The good news is that his latest film, DON'T WORRY HE WONT GET FAR ON FOOT, is a welcome return to form, however the bad news is that it's unlikely to find an audience in today's age of Disney-Marvel domination. Casting his attention to the true story of John Callahan - a quadriplegic cartoonist – Van Sant has crafted an outrageously humorous drama with a keen focus on character.
Following a drug and alcohol-fuelled night of recklessness, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) gets into the car with an equally intoxicated driver (Jack Black) and ends up in a horrific accident. He is paralysed and faced with a life of immobility. After a long and gruelling rehabilitation he enters into an alternative support group lead by an eccentric free-living millionaire (Jonah Hill) whose outlook on life is as equally brutal in its honesty as it is earnest. With a new lease on life John becomes a cartoonist and becomes a highly sought after – and controversial – satirist.
DON'T WORRY, HE WONT GET FAR ON FOOT is not about his success, nor it is about his adversity, and while those components are obvious markers in his story, Van Sant has chosen to focus on the intimacy of Callahan's processes. The film plays out almost like a confessional, as Phoenix's character rides a rollercoaster of highs a lows, and while battling his inner-demons he strives to find his place in the world.
It is an uncomfortable film in some regards. It's full of self-absorbed people who have little regard for others. It's a marathon of deep character study, which cares more for conversation than it does a fluent narrative... and thats okay. As I watched Phoenix and the ensemble of fellow players nut out their issues my mind kept thinking about Woody Allen (I'm still allowed to say his name, right? Screw it, I love him) and how similar this structure was to something he would direct. And I wondered how he might have tackled the same material. Much the same would be my guess. And so with that in mind, you have a decent idea of what to expect.
Phoenix is excellent in the lead role, and he relishes the opportunity to unleash a heap of politically incorrect humour and self-depreciating wit. He absorbs the script and delivers his performance with the upmost sincerity, which will hopefully put him in with a chance at the next awards season. The supporting cast are excellent too, with Jonah Hill being the obvious stand-out. Give this guy an award while we're at it, because his turn as the guru-like counsellor is easily his most outstanding performance to date. It's a pleasure to watch him pivot between comedy and drama, as if skiing between flags, and when he plunges into serious-mode, its a sight to behold. Jack Black's limited role is also strong, with his later appearance lending the story added weight. The rest of the cast includes Rooney Mara, Mark Webber, Udo Kier and Kim Gordon. Once again, they all make up a powerful ensemble. Most surprising of all is a wonderful performance from punk rocker Beth Ditto (from the band The Gossip) who plays an outspoken conservative redneck in the support group. Heck, throw her an award too!
Gus Van Sant can rest easy. He's delivered a praise-worthy performance-piece, which resembles his work of old. Long-serving fans will be delighted to have him deliver the goods again, and they will respond to the film with adoration. Unsuspecting viewers, on the other hand, may struggle with the film's dedication to the workings of a mind, and it's focus on conversation. It is certainly a “talkie” film that will test some people's patience, but for those who enjoy intelligent and philosophical storytelling DON'T WORRY, HE WONT GET FAR ON FOOT will hit the spot.
Hart plays Teddy, a high school drop out with undiagnosed learning disabilities. He has cruised through life living from pay-check to pay-check and using his salesman charm to sell himself as successful. When he loses his job as a result of a botched marriage proposal at his workplace he struggles to find another title that would sustain his lifestyle. And so with no choice but to return to school to earn his diploma, he enrols in night course and joins an abnormal class of middle age students. And there lies your premise. There's little more to it, and the rest of the film is mostly predictable, contrived and customary... good.
There isn't a snowflake's chance in hell of NIGHT SCHOOL winning awards, dominating the box office or being revered. Heck, you'll probably have trouble tracking down a single glowing review of it. And so it is with a smidgen of pride (and frustration towards my peers) that I admit that it is very funny and entirely enjoyable. I wont abuse the English language by using emotive words like “great”, “fantastic” or any other exaggerations, but I will – with all honesty – tell you that it tickled my funny bone and sustained a consistent level of fun.
I attended a full screening alongside many fellow film critics and entertainment writers. And far be it for me to throw any of them under the bus, I will just express disappointment in many of their attitudes (without the added name-and-shame). The atmosphere throughout the screening was lighthearted and jovial, with barely a moment lacking laughter. I gave the room an occasional scan, making mental notes of people I knew who were enjoying themselves. It was mostly laughs as far as I could see, and yet I anticipate scathing reviews and merciless take-downs from their media platforms. To them I say C'mon! Admit you liked it. Admit that it was funny. To hell with your reputations... how about a truthful response?
Director Malcolm D Lee (Girls Trip, The Best Man, Barbershop: The Next Cut) reunites with Kevin Hart and consciously throws back to a brand of comedy from the 80s and 90s. With hints of John Hughes at play, as well as Todd Phillips and a smidgen of Lorne Michaels, the references extend to the more dramatic high school movies like Lean on Me and Dangerous Minds. And with a strong ensemble including Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Al Madrigal the result is a nostalgic and occasionally heartwarming lampoon that belongs elsewhere in time.
As indicated earlier, I am not a fan of Kevin Hart. I typically find his comedy to be incessantly mundane and lame. His career has been built around being short, and there isn't a movie of his that hasn't used his lack of height as its crux. However, despite NIGHT SCHOOL playing off the same motif, his schtick has found a place. The self-depreciating height jokes are mostly funny here, and the ongoing insults are as immature as they are clever. Jokes are made at everyone's expense but they are never mean-spirited.
Justifiably spending money to see NIGHT SCHOOL at the cinema is entirely your choice to make, but I will argue that there will not be a better way to see it. Waiting for an home-entertainment release will deny you the pleasure of laughing with an audience, and perhaps the movie's impact will be diminished without that communal experience. Of course you can take what I say with a grain of salt, but if you choose to take advice from other critics then just know that I saw many of them laughing... a lot!
The main difference is that, while Bronson’s series of 5 films had its ups and downs, DEATH KISS is a bottom-of-the-barrel affair.
The plot (what little there is) doesn’t kick-in until the second act in which The Stranger (Kovaks) seeks repentance for his dark, violent past by continually sending single mum Ana (Eva Hamilton) unexplained wads of cash, which she is bizarrely okay with, even going so far as to buying a house with all the unexplained cash she keeps receiving in her mailbox. The tax laws be damned.
Mash is all together with a half-baked plot involving a fugitive from the law, Tyrell (Richard Tyson) with whom The Stranger has an unexplained vendetta against, and you have all the excuse Perez needs for blood-letting.
The first 25-minutes serves as a patchwork of The Stranger cold-bloodedly murdering random criminals wherever and whenever he stumbles upon them. An early scene promising a semi-interesting subplot involving an underage sex-trade racket is left to blow in the wind while Kovaks stalks a series of seemingly unconnected baddies in various warehouses and alleyways.
Nobody is going to be watching DEATH KISS for its originality or for its nuanced portrayals of the hard-knock life, mind you. The film's draw-card is its star, Robert Kovaks. Discovered while casting for a previous Perez film, Hungarian-born Kovaks’ uncanny resemblance to the late (great) Charles Bronson is striking. So much so it would be no surprise if Perez wrote the script for DEATH KISS around Kovaks looks. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that’s how it went down.
Unlike his doppelgänger though, Kovaks doesn’t hold the same gravitas as Bronson. His thousand-yard stare barely reaches 20ft. Daniel Baldwin (looking and sounding more like Alec than ever) cameos as the radio DJ social commentator, Dan Forthright, serving as the voice of an outraged public and chewing up the ultra right-wing dialogue. His thankful presence lends a touch of professionalism to a cast seemingly littered with first-timers and friends of Perez doing the director a favour.
Perez, wearing all the hats and serving as writer, director, composer, cinematographer, editor, has completed 18 feature films since 2010. His DIY approach to film is evident in all the wrong ways, though. While there’s no doubt it's a lot of fun, it remains rough around the edges and suffers from a hand-me-down script and rampantly poor performances.
Ultimately DEATH KISS wants to resonate with films of old, but it never musters the courage to try anything new and as a result it simply stagnates, lacking sympathy and melancholy and swapping them out for gimmicks and gore. At least Roth gave us a reason to care.
The entire premise presents itself as an arduous prospect, and when considering the synopsis the film might hold little interest to some. There is no immediate hook and the thought of watching two men driving around an old city seems taxing. Add the “foreign language” factor to the mix and the film’s potential audience diminishes drastically. However, for those who enjoy dialogue-driven character films, Wajib is well worth the effort and should prove to be entirely fulfilling.
READ THE FULL REVIEW AT SCREEN REALM.
2018 | DIR. ELI ROTH | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Who would have thought that a family-friendly, PG-rated spooky movie would be the rejuvenation needed to put Roth back in the game? Not me. But low and behold, here we are! THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN THE WALLS is a Goosebumps-esque fantasy adventure, which infuses the magic of Harry Potter with the frights of Monster House. It is the last thing you would expect from the renegade of gore, but it is precisely what the doctor ordered.
Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star as two unlikely friends - Jonathan and Mrs Zimmerman - whose occupancy of a mysterious haunted house conceals a very dark and sinister secret. A clock ticks within its walls 24-hours a day, and its precise location is unknown. Why and who put it there are questions for audiences to find out for themselves, but needless to say the film beholds plenty of juicy revelations and an abundance of fun. Young Owen Vaccaro (Daddy's Home) plays Lewis, Jonathan's orphaned nephew. Grief stricken and socially awkward, he struggles to fit in, but when his uncle reveals himself to be a warlock, his life is turned upside down as he races against time to battle ghouls and monsters.
Black and Blanchett are wonderful and make for an unexpectedly sincere onscreen dynamic. Black assumes his trademark cocky charisma with an added dash of earnestness, and while his role is not far removed from his recent turn in Goosebumps, he fits the part nicely. Blanchett relishes the opportunity to play a seemingly prudish librarian-type, and she embraces the genre with gusto. The supporting cast includes Roth-regular (and wife) Lorenza Izzo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Colleen Camp and a fantastically maniacal Kyle MacLachlan. It is a strong ensemble of generations, of whom all have a firm grasp on the film's sense of nostalgia.
The film's use of single a location soundstage setting adds the right amount of texture to conjure fond memories of the cinema of old. Roth has created a classic aesthetic with an almost steam-punk texture, and has produced a deliciously quirky story. My mind was cast back to films like Watcher In The Woods and Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events, and were it not for Roth's director credit at the opening, we would be forgiven for assuming someone like Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Guillermo del Doro might have made it.
I have spent years debating the importance of contextually exposing children to horror, and amongst various reviews, articles and podcasts I have maintained that gradual exposure to fantasy/horror is fundamental in childhood development. So many parents wrap their kids in cotton wool with an irrational fear of moral corruption, and yet they fail to comprehend how significantly their own childhoods were touched by horror. From the grisly tales of the Brothers Grimm, to the deranged musing of Roald Dahl, as well as the hideous witches from Disney's cartoons and the macabre subtext of so many nursery rhymes. Horror is wonderfully diverse and mostly misunderstood and while a film like THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS ought to be celebrated for treating kids respectfully, its overall tone may prove to be its undoing with parent's knee-jerking to protective mode.
It is a shame that a wonderful film such as this is at risk of missing its mark, and we can only hope that time will serve it well. For parents who value genre storytelling for their children, and who lapped up movies like Goosebumps, Monster House, City of Ember and Paranorman, then Eli Roth's latest offering will surely be a tasty treat.... and just in time for Halloween! It's quite wonderful indeed.
2018 | DIR. JEREMY WETCHER | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Given how much E-DEMON’s suspense and twists contribute to its success, I urge potential viewers to seek out the film spoiler-free. Basically, it can be thought of as a supernatural riff on The Thing, shot from the perspective of webcams much like Unfriended. However, what sets it apart is the presentation of up to five scenes simultaneously for almost the entire runtime, an impressive technical achievement that remarkably never becomes confusing. Rather, I can’t wait to see what hidden details emerge on each character’s screen, or decipher muffled dialogue during their shouting matches, throughout subsequent viewings. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty here to satisfy horror fans, but as I implied earlier, I enjoyed this film most when assuming the role of detective. Meanwhile, the structure gives the entire cast moments to shine; their reactions to the danger around them are made even more gripping by their isolation, accompanied only by other characters watching on hopelessly. The performances also subtly foreshadow several twists, and, without breaking my own rule about spoilers, suffice it to say that trying to spot glimpses of deception is thrilling.
Although I seriously can’t overstate the effectiveness of Wechter’s stylistic choices, there are moments in E-DEMON’s second and third acts that unfortunately challenge the established logic and pace. For instance, the previously minor character Bastian (Vincent Cooper) is abruptly thrust into the centre of the narrative due to his knowledge of the paranormal; there’s nothing inherently wrong with this shift, but his scenes are full of exposition that clashes with how subtly the eponymous creature had been revealed. At best, it’s kind of lame, at worst, it brings the tension screeching to a halt. Similarly, while I’m sure the cold open and close were intended to explain the multiple webcam format, they felt obnoxious and tonally inconsistent, almost like scenes from a different film. In fact, the main narrative is so superior to this subplot that I found their ultimate connection surprisingly satisfying, only to feel somewhat let down when the film didn’t simply end at that point.
The minor issues I’ve discussed here certainly keep E-DEMON from being perfect, yet I’d still recommend it to almost anyone. By prioritising tension and mystery over gore, Wechter has crafted a horror film that genre fans and more squeamish viewers will enjoy equally. This is the kind of experience that uncovers new details and thrills with each successive viewing, and I imagine I’ll be watching it again myself soon.
2017 | DIR. JESSE V JOHNSON | REVIEW BY SHAUN CRAWFORD.
Deemed too arthouse for that crowd, TBO played the festival circuits, failing to find a distributer until now. 5-years down the track, with a forced colourisation of the footage, it may not be the film Johnson & Co. set out to make but at least we finally get the opportunity to see the labor of love.
Set in turf-war LA, TBO is Romeo And Juliet played against a gangster battle-ground. The Tancredi’s and the Romano’s are at each other’s throats and from within this dangerous murk smooth, uber-stylish shylock Gabriel falls in love with Eva Romano.
Bish, bash, bosh, she’s taken and now Gabe has to turn against his kin in order to rescue the love of his life. The plot has literally been retold for hundreds of years.
Like the best entries in Jesse V. Johnson’s career (The Butcher and Charlie Valentine) his script for THE BEAUTIFUL ONES is a lean, muscular film that doesn’t shy away from the ultimate masculine idea; sharp tailored suits, whiskey on the rocks and straight-razor shaves. The catch is that this lifestyle becomes the downfall for everyone it touches. Johnson’s script is entirely self-aware all the way from the to-camera asides to the fashion choices Tancredi makes.
Ross McCall brings the charm and charisma as he channels the laconic, unshakable cool of McQueen and Marvin while everyone else around him loses their minds. A McQueen obsessed gangster with a soft side that only ever presents itself around women who is as capable in a shoot-out as he is in the sheets.
Fernandra Andrade as Eva is sweet and instantly lovable and while her chemistry with McCall carries a lot of the film as we watch the two of them fall in love over sunset, cliff-side drives in a $100,000 Cobra Roadster and romantic dinner dates, she really doesn’t have much to do other than serve as a counterpoint to McCall’s hyper-masculine tough-guy.
It’s a shame for Johnson that TBOs should arrive so late. The films tight budget is mostly overcome by inventive uses of form and a deft hand in the action department (Johnson has been a stuntman and co-ordinator for decades) but in the intervening 5-years since its production, Johnson has released three other films with a fourth in the can waiting to drop.
His evolution as a filmmaker and storyteller has taken leaps and bounds and, as a result, the failings in THE BEAUTIFUL ONES may feel like a backwards step to those that aren’t aware of the films history, but for those that are and can place it in Johnson’s trajectory, it is an important film in his cannon. The one where he made his boldest choices and likely learned his greatest lessons.
It’s won’t be for everyone and it’ll be too easily dismissed as a film promoting ‘toxic masculinity’ but that’s an obvious and simple critique for a film that is so stylish, fun and, at times, surprisingly sweet.