Mother!

 

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and him, a famous poet (Javier Bardem) live in seclusion at their country home until a stranger, simply called man (Ed Harris) arrives. Mother! twists biblical allegories into a horrifying condemnation of religion and humanity.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch. Following a viewing of the film last week, I remained slumped in my seat once the credits began, drained and disgusted by what had unfolded. The closest work to Mother! that I have experienced is F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Reaching the novel’s conclusion, I felt so enraged at the characters that I began to hate the story itself, and that was the point. Fitzgerald wanted the reader to hate the people and the system that Great Gatsby focused upon. Mother! like The Great Gatsby, is a statement spread through shock. Mother! evokes such a visceral emotional reaction that the disgust it gleefully creates reflects towards the film itself. A week after viewing, I am not eager to ever see Mother! again.

Director and writer Darren Aronofsky’s surrealist style takes a harrowingly Hitchcockian turn in Mother!  When the film begins, the world of Mother! is two steps away from reality. An appearance of normalcy exists but a strangeness is always present. The house appears modern but every implement from the refrigerator to mother’s medication are approaching one hundred years old. Before the walls begin to bleed, Aronofsky flags that nothing is right in Mother! The camera nauseatingly spins between rooms and strangers gaze at mother like fixated alligators sizing up their prey. A menace looms over mother but it is never quantified, letting imagination shape the abstract threat and causing Mother! to become deeply terrifying. Nearing the film’s final act I averted my gaze when mother was alone in a room and slices of white noise began to play.

The dutiful and besotted mother rebuilds the house and tends to her husband, him, played by Javier Bardem, an actor known for playing villains since his role as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. Although not a traditional villain, ‘him’ is Bardem at his most unsettling. Complacent towards his wife, he deflects mother’s questions about the strangers arriving at their home. Bardem reveals no emotions despite mother’s despair, suggesting that he has orchestrated these events while Aronofsky’s focus on Bardem in these scenes morphs him into a devilish figure.

Jennifer Lawrence is commendable as mother but the role stops being a performance and becomes a feat of endurance in the second act. Similar to Leonardo Dicaprio’s role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, character development is replaced by a series of ordeals which mother goes through. Personally, the real star of Mother! was Michelle Pfeiffer as the ‘woman’, the wife of man, played by Ed Harris. Appearing unexpectedly, Pfeiffer relishes in woman’s Eve-esque demeanour of temptation and manipulation as she toys with mother through feigned warmth and outright prying. Domhnall Gleeson alongside his brother Brian Gleeson both have a brief but memorable role as the two sons of man. Domhnall dominates the screen during his appearance as the black sheep of the family, incarnating the biblical character his role is based on.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch, and that is both its strength and weakness. Over halfway into the film my tolerance was completely spent. Persistence and my wristwatch is what got me through the remaining fifty minutes while others in the screen quietly departed. Cinema can and should push viewers, but personally Aronofsky overran my limit in terms of length, not content. Enough had happened by over halfway that I was ready for the ending to arrive. Mother! shares the same problem as A Ghost Story albeit more pronounced. Both films, ensconced by the themes they pursue, are addled with moments of dead time where little, if anything, makes sense. Mother! is more afflicted by this problem, at times feeling like a student theatre play plugging holes in the plot with provocation.

Mother! will be picked apart in the ensuing decades by film student and film critic alike, it is a rewarding film but often not an enjoyable one.

If I had to recommend one film in cinemas currently, it would still be Blade Runner 2049.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Official Trailer]

Ok. Wow. WHAT. Those were my first thoughts after I first watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s official trailer. It is chock full of twists or what the trailer editors made us die-hard fans believe are plot twists. In this post I want to put down my thoughts and theories about what some of these twists could be, and then both Saul and I would love to hear your theories.

  1. During Snoke’s voice over, I came to wonder who is he speaking to? His words were, “When I found you, I saw RAW, untamed power and beyond that, something truly special.” During his monologue, the trailer mainly displays footage of Kylo. However, as Snoke’s words are echoing away, Rey appears, igniting her saber. We know from later in the trailer that Snoke and Rey finally meet and it appears Snoke tries to break her through torture. Why couldn’t Snoke’s speech actually be directed at Rey? Maybe he’s making it as he’s attempting to make her feel special since she sounds lost and seeking guidance. If you’re thinking “Snoke could not have ‘found her,’ she was on Jakku and after that she went to the find Luke. When could he have ‘found her.'” I’d reply, who put Rey on Jakku? Where did Rey come from? Who are her parents? Maybe Snoke is her father or creator much as Palpatine was Anakin’s likely creator. Or possibly Snoke stole Rey from her real parents and placed her on Jakku till he was ready to tap into her power. I admit this theory is far-fetched, so if Snoke was indeed speaking to Kylo, it sounds like he’s dressing down Kylo in disappointment. For instance, “You [Kylo] were so great when I found you, so full of potential. And you’ve done nothing with it.” Could this be the origin of Kylo’s return to the Light side? Maybe Snoke is favoring Rey over Kylo and drives Kylo back to Luke and draws Rey to him.
  2. Rey pleads to Luke: “Something. Inside me has always been there. But now it’s awake. And I need help.” We all know the Force is unbelievably strong in Rey after she dominated Kylo at the end of The Force Awakens. I believe it was in this fight that Rey realized her full power and even the existence of the Dark side, since hatred can be seen on her face after the defeats Kylo. Luke also quickly realizes her power and appears to abandon her because he doesn’t want to unleash that power like he did with Ben/Kylo. The trailer shows us the price of that mistake: his temple decimated in flames and his padawans slain. If Luke does abandon Rey, this act would be doubly powerful because she already felt disowned by her parents after they left her on Jakku and she’s begging Luke for guidance as a potential father-figure. Maybe this is the motivation for her turning to Kylo and possibly Snoke.

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Luke realizing Rey’s full power and potential for both Good and Evil

3. Kylo’s words, “Let the past die. Kill it,” intrigued me. This voice over occurred as he was supposedly speeding towards Leia’s flagship with a payload of torpedoes to kill her. I say supposedly because there were so many cuts that it’s impossible to know if Leia was actually on the ship Kylo was targeting. I believe, this voice over, once again, could be aimed at someone else at a completely different moment in the movie. Who is Kylo talking to? Luke? Leia? Snoke? Rey? I’m wagering he’s talking to Rey and attempting to sway her to the Dark side. I’d be curious if he was talking to Snoke. If it were Snoke, which past does Kylo mean? His past with his parents, Han & Leia, his time with Luke at the temple, or his Dark side tutelage under Snoke with the Knights of Ren? If he’s talking about his time in the Light with Han, Leia, and Luke then that means he’s just continuing down the path of the Dark side after murdering his father in The Force Awakens. He probably is considering blowing up Leia if that’s the case. If he’s talking about his time as Snoke’s apprentice then he could be renouncing his Darkness and returning to the Light. Smashing his helmet could be Kylo’s rejection of his attempts to turn to the Dark side. However, this action could also portray his hatred for his grandfather, Vader, who he was trying to mimic with the helmet. Maybe Snoke told him he ended up turning to the Light as he was dying and this enraged Kylo so much that he wanted to kill his past. There is not enough information in the trailer for us to know which path Kylo chooses, and I applaud Disney for not giving us any more.

4. My favorite line from the trailer was Luke’s. He said it as he was on his back, speaking to someone above him. My guess is that it’s Rey who is about to leave Luke. He warns her, “This is not going to go the way you think.” This statement harkens back to The Empire Strikes Back when Luke left Dagobah to fight Vader in Cloud City and save his friends. Yoda and Obi-Wan both warn Luke he is not ready to face Vader. I think this line is Luke warning Rey that whatever “this” is, that she is ill-prepared. Maybe she’s going to face Kylo or maybe it’s Snoke. In Empire, Vader tried to tempt Luke to the Dark in Cloud City. Maybe whoever Rey faces will make the same attempt, but will Rey be strong enough to stay with the Light? The ending of the trailer gives a deafening no as Kylo extends his hand.

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The new The Last Jedi poster released yesterday with the trailer

I will end there. Each time I rewatch the trailer another tid-bit or line catches my eye or ear. Frankly, there is too little information for any of us to draw definite conclusions about the plot or outcomes of The Last Jedi. I am so happy Disney, Lucasfilm, Rian Johnson, and Kathleen Kennedy refused to give us fans much more than this.

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Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ

Personally, I still have plenty of questions. Like what did Snoke mean by “Fulfill your destiny.”? How does he know what Rey’s destiny is? Where was Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ? Where will Laura Dern’s character, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, fit in? What planet does the bad ass battle take place with the new AT-AT’s and the Mad Max land speeders? Why is Finn back in First Order fatigues? What is the spark that Poe is talking about? A trailer is supposed to raise such questions without providing answers. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t hypothesize and make our own plots and theories. Saul and I would love to hear yours. Please leave them in the comments below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Small Crimes: Review

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Along the spectrum of small town crime thrillers, Small Crimes lays nestled between Blue Velvet and Blue Ruin. Disgraced ex-cop, Joe (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), returns to his hometown of Bradley County where only Joe himself is deluded by his gimmick of reformation. Joe’s past actions cause his present to become a litany of dire situations from which he tries to escape.

The name Small Crimes alludes to Joe’s delusion about what he really is. From the film’s beginning, Joe’s reformed persona is a facade as he brazenly displays his sobriety chip to the prison pastor. Despite returning to a town where he is reviled, Joe desperately clings to his act, scrambling to prepare excuses for family and victims alike.

Joe’s conflict with his duality, between the man he is and the man he claims to be, personifies Bradley County. Symbolised by the division of the local newspaper’s front page between the upcoming pumpkin festival and Joe’s release, Bradley is torn between its idealised image and its reality of vice and crime, as seen below. Every citizen in Bradley except Joe’s parents pretend to be someone else; from the reservist Scotty (Macon Blair) who spends his downtime in the local bar still dressed in his army uniform to the morally righteous D.A., Phil Coakley (Michael Kinney). The only person at ease with their duality is the ironically named Lieutenant Pleasant, Joe’s former partner who remains in the pay of the local crime family. Pleasant is played by Gary Cole with a refined humour oscillating between the dark and the mildly obscene that adds to his menace.

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The Newspaper of Bradley, caught between pumpkins and corrupt cops

Small Crimes’s exploration of the reality behind the American icon of the rural small town is a well tread trope beginning with Blue Velvet. The film’s uniqueness stems from its protagonist being a reluctant villain instead of a hero tackling the darkness within the town. Macon Blair, George Cole, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau imbibe Small Crimes with enough dark humour that the film never gags on its own tension.

Director Evan Katz has delivered a visually solid film with glitters of brilliance. Brief cuts to townsfolk, from a taxi driver’s glare or the librarian’s following eyes subtly denote Joe’s infamy. Little details are repeatedly focused upon like the blood stains on the pickup truck borrowed from Joe’s father. This consistently adds an observantly dark humour through image alone, similar to Blue Ruin and Green Room. The overlap between these two films is unsurprising given that Macon Blair who plays Scotty, and co-adapted Small Crimes from David Zeltserman’s novel, also starred in Blue Ruin and Green Room. The plot falls into an expected spiral but has enough originality and twists in Joe’s descent to be refreshing.

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Hatred, condensed into one look

The acting in Small Crimes is excellent. Similarities appear between Joe and Jaime Lannister, the role in Game of Thrones that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is famous for. Both characters involve an unhealthy degree of narcissism. However Jaime Lannister is a morally ambiguous anti-hero while Joe is a desperate man in denial about who he is. Despite Joe’s acts both past and present, he remained an understandable soul which is to the credit of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Molly Parker, of House of Cards fame, is Joe’s love interest, Charlotte. Parker depicts someone who is loving but through her dialogue and physical demeanour, Charlotte enigmatically infers that her past is equally as dark as Joe’s. I am excited to see Molly Parker’s performance in Netflix’s latest Stephen King adaptation, 1922

The true star of Small Crimes is Robert Forster as Joe Sr, a man whose rounded shoulders show the guilt he bears for what his son has become. Robert Forster breathes life into this honourable working class man trying to maintain peace between Joe Jr and Joe’s mother Irma (Jacki Weaver) who is fervently distrustful of her son. At a time where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro find themselves in comedic bits, it is good to see older stars receive genuine roles because acting is a skill that never stops maturing.

Small Crimes, currently available on Netflix, is a good independent film with solid performances and plenty of dark humour. I would recommend it to Cohen brothers fans and those looking for a decent Sunday film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

Blade Runner 2049

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: This review deliberately omits any real details of the plot, because Blade Runner 2049 is best enjoyed with all its twists unknown, just like the journey Ridley Scott first offered to viewers thirty five years ago.

Watching Blade Runner’s final cut at the B.F.I. two years ago was the closest I have come to having a religious experience. I still remember digging my fingers into the armchair as the camera swooped down onto the rooftop of the L.A.P.D. building while Vangelis’ haunting synthetic score rose to a crescendo. Blade Runner 2049 begins with a literal eye opening once more that surveys the surreal landscape of a future Los Angeles, born from Phillip. K. Dick’s Cold War vision and Ridley Scott’s direction. Once more the same euphoria washed over me as a car fluttered across the screen and pushed back the horizon’s edge. All my scepticism for Blade Runner 2049 was unwarranted.

Neither a sequel nor a spiritual successor, Blade Runner 2049 is a chapter in the exquisite world first witnessed over thirty years ago, created by people who both understand and love the original. Passing the mantle from Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott to Denis Villeneuve was the correct decision. Scott remains a great director but the taste he has developed for C.G.I over practical effects in recent years has betrayed the grounded future of Alien in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Scott would have likely had the same effect on Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve has kept Blade Runner’s engrossing visual realism alive by intermingling leftover concepts from the original with his own ideas. The Los Angeles from Blade Runner’s 2019 remains but is peppered with additions made by a predicted future grounded in the modern day. Blade Runner 2049 visits the world outside L.A. that Ridley Scott always wanted to include in the original. The film starts in a midwestern dust bowl swirling across bone-white synthetic farms in an environmentally exhausted world. A farmer emerges from a hydroponic tunnel of protein vats draped in a hazmat suit, covered in tubes and plastic. The farmer, the farm, and the world beyond, adorned by minute details, transcend the screen and become tangible.

A sense of reincarnation permeates Blade Runner 2049, concluding that the struggle between replicants and humans will perennially repeat itself. Echoes of the people and places from 2019 peel throughout the film like the old bones of Las Vegas which peek through the new structures above. The unbridled anger of replicant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks) is reminiscent of replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his childlike fury at an indifferent universe. Deckard’s own mention of Treasure Island is a reference to fellow Blade Runner Dave Holden, who reveals that the novel is his favourite book during a deleted scene in Blade Runner

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Rodger Deakins have created their finest work in Blade Runner 2049. Deakins conveys the dichotomy of the alien and the familiar in Blade Runner 2049’s world. He superimposes the structure of future L.A. over the individual characters while recognisable words and brands from English to Urdu spread across the cityscape. The depth of field in these scenes, especially when focusing on Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling), reinforces how tiny and equally inconsequential humans and replicants are in this strange new metropolis. Deakin’s masterful manipulation of colour segments the world. The smoggy grey and matte black of Los Angeles contrast with the rusted browns of the San Diego junkyards. Las Vegas stands derelict, swathed in a thick sodium orange soup as the desert swirls in silence. Deakins deserves every award he is nominated for this year.

Blade Runner 2049‘s visual opulence is matched by its bravery to broach the philosophical themes established in Blade Runner. The replicants in Blade Runner denote the arbitrary divides in human societies as I said in my 4th Wall piece here. Blade Runner 2049 returns to this central idea and offers a unique conclusion. The world of Blade Runner 2049 quickly reveals the schisms between humans themselves when K encounters fagin-esque orphanage manager Mister Cotton (Lennie James) in the bowels of the San Diego junkyards.

Beyond effects and cinematography, Blade Runner felt real because of its characters which were living and believable beings. At every rung of society which Blade Runner 2049 visits, the characters are alive and belong in this universe; from megalomaniac industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to toughly pragmatic L.A.P.D. chief Madam (Robin Wright). The personalities and motivations of the people K crosses propel the world around him. Unlike other modern blockbusters, Blade Runner 2049 is willing to financially invest in its characters by casting major stars like Jared Leto to convincingly depict supporting roles.

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Jared Leto as Niander Wallace

K was written for Ryan Gosling and no other modern actor excels at being a sympathetic vessel of violence. Watching Gosling in Drive, he effortlessly switches between tranquillity and rage while menace always smolders in his eyes. Contrasted to the silent Driver from DriveBlade Runner 2049’s refreshingly gentle pace lets the humanity and complexity of K seep out from his tough exterior. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since Blade Runner in his return to the role of Blade Runner Deckard, a man changed in the thirty years since the original. Wiser and warier, Ford’s performance is more emotionally charged than the hero he depicted in 1982, reflecting the price Deckard has paid to remain free.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch mesmerisingly emulates the classic soundtrack for the original Blade Runner by Vangelis. The noises of the world enmesh into the pulsating songs by Zimmer and Wallfish, perfecting the sound and vision of Blade Runner 2049.

Fans of Blade Runner have received a sequel they never deserved. Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of 2017.

By Saul Shimmin


My god. This film rocked me to my core with its sweeping opening of dust-ridden California as Zimmer and Wallfisch’s harsh, post-industrial score trumpeted over the speakers. If the Academy fails to nominate this film for every category (everything from Makeup & Hairstyling to Film Editing to Best Picture) it will be the greatest tragedy since Shakespeare in Love stole Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan in 1999.

Like Saul, I do not want to ruin any plot points, but I am dying to sing this movie’s praises.

The best part of the Blade Runner 2049 was its plot themes. They attacked issues that are just arising today, but will vastly affect our lives in the near future. I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence or AI and questions like makes something “alive.” Is it soul? Is it the ability to feel pain? Is it having the capability to reason? These are matters that may seem ridiculous to consider especially as Siri or Cortana struggles to understand your command to call your mom. But in due time, these will become problems that our generation will have to solve especially with the pace Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants are pouring money into developing AI. Blade Runner 2049 expanded on themes raised in movies like Her, Ex Machina, and, of course, the original Blade Runner.

Raising such social questions and projecting the technology of the future used to be what science fiction did best. With recent rubbish films like Flatliners, Transcendence, and Ghost in the Shell, it was refreshing to let this movie challenge my mind and open it to the possibility of crazy technology that could soon be in my living room.  

The next best facet of the film was its settings and set designs. The post-apocalyptic world (society hadn’t been extinct, but the world had survived some nuclear blasts and mass plant extinction) was unsettling. The fact that some characters had never seen trees and that one city spanned the horizon like the mega cities in Dredd struck me at how fragile our planet is and how sad our existence would be without nature. However, it was not just the emotions that the sets sparked that made me love them. It was also their detail. Alessandra Querzola, the film’s set decorator, made sure to film them with junk, giving Blade Runner 2049 the used world aesthetic that George Lucas first introduced to the sci-fi world with Star Wars. Because of all the little things like exposed pipes, Coca-Cola ads, and all the curious trinkets in Doc Badger’s (Barkhad Abdi) shop, the movie’s realism was superb and provided it with a certain horror that such a dead world could be ours.

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Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles

Finally, apart from Denis Villeneuve, who has entered my Directors Hall of Fame that includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Danny Boyle, the movie’s actors were the icing on Blade Runner 2049. The greatest surprise was Villeneuve’s casting of Dave Bautista as the replicant, Sapper Morton. Bautista has slowly been climbing into the A-list ranks from his WWE origins and, I would argue, doing a better job than Dwayne Johnson. Despite his hulking figure (I think he slimmed down for this role) his movements were precise, his words exquisitely spoken, and his emotions, raw. It was a drastic reversal from the loud and humorous role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, which reveals Bautista’s acting range is quite diverse. However, Bautista was not alone in acting excellence. Each actor/actress in the film similarly excelled in each of their roles. There was not one scene that was over or under-acted.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to dislike seeing movies twice, especially while they’re still in theaters. I normally get bored on second viewings after knowing the twists and turns of a plot. Blade Runner 2049, however, is a film I am dying to see again. And soon. I recommend you go enjoy this movie as soon as possible.

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below;

Pacific Rim: Uprising

 

Outlook: Likely boring with the chance for some eye-candy action.

Release Date: March 2018

I almost exited out of the YouTube page halfway through this trailer. I LOVED Pacific Rim, and was stoked to see that Legendary Pictures released a trailer for its sequel. However, this trailer left a peculiar taste in my mouth: the taste of a forced reboot. The closest comparison I can draw it to is 20th Century Fox’s Independence Day: Resurgence  that came out last year before Saul and I founded Title Roll. If we had been writing reviews then, I would have proudly given the second Independence Day 0 out of 5 stars due to its lead actors’ wooden acting, uneven plot, and obvious forced creation.

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Idris Elba in Pacific Rim as Stacker Pentecost.

This trailer smacks of Independence Day: Regurgitation: In both movies, the humans thought they had won a war against an alien enemy only to discover that the enemy was not dead, but came back stronger. The films’ leads were filled by skilled actors (Will Smith in Independence Day and Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam in Pacific Rim). However, none returned to their respective roles for the sequels. Another similarity that points to lazy writing both Smith and Elba’s characters’ sons are now the main characters, I’m sure seeking revenge for their “dead” fathers. And, of course, both movies’ plots center around “the fate of the world rests on our shoulders” mentality that is now too often voiced in trailers.

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John Boyega as Stacker Pentecost’s son, Jake Pentecost.

Even though Pacific Rim‘s plot also rested on “the fate of the world depends on our success,” it didn’t state that fact outright nor did the movie commence with that statement unlike Uprising‘s trailer. Instead, Pacific Rim opened with a rich history about the war between the Jaegars and Kaiju. As the movie progresses, its history becomes more detailed as the main characters fill it in with their respective pasts and how the Kaiju effected or destroyed their lives. I believe this was the movie’s main strength.

Also, the fact that Guillermo del Toro is not in the director’s chair makes me nervous. His movies are always incredibly beautiful which was another major pleasure point of Pacific Rim. This sequel’s CGI pales in comparison to the first movie. It resembles the pitiful, cheap, and light CGI that Lions Gate utilized for this year’s Power Rangers film. I’m not sure if this is due to del Toro’s absence, a smaller budget, or the skill of untested director, Steven S. DeKnight, who is taking over for del Toro. While DeKnight has vast experience as a showrunner for Spartacus and Daredevil, he has never directed a movie nor has he had any involvement with a major motion picture. While this is not a damning factor, it does not bode well for Pacific Rim: Uprising. 

The upsides to this trailer are obviously the Tupac remix, which was fitting for its war filled scenes, but what intrigued me most was the Jaegar v. Jaegar clip. I hope that this means there is some infighting amongst the Jaegar pilots. Hopefully this can lead to character development and a deeper plot that what this trailer revealed.

By Hagood Grantham

The Mist (Black and White Director’s Cut)

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, the town of Bridgton, Maine becomes shrouded in a deadly mist, teeming with creatures from the dark corners of another dimension.  Local painter, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), alongside his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and their neighbour, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), become trapped along with many others in the local grocery store as the mist descends upon the town. Protected from the Lovecraftian horrors outside, the movie’s true monster becomes human nature once the vestiges of society melt away.

Despite being director Frank Darabont’s third adaptation of a Stephen King novel following The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Dimension Films opposed releasing The Mist in black and white. Fortunately, Darabont was able to include his preferred black and white cut as an extra when The Mist was transferred to DVD. Having been in London last week, I stumbled across a showing of The Mist in black and white at the B.F.I. as part of its ongoing Stephen King season. Admittedly, I am not a horror fan by nature as stated in my review for IT, but Darabont’s past work persuaded me to watch the film.

The absence of colour exudes an unsettling sense of illusion, symbolising how the town is in limbo between established reality and a different dimension altogether. Drenched in black and white, the mist becomes alive, developing into a grainy wall like background noise in a bad photograph. The mist watches the trapped townsfolk through the plate glass storefront, as they too observe the fog keeping them captive. When the camera does stare into the mist, the film sheds away any sound, plunging you into an isolating snowdrift and trapping you with the townspeople.  The choice to remove colour nods to Darabont drawing from horror and sci-fi films he watched in the 1960s. The night scenes in particular mirror the eeriness of George. A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead from 1968.

Watching The Mist in 2017, the film is an indirect prelude to Darabont’s work on The Walking Dead. Three actors in The Mist have major roles in The Walking Dead and both stories pit ordinary people against a ubiquitous and unknown apocalyptic event. Once disbelief and shock ebbs away the two stories are an account of human nature separated from the old world. Darabont split from AMC after The Walking Dead‘s first season, but in The Mist he perceives humanity’s base nature through a dark lens. Darabont’s views are personified by Ollie Weeks, the bespectacled and softly spoken assistant store manager portrayed by British actor Toby Jones. Jones has been a favourite of mine since playing a coroner in my childhood guilty pleasure, the television show Midsomer Murders. Weeks, appearing initially as a downtrodden and outright boring man changes character as The Mist progresses. He bravely aids David Drayton while cynically narrating about human weaknesses as others around them crumble.

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Toby Jones as unlikely hero Ollie Weeks on the left. To the right is Jeffrey DeMunn, better known as Dale in The Walking Dead, as local citizen Dan Miller.

Both Stephen King and Darabont understand that believable characters are a mix of good casting and great writing. That blend is evident in The Mist. Having never seen the film beforehand, it was surprising to recognise many of the actors from major films or television shows. The actors excel in roles reflecting the types of real people found in small communities, from the excessively proud mechanic Jim (William Sadler) to local eccentric Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). The Mist often diverts away from David Drayton and observes other characters interacting with each other; humorously at first until their personalities divide reflecting the mounting division and savagery across the makeshift community. The only recent film to delve into the politics of crisis was Alien: Covenant, which did a comparable job of showing power shift between survivors. The Mist‘s account of human nature transforms the film into a supernatural equivalent of Lord of The Flies. The only flat character was the neighbour, Brent Norton, depicted by Andre Braugher, famous for his role as Captain Raymond Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was disappointing to see Braugher’s clear acting prowess be undervalued yet again by  playing another straight character.

The creatures of The Mist do have a certain creepiness. The monochrome effect of the black and white cut makes the monsters appear like B Movie abominations, ready to lurch from the screen at you. The lack of colour does rejuvenate CGI animations that are now ten years old. Returning to the more recent Stephen King film IT, the personal difference between simple scares and real horror is when something leaves a deep seated unease after watching. The Mist sometimes scares but deeply disturbs by thrusting rational people into an unending and unwinnable disaster. The Mist’s proposition and its conclusion are rare in cinema, because even in apocalyptic films like Mad Max, goodness and hope prevails. The Mist follows The Road in battling against our human need for optimism by asking;

‘What could be done if the end truly means the end?’

The Mist hints at how deliciously darker The Walking Dead could have been under Darabont’s continued direction, but for his acrimonious split with AMC. In likelihood, The Walking Dead would have delved further into grittier overtones rather than becoming a sequence of similar obstacles with predictable outcomes.

Thomas Jane is in another adaptation of a Stephen King novella this year called 1922 which is being released on Netflix next month.

If you have yet to see The Mist, do watch it in black and white. If you have already seen it in colour, give the director’s cut a try. Unfortunately, no trailer exists for the black and white’s directors cut. Below is the standard trailer for The Mist, along with Frank Darabont’s introduction to the black and white version, which will hopefully persuade you to choose his cut over the colour version.

By Saul Shimmin

The Mist trailer:

 

Introduction to the black and white cut by Frank Darabont:

 

IT: Review

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis:  ‘I want to take an American town and have the whole thing be haunted’.

The New England town of Derry, Maine is the product of King’s idea above.  Beset by the malevolent and unknown presence which appears as Pennywise the Clown, the thing also known as ‘IT’ hangs over Derry, taking the townsfolk and in particular the children as its prey. Set in 1988 and 1989, unpopular teen Bill Denbrough ( Jaeden Lieberher) and his gang of outcasts, known as the losers club, hunt down Pennywise after the monster kills Bill’s younger brother George (Jackson Robert Scott). Despite being labelled as a Horror film, IT is a Gothic coming of age adventure, laden with scares and set in the 1980s. The film succeeds and unsettles in conveying that Derry itself is  haunted. Occasionally, IT’s environment shows Pennywise’s presence permeating the fabric of Derry, as though the town was built by him as a lure for his prey. IT is both scary and enjoyable, but never quite haunts as unequal character development and spotty CGI detract from an otherwise good film.

Beginning with his breakout novel Carrie in 1974, Stephen King has remained relevant to pop culture for over 40 years. Celebrating his 70th birthday this year, King’s influence has been celebrated by a season at the B.F.I of films based on his novels.Having been in London this past weekend I was able to see Director Frank Darabont’s black and white version of The Mist which I will review here.  An extra birthday surprise for King has to be IT, finally adapted for the big screen following an earlier made for TV film in the 1990’s starring Tim Curry as the infamous Pennywise.

Horror was not a genre that I enjoyed but became coerced into when I was younger. My flatmates during the first year of University were avid Horror fans and would drag me to watch whatever was new and scary on Netflix. The peer pressure eventually caused me to watch Sinister with my hands over my eyes when it first showed in cinemas. Four years on and somewhat desensitised to Horror films, I found myself growing increasingly anxious last Wednesday night as I waited for IT to begin upon realising that I was alone in a 150 man screen of a very quiet multiplex cinema. Fortunately, two men and a couple appeared just before the advertisements ended. The isolated disquiet I experienced before the film began was a prelude for the fears that IT at times conveys very well; the sense felt during childhood of facing an abstract irrational fear alone.

Children in Horror films can be a medium back to youthful irrational fears, or a lure for the parental impulse to protect the innocent trapped in a dark world, which was captured brilliantly by Night of the Hunter. Certain characters among Bill and his fellow outcasts, such as Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), are given enough time for the audience to share their fears. Unbeknown to each character, Pennywise corners them in a moment of calm. Although Pennywise never appears initially, the camera observes the children from his perspective. Director Andy Muschietti mimics the revolutionary cinematography by Sam Raimi in The Evil Dead of placing the camera at high or low angles to conjure up the ethereal presence of Pennywise while the children seem so vulnerable, adding to the shock when Pennywise finally pounces. Pennywise’s masochism with the children is palpably disturbing, especially with main character Bill. He entices Bill with an apparition of George, manipulated by Pennywise like a sock puppet, while observing Bill silently above the water’s surface.

pennywise IT

(Pennywise, A.K.A ‘IT’ stalking George)

A lack of exposition coupled with bad C.G.I made the fears of other members in the losers club feel flimsy. The disconnect with the other children is because Horror is subjective. When we are children we have irrational fears which ebb away into a visceral fear of the grotesque symbolised by the body horror films like Hostel and Saw.  Now in my twenties, the irrational fears of childhood have transformed into a fear of the irrational itself, a fear of the unpredictable acts of violence which can happen to anyone. It is that sense of unease when I am staying at my parent’s house in the country and knowing that anyone could come calling at this isolated place in the middle of the night. Tales which scare me now are films like Strangers and even The Zodiac that cause me to close my door tightly and lock it. Now that my fears are more material since becoming an adult, some of the children’s abstract terrors were transparent, causing sections of  IT to rely on jumps and loud noises to scare.

Bill Skarsgård sizzles as the titular ‘IT’. Tim Curry’s earlier depiction of Pennywise is a pantomime performance of dark humour expected from an evil clown. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is humourous but beastly, interacting with the children like a ruthless predator, slinking and surging at them or growling lowly as he taunts them. Skarsgärd’s depiction belies the monstrous nature of ‘IT’, underscored by Pennywise’s disproportionate limbs, red cats eyes and tufts of hair atop a bulging head.

Beyond the horror, IT is at its most enjoyable when the film focuses on the children. The losers club may have reached the age of hilariously lewd jokes delivered by thickly bespectacled Richie Tozler (Finn Wolfhard), but there remains an innocence about the kids. The way they behave with each other, from writing love notes to calling a bike ‘Silver’ after The Lone Ranger’s horse harks back to the 1950s where the novel IT is set. Watching the children interact with each other as they grow up over the formative and horrific summer of 1989 was heartwarming and the actors playing the losers are bound to do well in their profession. Finn Wolfhard is great as comedic relief Richie Tozler, who is a starkly different character than Wolfhard’s breakout role as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. 

IT is the Stephen King adaptation fans have been waiting for. The film is still out now across cinemas and is well worth watching.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

The Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Film Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)

Synopsis: Eggsy (Taron Edgerton), codenamed Galahad, is now in a relationship with the Swedish princess, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), who he saved through the backdoor in The Kingsman: The Secret Service. However, a former Kingsman recruit, Charlie (Edward Holcroft), quickly upsets the status quo on the behalf of the secretive drug cartel, the Golden Circle. Charlie hacks into the Kingsman database and accesses the locations of all the Kingsman agents for his boss, the mysterious Poppy (Julianne Moore), who executes a series of surgical missile strikes that eliminate all Kingsman agents except Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). Alone and without a base the two agents travel to their American counterpart, the Statesmen, for help in their mission to avenge their fallen comrades and save millions from the poisonous drugs Poppy has distributed across the globe.

When I read on Rotten Tomatoes that The KingsmanThe Golden Circle received the literally middling score of 50%, I expected to be thoroughly let down by the sequel to a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. While The Golden Circle failed to live up to its predecessor’s action, humor, and subversive elements, I still had a good time watching it. I’ve thought long and hard about why The Golden Circle did not recapture The Secret Service‘s magic. I believe the biggest reason for the disparity between the two films was the first was so unexpected with its John Wick-like bloody and excellently choreographed fight scenes alongside its lewd humor. Once the audience comes to expect such elements, it is difficult for a writer/director, in this case Matthew Vaughn, to one up himself on these accounts.

Vaughn tried to escalate his actions scenes with the heavy use of CGI, but this effort failed to boost them. Instead, these moments felt fake through the obvious presence of CGI. Also, the amount of cuts in camera angles distracted me and detracted from the intensity of the fights. The movie still delivered some great action pieces, but they were fewer in number than in The Secret Service. 

The humor survived into the second film, especially with its Glastonbury contest between Eggsy and the Statesman agent, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), to plant a tracking device in a mucus membrane of a target. However, like the action scenes, comedic scenes were also fewer than in The Secret Service. I would’ve enjoyed a few more ridiculous moments, like the ending scene of The Secret Service that I hyperlinked above. It was in such moments when The Secret Service subverted its James Bond origins where it excelled. The Golden Circle did not do this enough.

The Golden Circle‘s greatest strength is its characters. I greatly enjoyed their interactions, especially the ones between Eggsy and Merlin. Mark Strong’s handle on Merlin’s character is deft and he adds a lot of emotion to the plot despite receiving little screen time. Vaughn also wisely and believably brought Colin Firth’s Harry Hart back into the picture after being brutally executed in The Secret Service. Having Harry/Agent Galahad back from the dead added a double element of uncertainty to a seemingly straight forward plot both with the device they used to resuscitate him and the side-effects of such a procedure.

I hope Vaughn is just encountering a case of sequel-itis like the Oceanmovies suffered with Oceans Twelve and can fully recapture his mojo in the third film (if Fox chooses to make a third installment). But if you’re in need of a (fairly) lighthearted flick and don’t mind some exploding heads and gross humor in the context of a secret spy world then go see it and enjoy.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Trailer Roundup: September [Part II]

This is a follow up to our last trailer roundup, and we’ll start with the least enticing trailer and end with our favorite.

Tomb Raider

Release Date: March 2018

Starring the talented Alicia Vikander as Laura Croft (a fact Warner Bros. won’t let us forget anytime soon.. oh did we mention she’s an ACADEMY AWARD WINNER?), Laura Croft is Warner Bros’ next effort to reboot dead franchises after its flawed attempts to resuscitate King Kong and Godzilla. I have little hope that Warner Bros can rejuvenate what was a mediocre franchise to begin with despite starring Angelina Jolie.

I must admit the cast is beyond enticing. It stars one of my favorite TV stars, Walton Goggins, as the movie’s antagonist and features a small part by Nick Frost. But a good cast won’t persuade me to watch this Indiana Jones knock-off. I’m tired of movies where the plot is drive by “if [fill in the blank] succeeds, our world is in danger.”

 

Murder on the Orient Express

Release Date: November 10, 2017

I am nervous about this remake of Agatha Christie’s classic novel and the 1974 film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. While the cast is beyond stellar and I am a fan of Kenneth Branagh’s direction, the only reason I can see for remaking it is Fox studio execs saying, “which movies can we remake that will get audiences to unquestioningly open their wallets.” Murder on the Orient Express is the answer.

This is not a reason a movie should be made or remade. If the original was garbage, remake it. If the original was well acted, but the technology of the day was lacking to make the special effects pop, remake it. But the 1974 version was none of these things. Fox should have put their money towards making an original murder-mystery in the same vein as an Agatha Christie novel or penned a script for one of her lesser known books. But I’ll still go see it like the sucker I am.

I do believe theses actors will bring their A game. Especially Johnny Depp who has endured a string of flops. With his private life in shambles and Forbes bestowing him with the title of Hollywood’s The Most Overpaid Actor, Depp will be wanting to reestablish himself as the great actor he is and clear his tarnished name.

 

Isle of Dogs

Release Date: March 23, 2018

Wes Anderson is the king of light-hearted, yet heartfelt humor originating in the strangest of places. I am so stoked for this movie and quite angry that we are still a half a year away from its release date.

Despite the plot’s simplicity, I think this movie will be a success due its understated humor that comes from the childish, dog monologues like the one at the end of the trailer. I was rolling over laughing when I heard it. I’m glad films like this one are being made.

———————Bonus Trailer———————

Marvel’s The Punisher

Release Date: Late 2017

I know, I know, this is a TV show trailer, but, as you know from my John Wick 2 review, I love some good action and having Jon Bernthal (swiftly becoming one of my favorite actors) as the lead doesn’t hurt.

While the trailer made the plot sound formulaic as hell (Government out to kill one man for the secrets he knows), this does not mean the show will fall into hackneyed plot devices. Look at the Jason Bourne series. It rocked this plot (except the most recent film). If you’ve seen season two of Daredevil, you know Frank Castle is one of the most badass characters in TV and movies. I cannot wait for this show. Hopefully it will deliver more than The Defenders.

The Work

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: The Work documents prisoners and civilians in a group therapy session at Folsom Prison, California, a place made famous by Johnny Cash. Raw and imposing, The Work is an experience of unbridled emotion which unsettles and enraptures the audience as prisoners and civilians work through their pain and trauma.

The civilians participating in ‘The Work’ may not have made the same life choices but they are just as flawed and burdened as the prisoners they connect with. The film initially focuses on three civilians and although it is never stated outright, each one has a deep rooted problem which has propelled them to the gates of Folsom. By contrast, the prisoners are brutally frank about their problems. Being placed in prison, horrible as that will be, has awoken in the inmates a need to change. On the other hand, the civilians are withdrawn, trapped behind outside social pressures to maintain appearances.

Despite hearing about the awful crimes which have led the prisoners to Folsom, humanity shines within each one. Many of the older inmates who have been through ‘The Work’ before immediately talk about the reasons why they are in prison, not as a boast but as a means to clear the air. Every prisoner who talks about their past reveals a tale of suffering at the hands of their father, especially former biker and former Aryan brotherhood member, Ricky. When Ricky recalls first meeting his real father and what ensued in the years afterwards, he relives those painful memories as his face changes from a grizzled biker to a hurt child and then to an angry young man. Troubled pasts cannot always be excuses for sins, but the prisoners quickly become very human as they open up in a way that the civilians never quite reciprocate.

The intense focus of The Work‘s editing and the emotions which course through its 90 minute runtime provide a seat within that group circle. The camera unflinchingly depicts the lows and highs of the whole group as the members confront their demons. This confrontation is often physical, with older prisoners squaring up to the younger inmates as they guide them through repressed feelings while the camera closes ever inwards to their faces. The editing’s unpolished feel also plunges you into ‘The Work’ as camera crew appear in the frame when the focus suddenly shifts and fellow participants roar through their emotions in the background. By the end of The Work, I found myself running through the steps just like every man in the group.

The strangest part of seeing life inside Folsom prison was the normalcy of it all. During glimpses between breaks in the group program, prisoners linger around the windowed doors looking onto the courtyard. There were no fights or gangs to be seen, just men playing baseball, running laps and enjoying the Californian sun.

For the trailer, see below:

By Saul Shimmin

 

 

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.