I am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (2016), a Review

iamprettything

Director – Osgood Perkins

Writer – Osgood Perkins

Starring – Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Bob Babalan, Lucy Boynton

 

 

Netflix, for a time, had seemingly become the go-to location for Independentpictures of the highest quality. Sadly, that took a dip last year, owing to endless Adam Sandler vanity projects, as well as several other misfires, causing their once lofty standards to plummet. Fortunately, for every Ridiculous Six, there was a Hush; a fantastic counter-point to the drudgery.

I first heard of I am The Pretty Thing That Lives in The House, in The RueMorgue, a monthly magazine that focuses on macabre cinema and cryptozoology. Osgood Perkins, the son of the legendary Anthony Perkins of Pyscho fame, and writer/director of this piece, promised a classic gothic tale that relied on atmosphere over jump scares, and would be a throwback to the more ambient horror pictures of old. He mostly delivers what he promises, yet, regrettably, the film falls somewhat flat, in spite of its fantastic concept.

The film’s destiny in your eyes as either an affecting piece of horror, or an overdrawn waste of time, will depend somewhat on how intrigued you are by the central mystery that shepherds the narrative. As such, I won’t give too much away with a lofty synopsis, as this is the type of film it’s best to go into blind. The basics, however, are as follows:

Retired horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) suffers from dementia and lives in a remote New England house built in the early 19th century. Ms. Blum’s estate manager Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban) hires live-in nurse Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson) to care for her. Lily begins to experience strange events, and Ms. Blum only calls Lily “Polly,” never using her real name. Mr. Waxcap explains that Polly Parsons is the protagonist of Ms. Blum’s most popular novel, The Lady in the Walls. Eventually, Lilybegins to read it, against her better judgement,  and the lines between fiction and reality become blurred.

I Am The Pretty Thing’s – (which I will now abbreviate as IATPT for the rest ofthe review) – entire gimmick, or central concept if you will, is the central mystery that governs the rest of the plot. Unfortunately, for me at least, the mystery isn’t particularly interesting, and, sadly, most cinematic aficionados will almost certainly have it figured out within the hour. It is, in fact, telegraphed in the opening narration, if you pay close enough attention.

It’s not a complete bust, and I’d argue the opening twenty minutes are the best part of the entire movie. There’s a sense of crushing isolation, and the narration is so cryptic it’s hard to make any sense of what’s happening, which, I believe, was exactly what Perkins intended. For a short while, you’re almost tricked into believing you’re going to be in for something akin to a David Lynch film, full of genuine mystery and intrigue, and the emotion in the opening is very poignant. Disappointingly, it’s as though Perkins believed we couldn’t possibly follow the entire film in this manner, and decides to start spoon-feeding us the plot at the half-way mark.

From there, the film falls into very predictable and oft-tread territory. What could have been something special and unique falls into the trappings of cliché and generic formula. It’s incredibly frustrating, because you feel like you’ve been duped by the opening. I went through a myriad of thoughts watching this film, which, typically, I’d consider a good thing. However, these thoughts went something like this:

‘Wow, this opening is very good. I’m intrigued; I have no idea what is happening and I want to know.’

“Alright, there’s supernatural elements and a mystery to be solved, but I’m still intrigued.’

‘Surely it won’t be X = X? That would be pretty predictable.’

‘Oh, X is X. Great.’

A lot of the issues lie in Perkins writing, and it’s clear, at least in this particular piece of work, that his visual flair supersedes his ability to write by some distance. The narration that permeates the entire film is unfortunately entirely necessary for the plot to work, yet is grating to the ears. They also stop being clever once you figure out the mysteries, and then become simply irritating. The writing isn’t terrible, per say, but it is pretty apparent Perkins ambition was greater than his ability. Had this concept been in thehands of a Lynch or a Hitchcock, we could have had something truly outstanding. In the hands of Perkins, we get an average horror flick.

The blame can’t be laid entirely on his shoulders, though, and his actors do very little to help him out. Wilson takes the lead, as Boynton plays the ghostly Parsons, and neither give a particularly great account of themselves. Wilson, for the most part, is fine, playing her part pretty much as she needs to without ever steering into genuinely impressive territory. Boynton as Polly, however, is close to awful. Now, I can’t give too much away without spoiling the narrative, which I promised not to do.

So what I will say is this: both Boynton and Wilson give narration during this Feature, and it’s left ambiguous as to who is talking at what time until the end.Unfortunately, there’s no chance of you playing a guessing game, as both are equally lifeless and monotonous, and, even with the benefit of knowing the twist, I probably couldn’t tell you who is narrating when. To reiterate – none of the actors in this film are poor, they just exist, do reasonable jobs, and then it ends. Nobody captivates or enthralls you.

The film also, sadly, fails as a horror film, which should be, for obvious reasons, the primary concern. The atmosphere, while claustrophobic and tense, never really makes you feel uncomfortable in that primal way true horror classics can. There’s no moment of real heightened tension, and, for a film marketed as a gothic horror, it almost feels as though the horror elements were added as an afterthought. It’s as though Perkins wanted to write a deep mystery piece, but also wanted to cash in on the horror market. What we’re leftwith is a confused picture without any real identity, which is incredible whenone considers just how unique the concept is.

It’s certainly not terrible, though. Particular credit has to be given to the cinematography, which is, in a word, beautiful. Every shot is immaculately composed, thought-out and, as a series of still images, it looks absolutely incredible. Annoyingly, though, a lot of these incredible shots simply do not need to exist, and seem to act as filler so the film could make the run time. Perhaps if Perkins had spent less time on his shots and more on his script, these obvious fillers would be unnecessary. The score is also very strong if generic, relying on the tried and tested horror tropes of screeching violins.

Now, this review may have seemed somewhat negative, and, I guess it is. In light of this, I want to make it absolutely clear that, just because this particular effort was a mis-step, it does not mean directors and writers should stop attempting ambitious projects such as these. This was a great idea that, if pulled off correctly, could have been a timeless throwback to the great Gothic horrors of old. Sadly, in this instance, the film falls flat, but there is enough here to suggest Perkins is an ambitious talent with a future ahead of him, and there are certainly worse things you could watch on Netflix. Just don’t expect to be terrified, as the only true horror here is watching wasted potential.

 

Final Rating  – 3.7

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

The Lobster (2015), a Review

the-lobster

Director – Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s) – Yorgos Lanthimos, Ehtimis Filippou
Starring – Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman,  John C.Reilly

 

 

Every once in a while, as rare an event as a solar eclipse, a film will come out that is so unique, so beautifully bizarre, that it becomes almost impossible to categorise, and consequently, to do justice in a written review. So I’ll preface my return to film criticism with this comment – Nothing I say could possibly transcribe the incredible spectrum of emotion one feels when viewing something so rare in these days of Superhero franchises and endless sequels that Hollywood seemingly has become. This is unmistakably art.

Lanthimos is one of the last true writers of absurdist comedy left in cinema today. Anybody who’s seen his most celebrated project, Dogtooth, could tell you he’s a special talent. Again here he creates something that, while not quite a masterpiece of cinema, certainly demands to be seen by any self-respecting cinephile. The best way to describe it would be an absurdist dystopian black-comedy; but it generally defies conventional labels, even in terms of genre.

The concept is both relatively simple, yet delightfully original.  The film is set at an unknown time, in an unknown country, presumed, from the regional accents, to be Britain. David (Farrell)finds out his wife has left him, and is transported to The Hotel. In The Hotel, people are given 45 days to find a suitable partner. If they should fail, then when their time is up they are transformed into an animal of their choice and released into the wild. The catch is that each hotel guest is defined by their most prominent characteristic, and your partner has to match. If your prominent characteristic is, say, you have a limp, then your partner must also have a limp.

Some people break away from the hotel and run off the live in the wild. They are, effectively, a guerrilla militia force. Hotel guests are sent on hunts for these ‘Loners’, and can buy themselves more time to find a partner by shooting them with a tranquilizer dart. David at first struggles to find his match in the hotel, instead making some eccentric friends, before eventually finding somebody in the least likely of places.

The narrative seems complex at a first glance, but, in reality, it’s relatively simple, and that is a testament to the greatness of the writing. Fillipou and Lanthimos not only created a great central concept, they do nothing to waste it. Every character is fleshed out and believable, and, while the film won’t be to everybody’s taste, you don’t have to be a film connoisseur to grasp it. So it’s accessible to all who have the patience to go with it.

The dialogue is hilariously dry, sardonic and devoid of anything we’d consider human warmth. In a world based entirely on the relationship paradigm, and the idea that nobody could possibly manage alone, most individuality goes out the window, and that is represented verbally by the writers in a fantastic way. Everybody, effectively, sounds the same, except for Farrell’s David, who seems like an eccentric outcast by simply being relatively normal. It has some fantastic quotes as well, and if you’re a fan of the driest of dry sarcasm, you’ll find a lot to love.

So at the moment when David finally finds somebody different, somebody he connects with, it’s so awkward, blunt and direct that it manages to be genuinely heart-warming. The first genuine emotional connection in the film packs power, and you begin to truly root for the two of them. We’ve had countless love dramas over the years, film included, and, while most are harmless, very few have genuinely moved me. Seeing great looking relatively normal men and women fall into relationships onscreen has grown tiresome.

The last two films to deal with relationships that warmed me were Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012) and I’m a Cyborg…but That’s Ok (Chan-Wook, 2006). This is due to both dealing with genuine outcasts; honest and real, quirky and strange characters; finding warmth in the most disturbing of scenarios -(an asylum; and serial killings on holiday)- is impossible not to get behind. And The Lobster falls firmly into this category.

This is helped by the performances; Farrell, in particular, impressively anchors the piece, managing to be both stand-offish and charming; a very difficult balance to strike. Weisz is also fantastic as his counter-foil, the one with which he finally finds potential. Olivia Colman, a British favourite, perhaps best known for Peep Show, turns up to deliver a great performance as the villainous co-leader of the The Hotel. She never fails to deliver, and this is no exception. It also boasts a rare appearance from Ashley Jensen of Extras fame. She’s was great in Extras, being the true emotional core of the show, and here she again impresses in what is effectively an extended cameo.

What makes The Lobster truly special though is it does what the best comedies tend to do; that being, to act as a mirror of sorts to show us just how far we’ve degraded as a society. South Park is great at it, and it seems Lanthimos shares this ability. In the age of Tinder dates, where we literally judge human beings as if we were judging meat at some twisted digital market, an age where women’s magazines tell them that if they’re not married by fifty they’ve fucked their lives up, this is a perfect reflection of where we are potentially heading. This is best pointed out by John, David’s friend, who meets a woman with a nose-bleeding problem. To become a match he proceeds to continuously break his nose off hard surfaces.

This desperation, and the general idea that if you don’t find a perfect match you’re somehow sub-human, is the perfect metaphor for our contemporary society. At least, in terms of our views on relationships. This dark, dreary and cold reality is also brilliantly encapsulated by the general aesthetic of the film. The colours are muted and washed-out, creating a lifeless world of greys and neutral blues. It’s ugly, but that’s exactly the point. This is topped-off by some immaculate cinematography of Thimios Bakatakis. Certainly a talent to keep an eye on.

The score is also fantastic, a strange, ambient mix of string and brass. The frantic Cello that accompanies the more dramatic scenes is a particular highlight. It’s interesting, whilst never being entirely distracting, which is the perfect recipe for an effective, if not entirely memorable score.

Now, I’m sure by now, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably assuming this masterclass in cold debauchery, and this magnificently cold metaphor for contemporary relationships is probably going to get a perfect score. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. While the concept is magnificent, and the writers completely explore its full potential, there’s a possibility they may have gone beyond.

The film isn’t particularly long at 118 minutes, but it feels like it could have been about 90 and that would have made for a tighter film. It feels like they hit a wall of sorts in terms of ideas, once they’d mined it for everything interesting, and they could have lost some time. The ambiguous ending, which I personally thought was perfect, may also piss off some of those viewers more conditioned to narrative closure.

These small gripes aside, however, there is absolutely no denying The Lobster is a work of a mind that truly transcends any ideas of conventional storytelling. A mind that is perfect for magnificent concepts with harrowing human drama. The Lobster could, easily, be a magnificent play as well as a film, and Lanthimos is a name that you all need to be keeping an eye on. Not quite a masterpiece but, nevertheless, probably the most interesting film you’ll have seen for a long time.

 

Final Rating – 4.8

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gabriel – The Prologue

PROLOGUE

1

The moon shone through the singular window, thus illuminating the solitary silhouette of Gabriel Molineux, as he sat reading his comics via its guiding cosmic light. The room was a relatively small one, with little space for anything save Gabriel’s single bed, desk and Television combination, and several bookshelves that lined the walls. Considering these numbered at least four, and yet only one clothes cupboard could be spotted in the tiny space, the rest of his various garments merely littering the floor or shoved in boxes under the bed, it takes not a Sherlock Holmes style figure to find out where both Gabriel’s heart and priorities lay. He was, for a lack of jargon equivalent to the contemporary terminology; a nerd, or, a geek.

He had found that from childhood he had taken little if any pleasure in the company of other children; to him, birthday parties were more a token gesture of good-will on his behalf as opposed to something he’d purposely go out of his way to attend. Unless of course the party was held in a location that young Gabriel found interesting, in that case he would beg and plead with his mother to take him under any circumstances, and, until she met his step-father at least, Gabriel almost always got his own way. He always liked places and things, but never did he care much for people.

But now, to the present, and to the nineteen year-old version of Gabriel that currently occupies a space on his single bed, sat under the moonlight, lost deep in the depths of a Batman comic. Gabriel had, for as long as he could remember back, always had a deep fascination with the idea of vigilantes and superheroes. However, he was not particularly partial to the over the top stories involving alien beings and god-like powers; no-siree, to Gabriel, these fantastical stories were always just that, far too fantastical. There were, to his empirical knowledge, no such thing as alien warlords that could defy our known laws of physics and bend reality to their whim.

Nope, Gabriel was an empiricist, and a realist, and thus his interest was most vested in those heroes amongst the panelled pages that represented some semblance of plausibility. He needed something he grab onto, something tangible. Something he could plausibly rip from the pages and drag into the real world

Of all those heroes that represented reality in a world that had little space for it, Gabriel admired Bruce Wayne/Batman the most. The idea that a mere man, be it one blessed with the superhero of ludicrous capital, could decide to take on the world of evil himself endlessly fascinated Gabriel. The idea that the suit allowed him to become what he was inside on the outside, that Batman was who Bruce Wayne truly was inside, now that idea did not come to Gabriel until his mid-teens. He was too young and innocent to understand the concept of masks, and what they symbolise and represented, until now. Now, he understood.

At this point in his life, he had become deeply absorbed in the idea of duality, and thus this revelation had stuck with him evermore. Deep rooted within his subconscious, growing in the dark like a forgotten fruit. A suit, designed as armour against evil, can elevate you. It can make you something greater than what you currently are, can evolve you even, allow you to transcend your mortal, fleshy self, and become something much, much more.

This idea had stuck with Gabriel right from that moment of shining epiphany until now, this moment right now, as he sits silhouetted in the moonlight, engrossed  in the Gotham city nightlife, following the caped-crusader as he spreads his glorious shadow of justice over the shining lights of debauchery. You can be sure, at this moment, that the idea of suits and transcendence were not far removed from Gabriel’s thoughts. They never were, as a rule. For now, however, all thoughts were removed, and all ideas of grandeur were shattered in one instance.

A storm was coming, and it was about to smash Gabriel’s world apart in one swift crashing movement. Over the years, Gabriel had become so used to such incidents that he had developed an almost preternatural ability to detect them ahead of time. As such, he had already put his comic down, and was already facing its direction, when the door came crashing open with a loud WHACK!

2

Stood, almost filling the doorway, highlighted by the landing lights, is a brand new silhouette, one which more closely resembles that of beast than man. The hulking figure stands at an easy six’six, and, judging by the frame, must weigh in easily at around eighteen stone. The catch, however, is that there is seemingly no excess bulk to this man. No flab hangs from his belly, nothing is wasted. He is eighteen stone and six’six of pure power. His massive dustbin sized hand fumbles around the door frame, frantically hunting for the light bulb. He finds it, and light floods the room.

Now bathed in the beautiful rays of  electronic lighting, Gabriel’s face can be seen clearly, for the first time. He is surprisingly handsome, however, in an unconventional kind of way. His aesthetic features, facially speaking, seem lost between mediterranean and traditional British. His nose is sharp and very British, but his eyes glow with that deep and hypnotic brown traditionally associated with folks of foreign descent, typically Greek, or Italian. His hair is shoulder length, rough, and unkempt. It falls in long, curly ringlets; seemingly an endless spiralling and twirling pattern continuously cascading from head to shoulder. He wears simple clothes, a black T-shirt featuring the legend ‘The Gunslinger’, and black tracksuit bottoms. His eyes are locked on the hulking figure that has entered the room, they fill with fear.

The figure has a rough, everyday labourer’s kinda face. The type you’d see on a thousand building sites countrywide, hounding women and harassing artistic types who happen to stumble by. In fact, you could say he sort of looks akin to a human pitbull. Something lost in evolution, trapped between man and beast. The most human characteristic of all would be the piercing blue eyes, eyes that are now filled with an obvious rage. In the light, his impressive physique is even more so, as the shadow tones and contrast highlight his hard-earned muscle definition. This isn’t ‘gym muscle’ either, this kind of power can only be obtained via years of prolonged and agonising physical labour. He crosses the room in merely three steps; bounding across like a renegade gorilla let loose from the zoo, determined to exact his revenge on those who caged him. Gabriel is taken roughly by the stem of his shirt, and without absolutely any effort whatsoever, wrenched from his bed to his feet, in one swift movement.

3

They stand face to face, both on their feet, staring directly into one another’s eyes. It is at this exact moment, that it becomes incredibly apparent to even the least cognitively developed amongst men that this is a mis-match of epic proportions. If the hulking figure, at six’six and eighteen stone, could be compared to a rampaging gorilla, then the animal kingdom equivalent of Gabriel would be closer to a Flamingo. Whilst he stands at a respectable height of five’ten, he unfortunately could not weigh more than nine and a half stone soaking wet and fully clothed, even if equipped with steel capped work boots. Work boots, incidentally, that this Hulking Figure is wearing now.

The boy is slim, incredibly so, and the two standing together is akin to an old-school 30’s monster movie, with Gabriel playing the role of the poor human victim, and the hulking figure playing the role of the otherworldly killing machine. This is the equivalent of Mike Tyson fighting a paraplegic Grandmother who had only recently recovered from a serious stroke. If this was a sanctioned fight, the bookies would be cancelling all bets. Ding-ding, it’s all over,  ladies and gentlemen, time to get the last taxi home.. Nothing left to see here.

The figure pulls Gabriel close to his face, and Gabriel is powerless to do anything but rise with the motion of his arms, and join him face to face.

‘I know it was you, boy. Admit it now, or this is going to get nasty’ the figure practically snarls in his face.

‘I haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re on about’ Gabriel replies, defiantly.  I really don’t, he thinks, I haven’t done anything this time. However, the renegade defiance loses its sting slightly when coupled with his trembling voice. He is obviously afraid, and the figure is not slow to pick up on this.

‘Look boy, you don’t stand a chance, so quit the tough man act. Just fucking tell me, or you know how this’l pan out’ for a moment he looks genuinely rational, as though he is imploring Gabriel to make this easy, and simply bend to his will without the need for physical altercation.

Apparently however, Gabriel isn’t listening. Despite being given a relatively easy ‘out’. A chance to escape with his face intact, even if it came at the cost of his dignity and honesty. What good are virtues without a face, eh? Regardless of this logic doing a lightning fast zoom through his thought tracks, Gabriel still decides to stand and be defiant. Forever flying in the face of reason. Fuck this guy, he thinks, I’m not taking this anymore.

‘Fuck you’, he says. Two little words. Two syllables. One outcome.

4

The fist flies from Gabriel’s left, like a sledgehammer thrusting out of the deep darkness, a guiding missile of pain, aiming directly for Gabriel’s cheek. The impact is like a comet striking a small moon. The fist connects with the Zygomatic bone and as the two connect, there is a large crunch. The Zygomatic does not shatter instantly, merely splinters and breaks gently, like a wish-bone split after Christmas. The shock wave heads up from Gabriel’s cheek to his temple, sending a deep ringing vibration through his entire head. His damn teeth chatter with the impact, and stars begin to swim in front of his vision, dancing in the grey beyond that stands where the lit bedroom used to, seemingly seconds ago.

His jaw and cheek already shattered from the impact, the Huking Figure sees no reason to hold onto Gabriel any longer. He lets go, and grants Gabriel the liberty of standing on his own legs, under his own power. Oh fuck, thinks Gabriel, I’m going down. He’s not wrong. Like a drunk turned out of a lonely bar at three A.M on some lonely street, Gabriel takes a couple of steps and collapses to the floor. His ears continue to ring, the pain in his jaw indescribable.

The Hulking figure stares down at the fallen victim, allowing absolutely no sympathy to cross his cold, beastlike features. He crouches down, and gets in Gabriel’s face again;

‘This is another lesson for you boy. I am your fucking father, you will respect me. Understand. I may not have impregnated your mother, but I’ve done a lot more than the fucker who did. Get it?’, spit flies, whether intentionally or unintentionally is anybody’s guess, directly into Gabriel’s face. Fuck you, asshole, he thinks, desperately, you think just because you’re bigger than me, you can push me around forever? One day…one day things will be different, even the biggest among us can be felled. Unfortunately, due to his jaw damage, any attempts to articulate these thoughts proves difficult at best.

‘ ‘uck ‘o’ he mutters, through his shattered jaw, ‘ p’ick.’ His Step-father laughs in his face; a cruel and cold laugh, not quite refined enough for that of a megalomaniacal villain from literature. Rather, this is the simple and cold laugh one might assume a Bear might give, before devouring the innocent Salmon before it.

He stands up, and goes to leave the room, stopping at the doorway to turn around before leaving. Gabriel, clearly in a bad way, is attempting to claw his way back up to the bed. Blood streams from his nose and mouth, but he seems not to care. With all his strength and remaining consciousness, he crawls back onto his bed. His step-father laughs once more;
‘Pathetic’, says he, before turning out the light and leaving Gabriel alone, sprawled out on his bed, again silhouetted in the moonlight. His chest heaves in rapid movements, his hand stretches with longing across his bedside bed, towards his inhaler. Finally, he grasps it, and brings it to his lips. He takes several deep breaths, and lies back on the bed. He stares out the window, directly into the moonlight. His eyes are empty, devoid of emotion or apathy. a single tear forms in the corners of his eyes, and rolls slowly down his cheek.

Don’t Breathe (2016), a Review

Don't Breath.png

Director – Fede Alvarez

Writer – Fede Alvarez

Starring – Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

After being the man hand-picked to direct the remake/sequel to the iconic Evil Dead franchise, the originally named Evil Dead, in 2013, Fede Alvarez had an opportunity to go down in folklore from the out. To a large extent, he succeeded. While some of the more die-hard Evil Dead fans cried foul, most rational horror fans agreed it was an incredibly intense and visceral experience that pushed the boundaries of what mainstream horror can get away with. With a lot of critical praise, expectations were high for his first original horror effort. With an intriguing premise and the star of the Evil Dead remake (Jane Levy), Don’t Breathe looked like what being one of the best horror films of the year. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out this way, and it sadly reeks of a missed opportunity.

Rocky, Alex, and Money are three Detroit delinquents who make a living by breaking into homes secured by Alex’s father’s security company and selling the items they take. However, the person buying the stolen goods from Money doesn’t give them a fair price, and not nearly enough to fund Rocky’s dream of moving to California with her little sister Diddy to escape their neglectful mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. Money receives a tip that an Army veteran living in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood has $300,000 in cash in his house, given as a settlement after a wealthy young woman, Cindy Roberts, killed his daughter in a car accident. The three stake out the house and discover that the man is in fact blind. After some deliberation, they decide to break into the house at night. Predictably, the trained marine ain’t down with this, and things quickly go wrong.

My biggest problem with Don’t Breathe is twofold. Firstly, it makes the same mistakes as Evil Dead did, in falling into the classic trap of having archetypal characters that are stereotypes as opposed to people. We get the reluctant criminal with a moral core, the rebellious girl who revels in the chaos, and the straight up gangsta, who bloody loves it. They’re played decently, and Levy in particular shines, but it’s all very archaic, meaning the first half hour of the film is decidedly dull. By the time anything interesting happens, you may well have turned it off.

Whilst some praise is deserved for taking a slow burning build up, it’s not exactly enthralling, meaning on this occasion, it may have been better to just jump straight in. Unfortunately, when we do get to the ‘horror’, nothing really improves, save for one or two great scenes.

A big issue is the inconsistent characterisation of the central antagonist, the marine vet they are attempting to rob. The first mistake is blurring the lines too much in terms of who is the good and bad guy here. While it’s admirable to have more morally ambiguous characters in your film, it doesn’t tend to work in a horror flick. Whilst Friday The 13th proved there is a certain level of depraved entertainment to be had from watching ethically questionable teenagers being murdered, it’s hard to argue there was any real horror involved at all. For me, personally, true horror can only be achieved if you care about the central protagonists and consequently do not want to see harm befall them.

Here, for the most part anyway, the characters being stalked and hunted are arguably the villains of the piece, considering they’re attempting to rob a blind man, whereas the stalker, said blind man, comes off as a valiant hero defending himself and his property. Now, had Alvarez run the whole way with this, it could be a nifty subversion of the norm, sadly – SPOILER – he ruins it halfway through by revealing the blind vet is a sadistic maniac, ergo flipping the narrative on its head..meaning the thieves are now the good guys,and we support their robbery, I guess.

In any other genre this blurring of lines would be welcome and a refreshing change of formula, ergo I can’t come down too hard on Avarez. However, in the horror scene, you need Good Vs Evil, as it’s a classic driving force of the genre since the early days of its inception.

Another blaring issue is the inconsistent Veteran. There’s a permeating idea in Hollywood that blind people become somewhat superhuman in terms of their other senses, as they desperately compensate for what is lost. That one develops incredible hearing, smell and touch, and become almost more aware than those with sight. Regardless of how accurate a depiction that actually is, here, it’s used very inconsistently. One minute he’s a preternatural being, smelling shoes from across the room and identifying they aren’t his, and hearing tiny sounds magnified. Next minute, somebody’s stood in front of him, he can’t smell them at all, and he’s flailing his arms around like he’s lost. While this may be a more realistic depiction of the blind, it’s not exactly terrifying, often being more humorous than anything else. This means the horror element is nullified from the start.

Now, there are great moments hidden in this sea of missed chances, including one nail-biting sequence when the veteran cuts the lights to turn the tables and create an even playing field. This works, yet, the script has too many issues, and too many occurrences when people could easily escape yet somehow manage to end up back in his clutches.

The acting performances are, in general, really solid. Levy in particular shines, carrying on from being the best thing about Evil Dead. She’s believable, and charismatic enough to shoulder the burden of being the centerfold. If she steers away from efforts like this and parlays into more serious endeavours, she could be a real talent for the future. Lang is also very good as the Veteran, turning in a tragic yet scary performance, that keeps the audience on edge.

Alavarez’s scipt and narrative may be lacking and rife with issues and inconsistencies, but it can’t be claimed that his visual directing isn’t very good. The man knows cinematography, and bring a great visual flair to proceedings. Evil Dead worked largely because it was a visually arresting and visceral experience. Here, not so much. Here, it’s more the polish on the proverbial turd.

Don’t Breathe is, sadly, a missed chance that falls flat. A textbook example of a fantastic premise squandered with iffy execution, a visually magnificent film is held back by erratic writing and characterisation, never allowing us, the viewing audience, to engage enough to truly care. Not a bad film, by any stretch, and there are certainly worse ways to spend ninety minutes, but it isn’t a particular good one either.

 

Final Rating – 3

 

Joshua Moulinie

Ghostbusters (2016), a Review

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Director – Paul Fieg

Writer – Katie Dippold, Paul Fieg

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon,  Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

When you’re out of ideas, and your studioneed quick dough, who ya gonna call? An unnecessary reboot! And so came, easily, the most divisive and controversial movie of our time. The all-new, all-female reboot of the 80’s classic; treasured by casuals and cinephiles like the world over, destined to forever be remembered as among the greatest blockbuster comedies ever made. That’s the original by the way, not the reboot. The reboot is the most disliked film trailer in the history of the internet, yet if you dislike it, you’re a misogynist who hates women, apparently. At least, that’s the internet would have you believe.  As such, when finally released, it received positive reviews from critics far too terrified to be outed as bigots. So was it honestly any good? Not particularly.

Physicists Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert are co-authors of a research book which posits the existence of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts. Gilbert has disowned the work and become a professor at Columbia Unversity while Yates continues to study the paranormal at a technical college with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann. Gilbert learns Yates has republished the book, threatening her bid for tenureat Columbia. She reunites with Yates and, in exchange for Yates removing the book from publication, reluctantly agrees to assist her and Holtzmann in a paranormal investigation. This leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters. Eventually, they run into Patty, who has had her own paranormal experience, and she joins the film.

First, I feel it appropriate to address the considerable elephant in the room. That elephant being, of course, the decision to go with an all-female band of ‘busters. Now, I’m no sexist, I firmly believe in gender equality, and am irritated when actresses like Megan Fox keep putting serious female thespians out of work for simply being stupidly attractive. I have absolutely no issue with the men being switched for women, other than one. That being the horrible, nagging,  cynical thought that it was nothing more than a marketing gimmick, designed to make the film critic-proof.

If one ‘addresses’ an issue like feminism in a blockbuster, during an era when everybody, seemingly, and quite rightfully, are crying out for a change in how females are depicted on screen, it creates a special bubble. Feminists, regardless of logic, will furiously defend the film, while critics desperate to appear millennial and PC will be terrified to call it shit, out of fear of being dismantled. Now, I must confess this issue wasn’t made any better by the obvious misognyists, who took issue with women leading a blockbuster. Those guys, however,  were the minority, and quickly, everybody who had an issue with the film were tarred with that brush, of the angry raging woman-hater.

The problem is, switching all the characters for female isn’t all that progressive. It still creates a gender separation, as we go from ‘all guy’ to ‘all girl’. Surely the common sense approach would be to go half and half, with the females as useful as the men, and no romance shoe-horned in between them.

Fiege also  makes a series of cliched mistakes that wouldn’t be out of the place in any other major release. The idea of switching the objectified hot secretary from the traditional female, to a male, in this instance Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth, may appear on the surface to be clever, but, dig a little deeper, and you release it’s not all that clever at all. Firstly, because it’s still objectification, and switching a man for a woman doesn’t eradicate the problem. If anything, it’s pretty hypocritical. Secondly, Wiig’s Gilbert is supposed to be a scientific genius, and a woman of cunning intellect worthy of respect. Yet, around Mr.Sexy Secretary, she swoons and stutters like a twelve year old girl.

So, to get this straight, in a supposedly progressive film, an intelligent woman of science is reduced to a quivering mess around a hot male. This is an issue. An issue that is exasperated by Patty playing the Token Black Woman, all ‘Sugar’ and ‘Patty got attitude’. Honestly, it wouldn’t be out of place in a 70’s blacksploitation pciture.

The script is also lazy, and features a lot of the worse tropes in contemporary American comedy. The ‘She’s gonna say this’ ‘No she ain’t’ ‘Aww damn, she said it’ style of predictable and bland humour that permeates every Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen film. We’ve seen it before, and it wasn’t funny then. Also, side-note, replacing dick jokes with vagina jokes doesn’t make anything any better. They are just as lazy and unaffecting.

Now, not all jokes fail, and there are occasional flashes of something better, but, sadly, like Family Guy, Ghostbusters never knows quite when to let a joke go. In fact, the only thing that made me truly laugh out loud was watching Bill Murray, cameoing as a paranormal skeptic, being promptly thrown out of a window by a vengeful spirit. And that’s simply because Bill Murray is a hilarious guy.

The performances are actually rather good, and three at least bring something decent to the table. Sadly, it’s a case of everybody trying to polish the proverbial turd of a script, so they don’t have a chance to truly shine. The best, for my money, was McKinnon, whose eccentric Holtzmann was fantastically fun. Being a weird guy myself, I could relate.

Wiig is also fantastic as Gilbert, bringing a stout and serious performance for the most part, playing the straight-woman to the more comedic other three. It’s just a massive shame her character was hamstrung by one minute being a strong independent women, and the next swooning over Hemsworth. She does the best she can with what she has to work with though, which, at the end of the day, is the best you can ask for from a performer.

However, I found myself irritated by both McCarthy and Jones. McCarthy simply falls into that category of people who I don’t find amusing or entertaining. After you’ve seen somebody in enough terrible roles, it’s hard to ever take them seriously again. As it was for McCarthy, who just  doesn’t do it for me. Jones simply played ‘a black woman’, which she is naturally, ergo, she didn’t really do acting at all. She’s an offensive and stupid stereotype. Nothing more, nothing less.

The visuals as well leave a lot to be desired. The cinematography is boring, and the special effects are generic and listless. There seems to be a peculiar trope that came about with the rise of CGI, where all ghosts are the same boring neon blue/green spectrum. It doesn’t matter if it’s PG fodder like Scooby-Doo or an adult horror such as Crimson Peak. They all look like the same lifeless unthreatening entities, and Ghostbusters falls into the same trap.

Now, you may have noticed, that as yet, I’m yet to make direct comparisons to the iconic original. That’s because, sadly, there just aren’t any. The plot, while vaguely similar, is far more threadbare and predictable. The leads don’t play off each other as well, and that isn’t a gender problem, it’s a scripting problem, as they are given far weaker materials to work with than the original. It’s not a contest as to which is the better movie. In fact, they’re not even in the same weight category.

Now, that’s not to say that this is a terrible film. It’s average. Entertaining enough without ever being truly enthralling. Yet, the worst thing I could possibly say about it is that it’s forgettable. It’s been maybe a week since I saw it, and I can barely recall most of the jokes or scenarios. This is a crying shame, as the first was certainly anything but forgettable. This is a cynical marketing exercise masquerading as a motion picture, and, financially, flopped as it deserved to. When you need something to watch this Halloween, I suggest you rent the original. I also sorely hope that one day soon we get a truly progressive blockbuster in terms of gender equality, without a vagina joke in sight.

 

Final Rating – 2.8

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

X-Men:Apocalypse (2016), a Review

X-Men.jpg

Director – Bryan Singer

Writer – Simon Kinberg

Starring – James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

It’s important to remember, in this new era of superhero franchises dominating the cinematic landscape, the franchise that seemingly started the new resurgence. Whilst we had Batman and Superman movies before, the X-Men franchise, alongside Sam Raimi’s Spiderman Trilogy, can be credited as the films marked the beginning of the ‘Superhero Era’. After The Last Stand failed miserably both commercially and critically, it seemed like the franchise had run out of steam, ergo it was to most people’s surprise when Singer returned to form with X-Men:First Class, and followed it up with the equally successful Days of Future Past. It was stated that Apocalypse would be the culmination of this interesting renaissance. Unfortunately, this feels more like The Last Stand Take Two, and is a horrific misfire.

En Sabah Nuh, a powerful mutant believed to be the first of his kind, rules ancient Egypt until he is betrayed by his worshippers, who entomb him alive. Awakening in 1983, after accidental interference from a CGI agent, he believes humanity has lost its way without his presence. Aiming to destroy the world and remake it, he recruits a Cairo pickpocket , who can control weather, and enhances her power. Eventually, he also picks up a Magneto who just lost his family, as well as two other mutants, before embarking on his attempt to reshape the planet. Of course, as per usual, it’s up to Xavier’s band of merry mutants to shut him down.

Apocalypse should have been, considering the quality of the two predecessors, a good movie. It should have followed the trend of quality, creating an upwards curve. Sadly, it absolutely nosedives said curve, and is, for a lack of a better term, extraordinarily silly, even by superhero standards.

This begins with a very rushed screenplay that absolutely tears through exposition in a desperate attempt to bring the audience up to speed with a film that, despite being two films in the making, had absolutely no build up, other than a post-credits sequence in Days Of Future Past, which hurriedly introduced the character of Apocalypse, and expected us to buy him as the ultimate threat, despite having seen him previously for approximately five seconds. When you label a character by name ‘Apocalypse’, he better be a terrifying force of nature. What we get is Oscar Isaac in terrible pantomime make-up, somehow looking worse than Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Mr.Freeze in the terrible Batman and Robin.

He looks less like said force of nature, and more like a gimp, starring in an Egyptian based porno knockoff. In fact, you could make a solid argument that he resembles what you imagine Apocalypse would look like in an X-Men porno parody. It doesn’t help matters that his ‘birth’ that opens the movie looks like it was ripped out of an 80’s Z-Movie. Z-Movie, for those unfamiliar with the term, are films so God-awful they don’t even qualify for the term B-movie, which really, as a reference point, should tell you everything you need to know.

The problem is that, even with the awful dialogue and cheap, cheesy effects, Singer doesn’t play up to this. Rather than roll with it, and give us a self-aware movie, Singer insists on playing it straight, which sadly sets the tone for the rest of the film’s shenanigan.

That’s how the rest of the film goes. Silliness passed off as serious situations with serious stakes, even though the audience stop caring long before. It’s mundane, monotonous, by-the-numbers and redundant, which is a huge shame considering just how good Days of Future Past was. It’s like Singer was building the whole franchise just to hit this point, and then monumentally fucked it.

This isn’t helped by some unarguably awful CGI. I’ve said it before, a hundred times, and I’ll say it again: Any film with a budget over $100 million needs to nail the effects. With that much money, there is absolutely no excuse for atrocious visuals as it drags the viewer from the movie, and makes it impossible to care about. The Hobbit Trilogy suffered heavily from this issue, and, considering the over-saturation of computer generated effects in today’s cinema, it’s a problem that will linger for some time yet. Thankfully, most high-budget productions at least attempt to seamlessly blend the effects. Apocalypse doesn’t, not in the slightest.

It doesn’t help that the narrative itself is threadbare, and the stakes are artificially raised in an attempt to heighten drama, but in reality, the rushed nature of events means that this film exists within a drama vacuum. You just sort of passively observe effects without ever really giving a shit. I call it ‘The Transformers effect’, for reasons that should really be blindingly obvious. In a nutshell, Apocalypse wants mutant domination, and to destroy man’s world. The X-Men aren’t on board with this, and Magneto remains somewhere lost in the middle. It’s stuff we’ve all seen before with different villains.

That’s the major issue, I think. In the comic book universe, Apocalypse was, apart from perhaps Galactus, THE definitive X-Men villain. The one they genuinely feared. Here, he’s relegated to the role of ‘villain of the week’, and is – SPOILER ALERT – conclusively dealt with by the time the credits role. Apocalypse? More like a shitty day. Hell, his plan doesn’t even make sense, really, when you think about it. You’re never entirely sure what he’s trying to do, as if Singer/Kinberg themselves weren’t sure.

There are also some straight up stupid moments; a good example being that Magneto’s entire motivation for joining Apocalypse is that the only family he ever had were brutally murdered by men, causing him to hate them once more. Understandable. Now, Quicksilver, who plays a pivotal part in events, is Magneto’s son. He has the opportunity to tell him, which I imagine would stop him in his tracks, considering it’s a loss of family that sent him down this particular path of vengeance. Instead, for reasons known only to him, he decides not to. It makes, quite literally, zero sense. Even more so when Magneto changes sides anyhow with nothing more than a few words from Mystique, when the ‘I’m your son’ plot thread would have achieved the same outcome, but not hurt one’s brain quite as much.

The saddest fact is that a lot of the acting performances are solid, if unspectacular, and it really is a shame to see so much talent wasted. Now, I firmly believe Jennifer Lawrence to be over-rated, and here she highlights this by half-assing the entire thing. But, Jen-Law aside, everybody else tries against hope to get something good out of this material, which is arguably more tragic than them not bothering at all. Isaac, in his urge to save his role, ends up hamming things up to incredible levels of scenery-chewing, but it’s not enough to breath life into a dead script.

McAvoy and Fassbender do however give good accounts for themselves, primarily because the two actors are so talented it would be hard for them not to. Fassbender in particular manages to turn chicken shit into chicken salad, and puts in the best performance he can with what he has to work with. He is, truly, a mercurial talent, deserved of all the praise he gets.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Wolverine cameo is the most obvious fan-bait you’ll ever see in a film, as the entire segment is completely pointless. Removed, it wouldn’t affect the film in the slightest. It is the most obviously cynical use of the gratuitous cameo I’ve ever seen in my life. It actually disgusted me, as it took us away from the film just as it finally became interesting, and then when we return to action, we’re firmly back to not giving a fuck.

Now, the film isn’t a complete trainwreck, and there are some good points. As alluded to, Fassbender is great. His Magneto is, by far, the most complete and complex character in the franchise. The Quicksilver sequence, while less impressive than Days of Future Past, is still very good, but perhaps could have done with less horrible CGI. I did like the fact he couldn’t save Havok though, as it finally presents at least some minor weakness in his character. He’s super fast, but sometimes, not quite fast enough, an interesting caveat about his character that makes him significantly more relatable. Also, young Jean and young Cyclops aren’t terrible, and watching them develop would be interesting if we ever get a sequel, which in all honesty, should be up in the air right now.

In a nuthshell, a terrifically flat ending to a franchise that just seemed to finally be finding it’s feet again. It derails the good work done in the two predecessors, and sets the franchise back to where it was around 2003. The CGI is atrocious, the narrative is nonsense, and the whole thing stinks of a missed opportunity. Ironically, it seems Apocalypse will achieve his plan of ending the world…..it just might be that the world he ended was the franchise in which he existed.

 

Final Rating – 2.9/5

 

Joshua A. Moulinie

 

The Handmaiden (2016), a Review

The Handmaiden.jpg

Director – Park Chan-Wook

Written by – Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-kyung

Starring  – Kim Min-Hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo

Throughout the course of cinematic history, there have been several movements that innovated and changed the dynamics of cinematc conventions forever. From the groundbreaking French New-Wave of the late 1950’s, to the rulebook tearing of the Danish Dogme movement of the mid-90’s. I think we can say now, with the gift of certainty and hindsight, that the Korean New-Wave movement of the noughties can be added to that illustrious list.

Of this new breed of incredible filmmakers hailing from the Far-East, inarguably the most critically lauded and respected is Park Chan-Wook. Primarily known for his masterpiece Oldboy, as well as the beautiful I’m a Cyborg…but That’s OK, and his English-language debut, during which nothing was lost in translation, Stoker. Here, he returns to his native Korea for his latest endeavour, and, yet again produces an incredible piece of cinema.

Korea, 1930s. Con man Count Fujiwara hires a pickpocket named Sook-hee to become the maid of the mysterious and fragile heiress Lady Hideko, in an attempt to seize her wealth. But the story takes a twist when the lady falls in love with her maid. Cue several plot twists and an unpredictable tale of jealousy, manipulation and delusion unfolds.

It must be prefaced before I continue with the statement that The Handmaiden, like all of Chan-Wook’s works, transcends the medium of cinema, and becomes a work of true art. This is less entertainment, more visual poetry, as every single frame is immaculately composed, and not a single frame could be bettered. Chan-Wook almost always works with the same director of photography, Chung-Chung-hoon, and, while one by now knows exactly what to expect, it still amazes one every single time. It is, at times, mesmeric in the sheer beauty, and nobody in cinema can make a tree look as beautiful.

East-Asian cinema is usually beautiful in terms of depicting nature, yet,  Chan-Wook and Chung-Chung take it to the next level, making even the most simple shot look absolutely delicious to the eye. It is truly a visual feast, and instantly elevates the film beyond most contemporaries before one discusses narrative, characters or dialogue.

Of course, if those aforementioned elements didn’t match up, we’d be left with a beautiful yet pointless endeavour. Fortunately, they do, and the results are a joyous triumph. The narrative is at first glance very, very simplistic, your classic honeytrap, designed to rob a naive heiress of her inherited fortune. The only difference here, of course, is that the honeytrap was never intended to be sexual, yet quickly heads down the alley, and what unfolds can best be described as an homoerotic psychological thriller.

However, what appears to be a pretty basic set-up, has the rug dramatically pulled out from under it’s feet around the half-way mark, as everything we thought we knew about the story is tipped upside down. After this, we’re then treated to a lot of what we’d already seen, but from a different perspective, and what is traditionally quite a difficult writing task to accomplish, Chan-Wook pulls it off with consumate ease.

This twisting and turning narrative and the multiple aspects idea draws strong comparisons with the work of Alfred Hitchcock. We, the audience, are forced to re-evaluate everything we’d seen before and are, literally, forced to see things from a different perspective. What seems like a con, almost becomes a tragedy, and the film heads down a very dark path of deception and manipulation. It’s a tangled-web of dishonesty, but out of this deceptive darkness shines a bright beacon of hope; genuine emotional love. It’s clear the two leads, despite their ulterior motives, fall for one another in a sincere manner despite their reservations.

Seeing two characters who, having began trying both to manipulate the other, despite all of this, eventually falling into genuine love, will, I assure you, melt even the iciest of hearts. This is, primarily, down to the fantastic writing that steers away from any potential cheese, and also down to the absolutely electric chemistry between the two leads, Min-Hee, and Tae-Ri. Their affections, even down to the minutest body movement, are utterly convincing. What I particularly loved about the writing, was that neither character ever, at any point, explicitly stated they were homosexual. In fact, it was almost as if neither character knew, and only discovered it via their attraction to one another. It’s the most beautiful depiction of spontaneous romance I’ve seen since, funnily enough, Chan-Wook’s own  I’m a Cyborg…but That’s OK.

Because of the nature of the twisting and deceptive narrative, and the fact that both are effectively playing con-women and victim simultaneously, Tae-Ri and Min-Hee have a chance to show a very layered and complex performance, playing both hunter and prey. While the chemistry between the two as mentioned is electric, the individual performances are equally so. One fascinating note about East-Asian cinema, is the convincing nature of the subtle, yet powerful, line-delivery. At times, they often whisper, but in a hypnotic manner that causes you to keep constant attention.

Something that certainly keeps attention is the elongated yet powerful sex scenes. They are, for a lack of a better word, borderline pornographic, extremely explicit and yet never tasteless. The Handmaiden is everything Fifty Shades of Grey Wished it could be, without ever even trying to be, as we have a grand total of two full on sex sequences in the film, but both are incredibly powerful, stimulating and convincing. They will almost certainly turn you on, but the actresses never feel exploited. In fact, this is arguably a celebration of female sexual independence, and for that it should be commended.

If I have any tiny gripes, it’s that this is, while still good, probably the weakest score of a Chan-Wook movie yet. It’s still extremely good, but never quite reaches the heights of Oldboy or Stoker, two of his finest. The film will also potentially alienate the less mature, who may giggle at the sex scenes. Other than that, there’s nothing I would change.

Once again, the iconic Chan-Wook has laid down his marker as, arguably, the finest filmmaker of the contemporary age. Breathtaking in its visual execution, this visual poetry is a work of true indisputable art. In a landscape of tentpole Blockbusters and reboots, we need works like this, as they remind us of what film can be when it’s not interested in figures and spreadsheets, but rather in moving us. It also manages to be, in my humble opinion, a feminist’s dream; as it explores sexuality via the female eye, as men are cast in a less than desirable light, yet, sadly, a light that is all too accurate. This is a film that we need to see, to remind us of what true cinema should be. Chan-Wook continues to chisel his face into cinema’s mount-rushmore, one masterwork at a time.

 

Final Rating – 5

 

Joshua Moulinie