Friday, 29 September 2017

Get Out
Dir: Jordan Peele
2017
*****
Get Out is one of those clever films that tell you everything you need to know, but you will only realise hours, maybe days later what it all means. Not one line or any scene is wasted, absolutely everything said by the characters is referenced at one time or another during the film and everything has some sort of meaning behind it. Much of the film’s symbolism is obvious, but it is the little details that make it special. Debut film director Jordan Peele was influenced initially by a line from Eddie Murphy’s infamous 1983 stand up film Eddie Murphy: Delirious where he takes about certain horror films like Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror and asks why the white characters don’t just leave when it is obvious that there is a ghost in the house. Murphy joked that if he was in a house with his wife and a ghost whispered ‘Get Out’ he would say ‘Too bad we can’t stay baby’ and run the hell out. 2017’s Get Out isn’t a supernatural film however, but it shares similar ‘haunted house’ and general horror themes. It’s also about something far scarier than ghosts, zombies, vampires and what have you, it’s about a very real monster: racism. Get Out is clearly influenced by The Stepford Wives and the original Night of the Living Dead in that it is very close to satire and it uses a fantastical scenario to explore a much deeper meaning. While it is satire, it is satire in its purist form, not outwardly funny but sly and deeply cutting. There are moments where the film goes pretty over the top, and it becomes a more recognisable comedy/horror, where it had mostly been creepy thriller. On paper this shouldn’t have worked but somehow it does and is refreshing even. The ending of the film changed dramatically from Peele’s original draft. The conclusion was to be striking and was to make more of a statement, however, because of the political climate at the time of release, Peele decided that many of the themes explored were being discussed heavily at the time and people deserved something different and little bit more upbeat. I think it was a good choice. On one hand you could say that he got lucky that his film was released at a time of great racial tension in America, but on the other you could say that he made it at a time when it was needed most. Sometimes the most important messages get through when they’re not spelled out but delivered a form of art or entertainment. One of the film’s greatest strengths is in the portrayal of the villains. The villains in the scenario are a cross section of society, and anyone, whether they be liberal or conservative, who has a problem with the way any party is represented in the film, is really part of the problem and indeed who the film is really about. It’s a pretty powerful piece when you break it down. The film is a fantasy sci-fi horror in many respects, and that might put people off (it shouldn’t) but if fear of the Atom bomb can be made into a disaster film featuring a giant Lizard, then I don’t see why Look Whose Coming to Dinner can’t be remade into a H.P. Lovecraft story. Peele’s film is in no way formulaic but it doesn’t really wander far from the usual horror/thriller structure. There are next to no clichés and the crux of the conclusion is never predictable. It feels very refreshing, for all three genres is crosses over and the theme couldn’t have been better timed. The story is ridiculous but no more ridiculous than what is happening all over the word today. It’s a fine debut from a director who has a big future ahead of him. The cast were all good but it was a brilliant surprise to see Daniel Kaluuya in the lead role. Kaluuya used to be on UK TV quite a lot, in various bizarre comedy shows. The jump is big but well deserved and he is phenomenal in his performance. With strong messages, interesting symbolism and certain memorable scenes, I believe Get Out is a future classic, a film of political and social importance and something film historians will be talking about in years to come.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Certain Women
Dir: Kelly Reichardt
2016
*****
I’m a huge fan of Kelly Reichardt’s movies and her 2016 film Certain Women was not a disappointment. I think she’s done exceptionally well in the last ten years since Old Joy came out but I’m still shocked that this is her highest grossing film to date. To be more specific, I’m not shocked at the fact (it makes sense that a film do better financially ten years later, particularly when you consider the all-star cast the movie boasts), I’m shocked that it is her highest grossing film to date and it made just over a million dollars. I know it’s an indie film but didn’t indie films become the new mainstream a few years ago? River of Grass, Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves and still Certain Women only just makes a million? Something is very wrong in the world of cinema. I hope it made enough money in order for Reichardt to continue in the same vein anyway, but then many of the actors in her movies take pay cuts to work with her (because they know a good director when they meet one) so hopefully she’ll be alright. I might sound naive, because I am a bit when it comes to movie money, but I don’t want to sound condescending. I think it would be naive to think Reichardt’s limited success isn’t down to her sex and the sex of the larger percentage of her cast. Sexism is definitely still a thing, and it needs to be quashed. To think of a film in terms of ‘boy film’ or ‘girl film’ is nonsense but I think that is what is happening here. All of the main characters in Certain Women are women (the title kind of gives it away) but I (a boy crocodile), found myself relating to each one of them in some way. I’ll be honest, I can see why the story wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking, it’s true that there isn’t a distinct plot or narrative in the classic sense – it’s what drew me and most of Reichardt’s fans to the film – but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The film is made up of three interweaving stories based on a collection of short stories written by Maile Meloy that appear in her collections, Half in Love and Both Ways is the only Way I Want it. The stories are largely separate except that they all take place in Montana and are all connected by at least one person, although not in any important way as far as plot is concerned. The first film sees Laura Dern play a Lawyer who gets roped into a hostage situation regarding one of her clients but it’s certainly not as sensationalist as it sounds. The second story stars Michelle Williams (in her third collaboration with Reichardt) and Jared Harris and is a little more complex but also far more subtle. It involves a married couple (Williams and Jared Harris) and their teenage daughter who are in the process of building their own house. The whole story is basically them trying to convince an old man and would-be neighbour to sell them sandstone but the old man doesn’t seem to want to talk to women. On first glance it may seem that very little is happening here but the interplay between characters and the subtle look at the differences between how male and female typically deal with certain situations. I would argue that no clichés were used in the making of this movie. The final story of the trio is a love story, a heartfelt and heart-breaking tale of one-sided love involving a farm girl and a young lawyer (played by Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart respectively). It is perhaps my favourite of the three and I would guess it was also Reichardt’s, seeing as it was last and all. Kristen Stewart has said previously that her usual approach to learning her lines is to memorize them as quickly as possible and then alter some wording to add idiosyncrasies to her characters. She was told by Reichardt in no uncertain terms that she would have to say her lines word for word, stating in an interview that "words are very important to her”. I’m sure Stewart took a pay cut to star in the film, and good on her for that, but it is Lily Gladstone who steals their story and indeed the whole film. Everyone is on good form but there is something uniquely special about Gladstone’s largely silent performance. Watching her drive her car for five minutes after an upsetting encounter is one of the best bits of cinema in the whole of 2016. Reichardt and Meloy are very similar in that they celebrate the ordinary people and empathize with their everyday problems that are insignificant to others. These simple themes are never covered, even though everyone can relate or empathize with them in one way or another. Cinema is escape, for sure, but it is also more than that, if we can learn more about ourselves and each other through it than it is defunct. It’s another faultless film from the director. I nearly cried when I saw that is was dedicated to her Dog Lucy, star of her 2008 masterpiece Wendy & Lucy. I found it to be uplifting, meditative, thought-provoking, somewhat comforting in an emotional sense and a fitting tribute to a good dog.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
2016
*
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is, as its title suggests, the last film of the Resident Evil film series. What a sad ending it is. Apart from a nice little twist that reveals the truth behind Milla Jovovich’s Alice, it’s a cliché-ridden action-headache from start to finish. It’s not the easiest series to remember to be honest, every sequel I’ve sat down to watch has required a re-watch of the previous but even then they don’t really follow each other like most series do. It is one of the few reasons I’ve liked the franchise if I’m being honest and some of the previous films have been very inventive and nothing like their predecessors but Resident Evil: The Final Chapter feels like a greatest hits of every clichéd scene from every generic action-horror ever made. Resident Evil is now the highest grossing horror franchise of all time, making more than a billion dollars since the first film in 2002. That is absurd! 95% of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was filmed on an unsteadied hand-held camera and looks every bit as crap as that may sound. The film is riddled with the most nauseating bursts of quickly edited recaps (usually when Alice was knocked unconscious and was dreaming – which happens a lot in the film) that were so painful to watch they made my eyes hurt. The supporting cast could have been replaced by cardboard cut-outs, they would have had the same effect and it would have saved Paul W. S. Anderson a bit of money. The characters are given absolutely zero development and are there purely to be killed off. Nothing wrong with that, but it is also more effective if we either have emotional investment in said character or if they are killed in spectacular fashion. Neither is true here. It is so forgettable, that I will be surprised if it gets the criticism it deserves. People will (maybe already have) forget just how bad it is and the franchise itself will soon be forgotten. The most successful horror franchise, based on one of the most popular video games ever made, will be forgotten due to being forgettable. It’s ridiculous. To think, that a crew member died and a stunt woman was so severely injured she had to have her arm amputated, just to make this sorry excuse of a film. There’s no passion, no enthusiasm, it is clear that Paul W. S. Anderson wanted to put his baby to bed but why not do so in style, go out with a bang as it were, instead of making the most generic zombie film ever made. It’s barely a zombie film, it’s not much of a horror, it’s a boring action film and there is very little for even fans of the franchise to enjoy. Only Ali Larter returns from previous films and nothing is said of the survivors we last saw in Resident Evil: Retribution, which is supposed to have taken place just three weeks before the beginning of The Final Chapter. It’s a lazy last-minute cash-in, it made money but the least amount of the franchise thus far. Time to call it a day for sure but as patchy as the series has been, I think it (and the fans) deserved a bit more of a grand finale, rather than the anti-climax given here.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

MonstersDark Continent
Dir: Tom Green
2015
**
Gareth Edward’s 2010 film Monsters was a spectacular debut that got the attention of film makers and audiences alike. I thought it was a little sad that he was lured into making the Godzilla remake as it was a little obvious and he could have been in danger of being type-cast (or whatever the director equivalent is?) after just two films. Monsters was also the evolution of the big monster film, a remake of Godzilla felt like it was a giant monster-size step back but I guess I can’t blame him, it was a big deal to be asked, lots of money would have been involved and as a result he got to make Star Wars: Rouge One, which is an excellent addition to the franchise. I thought Godzilla was pretty entertaining too. I wasn’t surprised that a sequel was made and I’m not surprised Edwards let someone else direct it, but I am surprised it was so awful. Edwards and Monsters star Scoot McNairy both executively produced it, so there really isn’t any excuse. Monsters: Dark Continent was directed by Tom Green and written by Green and Jay Basu. It is as if neither man had actually watched or understood the original. The beauty of the original film was the ambiguity of what the title ‘monster’ was actually referring to. Sure, it had big fleshy spider monsters but it also explored other things that could be considered unwelcome. The film was a fascinating two-person play, with the real monsters acting as background symbolism in regards to whatever they were discussing at the time. I still haven’t quite made up my mind about what I believe the actual monster was, which I think is the sign of a powerful and intelligent film. Monsters: Dark Continent is far less inventive and far less interesting. It starts with a bunch of meat-headed friends who seem excited about being deployed to the Middle East to fight a terrorist insurgency and a couple of monsters they might meet along the way. The opening scenes look like a poor-man’s Terrance Malick, I didn’t warm to the characters and that didn’t change over time. The big meaty spider Monsters are really in the film as they were in the last one but their presence is far clearer. The solders are fighting terrorist insurgences, the monsters are just there, occasionally attacking both sides. War is the monster and maybe, just maybe, western countries attacking poorer nations are monsters. No sugar Sherlock. It’s such an obvious premise that you sit and hope that a twist will come and flip it on its back but alas, the twist never comes. It’s predictable and uninteresting. You know things have gone wrong when an original and brilliant film gets a military-themed sequel. It is so unimaginative it hurts. The original Monsters made Cloverfield (which was made just two years before it) look like out hat. 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane was a brilliant expansion of the Cloverfield universe that has almost improved the original and has opened the franchise up to many exciting possibilities. Monsters: Dark Continent has killed the Monsters franchise dead in the water, unless someone else thinks of a great idea and convinces the studio to fund it, and even if they do, it’ll always look like it is trying to compete with Cloverfield, even though it blew it out of the water back in 2010. Not many sequels live up to their predecessors but to get it so wrong, after all the many examples of other films doing the exact same thing, it’s no wonder that so many have been vocal in their hatred for the film. For me, it’s more a case of having little good to say about it, rather than having lots of bad to say. It’s a woefully disappointing missed opportunity, not a terrible idea, just far too obvious and about a decade too late.

Monday, 25 September 2017

My Life As a Courgette
Dir: Claude Barras
2016
****
Quite how Claude Barras has successfully created a light-hearted and touching film about a child who accidently kills his neglectful and alcoholic mother is beyond me. I think that audiences have become so used to sugar-coated and emotionally manipulative drama that it is easy to overlook the possibilities of simple story telling and that a story can contain important and heart-warming sentiment without being overly sentimental. The story is adapted from Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel Autobiographie d’une Courgette, a striking title that cleverly lures people in, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with vegetables. The story was adapted once before in a live action format for French television, while I haven’t seen it, I have seen quite a few films that deal with the same subject, so I think it was clever of Barras to take a different approach and transform the story into stop-motion animation. While the film takes on what could be seen as adult subjects, it does concern children and if I had older children I would certainly let them watch it, I would encourage them even. The story starts with a young boy called Icare who lives with his mother who has become neglectful and an alcoholic, after his father abandoned them. She once called him Courgette out of affection, a name he clings to as he hides in his attic room, playing with his mother’s empty beer cans while she drinks and shouts at the television down stairs. After a tower of beer cans he makes comes crashing down in noisy fashion, his mother storms up the attic ladder in a shouting rage. Out of fear Icare shuts the door, accidently knocking his mother down the ladder and to her death. When talking to the policeman that finds him, it becomes clear that young Icare has little understanding of the situation and just wants to go back home to his mother, an unhappy life but all that he’s used to. He develops further when relocated to a children’s home just outside of town. There we meet other children who have been orphaned due to drink, drugs and general abandonment or who have been taken from home due to abuse or because their parents have been deported. The abuse and the effect it has had on each character is treated with great care and is at the heart of what makes the film so profound. There is wonderful simplicity to the film that really helps in getting the subject across, with attention to detail prevailing over stereotype or cliché. It is profound to see such dark issues addressed with such innocence and clarity, making the film appealing to both older and younger viewers. It doesn’t do anything it doesn’t have to and doesn’t stick to any formula for the sake of it. Stop-motion can take a ridiculously long time. Which is probably the reason the film is only an hour long but I’m glad that they didn’t work that little bit longer to conform and essentially bulk the film with unnecessary filler. The animation is terrific, the perfect balance between detailed and simplistic, with slight facial expressions rightfully deemed as most important, over lavish background and scenery. It’s a wonderful look at how people, no matter what age they are, cope with loneliness and abandonment and also how they can find unity and belonging from them. A bold but subtle venture that will hopefully be of some influence on kids films for now on.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin
Dir: Steven Hahn
1985
*****
How did the makers of Starchaser: The Legend of Orin not get sued by George Lucas? Maybe it’s because nearly every element of Star Wars and Indiana Jones were borrowed from a multitude of films, book, comics and pulp fiction stories themselves, so the bearded one let it slip, or maybe he liked it, or maybe he just never saw it. To be fair, not many people did it seems, certainly whenever I bring it up in conversation with other cinephiles there is generally only ever one other person who knows what I’m talking about. However, when you meet that one other person, that’s it, the rest of the night is just the two of you, getting over excited and chatting over each other at a million miles per hour, not only because you’re thrilled to meet someone else that has actually seen what is the best, most forgotten animation ever made, but because they also love it. Everyone who sees Starchaser: The Legend of Orin loves it because it’s just too awesome not to. It borrows aspects of films such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Battle Beyond the Stars, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, is clearly influenced by books by Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, and is animated in the popular style of the time. It was also the first animated feature to be shown in 3D. Starchaser was everything you could want from an 80s cartoon. When the robots weren’t scary they were either camp or sexy, just how us kids liked it back then. It featured aliens, cyborgs, robots, a talking spaceship, a ‘chosen one’, an invisible sword, lasers, explosions, lots of escaping from places about to explode as well as the classic get the girl, kill the baddie and save the entire universe plot. Our parents had no idea how adult some of the content was (they still don’t), which also made it a talking point in the school playground. It was Star Wars made in the style of Heavy Metal – an awesome combination with a hint of the cool stuff L. Ron Hubbard wrote without any of his Dianetics nonsense. The main character Orin, a slave minor born into a fabricated underground world where the god Zygon forces people to dig for crystals, looks a cross between Big Trouble in little China’s Jack Burton, Axel Stone from Streets of Rage and any lead guitarist from any 80s rock group. When Orin escapes his underground world he meets a smuggler called Dagg Dibrimi, they save each other’s lives and come stuck with each other for the duration of the film. It is basically Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, although Dagg acts like George Pepard’s Cowboy from Battle Beyond the Stars and looks more like Michael Ironside than Harrison Ford. Dagg’s spaceship is voiced by a robot who moves around the ships console – just like Max in Flight of the Navigator but I should point out that Starchaser came out the year before. The film gets weird very early on but in a really good way. When Orin and Dagg escape from Zygon’s base, they accidently bump into a female admin robot and use her as a shield against the lasers that are shot at them. Once safely on their ship, Dagg reprograms the fembot – who up until that point sounded like Wilma Flintstone – into a sexbot. For some reason the reprogramming has to be done through her backside, which she wiggles around for most of the film. Orin gets Obi-Wan style guidance from a magic firefly when things get tough and Orin soon falls in love with a Princess (who is practically Teela from the animated series of Masters of the Universe) forgetting his girlfriend who literally only got killed hours before in the process. It’s a fast paced story that I’m not sure makes perfect sense but the gang save the day, free the people and Orin, who is discovered to be a Ka-Khan (a Jesus type being), cures the blind and makes them see again. Interestingly a Ka-Khan is a high-honoured priest in the church of scientology, so I wonder whether this was actually an attempt at brainwashing from a young age. None of it is original and yet there is nothing else like it, it’s one of those bizarre little cartoons that made growing up in the 80s so beautiful and helped mould me into the nerd I am today – probably more so than Star Wars did in many respects.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Dir: Matthew Vaughn
2017
****
Kingsman: The Secret Service was a big hit when it came out in 2015. Only those who read Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s comic were familiar with the characters and story, so for the mainstream audience it came as something of a surprise. I think people still overlook the creativity of adult non-superhero graphic novels and comic books, many have been made into films but few have really captured the essence of what makes the original so appealing and enjoyable. Matthew Vaughn gets it, he proved as much with 2010’s Kick-Ass, another Mark Millar comic. His only mistake was that he didn’t direct the sequel, not a mistake he was going to repeat with regards to Kingsman. Early reviews of the 2017 sequel were mixed, most stating that the film doesn’t have the same impact of the first film. A tired argument that all sequels of popular films seem to suffer these days. The first film was closer to the original comics but it was our introduction to the secret organisation, with the origin of each character explored. Now that that is out the way, it’s time for a mission and that is what the sequel is. You could say that it is more of the same but I don’t think you can accuse it of being anything but original and entertaining. It is more of the same in the best possible way, that is, the humour, excitement and inventiveness of the first is very much present second time round. While not based on one of the comics in particular it does make sure to keep with repeated themes seen in Gibbons and Millar’s original. The plot wipes away the Kingsman organisation, so the surviving agents have to seek help from their American counterparts; The Statesman, which adds another interesting level to the series. Instead of tailors, the American secret service are Whiskey distillers. Musch like the first film, the cast is big and impressive. Taron Egerton and Mark Strong return, as does Colin Firth, which was a nice surprise, nicer had his return not been shown in the trailer but I guess the producers’ worried people wouldn’t go and see it without him. The Statesman are made up of Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal, with the lesser known Pascal stealing the show somewhat. Edward Holcroft returns from the first film as a bad guy and Sophie Cookson, the Swedish Princess whom Eggsy saved (with great reward) from the first film, returns as his girlfriend in what is quite a refreshingly un-James Bond thing to do. However, as much as the film spoofs 007, I could see Julianne Moore as a Bond Villain. Her 1950s Americana obsessed Drug lord Poppy, is a brilliant contemporary baddie. She also wins for coolest secret lair, a 1950’s themed street right called ‘Poppy Land’ in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, complete with hot dog stand, cinema, salon and diner that is clearly influenced by John Ford’s failed Fordlandia. Her secret organisation ‘The Golden Circle’ is tight-knit and anyone not following orders finds themselves thrown in the meat grinder and made into Hamburgers. Keeping with the original comic’s tendency to feature real life celebrities, Poppy kidnaps Elton John for her own amusement. Elton John is a great sport and pretty much steals the show in an exaggerated version of himself. There are elements of the story that may seem a little samey in terms of sequel. The idea of re-building is fairly familiar, The Dark Knight being the most popular and obvious example of recent years. The cynic in me thinks that maybe Colin Firth shouldn’t have returned, his death in the previous film being a quite the bold move that gave the original the edgy impact that made it so successful. The scenes with Eggsy’s mates could have been cut but I quite liked the balance they gave the film, plus it was good to see Thomas Turgoose on the big screen again. Some of the action scenes were a bit too over CGI’ed, not the big stunts that required it but the small intimate fight scenes that really didn’t. I would have liked to have seen more of The Statesman’s get-up but I’m sure that’ll be developed in the next film. Personally, I was more than entertained throughout the entire film. It was consistently funny, never predictable and I could still see Gibbon’s and Millar’s original concept clear as day. As a huge fan of both film and comics, it is a great day when I see the authentic merger of the two. Seriously, a London Black Cab turns into a submarine, Keith Allan (Lily’s Dad) is turned into a Hamburger and Elton John fights with two robot dogs – what’s not to love about that? James Bond spoofs are a dime a dozen, Kingsman actually gives 007 a run for his money and does so with wit, panache and bucket-loads of charm. It would be nice to see Kingsman have a series as long as Bond's but failing that, I'd love to see Millarworld expanded and a few more of the additions of Mark Millars work meet up on film, starting with Kick-Ass vs Kingman of course.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Elle
Dir: Paul Verhoeven
2016
**
Paul Verhoeven’s first film in a decade was celebrated across the board, winning many awards and earning some of the year’s finest reviews. I agree that Isabelle Huppert’s performance is one of the best of 2016 but her performance is about the only thing I liked about it. I’ve not read the 2012 novel Oh… by author Philippe Djian on which the film is based but it too was a critical success. Whether the film is an authentic adaptation I do not know, whether the novel is meant as a post-modern cliché comedy is also unknown. Verhoeven wanted to set the film in Boston but the truth is he couldn’t persuade any American actress to take the lead role. He asked Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, Julianne Moore and Diane Lane. He also asked Marion Cotillard and Carice van Houten but they all declined. It seems that not one of them wanted to play a women who is raped but shrugs off the assault, so as not to let it affect her or her ordered life. Verhoeven said later, on several occasions, that he thought Jennifer Jason Leigh was probably the only American actress who could have done the character justice, but he never asked her because he felt the role needed a big name and hers wasn’t quite big enough. He decided that France would be far more accepting of the subject matter and Isabelle Huppert would be just the sort of actor to take the roll by the proverbial horns. So the film was made in France and the question of whether the film is actually some sort of twisted satire was born. Huppert’s character feels like a parody of characters she has played before and Elle (French for ‘She’ or ‘Her’) feels like a piss take of many a great French thriller that has come before. My first reaction was that Verhoeven was making fun of Michael Haneke by making an exaggerated version of one of his films in the style of Brian De Palma. I thought Isabelle Huppert was a good sport for taking part in it, especially after making such dreadful films like Ma Mere. I thought the Robocop director clearly wasn’t done with making cutting satire and good on him. Then I remembered, the dude made Showgirls. The penny dropped, Elle was meant to be a serious film. Critics (paid ones I might add) have described it as "the most empowering "Rape Movie" ever made, a woman’s complicated response to being raped will draw ire from feminists and others, but it’s one of the bravest, most honest and inspiring examinations of the subject ever put onscreen”. One critic called it a "light-hearted rape-revenge story” which makes me wonder whether they are also in on the whole satire thing? Reporting a rape in order to capture the rapist, thus bringing him to justice and preventing him from raping someone else is considered feminism apparently. Letting the rapist get away with it and allowing the possibility that he may attack again, and even rape someone else is ‘empowering’. I’m not sure I’ve seen such a misguided film since…Showgirls. Once you realise the film is serious it becomes something of a grotesque experience. Gaspar Noe’s 2002 film Irreversible shows a brutal rape but goes a long way in exploring the nature surrounding it. It never once treats the situation as anything other than despicable, and something that needs tackling. Elle trivialises rape, it insults women and men and is about as far from intelligent as you can get, while thinking it is the best thing since sliced bread. This isn’t new ground either. At best Elle is a good Giallo film but without the cool sound effects and great visuals. Even now, I think of the scenes involving a computer game character being raped by a satanic octopus thing and I question whether this film isn’t a misguided satire? I may very well be wrong about the film’s intention but it still didn’t work for me and as much as I thought Verhoeven’s direction and Huppert’s performance were good, I think it should damage their careers somewhat. I always congratulate films that push boundaries but this is sensationalist nonsense without anything new or clever to back itself up with. How it has been so widely celebrated is beyond me, maybe it will be one of those few films that I hate and everyone else loves but I do question a society who like this sort of thing, think it’s clever and has something important to say. There are so many people who avoid French films because they think they’re all like this, it’s such a shame when a new one comes out and is the epitome of a bad stereotype and a tasteless one at that. Funny how it is based on a novel titled Oh.... as that was exactly my reaction once it was over.

Moon
Dir: Duncan Jones
2009
*****
Moon was celebrated by critics but didn't do as well with audiences, I'm afraid that the mainstream audience seem to have missed the point with Moon, even though I didn't feel it was ever misleading in its promotion. A sci-fi space-mission, with absolutely no explosions, space-ship chases or evil bug-eyed aliens didn't seem right to many which is frustrating, as Moon - which isn't about any of those things, it's true - is one of the best pieces of theatre committed to film of all time. It's up there with Solaris for sure, albeit a much simpler subject. It's funny, it never feels like it when watching but Moon is one of the greatest monologues ever written, not necessarily because of the script either, but because of the performance. It's a real shame that a film that tackles fundamental questions like the existence of God, the human soul and highlights the frailty of man, the good and the bad of creation and the flaws of the human race can be simply passed off as simply 'too long and too boring'. In my opinion Moon is the perfect film, brilliantly conceived and realised. Sam Rockwell's performance is awesome and Duncan Jones's direction is outstanding, especially considering it's his debut. He could have easily cashed in on his real identity and I'm glad he didn't, he's a genius in his own right, much like his father. Both he and Rockwell have been unforgivably overlooked for their work here but I think time has put this right somewhat and much like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, it will be regarded as the classic it really is. Although I would like to put an end to the lazy 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris comparisons, they tackle similar subjects and are all set in space but Moon is its own masterwork, it didn't have to exist in space, the idea is timeless and original. It's more like Silent Running and Outland anyway. It's brilliantly written, beautifully directed (with superb cinematography from Gary Shaw) and it has a sublime soundtrack from my favourite film composer Clint Mansell. Snubbed at all the big award ceremonies, just as some of the greatest films are, Moon is one of the best films in its genre and a film people will still watch 100 years from now.
Carry On…Follow That Camel (AKA Follow That Camel, Carry On In The Legion)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
1967 
****
I know that the hard-core Carry On fans were never that fond of Follow That Camel but I always loved it and consider it one of their best. It is the fourteenth in the series and the second (following its predecessor Don’t Lose Your Head) to be produced by Rank Films. Like Don’t Lose Your Head, Follow That Camel was released without the famous ‘Carry On’ prefix. This was supposedly done for legal reasons due to Rank having just changed distributors but some have suggested it was more of an intentional move away from the earlier films. Don’t Lose Your Head was not a great film and I’m in the minority that think Follow That Camel is but it isn’t without its problems. The ‘Carry On’ prefix was brought back for the rest of the series, supposedly becoming legal for them to use again. It was clear that Rank wanted to try and tap into the American market, Sid James was meant to star in the lead role but due to television commitments he had to decline. Many have speculated he was replaced due to suffering a heart attack but his attack came after the filming on Follow That Camel had started. While an early draft of the script was written with Woody Allen in mind, the final film was written for the great Phil Silvers. I can see why fans of the series weren’t happy for a non-Brit who had never been part of the cast taking centre stage but personally I love it. He is brilliant and perfect in the roll. To be fair, he is playing Sgt Bilko, but I adore Sgt Bilko, so had no problem with it. It was wrong of the team to forget their core following but series regulars Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw were all on top form, even though they weren’t always happy. A good Carry On film is one where the cast are clearly having fun, here I didn’t get that as much, and for good reason. The salary the cast members got for each film was always deemed poor, considering the amount of money the franchise made. Phil Silvers was paid a handsome amount for his time and name, more than any regular player was paid before or after. This went down badly. Jim Dale fell out with both Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Williams, the location scenes took much longer than usual and the desert scenes were delayed due to snow (the Sahara desert scenes were filmed in Camber Sands, Essex during winter). However, the theme – which parodies Beau Geste and Foreign Legion films in general, lent itself brilliantly to the Carry On gang and sense of humour. It didn’t break America but at least it taught the Carry On team behind the camera a thing or two, and the series carried on at it used from there on in and enjoyed a particularly good run for the next couple of years. It also features one of my favourite but disturbing endings of the Carry On films.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Allied
Dir: Robert Zemeckis
2016
***
Robert Zemeckis’s 2016 romantic spy thriller was something of a pleasant surprise but I can’t help but think the visuals probably didn’t match Steven Knight’s original script. I enjoyed it and was entertained throughout but I’m afraid the film as a whole looked just a little bit too cartoon-like to me. There are some impressive special effects – notably the scenes that featured the bombing of London during the Blitz – but these are somewhat spoiled by some rather clunky bits of background CGI that served very little purpose and were easily avoided. We all know how much Zemeckis likes his special effects/CGI/animation but I think he should have reeled it in a bit for this particular story. Indeed, as much as I like the guy, I think the film would have fared better under the direction of someone else. The story isn’t perfect either it has to be said, I really liked the idea but the story is full of plot holes and much is lost from the film jumping to ‘one year later’. I would argue that the main idea is kept alive though, thanks to its quality and uniqueness but especially thanks to the performances. While Bred Pitt is rather lethargic in his performance, I do get the impression his character was meant to be somewhat detached, so in that sense I think he did a good job. It is however, Marion Cotillard who steals the show, this being very much her film. Her performance keeps you guessing right until the end, which is exactly what the film is about. The chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard works very well, there is a lot exchanged between the two without words, something special that only actors of their calibre are capable of. It is clear that the CGI used in the film is to save money and not shoot everything on location but I believe this stops the film from reaching its full potential and what it clearly wanted to achieve. It is clearly meant to be a tribute to the romantic war films of the 1940 and 1950s, its roots are based on a factual story it has been suggested but it is very obviously trying to be the new Casablanca. It even begins in Casablanca. It’s hard to say if this is an obvious oversight or a genuine act of tribute but either way, it is a million miles away from such greatness. It feels like a good attempt at recreating a classic, which is exactly what it is. I thought the details were very good however, having lived near Hampstead I can say they got that right, I’m not sure if people ever openly took cocaine during 1940s parties, but London looked authentic enough. The supporting characters could have been given a little more development, Pitt’s Wing Commander Max Vatan has a sister for instance played by Lizzy Caplan. She is seen only twice in the film but her persona, lesbianism and demeanour are given full attention and made a point of, to absolutely no avail. It’s as if her part was cut and her character originally meant for greater things. Pitt and Cotillard’s relationship sizzles in the first scenes where they first meet but their chemistry makes less sense years later (minutes later as you watch the film). The passing of time doesn’t really work here, it feels like a great television series sandwiched into a 120 minute feature film. The good in the film is clear and worth watching the film for, but the bad will irritate somewhat and will always make you wish they’d spent just that little extra time fine tuning it – which includes filming on location. 
Wisconsin Death Trip
Dir: James Marsh
1999
**
James Marsh’s 1999 docudrama is not easy viewing. It’s not a documentary in the classic sense, in that it has no narrative and no real story. Based on the 1973 book by Michael Lesy, who was inspired by the photographs of Charles Van Schaick, Wisconsin Death Trip is exactly what the title suggests. The film dramatizes Schaick’s photos while Ian Holm reads out a series of newspaper articles written during a spate of macabre incidents that took place in Black River Falls, Wisconsin in the late 19th century. It’s the sort of thing you might find as part of an art installation in an art gallery, rather than in a cinema. I like the idea on paper, it is chilling, depressing and explores the very depths of misery. My kind of film for sure. It just became incredibly uncomfortable to watch after minutes. The film’s run time is a torturous 76 minutes, and even though the imagery is striking, Ian Holms voice lovely and DJ Shadow’s music effective, it’s still a million miles away from entertaining. It is, essentially, someone reading out a list to a collection of very similar looking photographs. It is very slow, unapologetically monotonous and utterly unrelenting. You get the picture after a few minutes but Marsh is intent on drilling the message into the audience, repeating it over and over until it sticks. The problem I found was that it had the opposite effect. What I think was meant to be hypnotic, became almost invisible, like TV snow (visual white noise). Indeed, it was as if I was told to watch TV snow for hours on end with the promise that I would eventually see something. I have an open mind, Wisconsin Death Trip works best for those with a creative one, but I think even the most creative individual would struggle, especially as it is itself, fairly uncreative. I found it mind numbing if I’m going to be brutal about it but I will always congratulate a film maker on making something original. Wisconsin Death Trip is certainly a one off, there is no other film like it and that is to James Marsh’s credit, but it is probably for the best. Marsh has gone on to direct some of my favorite documentaries of recent years, good on him for trying new things - without wanting to sound condescending.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars
Dir: Anna Foerster
2016
***
After four films and thirteen years I think the Underworld team could have come up with something a little better than Underworld: Blood Wars. Haven’t they already covered blood wars? The series prequel, Rise of the Lycans was poorly received but for some reason they seem to have made a film with it in mind, instead of going back to what made the first film so enjoyable or indeed, trying something new. The fifth film was touted for a long time as being a reboot, and I’m glad it wasn’t but I wonder why it didn’t occur to the Underworld gang that you can make a new film with the same characters. The themes of the new film are: the all familiar ‘Chosen one’ story, treachery (again) and snow. The franchise is becoming more and more like a predictable computer game; first level Matrix, second level Resident Evil, third level Medieval, fourth clinical and fifth level ‘snow’. Difficult characters (by difficult I mean the actors that played them have long lost interest) are all but written out of the story and historical elements, that the centuries old vampire and werewolves should have been aware of, are revealed and punching, kicking and the wearing of leather trousers ensues. I can’t help but think Game of Thrones was a big influence on the style and story, it’s a far cry from GOT but it does feature pretty much everyone who’s been in it. It’s hard to decide what the films highlight was because it didn’t really have any but I did like seeing Charles Dance as a vampire once more. The big question I suppose is whether it is as watchable as the previous films, and I would say that even though it gives the audience nothing new, it is. I don’t understand it, it’s poorly written and as nonsensical as ever and yet I sat entertained throughout and still look forward to the next instalment. I think it may be that I’m looking for closure and Underworld: Blood Wars offers anything but, I want to know what happened to Michael, not because I care or anything but because I’ve already invested the time in the other films trying to find out. I’m really hoping that the next level of this un-interactive computer game will be either space themed, underwater or will be a musical, and/or will incorporate zombies, aliens, zombie aliens, singing zombie aliens. Bring back Michael Sheen as a bare-chested action man too while you’re at it, either way I’ll be watching it.
Carry On... Up the Khyber
Dir: Gerald Thomas
1968
****
Carry On... Up the Khyber, the sixteenth in the Carry On series, is regarded my most to be one of the franchise’s best. It had the Carry On core of actors including Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Bernard Bresslaw and Peter Butterworth, as well as Terry Scott (who returned to the series after a brief appearance in Carry On Sergeant), Angela Douglas in her fourth and final Carry On performance and the great Roy Castle, who replaced Jim Dale when he suddenly became unavailable. After sending up pretty much every genre you could think of, Carry On... Up the Khyber turned its eye towards the Kiplingesque style drama as film and television about life in the British Raj were quite popular at the time. It also meant they could use the line ‘Up the Khyber’ in the title – Khyber being cockney rhyming slang for Khyber Pass – arse. They were worried about the title but they went with it and got away with it, as they so very often did. It was one of 1968’s most popular films in the UK box office and one scene in particular is now considered a British comedy classic. Sid James plays Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, the Queen Victoria’s Governor in the British province of Khalabar, near the Khyber Pass. It has been said that when Princess Margaret visited the set, she was horrified by a letter that Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond writes to the Queen that began with ‘Dear Vicky..’. The province is defended by the feared 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment, nicknamed ‘The Devils in Skirts’, famous for wearing nothing under their kilts. When Private Widdle (played by Charles Hawtrey) is found wearing underpants under his kilt, the warlord Bungdit Din (played by Bernard Bresslaw) takes the information to the Khasi of Khalabar (played by Kenneth Williams) who uses it to incite an anti-British rebellion, under the idea that the British are weak. It’s the best of British nonsense, full of puns and innuendo. Everyone is brilliant but Bernard Bresslaw is the film’s big surprise, bringing a performance that could have easily come from one of the classics the film sends up. The location (a valley in Wales) was also congratulated by experts as looking extremely authentic, with many who spent time there commenting that it looked just like the real Khyber Pass. The series had many hits and many misses, I think Carry On... Up the Khyber was a huge hit because they clearly spent money on it, filmed on location (sort of), had lots of fun and the cast were allowed to ad-lib more than they were used to. I also like it for one particular line. As the Burpa cannons fire on the Residency, Bernard Bresslaw’s Bernard Bungdit Din jokes "that'll teach them to ban turbans on the buses" as a reference to the recently resolved strikes by Sikh bus drivers in Wolverhampton and Manchester about the right to wear a turban instead of a cap as part of the uniform. It was playful and supportive at the same time. However, the film is best remembered for the scene whereby Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond decides to completely ignore the impending invasion, in the hope it will go away by itself. He sits down to a formal dinner with his wife and officers and everyone is ordered to ignore the bombs and gunfire and eat up as if nothing is happening. As the ceiling comes down around the group (and into their food and wine) the wonderful Joan Sims (who plays Lady Ruff-Diamond) states "Oh dear! I seem to have got a little plastered". This was an ad-libed line that director Gerald Thomas decided to leave in. The reaction and laughter from the rest of the cast was genuine and it is a golden piece of British comedy history. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Who?
Dir: Jack Gold
1974
*****
Who? is a rather ambiguous title for a movie. I’d never heard about it before watching, not much is written about it and I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that it was released in 1974 and stared Elliott Gould – which was enough to make me interested. What I wasn’t expecting (but had secretly hoped for) was for it to be an intelligent, ridiculous, thrilling, absurdist, sci-fi cold war thriller – the type you could probably only find on late night TV and that could only have been made in the glorious 70s. The film starts with a classic 70s car chase, one that ends in disaster. We then learn that said car chase occurs along the East/West German boarder and the sole survivor of the crash, an American scientist, has been ‘captured’ by the East German military. Fast-forward six months and the East German military announce the scientist’s release, stating that they saved his life and are now returning him. A US Intelligence Agent (played by Elliott Gould) is sent to the release location and is ordered to find out why they would release someone as important as Dr Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), the leading scientist working on the mysterious ‘Neptune’ project. We’re never really told what the Neptune project is, only that the Russians would want it and it could be the answer to winning the cold war, it’s fairly inconsequential to the story. Gould’s character is startled (as was I) to discover that Dr Lucas Martino is now, essentially, made of metal. It seems in order to save his life, the East German’s had to replace his torso, arms and skull with steal. It look terrible but also rather wonderful. I’m a sucker for 70s sci-fi and this looks like something out of a typical 70s futuristic sitcom, but with an ounce of intelligence behind it. Bad prosthetics aside, the story has a lot going for it. Firstly, the big question as to why the East Germans have decided to release him – even though he could have been some value to them, is now overshadowed by the question is he who they say he is, what is he and who is he? Is he a bomb? A bizarre data collecting robot? He certainly sounds like Dr Lucas Martino but how can they possibly prove it? He has no finger prints because his fingers are now metal, no real teeth for dental records and there is something uttered about blood manipulation which I suspect is sci-fi nonsense but it sounds plausible when you let yourself go along with it. The film switches from present day, where we follow Martino’s plight to try and prove who he is, against Gould who is trying to prove he isn’t; and the events following the crash, where we learn just why the East Germans built him a new body out of metal and why they decided to release him, if it is indeed really him. It’s a cracking little thriller, very simple in concept but quite broad in its idea. It makes you think about identity and also makes a subtle statement on civil rights and racism to some extent. It’s a modern day Man in the Iron Mask, with a little bit of the Manchurian Candidate thrown in for good measure. It’s the perfect cold war film in that is explores trust and paranoia. It makes a great case for both sides of the argument, better than you’d think for a film that features a serious character that looks a cross between the Tin Man and TWiki the robot. Trevor Howard is brilliant as Colonel Azarin, the counterpart and complete opposite to Gould’s Intelligence Agent. Gould is on top form, which is wonderful given the low budget and the aforementioned costume issue. The script is actually something rather special, again, the only thing that confuses the production is the ridiculous metal man. I loved it from the very beginning and it just got better and better. I believe the film has suffered greatly from the change of title is received when released on VHS. The marketing department clearly didn’t know how to sell it or maybe didn’t even see it, as it was renamed ‘Roboman’ and the new cover made it look like a ‘killer robot’ sci-fi horror. The conclusion of the film is one of my favourites of all time and I’m not even kidding. It’s one of the most overlooked and intelligent thrillers ever made, the production values may not be of the highest standards but the script, concept, performances and execution are, it’s everything you could want from a cold war mystery thriller and a great example of the sort of magic the decade produced. It’s Alexandre Dumas meets Metal Mickey.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Other Side of Hope
Dir: Aki Kaurismäki
2017
*****
The Other Side of Hope is Aki Kaurismaki’s first film in six years and perhaps his best in the last twenty years. Let me be clear though, almost every one of Kaurismaki’s films is a masterpiece. While 2017’s The Other Side of Hope is similar in theme to his more classic earlier films, it’s also very reflective of modern life in Europe. There is a unique timelessness to Kaurismaki’s films, even though they deal with contemporary themes, they reflect that many issues – particularly those effecting the working class - remain the same throughout the decades. The Other Side of Hope deals with the aspirations of the working class once more but also tackles the subject of immigration, legal and illegal. It is a cross between 2011’s Le Harve and 1996’s Drifting Clouds, two of the directors best, in that it deals with an illegal immigrant and also a working class man who enters into a new business venture. It may seem a bit simple to merge two of your last ideas but Kaurismaki’s ‘simple’ is a little more complex than most film makers. Kaurismaki is the king of simplicity and subtlety. It’s hard to think of another director with such a strong signature style that has lasted as long and is still as effective. He uses the same compositions, the same lighting and the same bright colours, it is a winning formula that has earned him a legion of fans worldwide and I’m so glad he’s never deviated from it. The style of his films are bold, The Other Side of Hope being no exception, but somehow it only enhances the performances of the actors, even though their lines are generally short and blunt. It’s the perfect blend of film and theatre, without being like either. Typically, The Other Side of Hope is direct, honest and isn’t sugar-coated, all of its sweetness is natural and never artificial. Sherwan Haji is brilliant in his debut performance and fits perfectly in the world of Kaurismaki. Long-time collaborators Sakari Kuosmanen and Kati Outinen return once more in what was, in my opinion, the most heart-warming onscreen reunion of 2017 and both were as brilliant in their roles as always. It’s a reassuringly typical Kaurismaki film, it’s what the fans want and expect but it is also contemporary and deals with current social themes. His films are almost a genre in their own right, an unwritten manifesto as it were. The film came as a huge relief to me as a huge fan of the director’s work. Kaurismaki once said “Maybe my films are not masterpieces, but they are documents of their time. That's enough for me. Masterpieces I can't do - even though I try.” He’s never been particularly confident or complimentary of his own films – which I do like about him - but when he says things like “When I was young, I would sit in the bath and ideas would come to me. But I'm not young anymore, so now I just sit in the bath.” I panic that he will stop directing. I also worry that his recent legal spat with long-time set director Markku Patila will have dire consequences on any subsequent films they work on together. It would be such a shame to not make films together anymore because of a dispute over how the credits were titled. This would be a huge loss to cinema, while he has many fans around the world, the larger audience is still yet to discover his greatness I feel and it would be horrible to lose such a valuable and rich talent when his films are just as great as they’ve always been and also, I think, socially important. So much is said in the silence of his films which makes them incredibly universal, and when the subject matter is always so strong, it is important it is kept and cherished. It’s another masterpiece from one of the world’s greatest filmmakers and long may they continue.