Review: Wild Beasts, O2 Academy, Bristol

For those in the audience more intimately acquainted with Wild Beasts’ unique synthesis of infectiously lyrical guitar tunes and the raw, enclosed intensity so mesmerically developed on last LP Smother, one could understand mild bemusement at the sight at Bristol’s O2 Academy of impressively orchestrated lasers, beaming across the audience seven songs into their set. Held back to the shuddering electronic breakdown of ‘Daughters’, they gleam and criss-cross the crowd with a deliberative precision fans are perhaps more accustomed to hearing on record rather than in outward stagecraft.

Maybe they’re there to help fixate the crowd after a double-false start, after they come on to rapturous applause – only for the band’s newly prominent synth-heavy setup to stutter on their first song. “Maybe we should just stick to guitars,” Hayden Thorpe jokes, but the music thereafter is anything but coy about its electronic leanings, which works with a confidence matching the glimmering histrionics.

Whilst on their last tour, the extended smouldering of ‘Burning’ and its moaning, flickering keys were the lengthened preface as the band entered the stage, this time there’s no need to settle amongst the aural scenery. ‘Mecca’ is an apposite introduction, the glacial beauty of Thorpe’s falsetto soon re-emerging amidst electronic flourishes that pulse and oscillate to dynamic drumming with bold colour.

Settling into their new material superbly, the pleasing aspect of their set is that in spite of electronic instrumentation coloured by producers who’ve worked with such stadium-rock luminaries such as Arcade Fire and The Killers, new album Present Tense is anything but an overreach. ‘Sweet Spot’s synths grab attention as they puncture the verse mid-song, but the drama they lend is as usual given depth by the dualised vocal twists of Thorpe and Tom Fleming. Nonetheless, there is a directness and assurance to this and many other tracks’ construction, with ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ in particular standing out – it’s simplistic synth-pop a permeable 2 minute frame the singers give graceful vocal contours around.

At moments, some album tracks are stripped of their context, ‘Pregnant Pause’ feeling too stripped down and its plaintive strengths struggle to hold up live and when not following the harsh, elementary ‘Daughters’. This can hardly be said for many though, as most tracks are greeted and treated with aplomb, ‘Wanderlust’ careering into the start of the four-song encore with poise and impudence.

Whilst most seem to engage positively with the enjoyably direct tone syncopated classics such as ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘Fun Powder Plot’ are given in the presence of their new material, personally there were some songs which didn’t feel of the piece. Put it down to nostalgia if you like, but either way, it’s a credit to Wild Beasts insistent, subtle honing and recrafting of their sound that each of their albums feel so compellingly singular. Equally, it’s a testament to the quality of Present Tense that this gig feels like a brighteningly new show in every sense.

Whilst the content has developed steadily since their brash early sound, their lyrics now are full of the emotional drama that lay at the edge of their carnal tales previously. Lines such as, “Between the hurt and the tender song/Between the flash and the thunder’s drum/There is a godly state, where the real and the dream may consummate,” may have been previously sideswiped by non-converts as affected but taut and direct, they strike beautifully, with no need for melodrama.

All of which tells you why their continued distilling of their sound, with added electronic help, feels such a daring step forward; and puts into context their lasered theatrics – a bold framing of Present Tense live, a setting out of their stall Thorpe confidently spoke of whilst referring to usual British Indie diffidence- “No, f**k it, stand up. Be prepared to be judged.” On this evidence, they have no need to worry.

WOW Review: Nairobi Half Life

Nairobi Half Life won Kenya its first selection for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Oscars, and although it did not make the final short list, it’s easy to see why this well-acted, charming and passionate production was rewarded for the confidence invested in it by debutant director Daniel “Tosh” Gitonga.

The story follows the journey of Mwas (Joseph Wairimu) an aspiring young actor from rural Kenya who ventures to Nairobi to fulfill his dream of becoming Africa’s answer to Robert De Niro. Arriving with little money or contacts, he’s robbed, mistaken for a criminal and ends up in prison within 24 hours. His experience of the chaotic yet blasé nature of crime doesn’t seem to shake him too much though, and upon his release he gravitates towards the cities slums and the world of criminality which controls and keeps this part of the city in order.

He quickly becomes an integral part of a local gang’s plots to exploit what and whoever they can for financial gain – using his acting skills to negotiate his companions out of some tricky situations and as such embodying the friendship and optimism of the group of friends and their ‘take every day as it comes’ attitude.

Lacking in the grit and despair of the Brazilian slum films such as City of God, the plot does suffer from being rather simplistic and doesn’t deviate much from a predictable storyline. And although the many characters we meet are acted fantastically well by the supporting cast, other than Mwas, we never really get beneath the skin of what makes the other characters tick.

Despite this, the film poses interesting questions. The stark contrast between his city and rural life reminds us of the increasing urbanity of the world where now around 75% of the worlds’ population live in cities. The film does make us wonder whether this can develop without the corruption and organised crime which keeps the characters’ lives in the shanty towns in some kind of order.

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As he becomes more embroiled in the life of the slums, he continues to pursue his acting career and rehearses in a local theatre production in which he plays the part of a criminal. Initially he manages to float between the two lives comfortably, mixing with friends from different backgrounds, however, as the activities of the gang become more intense and frequent, Mwas finds it more difficult to balance this double life as the film builds towards a frantic and final performance.

What’s interesting is that this dichotomy between rich and poor is easy to see but it isn’t dwelled on. This helps us understand the banality of poverty in poorer countries and how the rhythms of everyday life continue with the laughter, perseverance, love, and human habits we all share no matter the backdrop.

This is emphasised by how easily Mwas not only accepts the everyday criminality of slum life but enthusiastically takes part in it without any major moral dilemmas. Early on when one of his companions steals a mobile phone from a passerby, Mwas quickly decides not return it to her when he has the opportunity. While we’re surprised by how little remorse he feels, we warm to him, not as an anti-hero, but because we accept that this is his situation and we want him to succeed despite of the society he is a part of. This edges the movie away from being too much of a moral, preaching tale and its far better for it.

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This compassion felt for Mwas has much to do with the acting of Joseph Wairimu He brings a charm and enthusiasm to the role, as we hang on his every word to see how he will dictate his lines using his whole body, captivating gaze and cheeky smile. Backed by fairly impressive cinematography which uses pseudo-documentary type shooting with real life backdrops and people, the visuals of the film effectively remind us of the dense close quarters of slum life, making us feel almost intrusive for watching.

Although far from able to deliver the punch of City of God, it’s certainly a refreshing directorial debut which makes the viewer intrigued to see what next he may possibly produce, and also what more Kenya can offer to the world of cinema.

Nairobi Half Life continues at WOW festival, at Theatr Mwldan on Sunday 30th March at 6pm. Hit the link for more details.

Images: Trigon Film

WOW Review: Winter Nomads

Winter Nomads is a documentary feature following two shepherds on a ‘transhumance’ in Switzerland, directed by newcomer Manuel von Sturler. Personally I had never heard of a ‘transhumance’ but von Sturler is aware that this would be the case for most people so helpfully included a similarly clueless person asking! We’re told it comprises a journey around the countryside during the winter to fatten up the sheep, transferring them between different grazing grounds.

The shepherds we follow are Carole and Pascal. Pascal is an older man, in his fifties, who has completed over twenty of the journeys; having chosen the profession (although having watched this film you will come to understand it as more of a vocation) as a young man. He is an enthralling character to watch, a true real life movie star. There seems to be something of the old movie actors about him, his gait and gestures looking like a chic French Humphrey Bogart when the camera catches his expression in unaware moments. Carole is in her late twenties and describes how she lived a normal life in the city only to meet Pascal and change her life completely.

There is strong sense of destiny through the film in the conversations the shepherds have with the people they meet. Carole describes meeting Pascal and just knowing that this life was for her. There is something very attractive about the life that’s presented, even though it looks harder than anything any normal person could possibly imagine. It involves sleeping outside, all day walking with the sheep (at the beginning of the film they have 800 to look after), no amenities whatsoever unless a farmer looks kindly upon you – yet there is a pervasive sense of freedom that is so calming. I think the idea of leaving everything to live a simpler life holds attractions for everyone.

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What did surprise me about the film was the amount of humour in it. I had seen all the awards it had won and seen the bleak snowy landscape in the trailer and had wrongly assumed it would be beautiful and ‘worthy’ – i.e a bit dry. However, I was proved completely wrong in the second part of this preconception. It’s the interaction between the shepherds and the animals that causes most of the humour. The three donkeys are particularly funny, always trying to steal food or going off course. Their several dogs also provide ‘cute relief’ but the sheep in themselves prove to be unlikely comedians; due partly to fantastic camera work that seems to just catch their facial expressions at their funniest but also from the fact they do feel empathetic.

Winter Nomads is the story of a journey that takes you along with it. The sounds of crunching snow and the pace of the film truly take you there. The soundtrack meshes perfectly with the footage, so much so that you don’t really notice it until the credits roll with Olivia Pedroli’s ‘The Only One’. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this film and encourage you to go and see it if you can find it.

Winter Nomads continues at WOW Festival, at Theatr Clywd on Wed 26th March and Taliesin on Tuesday April 8th. Hit the link for more details.

WOW Review: The Moon Man

An eccentric and offbeat animation, Stephan Schesch’s The Moon Man is the heartwarmingly simple yet original tale of the eponymous Moon Man’s adventure to and from earth, where he finds a pleasingly-cartoonish power hungry President of Earth as foe but most of all the meaning of friendship amongst its playfully drawn inhabitants.

The film begins in a starrily lit drive-in movie , as a girl and father happily promise to come re-see the ‘incredible’ picture that’s just closed. As their car ambles off into the distance, the horizon perspectivally alters against the shining infinite stars above them, leaving the seemingly bored and put-upon Moon Man awkwardly curled up and lonely in his lunar bubble.

Grabbing the tails of a meteor, he crashes into Earth, confusedly and naively wandering, a stranger to the physical wonders of the world and its people – and his sweet sense of discovery is only increased by his moony-white complexion and clothing being set against innocent yet intricate and colourful animated backdrops, very much taken from the 1967 children’s book by Tomi Ungerer. The Moon Man’s voice can only have been an affectionate reference to E.T and similar to the Spielberg classic, it is the children of the film who see him for who he is, teaching him the happiness his presence in the night-sky brings them.

The sense of awe is further painted across the whimsical world of the film as we meet brilliantly odd characters, including ‘inventor of everything’ Bunsen van der Dunkel, who fell asleep for hundreds of years as he was ‘bored’, whose clinking inventions are mechanically playful and reminiscient of Miyasaki’s fantastical machines of Howl’s Moving Castle.

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The animated style is visually pleasing for children and adults alike, with one scene as the world President declares all the lands of Earth conquered particularly funny – his lust for empire embodied in his flag symbol sitting on his shoulders like an army general imagined by Hasbro, complemented by a decadent pack of society yes-men and women, drawn in a grotesque manner that is strangely similar to the flatness of George Grosz and other 1920′s German art.

The President’s vainglorious attempts to annex a heavenly body make for pleasantly light satire but the heart of the film is in the unassuming kindness the Moon Man finds on Earth, and which the film draws with an energy and ardor that makes it’s fresh appropriation of Lunar lore a brighteningly affecting tale for young and old.

WOW Review: The White Balloon

For many viewers of World Cinema, Jafar Panahi is a name most appositely connected with his home imprisonment in his home country of Iran for “propaganda” related crimes against the Islamic Republic, and subsequent meta-textual ode to cinema This Is Not a Film which was short listed for Best Documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards. His debut feature, The White Balloon however, is a charming tale following a young girl, Razieh’s attempts to buy a Goldfish whose ‘chubby’ and many-finned white appearance is a far more enchanting draw for her than the apparently prosaic fish that inhabit her family’s pond. Beyond these outlines though, it offers a fine example of how the award winning director’s neo-realist style has developed.

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Despite it’s undoubtedly adorable plot, it is far from a case of being simply a cutesy foreign fable and its neo-realist style surveys and offers a quiet, evaluative contextualisation of Razieh’s overlapping interactions with a number of characters as she excitedly, tearily and sometimes grumpily traipses the few streets between her home and the market where her dream fish waits.

At the start, the tone and raison d’etre of Panahi’s ideas of human interaction materialize in the way the soft manner his long, 3 minute-takes watch on, as the busyness of bazaar traders selling goods before the New Year begins. People who weave across the scene in their everyday way will later become minor players in Razieh’s tale – we see a balloon seller make a sale, a soldier dropped off by his army Jeep and  a flustered female, who we gradually see is Razieh’s mother. The lack of cutting as significant characters cross each others paths means the audience’s field of vision is increased, and as the film develops, their incidental relationship to Razieh’s adventure gives the film a genuine, childlike warmth.

It means that we see her travails – in naggingly convincing her Mother for money, it being presumptuously taken by street entertainers (to tempt an allegedly ‘greedy snake’) and her eventual attempts to retrieve her 500 toman from a cellar beneath a street, as child does, as  Adrian Martin describes, seeing adults as ”fuzzy, fascinating creatures; frightening strangers one moment, tender angels the next”.

It’s testament to (then) non-professional actor Aida Mohmammadkhani, that the only minor quibble with the film is that she is such an authentic presence that one cannot help but want to see the film from her point of view. It perhaps means that the final, paused frame, where Razieh and her brother depart, leaving their Balloon-Seller/Money-retriever alone in shot doesn’t leave us completely intrigued to his fate as could be intended, but it would be churlish to say this amounts to even a part failure – it merely means one leaves the film satisfied with the richness with which Razieh’s tale is drawn. It’s a film full of naivete of the best kind and a brilliant start to this year’s Wales One World fest.

New short film shows Cardiff Barrage with wonderful vision

Natalie Clements is a director and producer who creates video content for broadcast, web and multi platform projects. Recently, she turned her attention to Cardiff Barrage.

“Project ‘Barrage’ has been undertaken for free in my own time, a project I have wanted to undertake for a while having spent a lot of time in the space,” she says. “I want to acknowledge the areas ability to be both visually stunning and welcoming to all those who set foot upon it.”

Clements is now showing this video as a way for people to see some of the hidden and unreachable areas that they might normally not.

See more of Clements’ work here

Wales One World Festival: Preview

From this weekend, Wales One World 2014 will be opening screens and minds to foreign filmic fineries of the highest calibre from the last 12 months, as well as select homegrown gems, including Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children on Film. Kicking off in Cardiff’s Chapter and Aberystwyth Arts Centre this weekend, the festival will be host to a plethora of works – from Religiously supernatural Thrillers to eccentric animated fables, nomadic naturalism to childlike neo-realist tales, there looks to be a compelling quality about the whole programme.

Us at Plastik will be enjoyably enclosed in Chapter all weekend and beyond, with full reviews and features, so don’t forget to check back in with us and find out what we thought. The full programme, details and a damn fine blog are available at http://www.wowfilmfestival.com. For now, have a gander at some of the features we’re most excited about seeing.

The festival starts in earnest this Friday, with a highlight being Mark Cousins’ critically acclaimed A Story of Children and Film hitting Chapter. A “rich and delightful examination” of the portrayal and relationship between celluloid and childhood, it follows in the footsteps of Cousins’ equally lauded The Story of Film. Poring over 50 films including evocative classics such as Kes, E.T alongside worldwide pictures and modern tales like Moonrise Kingdom, it looks set to be eccentrically captivating look at how the “inventiveness and imagination of childhood” are disseminated and infused in the inventive creation of film. This looks to be one not to miss, with a Q & A with Cousins following the 6pm screening.

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Also on our horizon is the Paraguayan Thriller, 7 Boxes. Focusing on young man Victor’s danger-laden delivery of 7 parcels to an undisclosed place in Ascunsion, it’s a film which has been described headily as the Paraguayan City of God. The descent into a night followed by gangsters, the authorities and other people after his payload is one which has been praised for its dark humour and is infused with a similar humid fusion of the twists and viscerally immediate dangers of the favela. It will be a Welsh premiere for the film, showing in Cardiff and Aberystwyth on 21st March as well as Theatr Clwyd and Talesin.

Check out WOW’s website and Twitter for more details on the many films on show. We will be reviewing films every day the weekend of 21st-23rd March. Follow us on Twitter @plastikmag for updates,