BURNING MEN

Cert 15 95mins Stars 3

This paranoid rock ‘n’ roll road trip is a satanic jam of hypnotic trance-like rhythm and and in-your-face punk attitude.

Edward Hayter and Aki Omoshaybi take centre stage as a down-at-heel Deptford duo who steal a very valuable vinyl record and set off in their old banger to flog it.

From London to Newcastle via Norwich they experience drug induced hallucinations and new-nazi’s, as they’re pursued by Scandinavian bikers who want their Death Metal record returned.

There’s an enjoyably eclectic soundtrack stretching back to 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, while the film influences of Brit director Jeremy Wooding clearly include classic British burning man horror, The Wicker Man.

After a shaky-cam start it becomes more assured and offers a bleak views of life on the margins, with the US presented as an inspirational fantasy.

Coronation Street’s Denise Welch turns up on a high rise estate and Katie Collins rocks her role as a gun-toting leather clad hedonist.

 

American Honey

Director: Andrea Arnold (2016) BBFC cert: 15

No one in cinema captures the grim essence of poverty with the clear eyed compassion of Brit director Andrea Arnold. Now she’s taken her unique talent across the pond for this extraordinary road trip through the heartlands of the USA.

When Ridley Scott made Thelma and Louise (1991) he embraced road trip convention by choosing a widescreen format. The master stylist painted beautiful landscapes on which to place his characters, though his glorious images were at odds with the desperate plight of the women.

Arnold’s decision to film in a boxlike aspect ratio creates a cage to reflect the limited life of her characters. Plus it allows the face of her lead to frequently fill the frame and these portraits create intimacy and empathy.

Always a challenging and uncomfortable ride, we’re made to experience the forlorn apathy, hopeless hedonism and rootless grind of the lives of a crew of travelling magazine salespeople.

It’s an episodic tale with undertones of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. An 18 year old named Star escapes her chaotic and abusive life. She sprints away to be recruited by a cocky and flamboyantly dressed team leader who is himself under the thumb of a snarling gangmaster.

Arnold points to the hypocrisy of avowed Christians, the tremendous disparity of wealth distribution and the casual drift in and out of criminality. She’s very concerned with the vulnerability of her characters who are physically and emotionally damaged. Their dreams for life are desperately small and pitifully beyond their means.

Star’s interactions with insects, dogs, turtles and a bear are all witness to her development. By turns selfish, courageous, impulsive, sexy, damaged and guilt ridden, she is the most real person you will meet in cinema this year. It is a breathtaking debut by Sasha Lane.

Shia LaBeouf plays Jake with the devil may care of the Artful Dodger, giving a performance to suggest he’s the great actor he’s always told us he is. As their combative boss, Krystal, the smouldering attitude of Riley Keough burns an after-image on the screen every time she appears.

A triumph for all involved.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

Captain Fantastic

Director: Matt Ross (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Book yourself a seat on an anarchic bus ride as Viggo Mortensen puts himself in the driving seat for an Oscar.

The magnificent performance from The Lord Of The Rings (2001-03) star is the irresistible emotional engine powering the quirky narrative.

He plays Ben Cash, an uncompromising father of six whose values and unique parenting style are tested on a road trip of self discovery.

Having rejected consumer society, Ben lives with his home schooled children in a secluded mountain yurt, living off the land in a survivalist fashion.

The kids are well educated and versed in the arts, philosophy and science, as well as being in tip top physical shape due to diet and rigorous exercise regime.

Following the death of his beloved wife in hospital, Ben has five days to travel across the USA for the funeral. But Ben is threatened with arrest by his estranged wealthy father-in-law if he attends the service.

A ferocious Frank Langella deserves a second Oscar nomination to go with the one he earned for political drama Frost/Nixon (2008).

Travelling in a battered old school bus, the kids’ see the US is an alien world full of fat, consumer driven, screen addicted idiots. Perceived as strange for their non-comformist views, their attempts to engage with the outside world flags up the flaws in Ben’s approach.

The tremendous young cast burn through their scenes with energy and charm, working from the director’s smart script, rich with character, humour and sadness.

Brit actor George MacKay is endearingly gawky as Ben’s rebellious eldest son, Bodevan. While scene stealing poppet Shree Crooks is the smallest child who gifts us the biggest laughs.

Despite the low budget the film looks fabulous, capturing the majestic expanse of the US with an admiring eye.

As the family cross the US the recalls Little Miss Sunshine (2006), but where that beauty pageant road trip dissected US culture from within, this one does so from the outside looking in.

This is less sentimental and more moving. Back then the Sundance festival hit Little Miss Sunshine ram-raided it’s way to two Oscar wins from four nods and it’s easy to imagine Captain Fantastic doing something similar.

Mortensen is a physical actor with a great ability to suggest internal angst. As far back as Tony Scott’s submarine thriller Crimson Tide (1995), he excelled at portraying self doubt.

What could be a depressing grind through grief and regret goes off-roading to become a  joyous celebration of family life. It’s a first class journey all the way.

@ChrisHunneysett