Friday, 23 February 2018

The Silent Partner
Dir: Daryl Duke
1978
*****
Daryl Duke’s 1978 thriller The Silent Partner is one of the great films of the late 1970s that is still overlooked and largely unseen. It stars Elliott Gould as a bank teller whose intellect is somewhat underused in his mundane day to day role. When he suspects that his bank is about to be robbed, he takes advantage of the situation and attempts to commit the perfect crime. However, he underestimates the armed robber (played by Christopher Plummer) and his life becomes more and more complicated, as he has essentially become ‘The Silent Partner’. Based on the novel ‘Think of a Number’ by Danish author Anders Bodelsen, Duke’s direction is pure Hitchcockian, with a contemporary feel, that almost veers into giallo but not quite. There is so much I love about this film. Elliott Gould films of the 1970s are among my favorites of all time. You have classics like The Long Goodbye and M*A*S*H and you have the overlooked greats like Capricorn One, Who? and The Silent Partner. There are quite a few actors around in 1978 who could have played the part but I don’t think anyone could have played it quite as perfectly as Gould. Christopher Plummer’s villain, a misogynistic and psychopathic thief who likes to dress in disguise, is a chilling and unnerving character, terrifying in his unpredictability but also in the way that he isn’t a super villain as it were, he is defeatable but just frighteningly persistent. Gould’s character has two ‘love interests’ in the film but both have real substance to them, rather than being just beautiful women. Susannah York plays his colleague at the bank who is suspicious and has secrets of her own, while Celine Lomez plays a femme fatale who is also not who she first appears to be. The plot is the perfect balance of complexity and simplicity, brought to life by real story development and brilliant performances. It’s a film that understands that suspense takes time. There are no cheap tricks, the story takes place over several months and the smaller details add to the bigger picture. It’s easy to follow but the audience is never spoon fed, the plot thickens at a trickle down pace, making it a film you can really get your teeth into. It’s directed beautifully, with all that glorious flare that make 1970’s films so great – indeed, the best. If that weren’t enough, it also stars a young John Candy, in one of his first ever screen appearances. I love how the film stars rather innocently, playful even, and then gets unexpectedly dark. Elliott Gould actually held a private screening for Alfred Hitchcock, who thought the film was brilliant. It’s a Brian De Palma film but without the nonsense, a Hitchcock without the suddenness and a Dario Argento but without the fantastical element. It’s all of the above but with heaps of intelligence and and its own individual charm. It couldn’t be made today due to the levels of security and technology in banks, so it sit well in its era and is another great example of why 1970s thrillers are still the best. The soundtrack is also something special, adding its open important level of suspense, and it remains the only film to be scored by composer and Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Scriptwriter Curtis Hanson would go on to write the brilliant The Bedroom Window, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and L.A. Confidential while director Daryl Duke only made four films in his career. Duke’s films are largely unseen and unreleased, with his last film bombing at the box office, which I think is a shame, as I believe he was a rare talent and I would have loved to have seen more. The Silent Partner did very well in Canada but nowhere else, it’s a mystery really, as it’s easily one the most entertaining thrillers of the 1970s and the one of the best Alfred Hitchcock films that Alfred Hitchcock had nothing to do with. Its last DVD release was limited and marketed as a Reservoir Dogs style heist film - which it isn't - suggesting that the studios that own the rights haven't even bothered to watch it and don't even know what a great film they have in their collection. See it - immediately.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Shape of Water
Dir: Guillermo del Toro
2017
****
It’s funny how Guillermo del Toro has remained a household name all these years when you think about it, as his first few films; Cronos, Mimic and The Devil’s Backbone were overlooked by the mainstream and Blade II and Hellboy were only really embraced by the comic-read nerds. To be fair Hellboy did very well, but the follow up wasn’t as well received as the first. Pan’s Labyrinth got the attention of many as mainstream audiences were opening their minds to world cinema but again, this was followed by Pacific Rim, more Hellboy and Crimson Peak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan and I’ve loved pretty much everything he’s done, it’s just strange how he has gone from Cronos – one of the greatest vampire/fantasy/horror films ever made, to The Shape of Water, both films are very much of the same ilk, yet one is still overlooked and the other is heralded as one of the greatest films of the year. I wonder how Cronos would do if it were released in now? I’m pretty sure The Shape of Water would remain a cult hit enjoyed by the not so many if it had been made in 1993. While I’m glad films like The Shape of Water are now reaching mainstream audiences, I do feel a little frustrated that it has taken so long. I also feel a little bit sad that film like this that would once have been cult hits and no longer exclusive to those who went to the effort of finding them out. I’m waffling and talking nonsense I’m sure, I just feel a little sad for great films such as Delicatessen, Crimewave and indeed Cronos, that were made around the same time. I digress, The Shape of Water is many things, each one of those things being a success. At its core though is nostalgia. This is a movie made by a brilliant film maker and a prolific lover of all things celluloid. It is beautiful. The set pieces are stunning, the cinematography sublime and the colours pop right out of the screen. I actually thought it was style of content at first but the story does catch up. Even though I didn’t think the editing or overall compositions in the film were that great, I adored the detail. The greens of 1950s cinema come through beautifully, it’s somewhere between The Wizard of Oz and The Red Shoes, hammered home even more so by Richard Jenkins’ character – an advertising painter – having to change a painting depicting a family eating red jelly, to green jelly. The rich red ceilings, the ‘teal’ Cadillac and the ‘Chicago Frieze’ wallpaper from Bradbury & Bradbury, it all looks perfect. The visual style of the era is matched by the exploration of the ideals of era, the hypocrisy of the Cold War, as well as the trends, art and fantasy enjoyed by a post-war society. The idea that Sally Hawkins’ character was an everyday version of Audrey Hepburn was rather lovely. Hepburn typically played everyday women, when she was far from ‘everyday’, but somehow Hawkins is more beautiful as she seems more authentic, more real, so while this is a fantasy film full of nostalgia, it kind of feels like it really is happening, albeit in 1962. Hawkins is Hepburn, Doug Jones is The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Michael Shannon is the government agent in the black suit – all three are perfectly cast and brilliant in their respective performances. The two supporting roles are, however, the really special ones. Octavia Spencer plays Hawkins’ friend, co-worker and interpreter and is thus the voice of our main character. Richard Jenkins is the same, but from a more personal viewpoint. Spencer is obviously black and Jenkins’ character is openly gay – two people who would never have had such high billing or as much dialogue back in the 1950s/1960s. It’s clearly an updated tribute to the era. However, del Toro has always explored that that made him scared as a child, here he looks at a bygone era that echos our current climate that scares him as an adult. The themes cross many lines, you can read a lot into the plot and you’d probably be correct each time, but I guess at its heart is a story of love and acceptance. It’s Beauty and the Beast but set in the early 1960s, with the beast replaced by The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s a neat idea, with a great set and brilliant performances. I like it a lot but I don’t think it really deserves the hype it has received. The story itself is borrowed from many different sources, it’s a great tribute but one we’ve seen before and done in a similar style. I can see so many influences in The Shape of Water that I’m honestly not sure what actually belongs to del Toro. To be honest I see too much of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro in the film for comfort, plus the story is almost exactly the same as Paul Zindel’s Let Me Hear You Whisper and has strong connections with Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs. Caliban. Del Toro apparently approached Hawkins with the idea at an Oscar after party in 2015. He has since said he was rather drunk at the time and it wasn’t a plot that would make a person sound any less drunk – indeed, it’s a great idea – it’s just a little unfortunate that other people had it first. I enjoyed the film very much, the set creators and actors should be congratulated, It’s wonderful that del Toro has brought it to screen so wonderfully but it’s not really his, and that is the film’s big flaw. Indeed, I think I would have liked it a little more had someone like Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed it. I’m starting to think that del Toro is a producer, rather than a director, at least since 2008 anyway - everything up until then has been sublime, even Blade II, which should have been rubbish.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Mother!
Dir: Darren Aronofsky
2017
*****
2017’s Mother! is a tricky film to review. On one hand I have to congratulate director Darren Aronofsky for achieving exactly what he sets out to, but when the aim is to antagonize, aggravate and get under the skin of the viewer, it’s a very hard film to celebrate. The first hour or so is painful viewing, the story lifts ever so slightly once you realise what is in fact going on and what it all means, but before then it is pure guesswork with very few clues. For the first hour or so I actually thought it was a David Cronenberg-inspired film about anxiety that also alluded to abandonment, anthropophobia and mental health issues in general. The title also made me wonder whether it was a film about the anxieties directly linked to motherhood, from the twinkle in the eye to the birth itself. It is regarded as a psychological horror but I think that is a misleading description, it’s actually about destruction. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play nameless characters who live in a huge house together, she a homemaker and he a poet. Their idyllic life is thrown into chaos when a mysterious doctor (Ed Harris) comes to stay with them. Soon, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) joins him and they make themselves at home, much to the annoyance of Jennifer Lawrence’s she. It was when their two sons (brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson)   arrived to the house fighting that the penny dropped; they were Cain and Able, their parents were Adam and Eve, making Jennifer Lawrence mother nature and Javier Bardem God. More and more people flock to the house to pay their respects and then to visit the poet, whom they have all become obsessed over. Bardem’s God/poet greets people with open arms – he needs their love in order to live. However, mankind is cruel to mother nature and the last half an hour of the film is a dizzying nightmare of pain and brutality, first directed at the beautiful house she has lovingly built, and then at her physically. The film takes an even darker tone when the mother gives birth (Jesus) and God gives the child to the people, who eventually tear it to pieces. Now, whether or not you believe in God is one thing, we can all agree that at the very least he exists in concept, and Aronofsky’s tale is bang on the money when it alludes to the fact that without love and belief, God is as good as dead. Mother nature on the other hand is real, it’s another word of the environment, Earth really for us humans. We have indeed kicked mother nature in the personals, we pillage the landscape for our own use and have caused more damage in the very short time we have existed on it, than the millions of years before we turned up. We are a cancer to this planet, a tough thing to admit, but undeniable all the same. Aronofsky’s film is a direct allegory of this and is suitably horrible to witness. It really isn’t a subject where you could treat lightly, especially if you want to tell it exactly how it is. The last half hour of the film is devastating and horrific to watch, the 90 minutes beforehand are confusing, irritating and void of pleasure. This is why so many people slated it on its release, but as much as I didn’t enjoy watching it, I have to give credit to Aronofsky for delivering an intelligent and thought-provoking story. It’s the oldest story in the book (literally, it’s basically Genesis) and there is really nothing new about it. Using a house as an allegory for the garden of Eden isn’t that much of a stretch of the imagination either, and yet the film keeps you guessing. It’s a bizarre feeling, when you know you dislike watching something at the same time as knowing that each and every scene is brilliantly realised and executed. It isn’t supposed to be ‘entertaining’ in the classic sense, every part of the film serves a purpose and that purpose is to strike the audience and get as far under their skin as possible. It’s a job well done. Aronofsky has been hugely misunderstood with this film but then all the great directors/film are. He released the following statement as a form of explanation: "It is a mad time to be alive. As the world population nears 8 billion we face issues too serious to fathom: ecosystems collapse as we witness extinction at an unprecedented rate; migrant crises disrupt governments; a seemingly schizophrenic US helps broker a landmark climate treaty and months later withdraws; ancient tribal disputes and beliefs continue to drive war and division; the largest iceberg ever recorded breaks off an Antarctic ice shelf and drifts out to sea. At the same time we face issues too ridiculous to comprehend: in South America, tourists twice kill rare baby dolphins that washed ashore, suffocating them in a frenzy of selfies; politics resembles sporting events; people still starve to death while others can order any meat they desire. As a species our footprint is perilously unsustainable yet we live in a state of denial about the outlook for our planet and our place on it. From this primordial soup of angst and helplessness, I woke up one morning and this movie poured out of me like a fever dream. All of my previous films gestated with me for many years but I wrote the first draft of Mother! in five days. Within a year we were rolling cameras. And now two years later, it is an honor to return to the Lido for the world premiere. I imagine people may ask why the film has such a dark vision. Hubert Selby Jr, the author of Requiem for a Dream, taught me that through staring into the darkest parts of ourselves is where we find the light. "Mother!" begins as a chamber story about a marriage. At the center is a woman who is asked to give and give and give until she can give nothing more. Eventually, the chamber story can't contain the pressure boiling inside. It becomes something else which is hard to explain or describe. I can't fully pinpoint where this film all came from. Some came from the headlines we face every second of every day, some came from the endless buzzing of notifications on our smartphones, some came from living through the blackout of Hurricane Sandy in downtown Manhattan, some came from my heart, some from my gut. Collectively it's a recipe I won't ever be able to reproduce, but I do know this serving is best drunk as a single dose in a shot glass. Knock it back. Salute!" Aronofsky has shown that he is an absolute master of his craft, Mother! is an unpleasant masterpiece, brilliantly accomplished and one that I will enjoy never seeing ever again. It's hated now but mark my words, Mother! will be regarded as an essential classic in years to come.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

For the Love of Spock
Dir: Adam Nimoy
2016
****
Adam Nimoy, son of the great Leonard Nimoy, had started working on a documentary with his father about the beloved character Mr. Spock in 2014 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Star. It was to focus on the popularity of the character, what made him so popular and the cultural impact he had back then and what it has led to today. Sadly, Leonard Nimoy passed away in 2015 and the globe’s sci-fi fans lost a true hero. Adam Nimoy was determined to continue the project in tribute of his father and because he knew it is what he would have wanted him to do. However, the film because less about Mr Spock and more about the man behind the pointy ears. Adam Nimoy is very honest in his depiction of his father and this certainly isn’t the rose-tinted ‘can do no wrong’ sort of documentary you’d expect from a film about someone who has just died. Adam reveals that he and his father had a very rocky relationship, which gives the audience a very human side to the story and a level of believability. Unlike most documentaries of this nature, For The Love of Spock is free of Hollywood stories of name-dropping and outrageous parties, Nimoy was a grafter and when he wasn’t working he was with his family. Adam widened the original idea to also include examples of other productions Leonard was involved in, something that would cost a great deal of money but was raised easily through crowdfunding, making it the most successful crowdfunded film at the time. The fact that Adam appeared as himself in an episode of The Big Bang Theory and talked about the interview helped hugely, but it is safe to say that the hard-core Trekkies also dug deep, they probably learned nothing they didn’t already know but donated out of love and respect. The archive footage in the film is phenomenal and will please Star Trek fans in particular but Nimoy’s early work is also quite spectacular. Interviewees include William Shatner, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols from the original series of Star Trek, as well as Chris Pine, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto from the remake film series. Quinto, who played the updated version of Spock, was set to narrate the film but after so much archive footage emerged narration wasn’t really necessary and it was more apt for Adam to say what was needed. Celebrity Star Trek fans Jim Parsons, Jason Alexander, Neil deGrasse Tyson and J.J. Abrams may not be obviously connected to Nimoy but their interviews serve a purpose and are very entertaining. The interesting thing about the interviews with the new Star Trek cast in contrast to the original is how they all speak of Nimoy. The younger cast are quite gushing, clearly in awe but also speaking of someone they respected, met but never really knew. The original cast are clearly heartbroken and there are times when they clearly find it hard speaking to their late friend’s son so soon after his passing. There is a great sadness to the film but also a great honesty. Nothing is sugar-coated, I feel like I have genuinely learned the truth about one of my childhood heroes and I’m not at all disappointed. The tension, love and friction between Adam and his father never gets in the way of the celebration of his life but it certainly grounds the film. In a funny sort of way the fans play a huge part in the overall story and are almost like a third character, which is maybe why its appeal is wider than the usual fan documentary. Mr Spock’s humanism was always in question in the original show, and it is fascinating how Adam’s documentary compares his father’s humanism with his characters’ without white-washing, sugar-coating, insulting or holding back. Tender, raw, respectful and thought-provoking, it’s an unexpectedly refreshing tribute and exactly the sort of thing the great man himself probably would have approved of but would never have been able to make himself.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The Violent Years
Dir: William Morgan
1956
**
I love a 1950s exploitation movie but some are much better than others. Written by the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr (or Ed Wood as he is more affectionately referred to), The Violent Years is one of those films whereby the trailer is so much better than the actual film itself. Full of iconic imagery and one-liners, the film is actually more successful when the visuals are used on snap-shot posters or when the dialogue is sampled in popular music (see Ministry’s 1989 album ‘The Mind is a Terrible Thing To Taste’). It’s one of those films where the poster has adorned many a student dormitory even though the students have never seen it. I do love a bit of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it isn’t nice to mock older films because they didn’t have the same budget as modern films have but I do believe that movies such as The Violent Years are fair game. As much as I didn’t really like it, it is also fascinating from a historical angle. I’m a huge fan of film history and the 1950s American exploitation films are as interesting as they are puzzling. They depict a rather strange social mood of the time and played on the fears of an older generation. These films were made by young people and they were tongue-in-cheek films for young people, although they knew that the older generation would be outraged and both flock to see it and raise its profile by openly condemning it. Exploitation films such as The Violent Years are regularly discovered by a younger generation, and in some respects they never go out of retrospective fashion. It’s not a great film like I said but it has plenty of classical moments that I couldn’t help raising a smile to. It is ridiculous, badly acted and full of nonsensical moral preaching. The contradictory message of ‘work hard’ seems lost, when the parents of the juvenile delinquents are punished for working hard (because they have to to make ends meet) rather than looking after their kids. The juvenile delinquents are always of a wealthy background in these types of films, which I’ve always found to be a wonderfully delightful way of kicking the target audience and angering the sort of people that would essentially make these film the infamous cult movies that they are. Of course it isn’t just being spoiled that turns the kids to crime, it is also communism, a system of social organisation in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs, that is represented here by the murder of a policeman. It would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that so many gun-owning citizens still believe in such nonsense but I digress, it is important not to take such film seriously and remember that this story was written by the same man that wrote Bride of the Monster. Okay, so that is slightly unfair, as he also wrote Glen or Glenda, which is genius and Jail Bait which deserves far more credit than it has been given but The Violent Years is still as about as realistic and representative of actual social unrest as Godzilla is in Japan – ridiculous but a bit of fun.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Brawl in Cell Block 99
Dir: S. Craig Zahler
2017
*****
2017’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 is only S. Craig Zahler second film as director, and yet, I’m already a dedicated fan and think I will be as long as he is making films. Bone Tomahawk was a straight to video western that looked like it starred Kurt Russell purely because he still had that amazing mustache from The Hateful Eight, and because The Hateful Eight had just been released to much hype and success. If you had told me it was made by The Asylum I would have believed you. However, it was recommended to me by a reliable source and it blew my mine. It was the surprise film of 2015, absolutely one of the best of the year and probably the best cannibal western ever made. Bone Tomahawk was a mix of genres with a hint of grindhouse but with a quality script and character development. He understands that all of the popular horror/grindhouse/b-movie/Midnight Movie/cult films (what ever you want to call them) work due to character development. Great effects, low-budget gore and camera trickery goes a long way but the truly great cult films of the underground are the ones that have strong characters. It was true of Bone Tomahawk and it is now true of Brawl in Cell Block 99. It is clear that S. Craig Zahler is a grindhouse fan, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made the genre popular again with their Grindhouse collaboration and many new ‘tribute’ fans were made – very few being worth the effort. The truth is, grindhouse aren’t great, indeed, the only ones watchable are so bad, they’re good. Zahler has changed all that. Bone Tomahawk was a gutsy western with horror overtones and a pinch of grindhouse, Brawl in Cell Block 99 on the other hand is neo-grindhouse with a slice of John Carpenter. It’s glorious. Like all good thrillers, the story keeps you guessing right until the end. At over two hours, the film takes its time and develops the characters and the story properly but the film never feels overlong – far from it in fact. Set in prison, the first half tells the story of the crime, while the second half deals with prison life and our protagonists journey through the system. It is riveting in the first half and then next level exciting in the second, cue the John Carpenter-esque synth music and the rich and moody scenes of devastation. There are strong Assault on Precinct 13 vibes about the film as well as a few exploitation prison films from the 70s but it is very much its own animal. It is pretty brutal. I was expecting violence and maybe a bit of gore but my goodness, this film gave me bad dreams. However, the special effects are proper old-school prosthetic style, right out of classic 70s horror/b-movie/exploitation/grindhouse films. The prosthetics are actually quite obvious, exaggerated even, to magnificent effect. If you’re a fan of old b-movies of this sort you will not be disappointed. It makes many of Quentin Tarantino’s recent offerings look like cartoons in comparison. Don Johnson has reinvented himself as a bit of a b-movie villain of late, so having him as the sadistic prison warden seemed a bit clichéd but actually, it’s the best he’s been for a very long time and if you’re going to watch only one of his recent b-movies, then this is the one. It also has Udo Kier as a sinister villain, which is music to my ears as I adore Kier and no one quite does villain like he does. Jennifer Carpenter is on top form and I believe this is her best film to date but our protagonist left me baffled. It’s such a great script with some brutal scenes and a heavy mood, so why on earth would you hire Vince Vaughn in the main role? Vaughn has been in some good films and is generally likable in each one of them, but he has only really been great in Swingers and that came out twenty-one years before Brawl in Cell Block 99. He clearly worked hard and believed in the script, all of the physical and mental training he did paid off too as this is the second best performance from him of his career after Swingers. Casting Vaughn was a genius move by S. Craig Zahler, one could suggest he was ‘doing a Tarantino’ by casting an actor you wouldn’t associate with such themes but I would argue that Vaughn put in more effort than any of Tarantino’s surprise castings. It’s wonderful to see the next stage of a genre long thought over. Real grindhouse isn’t about the quality of the copy you are watching – no one watched old VHS films because they liked the fuzz, lines and crackles, that was just the way it was with old rare movies. To see the genre resurrected with crisp visuals and beautifully lit compositions is a real treat and the script is awesome – again, far juicier and far less cartoonish than your typical Tarantino. Zahler is the director I’ve been waiting a long time for.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The New World
Dir: Terrence Malick
2005
**
I have a huge problem with Disney’s Pocahontas. Pocahontas, real name Matoaka – later Rebecca Rolfe – was an exploited child. She was said to be have been between 10-12 years old when John Smith claimed her, so every time I see one of my young nieces – or any young girl – wearing a Disney Pocahontas dress or playing with a Pocahontas doll, I shudder with disgust, knowing that a big company is rewriting a nasty piece of history to sell stuff to innocent youth. Pocahontas was snatched as a child to be the sex-slave of an older man who had been at sea for many months. John Rolfe may well have loved her, but she was ripped from her home, exploited and died at a young age. She grew up in paradise and died in Gravesend of all places. She is not a ‘Disney Princess’. So when in 2005, the great but elusive Terrence Malick, who had made four fine films at that point – decades apart, announced that he was going to make a film about the founding of the Jamestown Settlement, it was met with excitement and jubilation. His 1998 epic The Thin Red Line was brilliant, a film well worth waiting twenty years for, and the fact that we only had to wait seven years for his next felt like a dream come true. However, as wonderfully dreamlike it was and how beautiful it looked, The New World represented the film whereby Malick’s legendary status was shattered. It looked like a perfume advert but wasn’t anywhere near as entertaining. One man’s ‘dreamlike’ is another mans ‘whishy-washy’, sure the colours popped right out of the screen but there was no depth to it. It felt like being given some fruit juice that says it is free from colour and additives, only to discover it glows in the dark. And your lips fall off. It’s not very often something can be so beautiful-looking and also so nauseating (although an ex-girlfriend springs to mind – meow). It’s a million times more watchable than Malick’s later films; To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, but I found it hard work all the same. I’m not sure Colin Farrell was best cast as John Smith, although I’m not sure anyone could be accused of really acting in the film. Q’orianka Kilcher is the best thing about the film, her performance of Matoaka is an impressive debut and I respected the fact that she was only 12 when she played the part as she was in real life. I think the only other actors you could accuse of good performances are Christopher Plummer, David Thewlis and Eddie Marsan. Christopher Plummer’s part was cut to ribbons and when he discovered that one of his characters most important speeches had been reduced to background noise he vowed never to work with Malick again. Thewlis’ talents were wasted yet again and Marsan’s brilliant scene was only seconds long. I will say that I respect the rules that Malick imposed on himself and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki; No artificial lights, no crane or dolly shots - just handheld Steadicams, everything to be shot in the subjective view, all shots in deep-focus (foreground and background visible and focused), camera crew encouraged to shoot unexpected things that might happen/catch their eye that instinct tells them they should film and no shot deemed to have visual strength shall not be used. The problem is however, that as Emmanuel Lubezki later admitted. Most of these rules were broken, artificial light was used often and there are plenty of shallow-focus shots. Malick was sent a bottle of champagne from Kodak, after they learned that he was the first director to use over one million feet of their film stock. Great for Kodak, but for me this is a sign of terrible direction. Christian Bale later spoke of Malick’s directing style and said he wanted to test the director and see what he’d do if he just walked out of a shot. Apparently Malik just followed him and there were crew members everywhere running away and jumping into bushes. Malick filmed the movie around an already completed score (rather than the other way round) and almost all of the dialog had to dubbed in post-production because Malick – the director! – could be heard talking in the background. This greatly respected and mysteriously elusive director seemed to be something of a charlatan. I’ve got a lot of time for the experimenters and the eccentrics but The New World is the work of an amateur director and a brilliant cinematographer. Could Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line have been luck? He got in trouble for his timekeeping during Days of Heaven and didn’t work again for twenty years, but everything he’s made since The New World has been samey, ‘dreamlike’ and about as nauseating as it gets. Calvin Kline should sue.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Black Panther
Dir: Ryan Coogler
2018
****
A Black Panther adaptation has been a long time coming and yet again, Marvel have mixed the right ingredients together to produce another fine comic book/superhero film. However, there is something a little different about Black Panther compered to the more recent films in the MCU. The core Avengers have been well established, and even though Doctor Strange,  Ant-Man and Spider-Man were all origin stories, Black Panther is an origin story in a more classical sense. Something we haven’t seen really since Iron Man, the first film of the mega franchise. In this sense, it doesn’t really feel like it is breaking new ground, but I have a lot of respect for Marvel in keeping with the character’s backstory and not skipping over it because of how far the Avengers have progressed. Black Panther has already popped up in Captain America: Civil War, which was the perfect way of introducing the new wave of Avengers, but it is absolutely correct that time be spent telling the tale of Black Panther and the secret country of Wakanda. I’ve been a huge fan of Chadwick Boseman since I saw him portray James Brown in the criminally overlooked Get On Up that came out back in 2014. I was thrilled that he was cast but I had wondered whether Michael B. Jordan would have been a more obvious choice. I honestly thought they would cast Jordan and I said so before he was announced as Killmonger (honest, you can ask my wife). Maybe his roles in Chronicle and Fantastic Four prevented him from playing another ‘hero’ but I thought if Chris Evens could do it, then he probably could too. I’m glad he played the film’s villain, he’s a great hero figure in Creed and the good guy in Fruitvale Station but wow, he really gets his teeth into the bad guy role here and it’s fantastic to see his transformation. The supporting cast is propped up by two old-school legends; Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, but it also features some of the best talent of the day. I was thrilled to see Daniel Kaluuya in a big budget superhero film, he fits the character well, even though Andy Serkis’s Klaue seems to have stolen his bionic arm from the comics, and Winston Duke is superb in what is one of his first major roles, as the films big serious warrior and also comic relief. Lupita Nyong’o is strong as Nakia, a Wakandian spy and love interest to T’Challa, Danai Gurira is fantastic as Okoye, commander of the Dora Milaje, a magnificent warrior and a brilliant addition the Avengers and Letitia Wright is great as Shuri, younger sister of T’Challa and a tech genius – probably my favorite character of the film. Those that know the Black Panther comics will know that the three female characters are relatively new but if they stick to what happens in the comics, the MCU could get even more interesting. The three actresses and their characters are brilliant, Black Panther represents the first mainly Black cast of characters in a superhero film (not counting the brilliant but comical Meteor Man) and also a mainly Black cast in a huge blockbuster. It’s a milestone for sure and an important one but I don’t see a cast that is the best of black actors, I simply see one of the best casts of actors working today. It’s also worth pointing out that this is a strong film for women too, with three brilliant female actors in three predominant roles. I say this because I noticed that the cinema audience I sat with was predominantly black. I go to see all of the MCU film on the day they come out, generally at the same time of day, and usually it is a white and altogether nerdy affair. A lot has been made of Black Panther being ‘all black’ but I really wish it wasn’t a thing, it’s a bump we really need to get over and should have done by now, and I look forward to a proper mix of colour/sex on screen and in the audience. Still, it is a big step in the right direction and should be celebrated as such. Martin Freeman’s Agent Ross seemed a little redundant to be honest, he’s not exactly a big player in the MCU yet so he didn’t tie the films together and he really didn’t have very much to add. I loved Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue but felt he was underused. However, the biggest criticism I had with the film was the story. I was happy that it was simple and that it covered the origins of The Black Panther but there weren’t many surprises. It was predictable, not just in itself but also due to what is already known about the next MCU film, Avengers: Infinity War. It must be something of a continuity nightmare for all those involved but for those of us paying attention, the conclusion was clear right from the very beginning and I think the overall film suffers a little bit because of it. I think Ryan Coogler was the perfect choice of director, with only just a few films under his belt he is already someone to get excited about. The MCU films are unique, in that you can’t help but compare them to each other. The previous Marvel film was Thor: Ragnarok and it was brilliant, Black Panther is a totally different film and is, in all honesty, a little less exciting, but brilliant at the same time. People complain of superhero/comic adaption fatigue but seriously, not all cocktails are the same, some are flamboyant and some are just classics; Black Panther feels like a classic and it goes down smooth. I’m not passed out drunk by the MCU just yet though, I’m still dancing on the table.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Colossal
Dir: Nacho Vigalondo
2017
*****
It really bothers me that Colossal went largely overlooked because certain critics who are in, quite frankly, baffling positions of influence, couldn’t get their head’s round the cross over of two vastly different genres. Colossal is an indie-style social drama that crosses over into the monster movie genre. It’s something new, something that should be celebrated. I’m not just giving  the film or its director Nacho Vigalondo credit for originality either, I’m giving Colossal a huge five star rating because it is intelligent, entertaining and one of the best, most refreshing films of the last few years. It’s almost as if people have forgotten that the original Godzilla was a social drama in disguise, Godzilla himself representing Japan’s fear of the Hydrogen bomb following the devastation of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Most giant monsters depicted in classic b-movies are a metaphor for something else, ranging from nuclear holocaust to the Cold War invasion of Communists – whatever the big fear of the day is basically. Colossal is no different, except the fear is personal to just one person. That person is Gloria (played by Anne Hathaway), who, after arriving home drunk in the early hours yet again, is dumped by her financially supportive boyfriend and kicked out of their shared apartment. He is the bad guy until we realise that Gloria is an alcoholic and has all the selfishness that comes with it. She sleeps all day, she uses people and is unreliable. A struggling writer, Gloria has developed a self-centred attitude where she is the center of the universe. She’s friendly and never nasty to anyone, she just lets them down, and in turn, lets her self down. She’s a lot of people I know. It is quite refreshing to see a character depicted in this way; real and uncliche. You feel for her but she isn’t hard done by, she lets herself down and no one else is to blame. She heads back home to her hometown in New England, into her parents old and empty house. She bumps into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), an old friend of her’s from childhood and he offers her work in his bar. Oscar takes a shine to Gloria, who takes full advantage of his bar’s selection of alcohol. Gloria also has memory loss after a night’s drinking and forgets that she has flirted with Oscar’s friends, which hurts the lovelorn bar owner who thought his feelings could be reciprocated. After one evening of heavy drinking, Gloria wakes to find herself on a park bench and heads home to rest. To everyone’s amazement, that night news reports tell of a giant monster sighting in downtown Seoul. The giant lizard monster appeared and then disappeared into thin air, after knocking down a few buildings and making some strange movements. When the same event happens a few days later, Gloria notices that the movements of the monster are very similar to her own and the penny drops. Whenever she walks through the park at 8.05am, the monster manifests on the other side of the world and mimics her movements. She is the monster. In order to confirm for herself that it isn’t a delusion, she asks Oscar and his buddies (Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson) to come with her to the park and watch live footage from Seoul. It isn’t a delusion, she is the monster. However, Oscar, upset that Gloria had knocked him back and had slept with his friend, shows his true colours and strikes out in the only way he thinks will hurt Gloria – he enters the park himself and a giant robot appears in Seoul. The film then becomes a big monster movie, with giant lizard vs giant robot. It’s fiendishly wry and a brilliant black comedy, especially for the nerds among us. In downtown Seoul it is lizard vs robot but in New England it is Selfishness vs resentment, a perfect representation of real life, told through the medium of monster. How they actually manifest themselves as monsters is explained, not brilliantly, but for me it was the least important aspect of the story and not something the audience needs to get hung up on. It’s happening, it’s amazing, it’s best to leave it there and look at the bigger (and smaller) picture. The conclusion is awesome. I thought the exploration of what makes a real monster was exceptionally clever and I pretty much adored everything about the movie. Anne Hathaway has never been better in my opinion, and amazingly she was in the second trimester of her pregnancy while filming. She sought out the film when looking for something new, citing that she had found herself in ‘a little bit of an artistic no man’s land’. She has since said that it reminded her in some respects of her favourite film; Being John Malkovich, which makes a lot of sense. Most criticism was that it was a one-trick novelty and totally incomprehensible. To hear such things from film critics working for some of the biggest news papers in the world is staggering really, as it is easy to comprehend and should be celebrated for its originality, wit and intelligence. It’s probably also the most charming movie of the year, charm oozing out of every millimetre of film reel/pixel. Tragically misunderstood by an army of critics who I can only imagine want a different career or want to watch the same films over and over again. A future cult hit for sure.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Atomic Blonde
Dir: David Leitch
2017
**
Atomic Blonde is extremely stylish. It really does look the business, with lots of fancy fight choreography, stunning visuals and great composition. It captures the neon-lit style of the late 80s rather wonderfully, indeed, it made me feel all nostalgic and the choice 80s tunes were brilliant. However, it is very much a case of style over content and I’m afraid the visuals weren’t enough for the film to rest on. The fight scenes were very impressive but they weren’t enough, and they soon became rather samey. I’ve read several critics congratulate the film for its remarkable editing but personally I could tell the action scenes weren’t all one take as they jolted backwards and forwards to a giddying degree, so much so, that I actually felt it uncomfortable to watch at times. It says it’s based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart but it is very different and only really shares the basics of the overall plot. The truth is, Charlize Theron wanted to do an action film in the vein of John Wick and thought that the graphic novel’s story would lend itself to it successfully. She bagged John Wick co-director David Leitch, copied all of John Wick’s choreography and visual flare, and even trained alongside Keanu Reeves as he prepared for John Wick 2. The finished film is nothing like John Wick, indeed, John Wick is much better, instead, it’s like a sickly-neon action version of Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy – something I’m not sure anyone really wanted. It’s hardly a film ‘based on a graphic novel’ in the classic sense, these days it sounds good and gives people an idea of what they can expect. Truth is, the film is full of false promise. I like Charlize Theron very much, she can certainly do action competently, but I don’t think it is where she excels. She can certainly kick ass but I’m afraid the quieter scenes are a bit laughable and she often forgets she is playing a British spy and often slips into her normal American accent. Theron’s original character isn’t bi-sexual in the novel but she does have a sex scene with a female French Spy (Sofia Boutella) in the film. I believe there needs to be more representation on film, but only when the film benefits from it. Any sex scene, whether it be man and woman, man and man or woman and woman, has to have a point to it – here it is pure titillation. Nothing new there but everyone involved sound really proud of it, like they’ve done something profoundly good, which is really a load of nonsense. You see, James McAvoy stated in an interview that he read up on post-World War II MI6 recruits to get into character and discovered that many of them were functioning alcoholics, drug addicts and gay men because they had usable experience in holding a big secret. McAvoy, who played a double agent, requested his character be a bit of a druggie and homosexual. The producers said yes to the druggie but no to the gay, stating that Theron’s character was already gay and they couldn’t possibly have to homosexuals in one film. It’s pure titillation, which is fine, as long as they don’t pretend it is anything but. The film has no integrity, no originality and absolutely no charm at all. It looks cool as hell, but strobe lighting is no good for when you want to read. It’s a one trick pony, and to be honest, that one trick gets tired quickly. The characters had no development behind them, McAvoy did well considering but at the end of the day none of the characters had any mystery to them and nor did I care what they did, who they really were or if they lived or died. The flashback narrative was a weak plot structure and the final twist is probably the most underwhelming twist I have ever seen. Seriously, I think I’d rather just watch a neon light and listen to Depeche Mode instead of watch this again, or the inevitable sequel.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Early Man
Dir: Nick Park
2018
**
This really pains me to say, but Nick Park’s Early Man isn’t very good. I adore everything that has come out of Aardman Animations thus far and I think Nick Park is a champion of Britishness but Early Man misses the mark at every step of the way. It started off well, with a strong cast of British voice’s including Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams and Gina Yashere who all make up a small group of silly but instantly lovable Cave persons. The humour is slight, cheeky, a little bit surreal and extremely draft. Perfect, I thought to myself, a very simple but higly detailed story about Cave dwellers much in the vein of Park’s previous works Creature Comforts and Wallace & Gromit, and all the things that have influenced Aardman over the years, such as Monty Python and The Goodies. Tom Hiddleston, Rob BrydonKayvan Novak and the brilliant Miriam Margolyes join the cast later on in the film, but not before the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse. I’m not sure I would have gone to see the film at the cinema (which was cold and lonely by the way) if I had known it was about football (ugh, Soccer). Suddenly the beautifully simple Cave dweller theme was taken over by the Bronze Age (literally) and everything became about a nonsensical football match. The jokes started falling flatter and flatter and everything great about the first ten minutes of the film becomes a distant memory. Some of the voice work was actually pretty rubbish too if I’m being honest. Kayvan Novak is known for his silly voices but here he is given nothing but a sensible character to work with. I will have to trust Nick Park that it was the real Tom Hiddleston who voiced the film’s villain and the funniest characters in the film played by Richard Ayoade, Johnny Vegas and Mark Williams got about three lines each. I didn’t think I’d want an Aardman film to be sillier, they’re usually silly enough, but Early Man, a film with a terribly silly premise, is just too darn serious. Where was the Nick Park observational humour and the general daftness? However, I love that so much Britishness has been kept in he film that usually wouldn’t see the likes of day due to its insular humour. Much of it will probably go over the heads of anyone not from the UK but I don’t know why we pander to it so much as a nation. There are loads of American references that we don’t understand in Hollywood films – we either let them slide or we research them – it’s never really a problem and I guess were used to it. A Nick Park film wouldn’t be true if it didn’t have its Britishness about it. For example; Maisie Williams’s character is called Goona – this is what Arsenal Football fans are often referred to as, Johnny Vegas is called Asbo, which is a an ‘Anti-social behaviour order, typically given to naughty kids and Brian and Bryan are based on two famous football pundits. You can google what a zebra crossing is yourselves. Apart from the ‘Britishness’, the tiny glimpse of Park humour of yesteryear and the giant duck, I’m afraid – as unlikable as Early Man isn’t, I felt it to be somewhat of a let down. I didn’t enjoy writing this review one bit.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Raw
Dir: Julia Ducournau
2017
****
Imagine if an American film did cannibal horror set in a University, it certainly wouldn’t look anything like Raw. Nothing looks like Raw to be honest, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. There aren’t enough cannibal themed horrors in my opinion and if you are going to delve into the genre then it has to be done right and that means it should challenge, antagonize and make the viewer feel physically sick. Raw does all three. However, give me Cannibal Holocaust, Delicatessen or Parents any day of the week. I loved the realism and the quiet doom of Raw but felt that it had been done better in Claire Denis’s part cannibal/part vampire horror Trouble Every Day back in 2001. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Julia Ducournau’s Raw, I just disliked the story’s setting. The development of the young character makes her university the perfect backdrop, I just found this particular university to be wrong for the tone of the film. What kind of university would allow second and third year students abuse and torment new starters? It might happen, but never to the scale seen here. It took away an important aspect of the realism for me that I found detrimental to the rest of the film. Change around twenty minutes of the film and I would be heralding it as a horror masterpiece but as it is I think it makes mistakes. However, what it gets right, it get gets exceptionally right. It has several key scenes that will one day belong in the horror hall of fame – more scenes in fact than many classics I can think of. The film is so provocative it almost feels like bullying, and to provoke and antagonize the audience in such a way is a feat of dark genius. The horror of the story isn’t just saved for the ‘horror’ parts of the film neither, Ducournau finds little bits of darkness in everyday life, everyday people and in each and every one of us. I would generally run a mile away from a film that would hand out specially made vomit bags in cinema showings as part of a marketing strategy but I know that wasn’t the work of Ducournau, who was actually shocked to learn of people being taken ill during showings. My wife couldn’t watch more than twenty minutes, I stayed until the end but was fairly green by the end of it. I have to say though, it wasn’t so much the gore, blood and body-eating that made me feel uncomfortable, it was the way people treated each other and the provocative nature of the lead character played by Garance Marillier. Marillier is brilliant and utterly memorizing throughout the film. She flourishes as the story progresses and her characters transformation is the work of a hugely talented actor. I just didn’t feel comfortable watching a sixteen year old girl urinate (standing up no less). The provocative nature of the film is key to the story and it works successfully, but I still don’t like listening to the sound of someone scratching a blackboard, which is what watching Raw felt like at times. I’m glad the film didn’t go full horror though, not in the classical mainstream sense anyway. I thought the climax was genuinely one of the best I’d seen for many a year and made up for any misgivings I had with the rest of the film. It felt a little like a cannibal version of Ginger Snaps, directed by Gregg Araki, with a little bit of old school Cronenberg thrown in for good measure.