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THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS APRIL FILM ROUND-UP INC. REVIEWS OF: GRETA, LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS, TRIPLE FRONTIER ETC.

THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: APRIL FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

With Avengers: Endgame (2019) dominating the cinemas at the moment, I thought I’d let Marvel’s magic dust settle BEFORE seeing that blockbuster this weekend. However, during April I caught a few other newer releases at the cinema and online via Netflix. Thus, here are some mini-reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

GRETA (2018) – CINEMA – DIRECTOR: NEIL JORDAN

Neil Jordan has an impressive directorial curriculum vitae, including genuine classics such as: Mona Lisa (1986), The Crying Game (1992) and The End of the Affair (1999). Greta is arguably not a patch on them; however, I really enjoyed this B-movie stalker narrative. This is mainly due to a fine cast headed by Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe.

Huppert exudes Gallic charm and quiet menace as the obsessive and lonely Greta. Furthermore, as her behaviour becomes more unhinged Jordan wrings every bit of tension from the lean and thrilling script. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography also adds class to a very entertaining ninety-eight minutes.

Mark: 8 out of 11

LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS (2019) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR(S): VARIOUS

This anthology of eighteen animated short films was curated by Joshua Donen, David Fincher, Jennifer Miller and Tim Miller. Produced by various crews from a range of countries, the series is a re-imagining of Fincher and Miller’s long-planned reboot of animated sci-fi film Heavy Metal (1981). Firstly, I love short films and have watched a lot over the last ten years, and I don’t mind animated stuff either.

In Love, Death and Robots the animation, graphics, action, editing, composition and imagery on show here are incredible. The stories themselves are hit and miss; with some actually feeling over-sexualised and retrogressive. Nonetheless, the production values on show raise the bar so high it masks some of the generic writing and weak characterisation. Lastly, there are some brilliant shorts and my favourites include: Three Robots, Shape Shifters, Zima Blue, Ice Age and the very funny Alternate Histories.

Mark: 8 out of 11 (averaged score)

OUTLAW / KING (2019) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE

According to Wikipedia this historical epic about Scottish nobleman, Robert the Bruce, cost $120 million to make. It’s a shame so much money was wasted because technically speaking the production is an absolute tour de force. It’s a pity the script and narrative are so bereft of intrigue, suspense and character relatability. Yes, I get that the English are bad and the Scottish must stand up to defeat their nefarious “landlords”, but unlike the far more theatrical and entertaining, Braveheart (1995), this all felt irrelevant.

I thought Chris Pine, who is a charismatic movie star, lacked personality in the lead, and Florence Pugh, as his wife, was given little to do apart from run away then get kidnapped. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was fantastic as a bloody revenging Scottish rebel-lord; as was David Mackenzie’s incredible direction of the impressive battle scenes. I have read that the film was hacked to pieces and what is on show is a hung-drawn-and-quartered cut of a longer film. Perhaps, one day we will see a true version of Outlaw / King and Mackenzie’s vision will be properly represented.

Mark: 6 out of 11

TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR: J.C. CHANDOR

Not quite a dirty dozen but a filthy five as former soldiers and military contractors including: Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal, gang together to rob a drug baron’s fortress holed up deep in the South American jungle.
The story has all the hallmarks of a testosterone-driven-men-on-a-mission-genre classic, but just when I thought it was going in a certain direction, the ending under-mined much of the previous compelling action.

The cast are very impressive though and they more than make up for any deficiencies in the thin characterisations. Similarly, while it starts slowly, once we get into the heist J.C. Chandor’s methodical directorial style really comes into its’ own. Chandor creates a lot of tension during and after the robbery as events twist out of control. Thematically, I thought this was going to become a modern day version of 1948 masterpiece, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Indeed, if the drug money they steal had become a true threat to test the friends’ loyalty and courage under fire, I would have marked this thrilling film higher.

Mark: 8 out of 11

UNICORN STORE (2018) – NETFLIX – DIRECTOR: BRIE LARSON

This is a very odd film. However, if you pick through the bones of the whimsical script, the rainbow-baubled art direction and Brie Larson’s eccentric child-woman, you’ll find a rites-of-passage genre film in there somewhere. Larson directs herself as the immature narcissist, who having been kicked out of Art College begins a dead end temp job to try and appease her parents. So far so relatable.

However, the film twists into symbolic fantasy when she is offered,
by Samuel L. Jackson’s enigmatic ‘Salesman’, the dream opportunity of owning a Unicorn. WTF!!?! I enjoyed a lot about the film, notably the Napoleon Dynamite (2004) style humour; plus Larson and Mamadou Athie’s performances stand out. Overall though, I got that the Unicorn was an allegory for human maturation but I personally felt the narrative was slow and stretched despite fine work from the very talented Larson.

Mark: 6 out of 11

CHANGING LANES – (AKA ‘ARTISTS’ WHO SUCCESSFULLY SHIFTED CAREER PATHS)

CHANGING LANES – by PAUL LAIGHT

The excellent intellectual comedy BIRDMAN (2014) is about — among many themes — a movie star attempting to gain artistic credibility and shift his career from the commercial side to the more critically acclaimed. Using this as inspiration I decided to take a look at some musicians, actors and a filmmaker who in some way have began at one end of the creative spectrum and successfully careered to another. At the same time as changing creative lanes they surprised the audience, improved their critical kudos or at the very least shifted  perception of their oeuvre. Please do suggest others if I have missed them; which I imagine I have. They’re in no particular order either.

PETER JACKSON – FILMMAKER

Peter Jackson is one of my cinematic heroes. The reason being is he began his career from scratch in New Zealand making the no budget horror film Bad Taste (1987) before subsequently going on to make some of the biggest grossing blockbusters ever committed to celluloid.  My favourite film of his remains the hilarious gorefest Braindead (1992) and therefore his career shift to the haunting Heavenly Creatures (1994) was an incredible leap.  Personally, I liked his bloody horror films better but of course his Tolkien trilogies contain some amazing filmmaking too.

DAN STEVENS – ACTOR

I don’t watch Downton Abbey so had never heard of the handsome actor Dan Stevens.   The first I met him was watching the low budget actioner The Guest (2014) and he is absolutely brilliant. It’s a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot.  Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making.

BEN KINGSLEY – ACTOR

Kingsley stunned me when he appeared in Jonathan Glazer’s excellent debut feature Sexy Beast (2000) as the foul-mouthed cockernee monster Don Logan; sent to wreak havoc on Ray Winstone’s feng shui and chi.   It was an incredible performance which completely shifted perception away from the archetype RSC trained actor of stage and screen.  His portrayal of Gandhi put Kingsley very much on the cultural map whereas the visceral brutality of Logan pissed all over it!

LUCILLE BALL – ACTOR

Lucille Ball was a pioneering actress, comedienne and film studio executive. She was the star of many sitcoms notably I Love Lucy. Early doors though she performed in many small movie roles in the 1930s and 1940s, being dubbed the “Queen of the B-movies”.  In 1951, Ball helped create the television series I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz and during a prolific career Ball was nominated for Emmy thirteen times and won four of the beauties.

CLINT MANSELL – MUSICIAN

Clint was the frontman for Black Country-bassed-hip-hop-funny-as-fuck-politically-incorrect-grebo-groovesters Pop Will Eat Itself!  Along with The Wonderstuff they were one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/90s.  Songs like:  Beaver Patrol, Grebo Guru, Can U Dig It, Wise Up Sucker etc.   smacked the arse of the charts with a flurry of non-sensical lyrics and pilfered samples. Years later Mansell rose from the spunky ashes of PWEI to become a respected film composer. His most memorable score is for the grim, yet awesome Aronofsky helmed Requiem For A Dream (1996) and since then he has consistently written for the same director. His classical piece Lux Æterna has become a ubiquitous soundtrack for many a film trailer!

JEROME FLYNN – ACTOR

To be honest Jerome Flynn has always been a decent TV character actor ever since he starred in Soldier Soldier in the 1990s.   But we also have him to thank for giving producer Simon Cowell some of his early hit records when, along with Robson Greene, he butchered a series of singalonga ‘classics’ including Unchained Melody.   He’s forgiven though for his musical crimes as his cultural slate has been wiped clean via his tough and gritty appearances in the phenomenal  Game Of Thrones plus the excellent Ripper Street. 

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY – ACTOR

McConaughey has always had star appeal ever since his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and always stood out as an actor to watch. His career choices, however, in romantic comedies such as: The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), Fool’s Gold (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) made him a shedload of dough but had many thinking he’d thrown away his ability on fluff. But then the “McConaissance” occurred and since 2010 he has eschewed the mortgage-paying unchallenging work and starred in some intense, transformative and often brutal roles including: Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy (2012), Mud (2012), Magic Mike (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and stunning HBO series True Detective (2014).

CHARLIZE THERON – ACTOR

When Theron appeared in some decent but unspectacular early roles you would not have been wrong to suspect she was just another model-turned-actress wannabe who had got her break due to her cracking good looks.  However, THAT is definitely NOT the case as her acting prowess was proven in the Oscar-winning role of female serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. Tragic film Monster (2003) flipped career perception on it’s head as she imbued Wuornos with an anger, pain and humanity which never fails to rabbit-punch the emotions.   It was an incredible lane change in Theron’s career and proved she was no blonde bimbo. She was also fantastic as a twisted neurotic suffering from a severe case of arrested development in  Young Adult (2011).

BEN AFFLECK – ACTOR/DIRECTOR

Is Ben Affleck a good actor?  I had this discussion with a friend and we decided he was a solid if unspectacular presence who can be impressive at times with his professionalism in Good Will Hunting (1997),  Changing Lanes (2002), Hollywoodland (2006) and Gone Girl (2014).  However, let’s be straight he has also appeared in some right old garbage such as Daredevil (2003) and the critically panned Gigli (2003). But Affleck’s cultural redemption has occurred as a director in which he has hit three cinema home runs with the excellent Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010) and the political thriller Argo (2012).   These are three proper movies with the assured directorial touch of the great genre filmmakers such as John Ford or Huston.  In some ways his career mirrors that of Clint Eastwood’s; as in he’s appeared in some great films, some rubbish films and is now becoming a formidable director to boot!

WHOOPI GOLDBERG – COMEDIAN/ACTOR

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe and would then be cast in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985). Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered by life but whom amidst the abuse retains a strength to not let life destroy her. All the more amazing given it was Goldberg’s first dramatic film role.  Goldberg would go on to prove both her dramatic and comedic mettle in a number of roles eventually winning an Oscar in the supernatural-thriller-romance-weepie Ghost (1990).

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ANDREA BOCELLI – SINGER

I don’t know much about Opera or classical music to be honest but I do know what I like when I hear it.  Thus, Andrea Bocelli’s pop-opera classic Con te partirò is an obvious favourite ever since I heard it in The Sopranos.  Andrea Bocelli himself had always immersed himself in singing since a boy but had to work his way up from the bottom, sort of.  He was a qualified lawyer and playing piano in the bars when ‘discovered’ by goalkeeper-turned-singer Luciano Pavarotti. The rest they say is history!  Time to say goodbye reader; au revoir!

GONE GIRL (2014) FILM REVIEW

GONE GIRL (2014) – FILM REVIEW

**BEWARE – SOME SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS**

Gillian Flynn, David Fincher, the cast and production team have carved out a superlative, rug-pulling, amoral, misanthropic and bloody suspense thriller which ghosts between several genres from romance to police procedural to thriller to Grand Guignol splatter film. Given the nature of the well-orchestrated and devious plot I will not be giving anything away other than it is essentially about a marriage in crisis and then some.

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We begin in North Carthage, a picturesque town in Missouri as our anti-heroes Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) are established. Flashbacks reveal a lustful romance but as money troubles affect them they are forced to leave New York and move back to Nick’s hometown. The story kicks off with a weary Nick bemoaning his lot to his supportive sister (excellent Caroline Coon) before he finds out Amy has gone missing. Then the fun really starts.

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As the plot unfolds we are led a merry dance as to where sympathies lie as the story twists and turns allegiances from Nick to Amy and back again. Having lived through a couple of acrimonious relationship breakdowns myself I felt the pain of the characters trapped in a marriage where the spark has been dampened by familiarity, financial worries and narcissistic deficiencies. Although, given the size of the house they live in I didn’t feel too bad for these over-privileged sociopaths.

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Ben Affleck is very effective as the trouble-plagued yet spoilt WASP, however, Rosamund Pike steals the acting honours with a sparkling star-turn. Throughout she demonstrates the many facets of an emotionally complex, intelligent and physically adept human. I sensed this was writer Gillian Flynn’s fantasy; acting out her devilish desires on page through this beautiful yet dangerous character. Pike’s Amy took me back to the age of fantastic ’40s femme fatales played with aplomb by: Barbara Stanwyk, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner et al.

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David Fincher, with his wonderful pallet and great eye for a script, is carving himself out a terrific raft of movies which look into the dark recesses of the American dream. He dissects and delivers a scathing commentary on the flaws and weaknesses of the middle, upper and wealthy classes. He not only incorporates obsessive characters but also muddies waters between good and evil and hero and heroines as witnessed most recently in The Social Network (2010), Zodiac (2007) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012).  While Gone Girl could have been shaved of 10 minutes to make it punchier, for me, Fincher is a post-modern Hitchcock; making fine films about damned unlikeable characters but somehow pulling us into their tawdry lives.

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There’s a fantastic episode of South Park from season 17 called ‘Informative Murder Porn’ which satirises the rise of scurrilous, scandal-mongering TV shows which “celebrate” salacious murders, crumbling marriages and missing people. Gone Girl is essentially a high-end version of such shows; the likes of which feature cleverly within the film’s plot. Indeed, the film also condemns the poisonous nature of such programmes which take joy in other’s misery.

Overall, Gone Girl is a masterful B-movie which is very gruelling to watch from an emotional perspective. Aside from the cops investigating (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) Amy’s disappearance and Nick’s sister the majority of the characters are borderline sociopaths. Indeed, when one of the more likeable characters is the media-hungry-lawyer-snake-oil-salesmen-come-showman (Tyler Perry) then you know you’re dealing with an extremely opaque vision of humanity.