2013 / Director. Dean Jones.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
My review of COFFIN BABY explains how director Dean Jones fell out with his producers. He walked away with a heap of footage and put together his own cut of the film using newly shot material to enable an alternative narrative. The result was terrible movie with almost no redeeming qualities. Ultimately he settled his grievances with the producers and released this “official” TOOLBOX MUDERS 2 version (Jones is now divorced from the COFFIN BABY cut).
This movie is infinitely better than COFFIN BABY, which speaks volumes for that previous piece of shit… because, despite being better, this isn’t very good either. It is a sequel in name only and bares little resemblance to the previous film. The killer may have returned but his whole MO has changed. Where he was once confined to a dishevelled building and lurked in the shadows, he now wanders the streets collecting victims. His back story is no longer relevant to his crimes as he keeps women locked in cages and performs grisly (and creative) murder in front of them. That’s the crux of the story. There is little else to this nasty affair other than butchery and gore.
TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 is honestly one of the goriest and grisliest films I have ever seen. It sits proudly amongst the ranks of “torture porn” movies as one of the most outrageous in terms of the limits pushed. That alone is its appeal. This is a movie for gore hounds and wont resonate beyond those who relish in the depravity. It is definitely stylistic and the gore is handled beautifully. Jones never flinches for a moment and every sick and twisted moment is exploited for all its worth.
I’m all for style over substance, however, in this case the style becomes so gratuitous that without any substantial narrative it also becomes boring. Very boring! The acting leaves a lot to be desired and feels as though the emphasis was so focused on the depravity that the script was an after thought. The movie will have its audience and they will lap up the blood. They might even fund the proposed sequel through the crowd funding campaign, and that’s for the best. Let them pay for it and reap what they sew.
2015 / Directed by Woody Allen.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I adore Woody Allen and whenever I see that Windsor typeface appear on screen I become overwhelmed with a sense of romanticism. Those opening titles are always accompanied by a whimsical piece of music and while his soundtracks are never far removed from one another, they always establish the perfect mood.
IRRATIONAL MAN is his latest film, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey. From the outset it distinguishes itself as one of Allen's darker projects and recalls similar themes to MATCH POINT and BLUE JASMINE. In fact the amalgamation of those two films is a great way to describe it. Phoenix plays a tortured alcoholic philosophy professor whose reputation precedes him and who struggles to find purpose with his life. When a sinister theoretical idea comes to mind, he suddenly sustains a new lease on life and entertains the notion of putting his thoughts into action. With two attached women both desperate to be his lovers he is confronted with all sorts of exciting new possibilities. The narrative fluctuates between fanciful and mischievous and also spirals into some dark and sinister territory.
While I can accept that some people might struggle with IRRATIONAL MAN I was personally swept up by it. Phoenix and Stone are excellent and without their convincing performances the film could have easily teetered on disaster... but hey, Allen is a genius when it comes to casting and has the clout to get his way every time. I'm no fan of Emma Stone and I do think that her character could have been better cast (to suit my tastes, hehe), but she is great nonetheless.
The script is a tricky one to critique because, while the narrative is fluent, the dialogue is complex. With the story being deeply seeded in philosophical concepts, the language is so dense with scholarly jargon that much of it flew right over my head. I am willing to give Allen the benefit of the doubt and go along with his every word. It all sounds smart and I'm sure it is smart. For a layman like me it was an easy sell with the help of stunning cinematography and a fantastic soundtrack.
IRRATIONAL MAN is another Woody Allen hit for me and I came away from it with the same awe that I always get with his films. What a prolific and unstoppable movie-making machine this guy is, and at 80 years of age it's incredible that he's showing no signs of slowing down. Right now he is developing a TV series for Amazon, which he is writing and directing. He is on the record stating that the whole thing is a mistake and that he is terrified of humiliation... yeah well, my money is on him all the way. I can't wait.
2015 / Directors. Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
VACATION '15 has been a long time coming and I've been one of those fans whose been screaming for a fifth instalment in the series (and no, COUSIN EDDIE'S ISLAND ADVENTURE doesn't count). It was obvious some time ago that Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo had passed the point of no return and the time was nigh to revitalise the franchise...without spitting on it. And so here it is, a whole new VACATION, picking up where the others left off.
RUSTY GRISWOLD is a chip off the old block and when he realises that his family is bored with the same old cabin-at-the-lake routine he decides to surprise them with a cross country road trip to Wallyworld, the same vacation he took with his family back in 1983. Right from the get go it is established that this isn't a remake and they make a cheeky reference to the previous films that ought to put the cynics in their box. What follows is a super fun and consistently hilarious adventure that recaptures the spirit of the original film while maintaining it's own identity.
The world has changed since the 80s and cinematic comedy is not what it used to be. The magic of VACATION is that it harks back to the essence of the previous films, maintaining an innocent and frivolous naivety while injecting an appropriate amount of lowbrow humour to keep it edgy and in check with today's puerile standards. It's important to remember that the first two instalments were quite salacious for their time and featured some questionable material of their own.
The casting is superb. Ed Helms is a natural successor to Chevy Chase and fills those big shoes effortlessly. He embodies the same lovable awkwardness and provides the glue that binds everything else together. Christina Applegate is a stunning and brilliant piece of casting. There is no question in my mind that she outshines all of Beverly D'Angelo's previous turns and her place in the story is far more weighty than D'Angelo's ever was. She's also much more of a pro-active character and doesn't sit on the sidelines, which is something fresh and necessary for revitalising the series. The rest of the cast is good too with various familiar faces popping up here and there and each having their moment of comedy goodness.
The film had me from the first frame. Of course I was a fan boy from the start and was fully prepared to be more forgiving than I needed to be. Thankfully the movie just works and there was no generosity required on my part. The opening sequence is hilarious and had me in stitches and from then on just about every comical set-up hit the mark (the use of Harry Nilsson's “Without You” provided one of the most perfectly executed moments of comedy that I've seen in ages).
Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention Clark and Ellen's appearance in the film. I was so thrilled to know that Chase and D'Angelo were reprising their roles, but sadly they bring the movie back down a few pegs. It pains me to say that the movie would have been so much stronger without them. Not only is their appearance a token gesture but it serves no purpose at all. By the time they appear on screen most audiences will already be convinced the movie is a legitimate continuation and not a remake and the reminder of original characters is not necessary (you should check out their previous appearance in HOTEL HELL VACATION... that's where they should have left it).
With that qualm aside VACATION is a beauty. It is written and directed with a love for the series and a strong sense of nostalgia. It fits in chronologically and will hopefully lead to another couple of instalments. Rusty Griswold.... fuck yeah!
2015 / Director. Antione Fuqua.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
It can be said that if you’ve seen one fight movie then you’ve seen ‘em all, and it takes a whole lot of oomph to elevate any new entry into the genre. Over the last decade we’ve had a few triumphs by the way of titles such as WARRIOR, THE WRESTLER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY. The latest contender stepping into the ring is SOUTHPAW and it leaves a lot to be desired.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a world champion boxer whose wife is killed when she gets caught in a chaotic confrontation between her husband and a rival fighter. Billy’s life quickly spirals out of control when his income dries up and he loses his house. Child services step in and remove his daughter and everything crashes and burns beyond his control. He hits the alcohol and drugs and finds himself cast out onto the streets. His only hope of redemption lies in an aged boxer played by Forest Whitaker, who owns a run down and dishevelled neighbourhood gym.
That synopsis does not serve the film well at all… and that is because SOUTHPAW is another run-of-the-mill boxing movie and nothing we haven’t seen before. It is balls-deep in cliché and convention and is only worthy of attention thanks to two stellar performances. Gyllenhaal and Whitaker are excellent and there is no question that both have invested a lot of time and energy into their performances. Gyllenhaal is amongst the greatest actors of his generation and what he brings to the screen here is nothing short of incredible. Sadly he is shrouded by a generic formula that is both predictable and lazy.
I found the film incredibly frustrating and would have expected more from both its drama and its action. The fight sequences are uninspired and I was constantly reminded that Scorsese and Avildson did it so much better over thirty years ago. As for the drama, well it’s delivered flawlessly but it’s all too familiar. I suspect that most of the praise levied at SOUTHPAW is directed towards the players and not the story. It’s very under whelming.
2014 / Director. Clark Gregg.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The strength of TRUST ME lies in its talent pool. Every single player in this expose on the Hollywood film industry is on the money. With an ensemble cast that reads like a low-key Robert Altman film it boasts a line up of names such as Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Felicity Huffman, William H Macy, Molly Shannon and Allison Janney.
Actor Clark Gregg directs and stars in this comedic drama set in the dog-eat-dog world of child-actor representation. He plays a former child star that became an agent and struggles in the cutthroat Hollywood world of instant fame. On the same morning that he loses his one and only client he has a chance encounter with a teenage actress and finds himself representing her. Suddenly he’s back in the game with a major studio headhunting the girl for a major franchise and the power-players looking to exploit the girl’s inexperience within the industry. With his career riding on this one last shot he must contend with a drunken father, wealthy competing agents and vicious studio executives.
TRUST ME is a film made with inside knowledge and it casts a judgemental eye on the nature of teenage celebrity and the lack of control that young Hollywood figures have. Gregg is exceptional in the lead and is one of the most likeable characters I’ve seen on film for a long time. He comes across as a genuinely nice man who struggles to operate within an insincere profession. His co-star is Saxon Sharbino, who plays his newly acquired 13-year-old client. This girl can act and her performance is a massive revelation. She recently went on to star in the remake of POLTERGEIST and I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of her in the coming years. For me the most surprising performance in TRUST ME came from Amanda Peet - she’s never been better. Playing Gregg’s hesitant love interest, she delivers a performance that is so natural and casual that it’s almost transcending.
The script is also very solid and the narrative plays out fluently. It is a seamless story of insecurities, insincerities, deceptions and manipulations that are met with opposing themes of personal struggle, family dysfunctions, false-hope and trust. Were it not for a bloated and heavy-handed finale I would consider it to be a perfect film…. but heck, near perfect is good enough. This is great stuff.
2014 / Director. David MacKenzie.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The most effective prison films are generally the most brutal ones. There’s no shortage of entries into the genre but those with the most impact tend to stick with you for years. It’s been over a decade(s) and I still can’t shake EVERYNIGHT EVERYNIGHT, CHOPPER and GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD from my mind (coincidently all Aussie films).
STARRED UP is a stark, brutal and confronting British film about the transition of a young inmate from a juvenile institution to the savage confines of an adult prison. We are introduced Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) as he steps off the bus and is escorted into the maximum-security fortress. He is stripped, deprived of all dignity and given his own cell after being deemed a high-risk inmate. Thrown into the general population he is forced to demonstrate his resilience with a violent display of strength. Compounding his initiation is the fact that his father (Ben Mendelsohn) is on the same wing, casting an overprotective eye.
This is a stunning film, shot meticulously and directed with precision. Director David Mackenzie (YOUNG ADAM, HALLAM FOE and PERFECT SENSE) took advantage of a real prison and presents a realistic and uncompromising atmosphere. I am uncertain whether the prison was populated with real inmates at the time but it is very likely to have been. Jack O’Connell leads the charge with a performance that transcends the film. With his own troubled past, he has tapped into a lifestyle that few of us can comprehend. His portrayal of Eric is as astonishing as it is terrifying. Ben Mendelsohn is also excellent as the uneducated and misguided father and Rupert Friend is particularly effective as the prison councillor. With these three performances combined with excellent supporting from all other players, the film serves as a portrait of life that none of us ever want to come close to.
The film is violent and supremely explicit. The camera rarely flinches from the brutality and the language coming from the character’s mouths would have been enough to traumatise the classification board. It never demands your sympathy for these people but it does ask you to reflect on the nature of incarceration and rehabilitation. A judgemental eye is certainly cast at the system itself but never, for a moment, does the film excuse the criminal figures.
2010 / Director. Svetozar Ristozar.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
In 1999 author Jason Moss released his true-crime book THE LAST VICTIM: THE TRUE-LIFE JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER. It detailed his personal relationships with some of America’s most notorious killers such as Richard Ramirez, Charles Manson and Jeffery Dahmer. He was a criminology student in the early 90s and studied the psychology of serial killers as his thesis. The first person he made contact with was John Wayne Gacy and their relationship was adapted into this dramatic thriller film, DEAR MR GACY.
William Forsythe plays Gacy in the months leading up to his execution. He is in the full grip of insanity and responds to Moss’s initial request for communication. Moss lured Gacy with salacious photographs of himself and a fabricated story of being a white hustler. The two communicate via letters until Moss begins to lose control when Gacy contacts him directly. It becomes clear that this is a psychopath with contacts, who is a master manipulator. Moss gets in deep and finds himself caught in a state of paranoia and terror and becomes, what he later described to be, Gacy’s Last Victim.
The film feels like a missed opportunity. There is nothing wrong with the performances and William Forsythe is actually very good. He has obviously done his research and listened to Gacy’s recordings and he delivers a chilling performance, without question. Sadly the tone of the film feels more like a television movie than it does a theatrical one. Despite its lewd themes and crass dialogue there is a sense that the director is holding back where he could have pushed much further.
DEAR MR GACY is a low budget indy affair, which in itself is not an issue, however there has been no effort made to disguise its frayed edges. With only three major set pieces the film predominantly takes place in Moss’s bedroom and Gacy’s prison cell. The whole prison atmosphere is awful with Forsythe made to sit in a dank, lowly lit room. It is not a reasonable representation whatsoever and these scenes really hit the “true story” nature of the film hard. There is no doubt that the communications depicted did happen, because most were recorded by Moss, but it’s a hard sell when a good performer is pitted against a lousy set design.
This is a film that could have (should have) taken a leaf out of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS book. The concept of a notorious serial killer forming a bond with a civilian on such a personal level is begging to be told on screen. Sadly Moss’s story has been produced into a lacklustre movie that will languish in obscurity for the rest of time.
2014 / Director Gren Wells.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE ROAD WITHIN is a remake of the German film VINCENT WANTS TO SEA and it’s a good thing I hadn’t seen that film before. In fact it hadn’t crossed my radar at all. And so I went into THE ROAD WITHIN thinking it to be a sincere, quirky and effective dramatic comedy. Had I been aware of the original I would have had my guard up.
The film follows the cross-country road trip of three young patients from a psychiatric facility. One suffers from severe turrets, another is anorexic and the third has full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder. Naturally the clashing of their illnesses provides the film with an offbeat, and often heartfelt, tone and allows us a glimpse into the frustrations and tortures of living with mental illness.
While the nature of the film is comical it is deeply seeded in a much darker foundation. Each character’s disorder comes with a story… whether it is early trauma that triggered the condition or the associated lives affected by it, all three of our protagonists carry a lot of weight along their journey. The performances are all very good and each of the players resist the temptation of presenting caricatures. To writer/director Gren Wells’ credit the humour derives from the frustrations of the characters’ illnesses rather than the illnesses themselves. That is not to say that I was entirely convinced by all of the performances, but rather that I gave myself over to the story as much as possible.
I have had a few brushes with mentally ill people throughout my life, but have never been so close to it as to recognise the true sincerity of performances in a film such as this. I can only assume that a lot of research and understanding has been given to each condition and I am willing to accept the depictions presented here. Of course I am very keen to back-track to the original film, which I suspect will have a much stronger emotional anchor.
THE ROAD WITHIN plays out like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST crossed with LAST ORDERS. It is a touching and amusing drama that skirts around convention. It is not without its faults (such as a flimsy side-story involving their doctor and one of the parents and an uninspiring title) but it does maintain its stamina throughout and ought to hold most people’s attention to the end.
2011 / Director. Peter Himmelstein.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE KEY MAN is an odd retro-centric thriller that plays its cards very close to its chest. It’s a story about a gullible straight guy being caught up in an elaborate con where the con itself is never actually explored.
Jack Davenport plays a David Frost-looking insurance broker who feeds into the hands of two crooks played by Hugo Weaving and Brian Cox. They exploit his desperate financial stresses and offer him a pivotal role in a key man policy. Such a policy means that should one of the key holders die, the company involved would be protected and compensated financially. It is a highly risky venture for someone to be part of but the benefits, should it be legitimate, are huge.
The film’s biggest flaw is that the scam itself is ambiguous. We know that there’s shifty stuff going on and that the central character is being duped, but the film is never quite clear about how it all works and exactly what is going on. A huge suspension of disbelief is required for us to fully buy into the whole charade, but that is made easy by the film’s very cool and ultra quirky 1970’s production design.
As though lifted directly out of the 70s, THE KEY MAN comes loaded with a funky exploitation aesthetic. From a bass-loaded funk soundtrack to excessive split screen editing and a ridiculously camp costume design. It is a throwback film that puts its emphasis on style rather than substance. I honestly didn’t care much about the lack of substance when I was confronted with such a vibrant and deliberately mischievous line up of set-ups; each delivered by talent of the highest order. Hugo Weaving, Brian Cox and Jack Davenport are all fantastic and they really sink their teeth into the whole retro thing (Cox wears his perm like a legend). Judy Greer also lends some strong support as the ever-suffering wife.
THEY KEY MAN is bound to have its detractors, however it is a film that deserves its place alongside films such as THE SPANISH PRISONER and THE GRIFTERS and it hits its mark far more accurately than AMERICAN HUSTLE did.
2015/ Director. John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Review by Jarret Gahan.
After a dinner with family friends, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) steps up his game and rather than take his family on the annual pilgrimage to a cabin in Michigan, he decides a cross-country road trip is in order, culminating in a visit to Wally World. As to be expected with any Griswold vacation, misfortune occurs every few miles, from a malfunctioning car rental to budget highway accommodation to awkward family reunions and subsequent laughter ensues at every turn.
Helms, a talented comic actor doesn't deviate from his blundering nice guy shtick but it's a perfect fit for the patriarchal role of Rusty, endearing yet somewhat inept. His wife, Debbie is played by seasoned comedy actress Christina Applegate and while her character isn't too far removed from that of mother-in-law Ellen, a suffering yet supportive wife, she does have a few skeletons in her closet and Applegate plays her flawlessly. Their children, eldest James (Skyler Gisondo) & Kevin (Steele Stebbins) as bickering polar opposites and make for an interesting dynamic, reflecting the franchise's previous son and daughter combination. Cameos from veteran characters and flavour-of-the-month celebrities are a mixed bag with more misfires than hits but it only reinforces the strong chemistry of the central cast.
Unfortunately the trailers do reveal some genuine stand out sequences in the film however in the context of the feature they maintain their hilarity and the frequency of gags are evenly paced throughout, ensuring there is never a dull moment to be found. Cast your fears aside, VACATION is neither dependent on re-treading former glories or resting on its laurels, "the new vacation...stand[s] on its own" and worthy of the franchise’s enduring legacy.
2015 / Director. Pierre Morel.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Pierre Morel has a lot to answer for. Almost single-handedly revitalising Liam Neeson's career with TAKEN, and creating a whole sub-genre, he gave birth to a new breed of action film; One where someone like your Dad could take on a host of baddies with a sense of realism and grit that had been relatively unseen since the 70s.
The former cinematographer followed TAKEN with TO PARIS, WITH LOVE to less success and now he returns with THE GUNMAN, a conspiracy-laden thriller with plenty of lively explosions and exotic locales.
Penn stars as Terrier (geddit?), a former mercenary sniper who, after putting a hole the size of your fist in the Congo's Minister For Mining's chest, flees the region only to have his past chase him down 8 years later. From there he doggedly hunts down those who tried to kill him while trying to put together the pieces of the conspiracy.
It'd be easy to mistake THE GUNMAN for Morel's most mature film to date. On the surface it seems to hold more class than the xenophobic nonsense of his debut TAKEN or the playful insanity of his sophomore TO PARIS, WITH LOVE, but you'd be wrong.
Even if THE GUNMAN is set in the complex and morally ambiguous world of politics in the Congo, behind this slightly pretentious façade is a run-of-the-mill cat-and-mouse thriller. In truth, the Congo could have been substituted for any political hotspot. This is not like BLOOD DIAMOND where the region is integral to the plot. Given the lack of originality and depth of the script, perhaps the biggest question that arises from the film is just how it manages to wrangle the class and calibre of talent on show. The cast is an impressive list of contemporary mans-man thesps; Penn, Bardiem, Elba, Winstone, all of whom, presumably, are in it for Penn, here wearing multiple hats as producer, co-writer and star.
This is, after all, exactly the kind of big-budget nonsense we don't expect from him so what gives?
It's no secret that he spends a great deal of time as a humanitarian in regions like the Congo and Haiti, and as a result, it's hard to shake the feeling that his involvement here isn't entirely self-fulfilling and slightly soap-boxy.
He gives it his all, mind you, and handles the bone-crunching action scenes with an intense ferocity that only he can muster. And it's easy to buy him as a former mercenary than it would be, say, a Paul Walker type bristling with a youthful pazaz. Penn's hard life is etched into his pores.
In the softer scenes he's not shy of taking his kit off to display his impressive physique (he's 52 don't forget) while reaching for the vulnerability of a man trying to deal with broken relationships and camaraderies. This is the kind of stuff that's a walk in the park for the Oscar winner.
In the end it all amounts to a lot of hullabaloo with much less to say than one would perhaps think. Not meritless by any stretch but not as clever as it thinks it is either, even if it does have a couple of surprises along the way. It's a decent distraction if nothing else.
2013 / Director. Dean Jones.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
COFFIN BABY is the sequel to TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004) but it isn't. Director Dean Jones was hired to helm the follow-up to Tobe Hooper’s moderately successful slasher film and when it was poorly received at the Cannes Film Festival he had a huge falling out with the producer. He was all but removed from further development and so instead of walking away he went ahead and filmed a whole lot of new footage.
He spliced it together with the pre-existing material and the result is a hideously awful exercise of defiance. Jones insists that COFFIN BABY is a stand-alone film and NOT an official sequel to TOOLBOX MURDERS and yet it carries over the same killer from the previous movie and references pre-established elements. I suspect that this unsanctioned cut was little more than a middle finger to the producer and I doubt it was intended for general exhibition. Somehow, despite legal proceedings, it DID find its way to home-entertainment, however the issues between Jones and his producer have since been resolved and both parties now dismiss COFFIN BABY entirely. The “official” TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 cut received a release and they would prefer audiences to ignore this ugly version entirely.
But it cannot be ignored. Jones had the tenacity to put together an alternative cut and so he should expect to be fairly criticised for it. It is a thing that exists and so it will be judged.
COFFIN BABY is a tough watch. All of Jones’s new footage is awfully low-grade with a level of quality that audiences would expect from a school project. He has made no effort to match the tone or aesthetic of the original footage and the difference between the sanctioned material and the unauthorised stuff is undeniable. It’s like two movies mashed together… one being a stylish and gnarly horror film and the other being a micro-budget student film.
The entire first twenty minutes appears to be his new footage, presumedly in an effort to establish a new narrative and only the most forgiving of viewer would persevere beyond it. The colours are washed-out to the point of almost being black-and-white and the plot is incomprehensible. The score is hilariously bloated and never suits the imagery. And then there’s the script, oh boy… plus acting not fit for daytime soap. Yep, it is impossible to find a single redeeming feature in this shemozzle.
The “official” footage, however, is good and gives hope that the actual TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 cut will be a solid and effective slice of torture-porn. These scenes look very reminiscent of the SAW franchise and the gore is decadently explicit. The monstrous Coffin Baby character is wonderfully conceived and has a lot of potential for his own ongoing franchise.
COFFIN BABY should be avoided. Its only purpose was for a fickle filmmaker to throw a tantrum and act out against his producer. I would suggest that its only place in the market would be as a point of interest by way of a supplementary disc on the official release… but it’s not even worthy of that. Find a free copy. Don’t pay a single cent for this piece of shit.
2015 / Director. Asif Kapadia.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Asif Kapadia makes great documentaries. SENNA was an excellent example of a clever narrative form, one that delivered a clear, concise and thoroughly enjoyable examination of the Formula One champion that appealed to everyone, not just petrol heads. By focussing on the man and not the sport, and his achievements therein, it broadened its audience appeal and went tearing straight for the heart.
He applies the same trick in AMY as he charts a sixteen year old's meteoric rise to fame. The story doesn't need to be recounted here. In fact, you'll likely know it already; a Faustian tale of fame, but we're not here for the story. We're here for the intimacy and Kapadia has scored some cracking interviews with everybody from Winehouse's childhood best-friend through to Tony Bennett (with whom she recoded a duet album) and everyone in between - ex-lovers, friends, producers and bodyguards to name a few. Each one of them divulges a little of their experiences with the troubled starlet and the effects of the world's loss of her.
Kapadia supposedly recorded the interviews on microphone with no camera in a room with the lights dimmed to create an atmosphere that lent itself to hushed tones and unfettered candidness. Every soundbite creaks and groans with honesty and loss. It's a heartbreaking rendering of a tragic life that spiraled out of control in almost record time (a mere seven years between her first album release and her death).
If there's a problem with AMY it's that it's severely lacking in the 'why's. There's enough biographies (authorised or not), television specials, articles and internet chatter that if you cut the middle-ground between two of these books you'd likely get the same story presented here. There's nothing particularly revelatory in AMY. Sure, it's good to see private home videos of a young Winehouse or moments with friends caught on camera phones at parties but the film only briefly touches on why such a talent with the world at her feet became the self-destructive, self-sabotaging mess.
Obvious questions like 'If Amy didn't want the fame she says she couldn't abide then why did she continually sign contracts?' are never addressed leaving us with a suspicion there is a wealth of fascinating topics left completely untouched. To top it off its whopping running time of 130mins does, at times, feel laboured. The final act suffers from dry repetition as Amy goes from binge to rehab, binge to rehab until ultimately she steps out of the destructive loop famously winning herself a slew of Grammy awards. These are, however, relatively small concerns when the rest of the film is so on-point.
While it's much better than other of its ilk (MONTAGE OF HECK) it's unlikely to win Winehouse any new fans - this isn't a back-slap happy celebration all the time - but it is a superbly crafted document of another musician that fell prey to the lifestyle and joined the 27 Club.
2015 / Josh Trank.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I am convinced that FANTASTIC FOUR is a comic book that will never translate well on film. There have been several adaptations throughout the years and none of them have worked. I would argue that the characters are too stupid for live action and they just look stupid on screen. Add to that the fact that their name is dumb.
The latest attempt to revive the franchise is possibly the worst yet. It reboots the series with yet another origin story and depicts the creation of the FANTASTIC FOUR superheroes, along with their arch nemesis Dr Doom. It uses a pseudo science that hits new heights of absurd that even the writers seem confused about the mechanics of what they're saying. With a heap of random mambo jumbo and mathematical scribbles we're expected to believe that a boy genius has unlocked the gateway to another dimension. Give him a pair of glasses and nerdy persona and PRESTO, inter-dimensional teleportation... of course.... derr.
There is no question that aesthetically they've attempted to match the quality of superior Marvel films like THE AVENGERS and all associated spin-offs, and the opening scenes are really well handled. For the first ten minutes I began to believe that this might be the movie to change my perception of the FANTASTIC FOUR - I was wrong.
The entire film (especially the second half) feels like a Saturday morning cartoon. The special effect are awful with a smorgasbord of poorly conceived CGI and second-rate chroma-key on display. And the dialogue is even worse. The actors look like they're reading their lines directly from the speech bubbles of the original comic books and put zero energy into their performances. Even my 14 year old son noted that it looked like none of them wanted to be there. Miles Teller is emerging as one of my favourite actors of the moment and coming off the back of WHIPLASH, this is an atrocious demonstration. He has his moments in the first half, however he loses him mojo very fast and phones the rest of his performance in.
The previous adaptations by Tim Story in 2005 and 2007 were equally as bad, but they didn't take themselves seriously. There was an obvious cartoonish nature to the world they presented and the stupidity of the characters suited the atmosphere. Sadly this new entry misses the mark and tries to be something it can never be. There are some moments where it wants to be a family-friendly adventure followed by conflicting moments where it pushes for a much darker adult-orientated tone. I sat in a cinema full of pre-teen kids with their parents and there were gasps of horror in a scene where heads explode in a completely graphic (and confronting) way. Who is this movie trying to appeal to?
I give FANTASTIC FOUR some kudos for a strong opening scene as well as a very cool rampage scene featuring Dr Doom... but that's as far as my courtesy extends. This is a dumb, bloated and moronic comic-book adaptation that should never have been tempted in the first place. This is not a series that will ever be good. They ought to keep it animated and forget about the live-action.
2014 / Director. Jean-Marc Vallee.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Films detailing personal pilgrimages and self-discovery resonate with me in a big way. I have a high tolerance for the sort of films that meander and take their time. Sometimes the most effective ones have barely any dialogue at all and they rely on atmosphere and expression to give them weight. Films like INTO THE WILD, THE WAY and THE LONELIEST PLANET exemplify what I mean.
WILD is based on an autobiographical novel by author Cheryl Strayed. It details the moment in her life when she sought redemption and healing from the years of pain that preceded. Her abusive childhood compounded by the death of her mother lead her down a dark road in life and her behaviour completely destroyed her own marriage. She found herself at a cross roads where her chosen direction would be as drastic as a decision between life or death.
Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl and the film follows her 2065-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon. Her journey is full of reflection as the story is interjected with various flashbacks to pivotal moments in her life. As the days turn into weeks we hear her inner thoughts and frustrations as she slowly rediscovers herself and exorcises an unwanted part of her being.
I really tapped into WILD and bought into it for the most part. Witherspoon completely immerses herself in the character and puts herself through a gruelling and physically demanding process, and I would argue that it is her best performance to date. The screenplay was adapted by Nick Hornby and it’s good, albeit a little too hasty. Where such a film ought to be slowly paced and drawn out, WILD did feel a little too self-aware of its time restraints. As though they were pre-empting the mainstream audience’s attention-span the film’s intercepting flashbacks are all too frequent and sporadic. I wanted more time with Cheryl in her moments of reflection without her back-story being so blatant and kinetic.
Nevertheless the overall journey is rewarding and is captured beautifully. The vast, sweeping landscapes are captured with a hand-held perspective, which at first seems like a complete waste of opportunity. Director Jean-Marc Vallee could have opted for an epic cinematic approach but he chose, instead, to keep the ambience raw and singular. The hand-held approach puts us in the role of Cheryl’s invisible companion and ultimately makes the experience a lot more personal.
It runs at 116 minutes but it could have been much longer as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes less is more and with a much more relaxed pacing it would have been an outstanding film. WILD is not without its flaws, but is backed up with much more merit and an exceptional performance from Reese Witherspoon. I will return to this one before long.