Producer(s): Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Rodrigo Teixeira, Arnon Milchan
Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Kennedy and more.
UK Release: 20th September 2019
5 REASONS AD ASTRA (2019) COULD BE GOOD
I haven’t done one of these for a while so thought I’d reignite my movie preview section. The main reason is the trailer for science-fiction epic, Ad Astra (2019) looked absolutely brilliant, so I’m very excited to see it at the cinema when released. Here are five reasons it could be good.
1) THE STORY
I love the science fiction genre and space especially is a great place to create mystery and drama. The narrative to Ad Astra (2019) finds Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travelling to the depths of the galaxy to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones). While it appears to be an original script, the story owes much to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.Thus, if we get anywhere near as incredible as Apocalypse Now (1979), but set in space, this could be really great.
2) THE DIRECTOR
Director James Gray has steadily built up a very impressive film C.V. of character and crime dramas. His last film, The Lost City of Z (2016). a jungle epic was a box office loser, but a really compelling drama about exploration and obsession in the Victorian era. Ad Astra (2019) is his biggest budgeted film so far, but given his filmmaking skills and experience, it could be his best yet.
3) THE STAR
Flying high from starring in Tarantino’s twisted movie fairytale, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), Brad Pitt is proving his star quality still burns brightly. Pitt is always a commanding lead actor and he has played: Nazi Hunters, bare-knuckled fighters, disaffected thirty-something alter-egos, baseball coaches, infamous cowboys, romantic heroes, stoners, vampires, cops, psychopathic drifters, hit-men and many more characters. Here he plays an astronaut and I think it is only his second sci-fi film after the superb Twelve Monkeys (1995). Thus, Brad Pitt’s appearance is another reason to get excited.
4) SPECIAL EFFECTS
While I’m a screenwriter myself and more drawn to story rather than effects driven films, The Moving Picture Company are leading special effects experts. They have worked with Method Studios, Mr X, Weta, Brainstorm Digital etc. on this film and so the work on this space opera looks like it could be incredible. Indeed, The Moving Picture Company alone have provided effects for: Blade Runner 2049 (2018), The Jungle Book (2017), Sully (2017), The Martian (2016), The Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) and many more!
5) THE TRAILER
Because I am so experienced and probably jaded where trailers are concerned, it takes a lot to get my attention when at the cinema. But, the trailer for Ad Astra (2019) absolutely rocked. It did not give ALL the story away and made me want to watch the film. Don’t take my word for it – here it is:
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW
Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!
So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.
Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.
DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.
Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.
Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.
While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.
Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.
Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!
Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.
I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.
Last year I wrote, produced and directed my second short film called Tolerance. Post-production was carried out and completed including artwork and the music. It was finished earlier this year and I am now releasing the film online here.
TOLERANCE premiered at the Unrestricted View Film Festival, London in April 2019. Also, it was nominated for best art direction award at http://www.uvff.co.uk.
Also screened at:
Fix Films Ltd Film Night, London, March 2019 UK Monthly Online Film Festival, April 2019 Lift-Off Online Sessions, Pinewood Studios, April 2019 Direct Monthly Online Festival, April 2019
Tolerance is a story of obsession, revenge and murder. It concerns a dinner “date” which takes a murderous turn. Inspired by narratives by Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected and Inside No. 9, it suspensefully examines both personal and societal issues when a relationship breaks down.
On the surface it is essentially a suspensful thriller and dark comedy. However, within the subtext I attempt to examine the harm people inflict on each other with their relationship choices. Lastly, with the recent #MeToo furore that correctly highlighted the horrendous toxicity of human behaviour, I wanted to consider wider concerns of gender politics.
CAST AND CREDITS
Written and directed by: Paul Laight Starring: Georgia Kerr and Patrick Tolan Sound: Marina Fusella Camera: Edward Lomas Lighting: Kato Murphy Make-Up: Camille Nava Music: James Wedlock Editor: Jodie Williams Set Designer: Melissa Zajk
Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry-Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and many more.
As a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and a big fan of zombie films I was really looking forward to the Dead Don’t Die (2019). Interestingly though, it neither works as an arthouse horror film or dramatic zombie film. There’s a lot to enjoy, especially with the deadpan wit, but overall the film felt underwhelming to me.
Set in the fictional American town of Centerville, we find out fracking or some similar stupid human being industrial act has caused a global disaster. Suddenly we get a disparate set of townsfolk including hermits, Republican farmers, waitresses, cops, morticians, College kids, all fighting the living dead. The acting led by Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton is the best thing about the film. Yet, while I was chuckling at many of the dry lines of dialogue, the film falls flat with a plodding and disappointing ending. Jarmusch, in his inimitable style essentially undermines the raft of intriguing archetypes he has established with a deconstructive and knowing final act.
I think the main problem is Jarmusch, while paying lip service to the likes of George A. Romero, did not commit fully to making a proper zombie film. This is a comedic parody and satire which lost me when Adam Driver’s character become overly self-reflexive. Jarmusch sets up some great characters to fight the dead but throws them away for clever-clever-Godardian-oh-we’re-in-a-movie references which undermine the comedy, drama and horror. I love Jarmusch’s style and he has made some cult cinema classics. This, alas, is not one of them.
Mark: 6.5 out of 11
ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)
Directed and written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga etc.
Having watched the Dead Don’t Die (2019), I decided to make the most of my Odeon Limitless card and watch the next instalment in a franchise which shows absolutely no sign of dying. I really liked The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, which involved horror experts including James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, the monstrous creations such as Annabelle and The Nun are pretty thin in terms of credible horror threat and cinematic quality. Having said that this latest film Annabelle 3 film already made $200 million at the box office, so what do I know!?
The story is pretty threadbare, but it concerns Ed and Lorraine Warren’s demonic spirit room which, for some bizarre reason they entrust a teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), NOT to open while they’re away. Guess what happens? A friend of Mary Ellen, Daniela (Katie Sarife), opens the spirit room and all hell breaks loose due to Annabelle the evil doll causing all the devilish spirits to rise up and frighten the characters half to death.
I actually liked the cast of young actors here, most notably McKenna Grace, who is very talented. Daniela’s character also had some decent motivation for her ridiculous actions as she sought closure with her dead father. At times I was quite fearful due to some decent jump scares, deadly creatures and creepy use of lighting tricks. However, the whole thing seemed like a cash-in with new monsters being introduced to expand the franchise further. Even fine actors such as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga seemed happy, laughing all the way to the bank with their book-ended cameos.
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter etc.
Music: The Haxen Cloak
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.
I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.
The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.
Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.
As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.
I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.
Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.
Story by: John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hales, Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Timothy Dalton etc.
Production company(s): Walt Disney, Pixar Animation
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I almost don’t feel qualified any more to review a sequel that was neither expected or necessary. After all, it’s a sequel to a film trilogy which was almost perfect in its’ delivery and execution. But, having paid big bucks for Pixar in 2006, I doubt Toy Story 4 will be the last unnecessary sequel of their products. After all, Disney are in show BUSINESS!!
I also don’t feel qualified as I am so cynical and jaded that the characters of Toy Story do not interest me anymore. In my mind their story is done. Plus, it’s really for kids, isn’t it? However, that isn’t to say that Pixar/Disney have not, once again, created an incredible technical tapestry of some genius. The colour, texture and attention to detail on show are incredible as usual. Similarly, the ultra-talented voice acting of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts etc. are joined by the brilliant Key and Peele, Christina Hendricks and Tony Hales for the latest release.
Hales offers the voice of potentially one of the worst characters Pixar have ever created: Forky. In fact I think they set out to invent one of the worst characters as a challenge to see if they could make it work. You know what? I think they did make it work. Forky is something the toys’ owner, Bonnie, creates on her first day of kindergarten and with the magic of make-believe he becomes, unknown to her, sentient. We then get the experience of watching a fictitious plastic spork suffering an existential crisis and attempting suicide-by-trash. That’s when good old Woody then tries to teach him his worth.
The sheer goofiness of all this strange plotting works for and against the film. It’s so surreal I thought David Lynch had a hand in the story. Having said that the writer and story credits almost number a football team, so the Frankensteinesque patchwork nature of the screenplay is unsurprisingly. The stitching that holds it all together is Woody’s character. Many of the other toys, including Buzz, are almost sidelined for Woody’s hysterical attempts to control everything around him.
There were a myriad of plots strangling the narrative of Toy Story 4 but the character of Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks was arguably the most interesting. Echoing the villainy and bitterness of Lotso from the previous sequel, her ventriloquist dummy hench-toys were very creepy and her character added a dark heart amidst the kaleidoscope of wondrous colours. I could take or leave Bo Peep’s, Bonnie’s and Forky’s escapades, but Woody’s encounter with Gabby Gabby was my favourite. Oh, not to forget, Keanu Reeves hilarious little cameo as stunt-toy, Duke Caboom.
Overall, Pixar and Disney do this kind of film amazingly well. Once again one marvels at the technical quality of the animation on show. The story, themes and characters, however, felt a bit recycled and if they do more of these films I think they probably need to jump the shark and allow the toys to finally be seen and heard. How many times can the same joke work? I’m not sure. What is certain though, as long as it makes money Disney will have no issues selling it to the kids. I’m just so old and jaded I’m ready for the attic with all the other discarded and tired toys.
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
What if Superman was evil? As concepts go Brightburn (2019) has a simple but highly impressive one. The trailer too was brilliant and it was only when I saw a few negative reviews did I baulk at going to see the brisk B-movie-super-hero-horror-film. So, does a great pitch, and cool trailer lead to a great movie? In part yes; and in part no!
With the indie-turned-blockbuster director, James Gunn, in the wings producing the film, Brightburn clearly has a pedigree in superhero, comedy and horror film-making. I loved his low budget gem Super (2010) and his work helming the Guardians of the Galaxy films is also impressive. One wonders if Brightburn may have worked better with James Gunn directing but we will never know.
Set, unsurprisingly in Brightburn, Kansas, the story completely steals the Superman origin narrative and twists it in a fun and gory way. Farming couple Tori and Kyle Breyer are desperate for a kid and have failed to conceive naturally. Fortunately, or so it seems at first, a child falls from the skies, and rather than tell the authorities they adopt the kid as their own.
Flash-forward and Brandon is now twelve years old and puberty is fast approaching; cue bodily changes but not the kind his parents were expecting. As Brandon deals with school bullies and his first crush he suddenly begins going into trances and attempting to unlock that red glowy thing in the barn. What could it all mean? Mayhem! Bloody mayhem is what it means!
I really enjoyed Brightburn. It’s script is a bit dumb and some of the character choices are pretty ridiculous, especially when Brandon starts behaving violently at school and around the house. However, I loved the fast-pace, the concept, the dark horror, the red-masked image system, and the gore. Moreover, while many were given away in the trailer, there are some brilliant set-pieces and scares throughout.
Some of the negative reviews I have seen may have come from the wrong angle on Brightburn. Its not really meant to be taken seriously despite the compelling and dramatic performance from Elizabeth Banks. For me it’s to be watched as an imaginative low-budget B-movie feature, somewhat reminiscent of those “kids-go-bad” 1980’s horrors I used to rent from local video store.
There’s an element of depth as it touches on themes relating to puberty, adoption and the trials of parenthood; ultimately though it’s about the rise of an evil anti-hero in a gas mask with glowing red eyes!! In a nutshell, Brightburn is one for B-movie horror fans everywhere and I definitely want them to expand the universe.