2018 | DIR: JONAS ÅKERLUND | STARRING: RORY CULKIN, EMORY COHEN | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
LORD OF CHAOS opens with the disclaimer that the film is based on truth, lies and what really happened, and is adapted from a book of the same name, which in turn depicts the notorious events surrounding the Norwegian metal scene in the 1980s and 90s. Two influential metal bands of the time were Mayhem and Burzum and their stories became legendary for all of the wrong reasons. From the exploitation of suicide (photos of Mayhem's vocalist's corpse was used on an album cover) to arson and multiple murder, the exploits of these bands will be forever etched in music history and their credibility will be debated amongst metal fans for years to come still.
The film depicts the events from a particular perspective, casting its attention to Mayhem's leader - and self described inventor of Norwegian Black Metal - Euronymous (played by Rory Culkin). His story's trajectory begins in his late teens and follows his life to the moment of his grisly murder at the hands of his former friend and new rival Varg Vikernes (of the act Burzum). I will add that this is not a major spoiler as Culkin's character alludes to his own death in the opening narrative, as well as the whole Mayhem/Burzum history being well reported. During the course of the story we are immersed in the culture that they subscribe to so loyally and given a look into a world that is mostly unknown to the average person. Their scene is made up of a collective of disenfranchised youth and kids who are in the process of finding their place in the world. For the most part they are regular teenagers who thought they were cool (as most of us can attest to), and when Euronymous's rhetoric about satanism and his dedication to causing mayhem spirals out of control, what he considered to be deceitful promotion was taken as gospel by others.
The film tackles their world the right way by treating these characters as stupid kids. At no point are they actually demonised, and although their actions and crimes were reprehensible, director Jonas Åkerlund approaches their story practically. No excuses are made for their crimes and he depicts the murders with an unflinching realism. He is well aware that some of these characters are cold-blooded killers, but he also takes the time to explore their culture to find out what might have compelled them. Whether or not he finds an answer is another question, but what he does achieve is a reasonably earnest look into their world of Black Metal. It would be understandable for some fans to reject the film's depiction, given that from some perspectives it could seen as a demonisation of their culture. But with Åkerlund himself a member of the metal community (he was the drummer for the extreme metal band Bathory) it would be wiser to view his document as an unwavering depiction of a select few. He explores the mindsets, the psychology and the allegiance that this brand of music elicits, and in some regard he celebrates it.
Åkerlund is regarded as one of the most sought after music video directors in the world and his work has included videos for Rammstein, Metallica, Lady Ga Ga, Roxette, Madonna and U2 to name some. And so he brings a trademark mannerism to the film, which teeters between a glossy mainstream sheen and an edgy subversive grunge. Rory Culkin (Mean Creek, Intruders) takes the lead, giving the production an instant marketability, and he is exceptional as Euronymous. His portrayal of the character sees him navigate a path of youthful confliction and a measured course of maturity. His co-star, as the unhinged Varg Vikernes, is Emory Cohen (Brooklyn, War Machine) who belts out an insanely chilling turn as the introverted wannabe who becomes a fundamental extremist. Together their juxtaposing performances make for an immersive and compelling movie-going experience.
Exactly which parts of the film constitute the fabrications and liberties taken by Åkerlund is a matter for metal loyalists to know, but a simple online search will inform you of what is accurately portrayed... which is surprisingly a lot. Much of what is depicted in the film actually occurred, and from an audience perspective this goes a long way towards appreciating whatever liberties were taken. This is film after all, and what true-stories are ever told verbatim?
It is a brutal and unexpectedly funny film and it will hit most viewers like a sledgehammer. The violence is explicitly graphic and often repulsive. The camera does not shy away from the gruesome details and many people will be challenged by what they see. And so go into this one pre-warned and be prepared for a provocative and rewarding experience. I would also urge you to follow up with some research of your own, because the real story is astonishing, as is the aftermath and current status of its characters.
2018 | DIR: GREGORY PLOTKIN | STARS: TONY TODD, BEX TAYLOR-KLAUS, AMY FORSYTH, CHRISTIAN JAMES, REIGN EDWARDS | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Hell Fest is a touring horror carnival, which attracts thousands of thrill seekers at Halloween. Full of devilish attractions such as ghost trains, mazes and horror-houses the event is a larger-than-life festival for those with a strong constitution. The movie follows a group of friends reunited for Halloween who attend the festival and find themselves stalked by a serial killer under the guise of a Hellfest staff member. It is as basic as set-ups go and on face value it leaves a lot to be desired, but the strength of the movie lies within its amazing production design and its dedication to gore.
The movie explodes on to the screen in a relentless kaleidoscope of neons colours. It has no interest in developing its characters as it hits the ground running and cuts straight to the chase. Within five-minutes we're already at the point that takes most slasher movies 40-minutes to arrive at. Pitted against a backdrop of hyped-up thrill seekers and twisted carny-folk HELL FEST is a feast for the eyes and a celebration of genre.
The cast are only as good as they need be. This isn't Shakespeare in the park, it's a slice-n-dice horror movie designed to inflict deliciously gory death upon each and every character. The kills are explicit and the camera never flinches. Director Gregory Plotkin (Paranornal Activity:The Ghost Dimension) knows the deal and what's expected. He exploits every cliché and trope to full effect, offering a bucket-load of blood soaks thrills. His approach is slick, using a hyper-coloured design with strobing shadows and lights, paired with an energised rock soundtrack to awaken the senses and hold the viewer's attention. Each set-piece is meticulously designed with various themes and ghoulish creations that never repeat themselves and offer new jump-scares with each passing scene.
The film was produced by Gale Anne Hurd, whose extensive resume includes Terminator 1-3, Aliens, The Abyss and The Walking Dead amongst countless others. She is a Hollywood producer who works at the heights of the industry, and with her experience at the wheel, HELL FEST is delivered as a cut above the rest. It has the look of a glossy Hollywood chiller, similar to the Dark Castle movies of the early 2000's (13 Ghosts, Ghost Ship etc) but it delivers the graphic violence of the torture-porn era that followed. However unlike grisly titles like Saw or Hostel, the kills in HELL FEST are swiftly dealt with, as to move on to the next kill, followed by the next etc.
For production value and its clever way of working within the confines of convention, HELL FEST earns high praise. Non-horror fans will fob it off as just another generic slasher movie, but seasoned genre fans and gore-hounds alike will relish its wicked ways and lap up its vibrant carnival atmosphere. I had a great time with it and cannot wait to do it all over again.
2018 | DIR: MATTHEW VICTOR PASTOR | STARRING: MATTHEW VICTOR PASTOR, LAMAROC, KRISTEN CONDON, GLENN MAYNARD, STUART SIMPSON | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
This is the twisted and surreal final instalment in director Matthew Victor Pastor's atypical Aus-Filo trilogy; MAGANDA: PINOY BOY VS MILK MAN. The first instalment was the short film I Am Jupiter, I Am The Biggest Planet, which was followed by the feature-length second film Melodrama/Random/Melbourne! And while those titles make up the trilogy, his first feature film Made In Australia – as referenced in Maganda – serves as an important prologue to the overall sprawl. Of course being a thematic trilogy, seeing one film without seeing another will not impact the individual stories, but for those of us fortunate enough to have bore witness to the whole mangled chronicle we certainly have more layers to contend with.
To an unprepared or uncultured mind MVP's unique approach to storytelling may seem inept and pretentious, which would be an understandable conclusion. But for those familiar with his work (or indeed him) they will understand the complexities at play. There isn't a filmmaker in Australia as distinctive or eccentric, and what MVP puts on the screen is the entire inner-workings of his mind. MAGANDA is a culmination of his past work and serves as a self-inflicted exorcism of his mind's congestion. The film presents itself in a variety of tropes, from being auto-biographical and psychedelic, to cliche-riddled and meta. The film has a flagrant disregard for traditional structure and forges its own path towards its conclusions.
MAGANDA is also MVP's most technically arresting and beautiful film to date. With his middle-finger held up to the concept of subtlety, he splashes every frame with vibrant colours and a kaleidoscope of techniques. From flashing blues and reds, to the saturation of white, he hurls the film on to the screen as if wanting to startle us with the splat. Each component of his story is told through a different lens, such as the crude 70's style of analogue television to represent the cops, or the crisp digital format to portray his world of filmmaking. Suffice to say the film is a constant tussle between conflicting techniques, all of which represent the mind of an important auteur, and when you add themes of multiculturalism, depression, infidelity and foreign investment (just to name some) it's clear that MVP has a lot on his mind.
The cast includes a who's who of local talent, with most being familiar to a specific circle of the indie film scene. Glenn Maynard (Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla), Kristen Condon (Under A Kaleidoscope) and Andrew Leavold (The Search For Weng Weng) are just some of the faces that you might recognise. They are joined by Anthony Lawand (credited as Lamaroc), Celina Yuen and Koki Keneko, who all give measured performances. The entire cast understands MVP's unconventional style and each of them, presumedly, gives precisely what is demanded of them. Their performances range from absurdist to poignant with key moments of frivolity and hilarity sitting back-to-back with emotionally charged monologues and heart-wrenching earnestness.
You will be strapped to find a comparable filmmaker to Matthew Victor Pastor and despite MAGANDA: PINOY BOY VS MILK MAN being the conclusion to his Aus-Filo saga I suspect that he's got a lot more to say on the matter. Here's hoping that he continues to tell his stories as fearlessly and creatively as this, and here's hoping that his unique voice is recognised by the wider global audience.
2018 | Dir: Daniel Goldhaber | Starring: Madeline Brewer, patch Durragh, Melora Walters | Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Alice is a young cam-girl. Her online handle is Lola and she performs in a room for her online audience. They are mostly sex-deprived perverts who spend their entire income on tokens to enhance their online experience. The more tokens they give each girl, the more the girls will do. On one hand is it a seedy form of sexual exploitation, which arguably objectifies women. But on the other hand, the women are in complete control and conduct their business from the safety of their homes.
When Alice's online persona is hijacked by a doppelganger, her world spirals out of control as her lookalike takes over and performs lurid and extreme acts in her image. Unable to access her account she must find who or what is responsible and stop the fraud before it ruins her life, and livelihood. With wealthy old men throwing copious amounts of money at these girls, and creepy stalker guys imposing on her life outside of the cam-room, the suspects begin to pile up and the question of whether it is a legitimate attack on her profession, or a supernatural anomaly begs to be answered.
This is a fascinating and surprisingly taut thriller, the likes of which hasn't been seen. The simplest comparison would be Unfriended (2014) but the web-cam aspect is about as far as the similarities go. CAM is better suited to the tv series Black Mirror for a reasonable point of comparison, however it remains a story that hasn't been told before.
Madeline Brewer (Orange is the New Black) gives a knockout performance as Alice/Lola, and delivers an incredibly confident and courageous turn. She occupies 100% of the screen time, much of which is spent in compromising and lurid positions. She approaches the material with confidence and maturity and should be commended for her realistic and unflinching commitment to the story. Her supporting cast is small and includes Melora Walters (Magnolia), Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why) and Patch Darragh (Longmire). They are all good with Darragh being the standout. His awkward and creepy stalker persona is as equally sad as it is chilling, and having recently been impressed by his role in the Netflix series Everything Sucks, there's every reason for me to consider this guy a potential favourite of mine.
Thanks to Netflix and Blumhouse we have a refreshing and provocative new film, which might just set the benchmark for others to follow. It is likely to divide the audience down the middle as its seedy setting will be an expose to some people, while it will be an all too familiar environment to others. Depending on which of those you see it from, the impact of CAM might differ. Regardless of that, it is an original and well considered entry into the techno-thriller genre, which if successful will no doubt spark a string of likeminded cash-in movies. Don't be offended by this very real glimpse into a world you may not have known existed... instead be fascinated by it and consider it's structure and mechanisms, and then let the method of the film's deceptions get you thinking. This is clever stuff, and the pay off is – in turn – satisfying.
2018 | Dir. Mick Garris, Joe Dante, David Slade, Alejandro Brugués, Ryûhei Kitamura | Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Several years ago Garris founded the Masters of Horror, which were a series of private lunches attended by some of horror's heads of state. From the late greats; Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven to contemporaries such as James Gunn, Eli Roth, James Wan and Adam Green. Other notable names include Guillermo del Toro, Quentin Tarantino, Brian Trenchard-Smith, John Landis, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker and Stuart Gordon. The list keeps going... and going... suffice to say that such events were legendary. Not one to rest on his laurels Garris took the concept one step further and created a groundbreaking anthology TV series of the same name, consisting of two seasons. Each episode was helmed by different master of horror and contributed to some of the best genre television of all time.
Since that show's untimely cancellation Garris has kept the ball rolling by bringing the legends back together time and again, through his podcast and now an all new anthology film called NIGHTMARE CINEMA. Harking back to the wonderful anthology films of the 1980s, such as Creepshow and From A Whisper To A Scream, his new film features five original stories, all stitched together by a wrap-around story featuring Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist, a mysterious stranger who operates a haunted cinema. By power of suggestion he ushers guests in and shows them films chronicling their own personal nightmares.
The Thing In The Woods is directed by Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead) and is a slasher meets creature feature story about a masked killer in the woods. Not all is as it seems as he slays his way through a group of teenage partygoers. It is the perfect note to kick things off with, and it is easily my favourite entry of the lot. With a glorious amount of gore and a frivolous tongue-in-cheek attitude, the story flirts with the two sub-genres and successfully screws with the audience.
Mirare is directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling) and plays with the concept of cosmetic surgery and shallow beauty. This is a fun concept with a distinct Dante veneer, as it tells its macabre tale without ever being overtly graphic of vulgar. A young woman agrees to undergo several facelift surgeries to please her boyfriend, and with a suspiciously charismatic surgeon (Richard Chamberlain) on hand with his bloodied scalpel, the scene is set for a grotesquely humorous cautionary tale.
Mashit is a crazy story of demonic possession directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train) which takes place inside a private Catholic school as students suddenly begin committing suicide. It is a grim, yet energised chapter, which almost feels like a cross between John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness and Kevin Smith's Dogma. Its finale also offers one of the overall film's most memorable scenes.
The Way To Egress is directed by David Slade (30 Days of Night) and is a black and white fable which explores mental illness, while edging on surrealism. It follows a young mother who's sanity is in question as she finds herself trapped in a purgatory-like state, unable to get out. This instalment stands out from the rest because of its obvious contrast in tone and aesthetic. Where the other instalments feel at home in this brand of anthology, Slade's instalment feels more like an outcast... it is nevertheless a very strong piece of cinema unto itself.
And finally Dead, directed by Mick Garris, follows a teenage boy through his period of grief and recovery following a deadly hijacking which took the lives of his parents. With a newfound ability to see the dead, the boy must learn the difference between the living and the dead as spectres from beyond vie for his affection. It is a curious chapter, which offers the best performance of the lot by young actor Faly Rakotohavana, whose emotional range is mesmerising.
There have been a lot of fantastic anthology horror films over the last decade with notable favourites of mine being The Theatre Bizarre, Trick R Treat and Tales Of Halloween. Other noteworthy titles include Holidays, XX and the ever popular VHS and ABCs of Death franchises. NIGHTMARE CINEMA is a worthy addition to this list and makes a point of difference by having a consistent quality of stories throughout. Each one has merit and they combine to make for a cohesive collection of shorts. Where it suffers is in the wrap-around narrative featuring Rickey Rourke. His character is underdeveloped, if not poorly conceived. Where his role ought to be on par with The Crypt Keeper or the Mortician from Body Bags, he is more or less just Mickey Rourke (bare chested, leather jacketed and hair pieced). His presence is silly and his contribution to the film is misplaced.
This is an easy qualm to overlook because of the strength of content elsewhere. Garris and Co, have gotten nostalgic and created the type of movie they might remember fondly from their youth, albeit intensified. There is a classic quality about it and it is sure to resonate with genre fans of all creeds.
2018 | DIR. X | STARRING: TREVOR JACKSON, JASON MITCHELL, JENNIFER MORRISON, MICHAEL K WILLIAMS | REVIEW BY SHAUN CRAWFORD.
What separates the 2018 version is that it’s sheer and unbelievable excess of material, which counters everything the film is about thematically, and is actually the kind of stuff they should be showing film students around the world in classes titled ‘When Nothing About Your Story Makes Sense’.
Trevor Jackson stars as Youngblood Priest (sporting the most ridiculous haircut committed to film in 2018) who is a black-belt jujutsu master, mansion-living, Maserati-driving, designer label-wearing owner of a second-hand furniture business who is also the head of one of the two biggest drug operations in Atlanta. He owes his success to his pragmatic approach to his narcotics business, that is to say he doesn’t take unnecessary risks and keeps his head down and off the radar.
While he drives a Maserati.
And lives in his mansion.
And wears all the high-end designer labels.
And attends all the VIP clubs.
And rubs shoulders with societies movers-and-shakers.
Yeah, just ask the IRS. The second hand furniture business is booming in Atlanta. But trouble starts brewing when a rival faction, The Snow Patrol (a crew that only wears customised black & white threads, drives customised black & white vehicles, sports firearms that are customised to be black & white, again... masters of the low profile), try to muscle in on Youngblood’s business. With this new pressure from the streets Priest decides to retire (the films lead actor, Jackson, himself is a mere 22yrs old...how old can Priest be? Not so old he can retire, surely?) after cutting out his source and mentor Scatter (the ever reliable Michael Kenneth Williams) and going straight to the bosses boss and kingpin, Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales).
From here Priest’s life spirals into chaos with shootings, corrupt FBI agents, tense meetings, subterfuge and bullshit. For a crew that like to stay on the down-low, Priest and his cohorts - and his enemies - light up Atlanta’s streets in a fury of violence and tension and it all goes against the crews ethos of keeping a low profile.
The excesses of the film are either deliberately designed to be playing it for shucks with everyone’s tongues firmly in their cheeks, or they’re presenting a limitless, glamourised hood-livin' lifestyle and no matter which way you look at it the case is presented with such ambiguity the viewer is left to wrestle with the idea that the film is either smarter than them or so inept that we’re left looking for a moral tale that just isn’t there.
In the end the $15-million SUPERFLY’s biggest transgression isn’t that it’s a laughably mundane rote story, nor that its glitzy fantasy excesses are contrary to the (what little) heart of the film, nor even the fact it objectifies every woman it casts and puts in front of the lens. The biggest mistake SUPERFLY makes is that it’s boring... And that’s saying something.
2018 | DIR: DAVID YATES | STARRING: EDDIE REDMAYNE, JUDE LAW, JOHNNY DEPP, ZOE KRAVITZ, CARMEN EJOGO | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
I’d describe myself as a moderate Harry Potter fan, having grown up in the right decade to see/read everything and retain most details. From that perspective, I appreciate the sheer volume of content this team has produced relatively quickly, but on the other hand, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is the first time they’ve shown signs of fatigue.
While there are glimpses of what granted the previous titles their profound cultural impact, these are largely overwhelmed by a sense of going through the motions that I’d never quite experienced before. Perhaps the greatest advantage of making sequels is the ability to attract bigger stars through a history of success. The Harry Potter cast became increasingly star-studded over time, and similarly, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD somehow manages to feature both Jude Law and Johnny Depp in supporting roles. These new additions are standouts and instantly prove why they’re household names; Law’s Albus Dumbledore is hardly naïve, but radiates a warmth and compassion recalling Rowling’s original vision of the character perfectly. Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Depp’s casting aside, his turn as the eponymous villain is probably his best performance in a decade.
Grindelwald couldn’t be further from the tic-riddled eccentrics Depp has played (almost) to the point of self-parody. Rather, his unnerving appearance transforms one of the most recognisable actors of this generation into a striking, powerful orator you genuinely believe would attract disciples. Indeed, any viewer wanting proof of just how good Depp is need look no further than Eddie Redmayne, whose Newt Scamander has been reduced to twitches and social awkwardness. Despite being pleasantly surprised by Redmayne in the first Fantastic Beasts film, here I found him distracting and off-putting to the level that it’s bizarre to recall he won an Oscar for Best Actor only three years ago.
However, in my opinion, the regression of Newt’s character is merely a symptom of the franchise fatigue I mentioned earlier. Rowling has already announced that the Fantastic Beasts series will span five films, with the huge amount of groundwork to be laid clearly diminishing the time allotted to ensure THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD could stand on its own. For instance, the script is often overly reliant on Harry Potter references (some of which will definitely alienate unfamiliar viewers), yet at times seems oblivious to the established canon; seriously, the ending is sure to piss off longtime fans. Likewise, it’s easy to take the editing and gorgeous visual effects for granted until they suddenly take a turn for the worse in the final scenes: a climactic sequence in which Parisis saved from Grindelwald’s dark magic is certainly colourful, but far too difficult to follow.
Overall, the film feels paradoxically rushed yet overstuffed, a mere obligation for those involved before they can move on to the next chapter. I can’t think of any groups as fickle as franchise fans. Rather than the miscalculated efforts of any one person, I suspect that THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD ultimately feels disappointing due to a collective desire to please audiences in the broadest possible sense; honestly, as a CGI-heavy blockbuster, it seems destined to at least be embraced at the box office. Yet while its predecessor was a momentous return to a beloved fantasy world, it’s hard to imagine anyone looking back on this film fondly by the time an inevitable sequel is released.
2018 | DIR. S CRAIG ZAHLER | STARRING: MEL GIBSON, VINCE VAUGHN, TORY KITTLES | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
His latest offering is DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE, a sprawling buddy cop film starring Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn. It is a jarring film, which showcases Zahler's knack for ultra violence, while yielding to a wider demographic, and despite it reaching a new audience, I suspect that it will also test their patience. With two highly regarded films under his belt Zahler seems to have been given more freedoms this time around, and perhaps this is why DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE struggles to live up to the hype and over stays its welcome.
The film hits the ground running with a fantastic opening sequence featuring Gibson and Vaughn in action who are introduced when crossing the line during an arrest. They are good cops who subscribe to outdated policing and when they overstep the line by getting heavy-handed with their perpetrator, and they find themselves suspended for six weeks when footage of the incident was leaked to the media. Desperately needing the money for his family Gibson's character hatches a scheme to steal money from some bad guys. He convinces his partner to help and it isn't long before they've gotten themselves in too deep having crossed the point of no return.
The synopsis reads well and narratively speaking it's a good plot. But the problem with DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is its pacing and mismanaged humour. Gibson and Vaughn are perfectly cast and they play off each other really well, and their own real-life ordeals in Hollywood make them the exact type of badasses that the movie needs. The first act even references their notoriety when their chief (Don Johnson) comments on Hollywood's need for a villain... (trust me, it's contextual). But from the moment these guys are suspended from duty, the film drops a gear and applies the breaks. What ensues is a long-winded series of dialogue-driven stakeouts, idle banter and a whole lot of nothing. I won't reveal the nature of the story's final act, only to say that we would have reached this destination a lot sooner, and more effectively, had they cut an entire hour from the running time. 160-minutes is simply too long for a movie of this nature. Sure, Michael Mann did it in Heat, but he also had the experience to pull it off. And Tarantino had no issue with the same duration in Pulp Fiction, but that's because he loaded every scene to the max. Unfortunately Zahler squandered his time-frame and sacrificed attention-spans in doing so.
The cast is excellent and Gibson and Vaughn deliver strong performances. Their rapport is natural and their relationship off-screen shines through. Gibson had previously directed Vaughn in Hacksaw Ridge, and with both men subscribing to similar politics and world views, their on-screen dynamic was bound to be fluent. Gibson's ongoing comeback in Hollywood is a welcome return and with each prominent role he accumulates, those past sins feel absolved. With his character here being of a different era, he finds the perfect note to plant his tongue firmly in his cheek by adopting the very attitudes that got him in trouble in real life. His makes for an honest and humble turn. Their supporting cast includes Don Johnson and Jennifer Carpenter, whose roles are relegated to featured-cameos. Others on board are Tory Kittles, Laurie Holden and Thomas Kretschmann. All give measured and reliable performances which add to the integrity of the film's aesthetic.
It is so frustrating that when reflecting upon this film there are so many positives to acknowledge. Isolated scenes and various tropes of the genre elevate its potential, but when none of these things align cohesively it's difficult to receive the film favourably. My hope is that it will benefit from repeat viewings, and I have no doubt that it will translate better as home-entertainment. The intention is obvious and admirable, but the execution is spasmodic and unfortunate. More restrain was needed but never given, and if ever there were a film begging for a shorter director's cut... it's this one. Anchovies!
2018 | DIR: JON TURTELTAUB | STARRING: JASON STATHAM, RUBY ROSE, CLIFF CURTIS, RAINN WILSON | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
A private deep-sea research facility discovers a subterranean chamber beneath the Mariana Trench (the deepest known point of the ocean) and when they break through the thermocline (geek speak for a thermal layer of dramatic temperature change) they release a prehistoric shark upon the world; Megalodon.. duh! This of course gives us a flimsy plot whereby a tough-as-nails rescue diver (Jason Statham) must jump in and save the day. True to convention his ex-wife also happens to be part of the research team, as well as a billionaire investor (Rainn Wilson), a punk computer geek (Ruby Rose) and their captain (Cliff Curtis). There are other characters too, but I've forgotten them already.
With lots of chasing and chomping the movie defies all logic and maintains a rapid-fire barrage of action. And if you're like me you will greet each preposterous encounter with a belly laugh and some kind of “as if” response. Whether you facepalm the constant dopiness of the characters, spit your coffee whenever the megaladon circles back or sit in disbelief at the awful set design... it soon becomes apparent that you're actually enjoying the ridicule. In fact if you were to play a drinking game while watching the movie, taking a shot for every time they yelled “there it is!” you would be maggoted before the half-way mark.
My reviews generally leave a paragraph to acknowledge the cast and their performances, but there is nothing here to critique... I mean, well... there IS, but it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. There are no good performances here. There aren't even any mediocre ones. They're all bad.
The production of THE MEG has been a notoriously troubled odyssey in Hollywood with studios tussling to get it made. At one point director Jan de Bont (Speed) was attached, as well as Guillermo del Toro and Eli Roth. In the end the job went to Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure 1 & 2) who is quite a reliable filmmaker, although his body of work - which also includes The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Instinct and Phenomenon – hardly indicates that this is the right material for him to pursue. He was the wrong guy from the get-go and in adapting the popular 1997 novel by Steve Alten he has added bologna to what was already a hammy story.
There is nothing good about THE MEG and it would be disingenuous for me to recommend it, and I would sooner steer you towards the Asylum's Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus and its sequels. But what I can say is that sometimes we need to remember what cinema is all about... escapism, and if you're looking for reality then watch Shark Week instead. Think of THE MEG as a big budget creature feature B-movie... Invite your friends over, grab a pizza and drink lots of booze. You have permission to talk over this movie... trust me, it will make it worthwhile.
2018 | DIR: JAMES OAKLEY | STARRING UMA THURMAN, TIM ROTH, ALICE EVE, SOFIA VERGARA, MAGGIE Q, PARKER POSEY, STEPHEN FRY, CRISPIN GLOVER | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Although married con artists Harriet and Peter (Thurman and Roth) are undeniably at THE CON IS ON’s centre, I can’t overstate how impressive the entire ensemble is. The mix of household names and cinephiles’ favourites is inspired and works better than I first imagined, leading to absurd plot threads like a love triangle between Sofia Vergara, Alice Eve and Crispin Glover. Indeed, this trio manage to breathe life into the tired trope of fictional celebrities being air-headed and vain; for instance, the self-importance given to each variation on the line “I’m making a film!” becomes laugh-out-loud funny.
Even when the jokes played out as expected, such as an extended ‘dog whisperer’ gag, they stuck the landing surprisingly well. Interestingly though, it is Harry and Peter who ultimately exude the most effortless swagger. As a result, watching them constantly deceive only to get away with it at every turn feels less like lazy writing, and more like the assuredness of old pros. Finally, it would be remiss of me to discuss the cast without mentioning how brilliant Stephen Fry is, here seeming to delight in playing a winking devil and featuring more prominently than I’d anticipated (to say any more about his role would verge on spoilers).
However, the setup bringing these characters together is nowhere near as compelling as their chemistry. Most egregiously, the writers favour alluding to Harry and Peter’s pasts rather than showing the viewer what transpired. Similarly, the film’s few flashback sequences are unfortunately vague, with Maggie Q’s mob boss/antagonist Irina consequently suffering from a severe lack of characterisation. Regardless of how many times I was told Irina has been central to many of the leads’ exploits, she never came across as more than a caricature (Q, it must be said, does her best with the limited material). Meanwhile, Harry and Peter’s planned heist also goes fundamentally unchanged throughout, compounding the absence of any stakes. Oakley ostensibly intends for the film’s suspense to come from wondering when the duo will succeed rather than if they will at all, but is unable to pull off this twist on genre conventions.
Don’t let its awkward title fool you: THE CON IS ON is a largely enjoyable crime comedy in the vein of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, albeit on a smaller scale. Overall, it seems unlikely that the film will be remembered as either a climax or nadir in the filmography of anyone involved. Yet despite the stakes never truly feeling as life-and-death as the characters claim, the cast’s sheer charisma will allow most viewers to simply sit back and be entertained.
2018 | DIR. JOEL & ETHAN COEN | STARRING TIM BLAKE NELSON, LIAM NEESON, JAMES FRANCO, TOM WAITS, ZOE KAZEN, BRENDAN GLEESON | RUNNING TIME: 133-MINUTES
And yet thank God for services like Netflix, which have given independent filmmakers and auteurs a platform to flex their artistic muscle. With the large multiplex cinemas being overrun by big-budget dreck there's little room for the little guys. Without the colossal marketing budgets of the major studios there's zero interest from exhibitors in giving screen time to unconventional filmmakers, and those big movie-houses that were once considered a place of cinematic worship are now mega factories of rubbish.
Which brings me to THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, a new anthology film from Joel and Ethan Coen, which does for the western genre what Creepshow did for horror. Comprised of six unrelated stories the film presents itself as a storybook, and with the turn of its pages we are treated to all new chapters, each recounting entertaining and unusual chronicles.
The first story is the titular The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, starring Timothy Blake Nelson as an intrepid outlaw. True to form the Coens set the tone of their film with this hugely entertaining narrative, as told through the words of Buster Scruggs himself. With a guitar in hand he sings his way across the west, shooting whosoever dares question his integrity. It is a whimsical and graphically violent slice of genre, which not only represents the Coen aesthetic but also forewarns the viewer of a highly unconventional journey ahead.
From here we are given five more stories to varying effect, but all depicting alternative tropes of the western genre. James Franco stars as an unlucky bank robber who finds himself at the gallows more than once in Near Algodones. Liam Neeson is an aged impresario in search of a new act in Meal Ticket. Tom Waits is an ol' timer prospector on the cusp of striking gold in All Gold Canyon. Zoe Kazan is a female traveler with an uncertain future in The Gal Who Got Rattled, and Brendan Gleeson is one of two reapers amongst three other passengers travelling in a stagecoach at night in The Mortal Remains.
Adding to the huge ensemble is Stephen Root, Clancy Brown, Harry Melling, Tyne Daly, Jonjo O'Neill and Chelcie Ross amongst many others. They contribute to a massive cast, fit for an audacious and unsuspecting western adventure such as this.
The Coens are no strangers to the genre, having previously directed No Country For Old Men and True Grit. Other films of their such as Fargo, Raising Arizona and The Man With No Name have also transferred many tropes of the western genre into contemporary settings, as have – come to think of it – so many of their titles. And now with THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS there comes a sense of finality. It could be that by combining six different interpretations of the western they have fulfilled their desire to explore the genre. The mashing of styles not only makes for an audacious and captivating experience but also feels like the closing of a door. Who knows? We'll see.
The only notable disappointment of their latest film is the absence of a theatrical presentation. And with Netflix's stringent production requirements there is also a new sterile quality to their image. However, with a new platform to present their work on they have been granted the freedom to be as outrageous and subversive as they please. This is the beauty of streaming services, where originality and audaciousness is embraced. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS is certainly a bold and fearless piece of filmmaking and whether or not it has enticed the Coen Brothers enough to commit another film to it, remains to be seen. I imagine that they will use Netflix for their more experimental endeavours, reserving their malleable, less eccentric features for theatrical release.
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (… and other tales of the American frontier) is a wonderful collection of quirky campfire tales, told with confidence and performed with authority. It has the Coen stamp all over it and serves as a nostalgic celebration of the classic storytelling, reminiscing those times of old when Cowboys & Indians were the stuff of legend, free from retrospective political correctness. They have delivered an absolute winner and hopefully the first of more Netflix-driven instalments.
2018 | DIRECTORS: YARROW CHENEY & SCOTT MOSIER | STARRING: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, RASHIDA JONES, ANGELA LANSBURY, KENAN THOMPSON, PHARRELL WILLIAMS.
So naturally my response has been the classic “wait and see” approach. Who am I to join the chorus when I haven't heard the song? I would agree that the previous film starring Jim Carrey is a bonafide classic. It is one of a few holiday movies that endures and enjoys repeat viewings every year. But that adaptation also took many liberties to reach a feature-length running time. Subplots and characters were created to enhance the narrative, and so it is logical to assume that the latest incarnation would be different, with its own charms and delights.
I regret to admit that the detractors were right. The latest retelling of The Grinch is an underwhelming and lacklustre reflection of Howard's entry, adding very little to the legacy of Seuss's creation. What can I say? Sometimes the optimist loses.
The film was produced by Illumination, the animation studio behind Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets and Sing. I am not a fan of their style of animation, however I did find their previous Seuss adaptation – The Lorax - to be somewhat charming. Therefore I kept that title in mind when anticipating The Grinch, with hopes of something as equally likeable. Given that the world of the Whos was well established by Dr Seuss in his original illustrated story and makes for a strong foundation, it should be noted that he also left plenty of ambiguity and room for elaboration. One would think that an animation studio of their calibre would build upon it with something aesthetically rich and engaging, but instead they have chosen to – more or less – recreate Ron Howard's design, even using his film's comedic muscle to levitate its own laborious script.
The set pieces are basically the same, with the hillside township baring a striking resemblance. The streets and shopfronts, as well as the shape of the surrounding mountainous landscape are all too familiar, with one notable point of difference being the characters themselves, whose features are less exaggerated and more human. The other worthy point of difference is its use of backstory. Just as the previous film created new subplots to elaborate on the Grinch's reason for being miserable, the new film does the same, with a more sentimental angle. Carrey's character suffered at the hands of bullies, as well as having his heart broken, whereas Cumberbatch's Grinch grew up an orphan without any family or friends. It's a welcome moment of sincerity amongst the otherwise routine delivery.
Benedict Cumberbatch assumes the title role and offers a suitable, albeit more subdued, rendition. For this depiction of Mr Grinch they have chosen subtly over exuberance and it's difficult to ignore comparisons to Carrey's take on the character. Cumberbatch's interpretation is fine and does compliment the overall story. Other notable cast members include Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury and Pharrell Williams who simply offer their voices without much gusto. Perhaps Thompson's performance as the Grinch's ever-cheerful, Christmas-loving neighbour is the standout. His moments are endearing and go a long way in embodying the overall holiday sentiment.
And so, sure, a few scattered moments of pleasure help to pass the time, and were it not for the fantastic soundtrack The Grinch would certainly be a forgettable movie-going experience. Legendary composer Danny Elfman brings his unique stamp to the project, although he never stood a chance of reaching the dizzying heights of his other iconic Christmas masterpiece, the Grinch-inspired The Nightmare Before Christmas. He brings an assortment of cheeky tricks to the film, including the unexpected, and entirely welcome, addition of hip-hop music. Rap artist Tyler The Creator recorded 6 original tracks for the film, and Run DMC's 1992 song Christmas Is is also featured with delight. Other musical artists featured include Jackie Wilson, The Brian Seltzer Orchestra and Nat King Cole. It is – to say the least – an ambitious marriage of new and old, making for an absolutely stunning Christmas soundtrack. One particular highlight for me was a rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Pentatonix, which contributes to one fun movie's funniest moments.
It is understandable that generations come and go, and that movies over 10-years old are considered to be "old" to younger viewers. And had Ron Howard's movie dated poorly a new adaptation would have been perfectly acceptable. But like the classics of old (such as The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and Home Alone) his film has not aged one bit. It is a bold and deliciously textured fantasy full of festive wonderment. It holds up remarkably well and despite it being 18 years old (my God) it looks as though it were made yesterday. In my estimation THAT is the definitive Grinch movie, and the mark of Illumination's latest attempt will fade away long before Howard and Carrey's ever will.
2018 | DIR. ANDREW HAIGH | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
RUNNING TIME: 121 MINUTES.
I feel that this is a story worth seeing without too much pretext, as it weaves a wonderful tale from an oblivious point of view. Charley and Pete's travels pit them against all kinds of adversities, including a merciless horse trainer, starvation and dubious strangers, and along the way we are treated to a powerhouse performance by Charlie Plummer (All The Money In The World).
Director Andrew Haigh (45 Years) has crafted a powerful cinematic odyssey, which prides itself on being modest and unsuspecting. With no frills and a low budget he lets the humanity speak for itself by way of a phenomenal screenplay – adapted from a novel by Willy Vlautin – and an ensemble of exceptional performances. Plummer occupies the entire 121-minutes of screen time delivering a stellar turn as the boy whose determination and resilience defy all odds. His humble and earnest performance is richly textured and reveals a kaleidoscope temperaments and strengths. His ability to guide his character from boyhood to manhood while never letting go of the child is a thing to behold and it would be outrageous should he be overlooked for an Oscar nomination.
His supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi as the corrupt horse trainer who takes Charley under his wing, Chloe Sevigny as the jokey whose intentions are ambiguous and Steve Zahn as an alcoholic vagrant. They are all so great, giving the calibre of performances that are equally deserving of accolades. Other players include Travis Fimmel, Alison Elliot and Lewis Pullman (son of Bill).
As I sat in the darkened cinema watching Charley's story unfold, I was overwhelmed by its emotional power. Coming-of-age films are often sentimental and heart-wrenching – to be sure – but few are as unflinching, confronting and raw as this. The narrative arch does subscribe to the familiar episodic structure of road movies, and characters come and go as expected... but how they inform the story and the nature of their intentions is surprisingly relentless. I will say no more, only that this film deserves your attention... preferably on the big screen. And final act? So beautiful... so so moving. Ok ok... enough already, I know. Just see it.
2018 | DIR. BRYAN SINGER & DEXTER FLETCHER | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
1985 | DIR. GEOFF MURPHY | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Following the success of his breakthrough film Goodbye Pork Pie (‘81) and his indigenous revenge thriller Utu (‘83), he went on to make The Quiet Earth, a high-concept science fiction drama made with minimalistic artistry. Based on a novel which was itself inspired by the likes of The Omega Man (aka I Am Legend) and Dawn of the Dead, the film chronicles the aftermath of “The Effect”, a mysterious apocalyptic event that rendered the Earth uninhabited.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL REVIEW AT SCREEN REALM.