Friday, 14 August 2015

Article: Appetite for Destruction

Since my mid to late teens, I've pretty much been considered the “cynical” one of my group of friends. It’s a tag I do try hard to sometimes shrug off. Particularly when I see so many others push past my own pessimistic leanings.

But here’s the thing.

When you read that Universal will look to reimburse cinemas for extra security costs over the weekend for the release of Straight over Compton, the hyped musical biopic of infamous rap group NWA, the pissed off Pitt alarm, blares loudly in my brain.

Of course people will consider the reasoning just. Racial anxieties in America are currently at their peak. The many protests that have featured in areas such as Ferguson as well as the violent disruptions have been well documented. I’m sure many could explain to me why people are nervous about a film in which the lead characters; who hail from the city with two groups of the most notable crime gangs, named one of their most famous anthems: Fuck Da Police…

But shouldn’t we consider, just for a minute, the reasoning behind these protests? Why has so much tension presented itself?  Why has so much anger flared up? One only needs to Google the words Black Lives Matter and read the many over the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of armed Caucasian policemen. The protests that have occurred have yet again highlighted that Americas relationship with race is as convoluted and complex as its relationship with the same firearms being used to extinguish life. So quite strangely, the more black people killed or mistreated, the more protests occur. The more protests occur, the more conflicts flare. The more conflicts flare, the more studios worry about the (black) entertainment they release.

Annoyingly, I find this all gets a little Manson’s Helter Skelter. Was 8 Mile placed under such scrutiny when Eminem was at the height of his powers and notoriety? A film which treads lightly upon a gang culture within a multi-cultural, depressed town? Did any worry transpire when its infamous star (whom George Bush stated was “the most dangerous threat to American children since polio”) went on to pick up the best song Oscar? Nope. I doubt anyone would have believed that a woman who attack a man with pepper spray during a Mr Turner screening either. Mr Turner: a three hour period piece about a talented British Painter. Not one for frisking and metal detectors.

Can we also highlight that the shocking murders caused by Dylann Roof in an African American church, have been played down by many as not being an act of terrorism? The same goes for Anders Behring Breivik (although that is Norway). Do we know films did Elliot Rodger watch before he killed six people and then himself? This young man shot video "manifesto" raged at interracial couples, black men and girls that shunned him for not being successful. In fact, both Breivik and Roof also had angry manifestos of filled with disturbing views on how they viewed people of minority races. Were they James Bond fans? Rambo fans? Did they ever have a thing for Arnie's oeuvre?

I ask because in the years I've spent watching dashing white heroes, shoot and kill aliens either intergalactic or foreign. It's always considered for the right reasons. And no one believes that they the violence off the screens and into reality. When I read the articles and reports for the likes of American Sniper, I see no tightened security measures. Only the records they've broken at the box office. Of course, there's the political fallout, but no pre-emptive action taken. Looking at the articles that surrounded that movie, it's safe to say that a lot of fans of that movie seemed to enjoy guns.

Of course not every gun carrier in America is a troubled, unhinged person. And not every fan of of films with gun violence is going to start popping off like it's the 4th of July. That's a spiteful generalisation. Yet I can only be frustrated when looking at the likes of James Holmes, whose violent attack on a cinema in Colorado was quickly pinned upon similar nihilistic leanings of the Joker from The Dark Knight. A crime which sparked a rise in gun purchases along with security tightening afterwards. You can also look at the crime of Curtis Reeves; a retired policeman who deemed it fine to shoot and kill a man for texting in a cinema. The tragedy of the Lafayette shootings is still fresh and occurred during a screening of the romantic comedy Trainwreck. All these incidents are always considered as random as they are upsetting, yet often with them, dark, troubling reasons rise to the surface. Issues which no one seems to be truly aware of until it's too late. Yet when it comes to something like Straight Outta Compton, everyone appears to be all too sure of violence erupting.

This isn't to say that violence couldn't happen. Even looking from the outside in, tensions do appear to be running exceedingly high and I hope that no one does something to justify the already, clearly high suspicions. But here we are, looking at a carefully worded statement of heightened security over an "urban" film (sigh) which looks ready to do well at the box office. This to me speaks volumes. I do not wish to belittle the large and complex issues that a beautiful country (and it is beautiful) carries on it's shoulders.  But wouldn’t it be nice if people weren’t so automatically certain in their conformation of black violence as they are uncertain about the actions of white lone wolves?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

EPISODE 33 - Ant-Man, The Gallows, Self/Less - 25.7.15

itunes pic
Emma Platt hosts and is joined this week by Chris Byrne to discuss the UK Box Office Top Ten, along with... ...digesting this weeks NEWS, dissecting new trailers for SUICIDE SQUAD, BATMAN vs SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE & FANTASTIC FOUR... Chris leads discussion on found footage horror THE GALLOWS, plus Tarsem Singh's new sci-fi piece SELF/LESS, both slipping through under the wings of... ANT-MAN, which Emma leads analysis on - find out why she and Chris were satisfied but not overwhelmed by Marvel's latest origin story... ...before finally Emma brings us DEAD MEAT: THE FINAL GIRL, an enlightening discussion on the 'Final Girl' theory in horror - is it time for a new kind of Final Girl? Join us for our final podcast until September...

from Black Hole Cinema

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Review: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

Year: 2014
Director: David Gregory
Starring: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Hugh Dickson, Oli Dickson, Robert Shaye, Marco Hofschneider

Comparisons to Lost Soul, which details the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau, could easily be made to like football club Fulham FC’s recent history. What looks to be a decent project on paper slides descends too rapidly into relative obscurity after being abused with a multitude of poor decisions. At one point, both film and football team as a maniacal but proven manager take over, yet his old school ways do little to stop what is now a situation in free fall. Suddenly oblivion.

From a technical standpoint, Lost Soul says very little. It’s a standard T.V budget documentary with the usual set up of talking heads and archival footage. Nothing is too out of the ordinary. But the story. Oh, how the narrative unravels. The most fascinating things about documentaries about films that fall apart, is how they fall apart. Despite being made, The Island of Dr Moreau is almost like a group of people looking to purposely build a dilapidated household to live in. The worse thing is, we see the cracks appearing from the off.

The film sells Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) as a once up and coming genre director, whose brush with Hollywood left him burnt. The film sets up a lot of time in displaying Stanley’s intelligence and eccentricities. It’s quick to make Stanley out as an unfortunate, yet likable soul who is nastily shoved out of his own mind bending creation. Despite this, the films set up belies not only the frustrations and anxieties of a studio, but also the difficult balance between art and commerce.

For sure New Line President Robert Shaye is a tad wrong to lump assumptions of Stanley’s love for sugary coffee as a warning sign for trouble ahead (has he not considered Hollywood’s illegal drug problems?). But it’s clear for all to see that Stanley’s outrageously creative ambitions would pose a difficult issue, once New Line actually saw an avenue for decent business. Seriously,  the concept art features a human-dog hybrid licking afterbirth from a genetically mutated human/animal baby. We’ve only now just got around to the idea of a Human Centipede and that’s clearly pretty niche.

Such documentaries become illuminating in the same way as soaps and reality TV. It’s easy to become engrossed in the gossip. And why not. Val Kilmar (at the peak of his stardom) is likened to a preppy high school bully. Fairuza Balk sets upon cross country trip away from production once she finds out about how Stanley is being treated. The reasoning for the trip being cross country? Her lack of geographical knowledge of Australia. We have Brando taking the art of trolling a production to Jupitar sized proportions. The piece de resistance? Well, just because Stanley was fired from production, doesn’t mean he left.

In watching Lost Soul, you realise just how plain some of our filmmakers come across now. The PR stranglehold over productions makes films like this a certain succulence. It’s clear to see that mavericks like Stanley (interest in witchcraft aside) are often considered best avoided by Hollywood. A quick look at the Marvel production line right now, highlights just how much a studio wants their creatives to toe the line (I write this on Ant-man’s opening weekend).

But when an eccentric slips through the ropes, and an inmate gets a chance to take over the asylum, it’s easy to see how they can become lost in a world where power plays and bottom lines become everything and your enemies may be the guys smiling for the camera. Stanley shows throughout that his creativity is in abundance, but his personality is one that simply doesn’t meld with the playboys of LA. Unlike Terry Gilliam, Stanley doesn’t show himself to be a director who wishes to defeat extreme weather.   

What Stanley does give us, though, is an unbelievably rich texture to a deeply unfortunate hot mess.  Unlike Troy Duffy’s aggressive bluster in Overnight (2003), Richard Stanley’s offbeat wit and creative prowess only makes one wish that he was able to stay in the game longer to see what he could have come up with. Sweet tooth or no.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

Review: Creep

Year: 2014 (UK Release: 2015)
Director: Patrick Brice
Screenplay: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Synopsis is here:

The most terrifying thing about Creep is not only how it melds horror tropes into elements that feel way too plausible for their own good. It's the revealing way that it uses masculinity and empathy to its own twisted ends. The film doesn't just find a simple way around its found footage aesthetic, but also crafts a chilling narrative around some of the worse male traits. It's difficult to say more without effectively dismantling the film. It is safe to say that Creep manages to bottle some of those queasy, deceptively aggressive traits that often infiltrate young men.

The first young man; cash strapped, videographer, Arron (Brice), decides to take a Craiglist ad and work for Joesef (Duplass), who wishes to be filmed in a series of videos for his unborn son as his dying wish a la My Life (1993). Simple enough. But Joesef comes off as a little off key and not just in the unconventional spelling of his name. Odd events start off slowly, but as the day goes on, the unease builds. What’s strange is that as odd as Josepf gets, Arron keeps filming. Yes, he’s getting paid handsomely, but there seems to be more to it than that. Is there a connection? If so, do either wish to delve further into the dark?

The impulsive and imbalanced feelings of companionship is something that Mark Duplass has been familiar with since his early mumblecore days (The Puffy Chair, Baghead). Yet here he mixes in that same sense of unease that came with Black Rock (which he co-wrote). A tension which hides behind the somewhat familiar.

Strangely, here with Creep, Duplass feels similar to the likes of Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. Whereas Sandler subverts his man child aspects, Duplass toys with his outward charming persona to somewhat sinister effect. From the particular wording that his character uses, to the dead eyed gaze that he pulls off a tad too easily. This is all wrapped in his hey buddy charm. Much like someone chipped away at the last bits of decent at his Everyman role from his character in sitcom The League. Despite that character being a douchebag to his friends, at least you'd feel comfortable with him taking a whiskey. Brice gives us the weaker performance, but his simple direction of the narrative combined with Duplass’ oddness helps distract from the film's largest flaw.

The final moments are as compelling as they are terrifying. As the film comments on something that feels closer to home as the earth grows smaller and angrier. It questions our empathy. It's an ending that feels OTT and unbelievable at first, but grows the more it is considered. A character asks a question that an audience member is likely to ask. But the answer to the question and the power of Creep lies much in same reason why all the coverage needs to be shot. We believe we're going to get something good out of this. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Review: Ted 2

Year: 2015
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring:  Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, John Slattery, Jessica Barth, Morgan Freeman

Synopsis is here

This potent independent article helped gather some thoughts on Ted 2, the intermittently funny, yet still unnecessary sequel to Seth MacFarlane 2012 hit. Seth wants to have his cake and eat it. Ted plays fast and loose with jokes about black cocks and white niggas and yet the film gives pays little lip service to black people. Yet ted 2 is a film which is about civil rightsto a point. Really Seth wants to be able to make crummy race jokes while still giving the wink that he's a card carrying liberal. Ted the CGI bear wishes to be considered a human and have his surname called Clubberlang. Here, however, you could say he comes off more as an Archie Bungle.

These days any flaw or dislike in a un-P.C piece of media, instantly considers the viewer as over sensitive. You can't have class if you don't like crass. But despite a favourable view of the previous entry and an admirer of MacFarlane’s animated work, my disinterest in Ted 2 is more down to the fact that that Ted 2’s humour feels thinly spread this time round. Gags feel well-worn and lacking in any type of growth. Much like The Hangover franchise. Ted 2 never feels like the shot in the arm that the first entry gave. It feels like a stale re-tread.

It's no surprise that American Dad has grown from strength to strength out of all Seth’s creations. As it favours less of the oblique randomness that litters Family Guy and Ted. In both Ted 2 and his previous film A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), Seth has pushed even further towards random non sequiturs with none of the Monty Python flair.

But even Family Guy gains more favour due to its ability to lean on its animation. It shouldn’t be said, but the series can have more fun because it’s a cartoon. It’s become more apparent that MacFarlane has a style that he wishes to stick with. This was fine when Ted was viewed as a one shot. A random series of connected vignettes tied by character and crassness. However, this second time round delivers Ted has less of a rouge and more of an asshole. The jokes that miss are, once again, even more targeted to those with a working knowledge of current American pop culture that’s off the beaten track. This mostly leaves Ted making dick jokes, but lacking with the fairy tale element which caused much of the amusement from before. In addition to this, Wahlberg has less to do. Seyfried is coasting in a drab role and while MacFarlane still doesn’t get enough praise for his vocal ability, Ted is far less lovable this time round. Once the first film became a hit, you can see what little earnestness there was, leave Ted and anything connected to it due to money.

It’s a damn shame that Ted opens with hilariously silly MGM musical-lite titles. It reminds you of how much of a song and dance man MacFarlane can be alone with his love for older Hollywood. There’s clearly some comedic gems to mine there. Yet once the film gets to comic con and makes Star Wars gags (another MacFarlane trait), it’s clear that geeky callback culture currently rules all, and MacFarlane only goes balls out with the easy dick, race and gender jokes, but isn’t interested in skewing things any further. Ted 2 finishes up like the results of what you’d get from an easy bake oven. You’re able to digest it, but you’ll probably need something to wash it down with before forgetting you even had it. A sticky mess.