GALLERY: Preview night of Megan Broadmeadow’s exhibition Astro Raggi

A selection of images from the preview evening of artist Megan Broadmeadow’s exhibition Astro Raggi.

Astro Raggi is available to view in the Plymouth Arts Centre galleries until January 7th. The exhibition is free and open to all.

This exhibition takes us inside the mind and machines of Pasquale Quadri, the Italian inventor who revolutionised the world of disco lighting from his mother’s kitchen table. Broadmeadow’s installation of sculptural and video works is inspired by disco lights such as the Astro Raggi, AstroDisco, Golden Scan and Sharpy, which were the first to synchronise to rhythms with their extravagant multicoloured beams.

Photos courtesy of Bethany Ditchburn

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FILM REVIEW: American Honey

A review of American Honey from Eve Jones

American Honey is screening in the Plymouth Arts Centre Cinema until Thursday 24th November

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American Honey is an indie coming-of-age narrative without the softness of classic Hollywood. Star (Sasha Lane) is a rough-around-the-edges 18-year old who abandons her burdensome life for days spent road-tripping with a bandit of American youth, earning money by selling magazines door to door. The honest portrayal of millennial development and disparity of wealth in America is hard-hitting, moving and bizarre: a film you will not quickly stop talking about, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

The 163 minute feature length is complimented not by a dynamic, fast-paced plot, but one of repetition. This works to provide insight into an America often bypassed by cinema as the lawless crew drive, arrive, sell and move out of neighbourhoods that cross-section modern America’s class and state divides, it fails to provide enough character development to warrant true exploration of these social regions and retain complete attention.

Almost everyone in the movie fulfils their stereotype; from the token gay girl and white, rich Texans to the unempathetic upper class and Shia Labeouf’s portrayal of angry Shia Labeouf. Director, Andrea Arnold, provides viewers with a van-full of troubled misfits yet there is disappointingly more exposure of their genitalia than their complex reasons for turning away from nuclear American life.

However, one character who does impress is raucous teenage protagonist, Star. This was a debut role for Lane who was initially approached by Arnold on Panama City Beach during Spring Break. This, and the largely improvised dialogue of the film, gives Lane an edge – she is, like the character she portrays, raw and unpretentious. Her character is neither heroine nor victim but a real representation of what it is like to be a millennial misfit. She holds moral values, but can quickly discard them – calling out Labeouf’s character, Jake, for lying to customers yet is remorseless when stealing a car by armed robbery. She is simultaneously kind and cowardly – running from the children she loves to pursue her hedonistic lifestyle, knowing they will be left with their uncaring mother. Lane admirably makes this character’s division of traits plausible and reminds us of real people’s contradictions amidst the wash of one-dimensional ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ that often occupy our screens.

Riley Keough’s character, Krystal, also has a lot to offer as a strong female and the boss of the mag crew. Keough holds her own with intensity and authority that ties you to each word she utters. This is heightened by her attire, often only a bikini – a reflection of the character’s untouchability; she is exposed but never vulnerable.

Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is as indie as predictably possible. For the most-part filmed on handheld 35mm film cameras and in natural light where available, no one could deny the beauty of American Honey’s aesthetic, even down to the entirely instagrammable square format. The natural tones and undulating focus sweep you along far more than the plot as you slide from scene to scene – the dream-like frames also allow more surreal scenes such as a grizzly bear coming face to face with Star, to fit seamlessly with the more ordinary shots of the suburban Midwest.

The score is similarly split. The contemporary R&B and rap booming from the white van in every other scene becomes relentless and seems strangely outdated – a cliche of teen music in what is otherwise a progressive film. Yet, it also doesn’t seem out of place – reflecting more accurately the ruthless courtship of the modern American Dream: drugs, dollar and debauchery. Wanting everything, having nothing, trying anything.

Arnold, however, holds off all music in the start-to-finish sex scenes between Labeouf and Lane, and with great effect. They’re brimming with lust and this is unromantically emphasised – somewhat uncomfortably for the audience’s sake – by the prolonged silence from which emerges their own obtrusive sounds. More disturbingly, this absence is continued as Star prostitutes herself to only the white noise of gas flare crepitation, a parallel that implores audiences to compare the interactions.

Amongst the indulgent editing, Arnold tantalises the audience with glimpses of mastery: a toddler stabbing a packeted chicken from the dumpster; Star stumbling into a marsh of abattoir blood that the truck she just exited supplies; a neglected child singing Dead Kennedys’ ‘I Kill Children’. The fleeting nature of these stories is both disappointing and what makes them great – biopics of the human condition wonderfully sealed for an audience eager for a complexity and irony that much of the film lacks.

Overall, what Arnold is attempting is brilliant: she calls out contemporary ignorance to poverty and the lack of opportunities for young people without using Hollywood plot lines. The way Arnold attempts this is also brave, giving her actors freedom to improvise and forcing them to truly understand what they’re portraying by replicating it themselves. Where her vision is let down is in the light-touch editing that leads many scenes to stretch beyond the limit of audience focus. American Honey is undeniably beautiful, but for many it will also be, fatally, exhausting.

 

Eve jones

FILM REVIEW: My Scientology Movie

A review of Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie

by Nigel Watson

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In the opening voice-over, Louis Theroux says he’s always wanted to make a film that takes a positive view of the Church of Scientology. We all know he’ll dish the dirt, especially since they reject all his attempts at getting access to them.

We get an introduction to Scientology through their own promotional videos that feature glitzy Hollywood Scientology events and a description of their belief that we have immortal souls (Thetans) that we can only discover through numerous levels of initiation. But, Louis isn’t interested in the belief-systems of this cult founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Instead, his focus is on David Miscavige, the head of the Church who took over its leadership in 1986 and has only made a few media appearances since then.

To explore the allegations of bullying, intimation and criminality conducted under his rule, Louis interviews ex-members of the cult who explain why they joined and what it was like to live as a Scientologist.

Mark Rathbun the top Scientology enforcer tells Louis how he escaped the cult and is doing everything in his power to unmask its veil of secrecy. Going beyond the ‘talking heads’ approach, Mark and Louis audition Hollywood actors to speak lines from a TV interview Miscavige had with Ted Koppel in 1992 , and for good measure they audition actors to do the same with Scientology’s most famous supporter, Tom Cruise. These highlight the strange power of their pronouncements that are riddled with scientology terminology.

The selected actors then go on to play out scenes written and supervised by Mark, showing how Miscavige humiliated and bullied cult members. Andrew Perez playing the part of Miscavige compellingly attacks the role with vigour.

Not surprisingly, these activities soon come to the attention of the church and they send people to film them outside the studios. When Louis approaches them they don’t want to answer his questions, and just say they are making a documentary. Later, Louis and Mark are travelling in their car when a Scientology vehicle follows them, emphasising that the cult is on to them.

Beside that storyline, Louis turns up the heat by going outside the organisation’s Golden Base to view their razor-wire fencing, security lights and motion sensors that keep the public out and its members in. It is not long before the Scientologists tell him this is a private road and he should go, and they even call out the police to move him on. It turns out, one of them is Catherine Fraser a high-ranking member of the group who is the ex-wife of Scientology’s former head of PR who has now left the cult. When Louise returns he finds the road has been closed outside the base and ends up in a camera-to-camera confrontation with Catherine.

At the moment Mark is feeling smug and friendly with Louis, he is verbally attacked by Scientologists outside the studio. Upset by this, he tells Louis this is what he has to put up with day-in-day-out as an ex-member of the cult. Like taking a pin out of a grenade Louis observes that this is the type of behaviour Mark condoned and instigated in his many years as a leading Scientologist. Mark can only fume at this and cross Louis firmly off his Christmas card list.

My Scientology Movie plays with the processes of media and manipulation, what is truth and fiction? What can we believe? Even our guides like Mark have feet of clay. Perhaps its those damned Thetans inside us that stop us from seeing unalloyed reality? Whatever the answer I’m sure they’d enjoy this quirky peep through our limited windows of perceptions.

Nigel Watson

 

Film Preview: My Scientology Movie

Louis Theroux’s much anticipated My Scientology Movie, is showing at Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from 19 – 23 November. Previewed by Nigel Watson.

Louis Theroux is expert at producing documentaries that provide an insight into marginal subcultures (Weird Weekends) and the lives of celebrities (When Louis Met…). His method is to follow the subject and ask off-hand or seemingly innocent questions that lure the subject into revealing far more than their PR image presents.

He has always wanted to probe the secrets Church of Scientology that has such high-profile members as John Travolta and Tom Cruise, but not surprisingly they have refused to let him have permission to film them. To get round this problem, Louis in collaboration with director John Dower, produced the feature-length My Scientology Movie, which was premiered at the London Film Festival in October 2016.

Scientology was established in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Like many cults that arose in that period they addressed our concerns about atomic warfare, pollution, over-population, natural disasters, famine and disease. So-called contactees in the USA claimed they were given rides in flying saucers and had long discussions with the alien humanoid pilots of these craft who promised to save us from our materialistic and war-mongering ways. The contactees were the charismatic, self-promoting and self-proclaimed heroes of a new era for humanity. Some would establish their own cults or cult-like organisations with fanatical followers ready to do the bidding of the contactee.

Most flying saucer cults have fizzled away in the mists of history or have at least proved relatively harmless, but Scientology has proved to be more long-lived and continues to believe that we have to go through different levels of initiation. Their teachings state that the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy sent humans to Earth 75 million years ago, and immortal disembodied Thetan beings attached to our bodies. Even Hubbard called the scenarios described in these initiation levels as ‘space opera’.

Since access to the group was denied, Louis and his team filmed re-enactments of alleged events on soundstages in Hollywood. Actors for these scenes are auditioned and they are guided by ex-members of the cult, so this becomes a film about the construction of their memories. Their activities soon came to the attention of the church, and they pursued a campaign of stalking and filming the filmmakers. This underlines that, ‘They are behaving in a way that is so obviously pathological—you would think they would realise that other people would see that and think this is a religion of lunatics,’ says Louis.

FILM REVIEW: Under The Shadow

Under The Shadow is in the cinema from 11th – 17th November

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Throughout the years the Horror genre has gone through various cycles. From the religious horror of the seventies with The Exorcist, to the the torture porn era of the noughties with Saw, the genre has gone through a lot of changes. This decade however we seem to be going through an ‘indie’ horror cycle. There has been at least one unique film in each subsequent year. This year there has been two, Robert Egger’s The Witch and now Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow, both directorial debuts and both utterly terrifying.

Under the Shadow is set in 1980’s war torn Tehran where there are regular bombings from the neighbouring country of Iraq. It primarily follows Shideh, played by Narges Rashidi and her daughter Dorsa, played by Avin Manshadi who has to deal with living in this fractious city alone whilst the father has been called out to war. After a missile crashes into the apartment building and does not explode, there are whispers around the more religious side of the community that the missile has brought an evil presence, more specifically a Djinn. A Djinn is (according to Islamic culture) a supernatural creature and in the film it is later revealed that one of them may be haunting the family.

The central relationship between Shideh and Dorsa is vital to the film’s success. In fact the male character’s barely feature in this film which to be honest is pretty normal for a horror film. Shideh and Dorsa’s relationship is very complex and she is often exasperated by her daughter’s behaviour. There is a particularly uncomfortable fight between the two towards the end and at some points it seems like they are siblings rather than mother and daughter. The film echoes some of the themes explored in the 2014 film The Babadook which focused on a mother and a nightmare of a son. Both father figures are absent and the mother has to deal with raising a ‘difficult’ child in extraordinary circumstances.

For a genre that doesn’t get the accolades or the respect as say Crime or War films, you can usually count on a horror film to deliver a strong female character. From Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the Alien films, to Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Narges Rashidi’s Shideh is no exception. From the very beginning she wants a better more independent future for herself which she attempts by applying to go back to university. She is mainly rejected because of her political actions during the Cultural Revolution. She also seems to reject some of the more traditional aspects of Iran. Shideh barely wears a Hijab and most of the time tries to avoid wearing one at all costs. When she has to flee the apartment from the malevolent spirits haunting it, she forgets to wear one and is chastised by the local (male) authorities. Shideh is also academic and level headed and mostly denies the existence of Djinn, unlike some of her more religious neighbours who state that they are mentioned in the Quran and in that sense they are a force to be feared and respected.

The scares in Under the Shadow are traumatic to say the least. Yes it relies on atmosphere and tension but it does utilise the ‘jump scare’ quite a lot. In more mainstream horror, a ‘jump scare’ can be a lazy way to manipulate scares from an audience, however this film uses the technique in a more abrupt and aggressive manner. It seems these Djinn spirits are relentless in their pursuit of Dorsa and soon enough they become a very real and dangerous threat. Some of the horror scenes are pretty disturbing and have a hallucinatory, dream like feel to them. I must admit I said a lot of expletives to myself during the film.

There is a lot going on and with the combination of war and horror it makes for an oppressive experience. It uses some of the usual genre clichés, creepy children, dolls and monsters under the bed but it is a challenging and thought provoking film, thanks to its exploration of the themes of feminism, parenting and religion. Under the Shadow reinforces the idea that the genre is best kept at a low budget, the scares feel raw and authentic and there are hardly any CGI shots. If The Babadook was the best horror of 2014 and It Follows for 2015, then surely Under the Shadow is the best horror of 2016, let the ‘Indie’ cycle continue.

Ben Cherry

@FilmCherry

Film Review: Café Society

Café Society screened in the Plymouth Arts Centre from 7th-13th October.

A new film by Woody Allen comes loaded with expectation; and Cafe Society is no exception. A period piece set in the 1930’s, it tells a simple story. Bobby Dorfman (played by Jesse Eisenberg) moves from his family home in the Bronx, and travels to Hollywood to work for his Uncle Phil. His uncle (played with relish by Steve Carell) is a big-time Hollywood agent. Bobby’s world is transformed into a series of star-studded parties, where he encounters the most influential players in town. But it isn’t until he meets Vonnie, Phil’s assistant, that life really begins to change. He quickly falls in love with the cool and stylish actress-turned-PA. There’s just one problem – she’s already in love with somebody else.

The film takes off, with comic misfires galore as Bobby tries to navigate his way through the Hollywood jungle. He gets the girl, and then he doesn’t. It’s a comedy of errors, and by making the most of his accomplished cast, Woody Allen has created a film that dances and sparkles. But Cafe Society doesn’t just leave you on a high; its bittersweet ending cuts through to the quick, cleanly and sharply. It’s a film that leaves you in no doubt about the cost of love.

In fact, my only issue with the film may seem quite minor, but once you notice it, there’s no escaping it. Cafe Society makes use of a narrator throughout the film. The voice-over is a New York, born-and-bred wise-guy, commenting on the action. It’s a stock character used many times over in the movies, but here’s the problem: Cafe Society isn’t your average gangster flick.  It’s a beautifully-nuanced film about lost love. The voice doesn’t fit – more than that – it’s grating, over-bearing and heavy-handed; entirely the wrong voice for such a delicate drama.

If you’re still not convinced about the importance of getting a voice-over right, just try to imagine Barry Lyndon without the exemplary performance from Michael Hordern. The world-weary, jaded narrator is pitch-perfect, and it makes an already great film even better.

The narrator in Cafe Society needs to be able to move between acerbic wit and mournful loss – the film is written so much in Woody’s voice, (indeed, Eisenberg’s mannerisms are so like Allen’s as to be uncanny) you can’t help but wonder why Allen didn’t take up the role of narrator himself. It may be a small detail, but when the rest of the film works so hard to get it right, it’s a shame that the narrator is so obviously mis-cast.

But where Cafe Society does excel is in its on-screen casting.  Eclectic casting is what Woody Allen is justly famous for; he collects and assembles talent from stage and screen with such aplomb that the cast feels organic every time – and that’s not easy to achieve. In the casting of the lead characters, Eisenberg and Stewart not only gel on-screen; they look like a couple brought together by fate, rather than design. Kristen Stewart is delightful as cool, clever Vonnie, while Jesse Eisenberg makes hapless Bobby immensely likeable.

The supporting actors, as you would expect with Allen’s films, are as satisfying to watch as the leads. Ken Stott as Bobby’s father (currently wooing theatre audiences in a UK tour of The Dresser), is one of Allen’s aces – taking us from kitchen-table comedy to wordless grief. Another stand-out is Corey Stoll who plays Ben, Bobby’s hoodlum brother.  Allen clearly rates Stoll – he also starred as the rambunctious, brawling Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris.

From the opening bars of clarinet, Allen’s brand can border on formulaic, but a sense of the familiar is overridden by the enthusiasm Allen clearly retains for film-making. The reason why Allen’s films are so hotly anticipated is because the next film could be his best – he is by no means treading water here. He has recently proved himself capable of reaching new heights with both his popular hits and his more serious work: Midnight in Paris was his most commercially-successful film to date, whilst Blue Jasmine wowed the critics and gave Cate Blanchett her third Oscar. While Café Society sits somewhere between the two, this return to form hints that Allen’s best work may yet emerge.

Allen and his films may divide cinema-goers and critics, but at his best, the neurotic charm can be hard to resist. What gives Allen longevity beyond that surface charm is his willingness to create films with bite. Heartbreak, emotional collapse and a startling confession – these are moments in his films that Woody has allowed to be felt at their deepest. For all their cosmopolitan glamour, Allen’s films refuse to shy away from the ugliness of life. There is an emotional reality that punctures the knowing winks and witty asides. Allen, like all great comedians, understands that comedy and pain are two sides of the same coin. To exploit one, you first have to deploy the other.

In summarising Allen’s recent work, while Blue Jasmine remains the high water-mark for the time being, Café Society’s warmth and wit has a lot to recommend it. Where the film succeeds is in its understanding that it is not the earth-shattering moments, but the near-misses, that resonate with us the most. There’s no happily ever after, but as Allen has been telling us since Manhattan – find the pain, and you’ve found your film.

Helen Tope

@Scholar1977

Film Review: Born To Be Blue

Film Review: Born To Be Blue

Born To Be Blue screened in the Plymouth Arts Centre from 30th Sept– 08 Oct 2016.

Music biopics can often be a mixed bag. Whilst they are almost always entertaining only a few are truly great. For every 24 Hour Party People you get The Doors. The former is a true one off, hilarious and plays fast and loose with the truth but proudly admits this. The latter is an interesting and occasionally enjoyable watch, but is a bit by-the-numbers as it goes through Jim Morrison’s life in chronological order.

Born To Be Blue on the other hand has been described as an ‘anti-biopic’ and tells the story of legendary Jazz musician, Chet Baker. Baker made it big in the 1950’s thanks to albums like Chet Baker Sings which includes the very famous version of ‘My Funny Valentine’. He was at the forefront of West Coast Jazz but his descent into heroin made him notorious and he was in and out of jail during the 1960’s.

Instead of a usual biopic which would start at his childhood, this film starts from Baker’s lowest point (at least in terms of the story) where he is in prison in Italy going cold turkey. There is a particularly arresting hallucination of a tarantula crawling out of a trumpet, which was just terrifying. Baker is then brought out of prison and cast in his own biopic. There are sequences of his ‘heyday’ shot in shades of blue that overtly glamorises that era of American history. It is on the set of the film where he meets the fictionalized actress Jane (who is playing his ex-wife in the film). A romance develops between the two and the rest of the film reveals more facets to Chet Baker’s life and career told through this relationship.

It is the performances from the two leads which elevate this film. Ethan Hawke is sensational as Baker and throughout the film he bears the burden of his past misgivings. His performance is very moving as he tries to make his musical comeback despite almost everyone going against him. Over the past few years Hawke has started to become of my favourite actors and seems to be starring in both big budget horror films like Sinister whilst still giving A-class performances in indie films such as this one and Boyhood. Carmen Ejogo is also a revelation as Jane and is more than a match for Ethan Hawke. Her character is a representation of the different women in Baker’s life and is very active in bringing him back from the brink of destruction. In essence she is our guide into the world of Chet Baker. We learn more and more about the Jazz legend through the growth of their relationship and it is this aspect that makes this biopic fresher and more open without the confines of re-telling real life events.

For a film about a jazz musician you don’t have to enjoy the genre to appreciate the film. I enjoy the odd bit of jazz but am not exactly a massive fan; however this film says less about jazz and more about the vice-like grip of drug addiction. Almost all of Baker’s past, present and future troubles are as a result of his addiction. Whether it is the fans who are trying to give him heroin or the torture of having to take methadone, it is a constant struggle for Baker. In addition, from a musical standpoint Chet Baker’s talent is second to none and despite his notorious behaviour a lot of characters still respect him as one of the greatest trumpet players to have ever lived. It makes it all the more tragic that his addiction ultimately killed him in 1988. This film is a fitting tribute to a jazz icon.

Benjamin Cherry

@bcherry90