Monday, 29 December 2014

Hello Carter Review



Promoting himself through the ranks as assistant director, Anthony Wilcox has now managed to gather himself a budget and cast for his writing and directorial debut. Here you get a glimpse of underrated actors gathered in chirpy roles – an actor from The Inbetweeners shows up, showing how far away the other character was – and a glimpse of Matt Murdoch that you will not see in the upcoming Daredevil TV programme. The influences of Hello Carter feel obvious: it’s a British adoption of the American indie – namely the coming-of-age romcom amalgamates. You can spot the charm of the people, the characters, the fallacies and the serendipitous nature of life in a brief snapshot of a bizarre day and night.
Carter (Charlie Cox) is asked to not sleep on the floor of his brother’s cramped flat any more, while the bed deflates slowly below him. Single, unemployed and now homeless, Carter roams around London free from the financial worries that would worry most. As he does, he calls everyone he knows hoping to get his ex-girlfriend’s (Kelly) new phone number to reconcile their relationship which ended 11 months ago. At his first job interview of the day, he feels bothered more by the nature of the business, surrounded by suited-up youngsters talking business jargon, than the possibility of being one of those just for the cash. This is where he gets his chance meeting with Jenny (Jodie Whittaker), who he will see throughout the night.
Its influences are noticeable, but that is not a bad thing. Anthony Wilcox’s brave decision to the adopt the American independent sensibilities is an interesting idea, especially considering they feel like a strictly American identity. His moulding around the British lifestyle is interesting, bringing in failing straight-to-DVD actor Aaron (Paul Schneider) as the American gateway, twisting the events further into the obscure. The clean cinematography often reminds of Instagram photos which have a layer of ‘fog’ so-to-speak over them, giving an ethereal disconnection of reality and dreamland. Characters are lovingly written to be purposefully peculiar, pinging about London being all Londony. It is an ode to London. It is an ode to people. It is an ode to misunderstandings.
Ode or not, there is still a problem with the lead character Carter. It is hard to feel sympathetic to someone having an existential crisis while swanning around London in a suit and belonging to the upper-middle class echelon. Although his consideration of a job in an opposite direction is interesting, his condescending manner of dealing with an arrogant businessman who could potentially hire him is off-putting. Although everyone does deserve to find who they are, their calling and what would make them genuinely happy, his lack of love for life feels almost like the problem of the entitled, creating a disconnect for anyone who has ever had a struggle. That lack of issue with money in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, is discomforting.
For it all haves and have nots, Hello Carter is an interesting comedy caper, following along bizarre mishaps from life. Wilcox’s espousal of America is successful by making it mostly British wherever possible. Hello Carter is a British delight in that sense, mashing together genres to create something that is not really anything, in the most positive of ways. With an indie soundtrack, a skip in his step and a winning smile, Carter (and indeed Charlie Cox) breezes through you in his short, dynamic running time. Although it relies heavily on convenience for its plot, it’s hardly unbelievable for it, meaning that the string of complaints for it feel unearned. Nowhere does it claim to be realistic, it aims to be enjoyable, with it having the destiny quality to Carter’s life crisis. Perhaps it’s unfair to call it uncertain, aspects of it underdeveloped (Mischa played by Antonia Thomas does feel a waste), convenient or too deadpan; that is being too critical of a film trying to solve its identity – what we can all relate to – with a charming smile. A people film about people being people in a disconnected metropolis.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Underrated Horror Films from 2014


This has not been a great year for mainstream horror; last year we had The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2 and You’re Next as mainstream releases. All three of which are great, two coming close to the best horror of this decade but this year has been marred with a wash of tedious films.

Indie fare has been much more fun, but still is not hitting the heights of last year with The Battery, Stoker and V/H/S/2 – which saw Gareth Evans team up with Timo Tjahjanto for one of the best horror shorts of all time. Last year also had the surprisingly fantastic remake Maniac, all done from the perspective of Elijah Wood’s eponymous character. There were even more surprises with Dark Skies, the first V/H/S getting released in January (in the UK) and the film that was titled a failure before its release, World War Z, which was a great tense PG-13 horror blockbuster, unashamed of its infidelity to the book. It was a good year for horror and the genre needed it.

It’s time to focus on this year. The following films are not five star classics, but they are underappreciated horrors of the year that deserve recognition. After the disappointment of Hammer Horror’s The Quiet Ones, The Conjuring’s prequel Annabelle and Scott Derrickson’s noir-horror-thriller Deliver Us From Evil (a decent enough film, but disappointing after Sinister), we relied on the festival circuit to surprise us.

Nothing much was found even there, with a disappointing FrightFest that contained entries like Julia, Dead Within and White Settlers. Not bad films – apart from the last on that list – but not particularly special or even good; some were not even memorable. There is still hope. The rest of the year still sees What We Do in the Shadows, Faults, Tusk (maybe), The Canal and Takeshi Miike’s Over Your Dead Body, meaning there is plenty to feast on in the near future.

Alas, focusing on the negatives is never a good thing. Let’s celebrate the films that didn’t make it to the festival circuit, or didn’t receive the box office reception they deserved, or maybe even slipped entirely under the radar.

These are the underrated horror films of 2014 that really are worth checking out. Warning: if you have a predisposition to found-footage, you may not enjoy the list. This year has seen clever, innovative use of the found-footage or mockumentary subgenre, and there’s more below…


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Shrinking the Gap



Shrinking the Gap

As a warning, this solution to economic problems will never happen because it is an idealistic view of something too set in stone to change. Though many may think of it being socialist, it will still enforce the capitalism idea, but it will shrink the gap between the rich and poor. Sometimes the simplest solution can actually be the answer to a huge problem. Starting at the most recent recession is the best way to look at it. After the financial world collapsed, money was tight which halted spending. While people were begging for pay increases in the times of austerity, companies were 'tightening their belts' whilst simultaneously blaming the majority of the working class for not spending enough in the economy to correct it. What makes this such an horrific statement is the fact that those rich people, the 1% population, were complaining about the lack of spending in an economy where they hold 40% of the economy's wealth - the 0.01%, a NET worth of over $100m, control 11.1% of the US's wealth.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] In America, that is. It is even highlighted in the end credits of the film The Other Guys.[10] It may not be as drastic elsewhere, but it still is as disproportionate - although this article suggests it is worse than we think.[11] Simply blaming the working class for not spending money on the economy that you control, then denying a pay increase as it is a recession, is a logical fallacy.  

Now what seems basic is a simple shrinking of the gap. The economy is in the state that it is because that 1% are static with the majority of their wealth, meaning it does not get pumped into the economy. If they were stimulate the economy by actually spending instead of sitting on it to invest in the future to make even more money, then the economy would not have remained stagnant for so long. The divide between the rich and poor needs to be there in a capitalist society. It also instils ambition in the population, constantly striving to become better, to improve the world and be rewarded for it. There is no need for the divide to be so drastic. With only 1% of the population having such monetary control, means that their restraint in spending damages the economy of the entire population, giving power to those that really should not have it. Having all this money encourages the rich to disregard everything else but profit, causing the economy to become static, while they look for a way to increase the wealth of themselves and/or their companies/conglomerates.

This has a detrimental effect as well on the planet's actual health. Now, this may sound like hippy-free-love stuff that makes people roll their eyes, but the planet's actual environment is important because we like living, essentially. Most of us, anyway. Oil companies claim famine in terms of oil to justify their amplification of prices, but if they were simply more efficient then we would have a significant amount more of oil. For example, the Niger Delta river has been filling up for years with oil, but it is simply cheaper to let it drift there, allowing pirates to fight for it, shooting at each other and accidentally igniting it, as it is oil.[12] [13] If people actually thought for once about perhaps spending more to have even more product in the long run, for the benefit of a world reliant on oil, then there would be no need to claim that there is less oil. There is simply less oil because of instances like this. It has gone entirely to waste. This isn't reflective of problems like the BP oil crisis, but that happened again because of a money saving exercise to please shareholders.[14] Simply put: fuck the shareholders for once and think about the bigger picture.

If the gap was shrunk significantly, more money would be in the economy. That constant flow would help stimulate it, drastically improving the quality of life for the majority of people. In a more idealistic view, it could possibly lead to a lower unemployment rate too. That stimulation would mean we could rejuvenate the public sectors, hiring more staff because it would have created functioning and efficient public services, as they would be a non-profit organisation. Imagine hospitals if the Conservatives were not trying to constantly privatise it to exploit the profit possibilities that plagues pharmacology.[15] Universal healthcare is not only a human right but a necessity. Healthcare would be improved upon if the administrators did not receive such absurdly high wages, while nurses are left to struggle on an income as low as £14,000 a year in 2014. (Estimate of my mother's annual wage: a full-time working auxiliary nurse) That is another topic for another time. If the money that came into the public sector was put back into it, it would be able to improve its service dramatically. No more horror stories in tabloid newspapers that condemn an underfunded NHS. Services would run for the people, rather than for the money.

"If" has plagued this post because it is an idealistic hypothetical, but financial equality should be a given. If the wage gap was shrunk so that 45% of the population controlled 55% of the nation's wealth, the boost in the economy would be revitalising. That would mean 55% of people would be able to spend even more in a society that has adverts begging for people to spend. Everyone is a winner. As there would be a cap, a limit, companies and people could possibly think about everything other than their virtual bank balance or NET worth. Less greed would mean that the exploitation of the world for short-term gain would no longer be worth it. People are fighting for a bigger bank balance that will not carry on with them after they pass away. It is better to preserve the future for future generations rather than destroy it for a brief monetary gain that is fleeting in something much larger than one person. Companies must stop avoiding tax in nations they profit in. Especially by a company that then proudly advertised that 77% of the emergency services use Vodafone[16], after getting their tax bill cancelled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and HMRC boss Dave Hartnett.[17] Basically an advert laughing at their exploitation of the public sector. Vodafone seem to be getting worse with each year too.[18] George Osborne must not turn the cheek or cancel the debt, then make cuts to the public sector that services the working class devoid of wealth, because the companies want to maximise their profits which are already extraordinary.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]A man who is in charge of our tax bills and loopholes, used those loopholes himself to get out of paying tax.[27]  

Idealism should not be a pejorative. We should strive to obtain the highest quality of life. It is a shame that this would not happen as it would need to be globally co-ordinated. Like a UN initiative - which would not happen, but that scale of global regulation in a world becoming more and more globalised. Essentially this has been a utopian dream post, about a world not interested in its own wallet, but with a consideration to everyone and everything. Why is that seen as abnormal? Why is that condemned as negative?  



References

[1] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-03/top-tenth-of-1-percenters-reaps-all-the-riches
[2] http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105
[3] http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/10/03/334156/top-five-wealthiest-one-percent/
[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneywisewomen/2012/03/21/average-america-vs-the-one-percent/
[5] http://www.epi.org/publication/unequal-states/
[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/pay-gap-between-1-percent_n_3900373.html
[7] http://www.lcurve.org/
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM
[9] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/06/this-viral-video-is-right-we-need-to-worry-about-wealth-inequality/
[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yBfWz2bSOQ
[11] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-06/the-1-may-be-richer-than-you-think-research-shows.html
[15] http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2014/aug/06/privatisation-ripping-nhs-from-our-hands
[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8PohtcIA88
[17] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/22/vodafone-tax-case-leaves-sour-taste
[18] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/vodafones-84bn-tax-avoidance-bonanza-nothing-for-taxpayers-in-verizon-deal-while-bankers-share-500m-in-fees-8794169.html
[19] http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/
[20] http://www.theguardian.com/business/shortcuts/2012/oct/17/boycotting-tax-avoiding-companies
[21] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20560359
[22] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/tax-avoidance-public-accounts-committee-pac-hmrc-461647
[23] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eurobonds-scandal-the-high-street-giants-avoiding-millions-in-tax-8897591.html
[24] http://realbusiness.co.uk/article/25034-six-companies-that-avoid-paying-their-taxes
[25] http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1711339/Revealed-Tax-havens-of-the-top-20-UK-companies.html
[26] http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottslist.aspx
[27] http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2010/10/28/tax-avoidance-george-does-it-too/

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review



It is an exciting prospect to watch what you loved as a child be reimagined with a gigantic budget. What you loved is still relevant to the masses according to the studio, a hundred million dollar shot of nostalgia, giving you an exciting rush that many films cannot rival. It is also a dangerous path. Like the line, never meet your heroes, you’ll only be disappointed, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an utter disaster that in one single swoop can destroy your entire childhood. Filled with self-doubt, you will question whether or not it was even good in the first place and was always this tragic. That may be the truth for the other live-action incarnations of the turtles, but the cartoon still has something special that is ruined by the transfer. Ruined is the only fitting word for a childhood that lays in shambles, covered in dirt, on the floor, being spat on, the money flaunted in front of you.

This is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles origin story, because everyone has always wanted to hear about how these turtles mutated into adolescent masters of Ninjitsu. Reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) wants to do more as a reporter than bounce on a trampoline for people to ogle her. The fluff pieces are crippling her. The very first thing we find out about her from another character is “Boy, you don’t give up, do you?” in case you don’t get from all the work she puts in that she’s tenacious. April starts to follow a story about the Foot Clan, but it leads to strange markings which are present in crimes that were thwarted by acts of vigilantism. The story starts to unravel, in an unimaginable scale for April.

It would be easier to list all of the problems in this film than anything else. It is a mess. A mess which tries its inadequate hand at humour, but rarely ever actually hitting it. When you hire someone as talented as Will Arnett, it’s baffling how you cannot give him funny lines, or perhaps even let him riff to make his own. Most of what Will Arnett says is not funny, but that is not his fault at all, it is the script’s. Possibly the most bizarre casting is that of Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, the straight leader role of the Ninja Turtles. Johnny Knoxville is an inherently funny guy, it feels downright ludicrous to give him the character with the least humour. Even daddy issue Rafael (Alan Ritchson) has more comedy. William Fichtner, who is usually terrific, has to utter only exposition or a clich├ęd line for his character – most of the time, it’s both. None of this is the cast’s fault. They all try their hardest, but the problem starts long before them. The script is of the lowest order, making sure to hit Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! beat sheet while adding in some of the stupidest dialogue of the year.

In the end, this is not a film for review. This is a film made for children – although its 12A rating in the UK is a bit of a head-scratcher – but since when does making something for children mean something awful? They will enjoy this, it’s about ninjas who happen to be teenage turtles, as they make pop-culture references from the past 3 years. Pop-culture references are fine, we live in a postmodernist era of constant intertextuality, but there are ways to make it funny and then there is simply saying that you are aware of these things. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does the latter. Jonathan Liebesman proves that he can direct some action sequences, but that does not mean they will be exciting. After the past failings of Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, you feel like studios would start to strip away his budget. He is a director bereft of personality – unless oversaturated visual effects counts. For the exception of a chase sequences down a snowed cliff, the action sequences are basic and bland. Its attempts at personality are having its characters say something moronic. These characters are meant to be likeable, everything is always about likeable, but these characters could be the most hated of the year, thanks to their idiotic dialogue that is no way endearing. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a wreck unfolding in front of your eyes; drained entirely of the Turtle Power that hurtled them to fame.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Moebius Review


My Moebius review for Next Projection


Kim Ki-duk’s latest is a twisted tale of incest with the addition of our natural love of genitalia. It feels weird to say that the most absurd thing about this film is its complete lack of dialogue; not the inclusions of castration, cannibalism, incest, masturbation, voyeurism and rape. Its extremism says a lot about humanity’s condition, though it may be unfair to criticise a film for what it isn’t or doesn’t have, Moebius feels like that strange beast that would benefit with some dialogue. Kim Ki-duk does a fantastic task of having a thematically rich film through silence, but it feels that there is a profundity lurking, ready to be vocalised, instead of being an Oedipal video essay.

Kim Ki-duk does a fantastic task of having a thematically rich film through silence, but it feels that there is a profundity lurking, ready to be vocalised, instead of being an Oedipal video essay.

Meobus
Discussing the plot is difficult, because the sheer insanity of it seems off-putting. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, we are aware that the husband is cheating on his wife with another woman as they scramble for his mobile phone. Then, the wife and his son, watch as the husband cheats on the wife in the car. That leads to the son’s arousal and his mum walks in on him masturbating. The mother decides that revenge is the sweetest option, by attacking her husband with a knife to cut off his penis. He succeeds in resisting, so the mother – who demonises all men in this instant – decides that any sleeping penis will do and decides to cut off then eat her son’s as payback for her husband’s infidelity. Again, this is the first fifteen minutes of the film. An extremist start to the gruesome welcome to the world is befitting of the New French Extremism movement.

One of Kim Ki-duk’s most daring – but incredibly effective and interesting choices – is that the mother and mistress are played by the same actress with a few make-up tweaks between characters.

One of Kim Ki-duk’s most daring – but incredibly effective and interesting choices – is that the mother and mistress are played by the same actress with a few make-up tweaks between characters. This really amps up the Oedipal and Freudian themes that are explored through desire, which mostly stems from our genitalia. An interesting quote from the filmmaker about this film is about never being free from “physical desire” and its ramifications, that we are effectively controlled by our genitalia which will lead to “self-torture, maltreat[ment]or becoming maltreated” because of our innate desire for desire. These words show that the filmmaker really has a lot to say. Moebius is visually astounding on this ground, by speaking volumes with character actions, but with an intelligent director clearly pushed by desire himself, could explore themes in immersive detail.
Moebius has great performances from the main trio playing four characters. Kim Ki-duk needed them to express a lot through looks, gazes, angsty screams or even Google searches. Intelligence is found in the moments where the film stops, becoming a tableau to analyse in detail. The film is mostly quiet, which lends itself to stillness as characters sit ashamed or stare at each other, conveying a mixture of complex emotions. Kim Ki-duk also described this as the “penis journey” where one finds that the entire body is capable of the arousal that is linked with genitalia. The sensation of both heavenly climax then followed by pain later on is a physical manifestation of shameful masturbation. That is where Kim Ki-duk’s film is clever, more an art piece to be analysed rather than enjoyed. Some have described it as a black comedy, but it feels far too tragic to be considered entirely as a comedy. Analysing ourselves as walking genitalia ready to upset, be upset or torture ourselves in restraint is a realisation of sad inevitability, telling us a lot about the sexual repression of an entire society, but also the problems of the sexual liberation of western civilisation. Moebius is a complicated film with a lot to say, but no dialogue to verbalise it. Instead, it’s down to the audience to deduce what they see and how they see it. Clever filmmaking from an interesting, intelligent extremist director that really could do more by saying something else further than the Oedipal and Freudian concepts that are now engrained in the zeitgeist.

★★

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Hannibal Season 2 DVD Review




After 559 minutes in a day, you can spot a lot of Hannibal‘s shortcomings, rather than waiting a week for each episode. After the rather captivating finale of the first season, especially the subversion with the final shot, it seemed that Hannibal had broken in on itself. No longer would it need to satiate the audience that is looking partly for something that resembles CSI, with rather sick and twisted murders every week, solved indefinitely with only a throughline between Will Graham – Hugh Dancy is either perfect or too much – and Hannibal Lecter – Mads Mikkelsen plays his character with a devilish relish that even tugs on your sympathies. No longer would they present someone with an iPad of information, solving the case, in the final few minutes to conclude the episode. It could be broader, bigger, be more daring and playful with the characters now that it didn’t have to do those daily episode conclusions. Bryan Fuller has done a good job running the show, but still there is something amiss, something problematic.

As this is the second season review, there will be spoilers for the first season as it continues on from there. Nothing much will be specified from season two – especially not the last few episodes. Will Graham is now in Baltimore’s State Hospital for the Criminally Insane after being framed by Hannibal Lecter for the murder of several women. No one believes that it was actually Hannibal being the murderer – an ex-surgeon now psychiatrist with a penchant for food and manners isn’t possible of murdering, of course. Will Graham, while going under extreme scrutiny and psychiatric evaluations, must convince everyone around him of his innocence and Hannibal’s guilt. Season two has a big problem if you are going to watch it in a binge. Its opening is high octane which is thrilling, but it drains the suspense of later episodes that would grip your throat and dig its nails in with tension otherwise. Though knowing that something else to comes leaves less tension and more curiosity in how they will play out. Perhaps that’s purposeful but it feels as though the programme is missing a trick.

The subtlety that was in the first season of Hannibal’s murders has disappeared slightly. Now that we know what he is all about, he even gets dressed up like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho - although it’s much more sinister when you take away Huey Lewis and the News. We may be more aware of his professional curiosity in Will, his sociopathic love for a cruel game of cat-and-mouse with the law and his extra love for slicing, dicing and serving up humans, it feels like it is slightly more obvious that now it is Hannibal. He is around clever professionals constantly who seem to skim over the fact that he has been able to affiliate himself with all of the victims and is a skilled surgeon – a necessity in stitching and organ removal. Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) is a successful FBI agent, ranking his way up, yet he still can’t see what is right in front of him. Hannibal may distort the truth, especially the evidence presented to give his view to lead them off the trail, but an agent of that standing would not be that blinded. Especially given his relationship with Will Graham.

The first few episodes are brilliant. Playing on having Will Graham behind bars and Hannibal Lecter filling in his role for the FBI is a nice step, leading to some interesting moments as the tension rises as to whether or not Will Graham will be found guilty. The first season played with the professional curiosity Hannibal had in Will but with a different dynamic. In this season, Will is aware of who Hannibal is yet they continue delving into each other’s sociopathic minds, playing games throughout. Each character has the same flaw: infallibility. Will thinks he’s the most intelligent, therefore he’s a step ahead of Hannibal. Hannibal thinks he’s the most intelligent and that his psychiatry is paving the way for Will’s manipulation, meaning he’s a step ahead. Jack Crawford watches from the sidelines as the titans go at each other, thinking that as he can see both of these things objectively – which he doesn’t – that he is the step ahead. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas plays her particularly nicely, despite the character’s shortcomings) is possibly the most foolish of all the characters, believing that she knows and understands sociopaths better than anyone else but you will see for yourself that it is far from true. Her trust is misplaced every time.

Hannibal maintains its stylish, elegant feel with amped up productions and even more violence. What is bizarre about this cable network programme is that it can show wince inducing gore but it cannot show any nudity. Sometimes its stylistic flourishes are its own undoing. In one scene, the sun is supposedly rising over Will Graham’s house, but it is plainly obvious to tell that it is done via the colouring – a poor job at it too. It also still holds the mantle as TV programme filled with food porn – a severed leg will make you salivate; that is until you know it is a severed human leg. Hugh Dancy explores the more neurotic, arrogant side of his messed up character to have it all undone in a spectacular finale that throws every single thing at you – even a few surprises you could not and would not remotely guess.

Episodes may lull but the series remains transfixing, through bizarre dynamics and interesting characterisations of killers and investigations. Finally it embraces its intricacy as it builds to a conclusion that is bound to burst someone’s bubble of arrogance. You will also get to see why people are now asking for Michael Pitt to play The Joker, should they cast another reiteration in the future. His character is essentially The Joker without the make-up. Hannibal improves upon its first season, which of course means amping up every aspect, especially the stakes. It will hook you, pull you in for its finale, then throw you to the bottom of the barrel before it tears you apart. An improvement overall that needs to fix some episodic lulls, character motivations and regain tension by not starting somewhere later down the line.


★★½

Sunday, 14 September 2014

FrightFest 2014 Reviews



Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2014 FILM4 FrightFest. For more information on the festival visit http://www.frightfest.co.uk/ and follow FrightFest on Twitter at @Film4FrightFest.

Julia

Dir. Matthew A. Brown
Advertised on IMDb as a neon-noir revenge thriller-horror is misleading. A femme fatale and night-time cityscapes do not make it a neon-noir. Aside from the mislabelling, this is a twisted revenge thriller for the most part. It belongs to the rape revenge subgenre, which can be uncomfortable for those to watch. Revenge through violence is stooping to the same violent levels that they did which – for most films of the subgenre – makes the arcs a destructive one, rather than a satisfying one. Watching a character like Julia, played subtly by the talented Ashley C. Williams, get destroyed then delve further into her own violent ambitions as revenge is not as satisfying as the filmmaker thinks. When the news erupts of certain atrocities, many people ask for violence as the justice but when it is served, it is lacking in closure even in its finality. That is because one cannot change the past, the atrocity happened, acting as they did is more destructive than constructive. That dissatisfaction is present with Julia.
Beautiful cinematography uplifts Julia but even that is stilted by awkward shots which, though interesting, do not work. There is a shot, looking up, that spins while she runs down the stairs. Its placement is too panicked for the moment and the movement itself is jerky and dizzying. There’s a sense that this is a film about female empowerment, a camaraderie through banding together to strike down sinful men in the seedy world created. Instead, it feels like a man’s vision of female empowerment. Though for all its stylistic flourishes, the film is mostly devoid of tension or interesting characters. Ashley C. Williams’s portrayal of the eponymous character is impressive, she rarely uses words yet we know what she’s always thinking or feeling, being the main highlight of the film along with its visuals. Much else is tedium masking itself as sophistication through a false sense of empowerment. Julia may have good intentions, but it’s too threadbare elsewhere to have any tension or real entertainment value.

WolfCop

Dir. Lowell Dean
WolfCop (dir. Lowell Dean)
WolfCop (dir. Lowell Dean)
If someone approaches you with a film like Sharknado or Giant Shark vs. Mega Octopus as a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie then slap them in the face and show them this masterpiece of exploitive cinema. Lowell Dean needs to teach the folks at SyFy and Asylum how do an exploitation film because WolfCop is the perfect blend of absurdity and fun, to make this one of the funniest and most fun films of the entire year. B-movies have always existed, but recently there is a trend to make these films again, revelling in their inherent silliness. The problem is that they don’t respect cinema as a medium, never conforming to the grammar, or using the power of it to completely mock it inherent self. Sharknado, for example, adds random moments to be nothing but absurd. Unearned insulting silliness that does not make you laugh. This is more like Black Dynamite, a film that respects cinematic grammar while pointing out uninformed errors in films of that subgenre – like the car chase as the driver doesn’t touch the steering wheel while the background shows rallying around corner after corner, then the same explosion over and over.
The power comes from its writing and direction by Lowell Dean, who truly believes in the wonderful madness of the film. Most directors don’t bother trying with these films, as if the lack of effort is somehow endearing. Lowell Dean says hell no to that, putting in maximum amounts of effort to make sure that this film is more fun than anything you have ever seen in the B-movie catalogue. Everything in it is wonderfully righteous that roaring with laughter is constant. Then there’s the brilliant make-up effects, that goes back to the glory gory days of The Thing and the like. It has the most original (read: mental) werewolf transformation you will see, alongside a sex scene that rivals the likes of Team America: World Police and The Naked Gun. WolfCop could have easily been another addition to the B-movie catalogue that has more fun in the name than the actual feature, but due to the belief in its hilarious premise, it goes all the way to make this oddly brilliant. A masterpiece and masterclass in exploitation cinema.

Dead Within

Dir. Ben Wagner
Tackling the stagnant zombie genre takes a bold director and writer with an innovative premise. Dead Within isn’t really that film. Its premise can be admired for its ambition as well as slight invigoration of the undead infection, but it hits all the similar beats of the post-apocalyptic survival story that The Walking Dead already has and even a similar subplot that the Dawn of the Dead remake tackled. Essentially, it is a story of a surviving couple who have been isolated in a cabin for over 6 months, still vying for survival. Mike (played by Dean Chekvala) goes out every day to gather supplies and attempt to wipe out any potential night-time threats, leaving Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) at home alone to wait for him while she loses her sanity from the isolation. Cabin fever then.
The performances from the duo is great – probably stemming from their involvement in the screenwriting process with Matthew Bradford and director-writer Ben Wagner. Before stepping in front of the camera, they were their characters, elevating the material to its highest order. That, unfortunately, isn’t the biggest compliment. Dead Within is a film devoid of any tension or illusion, using Dutch tilt so often that it is obvious to the audience what way the narrative is heading. Leading you along a well-dredged path but expecting a different result. Among the beaten narrative, lie flashes of creativity and innovation, but too rare to ever uplift the story above forgettable mediocrity – in the least offensive way possible.

White Settlers

Dir. Simeon Halligan
If Emmerdale was to ever make a horror episode, this would be it. The poor colour grading in the daytime scenes speak volumes of the overall film’s quality that tries nothing new with the home invasion horror. In fact, it lacks more than most. No suspense, no clever or interesting characters and serious lack in gore for those horror hounds. Criticising it for not having gore is criticising it for not being something else, which isn’t fair on it. In fact, kudos to it for attempting to be a home invasion film without the gore that usually accompanies it. If you are to do that, though, you are going to need some serious tension or intelligence to get past the usual, the one that audiences are bored with. White Settlers does not have either of those. Lee Williams’s character is neither likeable nor interesting, playing the part like a run of the mill soap opera actor. Pollyanna McIntosh is average at best in hers, never really provoking any sympathy from the audience.
The main problem with White Settlers is either in the writing or direction. That is because characters do not hear or see characters when they are in plain view. It’s hard to know without seeing the script itself but the blame can be passed onto both. For example, Sarah (Pollyanna McIntosh) walks along a gravel path while someone stands nearby but apparently does not hear a thing. In a loud city, maybe, but considering the entire point of this film is that it’s away from civilisation, in pure silence and bliss, any footsteps on gravel would be instantly audible which would lead to her capture. Then, there are moments where you can see the actor is looking in the direction yet apparently does not the character. That’s silly – possibly even lazy. Again, another example, a character supposedly hides within this room where there is nowhere to hide, only to jump out seconds later without the other character knowing. That is simply insultingly impossible. White Settlers asks for a lot and deserves none of it. It is a boring, standard home invasion horror-thriller that never ever piques any interest from the audience and has zero creativity to even elevate the material to mediocre. An insulting, poor, boring, trite film that is no thriller, all tedious filler.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Godfather: Part II Review

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Mixing two storylines in different eras together is daring. That is even without considering the monumental success of The Godfather as a film. It sits proudly on many a critical list and even more of people’s list, but there still rages debate on which is better: the first or the second. The first excels as a straightforward film with incredible performances, directions and especially cinematography. The opening shot of the first film as it slowly zooms out of a pleading man’s face is outstanding, one of the most interesting film openings in history and, sadly, if made now, would be cut to deaths. The Godfather: Part II succeeds by not trying to replicate the success of the first. It, instead, tries to completely outdo its predecessor with an ambitious two-hander between the 1920s and 1958 – a prequel-sequel.

 The Godfather: Part II succeeds by not trying to replicate the success of the first. It, instead, tries to completely outdo its predecessor with an ambitious two-hander between the 1920s and 1958 – a prequel-sequel.

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It is hard to pinpoint where the success comes from in the first, because it is one of those rare instances where everything works together. Director working with the material, the actor living the characters, and that cinematography from the legendary minimalist Prince of Darkness, Gordon Willis. Paramount were keen to replicate that by bringing back Francis Ford Coppola. Oddly enough, considering the success of the first – artistically and commercially – he was not that interested in returning to the Italian-American world. Then they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. For $1m (a considerable sum for a director, especially in the ’70s), 13% of the profits (the first made over $100m) and complete artistic control. What director could resist that?
Teaming together again with Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo brought his book to life. With full artistic control and feeling completely invincible, Coppola decided to do Vito Corleone’s backstory but without leaving that final shot hanging, showing Michael’s full descent into the mob boss role, legitimatising himself as a corrupt business. What is even more daring is that it gathered together two of the best actors working at the time. Now it’s the stuff of dreams: Al Pacino with Robert De Niro (ignoring Righteous Kill, of course). But they do not even share any screentime. After Mean Streets, people were making claims that De Niro could be a young Brando so he went off to play young Brando. This segment is similar to the first, showing the rise of Michael to a Don, but the rise for Vito was purposeful and earned; Michael’s rise was out of necessity and obligation, far away from his early ambitions.

The Godfather: Part II even borrows from the thriller genre, wrapping a series of clues as Michael progresses which leads to that heartbreaking final scene.

The Godfather: Part II even borrows from the thriller genre, wrapping a series of clues as Michael progresses which leads to that heartbreaking final scene. Tension is gained more than the average thriller through the careful build-up of sequences, like the one that breaks the film into its second part if you’re watching the early DVD release. Coppola’s dedicated universe expansion is so epic and operatic that it could not be contained to a single disc. Though its running time may feel excessive to some, it is revelling in the drama of the characters that audiences fell in love with back in 1972. Trusting the audience to love the characters, their complications and allowing them deep exploration of their inner machinations. It damns the criminal world without going into overdrive of creating caricature criminals or showing them meeting their ‘deserved’ demise.
It has had the loving label of ‘the greatest sequel ever’ for years. In a decade where sequels are released weekly, that title becomes more and more prestigious as time goes by. And as time goes by, these two films do not age. They are timeless classics that co-exist yet could exist separately from each other. It is difficult not to mention one without the other, whether complimenting both or debating which is better. The truth is they are both classics, they are both incredible pieces of cinema that came from a fantastic time in Hollywood cinema where directors had more control over their products. Careful thought has gone into constructing a sequel that echoes the first film with many reoccurring motifs and themes. Power is corrupting. Vito’s rise to power is through corruption. Michael’s rise into the legitimate brings more illegality than before. The Godfather: Part II is a magnificent follow up to an outstanding film, that is somehow standalone yet connected, expanding and borrowing from the first’s artistic brilliance while carving its own legacy.
★★★★

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Joe Review




Born from indie roots with his debut feature George Washington, moving into mainstream comedy with Pineapple Express and The Sitter, then back to indie again with Prince Avalanche and now another offering, Joe. David Gordon Green is a director that’s films really do cause some head-scratching. How does one move so effortlessly between such different films? Although his broader films are just that, they lack the intimacy or perhaps the signature touch of Green, his latest two haven’t. Joe is a good combination of director and material, putting his authorial stamp on an adaptation. Teaming together with regular cinematographer Tim Orr, reigning in a snake wrangling Nicolas Cage and employing the youthful Tye Sheridan alongside first-time or lesser known supporting actors, give this a real world feel while achieving a cinematic grittiness that keeps it atmospheric. It is first important to pay respect to Green’s directorial style. He found a talent in homeless man Gary Poulter (Gary’s father, Wade aka G-Daawg). A talent sadly extinguished a few months after filming completed.

Saying that Joe - as IMDb does – is about teenage boy Gary (Tye Sheridan) finding an unconventional role model in ex-con, Joe (Nicolas Cage) is perhaps slightly misleading. It’s more about a man trying to suppress his past self, although his past life proves purposefully provocative, while trying to prevent the young boy Gary turning into a replica of himself. Its narrative isn’t strict but it is escalating, all the while maintaining itself as a character piece – finding a star in villainous Gary Poulter as Wade. Through a bizarre job of poisoning trees to make room for strong pines, means following Cage and co. through a beautifully bleak forest, shot with much love by Tim Orr. Joe leads to all the places that a backwater, stale town filled with violence and alcoholism would, but the locations only help speak of the characters’ moral sensibilities, their problems, troubles and prepare us for their choices later on in the film.

In other hands, it would be easy for the director to take a more cynical outlook by shooting it in extra-bleak mode with a side of depression. Green manages to find levity without softening the impact of the more serious or sinister moments. There’s a brevity to the characters – with an exception with one who repeats his past like a Purple Heart instead of a weakening battle scar. Much is said with framings going from cluttered to bare. Its fractured editing style leads to some poetic moments through creative ingenuity – like the scene of the burnt down house in Prince Avalanche, a balance of collaboration (suggested by the editor) and auteurism (realising it’s a perfect fit for his sometimes ethereal style).

Performances are universally fantastic. Nicolas Cage plays it in a more harmonious way, distancing himself from the exaggerated performances that made him an internet meme. Here, he is quiet, contemplative, morally grey until he isn’t. His moments of losing it are never excessive. Completely earned and, again, understated. Early on, you feel reminiscent of Jeff Nichols‘s Mud when you hear the premise but this is a different beast – a vicious beast with violent undertones throughout. Though Ellis was a characterisation of childhood innocence and wonderment, Gary is one of a far more fractured home that uses violence to solve its problems, yet is committed to leaving it behind to never become like his father. Wade, as said before, is magnificently played by Gary Poulter who the audience will hate but that’s a testament to the late-actor’s work. The rest of the supporting cast are all universally great. They make this town seems almost like a dystopia – void of intelligence but filled to the brim in problems.

If perhaps you wondered where the indie director went, looking for something a little more serious or poetic than Your Highness, then this is the Green you will love. Joe is filled with his indie sensibilities, its meandering plot, twisted characters and non-professional actors putting in better than most performances. The only downfall of Joe is that moments of it are masterful but with a few inconsistent scenes and on-the-nose moments not fitting of its style or tone, it falls short of being a masterpiece. It is still a great film, really up there for the year. It has a fitting mood throughout, its subtlety may increase on rewatches. It is unfortunate that a few scenes weaken a film close to immortality in the annals of film history as a must-see masterpiece. It is still an important film to watch to feel the magic of its best moments.

★★★★