January 2020 – Cinema Roundup


Usually, my finger nails are allowed to grow out until Manchester City’s next big game unless an unexpected wave of anxiety forces my teeth to chatter them down. After watching 1917, I looked down upon nearly nail-less fingers. 

Why did I endure such a nerve-shredding experience? Roger Deakins.

Hail Mary for this god of a cinematographer. For those few who are unaware of who he is, he is responsible for:

Deakins is now, alongside long-term collaborator Sam Mendes (Skyfall), responsible for one of the most technically astonishing films of the decade. And we are a month in. 

1917 follows two young soldiers who are tasked with delivering a message to neighbouring Allied forces to call off an attack. To do that, they must travel through no-man’s land. The Germans appear to have retreated and be on the ropes, but new information reveals the Allied attack would result in calamity, including the death of a brother of one of the protagonists. The plot is simple and effective. The way it is executed, however, raises the stakes, the experience and one’s senses when watching. 

Filmed as a ‘one-shot film’, the viewer becomes the third person in the party. The execution of this method is beyond impressive with only a couple of obvious cuts throughout the runtime, and one of which is done to display the passage of time. Whilst 2014’s Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance used this technique for completely different reasons. In Birdman, a character-study, displayed the protagonist’s instability through constant camera movement and the quiet struggle of his every action when the camera’s stillness appeared to halt time. In 1917, it makes the soldiers’ every action questionable. At one point, the camera floats along the water, like a predator, as the soldiers struggle around it. At another, it moves like our eyes would in a videogame spotting one enemy and then another and leaving us to question where the violent-less path is.

Whilst Birdman (2014) popularised the one-shot technique in the public consciousness, an earlier film that used it was Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). Check it out.

The audience is never allowed to be lulled back into a sense of security, Mendes does not afford us that pleasure as no soldier was ever afforded it. As soon as we experience the first set-piece, a trip-wire in an empty bunker, the nerves and continually wrecked until you leave a beaten and bruised audience member. Even the production design and props intensify the horror. When the camera waded through a hoard of flies over the skeletal corpse of a rotting horse, I instantly felt more immersed in the world than I had in any war film since Saving Private Ryan.

And when the experience couldn’t get any more visceral, the film has a terrific score. At one moment it will float between eerie synths that rumble indistinctively, as if you have to keep your ears out for movement. Seconds later, the tension has snapped and the pounding of drums and horns pummels around you as the race against time and for one’s own life is afoot. 

Nonetheless, the film knows when to be quiet. Whether we close in on a character to allow sorrow to sink in, or we retreat to nature to remember that life is what these characters are fighting for. And within these moments, the characters are allowed to show glimpses of themselves. It is only within these brief instances of shared laughter and comradery that any light manages to penetrate the bleak darkness of this film that displays the horror of war in the starkest way imaginable. 

The scenes shot at night are where Deakins’ cinematography is most elegant.

Like I said though, these moments are not the bulk of the movie. Thus, circulating arguments that the two protagonists, portrayed by Dean Charles Chapman and George McKay, are not developed enough do have merit. The film is like Dunkirk in a sense, incredible filmmaking with very little character development. Despite this, I did not find sympathising with these characters hard. Their actions speak things that their words do not. And whilst their shared stories add an air of believability, it is the moments when they speak about medals and family that reveal the most about them as people. The sheer fact that you are taken as the third member of their party throughout made up for the lack of characterisation through dialogue. 

Interspersed throughout their journey is a number of fleeting cameos from brilliant actors, which really help to add a punch to many of the dialogue scenes. Andrew Scott’s turn as a make-shift nihilist of a lieutenant was my favourite and a curveball away from the archetypal stoic British officer with their chin held high, eyes directed below and chest puffed out. Which unsurprisingly is the characters portrayed by Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch with little nuance separating the three of them.

The film is not about the actors or the characters though. It is pure technical excellence. See it on the big screen.


JoJo Rabbit

I feel like I can write normally again now I’m discussing a film about an imaginary ironic Hitler. I watched 1917 and JoJo Rabbit the same day. To say I couldn’t have seen two wildly different approaches to World Wars in films is an understatement.

The film, helmed by writer-director-actor, Taika Wahtiti, follows the journey of Johannes “JoJo Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a young Nazi fanatic who has become indoctrinated by nationalist ideology. As he puts it, he’s “massively into Swastikas”. So too, was Wahtiti once upon a time, who confessed in an interview he would obsessively draw them around his books and house. Superbad style. Only to realise what he had done and forge them into windows and sometimes houses. Wahtiti’s honesty and quirkiness permeates the fractured world he conceives and the characters that inhabit it. 

There will never be another high-school comedy like Superbad (2007).

Originally dreaming of becoming a Nazi war hero, JoJo goes to a Hitler youth camp only to show his inner squeamishness when refusing to snap a bunny’s neck and then, in a moment of zealousness, blows himself half to hell with a hand grenade.  Thus, he is resigned to handing leaflets around town and picking up metal in a robot costume, whilst being constantly being spurred on by his imaginary friend and stand-in father figure. Adolf Hitler.

In a caricatured performance of Hitler by Wahtiti, a role he admits no respectable actor would wish to play, he strays away from imitation and instead embodies the goofiness of a child’s own imagination. One moment he is a clown and sidekick, the next he is an enraged satire of dictators, kicking chairs in frustration. 

Bursting the bubble of Nazi ideology is just the springboard for the film’s comedy. All the actors have fun with their roles. Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson relish the opportunity to be camp and gratuitously over-the-top as the leaders of the Nazi Youth Camp. Whilst Alfie Allen, is Rockwell’s silent shadow, staring at his superior with a loving twinkle in his eye. JoJo’s friend Yorkie, portrayed by newcomer Archie Yates, crops up occasionally with perfect tone and comedic timing. Meanwhile, stalking around is a bug-eyed Gestapo officer…

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

…That is seven feet tall (Stephen Merchant) and contributes to an entire minute of characters saying ‘Heil Hitler’ and somehow, somehow, all these actors make it funny. 

There has been a lot of criticism surrounding the film. That it is one dimensional. That it is childish. That it isn’t funny or touching enough to cut to the heart of the subject matter. But, for me, this was the first time in a while that I had heard an entire cinema audience laughing. Out loud.

When the film switched to its more emotional core, as JoJo discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johannson) is harbouring a Jewish woman, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), it pulled it off just as effectively as the humour. JoJo begins to rethink his alliances, as he forms a love-hate relationship Elsa, and thus the ideology that has infested his mind.  When his worldview changes, as does his imaginary inflection of Hitler. The film then deals with tragedy and pathos, focusing on the tenderness of human connection. It is about discovering where our biases come from and how humanity can hate so blindly. All of which are universal themes that resonate just as much now, with dictators rising again, as ever. Just because critics do not find it funny enough, think of it as beneath them and subconsciously comparing it to the profoundness of other war films, such as The Pianist and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, does not mean it is a bad or offensive film. It means they are missing the point. The focus on how conflict saturates all walks of society, down to the children that it shapes, should be fulfilling enough.


Dolemite Is My Name

The costume design in this film is COOL.

Dolemite Is My Name was not a film that raised my attention all that much. Other than the constant conversation about this being Eddie Murphy’s glorious comeback, I didn’t see much to be excited about this film for. And yet, watching something with little to no expectations is the best way to watch films. 

Dolemite was the most uplifting and ‘feel-good movie’ I have seen in a long while, as it traces the ascendance of Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy) from stand-up bum to self-made movie star. Whilst I first struggled to empathise with Murphy’s character, Rudy, who starred in the cult Blaxploitation film Dolemite in 1975. He begins with an air of self-importance and bitterness as he hasn’t met the expectations he set for himself. The eventual narrative of how he attempts, through pure force of will, sweat and tears, to achieve his dreams is a universally relatable and inspiring one. 

The characters around him that strive to beat his dreams down are manifestations of someone that everyone knows, the people that tell you no and that look upon you with a raised eyebrow and sarcastic slits of smiles while you pour out your dreams upon them. This figure was encapsulated by Wesley Snipes’ diva director, D’Urville Smith – who I found consistently making me laugh than the rest of the cast. This excellent performance by Snipes also finds the ying to its yang in Rudy’s leading lady, Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). The relationship between herself and Rudy is the emotional heart of the movie and this trio of actors uplifted the film to new heights. 

Whilst the moments of comedy and the performances are what will stand out for most, it was the story of people coming together and forcing a movie into creation and thus, their love for it and determination defeating the high and mighty Hollywood figures, that I found the most empowering and fulfilling. If you need some laughs and smiles, I couldn’t recommend a new film more than Dolemite Is My Name.


The Gentlemen

From one comeback, to another…

Guy Ritchie is back on form. He is once again back where he feels most comfortable – an ensemble of gangsters with sharp blades and even sharper words. And the delivery of these words is near perfect. Hugh Grant no longer plays Hugh Grant, now he’s a camp slime-ball journalist with a penchant for the dramatic and its nearly as refreshing as all the whiskey he drinks. Matthew McConaughey is just a perfect fit for a Guy Ritchie film, although I don’t think he gets the best lines or is the best character. Charlie Hunnam is the best I have seen him as the cool and calculated understudy to Mickey (McConaughey), although I still think he struggles to deliver any nuance to his characters. Colin Farrell, meanwhile, is the scene stealer. I wish he was in the film more. 

The story rotates between these four (and many more) characters as McConaughey’s character, Micky Pearson, aims to sell up his multi-million dollar marijuana company to a subtext-speaking American businessman, portrayed by Jeremy Strong. When multiple parties start to smell blood and circle like vultures, notably the Chinese mob represented by Henry Golding’s character and a plait-tracksuit laden wannabee-gang called the Toddlers, Mickey and co. have to navigate many different threats.

The Toddler’s grime video ft. Manchester’s own, Bugzy Malone, still has me cringing…

The quasi-narration that drives the first two acts of the story gave extra vigour to the film but I felt that it got messy in parts with too much zipping and zapping between different story points. As a result, it initially took me a while to get to grips with what is going on onscreen, it can be hard to put with Ritchie’s relentless pace. Stitching all these plot-points and comedic avenues seems like a logistical nightmare from a filmmaking point of view but it is done relatively effectively whilst being constantly enjoyable. Upon first viewing, however, some moments of the editing (especially uses of montage), whilst similar to his signature style, look like a poorer Edgar Wright impersonation nowadays.

Whilst the dialogue is extremely entertaining, sharp witted and hilarious – Shakespearean with more ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ I believe Nicholas Barber gracefully put it. The drawback in parts, however, is that it almost seems in rhyming couplets with every line having a sort of punchline and when that doesn’t hit, it draws you out of any realism of the words or what is happening. 

But that isn’t really the point, is it? Guy Ritchie’s films are style over substance and they are remembered for that style. And regardless of realism or emotional impact, what doesn’t fail to shine through is Guy Ritchie’s own voice, a voice we have long loved since 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.


Little Women

One of the best parts of seeing this film was viewing the faces of my fellow audience members. 2 o’clock on a Thursday, a scattering of exclusively old women sit down and natter among themselves content to get out the house and see a film that they passionately want to see. Then in comes in a solitary young man dressed in tracksuit bottoms and a puffer jacket. Pure astonishment on their faces.

Little Women is not necessary my ‘type’ of film (I wince a little when I say that). Often films need an element of threat to really grip me. Unless, it is something like Greta Gerwig’s latest outing. This is a near-perfect film.

Adapting Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 book of the same name, Gerwig creates an environment brimming with life as she retells the lives of the March sisters, through past and present narratives of their loves, passions and tragedies. The non-linear storyline is dealt with expertly, especially when I compare it to the messiness of The Gentlemen. The cinematographer’s use of colour to distinguish the two different timelines is so simple but brilliantly effective. The hue of blue indicates the present, especially during the moments of tragedy that take place. Whereas the yellow used for the flashbacks is energetic, it evokes the comfort of home when they were all together and happy, untainted by the realities of their patriarchal world.

Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep are all excellent in supporting roles.

It is these moments that gave me the most joy, where all four sisters are together. Each one’s personality is distinct and established from the start. One begins by walking through the masculine hum of a publishing office, the world she wants to break into, where another plays her piano before she speaks a word. When they are all in the same room, these personalities bounce off one another. A spirit of communion radiates throughout their scenes. Their lines almost seem improvised by the way they’re delivered, firing words and interrupting one another in the messy sibling way.

The performances, as I’ve already hinted, are wonderful and make you gravitate towards all these characters. Florence Pugh, in my opinion, is the queen of the stage. A stage they all inhabit together, early in their lives as women with dreams and ambitions. Between them they all inhabit the great cultural art forms – writing, painting, music and performance, and their choices about pursuing these passions or to follow the roads that society has built for them is the heart of the film.

Whilst it isn’t a film which craves me wanting more, that acts like a drug for me, it is nonetheless a beautiful film, from the costume design to the sound mixing. The reasons why Gerwig was not nominated for Best Director remain as much a mystery to myself as it does the rest of the community.


ARCHIVE Reviews, Part Two: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

With the Academy Awards looming over the horizon yet again, it is time to turn attention to a previous winner and escape the constant January negativity and speculation. Two years ago, one film in particular was at the centre of the omnipresent Oscar debates: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The dark comedy is the third feature written and directed by Martin McDonagh, chronicling a grieving mother’s warpath for justice to be served for her daughter’s unsolved murder. Continuing the trend commenced by his debut feature, In Bruges (2008), McDonagh’s latest film struck a tense balance between obscene humour and the bleak subject matter it arises from. 

After lingering in vain hope and misery for seven months after the murder of her daughter, the pragmatic Mildred (Frances McDormand) sparks outrage in her rural community by putting a provocative message on three billboards to the town’s chief-of-police, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). With the help of bigot cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell), what ensues is foul-mouthed and explosive as “anger begets anger”. Nonetheless at its core, the film retains a profound sentimentality, echoing a 20th century dramatic tragicomedy. 

As striking as the script is, the glaringly obvious merit of this film is the acting. Thank Mary, Mother and Joseph that Frances McDormand was not robbed of the Best Actress award in 2017. The strength of McDormand’s performance may even eclipse her award winning performance in 1996’s Fargo as she portrays the no-nonsense yet internally conflicted protagonist – publically defiant and yet wrestling with her own personal demons. Said demons linger over the shoulder of every character, even if we do not see them at first. None more so than the other two mains, expertly portrayed by Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell who were both nominated by the Academy for their performances, with Rockwell just pipping his co-worker. I imagine Harrelson being too high at the time to feel sadness at the result. Whilst Harrelson manages to portray an empathetic man in the midst of a tragedy, Rockwell’s Dixon is racist and violent, damned but with hope of redemption. 

As Mildred declares Dixon and co. are “too busy going around torturing black folks”, elements of controversy arise. In a discussion of the film, Clint Gage of Cinefix (a YouTube channel I would highly recommend to all film-lovers) expresses his disappointment at the “hollowness” of the socially relevant themes the film teed up, such as discussions surrounding police brutality and racism. For once, I must disagree, Clint. In a film that constantly balances motifs on a knife’s edge, Dixon is a character that implies the necessity of change. No explicit redemption is established, yet changes take place in all of the characters. Seeds are planted and the open ending allows our imaginations to see them sprout. McDonagh has a skill for emphasising the flawed humanity of each of his characters. We can always empathise with them. Yet we are forced to stare down the barrel of their depravities. One example being when Dixon, enraged and saddened, throws a man out of a window in a beautifully brutal over the shoulder one-shot sequence. We see the cruelty in his own perspective, contrasting the empowering catharsis felt when Mildred acts upon her rage. 

The script is unpredictable, the characters’ complex. There is little to fault in McDonagh’s renegade tour de force. The cinematography was simplistic but effective. Not as eye catching as Roger Deakins’ transportive palettes in BladeRunner 2049, however, shots such as the opening decrepit billboards help to compound the atmosphere whilst the progressive use of red lighting throughout is evocative of each lead’s struggle. All of which has initiated constant debate about which McDonagh film I now consider my favourite: In Bruges or Three Billboards? (Sorry, Seven Psychopaths fans).  

Update from when I first wrote this review… In Bruges is still king.

Regardless of my opinion, the film mischievously avoids reassurance and finality. Consistently provocative, McDonagh’s script allows the viewer to interpret the events, to declare judgment on the characters. Yet there is a certain allure in the ambivalence as we wield the gavel, incapable of striking the hardwood as the credits roll. 

ARCHIVE Reviews, Part One: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

In this miniseries of articles, I shall be looking back upon the last decade of film and reviewing some of my favourites of the past ten years. Up first is Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049, the film which proved that he is the man to make 2020’s Dune a modern sci-fi classic.

It is a brave voyage that Denis Villeneuve embarked on in 2017. The original Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation of the curiously named novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, is one of those rare films that began with a disregarded wisp of smoke only to erupt and send seismic waves of influence within not only the science-fiction genre, but across the entire film industry. The awe-inspiring sets and visuals exemplified the transportive capacity of cinema whilst the permeating mood of ambiguity continues to inspire debate among contemporary cult followers about its fundamental themes, characters and images. Are the replicants more human than the humans? Is Deckard a replicant? What is the meaning of the origami unicorn?

The original Blade Runner‘s (1982) set and production design was a triumph, creating a dark reflection of our own future.

It is difficult to know whether or not lovers of the original would desire the answers to these questions. Would it ruin the soul of the original? Like I said, Villeneuve and co. had set themselves a task of cosmic proportions. Yet given Villeneuve’s recent directorial features, Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and more recently 2016’s Arrival, an alien contact story that strives for the provocation of intellectual questions rather than blockbuster action, it is clear that Blade Runner 2049 (2017) has at the helm one of Hollywood’s greatest visionaries. 

The film takes place thirty years after the events of the original, as we follow a new blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling) within a dystopian Los Angeles in which all the greenery of our once glorious ecosystems has faded into grey. His profession, to ‘retire’ rogue replicants, is still performed with the swift brutality as in the old days of Deckard’s career (Harrison Ford). After retiring a replicant, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), he unearths the remains of a female who died during a caesarean section underneath a prophetic white tree against the bleak landscape. The woman was also a replicant, only… replicants cannot reproduce, can they? 

The discovery forces K to follow the mystery down the rabbit hole as his human commander (Robin Wright) believes such a revelation could result in a war commencing between humans and replicants. His pursuit leads K through this bleak new world, in search of Ford’s Deckard but also in search of the truth of his own identity. What holds the film together is the thematic continuity between itself and the original. The profound questions posed by the original are explored further, as existential crises surrounding identity, purpose and what it means to be human pervades the ambivalent aura. 

Within the awe-inspiring world envisaged by Roger Deakins’ sublime cinematography (as ever – at least the Academy finally came to their senses this year), man has lost a spiritual connection with nature. The post-modernist dystopia is at the surface a dirty, un-romanticised city peppered with candy-pink holograms surrounded with wastelands basking in the glorious orange hue of radiation. It is, without a doubt, the best looking film of 2017. Yet the aesthetic serves a greater purpose than one may expect. Wallace (Jared Leto) reigns over the corporation who has created a new model of replicant, more obedient than Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) model in Ridley Scott’s original. During the film we visit his overwhelmingly expensive apartment: grand open spaces, reflective water shimmering off the smooth walls. Yet it is completely featureless. There are no grand pieces of art, no treasured heirlooms. Wallace himself has immersed himself within this artificial world. His opaque milk-coloured eyes require technology to enable him the gift of sight. The curtains are drawn upon the windows of the soul. 

The score, an unnerving combination of slow eerie synthesizers rising into hauntingly high revelations of double-bass and choral instruments, reveals more about how humans appear to have lost touch with what makes us human. Woven throughout the film are incomplete symphonies. A holographic performance of Elvis fragments “Sus-s-pic… iousss minds” whilst the harmonious swells of “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev are distorted, as the violins descend into synthetic white-noise. The humans we encounter can no longer appreciate humanity’s greatest cultural achievements. 

When asked by production designer, Dennis Gassner, to describe the film in a single word, Denis Villeneuve replied: ‘brutality’. Wallace embodies said brutality. He slices a new-born replicant like a sacrificial lamb in front of his ruthless lieutenant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Throughout both films, the killing of replicants faces no moral qualms because humans insist that they don’t have a soul. But is a soul something people are born with? Or is it constructed? In the original, Roy Batty, a replicant primed to kill, saves Deckard in rebellion of his programming yet we see a human, Wallace, kill without remorse or question. And so, the question swings in the air like a pendulum: have humans lost their humanity?

Such internal dilemmas torment K, and Ryan Gosling captures the quiet and afflicted protagonist expertly. Gosling, who has a knack of picking scripts in which he plays complex and conflicted characters, such as Drive (2011) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), appears to me Hollywood’s contemporary Harrison Ford – possessing an exterior of masculine magnetism that envelops a tender soul within. Ford, by the way, was excellent. The Deckard we know returns but he is evidently tortured by his past.

The entire cast deserves praise for their performances. Jared Leto is chilling and unsettling as Wallace. Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv is utterly relentless yet we suspect her inquisitive cogs are turning beneath the surface. Ana de Armas plays K’s devoted but holographic girlfriend, Joi, another AI application that relinquishes humanity’s innate compassion. Nonetheless, the dynamic between de Armas and Gosling manages to inject pathos and tragedy into an otherwise ersatz relationship. 

Despite such fine feats of acting, the greatest performance is Villeneuve’s. Brave enough to take a slow pace, like the original, brave enough to explore yet preserve the encompassing enigmas, like the original, and brave enough to prime such a beautiful yet gritty spectacle with not only violence but with an atmosphere which intrigues and unnerves the viewer, like the original. Such loyalty does not detract from innovation. Blade Runner 2049 is its own self-contained beast that seeks to tell a story. For me, it is such a refreshing approach amidst Hollywood’s tendency to unnecessarily plant seeds for sequels and franchises. Villeneuve, for one, has retained his humanity.

The Rise and Fall of Skywalker – Rants, Not Reviews

Retrospect and hindsight are almost necessary when reviewing any Star Warsfilm. Flashback to any release date and all my memories are clouded by torrents of angry fans yodelling about the integrity of Star Wars lore or critics preaching from pedestals about the films’ use of feminine figures, rather than actually analysing the film within the context of its own medium.

Flashforward to now, there is now only me talking about it, and probably no one cares. The wet flop of quiet now surrounding the film probably sums up the impact of the film. 

Currently, this all appears VERY negative and you’ve probably got the impression that I can think that I could have done it better. I don’t. Admittedly, when I watched the film, I was entertained. Film is an entertainment industry therefore J.J. Abrams (sort of…) needs a round of applause. He did his job on the most fundamental level. Yet it should not be understated how difficult that job was. 

The trilogy began with Abrams’ own vision. Whether it was too similar to Lucas’ original vision or not, is an argument for another day. Similarities or not, fans were happy. THEN came about the rage-fuelling, hate-inspiring, devil-incarnate, Sith-ridden, Luke-should-not-have-thrown-that-fucking-lightsabre-ing film called The Last Jedi. Which I really enjoyed. And most of the reason I enjoyed it was purely because it wasn’t The Force Awakensand it wasn’t a carbon copy of The Empire Strikes Back, it was its own movie. Unfortunately, with Star Wars you can’t do that because it has to be the fans’ movie. It may have been far from perfect but it made its own choices and Rian Johnson was a brave man. (I can just imagine that man laughing at videos of Star Wars nerds breaking their collectors’ items like a berserker when talking about The Last Jedi).

As a result of Rian Johnson being at the helm for the second film, we effectively had two different build ups, two ideas, two trajectories, a big-bad Sith primary antagonist killed off AND to make matters worse, there was only two and a half hours to pay everything off and finish a nine-film saga. I’d say I don’t envy Abrams but he’s probably shitting gold at this point. Hence, the lack of focused direction throughout the largest movie trilogy and narrative of the decade resulted in it being lacklustre. Shock. I sympathise with Scorsese’s grudge towards recent blockbusters. I know that he targeted the Avengers films more, but Star Wars is in the same bracket at this point. In this trilogy, whose story was told? Not Rey’s – whose artistic mind? What did it all have to say? What did it teach us about its characters on a profound level? What’s the fucking point?

Again, all quite negative at this point BUT it was a tall, tall order to pull off this film. They needed another two films and one person directing each one. 

So what was done well? You know the CGI will be immense. As will John Williams’ score. Those factors will always be the case. The actors all did a pretty good job. Some got less of a role than I would have hoped, granted, as Finn was seemingly relegated to a tag-along side-kick that just loves screaming ‘Wooooo!’ just to tell everyone in the audience how they should be feeling. Props to Daisy Ridley though, I actually thought she did a pretty good job. Rey has seemed a bit stale in the past, a bit too perfect. In The Rise of Skywalker, her history is finally revealed and thus her inner torment intensifies. She is practically invincible though, looking as if she has turned the difficulty down to beginner in an RPG.

Going over the cast briefly: Adam Driver is Adam Driver. Which is fantastic. Kylo Ren was easily the character I was most invested in. Which is often the case with Star Wars, the best characters are the ones that hover in the grey zone of morality. The entire crew did the best job possible with Carrie Fisher’s old footage, piecing together old recordings of Leia so that her story can come full circle and her passing can be respected. Ian McDiarmid was full Palpatine like you could ever imagine and was as good as a stand in for Snoke as could have been mastered (all plot holes aside). John Boyega and Oscar Isaac were both fine, I just don’t think they had the best material to play with. 

In total honesty, I think the majority of the film was very well put together. It is just aspects of the script which made me want to claw my eyes out at parts and unfortunately, that often overshadows all other aspects of a production. 

MAIN GRIPE NUMBER ONE: deaths. Scratch that, fake out deaths. This film went all out Walking Dead. Be warned, spoilers ahead (but in total honesty if you haven’t watched the film then what are you doing reading this review?). When the ship that Chewbacca WAS in, don’t tell me he wasn’t, blew up I got so excited, it’s quite sickening. At that point, I thought to myself, fuck this is bold. Picking up Johnson’s mantel of going against fan’s expectations? Yeah, I couldn’t have been more wrong. One scene later and oh there he is! Two scenes later and the rest of the characters looked like they had forgotten about him anyway. Thus, the most exciting scene so far was ultimately reduced to a set piece just to provide exposition to show the Rey is a Palpatine.

Maybe I could have forgiven them if they only did this once but no, they undermined another one of the best scenes in the movie an hour later. The lightsabre fight between Kylo and Rey upon the wreckage in the midst of a sea storm was stunning, their sabres blazing amidst the raw monotone environment. The emotion in such moments was just not there for me when I recollect upon it though. It was touching that Kylo seemingly dies when his mother does but what did that or the fight itself actually mean to the characters? Not much. This film was once in which can carry the audience upon the wave of its spectacle but when the film ends and that wave crashes, all is left is this empty beach, each promising idea incapable of becoming more than a grain of sand among millions. Like they couldn’t even let Kylo fucking die and make that mean something, no Rey goes OP mode and brings him back to life. But I guess she did it on a better CGI Anaconda so all is well in the world. I feel like this part of the sequence would not have frustrated me anywhere near as much if they had not done the Chewbacca farce earlier.

Side note… in all fairness, the scene between Kylo and his father was pretty touching and critical for his arc. Fan service done well.

In all fairness, the helmet looked cool af.

Damn, that was a big gripe. GRIPE NUMBER TWO: Palpatine. Yes, Abrams had to pluck gold out of his arse to pull off a great antagonist after Johnson killed off Snoke, however, bringing back Palpatine isn’t really the gripe here. It is just the moment when he raises thousands of Star Destroyers out of the ground that A) makes a franchise, that was originally for kids, reach new heights of disbelief, and B) makes the Death Star just look insignificant.  

GRIPE NUMBER 3: Some fan service fell flat. Lando appears magically on the one planet they need something on. Other than that, he is entirely disposable. When Rey hears all the voices of past Jedi’s. Some people might lose their minds on this one but for me, it was a bit unnecessary. I can’t believe I’m actually complaining about Samuel L. Jackson being in a movie.

GRIPE NUMBER FOUR: Myself. Moaning endlessly is getting quite superfluous and tedious in all honesty and if you enjoyed the film, you may well hate me at this point.

So in essence, when I was at the cinema, I had a good time. The film is a feast for the eyes and no one can take that away from everyone involved. Star Wars has always and still is entertaining regardless of its other faults. To bash it to this extent now seems pointless but with its armies of fans constantly being brought to my attention, I can no longer take this franchise at face value. It has been installed upon almost everyone that these must be dissected and they must follow its strict lore and EVERYTHING must always be compared to the original trilogy. This is inevitable but so is a dip in quality when those in charge of production do not follow a blueprint throughout a trilogy and go gung-ho because its profitability is a certainty. 

RATING: *Big Sigh* 5/10.

My Top 5 Films of 2019

Firstly, I must address the honourable mentions. I enjoyed Us more than I did Get Out. Whilst its multivalent messages were less eloquently explored, it kept me more hooked and terrified. Avengers: Endgame was a near-perfect send-off for the original cast of the franchise and its slower first act was a welcome change for the franchise as its characters’ reactions to the events of Infinity War were rightly given the limelight. Meanwhile, Knives Out has a delicious first act and a half which unfortunately gets dazed and confused. Nonetheless, the cast and one-lines are worth a watch alone.

There were a few films I unfortunately missed, such as RocketmanParasite and Midsommar. And a few more which I haven’t seen as they are not yet available in the UK, namely Uncut GemsThe Lighthouse and 1917. I’m not including The Rise of Skywalker because I’m already predicting disappointment.

But one film I feel I need to address is Marriage Story. It made me feel more emotional than any film in a long while. Noah Baumbach has a fantastic talent for focusing on the minutia and character-driven narratives and his excellent script is only elevated by immense performances from Scarlett Johannsen and Adam Driver. I honestly think Driver will pip Jaoquin Pheonix to the Best Actor Oscar, whilst I wouldn’t be surprised if Baumbach picks up the award for Best Original Screenplay for his semi-autobiographical story. Whilst Marriage Story is undoubtedly a superior film on a technical and acting level, there is one I enjoyed slightly more…

Marriage Story, dir. by Noah Baumbach.
Side Note: Please appreciate this composition.

5) The King

Now take this as my ‘controversial’ choice. This film has been bashed by some critics who are trying to kiss Bill Shakespeare’s arse. But personally, I’m a sucker for medievalism in cinema and I have been waiting for something to soothe my Game of Thrones heartbreak (which is still raw). The King achieved that. Politics, deception and words that cut as deep as any sword take the foreground. That is where Game of Thrones thrived and where most medieval dramas thrive. Forget the dragons.

Where there are words, we need actors and fuck me, the cast does a fantastic job. Timothée Chalamet plays Henry V of England who has to go from drunkard to king overnight and learn the intricacies of power and politics. Chalamet keeps confirming that we have another powerhouse of an actor on our hands with an exceptional performance to build upon his work in Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird. His co-stars, however, take turns to eclipse him in certain scenes. Robert Pattinson, who is now in my eyes a million light-years away from his role in the Twishite films, acts as the antagonist, the French Dauphin. His accent and delivery is hilarious one second and then terrifying the next. Sean Harris probably gives the strongest performance of the lot, whilst Lily-Rose Depp delivers a more convincing performance in ten minutes of screen time than her father has given in 10 years.

The King, dir. by David Michôd

My main gripe is the length of the film. I wished it was longer. Rather, I wish this was translated into a mini-series as opposed to a film. Some of the character’s transformations, most noticeably Chalamet’s Hal, from irresponsible drunk to stalwart king, seem to happen overnight. If this had been given time, Chalamet could have had even better material to work with that depicted more internal divisiveness and anxiety – instead, at times the portrayal can appear a bit too perfect. The fact that director, David Michôd attempted to cram so much into 140 odd minutes left many critics raging at how he defaced Shakespeare’s source material, Henry V parts 1 and 2. Let the man use the source material as he pleases, I say. Despite the somewhat cramped feeling of the film, Michod provides us with so much. The battle scene is fantastic. It’s directed to appear tactile and distressing, forcing claustrophobia and wincing come into play. Although one overhead shot was a mirror image of Jon Snow rising among the masses during the Battle of the Bastards *cries once more*. Other than that, the direction is effective and the excellent production design really helps to pull yourself into the battle and the film. 

So next time you’re scrolling endlessly throughout your Netflix like a junkie that doesn’t know where to get his next fix, just stick The King on. 

4) The Irishman

Okay so first and foremost, don’t be put off with the 3 and a half-hour run time. Watch it episodically, an hour a night. Or be a nocturnal maniac and watch it in a single binge-fest. Whatever you do, just watch it. 

The Irishman, dir. by Martin Scorsese

‘Based off a true story’. In Hollywood, that doesn’t mean shit. The Irishman is based on Charles Brandt’s book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ (i.e. you splatter a house’s walls with someone’s brains), which is mostly an interview with Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran on his account of his life as a mobster and his relationships to Jimmy Hoffa and the Ruffalino mob family. So, it’s based on a book, BASED on one man’s words. Get that salt and pinch it – Sheeran also claimed to provide Harvey Lee Oswald with three rifles days before JFK’s assassination… So expectation number one, crushed. 

Expectation Number Two: this is not Goodfellas 2.0. This is not Casino 2.0. This film is slower, it deals with loyalty rather than excess. The dynamic of the relationships between De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are dissected constantly. The film uses silence brilliantly to show this. On occasions, a big decision has or has to be made and we are made to sit there with the character and think and more importantly feel about all the repercussions of these decisions, which is something not seen enough in cinema anymore. However, it must be said – this would not have worked nearly as well if it wasn’t for the legendary triad of actors. 

Who stole the show for you: De Niro, Pacino or Pesci?

There is something so gratifying about seeing these men, all with legacies as great as Scorsese himself, come back and knock it out for six. Especially Joe Pesci. The little old dude has been retired for over a decade and returns with the coldest, most understated and comfortably terrifying performance of his career. Hurt his associate? He’ll kill you. Touch his family? He’ll kill you. Think he’s funny? He’ll kill you. He is the perfect foil for Pacino’s perfectly over-the-top Jimmy Hoffa. Meanwhile, De Niro has made up with Al since Heat and now acts as the mediator between his superiors whilst giving an incredible considered performance. All of which are elevated by Scorsese’s direction, which is wiser and almost simpler. There is nothing exaggerated about the camera’s direction or the edits because there is no need to be.

This wiser approach is exhibited in my favourite part of the film, a climactic car sequence. When I say he takes his time, he takes his time. It’s a good twenty minutes and that is part of why the film is so long but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Claustrophobia, stillness and elongation result in one of the tensest sequences I’ve seen in a long while. Think Sicario’s car sequence but on a smaller scale and with bigger stakes. 

Also, if you need any more reason to watch this film, there’s an Action Bronson cameo. 

“Every five minutes look in the fridges as if magic happened”. Look at the screen, ACTION.

3) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, dir. by Quentin Tarantino

DISCLAIMER: I’m a basic bitch. Pulp Fiction will always be my favourite Tarantino film. 

But seriously, has there ever been a cooler film than Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Well, yeah, Pulp Fiction

BUT after Pulp Fiction, has there ever been a cooler film than Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Probably not.

Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt just have a golden aura around them. They’re effervescent and in their first on-screen collaboration, they hit it off just as much as everyone would have expected. What is this film about? Their friendship more than anything else. Sure, the film is a love letter to Hollywood and an elucidator of its fickle nature. It is also somewhat about the Manson murders that shook the industry. But is that all it is about? Most of the film appears to be about nothing. It’s just characters hanging out without doing much to advance the plot. I doubt any other director would be able to get away with this. But it is just so Tarantino. It hinges upon his immense dialogue and the actors who are able to do so much with it. 

The flaw in this is that the movie only produces a couple of points of real tension. One scene with Pitt in a small disturbed desert community made my palms sweatier and sweatier yet fell a bit flat. Perhaps, I’m too used to Tarantino killing off the majority of his roster. And in honesty, this is exactly the expectation that Tarantino will have been playing on. He knows you’re thinking of Inglorious Bastards‘ basement scene AND of the pop tarts in Pulp Fiction AND the Mexican standoff in Reservoir Dogs AND the eventual blood bath in The Hateful Eight after over two hours of tension and buildup. He knows this and so he’s probably laughingly evil saying ‘Mwhaha you’re going to have to wait a little longer for the blood and guts’. And we have to wait until the penultimate scene. And the wait is worth it. I don’t think Tarantino has ever been funnier. It sums up the film’s tone. Tarantino but a comedy, Tarantino but the protagonists are goofy and more imperfect than ever, Tarantino but it’s also DiCaprio, Pitt AND Margot Robbie. Orgasm.

Margot Robbie portraying real-life figure, Sharon Tate, who was tragically a victim of the ‘Manson Murders’.

2) Le Mans ‘66

Rip-roaring, white-knuckle, adrenaline-fuelled, roller-coaster-mother-fucking-ride. I didn’t have any expectations for this film. I saw Matt Damon and Christian Bale were the leads and I thought, ‘well it’s not going to be bad’ and yet I have no interest in cars whatsoever so I wasn’t overly excited. But boy was I wrong. This was the biggest surprise of the year for me.

The director, James Mangold, needs a round of applause because he directed the shit out of this movie. Every punch landed, whether that was emotional or sensual. The race scenes were unreal, the production design and practical effects were on point. The camera work was exceptional, never letting you lose track of what is happening with choppy cuts and unfocused direction. I felt in the car with Bale at all times. 

Whilst these long racing set pieces were gripping, the narrative was even more so. It is primarily about friendship. The original title, Ford vs Ferrari, was scrapped and for good reason. Whilst this is the foundation of the narrative, the almost impossible real-life task of Ford creating a car to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, it is all about the men who up took the task. Bale’s fearless Ken Miles is the Ying to Carroll Shelby’s Yang, portrayed by Matt Damon. Their performances ignite their friendship which becomes the real heart of the film, two men who work on this project for a shared love of cars and racing that builds the bridges between them that the corporations of both Ford and Ferrari try to burn to the ground. Sparks fly between the pair as much as they do on the race track.

Le Mans’ 66, dir. by James Mangold

Nevertheless, the film is not scared to deal with tragedy and sadness. Even in these moments, it shines and the writers, as well as everyone else, involved truly did a terrific job. You feel the sound design as much as the emotion, smell the burning rubber and share in a wholly satisfying experience. This is one of those films I think you need to see in the cinema, it defines cinematic. If you didn’t, the jokes on you.

1) Joker

Joker, dir. by Todd Phillips
“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” – Joker, The Killing Joke.

For Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, every day is a bad day. His face is crushed to the curb like dirt on one’s shoe. He is the brunt of cruel kids’ jokes, beaten and scorn. The movie establishes Arthur as a societal outcast. Half an hour in and you start to think ‘wait… do I feel sorry for… The Joker?’ Yeah, you do. He is downtrodden and begins the film with childlike innocence, repeatedly claiming (and believing) that he was “put here to spread joy and laughter to the world”. 

Time to get the obvious out of the way. Phoenix is incredible. He has proved to the world that someone is worthy to play The Joker after Heath Ledger (P.S. Dear, Jared Leto… please eradicate your depiction from the world). It is Oscar-worthy, in my opinion. Whether or not The Academy will be brave enough to award such an award to a ‘comic-book movie’… it’s not really a comic-book movie… or go with a safe direction like Adam Driver, we shall see. Kudos to Phoenix for the body transformation, he is skeletal which helps project the portrayal of this physically and psychologically fragile character. This whole film can be described as a psychological character examination. One can understand Arthur’s motives for his dissent into narcissistic rage yet we are not asked to forgive his eventual actions. His motives arise out of misunderstanding, the beforementioned societal disconnect. He is a clown who isn’t funny. The only time he’s seen someone laugh is at his own expense.

Speaking of laughs… what they did with Joker’s laugh was genius. He *supposedly* suffers a medical condition that causes him to laugh randomly, it usually seems triggered by anxiety or discomfort. But the actual laugh rises into piercing cackles and then corkscrews into exasperating exclamations of pain which are exacerbated by his physicality. Does he enjoy laughing? Is it really a condition? Does he get the joke? The prevailing ambiguity of the film is one of its greatest merits.

“If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha Ha Ha!” – Joker, The Killing Joke.

Away from Phoenix’s show-stealing performance, the rest of the film was executed brilliantly. The cinematography perfectly captures Gotham as a seething pit of disease and unrest. As such, it is meant to allegorise 70s New York yet we also see its roots in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and the graphic novels. When paired with the social unrest, that Arthur eventually becomes the spearhead for, we are introduced to the most nihilistic Gotham ever put to screen. The score meanwhile, was fantastic, encapsulating the film’s heightened lamentation and constant tension within the individual and the masses. 

When I first watched the film, the script tore me. When the romantic aspect was first introduced I was internally screaming ‘no, no, for fuck’s sake no’ but when it eventually twisted in a different direction I breathed a huge sigh and relief and satisfaction. Throughout the script, there are not-so-subtle nods to its influences, in particular, Martin Scorsese’s films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Alike to a hall of mirrors in a funhouse, reflecting the themes, settings and images of 70s cinema but also reflecting images of the human condition.

This is where the film has come under some criticism. To give you an example of said criticism, Diana Saenger declared [those] ‘Who should see it: Only those with strong stomachs for bloody violence’. Whilst Joe Morgenstern wrote ‘If you’re feeling insufficiently anxious in your life, “Joker” could be just the ticket. If not look elsewhere to be entertained.’

Have a fucking day off. 

Arthur Fleck when he’s gone full Travis Bickle.

I guarantee that these same people will praise Taxi Driver as a masterpiece. Despite, it is significantly more violent, sharing identical themes and being released over 40 years ago, in a society where violence in art was deemed less conventional than usual. And what about the torture-porn Saw era? Joker’s violence is moderate in comparison to many recent films. Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a perfect example. Yet the culminating showdown of that film did not inspire criticism that weighed down its critical reception. Violence is an essential part of the human condition, it is not being glorified in Joker. As Tarantino once said when asked why there’s so much violence in his films, ‘Because it’s so much fun, Jan!’ Another argument is its depiction of mental illness and how it can incite the mentally ill to be violent. I see Joker as an example of how the mentally ill are often misunderstood and rejected by society. And personally, I think grounding Joker’s origin within the realms of mental health makes perfect sense, it heightens the film’s grim realism. But after all, did anyone genuinely expect a light-hearted tale about a comedian? No, you expect death, depravity and darkness. And fuck me, I enjoyed it.  

Now at the time of writing, Joker has smashed the box office record for the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. Evidently, the Clown Prince of Crime has had the last laugh.

The Memoirs of Three (Four) Hopeless Travellers

The Memoirs of Three (Four) Hopeless Travellers


Part One: Krakow, Bratislava, Zagreb. 

For many, a holiday is an adventure. An experience. An escape from mundanity. 

For me, it was all three and also a giant pain in my arse. 

Lesson number one of Going on Holiday with Friends… For Dummies: do not get pissed the night before your flight so you fly on three hours sleep. Leave the aching pains and despair for the flight home. Secondly, when I say ‘lesson’, I do not use it sparingly. For this post is essentially a catalogue of mistakes from which I hope my enormous audience of my mother, father and girlfriend will learn from. 

Anyway, save the drinking until you get there. I doubt I gave my mates the cheery welcome that they imagined en route to the airport when I rock up without saying hello and begin whinging about my ‘big fuck off bag’. And I know I didn’t imagine the weeks prior that I would be slumped waiting for my flight to Krakow, anxiety-ridden and shattered. 

Lesson Two: activate your travel card before you fly so you’re not immediately fannying about with borrowing cash from your mates and spending precious brainpower working out how many pints equivalates to the money owed. However, my travel card from Starling Bank works wonders so hey, maybe I’m good for something. 

Lesson Number Three: bring earbuds. For me, this was the first time I had travelled for a lengthy period of time with these lads. The only occasions I had slept in the same room as them were occasions I was ‘concussion mode’ drunk. After drinking I would be able to sleep through the noises of a construction site even if it was in the next room. The first night in Krakow, I wasn’t capable of getting in such a state. I therefore discovered that one of my mates snores. Well, I knew that already. What I didn’t know is that throughout the night these snores rotate between sounding like a human traction engine and a dying boar. So yeah, another four hours sleep for me. I can’t complain, however, I just feel sorry for his missus. 

Preliminary lessons taught. Tick. 

Now time for the actual holiday. Destination One: Krakow, Poland.

Puns aside, Krakow is a cracking city. There’s a solid blend between the historical tourist attractions and the young energy of the city. Bustling with students and bars, a lot of the time you’re better off going off the beaten track. If you’re drinking, avoid the main square like the plague. As a young lad, you’ll get pests wandering up to you saying ‘cocaine’ and ‘titty bar’ every two minutes. My advice? Hala Glowna. It’s one of many bars situated 10 minutes NE of the central square. Instead of getting ripped off, you’ll be paying less than two quid for strong beer and four quid for an entire pizza. The area its situated in is brimming with a young crowd every night – essentially Krakow’s Northern Quarter. Deck chairs, unstable hammocks and a dodgy smelling club all to boot. What’s not to love?

Poland is a country of good booze and shit food. It must be pretty depressing when your delicacy is pork knuckle. Because of the quality of the restaurants (and because we were being tight arses) we resorted to cooking our own food a couple of nights. Trips to the local supermarché were therefore necessary and this is where I ran into a bit of trouble. 

So first night, just arrived, eager to head out to the city. But we’re hungry, we want to stock up on scran, we want to see Europe’s array of Milka bars. The shop is just round the corner, we get there, my mates take out some money, I borrow some of their money. We’re strutting to the entrance of the shop when some big bald Squidward-looking fella comes out carrying out the bins from the shop. After clocking my accent, he goes to swing this bin into my leg as he’s walking past. Like any normal Brit, I apologise once, twice, thrice. Squidward stands still, eyebrows twitching as if they’re about to fly off his head and stares, no, glares at me until he’s literally forced to blink. Always picking on the little guy…

Inside, he keeps looking at me like he’s got nothing better to do. My Milka bars are calling me though (FYI Milka and Tuc goes off). Whilst the cashiers took half an age to scan a single item, the trip to the shop finished smoothly. That’s until, we opened our large bottles of water. Now sparkling water is wrong on an ethical, moral, humanitarian and sensory level. It is angry water. However, apparently it is socially acceptable a beverage that tastes like puddle water from Chernobyl. We bought four, yes FOUR, litres of sparkling water before managing to buy a single bottle of still water. Always open before you buy people. 

Now that I have proven I am able to complain about anything, even water, I shall ease up and tell you all the positives of Krakow and its experiences. The main square in Krakow is the biggest in Europe and it is majestic. In European capitals it is often hard to find an ugly building. Krakow is no different. Enclosed within lines of tall pastel-coloured buildings are grand clock towers and churches and picture-taking-tourists. The main square is somewhere to amble around. It’s good for A pint because of everything around you but no more. 

Next up on our grand tour of non-emotionally-devastating landmarks of Krakow… we have Wawel Royal Castle.  In all honesty, this castle won’t take your breath away. It’s well worth the steps on the way up and a welcome departure from any you will see in England. A concentrated agglomeration of domed and spired towers is the highlight and the gardens are pleasant but don’t take more than an hour. Ultimately, it is free to visit and that’s a rarity. Go see it, don’t be lazy.

Now for arguably one of the most emotionally charged tourist destinations in Europe, Auschwitz. Because of the price and our budget, we decided to go here instead of the Salt Mines or Schindler’s Factory and I don’t regret our decision for a second. About an hour out of Krakow, you can feel the sobering atmosphere once you step through the gates. Some particularly harrowing highlights of the tour were the guide reminding us that since the Nazi’s burnt a lot of the prisoners bodies, their ashes would be scatted among the earth we were walking upon and the collection of shoes in the museum. Within the workhouses are now glass displays, within which one held thousands of confiscated shoes. Between the mountains of shoes and the glass was a small bare space and as I walked along the corridor of the exhibition, I noticed a single shoe occupying this space. A shoe that will have belonged to a little girl. 

Auschwitz is an intense experience and if it had not been 36 degrees and drained of all moisture, I would have shed a tear or two. The guides are genuinely excellent though and it would be foolish to visit Krakow and not visit Auschwitz. Just remember the tissues. 

Krakow done. 

Next stop: Bratislava. 


It’s in Slovakia. 

Just a heads up, when interrailing, especially in the less prosperous countries of Europe, the trains are a pain in the arse. Our journey from Krakow to Bratislava was over ten hours in total. Multiple changes, three delays and two annoying twats sat next to me. I love them but when you’re in such confined spaces with your best mates there will never be a time when you’ll want to push them on train tracks. Bring headphones, a book and a deck of cards. And when dealing cards, never do it when one player is in the toilet or you’ll never hear the end of it. 

‘You lot have cheated. You’ve given me all the worst cards. I’m not stupid.’

No, you’re just shit at shit-head. 

So eventually, we arrived in Bratislava. Don’t get me wrong, we had fun whilst we were there. The cheap pints kept flowing, the unhealthy food kept on being guzzled and the heat kept us sleepless. Unfortunately, Bratislava is a graveyard of a capital that has cute little streets but monuments that scream communism and remind you of a Call of Duty map. The whole city can be seen within a day. 12 hours. 6 hours. 3 hours. An hour and a half if you’re quick. I’m being quite harsh as it did have it’s niche little spots. Umbrella-covered streets, sticker-laden walls and lego-constructed bricks. But ultimately, it was the most forgettable of all the cities that we visited. Even its castle looked like something my little brother would make on Minecraft. 

Thankfully, there was two perks of Bratislava. Firstly, we stayed in a hostel rather than an apartment which meant that we spoke with other travellers. While generally, I’m quite antisocial and people struggled understanding what we said in our accents, it was nice and refreshing to speak to other people. Finding out about other cities and other people’s stories always makes for fulfilling conversations. Although, I must say, the Australian we shared a room with needed his mouth strapping up with duct tape – Mr. Worldwide type. Naturally, when you meet more people you’re more easily convinced to participate in group bar crawls and that is exactly what we did. Now, bar crawls are a rip off and I tried telling my mates that but do they ever listen? Aside from that and paying over 30 quid for a round in the ‘club’ the bar crawl ended in, it was a pretty fun night. One highlight was when some random skinny kid we were with getting kicked out after being caught stealing Coronas out of an ice bucket that belonged to a Brock Lesner look alike. But the best has to be that we managed to convince an American girl that everyone in Manchester says something is Claude Makelele when they want to say it is rubbish. Because Makelele… macca… rubbish. Yeah, doesn’t really make sense to me either. 

Undoubtedly the best part of Bratislava, however, was that it was only an hour away from Vienna. On our second day we got an early train to Austria and ticked another country off our list. While Bratislava is bland, Vienna is rich. The simplest architecture was substituted for glorious sculpted buildings and so forth. Vienna is one place that I wish I could spend a long weekend there for. It is arguably the most beautiful city I’ve visited. It’s large though and thus, the six hours that we spent there weren’t enough. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see Schönbrunn Palace or the Museums Quartier but FORTUNATELY lime scooters exist. £15 well spent on whizzing about all day seeing buildings upon buildings, each more majestic than the last, whilst simultaneously pissing off locals because you nearly run them over was the best £15 I spent whilst I was away. My personal highlights were the Karlskirche and Hofburg but honestly, spend three days in Vienna, it will be worth it. 

Slovakia ticked off for once and for all, we went onwards to Zagreb. Another 10 hour journey of inconveniences and intimidating Slavic police checks and we arrived. Waltzing out of the train station we were greeted by the sound of two Croatians, guitar in hand, making George Ezra sounding even worse than usual. But the sun was shining, the relief was real and we were ready to meet another one of our mates that night – which meant one thing… getting pissed. 

Zagreb, many of you will be glad to know, took the crown for the cheapest pint all holiday. In the majority of the city and the main streets for drinking and eating, we found that it was around £2 per pint, which is reasonable enough in my opinion. But then we found the holy grail – the land of the one pound pint. Now this place was tucked away in a secret square, you’ve got to look or you won’t find it. Unfortunately for you (if you ever go to Zagreb, unlikely with King’s Landing on the horizon), I can’t remember the name of the place, nor can I be arsed looking it up. 

Now, I’m not singing Zagreb’s praises purely because of the price of one bar’s alcohol. Zagreb had arguably the best atmosphere of all the cities I visited. It’s not bustling and stressful, everyone seems genuinely relaxed. No locals tried to kill me here which is always a bonus. But Zagreb had a grittier underground which we soon discovered. In our favourite gaff, we wondered which shit EDM club we could grace our presence with when a wallet fell out of a bloke’s pocket that was sat across from us. My mate, Charlie gave him his wallet back and this bloke started speaking to us offering his thanks. He told us he was a big Croatian actor, which I doubt otherwise he wouldn’t be mingling with the likes of us. Then came his second questionable claim – he told us that tonight, in exactly one hour’s time, there was a ‘big big party’ in a bunker that happens once every two years.

So off we go, no questions asked, like giddy school children with a belly full of beer. The more we walked, the more we said ‘where the fuck is this?’ Every step took us further out of the centre of town, to quiet little roads where old biddies walk their dogs. We thought he was having us on, until we heard a sound. Drums, drums in the deep. Google maps was thrown out of the window, we followed our ears like starry eyed fuck heads. A couple of minutes we were there, at the entrance of this clandestine tunnel. We went down into the rabbit hole. This seedy looking WWII bunker went on and on and on until it opened into this huge space, flashing lights galore, floor littered with Budvar cans and eyes covered with sunglasses. Store Street, eat your heart out. 

So we run off quickly, apparently a bar next door was selling cans. Passing through lots of Croatians looking worse for wear and.. a small swarm of policemen. We begged and hoped for the best but alas, when we got back the rave had been shut down. Ten minutes, ten bloody minutes of bliss and feeling like we had cracked immersing yourself in a different society and it was over. Ah well, things went from better to worse that night as we went to a club, argued because Mario wanted to go home, forced Mario to stay and watched Mario projectile vomit across the dance floor. The night was cool though, a peak of the holiday probably. The next day, however…

Poorly… Missing School… Terminally Ill.

Was absolutely horrible. With fatigue setting in, every day after we went out we were MIA, shades of our former selves – soft arses. Be prepared for days of moping about and feeling sorry for yourself on holidays like this. I must say, however, we nipped shops and bought our own food and cooked ourselves a stir fry. Well me and Oli did, some of us stuck to the chicken nuggets and chips. But honestly, homemade food may as well have been Michelin star quality. I had consumed so much shit that I was becoming what I ate and it felt good to eat something other than pizza or a burek. 

Luckily for us, Zagreb isn’t a city that you need a lot of time to do all the sights. It’s compact with no major standout attractions. A couple fancy looking churches, like everywhere else. A few unexciting museums, like everywhere else. And one glorious looking cathedral that was ruined by large amounts of scaffolding, like every other attraction, ever. And thinking about it, I cannot recall a single time where I have looked up in awe at something, groaned at the disrupted aesthetic and then said ‘fair enough’ when I realised there were workers on the scaffolding attempting to preserve the building. Not once. 

Oh well, just another opportunity to moan before ending Part One of The Memoirs of Three (Four) Hopeless Travellers.

Next stop… Ljubljana, Slovenia.

A discussion with the Creative Director of ACHILLES Clothing, Qozeem Lawal

Before studying at university, you hear stories. You ask parents, friends, older siblings, teachers even. There are certain myths that circulate around university. The drinking, the workload, the ritualistic consumption of beans on toast, the copious amount of sex, and of course, the drinking. There are as many myths about fashion. To debunk both myths in one fell swoop, let’s talk to a bard – Qozeem Lawal, Creator of Achilles Clothing Ltd. 

Qozeem and I swiftly became friends in the early weeks of first year through a certain disdain for the patterns we recognised. New students forming cliques with people they are likely not friends with now in an eager bravado that screamed ‘I need friends’ (be patient, people, you’ll find them). Those first conversations you had with one hundred plus people: ‘What’s your name, what do you study, where are you from etcetera, etcetera, etcetera’. And most importantly, the majority’s fits going from Abercrombie n Fitch to a floral shirt and Stan Smiths. 

Since then our angst has morphed into acceptance. 

What follows is a discussion of our experiences of the fashion culture in and outside of our Nottinghamshire bubble.

G: So, Nottingham… describe to me what you make of student’s fashion here.

  • Q: The second I arrived in Nottingham, I said to my dad ‘I can feel my fashion sense leaving my body’. I saw a bleak landscape; sad students getting on trams. I saw lots of art, lots of neeky folders, lots of wannabe arhcitects – but not much fashion, at least on the surface. Looking in deeper, there are some nuggets of gold. 

Imagine this: boy, girl – average students at Nottingham. What are they wearing?

  • Well, they both shopped next to each other at Urban Outfitters. Probably wearing the same thing because girls wear boy’s clothes anyway. They are wearing a champion sweater *gestures at my jumper*, maybe Dickies, Air Force 1s. Girls probably wearing a champion sweater too, pants from misguided with the stripe down the side of them or flairs and they are DEFINITELY wearing some white Fila Disrupters. My mum has those, that’s probably a bad sign.

Would you say there are distinct looks that large numbers of people adhere to in Nottingham? Or across the whole spectrum of students is the fashion sense very varied?

  • You could split it up into subjects. When you chill around engineering/physics buildings, you see these Mark Zukerberg looking people. Plain tees, jackets with pockets in them.

Shirts from Marks and Sparks…

  • Yes, basically. Moving onto the more liberal artsy people, you start to see hippie fairies like ourselves. You start seeing colours, rainbows, perhaps things that don’t make sense. There was one individual walking around Hallward Library (sorry if this is you, I really do like your confidence but I wouldn’t wear it myself), he was head to toe in black. What I mean by that is black cowboy jacket, black trench coat down to his ankles.

BTEC Dex the Freak…

  • BTEC Dex the Freak that needed resits. 

How much of an influence is vintage clothing within university?

  • Vintage clothing is the staple of fashion in uni. Without vintage, without your UO, uni students would be forced to be all like engineering students or would be forced to go all out expensive like the internationals: head to toe Balenciaga, Gucci, Valentino – all because their dads could afford it, lucky.

We have been seeing the re-glorification of Oxfam, charity shops in general, Cow is filled to the brim on those candy-coloured stairs everyday with students. Yourself, how much vintage would you wear?

  • Firstly, I don’t rate vintage shoes. They don’t tend to be in good condition. Plus, I like where shoes are headed at the moment. Vintage is a good place but it’s important to branch out. You use a vintage statement piece, that’s cool. But head to toe vintage is a bit safe: you think you’re not safe because you’re wearing vintage but this is old school, this has been worn before. You think you’re cool but you’re really not.

People were cool back in the 70s and 80s when they wore it. But so is fashion, cycle after cycle…

  • I just realised, there is no such thing as originality. Can you think of anything original? No. It made me sad. But so there must be an original art form, but perhaps we just copied nature.

Vintage clothing is a huge aspect of the fashion culture at university. Do you think there will ever be a place for it among contemporary high-end fashion? Certain brands, such as Ralph Lauren, obviously. But when you think of silhouettes, say from Ader Error, even small brands, such as Unknown, the silhouettes are very similar to something you could pick up in a vintage clothing store. But do you think there is any place for vintage in high fashion.

  • No and I’ll tell you why. Obviously, everyone has their ‘hand-me-downs’, people go steal things from their dads, myself included. But now that it has caught on so much, you have brands trying to commodify this increasing rush to buy old vintage pieces. They weren’t really high fashion pieces when they were realised but now, when they’re at their most expensive they are now considered high fashion. Then time passes, their last seasons and they dip in prices. Few years pass by and they become rarer and their prices spike up again and we say ‘boom, this is vintage fashion.’ That works for proper respected high-end brands, say Champion, Nike and Adidas. I don’t think anyone is going to be rushing a vintage Primark piece. 

But you could definitely blend the two. So for example, do you think you could rock Balenciaga Triple S with the rest of the outfit all vintage.

  • It could work. I feel like you see a lot of it today. A lot of modern trainers and vintage top and maybe, a fast-fashion lower half.

It would just seem, to me at least, at university: you have the people who can afford the higher end clothes, whether that is brands such as Gucci, Valentino or more down the streetwear route, Supreme and Palace come to mind, people with these clothes tend to be decked in it head-to-toe. There seems very little merging. Unless a streetwear boy finds a rare Polo piece.

  • If you have the money to wear everything from Italian or French designers, you’re not going to go out of your way to buy a vintage piece. There is also a cult following with a lot of these brands. 

To any budding first years out there, attempting to ‘find themselves’; perhaps after a summer trip to Asia; what fashion advice would you give to them?

  • First things first, look what you’re bringing to university. You should have at least one thing that no one else with have. Step out of your comfort zone but make sure you can adapt to what you’re wearing. Sometimes, even if someone tells me that I look good, but I’m not comfortable, I’m not feeling it, something is itchy – whatever – that reflects on how you carry yourself. 

How would you describe your own fashion sense and how has this manifested into the thought processes in designing your own clothes? 

  • My fashion sense is two years delayed. Ever since I started a fashion brand, I have not bought myself clothes. Why invest in someone else’s business when I can invest in my own? Number 2: I have a couple of key pieces which can make any outfit shine. I have one coat which I know George has been eyeing up the moment he stepped in here…

It’s his pimp coat. He’s the Cruella Deville of black men…

  • So if I want to stun anyone, I can do. But nowadays, my outfits are more practical. The more pockets the better, tactical vest etcetera. I know fashion is headed in that way, but I have a lot of things to carry anyway. If I look better carrying them, all the better.

How has your fashion sense manifested itself into the designing of your own clothes?

  • It hasn’t. At all. My clothing is based off what I wish my fashion sense was. It’s about what I find interesting, in art and architecture, painting. I love all forms of expression, not just fashion.

What’s the biggest influence then? Classical art? Or is that one of many? A specific designer?

  • It’s not any designer. It’s a mood really. It’s that mood when you’re on holiday, it’s the sun making the back of my neck black, it blaring down upon some ruins, it’s that peace and serenity you lull yourself into. You don’t have to check the time, you just exist in an eternal moment for a little while.

You say that, but your designs can be a little dark at times…

  • That’s just what I find cool. I think of landscapes and I imagine what clothes would look good in photographs against those landscapes. I’m a visual person, I wish I had the time to get more into photography. Luckily, taking photographs, making promotional videos, are a big part of running a brand. That’s probably my favourite part of the creative process. Creating the whole vibe and look with the clothes. That’s what people look for in a brand. People buy blank garments with a little logo on them because they’re buying into the brand, the mood and the vibe that has already been established. 

Would you say some people are not aware of the surrounding aspects of a brand before they buy it? Supreme, for example… how many people do you think buy it purely because they’ve seen other people wearing it?

  • I rate around half the people who wear it know that it is a skate brand. I think more people know it as simple streetwear. The people who are a little bit aware of the idea they’re buying into, I think it happens naturally. When you’re interacting with the brand, looking at the website or the promotional material, in an idealised way you could tell what sort of individual they’re trying to get at.  

How important do you believe it is to imbue a brand with its own narrative?

  • Sometimes no narrative is required. For example, brands will make Yeezy inspired clothing for the people that can’t actually afford Yeezys and that will sell. But sometimes, if a brand is to have longevity then often a brand needs to transcend simply fashion. You think of Ralph Lauren and it isn’t just a name, he is a figure.

You don’t see him, you see the polo bear too…

  • Exactly. It wasn’t a narrative, it was just a mood. After speaking to a manufacturer who pressed me into creating one, I got that mood into words. Essentially, my middle name is Achilles and I, as a Greek, am interested in Greek mythology. Now Achilles is known for having a flaw but he is also remembered for being a hero. I am trying to make people understand that you can be open about your flaws and get over them but you can still be considered great. 

What are the difficulties that you have faced trying to begin a venture of this ambition whilst juggling the responsibilities of university?

  • The biggest one is financial issues. My last drop was nearly £700 for the clothes alone. Then you have to factor in everything else, posting, web-service, URL. Time isn’t as big an issue as you might think. I do most of my designing in the summer holidays, painting, shooting etc. That’s when I have done my drops because that’s when I have the most time. I have a backlog of designs that are ready to go. But there are so many other things that go into running a brand, running a business. You have to know laws, HMRC, Companies House, know taxes. That bit was the most mentally straining.

Do you think, now in retrospect, that university may not have been the best path for you to take with a view to you achieving your dreams, or are you content with your decision?

  • Personally for me, no way. What an L. What a mistake. The issue is, we are not taught simple things like land lords. Often we’re extorted. All I get on my lecture slides is a random quote – I miss a lecture and that’s what I’m left with. I guess you can say it’s an experience, you have independence. But it’s not that deep, you don’t need university to experience independence. Living by yourself isn’t all that. All you do is cook. And then you realise your cooking is nearly killing yourself. And then you start to order a kebab. And then the kebab man knows your name. And then he’s asking you how your mother is. 

And now, a few words of inspiration, because I called you a bard and I know you like to give them, as if you’re some low-level Martin Luther Junior…

  • There is no wisdom for fashion. For life, there is no such thing as ‘If it’s meant to be, it will be.’ The truth is, if you want something then go and get it. Don’t be passive, be aggressive and chase up opportunities. 

You can imagine your own *mic drop*.