Saturday 19 December 2015

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Year: 2015
Director: JJ Abrams
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow.

Synopsis is here:

This is going to be a difficult one to start. So I’ll go with the large revelation first. I’m not a Star Wars fan. I admire their technical prowess. I respect their position they hold within mainstream cinema. To a point. However, as a film goer who did not watch these films at a young, impressionable age, I do not hold Lucas’ space opera as the benchmark for nearly all cinema. Watching the hype of The Force Awakens take hold of my social media feeds, general media feeds and my workplace was more irritating than encouraging. I now have more understanding of how non-football fans feel during every World Cup.

My dismissive views of the saga will feel, to some, that I shouldn’t review the most anticipated film of the year, nee decade (Revenge of the Sith was 2005). I myself find it annoying that in order to be part of popular cultural conversation, I must now binge on T.V show seasons within a day, have general knowledge of Kim Kadashian’s movements and hold a view on Star Wars. A view that if not perversely uncritical and overwhelmingly positive, then death threats are abound.

It’s safe to say I went into my Saturday morning screening with a sense of trepidation. I dread to think how JJ Abrams must have felt with the pressure to deliver a film which must be considered as perfect to many people. Especially with the sour taste of Lucas’ over digitalised prequels.
I may not hold Star Wars as the cinematic standard and you won’t find me hastily slapping The Force Awakens on any end of year lists. I will say, however, that JJ Abrams has delivered an enjoyable, progressive and light entertainment.

There’s a lot of pleasure to be taken from The Force Awakens, mostly because Abrams keeps hold of many of the things that Star Wars’ does well. The impressive world building, the strong sense of scale and scope and some truly wondrous visuals. This is combined with an eclectic and spirited cast who sell film’s emotional beats and crummy expositional dialogue with aplomb.

The eye candy and characters do well to cover up the fact that plot wise, the film hasn’t too much to say. Abrams may have been wise to keep much of the structure of A New Hope and doesn’t deviate wildly from elements as he did previously with Star Trek (2009). Unfortunately, while the film reminds us of the archetypes and motifs that fans will feel comfortable with, the lack of risk taken leaves us with a narrative that feels a little flat and mildly predictable. The film also has that irritating issue comes with a lot of modern franchises in that, if you have not immersed yourself within the universe, then filling in the dots can feel cumbersome and confounding.

What The Force Awakens misses with a truly engaging story (I did zone out a few times), delivers with the fact that everyone involved gives it their all. There are moments in which Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher appear to age backwards in front of our eyes. It’s certainly clear that Ford feels more comfortable here than he did with those crystal skulls. It’s Abrams’ blooding of the new guard that is the most eye opening. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are both given moments to shine and run with things with the right amount of vigour. Adam Drivers off beat speech rhythms makes him perfect for his role of Kylo Ren. It’s also a performance that’s far more emotive than expected. The same can also be said for Lupita Nyong'o who’s Maz Kanata has a moment that holds the type of gravitas that we’d only expect from the aforementioned Ford and Fisher. As for Oscar Issacs? Well, that guy is just made of charm.

Much like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the cast also highlights the need for progressiveness within the modern blockbuster. The film’s diversity never feels shoehorned and despite the narrative issues, provides fresher perspectives and stronger representation. Ninjas Kanata helps highlight just how tone deaf Jar Jar Binks really was. Meanwhile Boyega and Ridley playing center stage holds the possibility to pay dividends for younger audiences, such is the forward thinking by Abrams.

Indeed, that’s the point with Star Wars. The film will appeal to fans young and old, but its set pieces, colour and toys should delight a new generation of young sci-fi fans. More so than Lucas’ prequels. The drab trade federations and midi-chlorians aren’t found here. Only Millennium Falcon thrills and lightsabre duels. The film’s oddly named characters and planet hopping will unlikely change the minds of more hardened non-fans. However, The Force Awakens kept this non-fan entertained from start to finish. Even if I’d need Wikipedia to remember the character names. I still don't consider myself a Star Wars fan. But consider my viewpoint somewhat softened.


Saturday 5 December 2015

Review: Nurse

Year: 2014 (U.K Release 2015)
Director: Doug Aarniokoski
Screenplay: Doug Aarniokoski, David Loughery
Starring: Paz de la Huerta, Katrina Bowden, Corbin Bleu

Synopsis is here:

“Trash has given us an appetite for art.”
Infamous film critic Pauline Kael was the writer who was smart enough to inform us that “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.”

A part of me disagrees with this. For me, as ignorant as I am to combat Kael when talking about art (I’m still naive enough to believe that great art often lies in the eye of the beholder), there’s a canny kernel of truth that lies in the words of one her most well-known pieces of writing. We must sift through the trash to find the gems. We most search through crap to find a golden “truth”. Or something like that.

Unfortunately, Nurse is bog standard trash. C-movie garbage that strives to be B-movie gold. There’s not much to be found from it. The film looks it has the ingredients to be a piece of cult entertainment, but the elements aren’t stirred right. Its lead actress Paz de la Huerta has sought to sue the filmmakers for loss of earnings due to the film's poor quality. What should we make of that?

Such an act, screams significance. A film like Nurse that wishes to play on the exploitation curve only really needs to highlight de la Huetra’s own. Nurse never fully embraces its trashiness. Its body count and pert bottoms never wink hard enough at the audience. Paz de la Huerta’s should be embracing her inner Eva Green for her role as psychotic necrophiliac; Abby. Instead, she displaces her energies and sleepwalks drearily through scenes with none of the OTT mania that would make her part enjoyable to watch. There’s seems to be a distinct lack of energy in getting the best out of Katrina Bowden, who may not be a go to A-list actress, but has a lot more presence than what is shown here.

None of Nurse feels like the fault of the cast. The apathetic nature of the film seems to come from the source material. Nurse’s weak screenplay never feels subversive. If it did then at least it could make light of the film’s glaring discrepancies. Director Doug Aarniokoski; a veteran of television, does very little work on the pace of the script either. At 84 minutes, Nurse manages to ensure that it’s one of the more laborious chores of cinema I’ve had to watch this year.

With its blood, boob and bums, there may be one or two fans of Nurse who will have differing thoughts about Nurse. I however, found very little to enjoy from its anemic attempts at titillation. There’s little to no diamonds to be found within this bit of rough. It did however manage to get me to watch the film twice, to see if I missed something. Just in case. I guess that’s something.

Review: Carol

Year: 2015
Director Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler 

Synopsis is here:

After watching Carol, I gave myself a day or two to let the film linger.  It’s a film that likes to settle within the recesses of the mind. Its story is deceptively simple at the surface, yet the emotional connections run deep throughout. Much has already been said about the film main relationship between the elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett at her most graceful) and Therese (Rooney Mara captures doe eyed innocence in a bottle). However, director Todd Haynes’ command of the plot and its characters is so robust that I had felt involved with even the secondary characters. There’s a texture in the film that runs deeper than the luxurious fashions on display. 

While conversing with a friend, she mentioned that her mother found such a connection to be lacking. I wonder if this is due to Carol’s sexual orientation. I don’t say this as a negative. Far from it. The beauty of Carol with its subtle glances and sly smiles is just how often it pushes its heterosexual characters to the side. This must be by design. To show that while many within the film may not understand the connections taking place, they are still not things to be judged. Carol isn’t a queer text about gay rights or equality per say, but it does seem to suggest that roses growing out of the concrete needn’t be plucked. A less pretentious (and clearer) interpretation would be to say that this is a struggle for these two individuals rather than a universal one.  

Haynes' depiction of this blossoming relationship and their yearning is dutiful and precise. Once the roots are planted, the branches get tangled with everyone. The ever dependable Kyle Chandler’s heart bleeds as Harge; the heterosexual husband who struggles to grasp this new reality through anger and his own needs. A brief moments from old flame Abby (a wonderfully understated Sarah Paulson) hints not only at understanding, but heartache. Smaller supporting roles also excel. Never sounding like soundboards of a previous era, or knowing totems of this one. Haynes has entertained with this era before for his beautiful melodrama pastiche Far from Heaven (2002), but this seems far from the more broadly drawn and colourful characters from his previous venture. For me, Carol often reminded me of the isolated characters who feature in the painting by Edward Hopper. It’s doubtful that Hopper is an influence, yet Haynes’ direction and blocking of characters along with cinematographer Edward Lachman’s framing, makes nearly every person we meet feel like Hopper’s figures. Almost consumed by the industrial world around them.

It’s no surprise that when the films action shifts from city to country, the characters seem to feel less suffocated by their surroundings and in turn, their societal trappings. Carol’s beauty lies in its small subtleties. Trying on new fragrances. A quiet drive with someone you admire. The small token gesture of a gift, or an admiration of talent. These moments can seem so typical of a romantic drama. However, the softness and slightly alien aspect of an all-female romance within such a bygone era and the shifts of tensions within the relationship dynamics makes Carol stand apart from more universal films of a similar nature. Looking back at the film’s final outcome, the final moments are both heartening and fretful. There’s elements of rejection we ignore due to what we observe on the screen. Even at that moment the film’s closure lays a shade of ambiguity that a more universal romance could perhaps ignore for surface pleasures. I found that the excellence of Carol lies in its ability to sow such seeds. It’s only after leaving the screen did the film’s deeper resonances strike me. For that I am thankful. 

Thursday 5 November 2015

Review: Spectre

Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Synopsis is here:

The returning adventures of Bond are a mixed affair. Hoyte van Hoytema brings across some gorgeous warm visuals. The film’s opening sequence is one of pure spectacle and delivers that Bond style thrills that one would hope for (as does a particular explosion later on). These things and a few other things in Spectre helped distract me from the usual concerns I hold with other Bond films of the past which often involve our favourite drunken misogynist having to navigate tiringly convoluted plots.

Nods to previous alliterations and versions of Bond were understandable in previous films. Die another Day, for instance, was not only celebrating the 40 year anniversary of Bond on film, but was also the 20th official film in the franchise. Coming out two years after the turn of the millennium, with such a self-aware actor as Bond made sense at the time. All in spite the film’s weak execution.
Spectre’s wish to remind viewers of the Connery’s white Tux from Goldfinger (1964), over-elaborate villains’ lairs and Charles Bronson-esque henchmen are cute enough. Yet such elements now seem flimsy. Particularly as Daniel Craig’s stint as Bond has strived hard to incorporate a more modern view of the character, after the franchise found itself looking outmoded in comparison to the likes of Bourne.

The likes of Casino Royale and Goldeneye, melded the modern with tradition, and did so comfortably. However Mendes’ second undertaking of the Bond series, loses much of that dour retrospection that gives Skyfall (amongst much of Craig’s Bond entries) such an intriguing appeal. The film’s secondary plot, involving national surveillance, is actually quite appealing in its relevance. Unfortunately Spectre must make sure that Bond seduces a lady to advance the so called real story. No matter how little chemistry Craig has with Monica Bellucci. Does it matter that the sequences comes off as wildly forced? Or a waste of such a quality actress? Nope, Bond must get his end away at least twice. No matter how laboured it may feel.

Spectre (and perhaps much of the newer Bond’s) still struggles with some of the retrograde trappings of the character. Sometimes when the stars align, it doesn’t matter. Other times such as here, everything feels off. Craig’s performance sounds resigned and tired. We’re left to wonder if that’s the character or the actor coming through. After Craig’s recent comments, it’s hard not to think it’s the latter.

There’s still fun to be had with Spectre. Giving Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) more to do is a nice touch. Despite a well spoilt revelation (due to hunches, marketing hype and weak scripting), Spectre holds an excruciatingly painful torture sequence which works incredibly well in the grand scheme of things. Andrew Scott is a fine addition to the film and while, despite looking a little tired with it all, Craig is still an interesting figure as Bond.

Annoyingly, Spectre’s third act tries quite hard to dismantle the more alluring directions that Bond had been heading in. It's rushed A to B plotting hurriedly accumulates to an inelegant climax, which only frustrates, as it balances on a decision that rings quite false of the character. The toning down of Bond in his more unfavourable traits, may not appeal to everyone, but are understandable. The awkward compromise which goes against one of the key elements of Bond's complex dynamics, is uncomfortable. Even for a causal Bond fan.

Spectre will certainly have its fans, and is far from the worst Bond film ever made. Be that as it may, as the credits roll, it was hard not to think of one of my favourite Radiohead songs. No Surprises.

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Review: Crimson Peak

Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

Synopsis is here

Crimson Peak, Crimson Peak, where the women are strong and the men are weak. Guillermo Del Toro’s English language ode to his Spanish language gothic drama, is an opulent, female driven beast that leans more towards Jane Austin than Ju-on.  

Wonderfully carried by a spirited Mia Wasikowska performance, this gullet slicing melodrama is something that will likely frustrate those who fell for its dubious horror-only marketing guff. The approach from the studios has appeared to be so incorrect, that the director himself had to reinforce his intentions beforehand.

Such is the linear view of movies these days, I wouldn’t be surprised that people went into Crimson Peak expecting The Conjuring. I don’t believe many expected heavy references to the literature such as the likes of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (famously adapted by Hitchcock in 1940 and gloriously highlighted here by a deranged Jessica Chastian performance). Nor do I feel that the so called “average audience” was interested in the lighter references to the likes of Nosferatu (1922) or even the meta winks to English hammer horror (Our lead protagonists surname? Cushing). Touches like this would probably be deemed uninteresting to a crowd looking for Paranormal Activity jumps.

The feverish love for the gothic melodrama, as well as the exquisite visual design, is why this blogger adored much of Crimson Peak. It’s a film which delights itself in the mood, it creates over rigid obedience over narrative. The film gracefully defies logic. The murderous, over-elaborate plot dodges any typical rationale. Meanwhile pure white snow falls delicately over the blood red clay which Allerdale Hall resides on. A grand, decaying, English mansion seemingly miles from anywhere. 

Nowhere in England looks like this. It all feels like something out of a monstrous fairy tale.
This is what Del Toro wants. It is not a film about particulars, unless it involves references to literature. The visuals help pronounce the madness. The cast is dialled to eleven, while the setting provides the psychoanalysis with Allerdale's rotten walls and sickly green lighting. It’s a film that once again highlights Del Toro’s main interest. The monstrous designs that lie within humans and how it corrupts the environment around them.

There’s ghosts and things that go bump in the night within Crimson Peak. However Del Toro’s feature is far more infatuated in those small creepy inklings that tingle the spine, over cheaper shock tactics. It’s a ghost story that is told in the way that only Guillermo can tell them. In bold, broad and intense emotions.

Monday 26 October 2015

The Falling

Year: 2015
Director: Carol Morley
Screenplay: Carol Morley
Starring: Maxine Peake, Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh

Synopsis is here:

Shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) linger within Carol Morley’s wispy mystery The Falling. Nevertheless, this is a compelling piece which finds its own way. It does so with a similar dreamy abstruseness as Peter Weir’s seminal feature, all the while holding a comparable sense of rebellion that made Lindsay Anderson’s If(1968). Although it is not as forcible.

The Falling’s allure stems from its main conceit. In which an epidemic of falling fits occurs throughout a rural Catholic school. Is it a group exploration into grief? A sudden, unified event of mass hysteria? Whatever it may be, the source seems to stem from the troubled Lydia (Maisie Williams), whose admiration and envy of her former best friend; Abbie (Florence Pugh) causes an inner turmoil that becomes difficult to repress.

The Falling is an often gorgeous accumulation of anxiety and sensuality. It doesn’t pull the emotional chords as well as Morley’s heart-breaking 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life. However, Morley’s eye for evocative visuals and dreamy transitions, along with her ability to coax much from the seemingly minor details of trembling hands and teasing looks, creates a palpable and lingering tension out of a strange and beguiling mystery.

Review: Sicario

Year: 2015
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Synopsis is here:

Higgins:No. Absolutely not. We have games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to do.”
-          Three Days of Condor (1975)

Ice Cube: “You get AK’s from Russia and Cocaine from Columbia.”
Eazy E: “And ain’t none of us got a passport! So you might wanna check the source…”
-          Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Sicario plays a behind the scenes of the source Eazy E mentions, by the rules similar to what Higgins implies. Beginning with a tense and explosive siege, the grim revelation that’s found becomes an ominous analogy. Although less Skeleton’s in the closest, more corpses in the plaster wall.

Underground Rapper Immortal Technique could have conceived an album based on the narrative curveballs that Denis Villeneuve’s crime drama spins towards its viewer. It’s a film which not only firmly cements Villeneuve’s recurring theme of personal, insular prisons, but once again highlights that such prisons tickle down from the larger containment. In Villeneuve’s twisted doppelganger humdinger; Enemy (2013), this involved the sticky webbed influence of Spiders. Here in Sicario, we’re asked to pry apart the tenacious strands of the drug trade, which have been weaved between North and South America. 

This tightly wound production falls into a similar camp as A Most Violent Year (2014). The moral structures that our lead character; Kate (A passive, but seething Emily Blunt) begin to deteriorate and crumble to show how much of a fallacy the lines of the law really are.  No one is to be trusted and the long arm of the law is cracked and fractured in several places. We keenly observe this in the opening shots, were swat teams operate a high risk manoeuvres while neighbours take dogs on their afternoon walks. In the lead up to one of Sicario’s more tense sequences, mutilated bodies hang freely under intersection freeways, while locals nonchalantly play squash in the next street. Good? Bad? In the world of Sicario, it just is.

Much is owed to Roger Deakins cinematography. His control of light and shadow is effortless, as is his ability to clarify the imagery to augment the message. Sicario holds wide shots which isolate Blunt’s Kate both outside and inside government structures which she suddenly feels alien to. The Star Spangled Banner gloatingly hovers over or behind her while she argues her case. So much for what she considers as the American way. By the time we get to the third act, which involves locating border tunnels, we’re viewing images in inferred camera Inverting colour into blurred monochrome shades of gray. We are literally in the dark with little awareness of who the villains are, even though the team have gone in as friends.

It’s easy to argue that Sicario comes at a time where the competition doesn’t feel as stiff as previous eras. It’s not a typical period piece or biopic that fares so well during the Oscars. But that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Sicario not only throbs and pulses like it’s near elemental soundtrack. Its brutally precise execution of its themes, sit in the pit of the stomach like a block of ice. Denis Villeneuve confronts the subject with the same dynamic fortitude that makes Sicario stand tall with similar features of its ilk. For this blogger, this is one of the year’s best. 

Sunday 25 October 2015

Review: Results

Year: 2015
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski
Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan

Synopsis is here:

The romcom hasn’t died. It’s just gone indie. It’s also reworked itself somewhat. Results has popped up the on streaming feed and illustrates just why the likes of Netflix have become so valuable for film fans. At its best, Results sometimes brings the type of chuckles that wouldn’t be too out of place of a more typical romantic comedy. Although the film rolls at such a peculiar pace and rhythm that it could never be sold as a Nora Ephron.

Streaming is the best place for a film like this. Its story drapes baggily over the films jagged characters. There’s no Hanks/Ryan relationships here. There is, however, a delightfully screwed up love triangle involving an all too trusting Guy Pierce, a bitterly acerbic Colby Smulders and an unkempt and schlubby Kevin Corrigan.

There’s good chemistry here, along with some nicely awkward gags. All played out in Andrew Bujalski’s strangely untroubled style. His laid back direction hasn’t changed much since his debut feature; Funny Ha, Ha (2002). Here with a larger budget, however, he shows his comfort with his craft. He’s perhaps a tad too at ease with everything. Results’ languid style can make you wonder why a film like this is as long as it is.

Not to complain too much though. Results, like Bujalski’s Computer Chess is fascinated by broken communication and the importance of repair. Before it was personal computers, this time its the physical body. Yet in the foreground, it’s always relationships that slip in between the hobbies that keep Bujalski’s characters up at night.  

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Review: Macbeth

Year: 2015
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenplay: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis

Synopsis is here:

Note: Spoilers are featured, but I’d be slightly worried if you don’t know the story.

Despite his status as the world’s greatest playwright, for many, the name William Shakespeare only provides recollections of dog eared worn school books. Possibly with drab, seemingly never ending lessons. Will is the most important English writer, but how he’s taught can often be a dour experience.

Enter Snowtown director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, which could possibly revive those half-forgotten memories of lost afternoons buried in reference books. This adaptation isn’t by no way horrible to look at. Its lavish cinematography is light years ahead of the Shakespeare animated tales that this blogger had to watch. Despite this, through the gloomy mist and ground muddied by split blood and sweat, Kurzel’s Macbeth is a peculiarly subdued adaptation.

The beauty of cinematic adaptation, fanboys be damned, is what another pair of hands can do to mold the clay. Here Kurzel works with what he’s known for: getting down with the dirt. Much like Snowtown, you can feel the grit under the nails of everyone involved. The secondary actors, who speak with genuine Scottish accents are distracting at times, but only due to the nature of how often Shakespeare is displayed to us. Such naturalistic tones along with the simple set design and Barry Lyndon style low lighting, keeps the atmosphere of the piece as rough as it can be.

In terms of aesthetic This is a rugged and raw Macbeth, which can clearly be seen from the cast that’s been picked. The likes of Paddy Considine and Sean Harris are actors that can convey the kind coarseness that Kurzel is clearly aiming for. The main players of Michael Fassbender and the wide eyed Marion Cotillard are also game. Capturing the desperation and guilt of the Macbeth couple as they grasp for power and disintegrate because of it. Fassbender seemed to have been made for such a role. After the execution of his gutless deed, we witness a dogged Macbeth lie next to the murdered King in a moment of anxiety and foreboding. It’s a slight moment, but one that exposes the inverted vulnerability that Fassbender could do in his sleep.

Through the sweat and dirt, however, there’s a lack of urgency through most of the piece. There’s much to try and take from Macbeth. From its operatic opening sequences to slow motion battle sections. The film’s score is one that howls and squeals like the Highland winds. Add to this the dramatic performances and it’s seems to be a relatively solid adaptation.

Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be anything to full grip on to. This Macbeth is a subdued and slippery beast. It almost feels as it is covered in the same claret that coats Macbeth’s treacherous hands. It gives us little else than a simple telling of the tale.

This is where the beauty of adaptation comes in. You can give us something else. This Macbeth is released at a time where many feel our leaders feel more disingenuous than ever before. Meanwhile, our media douse us with a type of paranoia that previous dictators would happily pay for. Yet, Kurzel and the three screenwriters only really muddy the aesthetic. This is an adaptation that may not wish to be tainted with anything that may date it within the era it was made. However, apart from hushed renditions of some of the bard’s most recognised soliloquys and Macbeth’s madness being observed as a type of PTSD, we’re given little complexity or definition.

The beauty of Shakespeare isn't just in the words (although Fassbender and Cotillard have an eloquent command of the dialogue) but in what else you can bring to the adaptation. The source is strong and always will be, but in the end Macbeth feels as airy and tenuous as the three witches who haunt Macbeth’s dreams and battlefields.

Review: The Martian

Year: 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Synopsis is here:

There is a solid argument which considers that The Martian is a safe film. A film that answers that leaves no frayed ends. Any questions asked, are quickly answered. It’s a film with no typical conflict. Yet when Ridley Scott leaves things open ended (Prometheus) or delivers a dangerous, uncompromising feature (The Counsellor) the filmmaker is quickly disregarded. The Martian almost plays out less like a resigned “I give up” and more like a brash “fuck you” to naysayers. If it’s a safe movie you want (and the expansion of all franchises ever claim you do), then Mr Scott is going to provide the most polished “safe” movie he can provide.

For a film which holds a running time that’s safely over two hours, Scott’s ode to progressive humanity briskly moves with an unexpected swiftness. Quickly landing us within the films predicament, The Martian shows what an entertaining craftsman Scott can be. The Martian finds itself in similar territory to Unstoppable (2010), directed by Ridley’s late brother Tony. The world and set up are quickly established so the film can get on to what it really wants to talk about: Human co-operation.

Much like Unstoppable, The Martian doesn’t really have much in the way of conflict. Unlike Alien (1979), this isn’t about petty hostility paving the way for larger animosity. The Martian actually invests its time in showing human capabilities. It mines enjoyment from intelligent people doing smart and considered things.Matt Damon’s everyman likability help provide a solid foundation to the proceedings. Damon’s Mark Watney, the unfortunate interplanetary castaway, never feels like an empty audience vessel, nor does his ability to his way through particular circumstances feel like a cheat. Much of this is down to Drew Goodard spry script, along with Ridley’s direction. The heavier moments (budget talk, the science, and the media circus) never feel heavy. The film plays with the right sense of broadness in mind.

As The Martian expands, so too does the involvement of the film’s ample cast. Scott, who went under fire for his casting choices and comments on Exodus: Gods and Kings, now delivers a diverse and multi-cultural cast which spans from America through to China. Of course, there’s still complaints of the film whitewashing certain characters based on assumptions. This is also in spite of the author not being explicit with the character representation. Due to the film doing much to invest in a diverse cast, such criticisms should really fall to the wayside. It should be said, however, that a few of the films female characters seem to lack a sense of agency and felt more like a collection of reaction shots than fully fleshed out characters. Yet it’s still important to see everyone with a particular role to play, and The Martian endeavours to highlight this in the film's politics.

Such an argument is clearly observed with the role of Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. One can debate that Glover’s role is small and collection of clichés. But we must also contend with the fact that Purnell’s role within the plot is not only pivotal but could possibly hold one of the most inspirational representation of Afro-Americans in 2015. The role of Purnell is a microcosm of the Watney’s situation as well as the film’s theme: No matter how small, you hold an importance. We hold an importance.

The Martian seems influenced from not only lesser known sci-fi such as Silent Running (1972) and Moon (2009) but also more populist features such as Interstellar (2014) as well as Scott’s own Alien (1979) and Prometheus (2013). Damon has also mentioned that the likes of Touching the Void (2003) is an inspiration.  It’s a testament to Scott’s craft on just how well he melds these elements into such a crowd pleasing compound. The Martian’s ability to make its humour, science and stakes so palatable and balanced is amongst its best features. But add to that the film’s gorgeous visuals, dynamic set pieces and dependable performances and the result is one of the most enjoyable mainstream productions of the year. Safe? Perhaps, but The Martian is a blockbuster that is willing to highlight bravery and smarts over superpowers and preordained destiny as heroic. In the current environment, it actually feels quite daring.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

EPISODE 34 - Legend, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials - 16.9.15

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Tony Black hosts once again and this week is joined by Leslie Byron Pitt and, making his podcast and Black Hole Cinema debut, Kane Richards. They chow down on the latest NEWS, including Sam Smith belting out the latest Bond theme, the new Hardcore trailer & the upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla recently announced, before getting into the films of the day... LEGEND, the new Tom Hardy starring biopic of the Kray brothers, which Les & Kane get into... We take a joint look at both the UK *and* US Box Office, to see how they compare... Then we move on to MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS, the latest young adult adaptation sequel, and Tony explains why it fails to match the first... Before we take a more in depth look at Tom Hardy's career in our ACTOR SPOTLIGHT section, discussing his highs and lows... Hope that you join us for the ride!

from Black Hole Cinema

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Review: Legend

Year: 2015
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Duffy, Christopher Ecclestone, Chazz Palminteri

Synopsis is here

Emily Browning has recently spoken out about the discrepancy in women's roles in comparison to Mens. The actress rightly questions why we see so many flat female characters who don't "act like human beings" and has called for female roles with greater autonomy and there's many out there who would wholeheartedly agree. However, in watching Browning's one note portrayal of Frances Shea; tragic wife of Reggie Kray, in Legend, one may have to search elsewhere for the thorough portrayals that the actress yearns for.

It's easy to slight Browning's performance. From the dubious cockney accent to the horridly dry narration that flutters in and out of the film, but it's not the actress's fault, although she has been better. There's a feeling that the material has left her out to dry somewhat. Browning may be riling against the vapid "hot babe" model that we witness constantly in films, but her performance has Frances never really shifts a gear. She looks glamourous when she has to be, and distressed when she doesn't have to look good. Browning narrates the film in order for the audience to see it from her point of view. However the screenplay by writer/director Brian Helgeland is a rather sour piece that's more interested in informing us rather than feeling anything. Constantly the film will joylessly tell us what's on screen rather than allowing the audience to infer for themselves via the camera or performances. It jars with the films already bumpy rhythms. Instead of seeing Browning emote fully, the voice over is quick to tell us how to feel. 

Browning, as well as much of the top quality cast, is pushed to the edges by a dominating Tom Hardy, who holds dual roles as both the infamous Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie. This is a showcase for the charismatic actor who takes what could have been a cheap gimmick (it uses some Social Network style image trickery) and puts forth two remarkable displays. Reggie has the cocksure swagger, while Ronnie is clouded by intense paranoia. The beauty of Hardy's performances are in the small details and differences. Even the poise and murmurs from either brother is vastly different. In terms of performance it always feels like you're watching two different people. 

Mentioning Tom Hardy's superlative displays, only makes the rest of the film pale even more in comparison. Minus Hardy, and Legend is a rather listless affair. Much like how the brothers hid their brutal crimes around a veneer of celebrity, the film does a great job of hiding a lot of the nastiness that ensued. Legend enjoys claiming that it's coming from the eyes of those who knew the brothers, but the film often seems so preoccupied with infusing a Goodfellas-lite charm to the brothers, that it forgets just how well the best gangster films balance the ugliness with the romance. Helgeland clearly has certain cinematic influences on his mind in his visualisation of this, and the film holds enough humour and brutality that may appease casual gangster fans. However, for the most part, Legend is over egged, overlong and lacks the kind of energy that would make it stand out in a line up.   

Review: Inside Out

Review: Inside Out
Year: 2015
Director: Peter Docter
Screenplay: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Synopsis is here:

It’s easy to say that Inside Out is a return to form for Pixar, who have “struggled” with their recent output. Yet even the studio’s weaker efforts are of a higher standard than regular mainstream Hollywood output. Despite the amount of distain critics gave the likes of Brave (2012), it’s still a film with stronger storytelling and jokes than say, Let’s be Cops (2014). It’s more mature too.
However, this latest entry into the Pixar chronicles, certainly deserves to be in the upper echelons of their hall of fame. It’s a movie that shows that once again, when Pixar land upon the right concept that fits their own particular brand of emotional storytelling, they really hit the mark.

The likes of Wall-E (2008) took their characters into the far reaches of outer space. Now we approach inner space as we navigate the universe of the human body. Not just any human body, but that of an 11 year old girl. Inside Out is set in the mind of Riley, who has just been informed by her parents that they will be moving from the Midwest to San Francisco. Her emotions - Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear - who control and shape Riley soon find themselves in an inner conflict as they try re-examine and manoeuvre around the new and dramatic changes that are occurring around them.

What makes this premier Pixar is the sharpness of execution. The concepts that the film are placing forth are deceptively complex when we place them in consideration, yet Pete Docter’s film delicately implements the profundity of human emotions and not only makes the idea digestible to the young, but palatable to adults in a way that is never condescending, and always relatable. It does this during an era in which larger studio films seem to be petrified to even attempt at what Inside Out is trying to do. The film’s main message, which debates and succeeds in explaining why emotion is needed, is not only thoughtful, but suddenly necessary when we consider how our cinematic culture is troublingly stumbling around the human condition. Negative reactions towards Inside Out have stated that the film is depressing, as if only half of the film's message has been taken on board.

Amusingly to complain that the film isn’t as overly optimistic as some would like, only details how this era of cinematic universes, alternate timelines and forced happy endings with non-subtle hints of continuation, have effected audiences. That Inside Out raises the notion of sadness being one of the things we need in order to grow, puts a lot of the current franchises to shame. Mostly as their arrested development and commercial duties. Refrain from the idea of anything negative really happening to the protagonists, even if they have to save the world.

The honesty which lies in Inside Out points the film out as one of the most mature mainstream films of the year. This is not to say that mainstream cinema hasn’t been enjoyable, it certainly has been. However, it’s feeling like fewer have really asked the audience to consider themselves in the same way as Pixar’s does. The films smartness is subtle. Observe the moments when we leap into the minds of other characters and see who leads the charge in each. Joy is the head honcho in Riley’s head. We move across to her father’s head and we see that it’s Anger that rules the roost. A factor the quietly coincides with the outer framing of the film (the house move has not been smooth). Notice the sophistication that takes place when the emotions fight over controls and curation of “core memories” and how the outcome of Joy and Sadness’ adventure alters them.

The amount of the thought that’s placed into sight gags is equally as striking. A blink and you miss it joke about thoughts and opinions jumbled becoming jumbled, isn’t just a quick witted moment of jest, but a frank commentary on our times, when we notice how the media now works. The idea of an irritating earworm is amusing on the surface, yet it reaches a deeper level when you notice that one particular emotion ALWAYS triggers the process. That’s no accident. Neither is the observing the shift of dynamics when Joy and Sadness are no longer in control. It’s a film tackling how different emotions alter perception, all under the guise of family fun.

This is what Pixar does best. Within such a hefty concept they never forget to construct relationships and emotions in a way that other filmmakers seem uninterested in pursuing. Whether the power of commerce may refrain others from really letting loose, I do not know. But it says a lot that it’s a Disney Pixar movie I’ll need to go to in order to watch a film happily reference Avant grade art in a realm of abstract thought.

The animation isn’t the most rousing of Pixar’s work, while Amy Poehler’s spunky and sprightly performance will only truly feel like inspired casting for those who know nothing of her past works, yet Inside Out still provides deeply absorbing, high quality entertainment from start to finish. Whether your favourite moment involves the wonderfully cast Phyllis Smith as the films MVP; Sadness, Anger’s (Lewis Black) hilarious outbursts or even saying goodbye to the youthful parts of your imagination, Pixar once again flex their muscles and distil the intricate and poignant into delightful mainstream enjoyment. That they do so with seemingly such ease makes you wonder just what the guys making so-called adult films are doing.

*Note: I wonder if the film at any point reminded anybody of the French/Japanesse Edutainment Cartoon; Once Upon a Time...Life? It was the first thing the sprang to mind when watching the film.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Review: Straight Outta Compton

Year: 2015
Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Starring:O'Shea Jackson, Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

Synopsis is here:

Telegraph Film Critic Robbie Collins; amusingly tweeted the environment of the press screening of Straight Outta Compton in which critics were treated to Eggs Benedict (seriously). A later tweet hilariously likened the screening audience to Seinfield's apartment; very white bread. It’s easy to dread to think about what views were flying around. Often when heading to some screenings I gain a sense of faux progression. It’s hard to shake off the sneaking suspicion that everyone is going to clutch on to their valuables if I sit too close to them. I mean, let’s be fair, I'm usually wearing a hoodie.

Such things are of invested importance when watching a film like Straight Outta Compton, which, while holds a closer relationship with the glossy, Sean "Puffy" Coombes produced biopic Notorious (2009), actually holds underpinnings of John Singleton's Boyz in da Hood (1991). The Ice Cube and West Coast connection are certainly not the only elements that bind those films.

A muscular and accomplished piece of storytelling, F Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton explodes right out of the blocks with the kind of drug dealing sequence that wouldn't feel out of sorts if placed in the Hughes Brothers' debut Menace 2 Society (1993). What follows afterwards is a sprawling, textured history of one of the most influential bands of the genre of hip-hop; N.W.A. Compton follows the tropes of a typical rock biopic in terms of structure, but the weight and the relevant tone of its subjects elevate the film to a particular level. This cinematic rendering of one of rap's biggest super groups has been considered the "Black Avengers". This is a strange term which tries to mould the film within recent comic book adaptations. Such a description comes off more like a trendy term trying to attach a certain type of relevance, although the film often captures the fantastic aspects of the group's meteoric rise from underprivileged and oppressed youths to millionaire rap stars.

This is a rap version of the rock bio that plays out in board strokes with its producers (who are also the subjects of the film) are clearly mythologizing themselves in a light which draws them into a far more sensitive light. However, it's important to realise what the film's intentions are. Much has been said about the exclusion of the Dee Barnes' violent altercation with Dr Dre from the film, which was originally scripted. In fact the films entire reading of women is best described as "problematic".  In this film of young, flawed, disfranchised black male youths, the treatment of women within the frame is discouraging. Representation ranges from objectionable to confounding. Some sequences put the antics and debauchery of Entourage to shame. Meanwhile, long-term relationships with girlfriends/wives seemingly appear from nowhere, before being relegated to the background.

Yet while many of these criticisms should not be dismissed, the essence of the text must remain. While SOC depictions of women are insensitive, they could also be a strong observational representation of a group of angry, naive yet talented individuals. Condoning the actions is of course incorrect, but while it's reassessment of topical themes are important (we are looking at an 80's/90's story with 2015 eyes), the idea of reshaping elements to allow kinder gender politics may feel disingenuous here. Particularly to a rap group whose lyrics towards women were outwardly aggressive. That said, Compton does drop the ball somewhat by over smoothing the flaws of its protagonists to such a point that it lessens the complexities of the real life counterparts. Especially when we place Gray's position with the group during the time in which the NWA was active.  Easy E's promiscuous activities and Dr Dre's hostility towards women are only briefly glimpsed, if shown at all. Even in glossy biopics like Ray (2004) and Get on Up (2014) highlight the fractured relationships towards women that occurred, configuring their respective artists into tragic, flawed geniuses.

We must be reminded however that Straight Outta Compton is still a triumph of black male representation. This is an inversion of the brutal and fictionalised realities displayed by John Singleton and The Hughes Brothers. Updated with hopeful inflections and framed for audiences more interested in Hip-Hop than old style RnB/soul/funk. This is not only because the many subjects are still alive and still hold a level of relevancy and popularity, but also due to the film highlighting pathways that were only just hinted in the 90's and near dismissed within the universes displayed in the fictional urban movies of the past. Could we image poor, black L.A youths becoming billionaires? The fact is stranger than fiction, and the fiction needed to stay grounded.

From a directional point of view, this is Gray's boldest film, working closely with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and providing striking and kinetic imagery to the story. Visually, the sheer scope of this film is impressive. The infamous "Bye Felica" sequence, which details the wild touring antics of the NWA, while controversial at its heart, holds choreography rarely even considered for a biopic such as this, let alone conceived. Libatique's usage of the 2.35: 1 ratio not only enhances the sheer scale of the concerts and the groups influence, but also help display the magnitude of the Watts riots the infiltrates the films second half. While the riots themselves only come across as a surface level framework for the film, it highlights the ambition that Gray is trying to achieve. Whereas Notorious remains focused on the subject of Biggie Smalls, Straight Outta Compton tries hard to place the group within a larger context. With the film reaching to pinpoint the growing tensions that still remain and still polarize America.

Credit must go to Grey's eye for detail, stemming from Eazy E receiving his shoelaces back from the cops after being arrested, to the diegetic music changes which occur after 1993. The subtle shift across states, may mean nothing to those not interested in hip-hop, but remind fans of the changing tones which happened at the time. There's also textual richness in casting which is highly notable, with many of the cast (both leading and support) being exceptional in not only their looks, but their mannerisms. This is the first time that the three leads have been given a chance to head up a production and all three are allowed to let their charisma flourish. Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr are the two standouts. Mitchell provides a depth to Eazy E's persona which allows the character to be more than just a pair of sunglasses and a high pitched rap voice. O'Shea's look and demeanor are so much like his fathers (Ice Cube), it's uncanny. Corey Hawkins is the weakest of the trio, but this isn't down to talent, but down to character. Hawkins' Dre is the most passive of the protagonists, which once again speaks towards what may have been left on the cutting room floor or script stage.

As mentioned by Scott Mendleson, Straight Outta Compton is the most unsurprising surprise hit of the year. Take away the fact that this is a story of a platinum selling music group, whose members have diversified into other arenas. Forget about the influence of the genre of music. Compton uses the tropes of the musical biopic and uses them exceedingly well. The fact that it continued to remain in its number one spot at the box office after the opening weekend, proudly shows its strong of word of mouth. Compton doesn't just raise the bar for the Rap biopic; it highlights just how universal and populist hip-hop stories can be. Hopefully its success may help stick a pin in the "urban movies for urban people" myth. What makes Compton illuminating isn't just the energy of its soundtrack or the knowing cameos, it's that the film takes hold of its story and tells it as boldly as it can. Something that critics of middle England and hoodie wearing rap fans like myself, can all agree, needs to be done when it comes to the movies.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

SUMMER 2015 SPECIAL - Inside Out, Maggie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Pixels, Fantastic Four, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Absolutely Anything, Trainwreck, Paper Towns, Hitman: Agent 47 - 9.9.15

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In our first podcast since July, Tony hosts and is joined by co-hosts Emma Platt & Dan Taylor to catch up on what we've missed over the summer blockbuster season.... We hash through successes such as Pixar's latest INSIDE OUT, the fifth impossible mission ROGUE NATION and slick spy fun THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E... ...while we also dissect the failures including controversial superhero flick FANTASTIC FOUR, misfire retro adventure PIXELS and video game reboot HITMAN: AGENT 47... we examine the middle ground, comedies such as ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING and the controversial TRAINWRECK (which gets Emma *very* angry), not to mention the less inspiring PAPER TOWNS. Also we discuss our favourite movies of the year so far, consider what we're looking forward to in the run up to the New Year, before taking a glance at the UK Box Office Top Ten after an expensive summer... Join us as we launch back into a packed, exciting Autumn of cinema...

from Black Hole Cinema

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

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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.