“Second Coming” (dir. Debbie Tucker Green)

Magic and realism combine like Jamaican patois and cockney English in Debbie Tucker Green’s debut feature. The result of this composite equation is a compelling, atmospheric, and wholly original film.

Set in the suburbs of South London, “Second Coming” pertains to the definitive meaning of that phrase, without Marshall’s unexpecting mother (Jax) explicitly stating anything miraculous about her pregnancy within the film’s 105 minute running time. Instead, the narrative’s focus remains on the triumvirate of performances from Nadine Marshall, Idris Elba, and their 11-year old son, Kai Francis Lewis.

Suitably, the strength of “Second Coming” is in its performances, which Green’s directorial style demands a great deal from. Elba is required to tone down some of his strengths in order to play a struggling, but essentially good father and husband. Marshall is a women scarred by her own emotional battles with pregnancy; JJ (Kai Lewis) is her only child from five pregnancies, and it is in Lewis that the high quality watermark of performances is sealed.

The intriguing editing of the film hacks away at time, periodically dropping in on this ordinary family at various stages in Jax’s unordinary pregnancy. Like Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ (though the timeframe here is 9 months rather than 18 years), the moments Green’s camera does drop in on aren’t particularly important in and of themselves. Instead, they provide a complete picture of this family’s everyday life: preparing food, visiting friends, and the drawn out tension – and corresponding bursts of frustration – that play out in between.

All the while, and to the frustration of her friends, Jax remains unwilling to open up about her pregnancy. Is there another man? Is she anxious about losing it? Or is the answer something altogether more metaphysical? Answers aren’t particularly forthcoming, and Green isn’t interested in teasing audiences with clues either.

For some, the lack of emotion portrayed by Jax could prove testing. Though this sanitization of overt feelings, and the whole process of bottling things up inside, becomes a theme that is explored in the film. With one of the most uncharacteristically melodramatic scenes coming as Elba vents his anger and confusion toward the ‘elephant in the womb’.

Certainly from what is on offer here, it’s clear that Green has the original perspective and flair for cinema that is going to yield an interesting collection of films.

http://www.onthebox.com/tv/tv-reviews/second-coming/

“Tangerine” (dir. Sean Baker)

American actor, director and producer Jay Duplass recently appeared in the acclaimed Amazon Prime original, “Transparent”. A show that saw Jeffrey Tambor play a retired college professor who decides to come out as a women to his family and friends in later life. Fast forward a year, and Duplass’ production company (which he runs with his younger brother, Mark) appears at the beginning of Sean Baker’s film, “Tangerine”.

Selected for the Official Competition at the BFI London Film Festival, Baker’s film also hones in on the ‘trans’ world. Though while “Transparent” explores society’s reaction to a white, middle class teacher coming out as a women, “Tangerine” takes aim at Los Angeles; specifically, at the trans sex workers that populate the sun-drenched strip of Santa Monica Boulevard.

Another facet that both show and film share is comedy. A register that you’d imagine came less naturally to Baker’s film, where humiliation, sleazy sexual solicitors and crack cocaine combine. Far from forced, however, the film’s comic tone serves to add authenticity to the story of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Perhaps because the two leads are, for the most part, playing themselves; reenacting episodes that they have experienced, the good and the bad.

To this end, Sean Baker and his screenwriter approached the film in an interesting way. Instead of forming a plot, characters and themes first, they started with Mya and Kitana, and so eschewed imposing their own narrative on a world they admit to being ignorant of. Baker has described Mya as his passport into the trans world, though on watching the movie, you suspect she is much more than that. She is the beating heart of “Tangerine”, a film that is characterised by boldness from its camerawork to its comedy.

And so it’s at this point that we must address the technical accomplishments of the film. Faced with a limited budget of $100,000, Baker shot the film entirely on the iPhone 5s; an aesthetic choice suited both to the overexposed Californian setting, and the whip-neck pace of Sin-Dee and Alexandra. If you’re worried that sounds a little trite, don’t be. Though the opening act is littered with unique close-ups, fast pans and general trickery, Baker understands that it’s the story that’s important here, not the medium.

“Mythic Tales of Tomorrow II” – Nawksh

Influences clash together in this skittish, experimental debut from electronic producer Nawksh.

Though Danial Hyatt is a video game developer from Karachi, Pakistan, his output under Nawksh comes from a place much further afield. As well as the sights and sounds of South Asia, Hyatt has described his inspiration for this album as coming from a private fantasy world called CERATYL, a place he’s nurtured in his mind since boyhood.

Inside this world, the trappings of techno, beat music, ambient and more meld together, providing a strange soundtrack as Hyatt “dives into the most difficult, darkest parts of [his] psych.” It’s a therapy of sorts for the producer, and the musical release that’s achieved holds you as it manifests itself in various guises from track to track.

After the album’s stuttering opener, ‘First Friend’ picks up the pace and takes listeners on a journey through whirring, industrial base-scapes that come up against the rhythm of tribal drum samples. In ‘Down the Rodent Hole’ Hyatt channels the beat-driven style of Flying Lotus, with layers piling up on top of each other and melodies fighting to be heard.

Mythic Tales of Tomorrow II soon starts to take a more ambient turn before finally delving into the surreal. It’s as if Hyatt is revelling in a moment of calm before the final track, ‘Exile & Mirror’, takes you into a deep, 12-minute exploration of sound and samples provided by collaborator SMAX.

As a debut album, there’s certainly enough creative ambition and ingenuity on show to interest anyone listening to the margins of electronic music. He’s got a great deal to show you and, although staying with him isn’t always easy, doing so is ultimately rewarding. Electronic music has long been a place for forward-thinking artists to unleash their creativity and explore their minds. In his effort to bring CERATYL to life through these escapist, short-lived, genre-hopping beats, Nawksh has created an album that leaves you hungry to return for more.

While the record can definitely stand repeat listening, especially when played on a loop, our next taste of this world may come in the form of a game that he’s been developing to accompany it. A chance for Hyatt to show us visually the thoughts and stories unraveling inside his head.

http://vulturehound.co.uk/2016/08/nawksh-mythic-tales-of-tomorrow-ii-album-review/

“Girlhood” (dir. Céline Sciamma)

With “Girlhood”, Céline Sciamma is releasing a third film that’s concerned with, well, girlhood. Her previous features, “Water Lilies” and “Tomboy”, both go some way to tackling the lack of cinema invested in the experience of growing up a girl. Her third, thankfully, is no different.

Set in the projects of a Parisian suburb, the narrative begins with Marieme (Karidja Touré) and her friends talking to one another in a flurry of indistinct chatter; the film’s French title “Band le Filles”, or “gang of girls”, is possibly more fitting. As the girls walk past a group of lads sitting around a stairway, their chatter ceases, and with that we’re initiated into their collective mindset.

The real success of “Girlhood” is that its themes stick with you long after watching, and so too does Touré’s performance. Starring in every scene, Marieme is a character coming to terms with her gender. While she enjoys the sense of camaraderie she has with her friends, she ultimately understands femininity to be a signifier of weakness – not a trait that sits well with Marieme’s strong and independent personality. As the film continues, it becomes a thought-provoking exploration of female power, contained in this patriarchal structure of Parisian tower blocks.

Set to a pulsing synth soundtrack with brief soirées into chart pop, Sciamma’s script and direction really allow you to inhabit the world to which these girls belong. When Marieme is courted by a group of tougher and possibly older schoolgirls, Sciamma doesn’t allow you to easily judge them. This isn’t a case of “bad” corrupting “good”; rather, you get a real sense of understanding as to why the girls adopt this aggressive behaviour. To dance, fight, sing and gossip is to escape from the life of subservience that beckons them.

Newcomer Touré has a lot to do with the brilliance of Marieme. She is enigmatic, confident and beaming with energy. With the likes of “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” dominating Hollywood, it’s refreshing to see such a strong, independent female character existing in the real world reaching our cinemas. Here’s hoping we get a fourth film soon from this interesting and focused director.

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2015/04/19/girlhood-movie-review/

“Clarence Darrow” (dir. Thea Sharrock)

The lights go up, the stage is empty. A series of grunts and crashes introduce Clarence Darrow, the great American lawyer and Civil Rights defender lying with his legs in the air, beneath his desk. A couple of anxious minutes go by, with Kevin Spacey pottering around the stage (dressed up like the office of Atticus Finch) before collapsing into his chair. More time transpires while Spacey looks around the room, as if greeting each person in the packed out Old Vic auditorium. A couple of nervous giggles leak out and just like that, the audience are in the palm of his hand, where they’ll remain until the very end.

The poignancy of the evening is palpable, this being Spacey’s final performance as Creative Director of the Old Vic since he took over twelve years ago. Fitting then that he takes centre stage in this one-man play charting the life and work of an eloquent country lawyer who “didn’t bribe jurors, he frightened them to death.” The intimacy created by staging the play in the round certainly reproduces a bit of that terror, Spacey’s full-bodied performance barely contained by the wooden stage. Instead, the audience become implicit in Darrow’s recreation of famous trials, as well as intimate scenes involving his first wife.

Impassioned and at times vitriolic, Darrow is presented as a staunch defender of left-leaning politics in a recognisably ignorant society. Racial harmony, the eight-hour day and the end of the death penalty are all argued for over the course of the play. Darrow is shown to be tired of the world that he’s been fighting (or teaching) for so long. Ultimately, there’s an understandable amount of pride in Darrow that can’t be criticised. Of all the 102 men he defended, Spacey tells us, not a one was hanged.

The script is one that was first staged 40 years ago, with Henry Fonda in the role. Far from dusty, the words are brought to life by Spacey’s exhilarated movement and delivery; jokes land on cue, moments of anguish are perfectly realised. After giving everything he has for almost two hours, the play comes to its end. The time has flown by. The next time Spacey returns to the London stage it will be as a guest, but one we’ll be more than happy to have.

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2015/03/19/clarence-darrow-at-the-old-vic-theatre-review/