2019 | DIR: MICHAEL BEACH NICHOLS | STARRING: WRINKLES THE CLOWN, DB LAMBERT | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Wrinkles The Clown arrived in 2015 thanks to a YouTube video, which went viral and scared the living shit out of millions of people. Recorded on a nanny-cam the video showed Wrinkles appear from beneath a sleeping girl's bed, leering over her and eventually disabling the camera. It was an 80-second video that spawned an Urban Legend, not unlike Slender Man, and within months more videos appeared online. Wrinkles was spotted glaring through bedroom windows, hiding in back yards and scrounging through trash at night. His image was terrifying and no sooner had his presence stirred up panic amongst the community, his image suddenly appeared on stickers all over the state of Florida alongside a cell-phone number.
An anonymous Facebook page also appeared where countless sightings were uploaded, and before long his legend was terrorising susceptible minds. Much like the curse of Bloody Mary or the likes of Candyman, Wrinkles The Clown became a game of chance for kids. To dial his phone number would be to bring upon unimaginable horrors, and as so many reaction videos show, kids were being met with an unsettling voice recording offering services to whoever needs a good scare.
Yes, as it turned out Wrinkles The Clown was no more than a regular guy offering his service for “a few hundred bucks” per scare and the new documentary WRINKLES THE CLOWN explores his rising legend, dating it back to the start, and examining the psychology of his so-called 'performance'.
Running at 75-minutes the film is a simple enquiry of who Wrinkles is, why he's resonated so profoundly, and how his business impacts fragile minds. Featuring interviews with psychologists, victims and happy customers alike, director Michael Beach Nicholas follows the man behind the mask - keeping his identity concealed – and questions the ethical side to what he does. Children recount their sleepless nights and deep-seeded anxieties, showing the adverse affect of Wrinkle's work, while other parents explain using him as a means to disciplining their kids. The true detriment to his business is yet to be seen, but the one certainty is that folks are divided.
It must be stated that Wrinkles does not physically interfere with this targets. He never touches people or break any laws. He is simply a man-for-hire who arranges elaborate pranks for happy clients.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the documentary is the various revelations strategically placed throughout. Without revealing his identity the man behind the mask offers a fascinating insight into his method, providing raw footage of the many viral videos, proving that each and every victim was, indeed, in on the joke... or had at least acquired his service. It also details his own fears as copy-cat cases arise and a wide-spread “creepy clown” epidemic stirs up vulnerable communities.
WRINKLES THE CLOWN is a curious document that contextualises urban legends and online hysteria. It is told with a measured sense of frivolity and mirth, and delights in freaking out its audience with unexpected twists and turns. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns and those who suffer from it might want to steer well clear of this one, but I would encourage others to catch it.
The impoverished Kim family, led by patriarch Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), scrape by using free Wi-Fi from surrounding businesses and sharing a pitiful wage earned through folding pizza boxes. Shortly after the film opens, Ki-taek’s son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is recommended as an English tutor for the wealthy Park family by a friend. Having been too poor to study himself, he creates a fake resume and bluffs his way through the interview. Long story short, the Parks’ other staff soon find themselves unemployed, and replaced by the rest of the Kims under false names.
I can’t overstate just how cleverly Bong’s script balances its central critique of class disparity. Drastic action might be needed for the poor to raise themselves out of a dire situation, but the manipulative Kims take this concept to an absurd extreme. Similarly, the Parks’ success is shown to have made them impossibly naïve, as embodied by the ditzy matriarch Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) who never questions the rapid and unlikely turn of events. Crucially though, just when it seems like the rich might be too easy a target, Bong reminds us just how deep the socioeconomic divide between these families really is. For the Parks, a sudden rainstorm means having to come home early from a camping trip. Meanwhile, the Kims’ house floods and forces them to spend the night huddled in a packed gymnasium, clutching their few intact possessions.
Yet Bong is far from the only factor in this film’s success, with PARASITE serving as a true ensemble acting showcase. As mentioned above, Cho Yeo-jeong is a highlight and makes her fairly archetypal ‘rich housewife’ character consistently fun to watch. Cinephiles can also rest assured that the latest collaboration between Bong and Song Kang-ho (star of 2006’s The Host) lives up to expectations. Song’s offbeat presence effortlessly matches Bong’s penchant for tonal shifts: he alternates between slapstick, smarmy deception and outright mania better than almost any performer I can think of. However, I was most impressed by Park So-dam as Song’s onscreen daughter Kim Ki-jung. Park plays Ki-jung as the most enigmatic and least outwardly desperate member of her family and steals every scene she’s in, adapting to her lavish new surroundings eerily well. In fact, her icy exterior when enacting plans which, again, will get strangers fired, should be the first clue that PARASITE is more than it seems.
It’s perfectly understandable to fall in love with PARASITE following the breathtaking satire of its first hour. I know I did; there’s a montage involving food allergies used to mimic the symptoms of tuberculosis that will have any viewer in stitches. Nevertheless, the film retains and at times even embraces its sinister undertones, particularly in Jung Jae-il’s memorably creepy score. This culminates in what PARASITE is sure to be remembered for: a sudden genre change in the second half which Bong and the cast nail. I’m already worried about having said too much, but suffice it to say it’s claustrophobic, tense, and had me genuinely holding my hands in front of my mouth. I guarantee no one will be able to guess the gut punch of an ending too.
PARASITE is one of the most unique cinematic visions I’ve seen in years and represents a filmmaker, cast and crew at the top of their games. Its analysis of class warfare is not only insightful but wrapped in a compelling case study I can’t wait to experience all over again. Much like I did for my other 2019 favourite The Farewell, I urge anyone even remotely curious to seek this film out. You won’t forget it anytime soon.
On the surface of things, this is the story of a rivalry between two car manufacturers, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone). It’s a battle between two captains of industry, fought out on the circuit of the toughest endurance race in the world held over 24 hours at Le Mans in France. The rivalry begins when Ford’s offer to buy Ferrari, dreamt up by Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Berthal) is scuppered by a counter deal Ferrari makes with Fiat. In response to the insult, Ford vows to build a car to take away Ferrari’s Le Mans crown.
Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s a story of a firm but sometimes fraught friendship between former La Mans champion Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and hot-headed driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). It’s a finely written and masterfully executed relationship built on a combination of exasperation with each other tempered by respect and a belief in their abilities to build and drive a car that can do things everybody else thinks to be impossible.
Dig deeper still and this is really a story about Miles and his obsession with exploring the limits of what a man and machine in harmony can achieve. It is also his search for himself; to discover who the man behind the wheel really is – not just the driver, but the husband, the father and the son. Bale is outstanding as Miles. It’s a pitch-perfect performance that is inspiring and heart breaking in equal measure, but it’s also a performance that is elevated by the talent surrounding him. As his wife, Mollie, Catriona Balfe finds a rare place between her fears and frustrations and her belief that her husband must pursue this dream at all costs. More commonly in sporting films about the male obsession and drive to excel, it is the marriage that falls foul as collateral damage. Not so, here. They’re a team, and when Miles decides to give it all away and get a real job for the sake of his family, it’s Mollie who convinces him that he must persist. And it’s not just the marriage that gives him strength, it’s the family with a sweet performance by Noah Jupe as Peter, their son, who idolises his father but not to the exclusion of his mother. It’s a neat balancing act pulled off with humour and heart.
And then of course, there’s Damon who’s in fine form as the champion forced to retire by a heart condition who discovers a talent for designing race cars that comes from his instinct as a driver rather than from a commercial imperative. He walks a precarious line between the corporate world as embodied by both Ford and his Senior Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) and the world of his colleagues and friends including not just Miles, but second-in-command Phil Remington (a tender performance by Ray McKinnon). If there’s a false note in this film, it’s in Lucas’ performance as the arrogant and self-serving Beebe who continually rides roughshod over Shelby’s advice for his own and self-aggrandisement. It’s a less subtle performance than the rest of the cast, played with more villainy than is necessary to make the point. Letts, on the other hand, is terrific as the ‘old man’ who harkens back to the days of his grandfather Henry and is driven more by desire to get back at Ferrari than he is by a love for innovation. But he’s not without heart and the scene where Shelby takes him in their proto-type race car and changes his mind about things is, for me at least, one of the most memorable of the year.
So, what holds all this together and draws such exceptional performances in the telling of this story. Well, for a start the screenplay by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller is a cracker. Yes, they have a pretty exciting and dynamic real-life story to work from, but this is no museum piece or faux-doco-biopic. It’s well paced and underscored by deftly realised emotions that underpin every bit of action in the story. Then there’s the casting by Ronna Kress that pulls together an ensemble of great actors to bring that screenplay to life. But, of course, at the centre of all these elements is director James Mangold who does here for the car racing movie what he did for the superhero movie with Logan (2017); elevates the film above the surface of the story and the conventions of the genre into something that is more deeply embedded in the nature of human relationships, especially those under extraordinary pressure. That doesn’t mean that he ignores the nuts and bolts of the action on the racetrack. The driving sequences are edge-of-the-seat, heart pounding exhilaration shot like an action thriller car chase and made as real as possible by Bale’s ability to make us believe that it’s really him behind the wheel. Maybe the film goes a couple of scenes too long? There’s a lovely moment near the end with Shelby and Miles walking off together down the Le Mans racetrack like Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains beginning their beautiful friendship at the end of Casablanca (1942). But this film is based on a true story and there’s more to tell after that touching moment, even if it means that poignant moment together becomes a false ending. Nevertheless, for me, Ford v Ferrari is still one of the best films of the year and places James Mangold and Christian Bale as the ones to watch for whatever they do next. Who knows, it may even change my mind about car racing movies.
Alicia Vikander stars as Lucy, a Swedish-born translator who’s used her years in Japan to escape reminders of her troubled past. The film’s events are largely shown via flashbacks (more on that below), which adhere to a roughly chronological order but also quickly settle into well-worn story beats. First, Lucy meets and develops a relationship with Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), a talented photographer with an enigmatic reluctance to share the work he obsesses over.
Shortly afterwards, Lucy’s boss introduces her to Lily (Riley Keough), a recent expat struggling to settle in much like Lucy had once. Although the two women appear to have little in common, they begin spending more time together; Lily even becomes first of Lucy’s friends to meet Teiji. Before these extended flashback sequences start, I should add that we’re told Lily is missing and possibly dead in EARTHQUAKE BIRD’s opening minutes. In fact, Lucy is telling this story to detectives as part of an interrogation. I guarantee some readers will be able to guess the rest of the plot from here.
Although Vikander’s incredible turn in Ex Machina proved she doesn’t need much dialogue to shine, I found her role here underwritten. Lucy is too often relegated to jealous glares or thousand-yard stares, particularly once Westmoreland leans into the love triangle trope. In the brief scenes where her character begins to elaborate on the tragedy and abuse of her upbringing, Vikander is utterly devastating. Yet these moments occur past the film’s halfway point, resulting in an uphill battle to regain viewers’ attention. I will say though, Japanese is difficult to pick up as an additional language and Vikander did consistently impress me with her ostensible fluency even during lengthy monologues.
Kobayashi and Keough are also given very little to work with (the former is basically just a dick in most of his scenes), but I did at least think Lily’s thin characterisation works in the context of the film. After all, Lucy is reluctant to pursue a friendship and later sees Lily as a threat to her relationship. We’re clearly being shown a biased depiction, which Keough subtly affirms during moments of compassion like tending to Lucy’s injuries on a hike. Keough’s performance is my favourite of the core trio, primarily because she managed to create some actual subtext.
EARTHQUAKE BIRD is simultaneously one of those films where the setting itself is a character, with its reverence for Japanese culture flowing through every frame. Westmoreland sets most of the Tokyo scenes in traditional households and crowded restaurants, far away from the sprawling metropolis at the centre of Western portrayals of the city. This version of Japan feels lived-in, once again perfectly matching Lucy’s experience. Similarly, the leads’ trip to Sado Island is beautifully filmed on location; cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung becomes the MVP for these scenes, especially when Lucy storms off alone at sunset into a festival. Between the energy of the crowd and dimming natural light, it’s a stunning portrayal of her disorientation.
Nevertheless, I wish the same care had been shown in the rest of the adaptation process. I don’t detest every film which prominently uses flashbacks, but establishing the wrap-around premise only to abandon it for over an hour makes me wonder why it wasn’t structured differently. While it’s isn’t bad per se, it’s jarring to suddenly cut back to Lucy being interrogated. Speaking of Lucy, as the novel’s original narrator she suffers the most from Westmoreland’s rushed and lazy characterisations. This is highlighted by just how good EARTHQUAKE BIRD’s final scene is: without spoiling too much, Lucy and a friend discuss individual’s reactions to trauma and grief. Not only is it emotional, it’s genuinely insightful and thus maddening that I had to sit through the previous 90 minutes to see it. Consequently, my lasting impression of EARTHQUAKE BIRD has simply been to wonder what could’ve been.
Cole’s desire to do something to address the issue of bullying in schools and beyond is genuine and heartfelt and he has no shame in almost stalking a whole bunch of celebrities who might be able to help him on his journey (the gallery of selfies with these famous faces on his website is pretty extensive). In one case, he enlists the help of a photographer friend to pretend to be the paparazzi lying in wait for him outside an exclusive nightclub to try and give him enough celeb cred to get past security. In many cases, his genuine desire to do good seems to pay off. He convinces actor and musician Jeff Goldblum to play piano on the track and that seems to pave the way for an impressive line-up of other singers and musos to come on board; Julian Lennon, Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Steve Vai (Frank Zappa Band), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Billy Morrison (Billy Idol), Dave Stewart (The Eurythmics), singers Chantal Kreviazuk, Jim Cuddy, Sam Roberts and more. And while all this is going on in LA and New York, Cole is also spending time in England, trying to track down the illusive teenage bully Paul Blades so that he might confront him after all these years.
Splitting the focus between these two storylines works as much against the film as it does for it. With the bullying theme being the only connector, we often seem to switch to the Paul Blade story just as the recording story gets interesting and vice versa. The distraction of these narrative shifts doesn’t successfully find a way to let one serve the other and the diluted focus is exacerbated as the doco tries to extend its enquiry into much larger issues such as #Me Too, the Columbine Shootings, the incident of Lenore Skenazy (the so-called worst mother in the world who famously left her nine-year-old son alone on the subway to find his own way home) and even the Rwanda genocide, looking to makes links between these issues and the bullying issue at the heart of the doco. Rather than deepening the material, it ends up feeling like padding to a subject that doesn’t really have enough to sustain the 71 minute running time and ends up simply drawing us away from the main game.
Where the doco is at its most interesting is when Cole widens his search for musos and singers to include interviews with other celebrities on their own experiences of bullying. For the most part they’re the kinds of stories we’ve heard before, but there’s a genuine fascination when actors Sir Patrick Stewart and Michael Biehn shamefully admit to having been bullies themselves. There’s also a perverse fascination as Charlie Sheen describes the social media revenge he took on someone who bullied his daughter. Sadly, though, these moments are all too brief and the film spends much more time with school psychologist Israel ‘Izzy’ Kalman who’s using martial arts to teach kids to stand up to bullies, and whose interviews with Cole stray into what becomes a kind of public therapy session. And this is where the film is at its weakest. The English playwright Arnold Wesker once said that “...all art provides a degree of therapeutic benefit for the artist... (but) the trap is to not be seduced into thinking that what engaged us in reality is automatically engaging on the stage...” The same applies to the screen and for some of #No Joke it is more like we are witnesses rather than audience for this public record of Cole’s very personal journey.
As such, the film is stronger in its concept than in its realisation. It may well have been a more compelling 30 minute episode than a feature documentary but, this aside, those elements that do work are well worth our time, and the individual achievement of one man with a mission is to be applauded.
I side with many people when saying that Kubrick's film is a masterpiece. It is a horror unlike any other and it created one of the most haunting and overwhelming cinemascapes of all time. And yet King's destain for Kubrick's creative licence is understandable. The heart of his story was ripped out and oblivious moviegoers were none the wiser. King would later create a faithful adaptation with his well-received miniseries directed by Mick Garris.
The one Kubrick revision of the story that most affects the film adaptation of DOCTOR SLEEP is the finale. Kings version of The Shining ended with the majestic overlook hotel being destroyed in a big explosion, whereas Kubrick's hotel remained standing as Jack perished in the snow outside. Naturally King's sequel was without a hotel and the vacant land on which it stood plays a key role in the Doctor Sleep novel. Yet Mike Flanagan's new adaptation aligns itself with Kubrick's universe, and by placing the entire final act inside the Overlook and disregarding King's original intensions (shafted again) he offers a fan service to lovers of the original film and a kick in the guts to those who love the book. In simple terms; Stephen King's attempt to reclaim his story was pissed upon with more Kubrickism.
Ewan McGregor plays an adult Danny Torrence (the 5 year old trike-rider from the original story) whose experience at the Overlook hotel has lead to a life of alcoholism and depression. When he moves to a small town for a new start, he finds himself telepathically tuned-in with a young girl, Abra (Kyleigh Curran), who has also connected and seen visions of a murderous cult who feed upon the shine that emits from those with the shining. With the cult feeling their presence the merciless leader, Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), seizes the opportunity to feed upon Danny and Abra, whose shining is stronger than she has ever encountered. With the cult on their trail, Danny and Abra must use their abilities to hoodwink the band of killers and find a way to destroy them.
Fans of King's original themes will be thrilled to know that Flanagan has reinstated the concepts of alcoholism, however they will be disappointed to know that Danny's trauma is the product of ghouls and ghosts rather than abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father... one step forward and two steps back, right?
Nevertheless Flanagan's world of DOCTOR SLEEP is a tasty treat and the fan-service component of his film is wonderfully realised. He has recreated Kubrick's atmosphere with incredible attention to detail and even recasts the original characters to good effect. Yet as I was immersed in this clever reenactment, I was constantly reminding myself that the story isn't supposed to be this way. There is a clear clunkiness that comes from binding an original vision with an amended one, and the entire final act feels unhinged.
The first and second acts are much stronger with all emphasis placed on new concepts and a drastic tonal shift from the original story. The world that Danny occupies is urban and unfamiliar to the mountainous terrains of Colorado. The nomadic villains of the story are classic King characters, yet are impossible to imagine in Kubrick's universe. Baring a striking similarity to the tribe from Katherine Bigelow's Near Dark, these hungry creatures come from King's pages with a familiarity and comfort to fans who understand the depths of his united worlds. These are wonderful characters with Ferguson's sorceress-like leadership being a delicious addition to the story, yet with DOCTOR SLEEP's alignment with Kubrick, their place feels disingenuous and hokey (they deserve better).
The performances are all good, particularly Curran who makes her debut as Abra, as well as a chilling appearance from Jacob Tremblay (Room, Good Boys). McGregor makes for a believable Danny Torrance and taps into the inner-torment effectively. It is a shame, however, that he's never given the opportunity to tap into the drama to full effect, which highlights the other conundrum of the Kubrick/King compromise. Kubrick's film meandered and took its time, with the horror seeping onto the screen gradually. The drama was palpable and facilitated the horror, whereas DOCTOR SLEEP panders to the short attention spans of modern audiences and fears losing the viewer. At any given point where dramatic depth threatens to prevail, the focus is yanked towards the horror without any finessed context.
DOCTOR SLEEP is the film that was doomed from the get go. Had it built upon King's novel it would have confused a greater audience who know only Kubrick's vision. And that makes sense. It is an affectionate trip down memory lane and sacrifices substance for nostalgia. Whereas had it adhered to the books, it would have been a layered and compelling dramatic horror film which – in turn – wouldn't have connected with the greater audience. A classic Catch-22 situation.
See DOCTOR SLEEP for the performances and lap up the fan-service... you may as well, otherwise there isn't much point seeing the film at all.
BATS was made at a time when such films were proudly shown on a theatrical scale. It enjoyed a cheeky television marketing campaign and hit our screens with the promise of cheap thrills. With films like The Blob and Arachnophobia before it, the structure was familiar and the outcome was predictable, and eager moviegoers lapped that shit up like Kool-Aid. They say that once you have a winning formula you should stick to it, but Morneau got greedy and wanted more... and more... he could have kept the winged creatures at a distance, allowing their sheer volume to terrify, but he chose to put them in full framed close ups. His kills could have been gratuitously violent point-of-view shots, but he chose to put the bats at the centre of frame. Actually, to save you the time I will just state that he could have done a lot of things a certain way but chose abundance over discretion.
Lou Diamond Phillips leads the cast, which includes Dina Meyer, Leon and Bob Gunton... and you guessed right... yes, Gunton is the villain. Phillips is a small town sheriff who finds himself pitted against the vicious creatures and with the help of a zoologist he races against time to kill the bats and save his town from a military strike.
The inconsistency of BATS means that I shouldn't like it at all, and yet with the benefit of time it seems to have found itself a certain charm that it once lacked. Those clever Hickcockian special effects do still elude to a missed opportunity, yet now those tacky puppet effects and awful camera distortions (which once ruined it) have become appealing and nostalgic. There's a gleefulness to watching these rubbery creatures take over the town. Their twisted faces with their pull-string operation and animatronic stiltedness recall the films of Joe Dante, and although the film descends into the realms of incomprehensible absurdity, it has become a thing of frivolity.
Morneau's aptitude is highlighted by a strong production design and strategic camera direction, and with all silliness aside, his film looks amazing. Perhaps the greatest attribute to BATS is screenwriter John Logan, who would go on to become a go-to guy for Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and Sam Mendes. His writing credits include Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, Alien Covenant and Sweeney Todd amongst others, and he has even penned two James Bond films; Skyfall and Spectre. And to think that it all began with BATS... lets call that the John Sayles effect (I'll let you research that reference).
There's all kinds of rollercoasters and they're not always maintained to a standard we expect. You might gain a few bumps and bruises along the way and even though you sprained your neck as the ride ground to a halt, it was pretty fun regardless. That's BATS!