CAST: Garance Marillier, Laurent Lucas, Rabah Naït Oufella, Ella Rumpf
Often you watch films and think it’s not a great movie but such is the intriguing premise or themes, it could make a fascinating essay. With Raw, however, it’s both a bloody good coming-of-age-gory-horror-story and has a number of thematically powerful messages that makes you think too. Indeed, in this film meat is definitely murder.
It begins with innocent-goody-two-shoes-veggie-star-student entering her first week at Veterinary college. With it being the first week she is subject to the more experienced student practical jokes and initiation ceremonies; all amidst hedonistic sex and drug parties reminiscent of something from the fall of the Roman Empire.
Not surprisingly this is a very sexual, animalistic and instinctive film dealing as it does with beasts both human, canine and equine. The lead actress Marillier is a prominent force throughout as her journey follows a carnal, chemical and gory path. Ducorneau, the director, gets a great performance from this young talent as her character transforms from angel to devil without the loss of audience empathy.
This is both an entertaining contemporary horror film and a very intelligent one. It works on so many different levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, homosexuality, animalism, sisterhood, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family etc. It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the greatest and disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SCREENWRITER: James Gray (based on the non-fiction book by David Grann)
CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’m not a great traveller myself. Boats and trains aren’t too bad but I can’t stand flying. If I feel the need to experience the world I am more than happy to either Google a place or vicariously familiarise myself with other worlds and cultures by absorbing it through TV or indeed at the cinema. Moreover, stories about explorers, adventurers, mountain climbers, adrenaline junkies and the like are not always my favourite kind of sub-genre film. Obviously, if it is a story well told then I am open to all genres but more often than not the obsessive and narcissistic characters in pursuit of thrills or far flung places can leave me cold. Not so with James Gray’s epic adaptation of The Lost City of Z which focuses on soldier, surveyor and explorer Percy Fawcett’s dogged search for definitive archaeological proof of a historical Amazonian civilisation.
The story begins at the turn of the 20th Century where Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) is a mid-ranked officer in the British Army. Keen to find some serious military action he’s disappointed to be given the job of surveying and mapping the uncharted borders of Bolivia and Brazil. Accompanying him is his guide and aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Pattinson) and what begins as a punishing journey into the heart of darkness becomes, over the course of the film and subsequent expeditions, an obsessive ‘Holy Grail’ type quest for Fawcett. The drama in the jungle gives us Fawcett’s encounters with: the elements, piranhas, rapids, illness, wild animals, starvation, dehydration, cannibal natives and even an Opera concert at a plantation deep in the forest. However, the conflict back in Blighty is just as resonating as Fawcett battles the naysayers who question his belief that the indigenous tribes may have been in anyway civilised or cultured. Indeed, as a historical critique of the old British Empire and their inherent racism the film makes some interesting points.
I watched the film at the Picturehouse Central on a 35mm print and it really added to the old-fashioned, poetic and golden feel of this attractive sprawling epic. Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom ‘new Spiderman’ Holland and Sienna Miller all provide excellent performances. Hunnam – who I know from his sterling work on Sons of Anarchy – stood out especially and given the right script choices he’s likely to become a bona fide movie star. His Fawcett is a complex, confident but honest man who, while obsessed with his pursuit of the Lost City, loves his family and stands on the side of the righteous. The director James Gray and his filmmaking team, above all else, deserve special mention for delivering a beautifully shot, acted, paced and edited historical drama. Indeed, this fascinating material deserved more screen time and it was so mesmeric I could easily have watched this film for hours. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
WRITER: DAVID BIRKE based on the novel Oh by Phillipe Dijan
CAST: ISABEL HUPPERT, LAURENT LAFITTE, ANNE CONSIGNY, CHARLES BERLING, VIRGINIE EFIRA
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Where do I begin with this film? Is it a comedy? Is it a satire? Is it a drama? Is it a horror film? Well, all of the above I would say and then some. For starters Isabel Huppert SHOULD have won the Oscar for best actress over the candy floss performance of Emma Stone. That genuinely was a first world artistic travesty! Huppert is absolutely sensational as the damaged anti-heroine who having been part of a horrific childhood event is then subjected to a vicious sexual attack in the very first scene. Thus, immediately the film brutalises the main character and makes the audience complicit with her subsequent actions which are complex to say the least. Because as a successful business-woman with a murky past she doesn’t go down the route of victim but rather something completely different.
As it’s directed by the rambunctious cinema satirist Paul Verhoeven I expected a difficult yet entertaining ride, however, this film at times was painful to watch and not what I would call easy entertainment at all. In fact, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more controversy or outrage from the liberal left in the queasy representation of sexual violence. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot to like about the film, especially: the darkly humorous screenplay; the hilarious representations of bourgeois-middle-class-family life; and the unexpected twists in the plots take the breath away. Yet, both male and female humiliation is at the heart of the story and Huppert’s character is kind of unlikeable, making it is difficult to get behind many of her decisions.
Overall, Elle has been laden with awards and received much critical acclaim and I can certainly confirm it is a brave and challenging character drama with very risky themes at its heart. My interpretation is that the writer and filmmakers have a nihilistic view of the French bourgeoisie and that humanity in general is full of damaged lunatics out for what they can get. Essentially too, Huppert’s character has been ruined by the actions of men and her motivations are borne out of trying to gain control of a horrific situation. Thus, I would recommend this film for those who prefer their cinema to challenge, shock and question the nature of sexual politics, rather than spoon feed us fluffy and patriarchal love stories. Because, mainly, this is not a love story but rather one of hate.
(Mark: 8 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 11 out of 11 for Isabelle Huppert)
CAST: DANIEL KALUUYA, ALLISON WILLIAMS, CATHERINE KEENER, LIL REL HOWERY
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Written and directed by the very talented Jordan Peele – known for his sketch comedy work on shows such as: Key and Peele and MADtv– Get Out is a humdinger of a horror-thriller-satire. It concerns Chris Washington and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage on a “meet-the-parents” getaway weekend. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behaviour as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses we get the terrifying truth about the situation.
The narrative is a tremendous mash-up of horror and social satire following in the footsteps of films such as: The Stepford Wives (1972), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and They Live (1988) which used horror stories as a means of social commentary. Moreover, Peele’s screenplay brilliantly sets up some humorous and awkward scenes between the overly politically-correct white characters before twisting into darker territory. However, there are many laughs to be had also especially from Chris’ best friend portrayed by Lil Rel Howery as a dogged and profane Trans-Airport security employee.
The cast, notably Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener and Allison Williams, are all excellent but most impressive was the writing. I watch so many TV and cinema presentations which over-write dialogue or include extraneous scenes, yet nothing in Peele’s script is wasted with an impressive set-up-punchline-call-back structure within a plethora of visual, verbal and performance set-pieces.
Recent films such as Twelve Years a Slave (2013) and Birth of the Nation (2016) took audiences to very serious places in regard to slavery, however, Peele’s contemporary vision of modern society and racial tensions brilliantly satirises middle-class America and entertainingly highlights the culture experiences with many genuine scares to boot.
Of late I have watched a plethora of heavyweight Oscar-driven dramas such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016), Fences (2016), Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and Moonlight (2016) and the cinema-going experience was in danger of becoming far too thought-provoking a place to be. I mean I like using my brain but I was seriously getting over-worked here. Even feel-good films such as La La Land (2016) were pretty complex in their whip-bang delivery, while the bio-pic Hidden Figures (2016) dealt with issues of racial segregation and empowerment during the space race. Thankfully, my brain can take a rest from such challenging dramas as first John Wick 2 (2016) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) have come to save the day with some good old-fashioned-fast-paced-B-movie-bloody-genre-action.
Kong director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and platoon of screenwriters have constructed a thrilling monster movie which is low on plot but high on pyrotechnics in a cinema blast which they should have called APOCALYPSE KONG!! The story, if you can call it that, involves John Goodman’s murky conspiracy theorist embarking on a “surveying” mission of an island which rarely shows up on radar. Plus, it looks like a skull on a map AND pretty much every boat or plane which goes near it vanishes. So, enter at your peril!
Personally, I probably would not choose this as a holiday destination yet Goodman manages to gather an army consisting of United States marines who’ve just that day finished fighting in Vietnam. These battle-weary veterans led by Samuel L. Jackson, Shea Wigham and Toby Kebbell should probably go home but Jackson’s Lieutenant-Colonel Packard has some old testament vengeance business he needs to re-enact. Meanwhile, anti-war photographer Brie Larson and SAS mercenary Tom Hiddleston also join the crew too along with a generic bunch of scientists and military grunts all destined to be Kong fodder!
Now, I wasn’t a massive fan of the most recent Godzilla (2014) film – my review heretestifies – as it did not have enough of the monsters or action and was WAY too serious. Skull Island is a totally different beast altogether. You get monsters galore from the get-go and of course Kong is the King, as he finds his eco-system invaded by humans and their big weapons so he fights back with hairy, muscular abandon. The humanity and humour of the film is provided mainly by John C. Reilly’s WW2 soldier who has gone bamboo with the natives and his story arguably has the most emotion. But the real stars are the tree-monsters, subterranean creatures, Pterodactyls, giant Squids and Spiders, which along with Kong, leap out of the screen at regular intervals dining on humans for breakfast, lunch and supper.
Overall, the film wears its’ Jurassic-Park-Hell-In-the-Pacific-Lost-World-Predator-Apocalypse-Now-Godzilla influences on its gigantic jungle sleeves. So it’s safe to say I had a lot of fun taking my brain out and watching the fireworks and monsters in this B-movie behemoth. The story is uneven and characters paper-thin but the gorgeous imagery, fun action set-pieces and a very attractive cast including Hiddleston, Larson and Corey Hawkins, plus the off-kilter mania of John C. Reilly make it worth the admission alone. (Mark 8 out of 11 – for the monsters and mayhem mainly.)
I wasn’t a massive fan of the Brian Singer directed original X-Men series which began in the at the birth of the Millennium. However, as big budget popcorn fodder the early cinema offerings were highly entertaining and the idea of good and bad Mutants with special powers battling each other was very exciting. Of course, the biggest villains were the humans – politicians, scientists or military – attempting to control the mutant population as their kind were seen as dangerous outsiders; like multi-coloured and multi-skilled vermin who must be destroyed.
So, thematically, the X-Men comics and films are very strong as they represent the worst side of humanity which attempts to vanquish that which is different and does not fit into the hegemonic, natural and conventional norm. Indeed, human beings have (including Deadpool (2016) throughout ten films both attempted to weaponize or destroy the mutants, but it hasn’t worked! There are many more films to come.
Having said that this, I have read, is Hugh Jackman’s final adventure as Jimmy Howlett AKA the Wolverine. Jackman’s presence alone is worth the admission fee on Logan and his physical prowess and acting ability, allied with his jaded wreck of a persona make this outing an entertaining, if slightly over-long popcorn muncher. I had somewhat higher expectations based on other reviews and fan responses on social media I had read. Because here was a different Wolverine film apparently, full of depth and sadness and real emotions. Well, it has that but essentially it’s another chase movie with the requisite explosions, spiking deaths and mighty roars!
So while James Mangold and his army of writers package the usual generic and nefarious mercenaries (led by Boyd Holbrook) and a mad Scientist (Richard E. Grant) in pursuit of Wolverine, aged Professor X (brilliant Patrick Stewart) and a young girl (impressive newcomer Dafna Keen), we do get some swearing and fantastically brutal violence that really added to the enjoyment of the movie. The action scenes are also expertly handled and the surprising mutant baddie who appears is a frightening joy.
The opening scenes of the film were my favourite as Wolverine, Charles Xavier and their albino assistance Caliban – portrayed with pale compassion by an unrecognisable Stephen Merchant – are holed up on a desert-based industrial complex just trying to survive day-to-day. With Professor X’s health failing his mind is a ticking time-bomb as what seems to be Alzheimer’s takes a grip. I thought if most of the film had been like this it would have been a risky yet rewarding character drama. Indeed, the quieter moments are the best such as Logan putting his ‘father’ Xavier to bed and when they momentarily play “happy families” at the dinner table. Yet, it’s not long before the soldiers arrive again to spoil the peace and all hell breaks loose.
Overall, Logan (2017) is not as good as X-Men: First Class (2011) or Days of Future Past (2014) in terms of sheer cinematic joie de vivre in my opinion. However, the power of Jackman’s, Stewart’s and Merchant’s performances ground the film in a pathos and believable humanity many comic book adaptations lack. While I’m more of an Avengers fan it will be sad not to see Jackman and Stewart back in their iconic roles. While this is a very good X-Men genre film the opening scenes offered something far deeper than the chase movie we got. So, while it has some sad stuff it’s probably not as deep as everyone says it is. But it is an enjoyable film and a fitting finale for Jackman’s muscular-cigar-chomping-head-splitting-cynical-mutant-with-a-giant-adamantium-heart called the Wolverine. (Mark: 8 out of 11).
I’ve got to admit that I thought the last Bond film Spectre (2015) was extremely underwhelming for a committed fan to the franchise. It was overlong, disconnected and while the stunts were orchestrated brilliantly at times; overall, it lacked energy and a proper wow factor. Thus, when Keanu Reeves came along in the first chapter of John Wick I was fantastically surprised by the action, energy and fireworks on show. It was simple, effective, brutal action filmmaking of the highest order and more importantly got the box office buzz it deserved for sheer entertainment alone. A grieving man sets about killing the gangsters who killed his dog! I mean what more do you need from a popcorn movie? But despite the lack of plot depth the film had a terrific style, thudding soundtrack and some fantastically over-the-top kills.
John Wick 2 decides nothing is broken thus there is little to fix in the format. It is structured like a classic Bond movie complete with Q-style weapons shopping scene, as Wick this time must overcome all manner of bad guys fixing to square up a historical marker owed to an Italian crime lord. Brilliant set-piece after set-piece ensues as a battered Wick brings the noise again but this time to the streets of Rome and New York. It’s an undemanding story and probably overlong but the Assassin’s underworld is developed further with wit, colour and humour, and there are some fantastic cartoon violence on screen involving guns and pencils. Also, the final set-piece in the art installation is worth the admission alone and stylistically blew the latest Bond out of the water.
Keanu Reeves knows his limitations as an actor and revels in the physical demands, dextrous gunplay and dialogue-sparse role as he faces off against all manner of dark-suited foes. There’s also world weary pathos to his character as someone unable to escape his past crimes and history as a hired gun, thus the only way out is to kill absolutely everyone. Ultimately, John Wick 2 is like a comic-book Shakespeare – if you replaced ALL the words with bullets! I look forward to the Chapter 3 with great anticipation. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)
Like the story of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) the narrative of Hidden Figures (2016), was all the more enjoyable because I knew absolutely nothing about the specific history, characters and outcome. Indeed, the human interest aspects of both stories were so rich and heartfelt it was impossible not to leave the cinema without a warm glow inside. Of course, Doss’ WW2 exploits were heroic and in more bloody surroundings while saving comrades lives during the battle of Okinawa. Yet, the endeavours of the three ladies who take focus in Hidden Figures – Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – is also incredibly brave as during the Space Race with the Russians they broke down social barriers to help their country despite being segregated by the despicable laws in place during 1960s U.S.A.
Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are three exceptionally intelligent individuals who battle against the tide of white dominance and raise their game to contribute their expertise and intelligence to the project. The film has some great scenes notably when Katherine wipes the floor with the other Space Task staff over complex equations; Al Harrison (ever-reliable Kevin Costner) smashing down the segregated Blacks only toilet; and the sparky Mary challenging the law over whether she can attend business school. In fact, throughout there are many “fist-pump” moments for the characters. I mean, my mathematics skills are not great so I am always in awe when people are able to work out these bemusing and massive equations.
I am of the position that no person should be discriminated against whatever their background, culture, age, social status, religion, gender or sexual persuasion. Our worth as a human should be judged on our actions, what we do and how we treat others. So, this film encapsulates my philosophy totally. Indeed, what the writers, director Theodore Melfi and the amazing cast show in this story is that whatever the obstacles are we will succeed if we ignore any perceived differences and work together. Personally, I am not a fan of the whole space programme and arguably the politics of the day could perhaps have been featured slightly more, so, the film lacks the socio-political punch of say Selma (2015) or Malcolm X (1992). Yet, overall, this is an unashamed uplifting movie which invests so much empathy and compassion in our hidden heroines that no one can deny them their rightful place in history. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)