Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.
As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.
It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)
Written and Directed by: Jacques Demy
Produced by: Mag Bodard
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Ellen Farmer, Mirielle Perrey etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I knew there were good reasons to get married. The obvious one is the positive nature of a caring relationship and not becoming a lonely, bitter old man. The other is that given my wife loves films too, she will introduce me to the occasional classic film I may have missed. Thus, we went to the BFI and watched the classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). While she is a massive fan of the musical genre, I can take or leave it generally. Every now and then though I will really love a musical film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is now one of them.
Starting in 1957 and structured over three acts that end in 1963, we follow the lives and loves of two main protagonists, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). The ups and downs of their romance drives the narrative. The two struggle to keep their love alive amidst the obstacles of military conflict, social convention and family pressure. While the story is relatively simple, Jacques Demy’s wonderful script and direction warms you to the two young lovers. So much so, by the emotionally gut-wrenching ending, even a grizzled cynic like myself felt like crying.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is not your classic all-singing-all-dancing musical. It is more an opera of everyday life and love. The actors sing the dialogue all the way through and once I got used to this, the device really worked well for the story. Of course, Michel Legrand’s incredible score literally drenches the colourful sets and mise-en-scene with wonder. Moreover, Demy’s cinematographer, Jean Rabier, works miracles; his camera gliding around the actors in small spaces such as shops, garages, apartments and French cafes. Lastly, Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are such an attractive, but beautifully tragic screen couple. Clearly their touching story, amazing music and Jacques Demy’s cinematic brilliance had a massive influence of Damian Chazelle’s splendidLa La Land (2016).
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris etc.
UK Release Platform: Amazon
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There are many reasons to have missed a film at the cinema. Life can get in the way or you’re not really feeling drawn to a movie or there are just too many films out you want to see, so some slip through the net. But, Remember (2015), was NOT even released by A24 in the United Kingdom, for some unknown reason. I only found it by accident on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a shame because the Atom Egoyan directed revenge thriller is an under-rated gem, with a slow-burning and hypnotically compelling script.
The narrative concerns Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor living in a New York nursing home. He forms a bond with fellow camp survivor, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau). On Max’s behest, Zev sets out on a mission to track down the concentration camp Nazis who killed their respective families. Suffering from dementia, however, means Zev’s memory comes and goes. So, Zev must follow Max’s written instructions to the letter.
Noir and crime thrillers are littered with revenge and pursuit narratives. The amnesiac protagonist too is an often-used character trope. While it is a familiar path and the beats of Remember (2015) will remind you of a recent low budget crime classic (I won’t say for fear of spoilers), the pace is more akin to David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999). Zev’s journey across country via train and bus finds him methodically tracking various potential Nazis all hiding under the same fake name. As his memory comes and goes, Zev has to keep reading the letter to remind him what he’s doing. Despite such narrative repetition I found this just as suspenseful and thrilling as faster-paced films.
Atom Egoyan directs with significant subtlety and skill. He’s an experienced filmmaker whose films can be left field character studies; often playing with linearity and structure. Moreover, they usually win festival prizes and are lauded by critics. I think though that this is his most accessible film to date. Christopher Plummer is, unsurprisingly, quite brilliant. He inhabits his character with both steel and sympathy. Benjamin August’s script is respective of Auschwitz survivors and those suffering from dementia. The fact he has managed to loop these themes into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Liam Neeson, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Cruise, Willis et al action flick, makes Remember (2015) a film I won’t forget in a hurry.
Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner etc.
Music by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
John Carpenter’sHalloween (1978) is a seminal horror film experience. It spawned an army of sequels and sidequels and reboots which darkened the cinemas, mostly failing to get anywhere near Carpenter’s low-budget masterpiece in terms of quality and scares. It also gave birth, along with Black Christmas (1974), to the slasher film genre. Of course Hitchcock’s classicPsycho (1960), could make claim to that too, but following the success of Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the bloodgates opened. What followed was a deluge of stabbing and slashing copycat killer movies from the late 1970s onwards.
Flash forward to 2018 and with Halloween (2018), we now have the ELEVENTH film in the franchise. Having read some decent reviews I sat down to watch it last night on, aptly enough, Halloween night. My expectations were pretty low, but I was encouraged by the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, plus David Gordon Green has proved himself a very solid filmmaker in the past. Movies like decent stoner comedy, Pineapple Express (2008), and dramas Joe (2013), and Stronger (2017), were very watchable. Least said about Your Highness(2011), the better.
The film opens with an excellent set-piece establishing Michael Myers, some forty years older, in a maximum security mental health institution. Two reporters have come for an interview for their latest true crime podcast. Safe to say Myers isn’t interested in communicating. The editing and imagery and music combine to create a very unsettling experience, so the film starts strongly. We then re-establish Myers’ narrative counterpart, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Now, you have to swallow the fact that this is a direct sequel to the original Carpenter classic. None of the other films happened; which essentially works, despite some wonky dialogue and exposition. Thankfully, with Lee Curtis on excellent form as the post-traumatised Strode, we have a flawed but compelling heroine to root for. Strode has been waiting for Myers and preparing with firepower, high security and wits in order to defeat him. Sub-plots involving Strode’s daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) are developed, but kind of lose their way as the murderous Myers mayhem begins. Still, at least they tried to write some depth into the screenplay.
After a very strong start the film begins to unravel in the middle. The machinations of the plot to get Myers on the Halloween rampage felt random and illogical in places. An important event occurs off-screen and this impacted my commitment to the story. This isn’t really a criticism as such, because genre conventions and a high death rate need to be met. However, despite some well directed set-pieces, whenever Laurie Strode was off-screen the film lost some emotional power. Having said that, if it is deaths with knives, hammers, cars and crow-bars you want, this film contains that and more.
Overall, I really wanted to enjoy this film more than I did. I think the work of Gordon Green and Curtis is especially good. The script however, suffered during a messy second act, although the final showdown was really well executed (sorry.) With $250 million made at the box office, it goes to show though that the Halloween franchise is alive and kicking and two further sequels are planned. It has some scary moments, some brilliant gore and the iconic music still haunts me to this day. Nonetheless, this reboot doesn’t hold a pumpkin flame to the original. Then again, not many horror films do.
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Nellie the Dog etc.
Music: Carter Logan
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’ve recently been working on a screenwriting development programme with someone studying at the National Film and Television School. The idea is to further develop one of my feature film scripts and hopefully improve it. The Script Developer is assessed on the work we do together.
I tell you this because we discussed my script, which is a slice-of-life-bittersweet comedy, in relation to character journeys and arcs. I was keen to present a script made more of humorous and dramatic situations that do not necessarily bring about change in the character. I wanted to go against the general rules of screenwriting manuals to create something more akin to the works of Mike Leigh or Jim Jarmusch.
Eventually, I have decided that the screenplay did need a bit more narrative impetus, however, a film such as Paterson (2016), brilliantly shows what cinematic beauty you can achieve without having a critical character journey or narrative arc. It is cinema of poetry, repetition, small moments, character interaction, and subtle performance full of emotional impact. I’m not sure why I missed it at the cinema, but there you go.
Paterson (2016) is set in Paterson, New Jersey. Adam Driver is a bus driver who has the same name as the place he lives in. This amusing coincidence is mentioned a few times throughout the film. Paterson lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who spends her days working on her art and has a love for black and white patterns. Farahani and Jarmusch fill this character with an idealised innocence and energy which perfectly complements Paterson’s more deadpan insouciance. I sensed that perhaps Paterson was depressed but I think he was happy deep down. The couple themselves are very content with their simple existence.
We spend a week with Paterson, his wife and Nellie the Dog and his days are pretty much the same. While some may wonder where the story is and when something will happen, I was hypnotised by the repetition. Jarmusch infuses the bus driving, dog walking and quiet moments of reflection with excerpts from Paterson’s and other poets’ works. These are recited by Driver with a laconic charm and mesmeric power.
Personally, I could watch Adam Driver all day. He has such a subliminal and easy acting style, yet you feel such empathy for his character. I thought the back-story of Paterson being a marine was underplayed, but also intriguing. The performance is so good we do not need to know what happened in Paterson’s past, because we can feel it in Driver’s face and being. Moreover, via Paterson we get introduced to another set of eccentric Jarmusch characters which dip in and out of his days.
In conclusion, Jim Jarmusch has created another exquisite character study where very little happens in terms of plot or character development. But that’s the point with this beautifully rendered slice-of-life. The care and love he pours into the lead protagonists, supporting characters and his passion for poetry, make this a modern mini-masterpiece. It is also a charming tribute to all those creative people who work a regular day job but aspire to express their vision of the world around them.
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine etc.
Cinematography: Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Inglourious Basterds anyone? More like inglorious mutants!
I love a good B-movie horror film and I love a good B-movie war film! So, I’m still confused as to why I missed this one at the cinema first time round. It was released in November 2018 in the UK, so perhaps I was still in London Film Festival mode? Perhaps it fell through the cracks after a busy October cinema-going? Perhaps the marketing wasn’t strong enough over here? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps?
Anyway, I caught up with it on Sky Cinema via the television box and I immediately regretted not seeing it on the big screen. The film is set in June 1944 during the Allied invasionof Normandy. The operation was called Overlord and part of the WWII D-Day push to defeat the dastardly Nazis. It opens superbly, in mid-flight, as a fighter bomber carries American soldiers about to parachute into enemy territory. Safe to say aeroplane food, crying children and lack of leg room are the least of their worries.
The explosive, noisy and destructive opening sequence sets an incredible pace. Also, the body count starts to stack up too as we land in occupied France. Not so much a dirty dozen as a filthy four remain after the landing carnage. The ragtag quartet consisting of nervous rookie, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), tough-guy Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), mouthy Private Tibbet (John Magaro), and war photographer Private Chase (Iain De Caestecker), are joined by French civilian fighter, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) in battling the Nazi hordes. Their mission is to take out a Nazi radio tower, but we get a whole lot more than the usual WWII battle sequences. Something horrific is lurking in the church where the radio tower is.
While the film essentially deals in genre archetypes the narrative pace, action and suspense really get the heart racing. Moreover, the cast commit to the action and bloodshed with impressive abandon. What I liked was, with relatively unknown actors cast, it meant there was suspense in who would or wouldn’t survive. So, in a film full of surprises this added another layer of tension you wouldn’t get in a star-driven film. Nonetheless, the real asset of the film is the monstrous soldiers born out of the sinister minds of the Nazi Doctors. These are some real nasty pieces of work! Indeed, director Julius Avery revels in representing the bloody carnage these experimental creatures bring. You can’t beat a good old Nazi monster baddie! Well, you can! In all sorts of fleshy, fiery and visceral ways!
I recognised Wyatt Russell from other films and TV shows, and he was great. Russell exuded all the tough qualities his father Kurt has shown down the years, but he gave Corporal Ford a steely edge all of his own. Jovan Adepo and John Magaro impressed as chalk and cheese soldiers, initially clashing but subsequent gaining respect for each other. Adepo’s Private Boyce grows from frightened rabbit to resilient hero over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones scenery-chewer, Pilou Asbæk, begins with quite a subtle portrayal of SS Captain Wafner. Yet, by the end he is on gloriously over-the-top form as the most mutated of all the Nazis.
Ultimately, this is a mid-budget B-movie genre gem. It has lashings of action, blood and gore. It also combined war and horror genres really impressively. I would have liked even more gore and a bit more backstory regarding the Nazi experiments, but that would have probably ruined the surprises. Also, it’s definitely not one of the most original films you will see as there are major echoes of many soldiers-on-a-mission war films, the video-game Wolfenstein and also From Dusk Til Dawn (1995) too. But, with Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier and Jovan Adepo impressing in the cast and Avery directing the hell out of the explosive action and bloody fighting, I had a great time watchingOverlord (2018). It’s just a damn shame I missed it on the big screen when first released.
Produced by: Marco Morabito, Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, Silvia Venturini, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, William Sherak, Gabriele Moratti
Screenplay by: David Kajganich – Based on Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento and Dari Nicolodi
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Chloe Grace Moretz, Malgosia Bela, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper etc.
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There are so many films released that it is virtually impossible to see them all. Plus, even if you didn’t have to work to earn a damned wage or physically need sleep you still wouldn’t be able to watch everything at the cinema. More specifically though, we may choose NOT to go to see a film on the big screen for certain reasons. Collectively, I consider these movies to be “one’s that got away!”
Thus, in a new section called, unsurprisingly, FILMS THAT GOT AWAY, I will be reviewing films which I missed first time round at the cinema and have subsequently caught up with on Sky, Amazon, Netflix, Blu-Ray or even good old-fashioned terrestrial television. I will consider the film critically as entertainment and why I missed it first time round. As usual the film will be marked out of eleven.
When the UK release of Suspiria (2018) was announced there were many reasons I was immediately put off from wanting to see it. Firstly, despite having watched it three times, I genuinely could not stand the original Dario Argento film. I know people consider it a horror classic; however, I think story wise, it’s a bad film. It’s neither scary from an emotional point-of-view or actually makes any sense logically. I know it’s meant to be based on surreal and nightmarish imagery, montage and performance, but the story or characters did not connect with me. The colour design, gore and soundtrack are outstanding but, overall, I felt I was trapped watching the manic outpourings of an Italian psychopath.
The second reason I did not want to watch it is I haven’t always got on with Luca Guadagnino’s cinematic works. Don’t get me wrong, he is a brilliant filmmaker. However, I find him an indulgent artist whose tone, pace and direction seems haphazard. Of the films I have seen, I Am Love (2009) was a brilliant character study, anchored by a stunning Tilda Swinton performance. But A Bigger Splash (2011) and Call Me By Your Name (2017), were expertly constructed but indulgent and over-rated travelogues littered with narcissistic bores. Nonetheless, I really liked Suspiria (2018). It is almost, but for Guadagnino’s typical excesses, a horror masterpiece.
Set in 1977 (when the original was released), at the height of the Cold War in divided Germany, Suspiria, is a heady mix of rites of passage, cold war and horror genres. There are many narrative strands with which the screenplay, by David Kajganich, attempts to balance. Further, we also have personal, political, religious, artistic, gender and communal themes prevalent through the story. While it’s an ensemble cast the focus is Dakota Johnson’s Susie. She is a young aspiring dancer, from an Amish background, who joins the world-famous Markos dance company. In the process she is determined to impress Tilda Swinton’s commanding mentor. The parallel narrative involves psychiatrist Dr Josef Klemperer and his investigation into a missing patient (Chloe Grace Moretz); who also happens to be a dancer from the troupe.
As the story unfolds Susie proves herself an incredibly powerful dancer. At the same time, it is revealed that the elders and teachers of the dance group are hiding a sinister secret with darkness and ritual to the bloody fore. Memorable dance sequences full of beauty, energy and gore dominate, with Dakota Johnson giving an impressively physical acting portrayal. I also liked the nuanced control within her character as she grows stronger with each dance. Meanwhile, further dark events occur as Dr Klemperer’s investigations draw him closer to the troupe’s shadowy doors.
As I said, Suspiria is almost a horror masterpiece. The filmmaking, cinematography, art direction, choreography and score by Thom Yorke all collide to create an incredibly tense and terrifying experience. Moreover, while I was fully committed to the characters in the dance troupe and Susie’s movement up the ranks, the choice to juxtapose the socio-political events seemed to belong in another film. The religious context and notions of family and matriarchal dominance were incredibly powerful too and served the horror well. However, Guadagnino, in my humble view should have shaved some scenes from the running time. While I much prefer this film to the Argento original, a further edit for pace would have made this even better. Nonetheless, it had me riveted throughout through the sheer quality of filmmaking. I was incredibly impressed by the melding of dance and death. Indeed, the final orgiastic ritual with buckets of blood, decapitations and gnarled monsters was supernaturally unforgettable.