All posts by titlerollreviews

Two postgrads on two separate continents talking about films like we should be making them. Maybe one day we will.

First Man

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (very good)

Synopsis: In First Man director Damien Chazelle teams up with Ryan Gosling to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Ambitious in scale, First Man’s two narratives charting NASA’s moon program and the life of Neil Armstrong do not quite fit together.

Neil Armstrong, like George Washington and Charles Lindbergh, belongs among the reluctant heroes of American History. Men who achieved great feats and then gracefully retreated to leave mystery in their wake. First Man attempts to focus on the many who made NASA’s Apollo mission possible while also telling the story of Neil Armstrong. In Dunkirk Christopher Nolan uses an anonymous individual as a device to place the viewer amid the scale of war and the stakes of the Dunkirk evacuation. Chazelle attempts to immerse the viewer in the scale and the stakes of NASA’s moon program through Neil Armstrong. By picking Armstrong, a man who is fascinating to explore, Chazelle fails to give both narratives equal attention.  The result is a film of historical accuracy which humanises the enigmatic figure of Armstrong yet feels excessively long.

First Man’s strength is Neil Armstrong the man, deftly played by Ryan Gosling whose manly vulnerability connects with this stoic figure. Chazelle’s plot arc segments the history of spaceflight into Armstrong’s own life. Space becomes a coping mechanism to Armstrong. Each new step Armstrong takes into the heavens brings him closer to overcoming a tragedy unknown to the many that have come to know him. This tragedy defines Gosling’s depiction of Armstrong as both engrossing and endearing as the viewer sees Armstrong grapple with his inner pain.

Chazelle’s reputation as one of the foremost American directors today has gifted First Man with a cast which commands the viewer’s attention. Particular praise should be given to Armstrong’s fellow men on the Gemini and Apollo mission, especially Jason Clark as astronaut Edward Higgins White. All the characters of First Man imbue scale to the scope of the NASA mission, conveying the enormity of pressure upon Armstrong. Yet when the cockpit is sealed and the viewer is trapped alongside Armstrong, the pressure melts away against his fear and his wonder as he peeks through crude Perspex windows into space.

Scale is another weakness in First Man. Cast members become part of the setting like prop figures for a model train set as First Man funnels its attention onto Armstrong. Claire Foy, who was excellent in Unsane, is sadly under-used in First Man. Her character, Janet Armstrong, becomes side-lined into a dead-end sub-plot about the mounting cost of the Apollo mission. First Man goes beyond its natural length to include scenes which are historically accurate but are little more than dead time. By two hours and twenty minutes, the film is its own odyssey to match the moon landing.

First Man is a great film with stellar performances. However if the ten year old who assaulted the back of my chair with his feet is any indication, then some viewers will struggle with First Man’s run-time.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

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The Godfather (4K Restoration)

Synopsis: Beginning after World War Two, The Godfather documents the trials of the Corleone family and its crime organisation as the drug trade begins to rise.  The film is a seminal work by Francis Ford Coppola which both condemns and lionises the Mafia image.

Spoilers below for The Godfather

The return of The Godfather to the cinema, now in 4K resolution, is the perfect opportunity to be reacquainted with Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic film.  More than the heightened clarity, the best improvement to The Godfather is the vastly enhanced audio quality. For the generations whose introduction to The Godfather was through DVD copies and VHS tapes, the film was a mystery of muffled dialogue and half spoken lines. The Godfather’s 4K restoration unshackles the story from The Peaky Blinders effect of dampening conversations into an incomprehensible drawl.

Visually, The Godfather is marked by its distance. The opening scene of Connie Corleone’s (Talia Shire) wedding is a moment of expected intimacy and warmth, yet the camera remains aloofly away from events unless forced to come closer. The camera’s distance underscores The Godfather’s theme of separation. The camera’s detachment from events is alike to the divide between the image of organised crime and the grim reality. The immediate Corleone family live in a state of denial about what they are. The image the Corleones project of themselves as a happy, strong family disintegrates from The Godfather’s beginning. Sonny Corleone (James Caan) cheats on his wife at his sister’s wedding while the Godfather and head of the Corleone family, Vito (Marlon Brando), organises beatings and extortion. The disparity between the image of the Corleone family and the truth about them applies to the ‘other’ Corleone family, that being their crime syndicate. The mafia mantras of loyalty and family are pulled away as the Corleone organisation is betrayed from within, in turn betraying and killing their own.  The family ‘business’ is a polite cover for the ruthless struggle over crime rackets glued together by murder. Despite the detail, murder in The Godfather is dehumanised. The act is committed by anonymous underlings or framed as to exclude the killer from view as the deed is completed, excusing the murderer from responsibility.

The only Corleone who truly perceives his family as a criminal gang is the only one who is separate from the family business, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). Michael’s journey through The Godfather is one of acceptance into the family business at the cost of losing his own family Kay (Diane Keaton) and his grasp on everyday morality. Michael’s moral decline is marked by the killings he organises before and after his ascendancy to acting Godfather. Michael murders Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and Capt. McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) by his own hand. The camera fully records Michael’s murder of both men, holding him in the frame as he shoots both in turn. Thereafter, the killings Michael arranges are committed by others while he maintains an air of civility like his father Vito Corleone during Connie’s wedding. The final murder in The Godfather is Michael’s own brother-in-law, Carlo. The method and framing of Carlo’s death mirrors the first killing of the film, that of Corleone enforcer Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) . Both are garroted by surprise while the killer stands off-screen. In a way both men are caught by acts of betrayal, and both murders bookend Michael Corleone’s ascent to head of the family and the end of his ordinary life.

Adapted from Mario Puzio’s novel of the same name, The Godfather’s only flaw is Coppola’s focus on keeping fidelity between book and film. Parts of the final act’s subsequent time jump, and Las Vegas scenes, are a good epilogue for The Godfather II but are an unnecessary addition to The Godfather on its own. The film’s subtlety of plot, especially in Michael’s hunt for the traitor can be lost on those who have not read the novel beforehand, myself included. Yet in his strive to narrate the complete arc of the Corleone family, Coppola still creates a compelling tale whose structure precedes the modern docudrama film.

By Saul Shimmin

Get Out: Beneath the skin

Readily admitted by the film’s director Jordan Peele, Get Out is a subversive amalgam of horror films and other movies. Through what it does and does not do, Get Out implants you into the life of African Americans today. From Peele’s point of view, the threat to African Americans of Klansmen and burning crosses is dwarfed by a white suburban culture that fetishizes and fears black identity.

Get Out’s opening scene inverts John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween begins with protagonist Laurie unaware of villain Michael Myers stalking her in broad daylight. Upon release Halloween was perceived as a damning commentary on declining teenage morality with the slasher Michael Myers acting as judge and executioner. On another level Halloween reflects social anxiety among the middle class in 1970’s America towards the decaying and predominantly black inner-city. Myers’ entrance into the Illinois suburbs and the bloodshed he causes is the dreaded violence, crime and drugs of urban areas flooding into the prosperous environs. In stark contrast Get Out begins with a black man warily walking through the suburbs at night.  In Get Out, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and others render the suburbs an alien territory for black people instead of what most audiences originally saw in Michael Myer’s hunting ground, a sanctuary away from the stormy city.

The contrasting narrative of perception and location persists throughout Get Out’s first five minutes. A tracking shot of woodland alongside the score evokes the southern backwaters of Deliverance and Southern Comfort. Yet once protagonist Chris travels to meet his white girlfriend’s family we find ourselves not in the archaic deep south but the pristine woods of upstate New York.

By inverting what we expect from film, Jordan Peele rips the viewer out from the white male vision of most directors and firmly plants the narrative into a black perspective. Take Get Out’s first interaction with a white character besides Rose. Chris is stopped while driving and questioned by a police officer, opening the sadly familiar mix of inferiority and fear which can be projected onto African Americans.

Chris’s reception at Rose’s home is unexpected. He doesn’t receive the anticipated mix of hostility and condescension of which the police officer’s reaction to him was a forewarning. More alarmingly, Chris is lavished with adoration from Rose’s family and friends, praising him with an unfettered frankness for the traits they stereo-typically expect him and African Americans to have.

The appreciation of the older white suburbanites populating Rose’s community for Chris and black identity is skin deep. Their infatuation with the attributes black people supposedly possess is a fetishization of black identity, reducing black identity from an equal to a body of trophies covering sex appeal to just plain coolness. In turn the white man’s obsession with Chris’ uniqueness reverts the black man into a physical object, a band-aid for their own flaws, something to be auctioned off and used. Instead of progressing from the prejudice of segregation and slavery, the racism of white America towards African America has simply inverted; from sub-human to superhuman but not yet a fellow man.

The big reveal of Get Out is that Rose and her family have been luring black people to their home to be auctioned off to their white clientele. Their victims are first brainwashed by Rose’s mother into compliance then Rose’s father transplants the client’s brain into the younger black victim.

The sanitised racism lurking beneath the surface of Get Out is personified in the film’s four black victims including Chris. Each victim of Rose’s family, having been brainwashed into becoming hosts for the minds of the older white clientele, represent a stereotype of African American identity. Georgina the maid is motherliness and domestic servility, Walter the gardener embodies athleticism and Andre King is sex appeal. Chris, the fourth victim, represents artistry. In an ironic foreshadowing Chris talks to Jim Hudson before Jim buys Chris in the auction. Jim, an older blind art collector who never had ‘the vision’ for photography comments that Chris, a professional photographer, truly has ‘the eyes’. Jim’s words, and his later attempt to have his brain transplanted into Chris’ head, have an irony to them. Jim never sees Chris beyond being a pair of eyes, forgetting that it is Chris’ mind, along with his heritage, that adds the colour to his vibrant photos of New York City which make up his work.

Ultimately, I could be wrong about Get Out’s deeper meaning. Yet the film still exemplifies the power of film to take someone like myself, a white middle-class kid from England, and put me in someone else’s shoes.

By Saul Shimmin

Apostasy

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: Following a mother and her two daughters within Manchester’s Jehovah’s Witnesses community, Apostasy documents the struggle between rebellion and devotion when living under an orthodox and introverted religion.

Apostasy’s setting and its gendered perspective on religion is brimming with potential. It is a potential left unrealised as the story, despite interesting ideas from director Daniel Kokotajlo, descends into a series of stilted, unceasing and empty conversations.

The starkness and emptiness of the film itself, in its up close documentary style, is a reflection of life for the three women. The deafening silence drives home Apostasy’s message about the restrictiveness of life as a Jehovah’s Witness. By halfway however I no longer wanted to watch Apostasy. I endured the remainder out of stubbornness when retrospectively the cinema’s bar would have delivered a more entertaining fifty minutes. Regardless of the good ideas behind the plot, I realised that nothing had happened and nothing would arrive in Apostasy which would really grip me.

Apostasy, like a lot of contemporary art, justifies its existence on the ideas that its creator purports it to have. Beyond the creator’s proclamation of what his work represents, the creation is an empty vessel framed by ideas and explanations but yielding neither appeal or enjoyment to the ordinary person. Art and film are mediums where the work can carry a message and still be enjoyed by the unaware or the uninitiated. During Apostasy I became painfully conscious that I was watching another person’s ideas, rather than a story.  Film criticism far too often fixates on the ideas and subject matters of an independent film which are salient among more academic and cultural circles, while disdainfully curling its lip at the box office fare. Worse still is the reticence to criticise a film deemed intellectual for fear of appearing uneducated in turn. Apostasy’s look at gender and religion are relevant today and it is not a bad a film, but the film does not merit the recognition awarded by mainstream film critics. To a large degree my displeasure with Apostasy was that it ill fitted the structure of a film. The pace was far too slow and a lot of the background for the three main characters and preceding events in Apostasy were given little attention. If Apostasy had been given the longer run-time of a short television season, much of the intriguing background which is wasted in the film could have been better used.

The film does have some positive aspects. The continuing use of monologues among the main characters as they each talk to Jehovah draws the viewer into their individual approaches to God. The main trio of Siobharn Finneran,Sacha Parkinson and Molly Wright, deliver good performances as do the other cast members while the film’s third act is a surprising shift which sadly arrives too late.

Do see Apostasy if you want to know more about being a Jehovah’s Witness, but wait until it is on the television so you have the mercy of changing channel if desired.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Who are the Mystery Men?

Besides the nod to The New York Dolls, this article is really about Mystery Men, the best superhero film you have never heard about.

Super-heroic spoof

Flight and invulnerability, spandex outfits and ludicrous sidekicks. The concepts of superheroes are childhood fantasies which crumble in the adult world. In the goofy bedlam of Mystery Men’s Champion City, reality reveals superheroes to be losers, oddballs and dreamers. Instead of scowling vigilantes, powerful gods and aliens, the ‘Mystery Men’ are ordinary people pretending to be something more, except for the odd possessed bowling bowl and potent flatulence. Therein lies the wonderful magic of Mystery Men, it looks at itself and superheroes and laughs at the joke.

Released in 1999, the immediate target of Mystery Men’s lampooning is the vaudevillian gaudiness of the Batman films under Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Beyond that Mystery Men satirises dystopian films of the 1980s and 1990’s. Champion City’s architecture nods to the mega metropolis of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, while the film’s aesthetic of old and new technologies living aside each other mimics Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and 12 Monkeys. The gags come from the inherent silliness of superheroes and super villains which Mystery Men exaggerates with a gleefully deadpan take. The real source of laughter lies in the ‘Mystery Men’ of the film; Mr.Furious (Ben Stiller) who has slightly mild anger issues, the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) a mystic knife thrower haphazardly flinging forks and sometimes spoons and The Shoveler (William.H.Macy) who tackles crime with a shovel.

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The Shoveler is confronted by his wife

The ‘Mystery Men’

Later bolstered by new members, the ‘Mystery Men’ remain endearingly hopeless underdogs stood against villains who break the rules of comic books. In an odd premonition of Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, Mystery Men’s director Kinka Usher opens up the vulnerability of his superheroes. This vulnerability is not an Achilles heel but the humanity behind the mask or the shovel. Mystery Men, at its deepest level, concerns men and women dreaming of making it big but struggling against their own ordinariness and doubting whether they can save the day. All of us at some point have shared that fear of being ordinary, of questioning how we are different from everyone else in the crowd.

A film before its time

Created before the Marvel-Disney conveyor belt of melodramatic superhero films was even conceived, Mystery Men’s teasing of the genre has made it a refreshing tonic for the staple of today’s box office. Even if you are oblivious to the litany of D.C and Marvel films, Mystery Men’s is objectively funny. Neil Cuthbert alongside Bob Burden, creator of The Flaming Carrot Comics which inspired Mystery Men, crafted a script brimming with hilarious sound bytes. A personal favourite is the Shoveler’s statement to his wife that;

‘God gave me a gift…I shovel well, I shovel very well.’

It is shame that Mystery Men, given its inexhaustible quotability, came out before the YouTube age ushered in highlight reels of comedy films which propelled Anchorman to universal popularity. Alongside the excellent writing are cast whose calibre is something to behold. The initial trio of Ben Stiller, William.H.Macy and Hank Azaria as Mr.Furious, The Shoveler and the Blue Raja are a powerhouse boosted by the later additions of Paul Reubens as The Spleen and Jaeneane Garofalo as Baby Bowler. The list of actors goes on but most importantly Tom Waits plays mad scientist Dr.Heller who cooks up non-lethal weapons in an abandoned circus full of mannequins and chickens. Somehow I think Tom Waits had no difficulty in playing his role. Plus if you want more Tom Waits the DVD copy of Mystery Men has a wonderful deleted scene of Dr.Heller flirting with retirees. Bonus appearances are Eddie Izzard as leader of a disco gang Toni P and Cee Lo Green as a minor gang member.

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Tony P (Eddie Izzard)

Being his only feature film to date, director Kinka Usher brings the attentive detail of creating commercials to Mystery Men.  The result is a trove of gags in the film’s environment; from a retirement home’s bar being stocked with prescription medication to the Shoveler’s trophy cabinet for his weapon of choice. Mystery Men just gets better the more often you watch and the harder you look.

Sadly, Mystery Men followed its titular heroes and shuffled into obscurity after a release met with poor box office sales and poor critical responses. The story does sag in the middle but the reason for Mystery Men’s failure was it took superheroes, a thing Americans hold so earnestly as a reflection of themselves, and thumbed its nose at them.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

A Prayer Before Dawn

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Cast off into Thai prison for dealing heroin, the strange yet true life of British boxer Billy Moore is a ballad of visceral rawness which sometimes falters against its source material.

Due to the nature of the medium, books can host multiple sub-plots, nuances and themes while films have a limited window to tell a complete arc. The problem films face when transitioning a novel to the screen is either conciseness or fidelity. In trying to faithfully render Billy Moore’s memoirs, A Prayer Before Dawn’s ambitiousness entangles the film in a bramble of plot threads. Suffering from a drifting focus, A Prayer Before Dawn veers from the strangeness and savagery of Thai prison, to Billy’s fight to survive and curb his addiction while also being a boxing film. Even a sprinkle of romance is tossed into the the mix. These elements would meld together in the paper print of a good long book, but in a film they result in a plot which leaps and then spends scenes orientating itself. A Prayer Before Drawn plunges the viewer into a shocking and gruesome reality, but its many stops prevent it being an engrossing journey through Thailand’s underbelly.  

Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire makes some admirably bold decisions in A Prayer Before Dawn. Absent of any subtitles throughout, the viewer shares Billy’s fear and confusion as he is lost in the Thai commands of guard and prisoner alike. The prisoners themselves are all former Thai convicts. Their grounding in the film’s setting explains how the prisoners unflinchingly depict acts of rape, extortion and violence with a disturbing level of calm. The final and best gamble Sauvaire pulls is his choice of Joe Cole as Billy Moore. Cole brings to Billy Moore the same intensity as his character John Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet Cole channels this intensity into someone bearing the brunt of the world, buckling from inner turmoil while reeling at external dangers. Cole captivates as Billy Moore, rendering A Prayer Before Dawn into an intimate look at another rebuilding his life, a man both dangerous and vulnerable. This duality draws away from A Prayer Before Dawn’s problems and proves Joe Cole’s promise to become a venerable star of our time.

Visually, Sauvaire’s use of space and framing invokes the claustrophobia and oppressiveness of prison both environmentally and socially. Certain shots of Billy, his pale skin amid a sea of tattooed prisoners marks out his isolation and seeming incompatibility with this lifestyle.  

Throughout A Prayer Before Dawn I saw the passion and potential of this unique story beyond the rosy tourist images of Thailand. However I struggled to be truly enveloped by the film. Hopefully a second viewing will improve my opinion but I would still recommend A Prayer Before Dawn to anyone looking for something different.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Escape From New York

Synopsis: Escape From New York depicts a dystopian 1997 where New York City has become a prison. War hero turned bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is offered clemency if he enters New York and saves the U.S President (Donald Pleasence) who is stranded in the Big Apple.

Written by director John Carpenter in the wake of Watergate and America’s loss of faith in itself post-Vietnam,  Escape From New York belongs to Cold War science fiction. Carpenter’s vision of the 1990’s reflects fears in the 1970’s of societal collapse, nuclear war and state control. In Escape From New York America is a police state while the Cold War has turned hot. America’s militarised police, clad in black and obscured by riot visors, are an unsettling mix of Vietnam and Nixon’s faceless G-Men as they descend from huey helicopters. New York’s transformation into a prison represents a sentiment which Carpenter touches upon in Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13; the fear of urban violence, drugs and crime spreading beyond the cities.

Late night television introduced me to John Carpenter’s films, in particular Halloween. At age 14 I bought a DVD of  Escape From New York and devoured the film. Re-watching  Escape From New York years later on the big screen has changed my perception of the story. When I was younger Escape From New York was a strange and alluring thriller. Now I see how modern society has returned to the film’s dark trajectory. In an age of global terror, mass surveillance, mass shootings and rising extremism, we are affronted again by state interference and social instability. Entering into the chaos is anti-heroic gunslinger Snake Plissken. Plissken’s adherence to a tattered moral compass in a grim future represents a begrudging sense of hope, much like Mad Max, that humanity can persist no matter the bleakness. Unlike the original Mad Max films, Escape From New York strikes a lighter tone through Nick Castle’s work on the script. In Nick Castle’s hands, the film gains an awareness of its wackiness; from its gnarled criminal gangs of New York clad in the ruins of the city to the roster of oddball characters.

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Snakes forges a plan

Crafted from a small budget of $5 million, Carpenter’s ingenuity with practical effects makes Escape From New York visually striking. Filmed in the burned out centre of St.Louis, Missouri, the city’s state gave Carpenter carte-blanche for his gnarled interpretation of New York. Atop the filming location are the models, costumes, painted backdrops and other effects which permeate the film. Time has marked the look of Escape From New York but these are just wrinkles defining a growing maturity. The film’s ability to still draw in the viewer opposes modern films whose proclivity for CGI often rushes disbelief back in. Carpenter’s score much like Halloween infuses Escape From New York with a soul of nervous energy and brooding fear as disco and funk are sifted through a synthesizer.

The cast of Escape From New York flesh out life inside the prison. Isaac Hayes as the Duke, New York’s kingpin, swaggers around with bravado like a cowboy villain followed by his posse in rag tag automobiles. Harry Dean Stanton as Brain and veteran of Hollywood’s golden age Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie exude the strangeness and toughness required to survive within the walls of New York. Best of all is Kurt Russell as Snake, whose grit is matched by defiance as he sarcastically thumbs his nose at authority figures. In the end it is Snake who provides the sole honest voice in Escape From New York, revealing the U.S president and his men to be just as corrupt as those living within New York. In today’s political climate, I think we could learn something from Snake.

Thanks to Home Manchester for screening such a great film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

First Reformed

Rating: 5 out of 5 (classic)

Director: Paul Schrader

Synopsis: A dying priest attempts to save one of his dwindling flock from radicalism. In doing so, Reverend Enrst Toller (Ethan Hawke) veers towards eco-terrorism as he loses all hope for himself and the world.

Through the self-introspection of a priest, America looks at itself and the world beyond and screams in desperation. Sliding from its puritan and republican ideals America has become like the First Reformed chapel, a church abandoned, the city upon a hill no more.  The chapel of First Reformed is a testament to America’s nascent struggle for liberty and tolerance. Now the chapel is absorbed by the Christian organisation Abundant Life whose creationist fervour shields the energy company who finances it. The chapel is a stark reflection of America today, torn by ardent fundamentalism and corporate greed who perpetuate a stagnant quagmire of polarised political partisanship.

First Reformed’s protagonist, Reverend Ernst Toller, has done everything expected of him and yet the American dream has failed him. Now seemingly at death’s door, Ernst begins to question where we are heading and despairs at a system willingly leading the planet towards a slow demise for its own gain. The looming environmental collapse we now face grasps at a deeper aspect of humanity; an awareness of our own fragility. We all sense at times how brittle our life, the lives of our loved ones and the world truely are. When we contemplate this fragility it is easy to be swallowed into a void of despair and uncertainty as the world seems forever poised to crumble. Ernst’s journey in First Reformed is a grapple with the ceaseless death without renewal, leaving him to accept death and hope again or become death in an attempt to master it.

The film’s condemnation of big business and big religion in propagating America’s laissez-faire approach to environmental pollution is subtly done through Reverend Joel Jeffries (Cedric the Entertainer) and businessman Edward Balq (Michael Gaston). Their bullish denial of climate change unravels under Ernst’s guilt for what we have done to this world. First Reformed’s hard stare at our collective responsibility for despoiling god’s work sadly comes at a time when what America has saved is targeted for destruction. Under Trump’s presidency American environmental regulation has been discarded while federal lands and national parks seem ripe for resource exploitation. Whether we would fare better if America was more ecological is a hypothetical. At humanity’s destructive rate in First Reformed we will burn every blade of grass before seriously changing our lifestyles.

When I first watched Gattaca I knew Ethan Hawke was bound for greatness, now First Reformed proves it.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

The Endless

Rating: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: Brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a cryptic video from the ‘UFO death cult’ they escaped from 10 years ago. Intrigue entices the pair back to the community of Camp Arcadia and ensares them in a darker mystery.

The Endless deserves to be a classic lauded with wide recognition rather than the cult film it will likely become. I had not heard about The Endless until the film’s trailer swayed me to attend a Q&A screening. Directors Benson and Moorhead, who play The Endless’ protagonists, expressed surprise at the audience’s size after earlier films had only drawn crowds of 2 or more. Yet The Endless is a flawless thriller whose cosmic horror burrows into the viewer’s nerves and never relinquishes control.

H.P.Lovecraft’s tales, as John Carpenter touched upon in Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, can fumble as a twist ending negates the horror of man versus the unknown. The Endless’ Lovecraftian roots show in a quotation from the writer, yet the film succeeds where Lovecraft failed. The Endless’ success comes from its relatable story of family and brotherhood, nostalgia and rebellion. The horror of The Endless while gripping and manifest is the supporting context for the tale. Who or what is around Camp Arcadia is drawn out through layers of sub-plots hiding secrets, red-herrings and teasers which open The Endless up to review and reinterpretation. Curiously director Aaron Moorhead said at the BFI Q&A that the film only had ‘two or three real mysteries’. Despite my prodding about the conclusion both directors upheld the film’s tantalising ambiguity.  The presence shrouding the cult is made potent by the film’s budgetary constraints. Any major Hollywood production would tape everything together with CGI. In The Endless however circling crows, crude charcoal etchings and antiquated tapes denote something odder and more menacing than a green screen lurking around.  Interestingly the recordings and images found in The Endless are more than clues, denoting the cat and mouse game between ‘it’ and the brothers as one watches and one searches for the other.

The plot, written by Justin Benson, scares initially and lingers long after its end through mystery, projection and minimal gore. The Endless becomes even creepier through Camp Arcadia’s inhabitants, whose oddness jars with their unbridled pleasantness. The plot’s progression, alongside Benson and Moorhead’s performance, creates a believable dynamic of siblings at loggerheads. The brilliant cast consists of crew members except for Callie Hernandez and Emily Montague who are established actors. The cast’s performance, combined with Benson’s deadpan comedy, exacerbates The Endless’ terror as reprieve turns to horror once again.

The Endless is showing in the U.K at certain cinemas and is available to rent on Itunes and YouTube. Though this is a film which rewards the finding of a screening at the cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Rating: 1 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: 3 years after Jurassic World the dinosaurs remaining at the abandoned resort face extinction once more as the island’s volcano is poised to erupt.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s mistake is to choose seriousness over levity in a world where dinosaurs live and exist as tourist attractions. It is a decision which immediately falls hollow as the plot gives way to a lazy rehashing of box office tropes and predictable twists and even throws in much of Jurassic World’s story. Fallen Kingdom’s attempt at maturity is to ask whether dinosaurs, the creatures which have heartily chomped on humans in Jurassic films past, should be preserved for the benefit of future human generations. It is a dilemma quickly answered by Jeff Goldblum’s response of ‘No’. Yet the film ignores the idiocy of its proposed dilemma and struggles on with no purpose for what feels like a very long run-time.

The film is an old fossil, a rather dull affair to behold that has been seen countless times before. The story is a Frankenstein’s monster of 3 arcs hewn together consisting of animal preservation, romance between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and Jurassic World’s threat of weaponised dinosaurs. The animal preservation narrative dissolves quickly, and the film’s depiction of this movement as an anti-corporate millennial upsurge is very twee. Pratt and Howard were decent in Jurassic World but without the children of Jurassic World, the pair lack the chemistry to carry the minutes between dinosaurs. Nor do Pratt or Howard seem enthused to return for Fallen Kingdomwith boredom and fatigue lining their faces as they pretend to see another  dinosaur upon the green screen.

The new characters introduced to Fallen Kingdom are evident character types who exist as stepping stones for the story. At least Fallen Kingdom’s return to the threat of military grade dinosaurs spawns a decent turn by Toby Jones as a miniature Trump replete with fake tan, bleached teeth and dubious hair. Jones alone is not enough to save a film which feels remarkably redundant despite being the immediate sequel to a promising soft reboot. Fallen Kingdom’s twists sport the worst of Hollywood’s absent logic, concluding with a ludicrous ending created only to propagate further sequels. All this could be largely forgiven, but in Fallen Kingdom’s fixatation on more ‘human’ and serious themes, it strangles the fun out of the dinosaurs which are the series’ fulcrum.

Following this dismal sequel, Jurassic World should shuffle off into extinction.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;