Screenplay by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry, Iain Cassie, Robert Smith
Story by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry
Produced by: Mark Forstater
Cast: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin etc.
Cinematography: John Metcalfe
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Being a fan of the horror genre never fails to spring surprises, especially if you also love trashy-B-movie-exploitation-video-nasties too. Because what often occurs is a hidden or buried or previously banned film will reanimate and be located on one of the many streaming platforms we have today. I am both surprised and even more joyous if I find I have never even seen the said film. This is certainly the case with low-budget alien monster film, XTRO (1982).
There I was pressing play via Amazon Prime, thinking it was another schlocky American indie I had missed from yesteryear, only to discover Xtro (1982) is actually a bizarre British film which twists and riffs on the box office hit that was ET: Extra Terrestrial (1982). Xtro (1982), directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, is not a comforting family science fiction drama like its more famous counterpart though. Instead, it is a gory sci-fi shocker with many outrageously violent set-pieces and a budget lower than E.T.’s lunch bill.
Critically damned at the time, Xtro (1982), when released on home video in 1983, was subject to a prosecution case in relation to British obscenity laws and labelled a “video-nasty”. Watching it now I have to admit it is quite shocking still, but the practical effects are so gloriously over-the-top they are more humorous than sickening. Having said that there are some memorably gruesome moments involving alien births, crazy clowns, a live “Action Man” doll, weird space eggs, and transformative man-into-monster effects.
The film doesn’t hang about establishing character but propels, from the opening scene of a father playing in the garden with his son, straight into the disappearing parent plot. The father (Philip Sayers) vanishes without a trace and three years later his wife (Bernice Stegers) and son are attempting to repair their lives. Yet, the boy is suffering horrific nightmares when suddenly his father reappears attempting to reconcile. The familial drama within the script itself could have been further developed to some emotional impact. However, while Bernice Stegers gives a decent dramatic performance, the film soon descends into a mix of surreal and insane set-pieces, combined with the father’s metamorphosis into something from another world.
There’s much to like and much to loathe about, Xtro (1982), notably the gratuitous nudity sprinkled throughout. Yet, if you are drawn to exploitational B-movies there is much sick entertainment to be found in the blend of impressive practical effects and creature moments. Philip Sayer and Bernice Stegers keep the shlocky elements of the plot in check with sane acting performances and despite some eccentric writing throughout Harry Bromley Davenport and his team have delivered an out-of-this-world bona fide B-movie cult classic.
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, etc.
Cinematography: Ruben Impens
*** THE WHOLE FILM IS A SPOILER ***
The difficult second album syndrome applies with Julie Decournau’s incredibly horrific, illogical and over-rated, Titane (2021). How the film won the Palm D’or at the Cannes Festival is beyond me. Maybe the jury were on the same acid as the ultra-talented writer-director when she created the script. Or, maybe the jury were belatedly rewarding her for the amazing contemporary horror film, Raw (2016).
Raw (2016) works on so many distinct levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, same-sex attraction, 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. Raw (2016) is a shocking, intelligent and astounding modern-day masterpiece. Titane (2021) unfortunately is not.
Before I say why I did not enjoy Titane (2021), I must say that I constantly seek out challenging cinema that pushes boundaries. I love horror and want to be shocked, but also emotionally involved with the characters at the same time. Moreover, I am well prepared to commit to dream logic and surreal narratives, however, the filmmaker must also try not to over-indulge their artistic excesses, and respect the audience too. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I don’t feel Julie Decournau had a clear story path and rather went hell bent into delivering a variety of different ideas, none of which created a fulfilling emotional journey for the main protagonist, Alexia (Agatha Rouselle).
Rouselle, as the malevolent and tragic conduit of Ducournau’s twisted vision, does give a spectacularly brave performance. But her character is given so many complex set-ups at the beginning, I quickly gave up caring what happened to her. As a child she is badly injured in a car crash. This gives her a titanium plate in the skull. Alexia grows up and is an exotic dancer who either dreams of, or actually fucks cars. Oh, she is also a serial killer who violently kills for no apparent reason. Several gruesome set-pieces result in the goriest deaths ever seen in a Palm D’or winner. Indeed, by the time Alexia goes on the run and smashes her face into a sink to alter her features I was numbed by it all.
Titane (2021) at the midpoint then delivers one of the most dumb and insulting plot shifts I have seen in recent years. Yes-yes it’s an arthouse film and an expression of Julie Decournau’s vision of humanity, but I DID NOT CARE!! Not only did we get Alexia’s horrific behaviour, we are then introduced to another plot turn when she hides out with a bereaved and emotionally scarred firefighter, Vincent (Vincent Lindon). By this time I was actually laughing at certain scenes, finding it all tiresome and frankly embarrassing. I got the symbolism of human beings as machines and exploitation of females and that family represents death and blah-blah-blah! Yet, and I’m likely to be in the minority, Titane (2021) is one of the most narratively, emotionally and visually exhausting films I have seen in some time. Watch at your peril!
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yōko Minamida
Music by: Asei Kobayashi, Mickie Yoshino
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
This Japanese film from the late 1970s is absolutely nuts, but a riotous genre mash-up of rites-of-passage, horror, musical, martial arts, romance, fantasy, comedy and anti-war genre movie styles. If you are a fan of the work of Takashi Miike’s both energetic and often insane genre films, you can definitely see how, House (1977), may have had a major influence on his and many other Asian filmmaker’s cinematic works.
Initially receiving negative reviews, but big box office in Japan on release, House (1977), opens by introducing a set of seven teenage girls called, Gorgeous, King Fu, Prof, Melody, Fantasy, Mac and Sweet. The names give them their major characteristics too. Kung Fu for example loves martial arts, Fantasy is a daydreamer and Melody loves music etc. You get the idea. As each character is introduced in a basic fashion, the energetic performances of the actors and the quirky screenplay develops their characters beyond the initial stereotypes. Gorgeous is especially well developed as she is suffering the loss of her mother and has rejected her father’s choice of stepmother. Eschewing her kindly father’s protestations, she decides to visit her aged Aunt in the countryside.
When Gorgeous’ friend’s school trip is cancelled due to several bizarre plot turns, and a couple of crazy musical numbers later, the girls join her on the visit to the creepy house. When they finally arrive Gorgeous’ aunt behaves extremely oddly. She rarely gets visitors and only has a white cat for company. When the girls begin to disappear one-by-one and Fantasy’s daydreams begin to turn to nightmares, the true horror of the situation takes shape. The house itself is a malevolent force and has trapped the girls. What appeared to be a lovely summer vacation is now the total opposite.
Now, what I have described actually seems quite normal in terms of the narrative content. It’s a standard horror plot of characters imprisoned by supernatural forces and trying desperately to stay alive. However, director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, who devised the story with his daughter, presents a series of images and sounds David Lynch would have been proud to have devised. These include: a mirror attacking the viewer, a watermelon being pulled out of a well appearing like a human head, a pile of futons falling on and attacking a character, a carnivorous piano with biting keys and all manner of surreal fights and deaths. Allied to this the eccentric and jolly music works against the horror and suspense, so one is both laughing and disturbed simultaneously.
Ultimately, House (1977) is one wacky viewing experience, but it also taps into themes of friendship, romance, grief, as well as drawing on the horror of destruction Japan suffered when the atomic bombs hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is fast paced with an abundance of imaginative ideas, film styles and practical effects throughout. Thus, if you love the work of aforementioned Miike, Lynch and Sam Raimi, you are bound to want to stay in House (1977) for the rapid eighty-eight minutes duration.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to describe a book or film or life situation as Kafkaesquerelates to:
“Franz Kafka (1883-1924) – a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. Kafka’s work is characterized by nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority. Thus, the word Kafkaesque is often applied to bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening.”
Moreover, it especially relates to characters and events which could be described as:
“. . . relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings, especially having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality.”
Such narratives are abundant throughout cinema history and in this occasional strand I would like to suggest six of the best films which could be described as ‘Kafkaesque.’ Interestingly, I have not selected the purer surrealist work of say David Lynch or Luis Bunuel, but concentrated on films dominated by characters utterly lost to a nightmarish fate, bureaucracy or a scenario entirely not of their making. I guess one could draw parallels with the world’s current situation in regard to COVID-19, as many of us have found ourselves powerless and at the mercy of bureaucracy, sickness and unknown external forces. However, I am not going to dwell on that; just keep going and hope we all get through safely to the other side of it.
NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno, Stephanie Azpiazu
Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman (Based on: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid)
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Music by: Jay Wadley
Cinematography: Łukasz Żal
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I read some background information online about Charlie Kaufman’s latest film adaptation for Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020), and there is a leaning to describe it as a psychological horror. Of course, in order to market their films, studios write copy to entice an audience for their film. However, this adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel is far more than a psychological horror. It has elements from a whole plethora of genres including: surrealism, comedy, romance, thriller, arthouse, road movie, and even dance, animation and musical genres. Safe to say that once again Charlie Kaufman has delivered yet another ingenious cinematic smorgasbord that defies easy categorization. But is it any good?
The film opens gently with the lilting voice of Jessie Buckley’s voiceover. We hear her character deliver a set of poetic existential queries, and her mantra throughout the film: “I’m thinking of ending things. . .” over a set of seemingly unconnected images. She waits for her boyfriend of a couple of months, Jake (Jesse Plemons), as they plan to meet his parents, portrayed by David Thewlis and Toni Collette, for the first time at their farm. So far, so straightforward; kind of. However, as Jake and the young woman’s (whose name changes during the film) drive through picturesque and snowy landscapes, Kaufman intercuts to an elderly Janitor going about his cleaning duties at a high school. How these juxtaposed situations eventually marry together is open to many interpretations. While certainly obtuse and narratively impenetrable to many, I really connected with Kaufman’s surreal trip. Because I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020) is certainly as much about the journey than the ultimate destination.
As he has demonstrated since his debut feature film screenplay, Being John Malkovich (1999), Kaufman has an urgent desire for original invention, sight gags, existential examination, exploration of mental health, relationship breakdowns, non-linear structure and intellectual discourse. The respective journeys of characters like Jake and the young woman are taken by road and in the mind. Whose mind the film is in and out of is also open to question. The car journey is treacherous both due to the weather and the anxious tension between the couple. This is brought about by the young woman desiring to end things. Is it her life or her relationship she wants to end? Or is it both? Things between the two aren’t made easier by the surreal visit to Jake’s parents’ farm. Thewlis and Collette inject much humour and pathos into their characters. Their performances, a succession of visual punchlines and the brilliant dialogue combine to really bring the film to life during the middle act.
After the couple leave the parents’ farm and head back home, events get even stranger as connections with the aforementioned Janitor intensify. An extremely anxious pitstop at an ice-cream parlour, an animated pig and a ballet dance sequence threatened to destabilize the narrative. But once I had suddenly interpreted my truth and understanding of Iain Reid’s and Kaufman’s vision, it all kind of almost made sense. Indeed, compared to Kaufman’s surreal meta-fictional masterpiece, Synecdoche, New York (2008), I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020) is arguably more accessible, funnier and less bleak.
Having said that, given Kaufman’s predilection for characters on the edge of nervous, depressive and existential breakdowns, some may find this film’s journey tough to complete. But I loved the invention and constant ideas on show throughout. Kaufman’s takes risks structurally, visually and thematically and I congratulate him for challenging the audience. Lastly, I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020) has a wondrously cinematic look, sound and dreamlike feel to it. Plus, in Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, Kaufman has cast two exceptional acting talents, who are certainly worth going on the road with. However, bizarre and twisted that road may be.
Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts etc.
Music by: David Lynch, Fats Waller, Peter Ivers
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes, Herbert Cardwell
“In heaven everything is fine”, sings the ‘Lady in the Radiator’. Is it really, David, because during the course of your cinematic vision known as Eraserhead (1977), we witness all manner of things which demonstrate heaven is far from our reach. We see the scarred ‘Man in the Planet’, apparently controlling Henry Spencer’s (Jack Nance) fate with mechanical levers. There are also floating heads, blood-squirting chickens, weird alien-looking babies, an enigmatic femme-fatale, a shock-haired and shock-faced protagonist; all existing in an industrial abyss presented in bleak monochrome. If there is a heaven, no one’s getting there!
David Lynch’s debut feature film is a masterpiece of independent cinema. A surrealist, dystopian and anxiety-inducing collage of fantastic images and industrial sounds. Moreover, Eraserhead (1977) was a labour of love for the enigmatic filmmaker. Lynch took years to finish the production. So much so there is one scene where Nance’s character Henry, walks from a corridor through a door. While the edit is immediate, the filming dates were one year apart. Thankfully, Jack Nance didn’t get that famous quiff cut off. Moreover, money was tight. Lynch financed the film from doing part-time jobs, plus he received help from the American Film Institute, family members, and very good friends. There was no Kickstarter in those days.
While Eraserhead (1977) has many seemingly unconnected and bizarre images and freakish scenes, there are several powerful themes running through the film. Indeed, it is a Freudian classic with the nervous and anxious Henry, being lead from one challenging situation to another. The fear of responsibility and parenthood hangs heavy in Lynch’s psyche. Henry lacks confidence and sexual adequacy. Even when he attempts a relationship with Mary (Charlotte Stewart), his sanity is hanging on a thread. Mainly due to the fact their child is a sad, mutated monstrosity. But to Henry’s credit he attempts to love the child, even though such paternal care is doomed.
Lastly, given it had such a low-budget, took the best part of a decade to shoot and spent over a year in post-production, Lynch cinematic skills are meticulously represented in Eraserhead (1977). Kudos as well to the stark cinematography, Nance’s startling deadpan performance, plus Lynch’s incredible soundscape designed with Alan Splet. Ultimately, while it is a powerfully strange film, there is actually much method and heart in Lynch’s madness. The urban decay and freakish nature of Eraserhead (1977) taps into primal fears of bringing a child into a dark world. I, for one, can certainly identify with that.
Based on: Maniac by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, Ole Marius Araldsen
Developed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga & Patrick Somerville for Netflix
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
What’s your view on striving for originality in storytelling and entertainment? It could be argued that there is no such thing and creators are simply moving creative chess pieces around the same board; or playing the same musical notes but in a different order. One perspective is that you prefer a writer or director to be bold and aim for originality; with the potential risk they alienate the audience. Some creators actually don’t care about the audience but many others do, preferring to connect emotionally within the casing of genre conventions. Personally, I prefer to be moved emotionally firstly and if the filmmaker or writer has presented their story in an impressive style then this serves to enhance the enjoyment of the narrative.
Cary Joji Fukunaga is a genre filmmaker who has established himself capable of developing impressive genre works such as: Jane Eyre (2011), True Detective (2014), and the brilliant film Beasts of No Nation (2015). Recently, he has also been involved in bringing It (2017) and The Alienist (2018) to the screen; although he did not serve as final director on such products. His latest directorial offering is an adaptation of a Norwegian comedy drama called Maniac. Over ten hit-and-miss episodes we follow the misadventures of a depressive and unstable Owen (Jonah Hill), and grieving pill-addict Annie (Emma Stone), as they enter a medical trial run by the secretive Neberdine Pharmaceutical organisation.
The trial itself involves taking a series of pills and the participants’ cerebral responses being recorded on a sentient artificially intelligent computer called GRTA. Here, Owen and Annie’s lives and minds become internally entwined as the story enables us to visualise their mental anxieties and re-enact their fears during the trial. Owen’s angst is caused by a family issue involving his brother, while Annie still blames herself for a family tragedy. The bizarre surrealist events are very effectively established, however, over the dizzying spectrum of several genre-crossing episodes we essentially get told the same two stories within the: crime, romance, gangster, fantasy and spy genres.
The performances are interesting. Fukunaga has created a world that exists somewhere in between the real and surreal and the future, past and current times. Because of this there’s a sense he has freed the actors from naturalism and at times created a stylistic distanciation. Conversely, Emma Stone was brilliant as always and she is skilled enough to make the strangeness resonate emotionally. However, I felt Jonah Hill, while giving a fine and committed performance, was miscast. Interestingly, Justin Theroux features in a curious turn as a Doctor on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Theroux is a fascinating actor who I think is sabotaging his career and could be the next George Clooney but continues to choose weirdo roles which serve his career no benefit. But hey what do I know!? Maybe he’s having a lot of fun.
Ultimately, the postmodern stylings cloaked a pretty conventional love story and once again, with a Netflix show, I felt that ten episodes were stretching the narrative a tad. Fukunaga’s combination of different genres and eccentric characters plus a smattering a bloody violence and techno-humour is always interesting. Moreover, much fun is to be had from the references to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Lord of the Rings and many more films. Nowhere near as brilliant as True Detective or Beasts of No Nation, Cary Fukunaga still impresses as a director even if Maniac is arguably style over content. Nonetheless, Fukunaga should still be commended for striving for a semblance of originality and ambition, rather than just go for an big payday on a franchise studio genre film.
I started writing film reviews a few years ago and the main reason was because I wanted to try and understand why I liked or disliked a film. I also wanted to improve my creative writing by understanding the thought process of others. Living filmmakers whose work I have consistently enjoyed, save for the odd one here or there, are: Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Lynn Ramsay, Jonathan Glazer, Woody Allen (even some of the later ones), Park Chan Wook, David Fincher, Edgar Wright, Jacques Audiard, Darren Aronofsky, Kathryn Bigelow; and many others no doubt!
Such directors capture the quintessence of what cinema is for me. Not simply just in style and form but also powerful themes, imaginative concepts and sheer bloody entertainment. Filmmakers, of late, you can add to that list are: Denis Villeneuve, S. Craig ZAHLER and Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. I have now seen three of his films, namely: Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015) and his next release The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), and they all defy conventional film conventions to deliver absurd, surreal, funny, dark, thought-provoking and imaginative visions of human nature. Also, let’s not forget the writer too; so kudos to his writing partner Efthymis Filippou, who combines with Lanthimos to create such memorable cinematic offerings.
The story itself begins in a reasonably conventional fashion. Colin Farrell’s successful surgeon, Steven Murphy, is happily married to his wife, Anna, portrayed with glacial precision by Nicole Kidman. They have two healthy and intelligent children, a boy and a girl, and their lives are a picture of upper middle class contentment. Steven and Anna’s family equilibrium is skewed when a teenage boy, Martin, brilliantly portrayed by Barry Keoghan, inveigles his way into their lives through a combination of innocent charm and surreptitious pathos. Martin is a dark angel representative of the cloud of sickness and guilt and remorse and his actions force Steven and Anna to have to face up to a parents’ worst nightmares.
Lanthimos and Filippou, in Godardian fashion, constantly calls attention to cinema form; especially with a strangely effective form of anti-acting where, Farrell notably, dryly delivers dialogue as unconnected non-sequiturs. The words also constantly surprise us as the characters speak at each other with phrases that create humour and emotional disassociation. Nonetheless, such artifice only adds to the off-centre and sinister nature of the piece. The film is also beautifully shot with a wonderful symmetry to the composition of many shots. I also liked the choice of wide-angle lenses and the flowing Steadicam shots. Many were pitched at just over head-height, and provided an eerie floating sensation throughout the drama.
Colin Farrell (as he did in The Lobster (2015), Nicole Kidman and the rest of the cast buy completely into Lanthimos and Filippou’s striking vision which takes its’ influence from l Greek tragedy. But while Farrell excels in another praiseworthy under-stated deadpan performance, Barry Keoghan steals the show. The young actor follows up his impactful supporting appearance in Dunkirk (2017), with a compelling character study and eerily mature portrayal. Overall, this is a gripping, absurd thriller-turned-horror film which constantly wrong-footed me with its plot turns. It is a truly chilling, yet darkly comical and surreal genre film that manages to be somehow extremely accessible too.
CAST: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JAVIER BARDEM, ED HARRIS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER
**GENERALLY SPOILER FREE**
Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple in not so much a narrative but a descent into what-the-fuck? They portray conduits of hellish pursuit dictated by a filmmaker on the edge of a nervous breakdown, vengefully striking out at his ego, superego and the world around him. I mean, you know when someone tells you their dreams in nightmarish details and it’s more interesting to them than you: well, this is two hours of that.
While this is technically a bravura tour-de-force in design, composition, cinematic experimentation and delivery I was utterly bored by, what is essentially, an indulgent, pretentious and nihilistic void of a film. Darren Aronofsky’s prior work such as Requiem for a Dream (2000), Pi (1998), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) combined cinematic style and protagonist emotion superbly. Mother, in its critiques of Hollywood, fame and some kind of biblical allegory stuff wildly missed the mark for me. I wasn’t even shocked by the horrific denouement as it all happened in a surreal vacuum where I could not care less about any person or anything.
Christopher Nolan used cinematic form to powerful effect in Dunkirk (2017) and moved me immensely but Mother just bludgeoned me into dull submission. I wonder if Aronofsky’s experience on Noah (2014) had somehow warped his mind and the film is a creative and therapeutic cry for help, while at the same time damning the executives who possibly killed his film baby. He certainly throws a lot of toys from his pram in this violent, bloody, fiery, misogynistic and misanthropic misfire!
Lawrence was incredible as the battered lead while Bardem just felt confused and off-the-pace-at-times to me. While it is the work of a filmmaker I would certainly call an artist and generally I love the surrealist films of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, the nightmarish logic narrative did not work for me as the cyclical parlour trick in closing the story is mere sleight-of-hand to fool the audience into thinking the film is deeper than it is.
Ultimately, Darren Aronofsky, based on his prior films, is a risk-taking, boundary-pushing genius and some will adore this brave and courageous misadventure. However, for me it was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. I mean I’m just a lowly office drone but I paid my money and earned my opinion. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.
I was pretty ill with flu for half-of-March and then lost both my voice and get-up-and-go too, thus, only went to the cinema once during the month.
However, while recovering in my sick hole I caught up with quite a few films via streaming and on Blu-Ray/DVD. So, here’s a round-up review of movies I watched during the month of March.
CITY ON FIRE (1987) – DVD
Ringo Lam’s hard-boiled crime thriller was a massive influence on Tarantino’s low-budget classic Reservoir Dogs (1992). It’s shot in a raw Lumet/Friedkin style with the streets of Hong Kong filled with blood, bullets and breakneck speed car chases. Great thriller which made a star of a young Chow-Yun Fat.
FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY
This film rocked! It was rip-roaring action with the blood, the guts and the gory! Brad Pitt plays the Tank Commander with his loyal crew including Shia Labeouf, John Bernthal and new recruit Logan Lerman. It’s close to the end but there are pockets of German resistance while their Tank grinds its way toward Berlin. The theme of “war is hell” isn’t exactly new but it is tremendously illustrated during the brutal battles. I enjoyed the claustrophobic nature of the tank, earth-shaking manouevres and testosteronic highs plus there is some subtle characterisation and a moving mid-point scene where we see the softer side of Pitt’s war beast. Overall it’s an exciting melee of explosions and death and pays fine tribute to the noble savagery of the men who laid down their lives to win the war.
GET HARD (2015) – CINEMA
Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s silly comedy uses broad stereotypes to land its very puerile humour. It’s politically incorrect and sends up all manner of: black, white, Hispanic, gay, female, religious, upper, lower and middle classes and cultures. The double team of Ferrell and Hart works well as they play a soon-to-be imprisoned banker and his prison “trainer” readying him for a stretch in jail. The humour is unsophisticated but it made me laugh throughout in a series of silly scenes and set-pieces, plus there’s mild satirical content amidst the smut. Highlight is Will Ferrell as an urban gangster; should’ve been much more of that!
HERCULES (2014) – NETFLIX
This not-as-bad-as-you-think swords and sandals epic has some pretty awesome fight scenes but it’s mainly for die-hard fans of the Duwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Plus, there’s a very decent set of character actors earning some dough including: John Hurt, Peter Mullan, Rufus Sewell and Ian “Lovejoy” McShane. There’s some stuff about the “making of legends” in the script as the story eschews fantastical monsters in favour of muscular 300esque fight scenes. More blood would’ve made it even better though.
JERSEY BOYS – (2014) – BLU-RAY
This biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is another decent poke at what has come to be known as the “jukebox” musical subgenre. Based on the effervescent stage play it’s a decent, yet undemanding–felt-like-a-TV-movie-Sunday-matinee-nostalgia-watch. Of course, the songs are grand but the direction was a tad functional and the groups’ difficulties with the mob, financial issues and family losses are touched upon yet not dramatically satisfying. I liked the direct address narration but it’s only during the end credits where the film cuts loose with an imagination and pizazz that much of the film lacks.
LA CABINA (1972) – YOUTUBE
This is one of the best short films I have ever seen. It is Spanish and is very simple in concept and delivery but very powerful in symbolism and potential meaning. Basically, a Spanish man becomes trapped in a red Telephone Box and cannot escape. After a slapstick beginning which results in a huge crowd witnessing his plight, the film takes a grim twist in tone and becomes very dark by the chilling denouement. What does is all mean? Well, like great art it is open to interpretation as it contains surreal, existential and political themes. In my opinion it means all and everything and the horror will remain with anyone who sees it.
LUCY (2014) – BLU-RAY
Director Luc Besson is quoted as saying: “…I intended the first part of Lucy to be like Léon, the second part to be like Inception and the third part to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey.” I would say he succeeded with the first part but completely failed with the 2nd and 3rd parts. It’s a shame the kick-ass action was wrapped in a load of sci-fi babble because I really enjoyed many of the bone-crunching fight scenes. Scarlett Johansson was awesome as usual despite the story making NO SENSE at all logically and it didn’t even work as conceptual sci- fi for me.
PERFUME: STORY OF A MURDERER (2006) – DVD
I read the wonderful novel and saw this at the cinema years ago so this was the first time I had seen it since. Ben Whishaw plays a strange man, abandoned as a baby in the stinking slums of Paris, who grows up to be one of the great perfume-makers but is also a murderer. In pursuit of the perfect scent Jean-Baptiste Grenouille can only find what he wants during the killing of beautiful young girls. It’s an odd story but has a wonderful poetry and rhythm to it as we at first empathise but then exhale at the horror of Grenouille’s actions. John Hurts narrates a peculiar but haunting story which also features fine turns from Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman.
TRANSCENDENCE (2014) – BLU-RAY
This film about Artificial Intelligence promised so much and had a terrific cast including: Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp and the always grand Rachel Hall. For an hour it really seemed like a great bit of science fiction as scientist Will Caster dies but is brought back to life by means of computerisation of his mind and soul. With his brainbox uploaded to the web like a crazy sentient FrankensteinMonster.com he begins what appears to be a nefarious plan to take over the world. However, the narrative quickly falls apart and I felt like I was trying to put together a jigsaw with many pieces missing and bits that just don’t fit. It looks and sounds amazing but I was so bemused by the end I just did not care!
TRIANGLE (2009) – BLU-RAY
This is an absolute cracker of a Sisyphean-time-loop-paradox-movie. Melissa George portrays a single mother hoping to escape it all with a yacht trip with her wealthier friends. However, things don’t quite go according to plan following a massive storm knocks the group way off course. I’m not going to give anything away but this film gripped me throughout with a complex criss-cross narrative which confounds and delights in equal turns. While its clever-clever plot tightens the film also creeps you out with a series of violent events and startling images. Melissa George carries this film like Atlas did the world, and I really hope writer/director Christopher Smith gets more work as he and his star deserve much bigger films based on this existentially loopy horror film.
WALKING DEAD – SEASON 5 (EPISODES 9 – 16)
The Walking Dead Season 5 finale was less crash, bang, gore than the previous seasons’ end but there were some wonderful episodes filled with great suspense and tension. The group led by Rick Grimes eventually come to a place called Alexandria which kind of has a hippie commune feel to it. There paranoia sets in as the post-trauma of previous losses haunts Rick, Carol, Abraham and Sasha. We lose a couple of stalwart characters on the way but the series introduces new people at Alexandria and that’s where suspicions and doubt begins. It’s a softer, moral and more emotional denouement although there is some fantastic zombie executions too! I particularly enjoyed the doubt the writers created as to whether Rick and Carol were going totally over to the dark side. Great drama!
WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014) – BLU RAY
This covers much of the same ground as The Equalizer (2014) starring Denzel Washington, with a lone wolf operative fighting his demons overcoming big city villains in a most violent way. Once again Liam Neeson flexes his recent-tough-guy-status muscles wiping out bad guys with a gruff voice, mean stare, tough attitude, big fists and guns; but mainly guns. Working outside the law he hunts down the perpetrators of a series of shocking murders before their next victim comes to a similarly grisly end. Denzel’s film just shades it for brutal violence and style and has a better baddie but Walk Among The Tombstones is a decent stab at an evening’s bit of DVD entertainment.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (2012) – SKY MOVIES
This low-budget horror film set in Britain is actually well-made and surprisingly quite scary, as a Yorkshire family are terrorised by a nasty spectre from t’other side. Based on the “Maynard Haunting” from the 1970s it’s well acted and directed by Pat Holden. I enjoyed the sly build up of terror as the nefarious poltergeist targets the youngest member of the family, Sally. It’s got some decent scares and a nifty little twist at the end.