘final girl’, which has been a recurrent element in the horror genre throughout decades. Only this time, she is not a Caucasian virgin, but an Afro-American mother protecting her family against evil no matter what.


Personally, I think the soundtrack is what adds up to both the narrative and the visuals, which is composed by Michael Abels. He also wrote the soundtrack for “Get Out”. A recurrent tune is the bombastic creepy remix version of the 90’s R&B classic ‘I got 5 on it‘ by Luniz. Personally, I love the mixture of a classic soundtrack and pop hits. For example, the Caucasian family getting murdered on the tunes of The Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations‘ , makes it so much more lightweight and almost sadistically funny, which reminds me of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games US” (2007).

Peele’s “Us” is a masterpiece crossing borders between genres, where comedy and horror seem to intertwine easily. “US” refers to sources like “Funny Games US”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Shining” (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) and “Invasion of The Body Snatchers” (Don Siegel, 1956), but not really subtle, unfortunately. Nonetheless, I never really found it annoying, but rather enriching, because of Peele’s narration techniques and beautiful dynamic visuals. “Us” is a mysterious film, where punch lines are open for interpretation and add up to Peele’s social criticism.

“Us” is released in Belgian cinemas on March 20th.

“I, Tonya” – Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya is a biographical feature film directed by the Australian Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hour (2014)), starring Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Suicide Squad (2016)) as Tonya Harding, the American 90’s champion in figure skating. I, Tonya is Margot Robbie’s first film as both producer and leading actress. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017.

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I, Tonya follows the life of the competitive figure skater Tonya Harding from Portland, Oregon and her connection with the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. But unlike most media, the film mostly focusses on the human being behind it all, not only the ‘incident’. Tonya’s life is centred around the abusive relationships with her mother LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), which influenced her behaviour during competitions and in other human relationships.

I, Tonya is nominated for 3 Oscars in the categories Best Actress in a Leading Role for Margot Robbie, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Allison Janney and Best Achievement in Film Editing for Tatiana S. Riegel.

As already announced in the introduction, I, Tonya is a biographical film featuring interviews with the characters in the  present to create a sort of mockumentary. Remarkable about the narrative style is the recurrent fourth-wall breaking, which means the characters look into the camera during the action scenes as if they directly address the audience and involve them.

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Next to Margot Robbie, you might also recognise Sebastian Stan (Captain America (2011), Logan Lucky (2017), Black Panther (2018)) as Tonya’s husband Jeff and Allison Janney (Juno (2007), The Help (2011)). The latter is phenomenally funny in the role of Harding’s mother, although I doubt that anyone would want someone this foulmouthed as a mother. Nonetheless, Janney’s convincing ‘viciousness’ makes her the ideal nominee for the Oscars.

The almost nauseating cinematography is by the Belgian Nicolas Karakatsanis (Bullhead (2011), The Drop (2014), Le Fidèle (2017)). He was the ideal Director of Photography for I, Tonya, because he was the first to agree on chasing the actors in their actions instead of simply following scheduled camera positions. The skating scenes are so dynamic and detailed, as if you are part of the setting yourself.

The editing is by Tatiana S. Riegel. Although Robbie was trained to do most of the choreographies herself, the hardest tricks were covered by a body double, after which Riegel flawlessly pasted Robbie’s face over it as if Robbie did them all herself.

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In my opinion, the soundtrack of I, Tonya is another remarkable element. Some of the songs were actually used in Harding’s real routines, like ZZ Top’s Sleeping Bag. Most tracks are from the 70’s and 80’s and are classic rock songs. They are powerful, such as Heart’s Barracuda. This symbolises the narrative perfectly. I especially liked the cover of The Passenger by Siouxsie & The Banshees at the end. But of course, taste in music is something personal after all.

To conclude, you should watch I, Tonya for plenty of reasons. The acting performances, the rocking soundtrack and the cinematography are only a couple of them. But also, just check the film so you know why Allison Janney will win that Oscar ;).

 

 

“Phantom Thread” – Paul Thomas Anderson

 

Phantom Thread by the American director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood (2007) and Inherent Vice (2014)) will be actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film ever, like he announced in 2017. He reached the age 60 of and after winning 3 Oscars for Best Actor (My Left food (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012)), he now throws in the towel. One of Britain’s most acclaimed actors decided to retire from acting, in order to focus on his private life and his career as a shoemaker. Therefore, the costume drama Phantom Thread needs that little bit of extra attention.

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The story is set in London in the 1950’s, where the life of the renowned and genius dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is disrupted when he meets the young Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and lover. Reynolds is a narcissist and control freak -with mommy issues on top of it- not only in his work, but also when it comes to the people he loves, he only settles for perfection. The breakfast scenes are sometimes simply funny, because he demands absolute silence and peace, so the sound of a toast getting buttered could already make him cranky for the rest of the day.

Phantom Thread looks like a simple love story at the beginning, but soon enough evolves in a fascinating power struggle between the 2 lovers. Their relationship seems to be based on ‘repel and attract’, where Reynolds’ male dominance gets challenged by Alma’s female charm, wit and persistence. In my opinion, Phantom Thread is about the male ego giving itself over to the power of the women who rule his life; who in this case are Reynolds’s lover Alma and his beloved sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). He never argues with the latter, because he knows he will lose.Phantom thread

Daniel Day-Lewis is known as a method actor, which is also the case in Phantom Thread. As preparation for his part as Reynolds Woodcock, he worked with a dressmaker for months before shooting. This can be seen on the screen, because his hands are full of hard skin. These months of mental preparation turn him into a purebred and tormented artist. The female lead is Vicky Krieps, who is an actress from Luxembourg and rather unknown, but her performance isn’t overshadowed by Day-Lewis at all. Her acting is rather modest, but still powerful and unpredictable. Alma is the woman who manages to push Reynolds from his pedestal and it’s unimaginable for an alpha male like him, but he actually is attracted to her pushing him over. Although he is afraid of losing his controlled and planned life, he finds himself overwhelmed by love.

Phantom Thread is nominated for 6 Oscars, for Best Achievement in Costume Design for Mark Bridges for instance and there is another nomination for Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Imagine him winning another Oscar, then he will be the very first actor ever to win 4 Oscars in this category.Phantom thread3

To close this article, I’d like to point out that it is very remarkable that Paul Thomas Anderson did his own cinematography for Phantom Thread although he never refers to himself as the Director of Photography and he is uncredited as such. He rather calls the film’s photography a close collaboration with his gaffer Michael Bauman and camera operator Colin Anderson, which after months of experimenting definitely resulted in a magnificent cinematic style.

To conclude, Phantom Thread is a skillful movie when it comes to decors, costumes and also cinematography. But the biggest strength definitely lies in its scenario and the acting performances of both Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.

And as an extra, you can watch this YouTube-clip with an overview of Daniel Day-Lewis’ top 10 acting performances.

“Patser (Gangsta)” – Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah

Patser is the 3th feature film by the directors duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, 2 young men from Moroccan origin making films in Belgium and -yes!- in LA. This film is long expected, because of its cast and thematic, namely the drug trafficking and gang war in Antwerp.

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Patser tells the story of 4 friends living in a multicultural district in the city of Antwerp. Their uncertain futures and desire for wealth drives them to dealing hard drugs, despite the tough competition of other drug dealers. Their only goal is to become ‘patsers’ (gangstas), and the main force that drives them is their lifelong friendship.

The film is divided into 7 chapters, according to the Christian seven deadly sins (sloth, greed, wrath, gluttony, pride, lust and envy) Why they opted for the seven deadly sins as a narrative structure? Well, one of the main characters Adamo is one part Italian and one part Moroccan, but raised as a Catholic. The story is told in chapters by Adamo in voice-over, so he is the one who relates the story of the 4 friends to the capital vices.

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Matteo Simoni plays the role of Adamo and is supported by his 3 sidekicks Junes (Junes Lazaar), Badia (Nora Gharib) and Volt (Said Boumazoughe), the latter actor is mostly known as a rapper in the Antwerp collectives NoMoBS and SLM and also provided some songs for the soundtrack.  Simoni is the only known actor of these 4, and we all know his presence will be one of the main reasons for people to go check Patser. He is a very talented actor and his Antwerp-Moroccan accent is flawless.

The main opponent of the 4 drug dealing friends is the notorious Dutch gangster Hassan Kamikaze, a role played by the well-known Dutch rapper Ali B. His performance is phenomenal. I almost believed that he is as misogynist and aggressive in real life as in he is in the film (which he obviously isn’t)! In my opinion, his performance is the most convincing and brutal of the entire film.

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Bilall Fallah & Adil El Arbi (Credits: BELGA)

Another important part is the role of the police officer Yasser (Nabil Mallat), whose main goal is to end the drug war in Antwerp. Some of his colleagues on the other hand are very corrupt (Jeroen Perceval & Axel Daeseleire), but believe me, what goes around comes around. By the way, you might also recognise the DJ-duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike in a small role, just to close the circle of famous faces in Patser.

El Arbi & Fallah worked with Robrecht Heyvaert (The Ardennes (2015), Black (2015)) as the Director Of Photography. He is one of my personal favourite cinematographers in Belgium and he proves himself again this time. The shots follow each other at a very high pace, leaving no details in the dark. The visuals hit you like a line of coke and are dazzling. Every single shot and all camera perspectives are well considered, keeping both the characters and the location in mind. When watching, I felt like I had no time to think things over, because the pace is really overwhelming at times. Not even mentioning the inserts of neon titles, which make the whole even more flashy. The film takes over 2 hours, but it never felt this way, because of its solid pace and action-driven narrative.

Patser is full of vulgar language, which resembles the actual way of interacting between  youngsters and thugs in Antwerp unfortunately. It was disturbing at times, a bit too much, which I guess some viewers will confirm. Nonetheless, this is the only negative aspect, and I found the cursing less disturbing than how some of the male characters act overtly disdainful towards women. Moreover, the use of Moroccan slang (‘tfou’, ‘drarrie’, ‘tnawies’,….) and Arabic dialogues add credibility, which is definitely an asset.

The audience seemed to have the tendency to compare Patser to the directors’ previous feature films Image (2012) and Black (2015), but in my opinion they are simply incomparable. Black was already a hit, but more modest and raw than Patser and with a young unknown cast. Patser is over the top in every single way, just like El Arbi and Fallah announced. Also visually, Patser is the most colourful film in the directors’ oeuvre. Narratively, El Arbi & Fallah offer us more backstory this time. We get flash-backs of the 4 friends when they were kids and how they grew up together. This enables us to identify with them and to feel empathy, instead of seeing them as mere thugs.

Patser is a gangster film beyond imagination with a lot of filmic references to gangster films or characters like Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). El Arbi & Fallah announced it to be epic and after watching the trailer a month ago, my expectations were as such. These expectations are definitely met, but I would describe Patser as ‘love it or hate it’. If you don’t like foulmouthed dialogues and violence, it is not your thing. Nonetheless, Patser is unique in the Belgian cinema because of its hyperkinetic pace and colourful visuals. To conclude, go and check it out for yourself!

Patser will be released on January 24th in Belgium and on February 1st in The Netherlands.

“IT” – Andy Muschietti

IT is the second feature film by the Argentinian Andrés ‘Andy’ Muschietti about a killer clown called Pennywise, who feeds on fear. Based on the 1138 paged-book by Stephen King and 27 years after the successful mini-series by Tommy Lee Wallace (1990), its remake is long awaited. Muschietti’s version is the first one to ever make it to the theatres worldwide. IT is a global cult story since the 90’s. With the red balloon as a symbol of fear and death.

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Muschietti’s last feature film Mama (2013) was considered a failure, but nonetheless the audience is not prejudiced towards this feature film. King’s book, on which the film is based, is so voluminous that it seems impossible to maintain all subplots in a 135 minutes-film, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The story starts with the magnificent prologue where Bill’s younger brother Georgie folds a paper boat to float on the rain stream outside. That’s the moment when little Georgie meets Pennywise, the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard). The story then continues with Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard, also known as Mike Wheeler in the Netflix-series Stranger Things), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and the only girl in the pack Beverly (Sophia Lillis) searching for what happened with all the missing children in their hometown Derry. The hideous clown terrorises, kidnaps and kills children, but when he meets Bill’s so-called Losers Club, het gets more opposed than ever. He wants to haunt them too, by playing tricks with them and scaring them. Because that’s what Pennywise lives from, the fear of children. You know you’re finished when you see the red balloon.

If anything, or anyone, makes this book adaptation a succes, it will be Bill Skarsgard (also known from David Leitch’ Atomic Blonde released in August this year) as Pennywise, the dancing clown. Bill is only 27 years and is the youngest Skarsgard, brother of Alexander, son of Stellan. He  comes from a good family, let’s say. His performance is frightening and he succeeds in becoming a demonic being with a chilling grin. IT3

In comparison to the 1990-version of IT on ABC, the original Pennywise (Tim Curry) was more clownlike and entertaining, also more talkative, where Pennywise now is simply cool and creepy staring and grinning at the children. It’s that demonic grin of his that makes it 10 times scarier than the mini-series. On the other hand, Pennywise gives you the creeps, but the special effects of the film (like his monstrous teeth) pull away all mystery and turns it from a thriller into a gory horror. Arms being ripped off, blood all over the place, etc….

This film is not only telling the story of a killer clown, but is also about friendship, loyalty and belonging. The Losers Club sets a very good example of how it should be. Very morally educative in my opinion. IT succesfully combines horror with coming of the age satisfying different types of audience. I guess this is Muschietti’s big commercial succes he was hoping for.

To conclude, although IT conveys the beautiful message of friendship, the film is most definitely not for those who have coulrophobia (or more commonly explained as fear of clowns 😉!). Personally, I am no clown fan either, so I guess I missed some crucial details of the film while hiding against my neighbour’s shoulder. Forewarned is forearmed.

 

“Patti Cake$” – Geremy Jasper

“PBNJ, PBNJ,….” It’s an anthem you can’t get out of your head, that’s for sure. Geremy Jasper’s first feature film Patti Cake$ was an instant success at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, receiving a standing ovation. The film premiered at the Sundance Festival on January 23rd this year and could be called a ‘Sundance Charmer’. The music and acting performances are what make this indie drama outstanding.

patti-cakePatti Cake$ tells the story of Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle MacDonald), a 23 year-old curvy girl usually mocked at by the name of Dumbo. She is fighting her quest for fame and fortune in her hometown New Jersey as an aspiring rapper a.k.a. Killa P. Along with her Indian best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and the anti-social Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) she makes rap music to get out of that place.

Mother Barb (Bridget Everett) is a former singer in a rock band. Their mother-daughter relationship is very rough, with Patti mostly relying on her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty, who is known for her part in Scorsese’s 80’s classic Raging Bull). Patti’s Nana also contributes to the earworm “PBNJ” and seems to be the only one who believes in Patti’s ambitions, whereas Barb does not consider rap music to be real music. The 3 generations-family has financial struggles, for which Patti has to work fulltime. But together with her friends she can record a first hip-hop record anyway. patti-cake3

Danielle MacDonald hadn’t rapped a single tone before she stepped into the role of Killa P. Nonetheless, it looks like she’s born “spittin’ ” Did you know Danielle is not even American? She is Australian, but her accent is remarkably flawless. She definitely is the breakout star of this film.

Director Geremy Jasper is known for directing videoclips, like Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over. Although he frequently adds dreamlike and fantastic visuals, his debut leans towards realism, because of its poignant and identifiable narrative.

Patti Cake$ has a happy ending, which turns it into a feel-good film, whereas the film is very emotionally loaded throughout, almost cathartic. Slowly, but sustained Patti earns the respect she deserves. Her ‘spits’ reach an audience and eventually, she even finds love. Kind of cliché unfortunately, but hey, Patti deserves her happy ending…patti-cake2

Patti Cake$ is an emotional rollercoaster, telling you to never give up on your dreams and ambitions. Even how hopeless your life seems, you can make your dreams come true.

Patti Cake$ will be released in Belgium on August 30th.

 

“Baby Driver” – Edgar Wright

The talented young driver Baby meets the girl of his dreams and wants to quit his criminal existence. Forced by his boss and with his head in the clouds, he takes part in a robbery doomed to fail.

Baby3Baby Driver is the new film by the British Edgar Wright (Ant-man, 2015,…) with Ansel Elgort as Baby (The Fault in our Stars, 2014), Lily James as his girlfriend Rebecca (Cinderella, 2015) and Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, 1999) as the crime boss Doc.

As a kid, Baby was in a car accident, losing both of his parents and left with ‘a hum in the drum’. Because of his tinnitus, he always wears his earplugs to listen to music, making him the most focused driver you can imagine. Doc takes Baby under his wings after an incident in Baby’s childhood, but he is nothing more than a relentless money-maker.

Baby-Driver-1After a job, Baby meets the young and beautiful waitress Rebecca, they soon fall in love. But Baby gets blackmailed by Doc to be the driver for one of his dangerous robberies. The team Baby works with are criminals first class (roles for Jamie Foxx, Eiza González and Jon Hamm), but when it goes wrong, the entire house of cards collapses.

Throughout the film you notice that Baby is caring, but troubled at the same time. He is traumatised by his parents’ death. Baby Driver is very similar to the history of Bonnie and Clyde, where love crosses all legal borders and where commiting a crime seems the only solution in order to protect each other.

BabyHonestly, the soundtrack is one of the protagonists in this film. It’s the most important element in Baby’s life and the soundtrack to all his actions and emotions. It is stacked with thumping songs like Egyptian Reggae by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Golden Earring’s Radar Love and Baby’s all-time favourite Brighton Rock by Queen. Because all you need is one killer track, right?

This is an action- and crime movie, but at times just really funny. Unfortunately, except for the love story, I didn’t really got caught up in the plotline. Also the acting performances were not outstanding, but rather mediocre. Ansel Elgort nonetheless did prove himself to be capable of doing other genres than drama. Baby walks around with a cheeky little smile, which gives him a self-confident, almost arrogant look. It definitely suits him.

Baby Driver is one of those Hollywood action moves, I could spit outside and hit nine just like that. But Ansel Elgort’s charm makes it just a bit better.

The happy ending is quite untypical for Hollywood though. Our hero’s acts will not be simply justified. No, it’s exactly the other way around. Although forced into the job and forced to commit crimes of any sort because of self-defense, he will be punished in the end. Will the young love between Baby and Rebecca be strong enough to survive the consequences? Therefore, you should go and watch the film.

Baby Driver will be released in theaters in Belgium on August 2nd.

 

“T2 Trainspotting” – Danny Boyle

“First there’s an opportunity, then there’s a betrayal.” T2 Trainspotting continues where Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire (2008),….) 90s cult classic Trainspotting ended. Two decades after its release, we finally get to know how life treated our favourite Scottish anti-heroes. Loosely based on Irvine Welsh’ novel Porno (2002), adapted by John Hodge.

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Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh after 20 years. He lived in Amsterdam in The Netherlands, kicked off from drugs completely and is now getting divorced. He betrayed his friends 2 decades ago and ran off with their money. Wondering how they’ve been doing, he decides to help out his old best friend Simon “Sick Boy” to built his sauna, which is actually a brothel. In the meantime, he gives support to Spud, whose life is one continuous up and down between sobriety and heroin addiction. But what happens when Begbie discovers that Mark is back in Edinburgh?

The original 90s cast is reunited with Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy, Ewen Bremner as the benign junkie Spud and Robert Carlyle as the aggressive Begbie. A 5th leading role is for Sick Boy’s Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). We’ve been waiting exactly 21 years for this sequel as authentic as Trainspotting, because of the flawless Sottish dialect spoken by all actors.

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“Trainspotting” (1996). 20 years later the original cast reunited for “T2 Trainspotting”.

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The visual and narrative style of T2 is as eclectic and vibrant . Boyle’s film is entertaining, funny and confronting, all at the same time. You should look at his use of colours and framing (mise-en-scène). His cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire,…) plays with camera viewpoints and shifts between perfect symmetrical framing and ground-level shots, which makes the film visually attractive.

Very remarkable is the thumping soundtrack by High Contrast, Wolf Alice, Young Fathers and many more. The soundtrack gives the film the extra punch, just like its prequel. People undeniably relate Underworld’s Born Slippy and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life to Trainspotting. Lust for Life is also back in a cool The Prodigy-remix.

T2 is a sequel, but should nonetheless be seen as a separate story, because the narrative’s focus has drastically shifted. There’s a big contrast to the ’96 prequel, in which drugs was the main Leitmotif of the entire film. In T2 you notice that the theme shifts from reckless boyish behaviour to manhood and more complex issues like friendship that can transcend a 20 year-gap. Where the 90’s classic was there to shock, T2 is there to morally educate.

t2_4As a fan of the first film, I would say you can’t watch the sequel without having seen its prequel. On the other hand, T2 Trainspotting is full of references and flash-backs to its background story set 20 years ago. Most sequels are made a couple of years after its precedent, which most of the time turns it into a mere copy, but the 20 year-gap makes T2 rather unique. Whether the film will be as big a cult classic as its prequel is doubtable though, because audiences are no longer easily shocked in times of over-exposing. Nonetheless, I felt this wave of nostalgia going through my body once I saw Ewan McGregor appear on the screen.  For me, Trainspotting shaped my youth and love for cinema, but it’s a matter of love it or hate it. In my opinion, listen to the soundtrack first (in the web links), dance, get excited and then check it out for yourself.

 

The Belgian release of T2 Trainspotting is on March 1st, 2017.

“Dode Hoek” (Blind Spot) – Nabil Ben Yadir

Dode Hoek (or Blind Spot) is a Flemish thriller by Nabil Ben Yadir (Les Barons, 2009 and La Marche, 2013 ) shot in Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi. Although Ben Yadir himself speaks French, the film is Dutch, with only scraps of French and Arabic. The director from Molenbeek even includes jokes about Wallonia, that will make the Flemish audience laugh out loud.

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Director Nabil Ben Yadir

 

The film tells the story of the extremely persistent, violent and uncompromising Jan Verbeeck (Peter Van den Begin, known from e.g. King of the Belgians), who leaves his job as chief of the Antwerp drugs squad to become a fulltime politician in the extreme right political party VPV. On his last mission for the drugs squad, his private life gets thrown upside down by things from the past. A drug addict informant (David Murgia) turns out to not be who they thought he was. In an interview Jan Decleir, who plays the chairman of the extreme right VPV, called Dode Hoek a generic example of a thriller, in which destiny decides how it ends.

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Dode Hoek stars some big Belgian names. For example Ruth Becquaert (Clan), who plays the new female chief after Jan Verbeeck, and Mathijs F Scheepers (Zot van A) as Verbeeck’s spokesman. Officer Ruud (Bert Haelvoet, known from De Helaasheid der Dingen) is an extreme example of loyalty to an individual, but he’s also simply despicable when it comes to moral and political justice. His opposite is officer (Jurgen Delnaet, known from Halfweg), who besides loyalty to the police force also embodies justice and honesty. Eventually, in my opinion, the strength of this film lies in its cast, moreover, in the outstanding acting performance of Soufiane Chilah (Black, 2015). His character Dries (written in the Flemish way and not like the Moroccan Driss) is even more political than Jan Verbeeck’s, who is like a father figure to him. Dries constantly rejects his cultural background and admits his identity crisis as a Moroccan in a police force. He explains this by his personal experience of not belonging by referring to the quartiers (boroughs), where they call him “schmetta”, which is Arabic for coward. On the other hand, in the police force, he will always be the “makak”, which is a dysphemism, or racist term, for Moroccan immigrants. Peter Van den Begin’s acting is flawless as always, but as a relatively new face in the Belgian cinema, Soufiane Chilah really blows you away.

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Unfortunately, the scenario of Dode Hoek is rather weak and sometimes incoherent, which may confuse the audience. On the contrary, it does leave you asking yourself some moral questions about racism, populism and media influence. A bit like Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s Image (2014).

To end this review positively though, I would like to point at the film’s beautiful visuals. DOP Robrecht Heyvaert (Black, D’Ardennen, Everybody Happy,…) proves himself a professional every single time. He provides Dode Hoek with lovely dark and mysterious establishing shots to set the atmosphere. The shots are also perfectly framed and full of alternating camera perspectives. So If you go and watch the film, pay close attention to the visuals.

Dode Hoek is in theatres across Belgium on January 25th.

“La La Land” – Damien Chazelle

La La Land is a musical drama directed by Damien Chazelle, whose last film Whiplash (2014) already had several awards nominations. This latest masterpiece though already won 7 Golden Globes, which turned La La Land into one of the most expected releases in Europe in 2017.

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La La Land tells the romantic story of a jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who falls in love with an ambitious and aspiring young actress Mia (Emma Stone) in LA. The film is the perfect example of a typical musical, which I will point out throughout the rest of this article. Normally, musicals are a matter of love it or hate it, nonetheless, you don’t have to be a fan of the genre to love this one. In my opinion, La La Land is the best commercial musical since Across the Universe (Julie Taymor, 2007) or Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001). The soundtrack is composed by Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash).

The film has a realistic plot, but fantastic visuals. Typical for the genre is that song sequences are less realistic and resemble dreams or fantasy. In real life nobody would be dancing on clouds, right? The film is visually very bright and colourful. A green, yellow, blue and red dress in a pink sky background in one frame is not even extraordinary in this film. This adds up to the general mood and feel-good experience of the audience.

La La Land follows the typical three-act structure with a setup, confrontation and resolution. The couple’s biggest enemy are their own ambitions. Sebastian wants his own jazz bar, Mia wants to become a famous Hollywood actress. But when one of them builds out his or her career their relationship goes wrong. Will they settle for love or will they eventually choose for their professional ambitions?lll2

What I noticed straight away is the remarkable composition of the cast. The main actors are Hollywood’s finest, namely Gosling and Stone, and then there’s J.K. Simmons, who also performed a very significant role in Chazelle’s Whiplash. All the other actors are lesser known faces to the mainstream audience, but they most definitely are professional singers and dancers, what counters the mediocre singing performance of the two main actors. It’s even almost awkwardly funny to hear Ryan Gosling sing. By the way, some of you will also recognise the American singer and musician John Legend as Sebastian’s bandmate Keith. Gosling and Stone look like a perfect match, resembling the 30’s icons Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their dancing.

After 7 Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Original Song and Best Original Score) film critics expect La La Land to be among the big names at the Oscars this year. Fingers crossed!

La La Land is in theatres across Belgium on January 25th.

NB: By the time this article is online, they announced the Oscar nominees. La La Land is nominated for 14 Awards. La La Land therefore holds the same record as Titanic (James Cameron) in 1998.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pdqf4P9MB8&t=6s