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:

 

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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.

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(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

 

 

Girls Trip

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Highly enjoyable)

Synopsis: A group of four college friends, known as the Flossy Posse, decide to have a reunion weekend at EssenceFest in New Orleans after the festival chooses the group’s de facto leader, Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), to be its keynote speaker. Since college, the four friends have grown apart. Ryan has achieved celebrity status due to the success of New York Times Best Selling books while her former best friend, Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah), runs a gossip blog, a point of contention between the two. During their getaway weekend, the other two friends, Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), try to keep the two alpha-females happy as the reunion devolves into a party-fest filled with celebrity cameos, drama, and impressively good dancing.

Let me begin this review by stating that I had no idea what Girls Trip‘s plot was about going into the theater. My friend, Ben, demanded that we forgo It and Mother! (my two suggestions for our man-date), leaving Girls Trip as the only other well-reviewed movie out that neither of us had seen. Despite my reservations that Girls Trip would turn out to be another Bridesmaids (which didn’t connect with me despite winning over many critics), I am overjoyed we saw this film. It turned out to be a female version of The Hangover, but with a more grounded plot and acted with greater energy.

Girls Trip’s highlight was definitely Tiffany Haddish (center, below) and her character Dina. Dina, described as “the Wild One,” provided the spark to much of the movie’s humor. Her unpredictable nature caused me to follow her whenever she was onscreen. Her flawless comedic timing had me doubled over laughing for most of the movie. Thanks to Dina, I will now always chuckle to myself whenever I lay eyes on a grapefruit.

The other women took turns being the “straight” character to Dina’s craziness, which at times made them a little dull, but overall, each one had an interesting background that provided a wealth of material for the writers to pull from when they needed a motive for a scene.

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The writers, Tracy Oliver and Kenya Barris, both deserve props as much as the actresses in the movie. While they formed their story around the simple plot of divisive friendships resolved through a moment of clarity, their script was sharp, especially dropping subtle hints throughout the movie of a possible pregnancy that made Lisa’s failing relationship with her husband (Mike Colter) that much more damaging when his girlfriend informs Lisa she’s pregnant.

I removed one and a half points from Girl Trip‘s film score for two reasons. The half point comes from the ease with which the four friends forgave each other, which made their forgiveness appear false despite Lisa’s long voice-over in the ending montage proclaiming that they Flossy Posse had put aside their differences. This might seem petty on my behalf, but when a writer bases his/her movie around the idea of friendship, a simple “I’m sorry” wouldn’t heal the deep scars that existed between Lisa and Sasha. I also deducted a full point because so much of the humor came from the unexpected madness that poured from Dina’s mouth and putting four middle-age women in scenarios way out of their element. I do not expect to receive the same amount of joy from a second viewing. Call it the diminishing marginal utility of most comedic thrills, if you will.

However, don’t let my deductions stop you from seeing this movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m just trying to manage expectations. If you DO NOT have a problem with lewd and overly sexual humor, please go see Girls Trip.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

A Ghost Story

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis:  Haunting and harrowing, A Ghost Story confronts the truism that in a dark and cold universe our lives and legacies are inconsequential mayflies, leaving only the churning shadow of mortality. Couple C (Casey Affleck), a musician, and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are suddenly and tragically torn apart when C dies in a car accident in front of their quiet home. In C’s return as a ghost and haunting of his former home, writer and director David Lowery searches for a spiritual answer to death.

Visually, A Ghost Story is closer to a long piece of video art more comfortable in the quiet white walls of a modern museum. Sparse with dialogue and even motion, the film often becomes a beautiful slideshow of still images, framed through doorways and windows as the ghost perceives life coldly from the outside. There is almost a Vermeeresque knack to how Lowery composes these images. Through Lowery’s eyes, ordinary structures and objects bleed into one flowing image while audio samples of the world outside, or Daniel Heart’s score ebb and flow across it. C’s presence, returning as a simple white sheet with black eye holes, has an unsettling simplicity. Given the aspect ratio of the film and the ghost’s faceless presences, shots felt like uncovered old photos of seances, with C poised to lunge at the unaware people caught in the frame. C’s own disconnect with the world is poignantly conveyed by motion. The world seems deathly still even before C’s death. The inhabitants of C’s home move on and as C persists, the camera begins to spin between rooms while C shifts his gaze while days become months at a dizzying pace.

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(Affleck as C’s ghost along with director David Lowery)

Affleck and Mara perform well in their roles as props for Lowery’s vision and Daniel Heart’s soundtrack when either actor appears on the screen. Heart cannot be praised enough for his work on A Ghost Story. C’s ghost could have been a difficult character to connect with, but through Heart’s soundtrack the ghost becomes a canvas onto which each new song projects a different emotion. Heart’s work really conveys the ghost’s mounting anger and frustration, along with Lowery’s focus on the ghost’s expressionless face as lights flicker in response to his rage. The ghost’s maligned presence in various frames at times emanates menace or isolation.

A Ghost Story’s experimental reliance upon image and sound will cause many people to justifiably leave the cinema in the first twenty minutes. Although beautiful, the film is peppered with moments of dead time where nothing happens. In one particular scene Rooney Mara, grief stricken, makes a meal out of a pie.  The camera, without music or words, unflinchingly records Mara breakdown as she shovels the pie and crust until running away to vomit. These moments, like the one-man pie contest, are a struggle which only ardent art house cinema fans will persist through. Yet A Ghost Story is a rewarding experience with themes that few directors or film studios are willing to explore. The house and C’s return represent our shared fear of oblivion, to see whether the world remembers us. The world will likely not remember us and the only thing to do is leave little notes like M does, and let go.

After immediate viewing, A Ghost Story was going to receive three stars but in the passing week I have found myself revisiting the film, its ideas, and its haunting musical score. In retrospect the film is a struggle to watch, but many will appreciate it more in the days afterwards. Thanks to A24 for backing such a refreshingly unusual film.

For trailer, see below.

By Saul Shimmin

Trailer Roundup: September

Following this summer’s box office slump, here a few films to look forward to!

Hostiles

Release date: Currently travelling between film festivals, no set date for the cinema release

The Work

Release date:  Out now in the U.K.


Arriving from nowhere, a trailer for The Work suddenly appeared two weeks ago at my local independent cinema and fortunately it is available in the U.K since Friday 8 September.

Focusing upon a group therapy session over four days between Folsom Prison inmates and outsiders, the trailer alone bristles with intensity and is definitely not a documentary to miss. Hopefully there will be more throat signing in the actual film, which I have reviewed here.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Release date: 6 October 2017 in the U.S.

Directed and written by S. Craig Zahler who directed Bone Tomahawk which Hagood reviewed and enjoyed here. 

Vince Vaughn made a good anti-hero in the glimpses I caught of HBO’s True Detective‘s second season. Vaughn’s new role in Brawl in Cell Block 99 as boxer-turned-drug dealer Bradley Thomas follows that anti-hero thread. Unlike True Detective, Zahler has really used Vaughn’s natural physicality. Ignoring the bald head and crucifix tattoo combo Vaughn is rocking, he is naturally quite a scary guy, especially when practising his boxing on an innocent Suburu as shown in the trailer.

I cannot wait to see this film, in part due to how well the music choice fits the trailer, which is always a good sign.

Shot Caller

Release date: 18 August 2017 in the U.S. (out now)

There is definitely an unintentional prison theme going on in this article.

Nikoloaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob Harlon, a respectable family man, who after a car accident, winds up in a maximum security prison where he slowly and tragically becomes ensconced in prison life. Alongside Nikolaj is Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, recently in Baby Driverand Jeffrey Donovan.

For a film with a respectable cast, Shot Caller has received almost nought attention from the media and little exposure in cinemas. Unfortunately, Shot Caller is not the only film this year that has been forgotten by the film industry as I stated in my piece about Netflix here.

The main star is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known for his role as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Alongside Netflix original Small Crimes in which Nikolaj plays a Jamie-esque character minus the incest, there seems to be a trickling current to propel the actor as a veritable film star. Shot Caller might not get Nikolaj public recognition, but it will hopefully get filmmakers interested in him.

Lady Bird

Release Date: November 10

What’s a trailer round up without an A24 film? Released a week ago, this trailer shows what appears to be a semi-light hearted coming of age movie in a similar vein to last year’s Age of Seventeen. The film stars Brooklyn and Hana actress Saoirse Ronan and Manchester By The Sea standout, Lucas Hedges.

Here at Title Roll, we’re huge fans of A24’s mission and work to bring smaller, indie films to the large screen. While sometimes coming of age films fall flat, Lady Bird seems to have struck a nice quirky tone with its main character, “Lady Bird” who is a strong willed, Catholic high schooler. She wants to rebel against everyone including her similarly stubborn mother (Laura Metcalf) and it is in such familial struggles where often great movies are separated from mediocre films.

We shall see if first time director Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the script) can strike this delicate balance between angsty (but sometimes funny) teenager outbursts and serious, family drama. We’re hopeful she will.

The Valley of Shadows

Release date: 20 October 2017 in Norway, elsewhere not confirmed

I thought I should add this as a final choice. The beautifully stark Norweigan background which becomes hauntingly ethereal as the trailer unfolds makes the film feel like a cross between Pan’s Labyrinth and Let The Right One In .

The plot revolves around Alask, a young boy living in a rural Norweigan town who believes a werewolf is stalking the land. While The Valley of Shadows may not be released in the Anglophone world anytime soon, it is one to look out for.

By Saul Shimmin and Hagood Grantham

Baby Driver

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Amid a summer of flops, director Edgar Wright delivers a chop shop delight in the form of Baby Driver. Brimming with upbeat tones from a brilliant playlist of songs the film cheekily nods to the car films to which it pays homage, while never falling into the trap of self-seriousness.

Admittedly, Baby Driver did not begin well for me. The opening scene felt like Drive had mutated into a musical and I am not a fan of musicals as revealed in my review of  La La Land. Instead of Ryan Gosling broodingly awaiting robbers in midnight Los Angeles, Baby (Ansel Elgort) mimes songs in downtown Atlanta while his crew robs a bank in broad daylight. Once the film began in earnest however, my fears about the film receded as Baby Driver is about escapism, symbolised by the music and cars and encapsulated by love interest Deborah’s desire to head West in a car and just listen to music.

For me Shaun of the Dead is still Edgar Wright’s best film, but Baby Driver is Wright at his directorial best. Wright’s film-making has always brimmed with subversiveness. Rather than hoodwinking you into disbelief, Wright’s work is all too aware that it is just a story and revels in its own artifice, creating knowingly surreal scenes from ordinary moments such as Hot Fuzz’s sea mine scene. Boasting a bigger budget than Wright’s last film At World’s End, Baby Driver could be a comic book. Whole segments are awash with primary colours and both characters and cars are choreographed step by step while the camera rotates round. The music is the final touch which turns Baby Driver into an exquisite dance. Baby’s playlist perforates every part of the film. His music protects him from the real world. He synchronises events and actions in time with his songs, projecting a sense of control over what happens around him. Once the story unfolds and things sour, the real world bleeds over into Baby’s songs as he loses any semblance of control. This shift is done to great effect, especially in one later gunfight orchestrated to Focus’ Hocus Pocus with shots ringing in time with the guitar riff.

The cast is a mix of predictable and surprising choices. Jon Berthanal and Kevin Spacey play bagman, Griff, and criminal mastermind, Doc, respectively. Both roles fit each actor’s portrayal of bad guys in the past. Gruff is physically menacing, reminiscent of Berthanal’s character Shane from The Walking Dead, while Doc is a diluted and more comedic Frank Underwood from House of Cards. The more surprising choices were Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx is truly volatile as bank robber, Bats, his bloodlust and unpredictability to fellow heist members and innocent bystanders becomes clear very quickly. Completely sociopathic and unashamedly greedy, Bat’s recital that the money belongs to him before every heist chillingly shows how cold-blooded he is. Hamm, even as robber Buddy,  is charming. Drawing on his work playing Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm humanizes this unlikeable character through Buddy’s fondness for Baby.

Ansel Elgort seemed to jar with the film in the initial trailers, but casting him as the titular Baby fits the lighter tone of the story’s first half. Instead of following the trope in car films to have a tough guy like Ryan Gosling as the driver, Elgort, both youthful and gangly, fits the baby-like qualities of his character. Elgort is also capable of smoothly switching to a more serious tone when the film becomes darker. Lily James is good as love interest Deborah and curiously Red Hot Chili Pepper member Flea has a brief cameo as Bat’s crew member Eddie No-Nose.

Ultimately, what shines through in Baby Driver is Wright’s love for car films. The car chases nod towards the various films that Wright was inspired by, from Bullitt to The Blues Brothers. Wright readily admits how the car scenes pay tribute to his favourite drive films in an article for Sight and Sound. Beyond drive films, Baby Driver indirectly owes a debt to Michael Mann’s heist films. Baby’s inner turmoil over his life mimics James Cann’s character in Thief, while a frantic escape scene through downtown Atlanta bore a resemblance to the Heat’s downtown shootout.

Baby Driver is a great film which is still showing at odd times in U.K. cinemas and is well worth seeing before it comes to DVD this autumn.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

For the Love of Cinemas

As  Saul discussed in his “Netflix & Nolan” piece, Netflix is attempting to usurp Cinema with its original films that it releases directly to its website instead of opening them in theaters as Amazon has chosen to do with its slate of releases. I vehemently oppose Netflix’s actions, not because I dislike the films it produces and releases, but for several other, possibly harmful reasons for Cinema.

The first is what Saul discussed in “Netflix & Nolan.” Giving small, indie flicks screen time at the cinema gives them the spotlight they need to ensure their survival. Hushing them in the carousel of options listed under “Movies,” “Dramas,” or “Because you watched [fill in the blank]” will give Netflix a poor return on their investments in these films, and it will likewise discourage directors, actors, and screenwriters from partnering with Netflix because they might feel the company does not support their art.

My second reason for opposing Netflix’s attack on Cinema is based on my love for actual theaters. When I was completing my undergraduate degree at Davidson College, the theater was my weekend escape. Almost every Saturday, I trekked to the nearest cinema in Huntersville, NC to catch the latest releases. During my four years at Davidson, I saw many of my favorite films at this theater including FuryNightcrawlerGone GirlGuardians of the GalaxyRoom, and Deadpool. I loved going to the theater because the journey provided (and still provides me) with a separation from the stresses of the real world and Davidson, whether it was an impending paper deadline, an upcoming midterm, or three unread books. If I had tried to pirate one of the aforementioned films as many of my peers chose to do, or selected a film on Netflix, I would not have enjoyed it to the extent that I did seeing it in the theater. The theater, with its flashing marquee and overpriced concessions, helped ensure my suspension of disbelief as gateway between my troubles and the happy times I spent inside its interior.

regal birkdale

While I love a well made blockbuster (not you DC comics or most monster movies), I also enjoy watching more heady, smaller budget films like HerEx-Machina, and Prisoners in theaters. This past year I missed The Lost City of Z, almost ignored Paterson, and never even heard of The Handmaiden till Saul reviewed it here. I love to strike a balance between the bombast of blockbusters and the small glances that move mountains in indie and arthouse films. For my sake, I hope Amazon continues its plan of continuing to release its films in theaters.

Finally, I love the cinema for watching movies with others. Never does this aspect of the theater play a bigger role in my life than when Disney releases another Star Wars entry. Seeing these stories unfold and secrets unravel with people who care for the characters just as much as I do is hair-raising magic. It is an experience that neither Netflix nor I could recreate in my dorm room at school or living room at home. Being around devoted fans transports me further into a galaxy far, far away.

Please let us know your feelings below. We welcome a dialogue on this subject.

By Hagood Grantham

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.