2018 | DIR: PETER RAMSEY, RODNEY PERSICHETTI, RODNEY ROTHMAN | STARS: SHAMEIK MOORE, JAKE JOHNSON, NICOLAS CAGE | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Until now, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has been my favourite example of how to represent comics on film: snappy editing coupled with an abundance of colour, and small, satisfying visual touches like occasional text boxes. However, the use of animation allows SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE to employ these same techniques with a greater degree of freedom, even expanding on features that its live-action counterparts simply can’t. For instance, where a cinematographer may need several lighting rigs to emphasise different shades and textures, the animators instead cleverly mimic the panelled layout and screen-tone technique made famous in hand-drawn cartoons; it’ll sound cliché, but the images spring to life. Despite experimenting with multiple visual styles, it never feels like too much thanks to a strong sense of identity, which even allow its climactic action sequences to take a somewhat abstract approach that’s instantly memorable. With all due respect to The Incredibles 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp, this is the best looking superhero film of the year.
Meanwhile, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE’s structure makes shrewd use of its source material to subvert conventions of the superhero genre such as tedious origin stories, which I’m sure viewers who are up to date with previous Spider-Man films will appreciate. In fact, the overall message that “anyone can be Spider-Man” feels like a sly dig at the multiple big budget incarnations of the hero from the past two decades. There are more than half a dozen ‘Spider-people’ featured here, yet their introductions only last two to three minutes each, apart from protagonist Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Before Miles is thrust into the spider-verse, as it were, his biggest worries are starting a new school and finding his identity, the latter being exacerbated once he gains his powers. Due to some interdimensional villainy too complex to explain, Miles finds his mentors in the Spider-people mentioned above, primarily a cynical and past his prime Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). However, this doesn’t revert the film to an extended training montage, as Miles is forced to learn the ropes while the others attempt to thwart Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). Each hero is given their moment to shine and has potential for a spinoff, although the highlight for me was the hilarious, Looney Tune-esque Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Perhaps the one downside of so many heroes is the film’s occasional habit of overstating its more emotional points, though thankfully its tight pace ensures these moments aren’t dwelled on.
Ultimately, anyone wondering why we need another comic book adaptation in 2018, or another Spider-Man film in general, need look no further. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE’s bold approach to a familiar character pays off brilliantly, raising the bar for the superhero genre by pushing the boundaries for what an adaptation can be. The bright colours and unapologetic amount of heart make this a perfect blockbuster for kids and adults alike, and I’m already keen to watch it again.
2018 | DIR: BOOTS RILEY | STARRING: LAKEITH STANFIELD, TESSA THOMPSON, ARMIE HAMMER, DANNY GLOVER | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Plenty of films with a ‘message’ come across as melodramatic or pretentious, yet Riley’s script subverts this by smartly developing its argument over time. In fact, its first act is largely devoted to simply letting the audience warm to Cash, which feels effortless when combined with Stanfield’s performance. Although longtime Atlanta viewers will already know just how talented Stanfield is, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is his best showcase yet: the universal nature of Cash’s early worries (getting a job, leaving a legacy) allows Stanfield’s sheer charisma to shine through, rendering him immensely likeable even when lying in a job interview or dodging his uncle’s requests for overdue rent. Eventually, Cash settles into a low-level telemarketing position at RegalView, where Riley slowly reveals his searing socioeconomic criticism.
At the same time a co-worker proposes RegalView workers unionise to fight their poor conditions, Cash discovers he’s a talented salesman and begins to climb the ranks. His former peers subsequently accuse him of selling out, and if you thought that phrase already had negative connotations, Riley makes the consequences seem even worse here. I can’t say much more without spoiling most of the film, but it does involve an enigmatic corporation promising food and housing to workers who sign “lifetime labour contracts”; don’t worry, the CEO swears it’s different to
Meanwhile, Riley and Stanfield are surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, several of whom are impressively quick to grasp the film’s humour despite their few prior comedic roles. Thor: Ragnarok and The Lone Ranger are undeniably funny at times, yet I can’t recall Tessa Thompson or Armie Hammer ever having had to balance surrealism and deadpan wit like they do here. Similarly, Steven Yeun’s performance pleasantly surprised me, with the Walking Dead alum exuding an unexpected charm and pitch-perfect sense of timing that even matches Stanfield. Yet perhaps the most ingenious casting choice is David Cross as Cash’s “white voice”, that is, the persona he adopts to make sales. Despite Cross’ scenes amounting to merely dubbing Stanfield’s lines, the veteran comedian seems to revel in this bold self-parody and ensures it never feels like a glorified cameo. Speaking of cameos though, there are some other big names to listen out for, particularly as the film begins to unveil a bizarre sci-fi twist (check the producer credits if you’re lost). My above praise for the cast aside, Boots Riley deserves the most recognition for crafting such a singular, instantly memorable debut. As the most compelling examination of capitalism since The Big Short, as well as the year’s most unique comedy, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is undeniably a highlight of 2018 in film.
2018 | DIR: STEVE MCQUEEN | STARS: VIOLA DAVIS, MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ, COLLIN FARRELL, LIAM NEESON | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Of course, it helps that WIDOWS boasts a phenomenal cast and crew: Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame) cowrote the script with McQueen, while Viola Davis shines as Veronica Rawlings, defacto leader of the titular group. It can be tempting to simply assume sight unseen that Davis will nail any role she’s given, but her reputation is earned from WIDOWS’ first moments. The film opens with a juxtaposition of four criminals’ personal and professional lives, a compelling sequence which culminates in Veronica’s reaction upon learning the crew, including her husband (Liam Neeson), are all presumed dead. Without giving too much away, Davis’ visceral performance in this scene alone is utterly mesmerising. However, WIDOWS is far from a one-woman show; rather, its ensemble feels like a casting director’s dream come true, with each actor given an appropriate showcase. Seriously, you know a film is bursting at the seams with talent when Jacki Weaver and Robert Duvall each have around five minutes of total screen time (although they make the most of these brief appearances, as you’d expect). My personal highlight was Daniel Kaluuya’s turn as the vicious mobster Jatemme, which further proves his breakout role in Get Out was no fluke.
McQueen and Flynn pack WIDOWS’ script with an incredible amount of ideas and largely succeed at balancing these with the tonal demands of an action-thriller. Unsurprisingly, the film has plenty to say about both race and gender, keeping these topics at its forefront throughout; look out for a flashback involving Veronica’s teenage son and prepare to be devastated. Yet as the title should suggest, this is emphatically a film about grief. Veronica, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice’s (Elizabeth Debicki) overwhelming sense of loss extends even to WIDOWS’ technical aspects: shots of them alone are composed with the women off-centre to draw attention to their missing ‘halves’, with McQueen and editor Joe Walker allowing these moments to linger slightly longer than I expected. Some viewers might be disappointed that the actual heist doesn’t occur until the third act, but McQueen’s mastery of suspense makes sure this brilliantly-paced sequence pays off. In fact, I would argue the stakes feel especially high here because of how much time is dedicated to ensuring the widows’ emotions are portrayed honestly. Having characters move between story beats without so much as a pause is basically an action genre trope at this point, which makes WIDOWS feel particularly refreshing in comparison.
I’m sure WIDOWS’ genre-defying approach won’t please everyone; honestly, McQueen’s unusual choice to wait until the final 40-minutes to showcase its thrills leads to the film feeling a little slow at times. However, not only is the action worth the wait, there’s plenty of captivating drama to be found beforehand. Although these elements don’t combine as well as McQueen perhaps intended, it’s incredible that a single film delivers them both so well.
2018 | DIR: CHRISTIAN RIVERS | STARRING: HERA HIMAR, ROBERT SHEEHAN, HUGO WEAVING | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
It has been adapted from a series of award-winning books, of which there are nine, and while the story might have leaped off the page and gripped its readers, it translates terribly to film and makes for a cringe-worthy and embarrassing reproduction.
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2018 | DIR. JULIAN SCHNABEL | STARRING: WILLEM DAFOE, OSCAR ISAAC, MADS MIKKELSEN, VINCENT PEREZ | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
So you can imagine my relief when At Eternity's Gate turned out to be a thoroughly engaging and surprisingly entertaining film. It is not like the typical artist bio-pics that grind my gears, but rather it is a unique and fascinating examination of an icon, whose legacy is insurmountable.
The film stars Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gough, and it follows the later years of his life and chronicles his creative processes as well as his insecurities, connection to nature and failing mental health. The story begins with an exhibition of his being rejected by a publican. When his work is deemed to be puerile and inane van Gogh seeks guidance by a fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) whose own modernist work influenced the French avant-garde. While they subscribe to different methods and ideals they both adhere to non-conformity and influence each others vision. On advice from Gauguin, van Gough heads to the south of France and immerses himself in nature.
From there the film documents his thinking process (or lack thereof) and follows him as he encounters criticism and personal attacks from those who misunderstand him. Director Julian Schnabel comes full circle from his 1996 debut Basquiat (a biographical film about the post-modernist artist) and takes an experimental approach to telling his story. A variety of techniques are employed to represent various moments and mental states of van Gough's journey; from random monologue musings over a black screen, to shaky hand-held point-of-view camera angles and surreal horizontal multifocal split-screen. It is a strange and wonderful method of storytelling, which examines the various stages on his work, and remains humble without being heavy-handed or pretentious.
Dafoe is outstanding (as always) and offers one of his most delicate and emotionally fractured performances to date. He bares a striking resemblance to his real-life counterpart and connects to van Gough's fragile state of mind as earnestly as history describes it to be. The film is by no means an accurate historical account (it's more of a romanticised vision of his life) but it successfully dispels the myth that he was a raving madman. Instead is treats his mental illness with sincerity and compassion, depicting him as a sympathetic and passionate man. His ever-loyal brother – who was also an art-dealer – is also portrayed beautifully with Rupert Friend adding further weight to the story. In addition to Osaac and Friend the supporting cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Vincent Perez and Matthieu Amelric, who are all good. Mikkelsen's role as a priest tasked with evaluating van Gough in the mental institution provides one of the films highlights and offers the one of its most lighthearted, yet telling, qualities.
At Eternity's Gate will test many people's patience with its slow plodding and meandering exposition, but for those who enjoy skewed structures and obtuse techniques it will stir the imagination and inspire creative streaks within. It is a richly textured exploration of a renegade whose worth was never appreciated at the time, but who would become one of the most celebrated and influential figures in the history of Western art.
At Eternity's Gate will be released theatrically in Australian on 14/02/2019.
2018 | DIR: PHIL JOHNSON & RICH MOORE | STARRING: JOHN C REILLY, SARAH SILVERMAN, GAL GARDOT | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
I will begin my review of Ralph Breaks the Internet with a glaring observation of the title and the missed opportunity to call it Ralph Wrecks the Internet… after all Ralph is a wrecker, not a breaker. But… so be it. 6 years after the original movie Ralph (John C. Reilly) is back, along with his best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and a slew of characters, new and old. When the owner of the ‘Litwak’s Family Fun Centre & Arcade’ installs Wi-Fi the characters inside the games are perplexed by its strange and seemingly irrelevant existence, however when Vanellope’s game is damaged and put up for sale, Ralph decides to venture into the Internet to visit eBay to purchase the missing piece that will restore the game and save the characters within it. Vanellope travels alongside him and discovers a new and exciting game called Slaughter Race.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT SCREEN REALM.
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.