Friday, 28 April 2017


"You took everything away from me."

I have to confess every now and then I do watch a film for the explicit purpose of hoping it will be bad, not just so I can write a scathing review but also to remind myself and everyone just how lucky we are, especially this year. With movies like ‘Get Out’, ‘Logan’ and ‘Raw’ it is refreshing to be reminded just how miraculous a quality product is when one can also witness such terribleness, and  it helps to actually have your expectations met. I expected ‘Unforgettable’ to be terrible and it was.

Tessa (Katherine Heigel) is barely coping with the end of her marriage when her ex-husband, David, becomes happily engaged to Julia (Rosario Dawson). Trying to settle into her new role as a wife and a stepmother, Julia believes she has finally met the man of her dreams, the man who can help her put her own troubled past behind her. Tessa's jealousy takes a pathological turn, and she will stop at nothing to turn Julia's dream into the ultimate nightmare.

Obviously I’m tempted to make the obligatory statement that both summarises the quality of the movie and playing on said movie’s title by calling it completely forgettable, and the reason is because there really isn’t any other way to describe ‘Unforgettable’. True, it is complete trash both in its content and quality, but if anything the movie might actually benefit from being a little worse than it was. There is a sleek and glossy look to the film that, when combined with the awfulness of the movie itself, makes it a bland and generic piece of garbage. One that leaves no lasting impression or impact in any way. Films like ‘The Bye Bye Man’ and ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ astounded me with their awfulness, but I’m honestly struggling to say anything about ‘Unforgettable’ at all.

That being said there are no shortage of spectacularly horrible details in ‘Unforgettable’ that can leave the viewer in no doubt that this was written by someone who has no understanding of their own subject matter. Mismatched sound effects, modern laptops that load pictures one line of pixels at a time, the fact that people steal numerous items while the original owner never seems to notice and the ability to find anything and everything about someone you know with a Google search. I understand that people put a lot of information on social media, but the level of knowledge these characters have of one another just from a browse on the internet is on a level you would not gain even if you were living with that person for a year. It’s ridiculous.

As I said before, if these ludicrously campy plot elements were in a film with a rougher exterior and campy acting to match they might be funny. But ‘Unforgettable’ is so polished that it almost makes those errors even worse. The direction, with its intense close ups and drawn out moments of what I think are supposed to be attempts at tension, suggests that I’m actually supposed to be taking this train wreck seriously. With the plot being as painfully forced and convoluted as it is, I’m baffled by how anyone involved in this movie thought they would be holding the audience’s attention because I suspect the people who haven’t walked out are too busy laughing. Either that or they have somehow been incapacitated and are physically unable to leave, that is the plausible explanation as to why you would still be watching.

I suppose a few people might be slightly intrigued by the films structure as it does unfold in a non-linear fashion. It begins at a moment of intrigue and then flashes back so it can gracefully lead you back to that point whilst answering all your questions. Except it does not do that at all. As I said not only is the plot mind numbingly contrived to a point where it feels like they genuinely just started with that opening scene and said “make it go there no matter what”. The events depicted don’t even seem to fit into the timespan between the two points. It’s as if they are punishing the audience for paying attention. So as well as being repetitive, shallow and completely lacking in rational thought, the screenplay can’t even grasp a basic understanding of time.

The crowning achievement though, has to be the performances. One again they are by no means terrible, or at least a significant amount of them are not. Rosario Dawson is perfectly fine, in fact she’s probably giving the most worthy performance out of the cast, but it does nothing to lessen the impact of blandness. This inherent feeling lying within ‘Unforgettable’ that no one involved with this film had any inkling or second of thought that this movie was actually worth caring about. They just turned up and did a job, and they did it horribly.

‘Unforgettable’ may be the most misleading a title a movie like this could ever receive.

Result: 2/10

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Top Ten Movies of 2013

Not only was 2013 a year in which we saw cinematic treats push the boundaries of what was technologically possible, we saw talented filmmakers render emotion and craftsmanship together in a way I can’t remember any other year in recent memory doing so prominently. Granted, every year sees a fine selection of movies (hence why I’m able to cobble together a top ten for every year) but the way 2013 seemed overflowing with provocative and perfect cinema struck me as a unique surge of emotionally driven films that never put sentimentality over quality, striking a perfect balance in between. But what is even more remarkable is the way in which my favourite (and what I also believe to be the best) film of the year did so in a way I could never have possibly imagined.

But before all that I have the usual honourable mentions to forego. The first would be Woody Allen’s excellent ‘Blue Jasmine’ in which Cate Blanchett delivered one of the best performances of the year and Allen’s unique handling of the human condition returns at its charming and complex. Speaking of elegant poignancy and things relating to blue I have to mention the Palme d’Or winning ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ for its deep thematic and emotional resonance.

It was an excellent year for low key dramas in the form of Ryan Coogler’s ‘Fruitvale Station’ and ‘All Is Lost’, each featuring a tour de force from their leading men Michael B Jordan and Robert Redford. While on the subject of great male performances we also can’t forget ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ that saw Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto revealing new levels of excellence.

This was also a year of experimentation, with a number of movies that excelled on a stylistic level as well as an emotional one. The first is Jia Zhangke’s fragmented drama ‘A Touch of Sin’ that is too stylish to ignore even if its screenplay is not quite as elegant. The second is ‘Upstream Color’ by Shane Carruth. Everyone was expecting the director of ‘Primer’ to return with an equally mind bending affair, and his second directorial effort is that and more, boasting an evocative and endlessly thought provoking screenplay and superb direction to match. Finally is Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’, a science fiction fable that dissects classicism more effectively than any social drama could.

10: The World’s End

In terms of sheer enjoyment, nothing else this year comes close to the final instalment of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. Wright continues to set himself apart as the finest comedic director of our generation, brining all of his prowess behind the camera to give his film such a sense of hilarious energy that it is almost infectious. What makes Wright even more remarkable is his ability to infuse any sequence with something to make it interesting, the most mundane detail or standard conversation can suddenly become as riveting as his action or comedy scenes. The cast are also on top form, particularly the ever present Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who really demonstrate their true talent as the dynamic of their duo is reversed in ‘The World’s End’ compared to their previous outings, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’. Though this third film is not quite as perfect as its predecessors it is still terrific in its own right. 

9: No

When Pablo LarraĆ­n decided to bring a long unpublished play about an advertising man working in Chilie during the 1980s to the big screen few would have expected it to be as superb as this. ‘No’ portrays  the historical moment of advertising tactics in political campaigns as in the 1988 plebiscite, when the Chilean citizenry decided whether or not dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years and its director finds a keen balance between the historical weight of his story but also the humane elements that make it so engaging. Not only has that but the brilliant detail of the movie shined through everywhere, such as the fact that it was filmed on the same  ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape which was widely used by television news in the 80s. That kind of detail allows the film itself to feel like an authentic piece of history, but here it’s much more fun. 

8: Prisoners

Despite achieving great success and praise on the festival circuits for his earlier films ‘Polytechnique’ and ‘Incendies’, it was this 2013 film that marked Denis Villeneuve as  major creative force to be reckoned with. Boasting one of the best performances Hugh Jackman has ever given as well as equally brilliant turns from Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Paul Dano, this psychologically twisted thriller is as provocative as it is haunting. Villeneuve’s direction never fails to pick up on the emotional complexity and existential dread of the situation at hand, elevating this relatively standard story to unprecedented levels of excellence. Villeneuve’s understated approach is one that is unique in modern cinema. It is not flashy or overtly distracting, it is simply good old fashioned filmmaking as he gets right to the heart of the matter and rarely looks back from there.   

7: Before Midnight

It was 18 years ago that ‘Before Sunrise’ first introduced us to the empathetic characters of Jesse and Celine, played exquisitely by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Now that we have seen them age and grow over the course of three movies, Richard Linklater’s seminal masterwork managed to build upon those previous films while also expanding this long standing relationship even further. It is honest, brutal and sometimes devastating but never fails to leave an impact. Like ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’, ‘Midnight’ is simply a film about communication and more often than not the breakdown of it. But is the essence of that communication that makes it so intriguing, the authenticity of Hawke and Delpy’s performances combined with the high emotion of its screenplay that makes Linklater’s film so endlessly endearing.

6: Short Term 12

Near the end of ‘Short Term 12’ one of the characters is telling a story that he describes as being “Just like in the fucking movies”, but this is a film that feels too brutally honest to be just like in the movies. While there is an arc and resolution for the characters within ‘Short Term 12’, a film that revolves around a group home for troubled teens, there is no set story within it but that is part of the point. Written and directed by Destin Daniel with such finesse and grace that the brutal emotional moments are only made all the more harrowing. But at the same time there is a glimmer of hope that permeates the entire film, even in its darkest hours. It may not have the answers but it aims to make it through one day at a time, and with a sharp script, exceptional performances from Brie Larson and co, it succeeds in that beautifully.

5: 12 Years a Slave

It does sadden me that so many people seem to have convinced themselves that the main reason behind the praise ’12 Years a Slave’ has received boils purely down to politics, because subject matter aside this is still a masterfully made movie. Despite making only three feature films Steve McQueen is easily one of the finest directors working today. It is amazing how McQueen’s direction renders such brutal imagery in such an artistic manner, as if it could convey all the emotion, story and character required without ever whispering a word. But because words are the preferred form of exposition the cast they recruited are all faultless, from Chiwetel Ejiofor’s tragically beautiful lead performance to the many supporting roles from Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luptia Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano.

4: The Act of Killing

A problem that I sometimes have with documentaries is that of emotional disconnect. They inherently lack the tools that narrative features have so despite being impeccably made they don’t necessarily engage me on an emotional level. That is not the case with Joshua Oppenheimer’s masterpiece ‘The Act of Killing’. Documenting the men who carried out mass murder on behalf of the Indonesian government, the movie acts as a statement on the capacity humans have to normalise anything. The way these men brag about their crimes is not only horrifying, but also so complex on a psychological level which the movie never fails to acknowledge, that is creates a portrait of humane violence that is even more disturbing. It’s an immensely powerful movie, raw, intense and highly provocative.

3: Inside Llewyn Davies

As the Coen Brothers continue their career long exploration of the American dream, they have yet to lose their own unique identity amid the huge range of stories and genres they have covered. Their ability to balance tragedy and comedy is unparalleled and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ could be the best example of that they have created so far. Not only is it a fascinating character study but it sheds light on an entire era of our culture that is still being felt today. There is a melancholic feeling to the events but they are fused with such energy and control of craft. In the titular role Oscar Isaac treads a fine line between flawed but still endlessly watchable character whose search for success while maintaining artistic integrity is one that many can relate to, most of all those familiar with the cinema.

2: The Wolf of Wall Street

It obviously comes as no surprise that a film directed by Martin Scorsese is pulsating with manic energy, superbly made in every regard and ridiculously entertaining. What comes as surprise though is just how deep the social commentary the story of Jordan Belfort goes. Through pioneering the cinema of excess Scorsese throws the audience straight into the hectic, loathsome world that is Belfort’s embezzling, money laundering life style. Most remarkably of all is how Scorsese ultimately turns the film into a reflection of its audience, forcing us to confront the idea that for all our moral superiority we were more than happy to idolise Belfort and his antics. With a career best performance from Leonardo DiCaprio that chews the scenery to pieces and an ensemble cast that are no less brilliant, Scorsese has created another seminal masterpiece that acts as both a character study and a commentary on all of us.

1: Her

As a genre, science fiction tends to make broad statements about society. But Spike Jonze’s film uses its vision of the future to comment upon our innermost emotions. It is perhaps the most prophetic statement modern cinema has made about the future of humanity, and the layers of unspoken detail that Jonze adds only make that vision more authentic, fully immersing the viewer within is intricately staged world. There are so many unspoken details about the world ‘Her’ creates that demonstrate Jonze’s mastery of visual storytelling. But his screenplay is also a magnificent achievement, conveying its deep themes with nuance and subtlety that never makes them feel overbearing whilst blending in perfectly with the human emotions that drive the story. Joaquin Phoenix gives a performance of such raw intimacy and the cast around him are equally brilliant, particularly Scarlett Johansson whose vocal performance has more depth to it than almost any other performance of 2013. ‘Her’ is a film of great intelligence and ambition, but that is matched by its emotional complexity and endearing empathy.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Fate of the Furious

"Are you really gonna turn your back on family?"

Okay, guys at Universal, seriously now; what’s the real title? I understand that for some weird and convoluted reason you want all of these movies to rearrange the order in which they incorporate the words Fast, Furious and some number concerning which order this one falls in the franchise for the three people who are concerned with the continuity of these movies. But you can’t possibly have a title that dumb, it’s just not possible, it seems beyond the realm of a human’s mental strength.

Just as Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team have finally found some semblance of a normal life, they find themselves coming face to face with an unexpected challenge when a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron) forces Dom to betray them all. Now, they must unite to bring home the man who made them a family and stop Cipher from unleashing chaos.

Oh ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, how I continue to marvel at your complete detachment from reality and ability to exist within your own logic/critic/reason free universe. Now no matter how ridiculous, how spectacularly ludicrous you get, you still find a way to win everyone over. I admit it was only at ‘Furious 7’ that I started to find the appeal of the franchise, where I was won over by the dumb antics of the franchise and found myself enjoying the previous two instalments as well. Not only that but that way the production team went about handling the tragic death of Paul Walker convinced me that ‘Fast and Furious’ do have integrity and effort put into them, and are not the soulless, mindless pieces of garbage one can find Michael Bay peddling out.

I say all of this because criticising this latest instalment for being “over the top” is an exercise in futility. If that is your issue with this movie then why were you here in the first place? Of course it is dumb, over the top, mind blowingly ridiculous action. Like every movie in this franchise since ‘Fast Five’, ‘The Fate if the Furious’ (wow that title does not get better the more times I say it) completely revels in the absurd, physically impossible stunts and actively parades it as the main spectacle. But despite this I can’t help but think something felt a little off.

I am finding it difficult to put my finger on what it is exactly. Like the others it feels like the world’s best un-ironic joke in being a complete parody of itself in the most ludicrous way possible.  The movie itself is still a very enjoyable affair, with the stunts and action only continuing to improve in their ambition and escalation. F Gary Gray may lack the visual flair and tight craftsmanship of previous directors to helm the franchise like Justin Lin and James Wan but he keeps the momentum high, the action clear and the fast paced tone at its highest.

I think the problem comes from the fact that the movie just feels more mechanical now. I will forgive anyone for saying that seems like a flimsy excuse but as the action of ‘The Fate of the Furious’ continue to grow in size it almost feels like a manufactured choice rather than one that should serve its audience. What I have learned from these movies is that audiences will forgive any logical leap in the narrative as long as it lands somewhere entertaining but as we find one contrived reason after another to take us to a city full of remote controlled death cars or a race over an arctic lake after a stolen nuclear submarine, the action starts to feel more like an obligation than an actual source of entertainment.

It also does not help when that narrative feels completely uninvolving. I understand that the plot is just a means to hang the action sequences on, but it would be nice if someone told the movie that. With so many moments of drab exposition, dramatic heft that feels like it is not having nearly as big an impact as the filmmakers want it to and a storyline that is outright predictable from the start. Not only that but when your main dramatic crux relies on audiences being able to emotionally connect with Vin Diesel as a character actor then you might be pushing your luck.

Though the script mostly plays to his strengths Diesel looks as if he isn’t even attempting to express more than one emotion. Then you have the likes of Michelle Rodriguez and Nathalie Emmanuel who are biblically terrible in their ability to convince me of anything they were ever saying. But luckily for every awful performance there is an enjoyable one. Kurt Russell is amazing as always, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have great chemistry as rivals turned reluctant allies and Charlize Theron is deliciously evil as the main antagonist. However, and much hate to say this because it is of course a product of tragic circumstance rather than anyone’s fault, you can feel the absence of the late Paul Walker in the group dynamic.

That being said I still have no idea how to rate this film. I mean really if you have enjoyed the other instalments is there anything I’m going to say that will discourage you, and for anyone who has hated them I ask what can I do to persuade you? As I said at the start, this franchise exists within its own universe and I cannot envision anything within our reality stopping it. But seriously guys set the next one in space already, I mean at this point what’s stopping you? Just do it and everyone will love it. Even if it’s just called ‘Fast and Furious in Space’ because that still won’t be the dumbest title you’ve come up with.

‘Fate of the Furious’ will certainly please fans of the franchise, but never tries to broaden its horizons which is both its biggest asset and biggest flaw.

Result: 6/10

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Teaser Trailer Review

So as legions of ‘Star Wars’ fans come together in Orlando for the annual celebration of all things relating to a galaxy, far, far away it came as little surprise that Disney used the opportunity to drop more information surrounding the much anticipated ‘The Last Jedi’. Naturally that included a teaser trailer but before that, let’s address the poster they also revealed because it really is a thing of beauty. It’s vibrant, beautifully illustrated and if you’re into visual metaphors that may foreshadow the development of your protagonist it’s about as good as you can get. Rey, caught right in the divide between the last Jedi himself, Luke Skywalker (in ‘Return of the Jedi’ shortly before his death Yoda said to Luke “When gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be” so until I hear otherwise that’s what I’m assuming the title is referring to) and the freshly scarred Kylo Ren as he continues his own treacherous path down the dark side.

As ever I’m avoiding plot speculation in favour of just judging the trailer itself and what questions it raises. I must that admit that upon my first viewing I did feel somewhat underwhelmed, this trailer is certainly a far cry from the one we received at the 2015 celebration for ‘The Force Awakens’ but upon reflection I’m very satisfied with what we got. One must remember that the trailer for ‘The Force Awakens’ was almost clinically designed to cement the idea that ‘Star Wars’ was returning not just as a film, but as a phenomenon. Soaring music, uplifting visuals, “Chewie, we’re home”, they were all playing into the hype that ‘Star Wars’ was well and truly back.

‘The Last Jedi’ trailer does not need to convince us of that. What it is conveying instead is an atmosphere and mood. It takes a more sombre and muted tone (and or about as sombre and muted as you can get with ‘Star Wars’) and hopefully that is a sign of what is to come. When it comes to whether it gave away too much the answer is a resounding no of course. It gave us just enough to contemplate without providing context to any of those impressive looking set pieces.

The trailer certainly establishes the idea that ‘The Last Jedi’ could be a more morally ambiguous affair, Luke’s statement regarding the fact that the situation is much bigger than a simple light vs dark mentality is very promising in that regard. His last chilling line only hammers home that feeling. True the last line is certainly a tease, but what else are trailers supposed to do at their core. It is there to convince you to go and see the film because doing so will give you context to that final chord, unless you’re ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ of course.  

What also struck me about the trailer was its visuals. Rian Johnson is a very different filmmaker to JJ Abrams and that is clear from the contrast of ‘The Last Jedi’ compared to ‘The Force Awakens’ but the effect is not too jarring to make us forget this is in the same universe. There are a number of brilliantly composed shots which probably owes a lot to Johnson brining Steve Yedlin to the role of cinematographer, whom he worked with on ‘Brick’ and ‘Looper’. The colour pallet seems a bit more restricted, as if to set us up for the darker road that lies ahead. After all when one considers ‘The Last Jedi’ stands as the second instalment in this trilogy we can safely say Johnson has quite an act to follow. It’s either ‘Attack of the Clones’ or that other little movie, so talk about a low basement/high ceiling situation.

Then of course the trailer draws in all kinds of questions regarding where our favourite characters are by the start of the film and where they will go from there. Finn is clearly still recovering from his encounter with Kylo, Rey is undergoing training with Luke and Poe is still fighting the good fight. For all the speculation on narrative, themes and details, it is the characters that continually drive ‘Star Wars’ forward and out investment with them is essential to that. This trailer has me intrigued and it’s going to be a long wait until December.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


"We found a way to make it work."

Horror is often referred to as the best route to take with a directorial debut. As a genre it provides the ideal opportunity to display your own skills and directorial prowess and set yourself apart as a filmmaker to watch. Already this year we saw ‘Get Out’ mark Jordan Peele as a director to follow in the future and now we have this intense, psychological horror written and directed by Julia Ducournau. Can it add to the already impressive rostra of 2017?

Stringent vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) encounters a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world during her first week at veterinary school. Desperate to fit in, she strays from her principles and eats raw meat for the first time. The young woman soon experiences terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge.

According to interviews Julia Ducournau was first exposed to the power of cinema at the age of six when she accidentally viewed ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ which is certainly a unique exposure to say the least. I mean I was scared by the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ at that age and I can’t help but think a viewing of Tobe Hooper’s infamous horror classic would be, shall we say mildly traumatic? But clearly such an influence has had a resounding effect when it comes to her filmmaking.

If you want to know why foreign films are so different to the kind that Hollywood shifts out then ‘Raw’ is a prime example of that. The imagery, ideas and overall style of the movie is just so radically different to anything we would expect from the Hollywood horror genre. ‘Raw’ takes an almost meditative approach to such a brutal and horrifying subject, and in an odd sense it is that unique and unconventional approach that makes it all the more effective.

When the movie premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival there were numerous reports of people fainting during said screening and it’s not a reaction I’m entirely baffled by. ‘Raw’ does have a visceral nature to it but it’s not achieved by copious amounts of blood and gore. It is a psychological intensity that gets under our very skin and crawls into our minds. In the same way that David Cronenberg understood that true horror lies within Ducournau adopts a similar strategy in terms of how she portrays the horror of her film.

More than anything else ‘Raw’ is a story of identity, conveying the inner desire within everyone to fit in with the crowd. In fact, in the same way the main character of the film uncovers her own identity it is up to the viewer to uncover where this film will go next. Narratively it takes so many unexpected twists and turns that literally just a few minutes from the end I still had no idea where the plot would go next. Through all those twists the movie manages to be surreal, intense and satirical with brilliant unison. Due to the fact that the atmosphere Ducournau creates is so immersive I never felt overwhelmed by this ever turning narrative and style, it just draws the viewer in and never let’s go.

What also helps to create this effect is the way the film never seems to forget its centre. At the heart of ‘Raw’ lies a frighteningly disturbing character study, commenting upon how the world around the main character slowly changes her into something else but also questioning whether said change was within her all along. Without spoiling anything its final twist in particular throws this question into the front and centre. While I can safely say that if you are expecting every conflict and concept of the movie to be resolved then the ending will leave you disappointed. As long as you can accept that the film is leaving certain aspects up to interpretation and remaining ambiguous to a certain degree chances are you will find it just as impressive as I did.

But aside from her brilliant screenplay and conceptual talents, Ducournau shows great promise as a director here as well. The provocative compositions and deep symbolism of the movie are rooted within its visual style whilst also never overshadowing the story at hand. Her direction displays great intensity but also an ability to blend the satirical with the terrifying. Similarly to Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ from earlier this year you can see the influences on her style but the film is clearly its own unique product at the same time. She creates a great feeling of suspense that is more unsettling that outright scary, but no less deserving of respect. All of the performances are eerily unsettling as well, which matches the tone of the movie perfectly, as does the crisp cinematography that only makes the blood seem all the more crimson in contrast.

An unsettling metaphor for identity and ideologies, executed with brilliant 
finesse and brutal elegance.

Result: 8/10

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Detroit - Trailer Review

So it’s been a while since I’ve done a trailer review and I have been on the lookout for one that I’d actually want to talk about in detail. Today I managed to come across a trailer than not only had me intrigued but set the movie it was advertising up as an instant awards contender. No, it isn’t ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, it’s Kathryn Bigalow’s much anticipated ‘Detroit’ which portrays the infamous 1967 Detroit riots.

It has been a long five years since Bigalow directed a feature film, with her last effort being the phenomenal ‘Zero dark Thirty’ a film that was preceded by Bigalow’s ‘The Hurt Locker’ which earned her an Academy Award for Best Director, making her the first woman to ever earn the award. It was also a surprise win as it beat the favourite for that year’s award James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ which is very good because frankly who cares about ‘Avatar’?

The point is I was excited to see what Bigalow would be helming next, regardless of the subject matter. But the fact that it is a drama that promises to be as visceral, gripping and socially relevant as this is something that could be very special. ‘Detroit’ looks to be a movie that will play to Bigalow’s strengths as a director while also letting her explore new ground. Just from these short clips alone we get a sense of simmering tension. It is easy to get a sense that this is not an event that just happened overnight, it was built upon years rising pressure ‘Detroit’ seems to capture the exact moment that it boils over.
It is very important for a movie like this to capture the enormity of such an event. To this day the 1967 Detroit riot remains one of the largest in U.S history, with 43 deaths, 1,189 injured, more than 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed over the course of five days. It’s fair to say it might be the closest thing America came to having a warzone in their own country during the 20th century.

The trailer opens with archive stock footage but Bigalow’s vision feels so immersive and authentic that when the actual footage from the movie starts it hardly feels jarring. Bigalow’s films rarely fail to capture a moment, ground it within reality and make it relevant to our society but also utterly cinematic. ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero dark Thirty’ work both as fascinating character studies and amazing examinations of our current culture. ‘Detroit’ poses of different challenge of capturing the moment from fifty years ago but I have little doubt Bigalow will succeed once again.

But one cannot overlook what seems to be a fantastic performance in the making from John Boyega. Granted we don’t see much of him in the trailer and the strength of this cast suggests it will be an ensemble piece just as much as a character study (we also have the likes of Anthony Mackie and Jason Mitchell to watch out for) the angle from which they are approaching it is enough to suggest something great could be waiting here. To see this event from the perspective of an African-American police officer adds such an unspoken layer of depth to the whole situation and it is one I’m more than ready to see Boyega tackle.

For all its social relevance though I don’t doubt for a second that ‘Detroit’ will be a viscerally thrilling and pulse pounding movie. Few modern directors are as accomplished as Bigalow and ever frame of this trailer oozes a sense of craftsmanship you simply don’t get elsewhere. The scenes of destruction look terrifying and brutal but they are so brilliantly composed and the cinematography looks so grandiose. Obviously one is tempted to mark it as an early Oscar contender and it is difficult to argue otherwise. The August release date is an obstacle to its success but not an insurmountable one, especially given that ‘The Hurt Locker’ was released in June of 2009. 50 years on and by the end of this year we could be talking about Detroit more than ever.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Top 5 Cannibal Movies

With ‘Raw’ hitting cinemas this seemed like an ideal time to select my top five cannibal movies. In all honesty I don’t really have anything to add to this introduction, fairly straightforward right? Well I suppose I should elaborate that my criteria for picking these five and their order comes down to a combination of their quality and how heavily they feature the cannibalism in question. After all this is a list of cannibalism first and foremost so once I’m satisfied that the cannibalism within the movie plays a large enough part or is iconic enough to earn a spot. Then I take quality into account to determine the best, and of course by “best” I just mean my own personal opinion on what constitutes the best, because why not? So now onto the top five.

5: Ravenous

Starting off is a film that takes a somewhat unusual approach to one of the most horrifying taboos of human society. As opposed to being a conventional horror film this 1999 movie starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle takes a darkly humorous approach to the story of an infantryman (Pearce) who upon investigating a case of disappearances from an isolated outpost discovers a frontiersman who has been feasting upon human flesh. Director Antonia Bird does an intriguing job of blending the films many contrasting elements, from its dark comedy to its fascinating thrills and the underlying horror of it all. Not to mention its terrific performances from all involved.

4: The Silence of the Lambs

It would not be a list of cannibal movies without an appearance from the one and only Dr Hannibal Lector. Played masterfully by Anthony Hopkins in a performance that would earn an Oscar for Best actor for just 16 minutes of screen time. Hopkins’ portrayal of the character possesses such an eerie stillness that never fails to unnerve the viewer, contrasting the sheer ruthlessness of Lector with his calm demeanour. But it is easy to talk about nothing but Hopkins when discussing ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ which is a shame as every other piece of the film is equally as excellent, including Jodie Foster’s phenomenal performance as Clarice Starling that earned her an Oscar as well.

In fact on the subject of Oscars one must remember that ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is one of only three films to have ever taken the main five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay) and remains the only horror film to have ever won the award of Best Picture. Johnathon Demme’s masterwork remains just as brilliant today as it was over 25 years ago. In fact it is almost certainly the best film out of this selection, but sadly the cannibalism in question is not what you would call integral to the plot of the film and it’s discussed much more than it is seen. In other words we get to hear Lector describe that delicious meal of human “liver, fava beans and a nice chianti” but we never get to see it. Disappointing I know, but a great film regardless.

3: Delicatessen

Made as a homage to the works of Terry Gilliam, this 1991 dark comedy film about a butcher living in a post-apocalyptic future who lures in victims to be sold as meat. One could almost call the film whimsical (a word rarely associated with cannibalism) in that it contains a darkly humorous streak as well as some truly terrific cinematography and set pieces. Despite being conceived as a homage to Gilliam, the directors of ‘Delicatessen’, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, make the film endlessly unique through both its style and substance. It is detached and satirical in nature but by no means is that to say that the film cannot be intense when it wants to be, but for any fright it might cause the viewer they are just as likely to be uncomfortably laughing at it.

2: Bone Tomahawk

If you heard of this stylish and violent Kurt Russell western from 2015 (no, not THAT one) you may be confused as to why it is on here. But those who have seen it will identity it as one of the best genre subversions and merges in recent memory. Transitioning from a brutal western to a terrifying horror film in minutes in which a group of gunslingers set out to end a series of brutal killings committed in their town only to discover that the culprits are a tribe of savage cannibals who throw them into a fight for survival, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is astonishingly effective.
Not only does the movie’s thematic current of pioneering civilisation play into the western genre, but they’re made all the more poignant when the alternative to civilisation is being eaten if you don’t have your wits about you. Amid all of the pulpy violence and brutality though lies an undercurrent of poignancy that carries surprising weight. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is utterly unique and utterly terrifying in every regard. See it for Kurt’s moustache alone.

1: Eating Raoul

Once again my choice here takes an oddly satirical turn rather than any kind of conventional horror. Maybe I just admire the way a filmmaker takes the most taboo and horrendous of subjects and injects a darkly comic streak into it. Paul Bartel’s cult classic ‘Eating Raoul’ is such an oddity that I almost feel obligated to give it the number one position. The story revolves around an uptight couple who begin murdering swingers and eventually eating them as a meal. Bartel not only uses the cannibalism as a metaphor for consumerism but he handles the whole subject with such a deft touch of dark comedy that you’ll find it as hilarious as it is disturbing.

It is so sharp it its satire and so effective in its humour that the nonchalant attitude it carries regarding the murders and meals is too harrowing to really believe. Naturally it is over the top in a certain regard but the way it’s contrasted with the subtly of other aspects only make it all the more remarkable. Held up by a number of great performances as well as its slick screenplay, watertight satirical tone and deliciously dark sense of humour, ‘Eating Raoul’ is the funniest film about cannibalism and, for my money, also the best. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Free Fire

"We've got two choices. One, you distract them and I'll leave. Or two, you kill all of these mother-fuckers and I'll leave."

Ben Wheatley is probably one of the most versatile and interesting directors working today. Love them or hate them his films have all been strikingly unique and elegantly different from just about everything else in cinemas today. Compared to the likes of ‘A Field in England’ and ‘High Rise’, his latest film ‘Free Fire’ might seem like a step down from the meditative, artful movies to this crime comedy. But anyone who has seen the film will know that is absolutely not true.

A group of arms dealers led by an arrogant criminal named Vernon (Shartlo Copley) and his representative Ord (Armie Hammer) meet up with a pair of IRA members (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) with an intermediate Justine (Brie Larson) to oversee a deal. But when complications arise a full scale gunfight breaks out and everyone involved is thrust into a game of survival in which the chances of making it out alive seem very unlikely.  

Despite not possessing any deep or meaningful undertones as Wheatley’s other films have, ‘Free Fire’ is the clear product of a masterful director playing purely within a refined genre. What it lacks in nuance it makes up for in sheer entertainment value as ‘Free Fire’ is completely engrossing, oddly hilarious and action packed from the first frame to the last. It is perhaps the best example of pure cinema I have seen in some time, completely stripping away the crux of narrative turns in favour of one, drawn out action scene that never fails to be engaging.

‘Free Fire’ is the kind of film that really requires its director to know what he is doing. To construct and structure each sequence in a way so as not to be repetitive or derivative, and Wheatley does this perfectly. The way he raises tension in the first section of the film is only matched by the manic energy of the rest of it. Some have drawn comparisons between Wheatley’s film and Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’, a comparison that isn’t unwarranted. Like Tarantino, Wheatley’s script (co-written with Amy Jump) brings about tension through dialogue, raking up the stakes, mapping each characters own insecurities and volatile attributes so that the viewer can sense the unease in the situation. Long before the arms deal ever goes south we can feel the unease in the situation and are just waiting for events to reach boiling point somehow.

Where ‘Free Fire’ sets itself apart from its predecessors though is the manic energy of it. One would think that an action scene taking place in such a confined space for such a prolonged amount of time would grow tiresome but the key to any great action scene in geography and cohesion, which is done brilliantly here. The area in which the action takes place is mapped out from the start, with a sense of architecture to the warehouse that allows the viewer to know where any character is at any given time. The intricacies of the plot place them in just the right place to ensure that when something explodes it does so with the best amount of force. As the situation continues to escalate these attributes only become more important as even amid the endless stream of bullets the viewer is never confused or bewildered over what is going on. Obviously the whole film is powered by chaos and unpredictability but like the best of exhilarating cinema ‘Free Fire’ finds clarity within that chaos.

This is partly in due to the superb editing, which is also a collaboration between Wheatley and Jump. It is so seamless and masterful that it’s barely noticeable, being great in a way that never draws attention to itself but rather draws you deeper into the story. What the editing also does in maintain a level of tonal consistency, to a point where ‘Free Fire’ is just as fulfilling as an action film as it is as a comedy. Despite being both side-splittingly hilarious in one moment and horrifyingly brutal in the next the film balances these contrasting elements brilliantly. The atmosphere of it being set in the 1970s just makes it even better (incidentally I could recommend this and ‘The Nice Guys’ as great double feature).

With all of that out of the way all that is left to praise is the ensemble cast, and though it may be a given once you see who is part of that cast in question but I have to say they are all brilliant. This is certainly Armie Hammer’s best work since ‘The Social Network’, bringing great charisma and swagger to his role. Sam Riley also shines as the wonderfully pathetic junkies Stevo, as does Jack Reynor and Michael Smiley.

When it comes to picking a standout though I’m caught between three. The first is Cillian Murphy whose nuanced performance actually adds a layer of humanity to the whole film that may otherwise be sorely missed had it not been there. Then there is Sharlto Copely as Vernon, an arms dealer who was misdiagnosed as a child genius, coming with all the arrogance and self-delusion one would hope for. Last but not least is the ever excellent Brie Larson who is (surprise, surprise) excellent here as well.

‘Free Fire’ is thrilling, hilarious and ridiculously entertaining from start to finish.

Result: 8/10

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Best and Worst of March 2017

March was a wonderfully varied month and if the rest of the year is set to follow this standard then I would be very happy with 2017. Granted not every film was a success but even the lesser ones at least attempted to be different and progressive. But when it to the great ones they were on another level entirely. They displayed such a distinct and powerful sense of vision, taking genre tropes and subverting them brilliantly to a point where our own expectations were used as emotional weapons.

Whether it was exploring an aged superhero or tackling societal issues through a horror-comedy, this month displayed a promising array that filmmakers are not only still prepared to take risks but they are executing them brilliantly. The film industry should take note of the movies that have been released this month and realised what is missing from their modern blockbusters. So without further ado we turn to the best and worst of March 2017.

3: The Lost City of Z

James Gray’s adventure epic has been derided by some critics and by no means is it a perfect film. What it is however, is astonishingly haunting and hypnotic in its vision. It feels reminiscent of the stories of obsession and madness through exploration that were brought to us by Francis Ford Coppola and Werner Herzog. Its strength is through its mood and atmosphere, being more absorbing that emotional but no less commendable for that. There is a haunted, almost dreamlike quality to the film in its structure and it plays more into our deeper existential fears than allowing you to relate on an intimate level. Boasting a series of strong performances and some exquisite cinematography, ‘The Lost City of Z’ is an epic feat of filmmaking.

2: Get Out

As directorial debuts go, Jordan Peele’s first film is a terrific display of talent, social commentary and great horror filmmaking that is sure to go down as a classic of the genre. It is an engaging, complex and thought provoking examination of how overcompensating when handling race relations can still be a form of racism in that you are still seeing a person purely as a race, and not as an actual human being. But at no point does that message feel overtly aggressive or preachy. Even putting the social commentary aside it is a brilliantly made film, with Peele’s skills behind the camera shining through. It pays homage to numerous horror icons (Peele’s passion for the genre is obvious almost immediately) but also carves out its own distinctive visage to maintain a great sense of originality. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Peele’s career.

1: Logan

The best superhero film ever made? Obviously it is far too early to make a statement quite as bold as that but ‘Logan’ undoubtedly stands as one of the best movies in the history of the genre, and the first one to truly transcend it since Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’. Hugh Jackman’s swansong to the character is violent and brutal in a way that few modern films are, but at its centre lies an emotionally resonant and thematically powerful core. Jackman gives a brilliant performance as does Patrick Stewart, in what will be their final outing for the franchise they have been with for the best part of two decades. James Mangold’s  direction gives every action and reaction a sense of weight on meaning, endowing it with such a meaningful quality. ‘Logan’ is more than just another comic book movie, it’s a parable about legends, legacy and the inevitability of time.

And the worst….

Power Rangers

I do feel bad for placing ‘Power Rangers’ at this spot, because it is far from a horrifically terrible film. In fact I admired the attempts it made to stand out from the crowd and be a more progressive kind of blockbuster through its characters. But sadly that is where the praise ends as the movie is so disjointed and tonally inconsistent that it feels like three other movies that have been smashed together. Combined with a second act that feels about as generic and uninspired as one can be as well as some of the most insultingly blatant product placement I’ve ever seen in a motion picture it has to fall here.

Ghost in the Shell

"You're the first of your kind. But you're not invulnerable."

So, anyone else want to talk about the quality of a movie without getting caught up in an argument concerning whether or not the casting said film constitutes white-washing because they genuinely see the legitimacy on both sides of the argument and want to focus on the actual standard of the film itself above all else. I would love to, but those who made this remake of Mamoru Oshii’s defining masterpiece are making such a notion very difficult.

In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a human who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people's minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to, and her life was not saved. Instead, it was stolen.

Ten years ago the idea that Hollywood could finance and develop a live action version of an anime property was improbable. Every potential project was stuck in development hell and seemed as though it would never see the light of day. But now we have ‘Ghost in the Shell’ with a tent-pole worthy budget no less. Sadly though, like many Hollywood remakes this 2017 film is decent enough, but exists very much in the shadow of the original.

I should immediately praise the film for its visual style though. As he showed with his previous directorial effort ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (which if nothing else at least looked pretty enough) Rupert Sanders brings a certain visual flair to the stylistics of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ renders the futuristic world as an expansive but intimately designed environment. He combines CGI and practical effects excellently to create an advanced world that feels distant to our own but also thoroughly lived in. You can also credit his cinematographer Jess Hall for the great vibrancy of the film, with a wide array of lighting, camera angles and visual styles being used here.

Unfortunately though, that is the only aspect of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ that really excels. The inherent problem of adapting a work as influential as ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is that most of the key themes or elements of it have already been harvested by other filmmakers from Steven Spielberg’s ‘A.I: Artificial Intelligence’ to the Wachowski’s ‘The Matrix’. It’s much like when Disney tried to adapt ‘John Carter of Mars’, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the approach but the influence of the source is so vast that most people are already familiar with its ideas and style even if they haven’t seen said source itself.

I will give this remake credit for trying to further itself in that the plot is not just a repeat of the original. Despite borrowing and recreating some of its most iconic sequences this 2017 version has assimilated a radically different plot to set itself apart. But ultimately that change amounts to very little because the themes and ideas that lie within said plot are almost identical to those of the original and several other films outside of that. Now, similarities are not necessarily detrimental to a film but what makes it very problematic with ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is that the film makes such little effort to cobble together any new innovations. In short it’s moving around a lot but accomplishing very little.

Worse still is the fact that though I can commend the film for coming up with a new narrative, that narrative is flawed. The pacing and structure of the film suffer due to the second act feeling very slow and out of touch with the stylish thrills of the first hour. The plot starts to repeat itself before I could even become invested in it, and seems to burn out long before we get close to the finale. It just feels generic and dare I say outright lazy that nothing within the film was furthered at all. The characters, thematic crux, the environment, they have all been seen before, somewhere else and to a greater execution. There is a distinct lack of depth within ‘Ghost in the Shell’.

On the whole the cast are serviceable enough but like the movie itself none of them are entirely memorable. Scarlett Johansson has shown a skill at portraying emotionally distant people confronting their own humanity and so would seem tailor fit to portray this character. With a better script I believe she has the capability to do something great here but there’s such little innovation to her character or story that she feels wasted in the lead role. As I said at the start though, there’s something to be said about that role. Without spoiling anything I can say that the movie presents itself with the perfect chance to address the controversy in an interesting way that would set it apart from its predecessors, but it lets the opportunity go right by and returns to being another paint by numbers science fiction movie.

‘Ghost in the Shell’ is stunning on a visual level, but lacks the depth or innovation to become anything more memorable.

Result: 5/10