Who Am I?

What am I?
A figure, lost,
A sunset,
Flirting with the glorious sky,
That is tomorrow.

Who knows?
What will happen,
To me as,
I try to ascend higher,
To my place, my throne.

Where is it?
That throne,

Upon which,
My destiny must lie,
Who knows, Who dreams?

For now?
I crawl,
Among the,
Dirt, a common

No better than the rest.
Where does?
It end?
Dreams lie to,
Us, the poor subjects,
Of torment, oh how we cry.

Will I?
Become that,
Which life once,
Promised I would, be,
A man among pigeons.

Flutter not?
I cry, see,
For this world,
Knows not that which I,
One day may offer.

This world?
Doomed, lies,
Upon which it,
Is built, no truth remains,
In the kingdom of the falsifiers.

 

Joshua Moulinie

Area 51 (2015), a Review.

Area 51.jpg

Director – Oren Peli

Writer – Oren Peli

Starring – Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Jelena Nik

Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions studios are arguably the most prolific and success horror studio of the millennium thus far. After churning out monster hit after monster hit; including Paranormal Activity and the subsequent sequels, Ouija, Insidious and many, many more. They are the undisputed l kings of contemporary horror, in terms of quantity at the very least, if not quality, with a staggering eight films due for release in 2016 alone. Last year they released an insane fifteen films, one of which, was Area 51.

In a series of interviews conducted by friends, family and experts, discuss the sudden disappearance of Reid (Warner), Darrin (Bragg) and Ben (Rovner), three best friends who are also conspiracy theorists. We the audience are then shown the shocking footage they took in the build up, and during, their investigation of the fabled underground airbase.

Area 51 is the first film since Paranormal Activity (the original one) to be directed by Peli, who has overseen most of the Blumhouse productions via a producer’s role. Arguably, the original Paranormal Activity was the only genuinely intriguing (read intriguing, not necessarily good) film to come out of Blumhouse, and everything since has felt like a pale imitation, or a by-the-numbers picture featuring cinema’s latest tropes and fads.

In some ways, Area 51 falls into this trap, as it does feature that now firmly tired trope of using found-footage, but at the same time gives it a cheeky conspiracy twist. It also may well be a finer movie than the aforementioned sleeper hit that made Blumhouse a powerhouse.

The writing is, for the most part, quite lazy, featuring classic conspiracy theory nonsense, interviews with ‘civilians’ and boring and inconsistent character development. We spend a good fifty minutes with the characters, learning their stories, and watching them prepare to break into a top secret government location. One that may well be among the tightest guarded in the entire Western hemisphere. We also get every common caricature you’ve come to ‘love’ from these films.

We get Reid, the leading man whose desperate search for the unknown comes from a mysterious incident in their past. We get Ben, the ‘This is bullshit guy’, probably more commonly known as ‘The Skeptic’. I like to call him the former, because it tends to be what 75% of his dialogue consists of. We get Jelena, the female lead whose father was killed for his role in the conspiracy, A.K.A ‘The enigmatic character with previous and ambiguous links to the central mystery.’ We also got Darrin, the Token Black Guy, because why the hell not at this point, eh?

As you can see, it’s as by the numbers as by the numbers gets. Fortunately, the first fourty minutes are mostly intriguing, if a times irritating. The characters are arguably too fleshed out, considering they aren’t particularly interesting, and the build up feels like forver for the relatively short delivery towards the end. This film was marketed as a tense Sci-Fi thriller. It is, but only for about half an hour towards the end.

In terms of the character inconsistencies we mentioned earlier, it’s that classic problem when you stick supposedly intelligent characters in a horror scenario. Suddenly, everyone has to act like a moron in order to make idiotic decisions ergo leading to the tension. So what we get are several characters, who are one minute intelligent enough to break into Area 51, and then stupid enough to run around inside the same place practically shouting at one another. It’s ridiculous.

The film also spends a good fourty minutes explaining how they can break into a place that, in all realistic terms, is impossible to get into. Then, when they do get there, and they do break in, it’s mostly luck and we still can’t believe they did it. Ergo, everything that happens afterwards, while interesting, feels unrealistic and implausible.

That’s a problem with a film that tries to be this smart and detailed, going to great lengths to explain the military hardware that provides security for the airbase, and then having you just accept that three kids could break in nonetheless. It’s a contradictory message, and it doesn’t work.

Thankfully though, if you can suspend this disbelief and push it aside, the last twenty five minutes are very rewarding. It’s tense, atmospheric, ambient and impactful, and the extraterrestrial design is both interesting and captivating. The last act works, and packs an ending that dips into some intriguing surrealism. Just a shame you have to sit through fourty minutes of relative nonsense to get there, then, like with your first sexual encounter, you wait for what feels like forever for it finally get to the good part, and then it’s over far too quickly.

Of course, with a film like this, cinematography goes out of the window. A lot of the action is hard to see, with the camera going out of focus repeatedly. This, for me, didn’t really raise tension, but was more distracting and annoying. If you break into Area 51, and you’re trying to get never-before-seen footage that is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, surely you’d keep the bloody camera in focus.

Area 51 isn’t the worst possible way one could spend thirty minutes, and it’s certainly not a terrible experience. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in practically every department severely hinder the movie. When I said it was a finer outting than Peli’s infamous debut feature, I meant it. Problem was, it’s the lesser of two evils, as opposed to being something good.

Final Rating – 2.8

Joshua Moulinie

World War Z (2013), a Retrospective Review

World War Z

 

Director – Matt Forster

Writer(s) – Matthew Michael, Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof

Starring – Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Hale, Matthew Fox

I’ve always been of the belief that a good zombie film requires careful planning and a decent underlying metaphor in order to be worth a damn. So, it was with a sense of foreboding and a lack of enthusiasm that I sat down to try World War Z, the troubled production, based on the critically acclaimed novel of the same name, that went through several re-writes and featured an ever increasingly bloated budget. Unfortunately, the troubled production is very noticeable, leading to a film that feels disjointed and confused.

The narrative is so ridiculously simple, that it can be summarised in a mere two sentences. Brad Pitt is retired United Nations investigator Gerry Lane, a family man who loves his family. Did I mention he loves his family? Good, that’s important, because it’s effectively his entire characterisation. When the world suffers a global outbreak of a zombie virus, Lane is forced to leave his family in the hands of his former employers, while he sets out to discover the mythical ‘Patient Zero’ and bring an end to the carnage.

The rest of the ‘narrative’ consists to merely get Pitt from set-piece to set-piece, as the violence and chaos reaches absolutely ridiculous levels of stupidity. We get plane crashes, we get zombie massacres, we even get a pile of zombies using each other as a human ladder to break into Jerusalem. Yes, I just typed that sentence. No, it’s nowhere near as cool as it sounds. Considering four writers are credited on this project, you’d think we could get a narrative that could sustain the two hour runtime. Sadly, we don’t, and to say it’s threadbare would be an understatement.

The worst part is that the narrative tries it’s best to paint itself out as cerebral and intelligent, when sadly, it’s simply daft. The dialogue is also absolutely abysmal. Every single word serves as a plot device as opposed to any character build or development. Exchanges such as the following reiterate my point;

  • ‘He’s going to inject himself!’
  • ‘We don’t even know which ones will work’
  • ‘If he goes for the left side, he’s dead anyway’

It’s the kind of dialogue that South Park has built a legacy on mocking, and how not one of the four writers noticed the awfulness of this expositional tripe is beyond my comprehension. The problem lies in insulting our intelligence. This is dialogue that no human being would ever likely come out with, rather, it’s designed to talk to us, the audience, directly. Of course, doing so gives the impression that the writer assumed we’re far too stupid to figure this out ourselves. Honestly, it’s borderline insulting.

Pitt’s character is also the only one we spend enough time with to justify a character arc, and we don’t even get one for him. We know from the opening scenes that he’s a man who loves his family, and has immaculate hair. Two hours later? He’s a man who loves his family, seems to be indestructible, and still has immaculate hair. There is no arc, it simply doesn’t exist. Pitt’s performance encapsulates this perfectly, as he delivers dialogue with all the emotional impact and believability of a sausage roll. A sausage roll with fantastic locks.

This could, of course, be excusable, should the spectacle aspect hold up. Clearly, this was a ‘lowest common denominator movie’, designed to appeal to a mass audience. So, with $190 million pushed behind it, you’d expect some fantastic effects at the very least? Unfortunately, we don’t. The effects are on-par with a Horror Channel Special, the cinematography is naff, and the whole thing at times looks like a Gamecube cut-scene, as opposed to a motion picture.

If I have a single positive thing to say, it’s that there is a sequence towards the end that is actually very atmospheric and interesting. It’s gripping, to say the least. Problem is, it was added on after the rest of the film was shot, replacing the original ending, and as such looking and feeling like an entirely different movie. Most frustratingly, that other movie looks and feels a lot better than what we got. So we get an hour and a half of garbage, only for the director/writers to tease us with a potentially much better film that we could have been seeing, towards the end. Somehow, it feels even worse.

World War Z, it’s safe to say, is an incoherent mess that sadly could, and should, have been a lot better. Featuring shoddy CGI, an awful script and the most boring performance of Brad Pitt’s career, it never does remotely enough to justify it’s budget and run-time. Still, Pitt’s hair is fantastic, and the film is worth watching for no other reason than to see the hair still remain pristine, no matter what hell it goes through. So there’s that, I guess.
Final Rating – 2.5

 

Joshua Moulinie

22 Jump Street (2014), a Retrospective Review

22 Jump Street

Director(s) – Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Writer(s) – Michael Bacall, Rodney Rothman

Starring – Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube

There is an old saying in the entertainment industry; Lightning never strikes twice. Resurrecting an old franchise for a contemporary reboot should not work. It should come across as a lazy, half-assed attempt to cash in on a previously viable property. However, when the property itself is self-aware and satirical enough to realise this, and thus spins a negative into a positive, you get the sleeper hit that was 21 Jump Street.

When the joke is that good, there’s always a fear that a potentially unnecessary sequel could ruin everything. Fortunately, 22 Jump Street has the same irreverence and scathing satirical edge of the original, this time aiming its sights at the overblown sequel. In the process, we get a film possibly even funnier than it’s predecessor.

The storyline is, for all purposes, exactly the same as the original. Tatum and Hill play the same lovable and hapless duo, whose idiocy and inability to function as adequate police officers make them the ideal duo for the Jump Hill initiative, which involves going undercover to bust drug dealers. This time, instead of high-school, the’ll be heading back to college.

The key strength of the original in the franchise, as previously alluded to in my introduction, was the strength of the script. Drenched in irreverence and satire, this time most of the jokes are directed at the nature of the sequel, instead of the nature of reboots. This is instantaneous, as straight out the bat we get an overlong car chase, with the explosion we waited the entire first movie for deployed within the first five minutes.

The duo are then led straight to the dispatching officer from the first movie, the same one who spoke about the unnecessary and lazy nature of reboots. This time, he points out that ‘They decided that because the first Jump Street was so good, they’re going to do exactly the same thing again’. This sets the tone nicely for the self-awareness that will follow proceedings. We’re then shown Ice Cube’s new ridiculously high-tech office, which he refers to, charmingly, as ‘Some real Iron Man shit.’

This all culminates in a brilliant joke at the midpoint of the film, where, after causing a lot of collateral damage, the two officers are informed that they’ve already eaten up half of the film’s budget, and as such need to calm down on the destruction. This, in turn, leads to a hilarious car-chase where they purposely try not to break anything, and exclaim loud exasperation when their assailants do.

These, whilst some of the stronger jokes in the film, are not the only ones, by a long stretch. There is one fantastic Ice Cube moment that is physical comedy at it’s very finest. I’ll save that surprise for you, though. That’s part of the film’s possible strongest strength; it’s crammed pack with one-liners, slapstick gags, satire and general awkward humour, meaning almost everybody with any type of humour will find something to love here.

This form of universal comedy is second-nature to Miller and Lord, who have proved via this and The Lego Movie that they are some of the premier comedic directing talents in Hollywood today. Special mention to the screenwriters of course, but considering their less than stellar career tracks, it’s a certainty that Miller, Lord, Hill and Tatum made this their own.

The film also, surprisingly, has a lot more emotional weight than its predecessor. By this point, the ‘bromance’ between the two is so believable, and so genuine, primarily thanks to an insane amount of chemistry between the two leads, that it has almost become a fully-fledged romantic relationship.

This means that when the two undergo the traditional sequel separation, again alluded to as a cliche by the film itself early on, it genuinely hits home emotionally. It’s also brilliantly portrayed by ‘investigating other people’ subbing in for the classic ‘seeing other people’ line typically associated with relationships.

Both leads manage to improve on the first outing, in terms of both performances and characterisation. Tatum, in particular, gives a more layered performance as he ceases to be such a simple idiotic ‘Jock’ character, and his genuine care for people and human warmth makes him eternally endearing. Hill also sheds some of his ‘token fat nerd’ label and again gives a more mature and complex performance than before. Both however remain humorous, witty and endearing throughout.

Of course, no film is without flaws, and 22 Jump Street has a few. First, they decided to bring back easily the most annoying character from the first effort, which is disappointing. Of course, if you like that character yourself, that’s not a problem. What may be is the over-reliance on Hill’s ‘awkward’ humour, and occasionally jokes and scenarios are dragged out longer than necessary. In particular the ‘teased sexual tension’ between Hill and a female adversary towards the end of the film.

The satire is also strong, but not entirely perfect. Clearly Jump Street is targeting a larger audience than say Monty Python or South Park, the reigning kings of satire. As such, the jokes are less subtle and far more obvious, resulting in occasionally clunky dialogue. It’s occasional though, and is hardly an unforgivable crime.

I can say, with some certainty, that if you enjoyed 21 Jump Street, you’re going to adore 22. More set-pieces, more action, more irreverence, and yet the same spirit and constant audience winking of the original, this is one of the 21st century’s finer comedic outputs. Hill and Tatum both shine, whilst Miller and Lord continue to enhance an already glowing legacy.

Final Rating – 4.2

Joshua Moulinie.

Look Who’s Back (2015), a Review

HITZIZZLE

Director – David Wnednt

Writer(s) –  Timur Vermes, David Wnednt, Johannes Boss, Mina Fischgartl

Starring – Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Christoph Maria Herbst

From The Great Dictator to the famous internet memes that sprung out of the very serious Downfall, parodies of Hitler has always been a constant source of amusement. There’s something strangely appealing about stripping away the cartoony layers of evil that shrouds the iconic (for good or bad) figure, and exploring the human side of the historical caricature of evil. Of all the films along this line I’ve ever seen, Look Who’s Back may well be the most culturally important.

Adolf Hitler (Masucci) wakes up in present-day Berlin, with no memory of anything that happened after 1945, and interprets modern situations and things from a Nazi perspective. He is mistaken for a method actor or a comedian, and lands himself a career in television, thanks to the work of Fabian Sawaktzki (Busch), a hapless wannabe filmmaker. However, a Television Executive (Herbst), quickly becomes disgusted with Hitler and Sawatzki’s success, and becomes determined to bring them down. Meanwhile, due to his new found position on TV, Hitler relaunches his political career.

The writing for this film is absolutely delightful, and I sincerely hope to have the pleasure of reading the novel ,of the same name, from which it based, very soon. The idea of Hitler landing in the contemporary age, at a time when Xenophobia, particularly in regards to Muslims and Middle-Eastern immigrants, is as rife as it has been for some time, is a stroke of genius.

Couple that with the fact that not all interactions were scripted, and that the director simply sent Masucci around dressed as Hitler and asked him to interview the general public on their political opinions, and we get an absolutely fascinating microcosm of contemporary ideologies. The rampant racism that spills out of the mouths of these non-actors is quite frankly terrifying, as is the speed at which they seemingly come to agree with the supposed ‘most evil man of all time’.

It shows, if nothing else, that the current political climate is not far removed from how it was when The Fuhrer rose to prominence and power. Then, he used his charisma against the political backdrop to bamboozle people into blindly following his lead, thus in turn leading to horrible acts.

Here, it’s highlighted how potentially easy that would be nowadays to happen again. In many ways, we all really need to sit down and watch this movie. For the ‘Donald Trump Era’ of politics, no film in the entire world could be argued to be more important. I sincerely believe that.

Because of the film’s nature of not being entirely scripted, some of the dialogue exchanges aren’t entirely crisp and are almost too naturalistic for a movie. Still, Hitler gets to throw out some magnificent quotes that create a fantastic equilibrium between naturalistic dialogue and cinematic jargon. Favourites of mine include ;

  • ‘I think the Green party make the most sense….Other than the no-nuclear policy. You can’t get anywhere without uranium’
  • ‘Even Poland still exists….the war was for nothing’
  • ‘Maybe she’s not a full Jew…you can survive with a certain amount of Jew in you.’

And in general, any line where he puts down Sawatzki military style.

A big part of the film’s success comes down to Masucci’s incredibly charismatic performance as Heir Hitler. He is, for the entire runtime, absolutely incredible. Charismatic, believable, deranged, but with a sense of underlying charm that many historians claim was one of his key strengths. In fact, it’s easy to forget this is an acting performance, as whilst Masucci is on screen, he may as well be the resurrection of Hitler. A film such as this requires a fantastic central performance to work, and the man delivers.

His supporting cast is very good, in particular Busch and Herbst respectfully. Two veterans of the German cinematic landscape, both prove why their careers have had such longevity, by bringing perfectly naturalistic portrayals that create a wonderful juxtaposition to the central performance.

The film is generally well-directed, as Wnednt opts for a very classy documentarian feel, that looks authentic and believable as a real world, without ever being dreary or dull, which is the trap most mockumentary style films fall into. In truth, this isn’t a fully fledged mockumentary, but aesthetically speaking, it very much feels like one.

Look Who’s Back is, quite possibly, the most pivotal film in terms of politics this decade. Managing the improbable juggling act of  being poignant, informative and entertaining simaltaneously, it holds a mirror to society and forces us to come to terms with who we are. Primarily, it highlights the hypocrisy between those who condemn the Nazis and yet simultaneously call for immigrants to be deported and support nationalism. Whilst the two aren’t necessarily directly linked, the similarities between them are unquestionable. Held together by a magnificent central performance by Oliver Massuci, this is a film that demands a viewing.

Final Rating – 4.6

Joshua Moulinie

21 Jump Street (2012), a Retrospective Review

21 Jump Street

Director – Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writer – Michael Bacall

Starring – Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube

A couple of brothers, both friends of mine, have both been encouraging me recently to try the Jump Street reboot franchise. After some tentative deliberation, mostly due to my natural disliking of both Tatum and Hill, I decided to concede and give it a try. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst not quite being the comedic masterpiece it’s made out to be across the internet, 21 Jump Street is an entertaining and self-aware film with some genuinely funny moments of satire.

The narrative is relatively simple and plays with a classic formula that somehow seems to always work. The ‘odd-couple’ pairing; Tatum playing the ‘dumb jock’, Greg Jenko, and Hill the ‘fat nerd’, Morton Schmidt. Together, after forming an unlikely friendship in high school, the two find themselves both training to be cops, and somehow succeeding. Unfortunately, they are absolutely awful at it, and as such are the perfect candidates for the ‘Jump Street Initiative’. This sees two hapless cops sent back to high school undercover in order to bust a drugs rink. Naturally, rules are broken, and hijinks ensue.

The writing, for the most part, is absolutely on fire, leading to some undeniably wonderful moments, such as early on, when the head of The Jump Street Initiative announces that they’re doing this because ‘the creative minds behind it are lazy, and they’ve simply resorted to repackaging old ideas and hoping nobody would notice.’ This, of course, is a reference to not only the grander Hollywood reboot/remake model, but of course the fact that 21 Jump Street is itself a remake. This is a great little wink-joke that sets the tone early for what will ensue.

Another favourite of mine was the black and angry police chief, played with hysterical hyperactivity by Ice Cube, announcing that while black and angry police chiefs are a stereotype, sometimes stereotypes happen and we should deal with it. He then proceeds to point out how everybody else in the room is a stereotype, in a brilliant moment that plays on our understandings of cinematic tropes.

They then flip the stereotypes on their head when the two budding cops hit high school and discover that, in this contemporary age, the dumb jock is no longer the cool kid. Instead, the more politically aware ego-warriors sit at the top of the social plateau.  Also, the homosexuals are now accepted, and the homophobes ostracised. It’s a great subversion of genre expectations, and something I sincerely can’t recall seeing before outside of independent cinema.

There are some issues with the writing though, and it’s not all great. The threadbare narrative is stretched out to the point where it begins to serve merely as a function to get from one comedic sketch to the next. Also, the ‘double-twist’ reveal at the end is pretty predictable and falls flat as it centers on the film’s most annoying character. Obviously, I can’t reveal who, but all I can say is you’ll probably guess it when you see it.

There’s also the usual 1000 dick jokes you see often in this genre of film. It’s not unexpected, but with the rest of the script being so strong, they tend to fall flat, and in turn means the quality of the film fluctuates between magnificent and simply crude. They also appear to have robbed a certain dick joke from South Park, which is definitely not cool.

I’ve always considered Hill to be the stronger act of the central duo, by default as opposed to any testament to his ‘greatness’, as I dislike both. In this instance however, Tatum pretty much steals the show. Hill plays his usual shtick, the nerdy fat guy. He played it in Superbad, he played it in The Wolf of Wall Street, and here he plays it once more for good luck. He’s not bad at it, it’s what he does, I guess, but it’s hard to gauge him as an actor when he performs the same role over and over again.

Tatum however, gives a much stronger performance than usual, playing up on his public perception as an idiot with enough tongue-in-cheek to suggest he really isn’t. It’s a pretty solid performance. The M.V.P though, is Ice Cube, who was easily my favourite part of the film. His hyper-energetic performance at times borders on the insane, but that’s the beauty of it. He’s simply electric.

In terms of visual storytelling, there isn’t a lot to write home about. The cinematography is bland and inoffensive, but never inspiring or particularly great. It just serves it’s purpose, framing the action so we pick up every one-liner, and boy are there a lot of them. Lord and Miller do a serviceable job sharing directorial duties, and they lean on some good writing to create a great final product.

With a fun script, enough satire that works, and an entertaining and engaging performance from the central duo, 21 Jump Street is not quite a laugh riot, but funny enough to be considered pretty damn good. It perhaps steps over the threshold of what would be considered an acceptable amount of phallic based humour in a motion picture, but this is still an engaging and entertaining experience that is certainly worth a viewing.

Final Rating – 4

 

Joshua Moulinie

The Hateful Eight (2015), a Review

The_Hateful_Eight.jpg

Director – Quentin Tarantino

Writer – Quentin Tarantino

Starring – Samuel L.Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walter Goggins

For years now Tarantino has walked that dreaded tightrope between self-indulgence and fantastic storytelling, to the point where I’d be pretty confident in stating that Quentin Tarantino’s favourite contemporary filmmaker is Quentin Tarantino. With The Hateful Eight, his latest effort, this has never been apparent, as this is the film where Tarantino’s ego finally derailed his genius, resulting in a three-hour stage play masquerading as a movie. An overblown and boring endeavour, this is far removed from his early days as the master of the ‘cinema of cool’.

The plot seems complex when described, but is actually painfully straightforward. Set a few years after the American civil war, bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) is transporting his loot of three dead bounties to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming. He hitches with the stagecoach of one John Ruth (Russell), a fellow bounty hunter known as ‘The Hangman’ due to his preference for bringing his bounties in alive.

Travelling with him is the nefarious Daisy Domergue (Leigh), a bounty worth $10,000. Along the way, they run into Chris Mannix (Goggins), a militiaman claiming to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. They find themselves eventually caught in a deep blizzard, and taking refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach resting spot. Mysteriously, Minnie is missing, and in her place are four strangers with a mysterious aura around them. Quickly, a mystery begins to present itself, as nobody appears to be quite who they seem.

The one thing you can usually guarantee from a Tarantino picture is a world-class screenplay; his dialogue is endlessly quotable, a large part of which is ingrained into the collective conscious of society. In contemporary terms, ‘Does he look like a bitch?’ Is every bit as iconic as ‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’ Sadly, a lot of what makes the man so great is tragically lost in The Hateful Eight.

Usually the nastier parts of his characters are covered by their endless charm, wit and likability. Sadly here, the latter three are missing, and what we are left with are simply nasty characters doing nasty things and we, the audience, are given very few reasons to care about them in the slightest. Whilst this may be a more natural depiction of the complexity of human beings, it simply doesn’t work here. The writing simply isn’t clever enough to spin this into a deep metaphor for the naturally deceptive nature of humanity, and instead comes across as simply being forced to watch several horrible human beings trapped in a large cabin who simply never shut up.

My God, the monologues. Sadly, the classic Tarantino monologue is becoming a hindrance as opposed to entertaining, as this near three hour movie could probably be told in ninety minutes if everybody just shut up and got to the point. With Django Unchained, the monologues worked. Christoph Waltz shutting down an entire armed town with his words was wonderful, as was the classic ‘Jews are rats’ speech from Inglorious Basterds.

Instead this is lacking the charm and panache of the great writer’s former works, falling flatter than a bulldozed pancake, and committing arguably the biggest crime in cinema; simply put, it’s tediously boring. There are some merits to it; the history in post-civil war America is intriguing for any historians or anyone with an interest in that topic, and the covering of racism is arguably more interesting than in Django, but even that’s ruined.

Honestly, how can we really sympathise with a character that stripped a man naked, forced him to walk in the snow naked for two hours, and then raped him in the mouth?  Even if he suffered serious racial abuse, any sympathy we may have had for him is ruined right around the point he laughs whilst performing a sexual assault. It’s….it’s just not needed.

I’ve always defended Tarantino’s more controversial moments by claiming the darker side was always balanced by the playful side, creating an equilibrium and allowing the films to still entertain and have merit. Unfortunately, with this effort, that equilibrium is shattered, as the worst side of Tarantino busts out and destroys the better side.

The performances are pretty decent, but more theatrical than cinematic, meaning they are, unfortunately, hammy as hell. I hear Kurt Russell is still digesting the set as we speak. Samuel L.Jackson again proves he is the greatest actor in the world at playing Samuel L.Jackson, and Leigh manages to equal the men in the hammy performance category. It’s cartoony in all the worst ways.. How she was nominated for an Academy Award for this stumps me a bit, but she’s probably the best of the bunch.

The cinematography and soundtrack are also lacking in Tarantino’s usual brilliance. Whilst both start fantastically, and trick you into believing this will be some more brilliance by the icon, they unfortunately level out, like the rest of the film, and become uninspiring. Far from bad, they’re never exactly great. It’s a real shame.

The Hateful Eight is not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination. The writing, while far from Tarantino’s best, is still arguably stronger than a large proportion of mainstream cinematic releases. It looks visually appealing, for a while, and Morricone manages to be good even when not at his best. That’s a microcosm of the film as a whole, it’s not the best work of anybody involved, merely existing, without ever inspiring.

It’s far removed from the best works of Tarantino to say the least, and a dark, dreary and nasty experience. Perhaps this is the film where Quentin finally disappeared, replaced by a monster driven entirely by ego and delusions of grandeur. Perhaps a good film if made by a lesser talent, but from the man who brought us Inglorious Basterds and Pulp Fiction, this has to be considered a sore disappointment.

 

Final Rating – 3.7

Joshua Moulinie

Starry Eyes (2014), a Retrospective Review

Starry Eyes

 

Director – Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Writer – Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring – Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segen, Louis Dezseran

 

Funded by Kickstarter, and released globally via Netflix, Starry Eyes had all the potential to be another poor direct to video-on-demand release, especially considering it had a first-time directorial team and starred relative unknowns. Fortunately, the film manages to be very enthralling;creating a truly spellbinding, and genuinely horrific, experience.

Sarah (Essoe) is a hopeful young woman suffering from trichotillomania, who is desperate to become famous, but is stuck waitressing at a Hooters-esque restaurant named Big Taters. Her boss Carl (Pat Healy) is frustrated with how Sarah’s auditioning occasionally interferes with her job but is unwilling to fire her.

Her friends are generally unsupportive and selfish; Erin (Fabianne Therese) is constantly trying to undermine Sarah and steal her roles, and the others are lackadaisical about Sarah’s efforts and Erin’s actions. After landing an audition for a film known as The Silver Scream, Sarah is pushed by a despicable producer (Dezseran) into performing degrading acts, selling her soul in the process, and leading her down a dark rabbit hole from which there is no return.

What we have here is a film that is clearly inspired by other works, in particular drawing direct comparisons to Aranofsky’s Black Swan, in terms of subject matter, and Dario Agento’s Suspiria, in terms of the thumping electronic soundtrack. The final act is then a clear allude to the works of David Cronenburg, but it feels more like a homage than a rip-off.

Normally leaning so far in terms of inspiration on other films could create an almost lazy series of homages, featuring no originality, and thus arguably having little artistic merit (Here’s looking at you, Tarantino). Fortunately, Starry Eyes is strong enough to create it’s own identity, and not simply lean on the shoulders of these other cinematic giants. The result of which is a very strong psychological horror that works as a beautiful love letter to these great works of art.

The writing is very tight, featuring mostly naturalistic dialogue that works well in getting us, the audience, on board with these characters. This is then magnificently juxtaposed against the pseudo-philosophical ramblings of the beautifully demented producer. The characters are all fleshed out and thoroughly believable, even the more outlandish among them.

This is especially down to some magnificent acting, albeit for different reasons. Essoe, as Sarah, is particularly strong in terms of her kinetic (physical) performance. Her facial expressions, postures and mannerisms are perfectly on-point, and the performance is incredible for such a young thespian. Essoe will certainly be somebody to keep an eye on in future.

The rest of the cast is stellar, but it’s Dezseran as the vile and deplorable producer that truly steals the show. Creepy, disturbing and unquestionably charismatic, the character has a certain allure despite his dark demeanour. He also avoids being an obvious cartoon caricature, which is of course a great achievement considering the material.

The directing is also magnificent, as the duo coax great performances from their actors, as well as deploying some magnificent cinematography. The nightmare/vision sequences are by far the visual highlights; harkening back to the more abstract elements of the works of David Lynch, for all the right reasons.

The horror also works wonderfully, as there is a very real sense of ambient tension permeating throughout, and the central enigma of the narrative works pretty well in creating intrigue and curiosity as to what is truly happening. Then, the final sequence, which becomes almost a slasher movie, is very powerful and far removed from the cheesy B-Movie nonsense that tends to ruin that particular sub-genre.

The violence is far from glorified and instead feels almost too real, causing some serious moments of mega-wincing and cringing. I’m a seasoned horror veteran, and can honestly claim to have seen hundreds of video nasties, but this was so authentic that even I found myself looking away on occasion. In one moment in particular, we see a character given a home made Chelsea-grin, and it’s delightfully disgusting. This means the film will appeal both to the deep thinker who enjoys symbolism, and the gore junkie who likes seeing blood splatter. The more surreal sequences are especially wonderful as well.

If I have one major detraction, it’s that the ‘Selling your soul to Hollywood’ metaphor has been officially done-to-death, and I feel right now that if I were to watch another one anytime soon, I’d sell my own damn soul to the devil just to stop them being made. Whilst here it’s more literal, and draws on Illuminati symbolism to play on more contemporary paranoias, it’s still an inexcusably overdone motif. It’s also inevitably going to make a few ‘Kolsh and Widymer confess to existence of illuminati in Hollywood videos’, and that’s never a good thing for anybody. It’s time to take that particular ol’ yeller out back and blow it’s cliched brains out. Other than that though, this film is special.

Starry Eyes is concrete and indisputable proof that just because a film has been over-looked by a major studio, that does not mean it lacks any merit. In fact, a lot of the most interesting films in contemporary cinema wouldn’t be touched by conglomerate studios with a twenty foot pole. Clearly inspired by some of horror cinema’s true icons, Starry Eyes is a poetic and violent movie, featuring a pretty clunky-metaphor for Hollywood stardom, but nevertheless being an emotional, visceral and affecting ordeal. Truly worth a watch.

Final Rating – 4.4

 

Joshua Moulinie

Bedevilled (2010), a Retrospective Review

Bedevilled

Director – Jang Cheol-Soo

Writer – Choi Kwang-Young

Starring – Seo Young-Hee, Ji Sung-won, Park Jeong-Hak, Baek Su-Ryon

 

Among the variously impressive selections of world cinema currently available globally, perhaps none are more impressive in contemporary film than the South-Korean new-wave movement. Beginning with such icons as Park Chan-Wook and Kim Jee-Woon, the legacy lives on through the current generation, and one could make a reasonable argument they do revenge thrillers better than anybody else out there. Cheol-Soo’s bloody and brutal Bedevilled may well rank among the best of them.

Hae-won (Sung-won) is a middle-rank officer working in a Seoul bank. A severe, tense single woman, she is being brought down by the work-related stress and the hyper-competitive environment she finds herself in. Desperate, she takes up an offer and takes off for a private vacation in Mudo, a desolate Southern island in which she had spent childhood. Arriving at the island, she is warmly welcomed by Bok-nam (Young-Hee), with whom she had a close friendship when both were in their teens but whose constant letters she’s since ignored. It’s quickly apparent that all is not exactly gravy on the island, however, and than Bok-nam is the victim of horrendous abuse from her husband Man-jong (Jeong-Hak), which is reinforced and supported by the community.

The film is extraordinarily dark, as it covers some very emotional ground, in particular the depiction of female abuse and degradation, as poor Bok-nam is violently abused, both physically and psychologically. It’s a tale about male dominance over women, domestic violence, and most importantly, good old-fashioned sexism. This however, is not merely perpetuated by the abusive and psychopathic Man-jong, but b the rest of the community. Every time a task is needed, they loudly exclaim it to be ‘a job for a man’, and imply a woman’s job is to shut up and do as she’s told.

Not only is this a depiction of sexism and abuse, but it’s also a clear message that sometimes old-time traditions are not necessarily for the better, and that maybe the good old ways weren’t oh so good. Sexism in the contemporary setting is rightfully frowned upon, as is abuse. In the good ol’ days however, not so much.

This throwback to a lost society cut off from contemporary times is disturbing in a style similar to the cult-classic The Wicker Man. It’s also a tragic tale of how this kind of abuse can create monsters when they inevitably finally snap.

As you can see, as with most great pieces of cinema, there is an awful lot going on here. In terms of genre, it’s really difficult to pinpoint, as every act seems to have a different tone. The first act plays out as an almost straight mid-life crisis, as we see Hae-Won’s life collapse, and she decides to set out to find herself again. Act two steers into a tense psychological drama and almost brutally documentarian depiction of abuse.

Act three ends as a revenge thriller/slasher movie, but I’m certainly not going to spoil that for you. What I will say is that it’s all fantastically organic, never once feels silly, and that is thanks largely to some fantastic writing from Kwang-Young. He knows when to say, when to show, and his dialogue is believable and packs an emotional wallop. Truly inspiring stuff here. He also manages that rare old trick that Korean writers just seem to have a knack for; he manages to underpin moments of absolute tragedy, debauchery and disgust, with an underlying dark humour that works every single time. That kind of writing is truly special.

Fortunately, the direction of Cheol-Soo matches the fine writing, and the film looks absolutely magnificent. He knows when to show, he knows when to tell, he knows when to cut, and boy does he know how to frame a shot. It’s all brilliance while remaining relatively simple. Clearly, he’s a talented director, as he also nails the atmosphere and tension, leaving you hooked throughout.

The performances are fantastic as well, and everybody puts in a great showing. The star, without doubt, is Young-Hee as Bok-Nam. Her character development is truly something, and the young actress manages it with a freakish ease. Her transformation from positive abusive victim who tries to her best to make the most of a terrible situation, to psychotic wild-woman towards the end is truly something special, and she manages the transition from vulnerable to terrifying with an equally terrifying ease.

Bedevilled is, without a doubt, one of the finest efforts from one of the finest movements in cinematic history. Disturbing, emotional, powerful and tragic; this is everything you want from a thriller, both gripping and poignant, with a very valid message to deliver about how we often create the real monsters in life via our views as a society. It also delivers another clear message all men should keep in mind; there is nothing on this planet more driven and dangerous than an abuse victim who has decided enough is enough. If you value your balls, and your life, treat the women in your life with respect.

Final Rating – 4.5

Joshua Moulinie

Paths Of Glory (1957), a Retrospective Review

Paths of Glory

Director – Stanley Kubrick

Writer(s) – Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson

Starring – Kirk Douglas, George Macready, Adolphe Menjou

 

The latest chapter in the ongoing saga that is my journey through IMDB’s top 250 films of all time, takes me to the infancy of one of cinema’s truly iconic names, and a regular feature in most people’s ‘greatest directors ever list’, Mr.Stanley Kubrick. Unfamiliar with pre-2001 era Kubrick, I found Paths of Glory to be an interesting and gripping journey through the darkest side of war, yet it lacks some of the trademarks that would go on the define the genius.

The futility and irony of the war in the trenches in WWI is shown as a unit commander, Colonel Dax (Douglas) in the French army must deal with the mutiny of his men and a glory-seeking general, Brigadier General Paul Mireau (Macready) after part of his force falls back under fire in an impossible attack. He finds himself desperately trying to save the men from the firing squad, as the true ugly nature of humanity rears its head again.

It’s interesting to see Kubrick before his post-2001 career, during which he put together masterpiece after masterpiece, meticulously elevating visual storytelling to previously unfathomable levels, and in the process inspiring endless generations of budding filmmakers. His style here comes closer to Dr.Strangelove than say, A Clockwork Orange, again using the black and white colour scheme to show off the murky and dark nature of war.

The humour is crisp and effective, deploying dry British wit with genuine and emotional dialogue. The themes of the film are deep and rich, possibly owing a lot to the source text, a novel of the same name. It strips away all pretenses of propaganda that typically accompanied war epics of the time, and tells a stripped down and personal story of one man standing up against corruption and chaos.

The darker side of the nature of a soldier is beautifully explored, as the higher ups nonchalantly condemn innocent men from their own side to death, as if they were nothing more than pawns on a chessboard. At one point, Aldolphe Menjou, in a fantastic performance as indifferent Major General Georges Brouland, says ‘Sometimes a death can be good troop morale.’ This one line perfectly encapsulates the general irreverence of the powers that be, and their contempt for human life.

Such a powerful story wouldn’t work without the two central performers turning up,and luckily they do. Douglas is incredible as the morally righteous Colonel Dax, as he tries to stand up for the little man. His performance is captivating, and you genuinely buy into him as the character, especially thanks to the little subtle complexities. Especially the way he retains his militant discipline, right up until a final tirade of passion.

Macready is also great as the delightfully cold and morally disgusting General Paul Mireau. He draws genuine dislike from you, as he plays the character wonderfully, without ever overstepping the mark or descending into scenery chewing. What could have been a cartoon villain instead becomes a slightly more complex, yet clearly detestable, human being.

It’s interesting as well to see Kubrick deploying some of the tricks that would define him, without necessarily having the technology he’d get hold of later in his career. In particular, the pre-steadicam tracking shots are interesting in that they look considerably worse than their counterparts in, say, The Shining. Yet, he clearly was developing that style even then, and whilst this lacks the panache of his later work, it’s clear mature, clever and beautifully composed.

Whilst post-2001 Kubrick will always be a different breed to perhaps any filmmaker that ever lived, especially compared to his younger self, Paths of Glory nevertheless shows clear signs of who he would become. In particular his clear disdain for the military system is present, as well as his lack of fear of any subject, and his ability to create a visually captivating piece of cinema. Definitely worth a watch for fans of the great man.

Final Rating – 4/5

Joshua Moulinie