In the October issue of UK movie magazine Sight & Sound, the feature article was entitled, The Female Gaze: 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women. In the article’s introduction, Isabel Stevens asks the question, “Other than decrying the status quo and highlighting and critiquing new films by female directors, what can a film magazine do?” The answer is to shed light on a variety of movies made by women directors and to reinforce the notion that they were and are just as capable as their male counterparts of making intelligent, thought-provoking, and entertaining movies on a wide variety of subjects.
In recognition of this, and over the coming week, thedullwoodexperiment will be looking at some of the movies on the Sight & Sound list, and celebrating the contribution that women directors have made since those groundbreaking days of 1896. In the meantime you may want to look at the reviews of the movies directed by women that are already on the site, women such as:
It still comes as a surprise to me that I get to do this (most) every day, and that I get the visits and feedback that I do, just by writing about what I love most: the movies. Even when a movie is a real stinker, it’s still an enjoyable feeling to be able to put my thoughts about such debacles out there, and alongside the movies that really work.
I’ve got several ideas and plans for Year Three, including the return of Poster of the Week (though in a slightly different format), the return of Zatoichi (my apologies for not having continued the series as originally planned), further installments of For One Week Only, and several other ideas that will remain under wraps for now. Reviews will continue to be the focus, but I aim to increase the amount of non-review posts as well.
As always I’m open to suggestions about which movies should be reviewed or included, and if anyone wants to see something specific under the For One Week Only banner, feel free to let me know. Any and all feedback will be gratefully received. Now, what can I watch next…?
Good (really good) comedies are thin on the ground these days, and although the latest from Jared Hess – Napoleon Dynamite (2004), Nacho Libre (2006) – does look a little rough around the edges, there’s enough potential seen in the trailer to warrant a good degree of anticipation. The movie’s tale of religious oneupmanship and archaeological fraud is certainly ripe for laughs, and the presence of Rockwell in the title role bodes well, but this will be down to Hess and whether or not his script (co-written by his wife Jerusha) is as finely crafted as Napoleon Dynamite was, and if it can steer clear of being more farce than parody. If so, then with a bit of (divine?) luck it could be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise currently stale genre.
Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Peña, Dougray Scott, Peter Andersson, John Patrick Amedori, Kathleen Robinson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Paré, Cas Anvar, Alex Sparrow
Watching contemporary horror movies is a pastime perfectly suited for the unabashed masochist, someone who will continuously, regularly put themselves through all kinds of cinematic detritus in the hope of finding that rare beast: the above average horror movie. It’s a calling, a passion if you like, and there are plenty of people who will settle down to watch ultra-low budget efforts such as Silverhide (2015) or franchise dregs like Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) in the certain knowledge that they’ll be wasting their time and afterwards, will be wondering why on earth they watched said travesty in the first place – what was I thinking?
While such perseverance might be commended (or just marvelled at), the fact is that ultra-low budget horror movies are generally rubbish, and franchise entries are a dreadful infringement on our time and patience. But there’s a third kind of horror movie that endures today despite its commitment to shocking dialogue and nonsensical plotting, to vague characterisations and unconvincing acting. It’s the kind of horror movie that paints itself in respectability by having well-known actors in key roles, and by splashing a little more cash than usual. These movies also manage to find their way to our cinema screens – they actually open – and they work as stand alone movies that may or may not develop into franchises. But – and this is the most important point to be made about these movies – they’re still rubbish, they’re just made by people who really should know better.
And after that cycnical preamble, we come to The Vatican Tapes, a movie so blind to its many irritating, mind-bending faults that it becomes a struggle to get through after the first few minutes, and where any efforts to improve on its tortured storyline and disastrous plotting have apparently been strangled at the preconception stage. It’s a movie that can’t decide whether it’s an exorcism tale, all about the rise of the Antichrist, or religious paranoia (though it tries to be all three at once). It’s the kind of movie experience that makes you want to do what one character does, and drive broken lightbulbs into your eyes so that you don’t have to watch any more.
Going into a movie like this, there’s often the idea that because of the cast (who must know a good project when they see one, they’re all experienced actors, after all), the finished product will have an edge over the more bog-standard, predictable horror movies out there. And surely the producers wouldn’t have been able to attract such a cast with a dodgy script and a director with no clear idea of what he’s doing? Surely they wouldn’t have been able to do that, right? Wrong! Most actors go where the money or the work is, and sometimes all they can do is take the money, make the movie, and then pray that no one ever sees it.
Here we have Messrs Peña, Scott, Andersson and Hounsou all looking uncomfortable, embarrassed, and itching to get through their scenes as quickly as possible. Not one of them manages to attain any degree of credibility in their roles, and not one of them feels like they were cast in the right role. Of the four, Peña looks the most awkward, playing a priest, Father Lozano, who’s always in the wrong place at the right time, and who is the first to suspect that normally sweet-natured Angela (Dudley) is possessed by a demon. As the tortuous story continues, Peña hovers at the edge of group scenes with the air of a man hoping he could just take one more step to the left or right and then he’d be out of shot altogether. And Scott’s performance as a hard-nosed Army veteran and father of the possessed is staggeringly bad, with the scene where he describes his relationship with Angela’s mother rendered laughable thanks to the absurdity of the dialogue created by Michael C. Martin and Christopher Borelli, and Scott’s hamfisted attempt at sincerity.
The story itself doesn’t make any sense, and varies in intention from scene to scene. Angela becomes possessed but is it through cutting her finger, or the subsequent attack by a crow on a bus, or while she stays in a coma for forty days (one of the more spurious connections with Jesus the movie makes on Angela’s behalf)? Ultimately it doesn’t matter because once the exorcism – conducted by Vatican honcho Cardinal Bruun (Andersson) and abetted by Lozano – gets under way, the focus switches from casting out a pesky demon to battling for Angela’s soul against an incarnation of the Antichrist who just so happens to have possessed Bruun when he was twelve.
By now, the absurdity of the story will have become so apparent, all the hapless viewer can do is continue watching just to see if the movie can become even more absurd – which it manages with ease (the Antichrist as media darling, anyone?). It doesn’t help that the movie’s director, Mark Neveldine, has less than a firm grasp on the “dramatics” of the story, and instead concentrates on the visuals. However he doesn’t bring anything new to proceedings, leaving the movie looking like an homage to all the other recent horror movies that have traded on bleached out vistas and a jagged editing style overlaid with an effects heavy soundtrack that deadens the atmosphere and soon becomes annoying. And it remains resolutely scare-free.
In a less conservative era, comedians would tell jokes that began “My wife’s so fat…” A modern day equivalent in this instance might begin with “This movie’s so bad…” and end with “it makes Nicolas Cage’s recent career choices look like worthy Oscar winners.” Or, “this movie’s so bad… it’s the only thing that can take my mind off of how fat my wife is.” It’s simply a terrible movie and unless you’re one of those unabashed masochists mentioned at the top of the review, should be avoided at all costs.
Rating: 2/10 – dire doesn’t even begin to describe just how ridiculously awful The Vatican Tapes is; it’s yet another horror movie made by people who have no clue what they’re doing and who just don’t seem to care if the audience likes it or not.
On 7 August 2014 I posted a review of the documentary, Lost for Life. It was a movie that I’d discovered by accident, but it looked interesting, and the subject matter – a look at five teen killers and whether they should be forgiven for their homicidal actions – was certainly compelling. I watched the movie and found it both horrific and uplifting in equal measure.
Over time, Lost for Life has become thedullwoodexperiment‘s most viewed post. It’s also the post I’ve had the most feedback about. A lot of that feedback has concerned Jacob Ind (see picture below), whose story makes up the second part of the movie. Along with his brother Charles, Jacob was regularly abused by his mother and stepfather, both physically and emotionally, and he had nursed ideas of killing them for two or three years before they were murdered. His defenders state that his actions were the result of the abuse he’d suffered, but what helps to muddy the waters for anyone paying even the slightest attention to Jacob’s case, is his decision to persuade a classmate, Gabrial Adams to kill his parents for him (and for $2,000 Jacob didn’t have). A loner, Adams botched the job, and Jacob took over from him, successfully shooting and killing Pamela and Kermode Jordan.
In my review, I said that there was “something not quite right about his responses and the moments when he closes his eyes – which happen quite a lot – it’s as if he’s reliving the memories of killing his mother and stepfather”. Having watched the movie again, I still have that same feeling, that Jacob is so divorced from the concepts of personal responsibility and guilt that it’s all a puzzle to him – and one he has no interest in trying to decipher. Looking further into all the surrounding arguments I found a quote made by Jacob after the killings: “I thought that when they were gone, my whole world was going to be better. I thought all the weight was going to be off my shoulders, all the misery would be gone. But it wasn’t, and I said, ‘Man, I screwed up.'” Reading this, it’s not hard to think that Jacob’s only regret is that he didn’t get away with it.
The person I most felt sorry for was Josiah Ivy (see picture below), an abused teenager whose level of disconnection from those around him prompted him to kill two strangers “just to see what it felt like”. Josiah suffered abuse as a child, but where Jacob Ind looks unfazed and unconcerned by his crime, Josiah looks adrift in his own mind, a victim of mental ill health who’ll never quite manage to acclimatise to society (even if by some miracle he’s ever allowed out). Josiah, like Jacob and co-murderers Brian Lee Draper and Torey Adamczik, has an awareness of the magnitude of what he’s done, but it seems so overwhelming to him he doesn’t know how to properly express himself.
Of course, the question of individual responsibility is one the movie tackles throughout, and whether or not the teen killers in question were cognisant of what they were doing at the time. Some commentators argue that teenage minds aren’t as sharply defined in their thinking as an adult’s, but to me that’s a specious argument; everyone learns from an early age that it’s wrong to kill someone, but it’s an awareness that means nothing when placed up against a greater driver: that person’s level of self-interest. Aside from the final story involving ex-gang member Sean Taylor, whose random firing of a gun led to the death of a rival gang member, these are all stories of teens who deliberately set out to kill someone: random strangers, a friend, family members. You could argue that the victims were “convenient”, such was their murderers’ feelings about them at the time, and such was the brutality levelled at them. The question isn’t whether or not we should feel sorry for them – clearly the answer is No – nor is it whether they should be given a second chance as adults. The real question is how can we stop these types of killings from happening again.
Murder in any form is abhorrent, but what Joshua Rofé’s thought-provoking movie also does is to make the viewer doubt whether or not murder is ever so clear-cut. By focusing on three such horrific cases – Taylor’s story acts as a necessary rebuttal to the idea that rehabilitation is a waste of time – the movie broaches the possibility that murder can be understood and forgiven, even murders as heinous as the ones recorded here. This is true, but it’s down to the individual to decide, and is a brave choice to make with such an emotive issue. This is why the participation of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins and Sharletta Evans is so important: without them (and Taylor) the movie would be unremittingly bleak, and wouldn’t fairly reflect the ways in which the human spirit can overcome the darkness that often blights people’s lives (it’s all about personal empowerment, but that’s a whole different movie).
At this moment in time, Draper, Adamczik, Ind and Ivy are all still in prison, and all still living out their very steep sentences. Ind’s accomplice, Gabrial Adams committed suicide in prison in March 2014, while the families of the victims still struggle to come to terms with what happened to their loved ones, and why. But again, the why is the easy bit: it’s because Draper, Adamczik, Ind and Ivy all wanted to do what they did. For the underlying reasons that drove them to murder, well, those are things we’re never likely to know for definite – but it would be fascinating if we did.
One of the very few actresses who could hold their own in a scene with John Wayne (she also once said she made him sexy), Irish-born Maureen O’Hara had an earthy sexuality about her that the camera captured every time, and who made a succession of high quality movies from the very start of her career. She was fearless, often doing her own stunts, and she projected a mental and emotional toughness that audiences in the Forties were quick to respond to. She was affectionately known as Big Red (for the colour of her hair), and worked with directors as diverse as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed, Jean Renoir and Henry Hathaway, and co-starred alongside the likes of Rex Harrison, James Stewart and Henry Fonda. But she’ll always be remembered for her performances opposite Wayne, and the larger than life personality she presented both in public and in private.
D: Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley / 99m
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall
Q: When is a movie a remake, a sequel and a reboot all put together?
A: When it’s Vacation!
With movie franchises being extended or rebooted at every turn, it was only a matter of time before we started to see an influx of movies made from comedies out of the Eighties (there’s a Police Academy reboot in the works, and Kevin Smith is still keen to make another Fletch movie). But while we anxiously await the arrival of a further Lemon Popsicle or Porky’s installment, we have this latest attempt at producing a contemporary version of a much-loved comedy favourite.
The set up is clever enough: now grown up, Rusty Griswold (Helms) has a family of his own: wife Debbie (Applegate), teenage son James (Gisondo), and pre-teen son Kevin (Stebbins). Each year he takes them all to the same cabin in the woods that everyone except Rusty is tired of. But when he overhears Debbie complaining about it to one of their friends he realises he needs to come up with a different destination this year. Remembering the trip he took to Walley World with his dad Clark (Chase), mom Ellen (D”Angelo) and sister Audrey (Mann) when he was a kid, Rusty decides the best way to get his family to be more excited about going away is to plan a road trip to the theme park that he recalls so fondly.
It’s at this point that the movie casts a knowing wink at the audience, and does its best to sound cleverer than it actually is. In response to James’s statement that he’s “never heard of the original vacation”, Rusty replies confidently, “Doesn’t matter. The new vacation will stand on its own”. It’s a bold though far from oversold moment, and one that will have fans of the original saying to themselves, “Really?” And that particular word will be one that viewers will come back to time and again as the Griswold family road trip unfolds from Chicago to Santa Monica with all the grim inevitability of an influenza outbreak in an old folks’ home.
With the original framework firmly in place, Vacation relies on a mix of modern day gross out humour, old fashioned puerility, and laboured jokes to provide the comedy while asking its cast to take a back seat and not do anything too funny. It’s a strange circumstance, but watch the movie closely and you’ll find that Helms, Applegate et al aren’t that funny in themselves (or as their characters), and that the script by Goldstein and Daley has the Griswolds acting largely as observers of their own road trip. On the few occasions when one of them is directly involved in a comedic situation, such as Rusty helping Stone Crandall (Hemsworth), his sister’s overly endowed husband, to round up some cows, the initial joke of his killing one is outdone by the one that follows, when one of the other cows chows down on the remains (yes folks, it’s a movie first, cannibal cows).
Elsewhere we’re treated to a paedophile trucker, a side trip to Debbie’s old alma mater, the Griswolds bathing in raw sewage, a rental car called the Prancer that comes with a remote control that includes buttons labelled with a rocket and a swastika (wisely, Rusty never presses that button), Stone showing off his “six pack”, a love interest for James, a white water rafting trip that goes wrong thanks to just-jilted guide Chad (Day), and the sight of Kevin trying to suffocate his older brother with a cellophane bag – twice (though, admittedly, the timing of this makes it a whole lot funnier than it sounds). There are various subplots: Rusty and Debbie’s attempts to put the spark back into their marriage by having sex wherever and whenever they can; Kevin’s bullying of James; Rusty’s run-ins with rival airline pilot Ethan (Livingston); and the whole notion of a family trying to bond over a trip only one of them wants to make (again).
If you’re easily amused, and don’t mind how uneven the movie is, then Vacation will seem like a great movie to sit down with a few beers and watch on a Saturday night, but the reality is that it’s hard to tell if writers/directors Goldstein and Daley were either in a rush with the script, or felt constrained by having to follow the original in terms of the movie’s structure. Whatever the case, the movie coasts along without making too much of an impact, and mixes gross out humour with long stretches of quiet amiability, and some very awkward moments that can’t help but feel out of place e.g. Rusty’s uncertain knowledge of sexual matters leads to James wanting to give the girl he likes a rim job (he thinks it’s kissing with your lips closed).
The cast cope well enough, and it’s good to see Chase back as the Griswold patriarch, but equally it won’t be long before you’re wondering what’s happened to his eyelids. There are some cameos dotted here and there, and a certain singer appears in the closing credits, but there’s no standout character or performance. What this movie really needed was someone like Cousin Eddie to come along and really stir things up.
Rating: 5/10 – not as amusing as the original movie it tries to emulate, Vacation suffers from trying too hard to be funny, and not having the conviction to be as subversive as its predecessor (watch it again to see how dark it is); beautifully shot however, and with a great soundtrack that features Seal’s Kiss from a Rose, this is technically well made but not a movie you’ll want to watch more than once.
Cast: Patrick Brammall, Alex Dimitriades, Abbey Lee, Harriet Dyer, Jack Thompson, Robyn Nevin, Jeremy Sims, Brenton Thwaites, Aaron Bertram
Four-time advertising award winner Ruben Guthrie (Brammall) has it all: the high-paid job that he’s phenomenally good at, the luxurious home with a pool, a beautiful model girlfriend, Zoya (Lee), and a drink problem to match it all. At a party to celebrate his latest awards win, his boozy, extrovert behaviour proves to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back for Zoya when Ruben finds himself up on his roof and jumping into his pool – and breaking his arm in the process. It’s time for Ruben to face up to his drinking problem and get some help.
So far, Brendan Cowell’s adaptation of his own stage play seems perfectly straightforward, and most viewers will believe they know exactly how the rest of the story will play out. But Cowell’s a shrewd writer who knows his story too well, and Ruben’s journey takes several unexpected turns along the way. He goes to his first AA meeting and instead of being ashamed or embarrassed, he reverts to his usual laddish behaviour and insults everyone. This leads to Zoya giving him an ultimatum: stay sober for a year while she’s gone, and if he can stay sober, to come find her. He somehow manages not to drink, revealing that he has a degree of self-control he either wasn’t aware of, or knew he had but has chosen not to use. At work though, his usual intuitive command of what makes for the best advertising is shown to have deserted him, so much so that his boss is thinking of replacing him with a talented/super chirpy youngster (Thwaites).
And in an effort to kick a character even more when he’s down, Cowell adds further fuel to the flame of Ruben’s reversal of fortune by having his parents (Thompson, Nevin) split up, and his gay best friend Damian (Dimitriades), who’s a bit of a sponger, move in on a temporary/permanent basis. But Ruben proves to be a forbearing soul, and with the aid of fellow alcoholic and mentor, Virginia (Dyer), he weathers the storm of these setbacks, and begins to find a way through them that makes him both stronger and more determined than ever to win Zoya back.
Well, determined might not be the right word, because he succumbs to the emotional fragility and neediness that Virginia exhibits around him and they become a couple. Now, in Australia, this could well be construed as acceptable behaviour on Ruben’s part, but when Zoya’s face adorns a whole wall in Ruben’s home as a permanent reminder of their five years together, you might expect him to be a little more circumspect. But nobody, not even Virginia (who might like to know where she stands in all this) mentions it, and Ruben himself seems to be oblivious to the double standard he’s following. It’s here that the movie finds itself in deeper, darker territory for a while, as Ruben’s sobriety leads him to make all sorts of decisions that he wouldn’t have made as a functioning alcoholic.
Of course, further complications ensue when his father becomes ill, his parents’ relationship becomes even more confusing, he has a major falling out with Damian, and just when you think that things can’t possibly get any worse for him, Zoya turns up out of the blue, and he finds his mother pushing him to resume drinking… because when he’s sober it makes him less of a(n Aussie) man. By now the movie is hell-bent on being a dark comedy, as Ruben’s world continues to implode with the force of a thousand beer bottles crashing to the floor. And then Cowell dispenses with the last shred of Ruben’s self-confidence, and with his main character curling up on the floor, he delivers one last kick to the head.
This is a sincere movie that isn’t just about alcohol addiction and its effects on the addict and the people who love him or her, but a (some times) powerful depiction of all sorts of forms of addiction, from booze to drugs to sex to relationships and back again. It’s also a very funny examination of the pitfalls of modern day living, and the culture of expectation and acceptance of social drinking. It’s often said that everyone drinks in Australia, and that they’re the greatest nation in the world for coming up with ways to justify getting rotten, but while this is a proud boast Down Under, Cowell is canny enough to hold up a mirror to modern Australian society and expose the “rotten” underpinning that stops it from collapsing in on itself. That Ruben bucks the trend for so long is both impressive and unusual.
With Cowell providing such a clever script, and creating a visual style for the movie that confronts and reflects the consequences of Ruben’s decision to quit drinking, it does seem a shame when he develops butterfingers and drops the ball, however momentarily. The aforementioned scene where Ruben’s mother tempts him to return to “the dark side” by having a drink is by turns clumsy, awkward, horrifying, and unnecessary, a way that the movie can explain the social pleasures and pressures of drinking, and advance the plot towards the final third. The role of Damian in proceedings is never clear: he’s not Ruben’s conscience, and nor is he the kind of arch manipulator that a more superficial script might have painted him, but he is surplus to requirements in terms of the dynamics of Ruben’s relationships, and how Ruben sees himself in terms of others around him.
The cast are uniformly good, with Brammall keeping a firm grip on some of the script’s more vague motivational moments, and his performance as Guthrie is both staid and delirious, as the script requires. Dimitriades keeps Damian from becoming a completely stereotypical role, while Lee is allowed to be more than just a pretty face. But it’s Dyer as the addict’s addict – she’s firmly addicted to Ruben, amongst other things – that draws the most attention, and hopefully the movie will lead to bigger and brighter things for the actress. As expected the movie’s patriarch and matriarch dance lightly but with maximum effect to the tune of Cowell’s musical trenchwork, and Thompson and Nevin appear to steal their scenes with others with so little effort it’s almost embarrassing.
All in all, Cowell’s ode to Australia’s national pastime of hitting the turps is a lively, enjoyable movie that makes several relevant points about addiction, and is clever enough to know when to be funny, when to be serious, and when to mix the two elements to their best advantage. It’s a movie that’s a little rough around the edges, and some scenes go on beyond their necessary lifespan, but these are small beer in comparison to the good work found elsewhere. And if Ruben’s next adventure, should it happen, sees him pitch up in Prague in search of Zoya, then Cowell’s acknowledgment that “those motherf*ckers can drink” may well be the challenge that our hero needs.
Rating: 7/10 – hiding a warm, gooey centre amongst the emotional drama and the often ludicrous humour, Ruben Guthrie is a movie about need and addiction that doesn’t downplay the seriousness of the subject matter, but which also manages to find the absurdity in a lifestyle that is ultimately as hollow as an empty beer bottle; Cowell has made a good first feature, and while it has its faults, his commitment – and that of his star’s – isn’t one of them.
Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Edith Haagenrud-Sande, Fridtjov Såheim, Arthur Berning, Laila Goody, Eili Harboe, Thomas Bo Larsen
Geiranger in Norway is both the name of a fjord and the name of the small tourist village that nestles between the mountains at the fjord’s head. The area has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and features some of the most spectacular scenery in the world; as a result it’s the must-visit destination of hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. But there’s a problem, and that’s the nearby Åkerneset mountain, because at some point it will erode to the extent that a significant portion of it will collapse into the fjord and send a devastating eighty metre tsunami towards Geiranger. Simply put: the village will be flattened.
Against this background, the magnificently named Roar Uthaug and screenwriters Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and John Kåre Raake have fashioned that most unlikely of movies: a Norwegian disaster movie. But unlikely is as unlikely does, and The Wave is grounded by the fact that this type of event has happened elsewhere in Norway in the past (and the movie opens with a recap of these tragedies). Where movies like San Andreas (2015) try to impress with the size of the devastation on display, The Wave keeps it simple, and is so much better for it.
Focusing on geologist/mountain whisperer Kristian (Joner) and his family – wife/hotel receptionist Idun (Torp), teenage son/skateboarder Sondre (Oftebro), and cute young moppet Julia (Haagenrud-Sande) – the movie opens with Kristian on the verge of leaving Geiranger and the geologist’s facility where he works, and moving to the “big city”. But in classic movie fashion he senses that all is not well on Åkerneset, and instead of taking himself and his kids to the airport, he abandons them at the facility’s car park in order to go check out his hunch – which of course proves to be deadly accurate. But also in classic movie fashion, his colleagues, led by doubtful Arvid (Såheim), in a performance guaranteed to make viewers think of Charles Hallahan’s similarly unimpressed/stupid geologist in Dante’s Peak (1997), say they’ll keep an eye on things and that Kristian shouldn’t worry.
Stuck in Geiranger until the next day, Kristian drops Sondre off at the hotel where Idun works, while he and Julia spend one last night in their old home. Sondre heads off to skateboard in the basement levels with his earbuds in, and without telling anyone. With the mountain making the kind of noises that practically scream “Evacuate right now!”, Arvid and colleague Jacob (Berning) rapel down into a crevice in order to check their recording equipment, and find themselves right smack in the middle of the mountain’s decision to give up keeping it together. Before anyone can say “What was that noise?”, an eighty metre high tsunami is heading for Geiranger, and the clock is ticking: if everyone wants to get to safety, they’ve only got ten minutes to get there.
At this point the special effects kick in, and very good they are too (the tsunami’s merciless, unstoppable rush toward the hotel is one of 2015’s most indelible images). With ten minutes proving too little time for everyone to save themselves, Kristian himself barely survives, while Julia at least is kept safe with a neighbour. Idun and Sondre find themselves holed up in the hotel’s bomb shelter with guest Phillip (Larsen) as the water level rises. What follows is the kind of race-against-time search and rescue mission these kind of movies thrive on, with Idun and Sondre facing more threats to their survival than would seem logically possible, and Kristian conveniently being in the right place at the right time to discover their whereabouts.
Hackneyed scripting aside, there’s tension aplenty in this “second half”, and the cast gamely play it straight, which adds to the edge-of-the-seat atmosphere that Uthaug creates (even if the viewer is certain it’ll all turn out okay in the end). One of the strengths of this scenario is that the family is one you can actually root for; for once they’re a family who clearly like each other and aren’t dysfunctional (it’s certainly more credible than Dwayne Johnson’s macho need to save his daughter in that other disaster movie). It’s also here that Uthaug uses his budget wisely, mixing vast swathes of destruction with more intimate location work and achieving a convincing fit with both. And there’s a decision made involving Phillip that hints at the script maybe having a darker edge in an earlier draft.
The Wave has been a massive hit in Norway, with almost a fifth of the country’s population having seen it on the big screen. Despite the subject matter – hey, let’s show what could happen when one of our mountains collapses – and its real life consequences, and not forgetting that the movie was actually shot in Geiranger, by keeping the heroics to a minimum, and dialling back on any potential histrionics, Uthaug and his cast and crew have made an effective, exciting thriller that surpasses expectations.
Rating: 8/10 – comprised of three distinct acts – “I think we should run”, “I hate it when I’m right”, and “I’d say I told you so but I have to go save my family first” – The Wave has a great deal of heart amid all the death and destruction, and never lets its more predictable elements get in the way of telling a good story; surprisingly gritty, and with a great deal of charm, it’s no wonder the movie’s been chosen as Norway’s Best Foreign Language Film entry at next year’s Oscars.
Yesterday was Danny Boyle’s birthday. The director is 59 years old, and over the course of his career has been quoted on a variety of matters to do with movie making, both in general and specifically. He once said: “I learned that what I’m better at is making stuff lower down the radar. Actually, ideally not on the radar at all.” It’s a great quote and one that shows the man doesn’t take himself too seriously. Here then are ten more great quotes by ten more directors, all of whom don’t take themselves – or the industry – too seriously either.
David Lean – “I wouldn’t take the advice of a lot of so-called critics on how to shoot a close-up of a teapot.”
William Wyler – “It’s a miserable life in Hollywood. You’re up at five or six o’clock in the morning to be ready to start shooting at nine. The working hours aren’t arranged to suit the artists and the directors; they’re for the convenience of the technicians. If you go to a party at night, you’ll never find anyone there who’s shooting a picture; they’re all home in bed.”
David Fincher – “People always ask why I don’t make independent movies. I do make independent movies – I just make them at Sony and Paramount.”
Clint Eastwood – “When I was doing The Bridges of Madison County (1995), I said to myself, “This romantic stuff is really tough. I can’t wait to get back to shooting and killing.”
Milos Forman – “It all begins in the script. If what’s happening is interesting, it doesn’t matter where you shoot from, people will be interested to watch. If you write something boring, you can film from mosquitoes’ underpants and it will still be boring.”
Steven Soderbergh – (on his retirement) “Cinema, as I define it and as something that inspired me, is under assault by the studios and, from what I can tell, with the full support of the audience.”
Woody Allen – “[The French] think I’m an intellectual because I wear these glasses, and they think I’m an artist because my films lose money.”
Federico Fellini – “Even if I set out to make a film about a fillet of sole, it would be about me.”
Martin Scorsese – “I’m not a Hollywood director. I’m an in-spite-of-Hollywood director.”
Paul Thomas Anderson – “Well I’d really love to work with Robert De Niro, because he’s still the most talented actor out there. Maybe he makes some bad choices, which can be frustrating. On the one hand, you want to say, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ On the other, you can’t get mad at him for wanting to work, because most actors would be murderers if they weren’t working.”
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño, Marco Pérez, Lew Temple
In Jonás Cuarón’s second feature Desierto, we’re quickly introduced to a group of Mexicans who are being smuggled across the border into the US. They’re in the back of a truck, and amongst them is Moises, played by Gael García Bernal. When the truck breaks down on the edge of a vast salt flat, Moises is the only one who can pronounce the truck beyond repair. Faced with the problem of how to get these “illegals” to their expected destination, two of the “guides” decide to go the rest of the way on foot. This involves trekking across some rugged countryside, but one of the guides is in more of a hurry than the other, and soon there are two groups making the journey, the ones who can keep up with the main guide’s fast pace, and the few laggers who are encouraged by the other.
The distance that develops between them comes in handy when the first group are targeted by loony self-styled border guard and all-round racist psycho Sam, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. One by one he picks them off with his sniper’s rifle, and leaves them dead in a clearing, men and women. It’s all the same to Sam, and is one area where he does believe in equal opportunity. Watching this massacre transpire, Moises and the rest of the second group, which includes Adela, played by Alondra Hidalgo, soon flee the scene, but not without tipping off Sam as to their presence. Helped by his close companion and canine buddy Tracker – who he’s apparently trained to sniff out and savage illegal immigrants – Sam hunts down the remaining illegals until only Moises remains to stand against him. Which of course he does.
Wearing its confused heart on its sleeve from the outset, Desierto wants to be a taut, hard-edged thriller: brutal, unapologetic and bad-ass. But therein lies Desierto‘s problem, because at its core it’s really a wannabe bad-ass movie that lacks conviction, and steals as much as it can from as many other variations on Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoesdack’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932) as it can. Now, a little plagiarism (or homage, as Hollywood likes to call it) can go a long way, but when that plagiarism is used to so little effect, then it makes for such a dispiriting experience that the viewer could be forgiven for taking out their own sniper rifle and blasting away at the screen just to get a buzz on. As a thriller it’s a non-starter, thanks to Cuarón’s flat, uninspired direction, and the lack of investment made by the script in any of the characters (the responsibility of Cuarón again and co-scribe Mateo Garcia).
Moises, Adela, even Sam – all are relieved of any kind of back story. We don’t know why any of the Mexicans are travelling across the border in the first place, and without this information, without knowing what their hopes or dreams or ambitions are once they reach the US, it’s nigh on impossible to care about them. Even as you watch the massacre, you’ll be more aware of how the camera has been placed than whether or not the the life of the person being shot and killed is worth your sympathy (yes, it’s a cleverly staged and “executed” massacre, and also rather well edited – so that’s okay then).
And equally we know nothing about Sam, a man of whom you could say he’s a cartridge short of a full magazine, or to border control what Bill Clinton was to same sex marriages. He’s a cipher, a boogeyman for the Mexicans to run from (and over the course of the movie that’s all they do), as he moans and complains to his acrobatic dog about the Hell he’s living in. It makes you want to yell at him, “Well if it’s that bad, sell all your guns and move to Florida!” Instead he continues to act like an avenging angel, but one with no clear conception of why he’s behaving the way he does, and so becomes a character who’s too far-fetched even to boo or hiss.
Cuarón began writing the script around 2006, and then took time off from it to help his father make a little movie called Gravity (2013). He’s on record as saying that the problem of illegal immigrants (and not just those crossing the US-Mexico border) was always intended to be a part of the story, but watching the movie it seems clear that somewhere along the way that particular subtext got lost in translation, and in such a way that it never really appears at all. And Cuarón has also stated that he didn’t invest in any back stories because he didn’t feel they were necessary, and that viewers could – and should – have the choice to make up their own minds about things like motivation and personal choice. It seems very much as though Cuarón had several ideas for the movie, and what it was about, but somehow forgot to follow through on any of them.
In the end, and despite some stunning cinematography by Damian Garcia, Desierto is muddled and insubstantial. The performances are average, with only Morgan trying to do anything to salvage the mess he’s found himself in, and there’s an air of “that’ll do” about scenes that doesn’t help either. Fans of this kind of movie will be dismayed, while casual viewers may well wonder how on earth Desierto managed to win the FIPRESCI Prize for Special Presentations at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Rating: 4/10 – it looks good, and there’s a germ of a good idea here, but Desierto is a misfire that never recovers from its writer/director’s indecision as to what kind of a movie it should be; file under “I coulda been a contender”.
As someone who visits the IMDb site pretty much every day, and finds it an almost invaluable resource (my only bugbear is movie running times – I’ve found them to be maddeningly inaccurate over the years), I just wanted to add my congratulations to founder and CEO Col Needham and his team for the sterling work they’ve been doing over the last twenty-five years.
In terms of how much I’ve relied on them for thedullwoodexperiment, I can’t thank them enough, and I’m looking forward to delving into the site for another twenty-five years to come. And as a movie buff, I’ve learnt a lot that I wouldn’t have found out otherwise. Here are five examples that come under the heading, Well I Didn’t Know That Until Now:
1) John Travolta was offered Tom Hanks’ role in The Green Mile (1999).
2) John Carpenter was disappointed with The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and would have loved to direct it himself so he could make it “much more frightening and gripping”.
3) The bridge explosion in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) had to be filmed twice as there was a mistake first time around: the command to set off the explosion was misheard and no cameras were rolling.
4) Some Like It Hot (1959) was originally banned in Kansas as being “too disturbing for Kansans”.
5) In The Big Lebowski (1998), Julianne Moore wore a prosthetic butt for her nude scene as Maude.
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Jonathan Hyde, Bruce Gray
When Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is a young child her mother dies unexpectedly. After the funeral, Edith is visited by the ghost of her mother who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak”. Fourteen years later, Edith is trying to establish herself as a writer. She has written a novel about ghosts but her intended publisher wants her to include a romance (though she feels this is unnecessary). Her father (Beaver), a self-made industrialist, is supportive of her efforts, and lets her type up her manuscript at his offices. There she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, a visiting aristocrat from England, who is looking for financial backing for an invention of his that will aid in the mining of red clay at his home in Northumberland. But while Edith finds herself attracted to Thomas, her father takes a dislike to him and refuses to back him.
When a secret about Thomas is discovered it leads to the death of Edith’s father. Heartbroken, she turns to Thomas and his sister, Lady Lucille (Chastain) for support, and soon agrees to marry him. Together, they travel to England and the Sharpe family home, a towering gothic edifice called Allerdale Hall. The house is falling apart, and stands atop a clay mine that it is slowly sinking into. As she settles into her new life, Edith comes to discover that the house harbours secrets that neither Thomas nor Lucille want her to know about. Meanwhile, back in New York, Edith’s childhood friend Dr Alan McMichael (Hunnam), already suspicious of the way in which her father died, begins his own investigation.
Plagued by ghostly visions, Edith begins to unravel the secrets of Allerdale Hall, secrets that lead her to believe that Thomas’s mother was murdered there, and that there is some connection with his recent trips to places such as Edinburgh and Milan. The discovery of luggage engraved with the initials E.S. provides a further clue that links to the visions she has. At the same time she begins to fall ill, while McMichael learns the same secret that led to her father’s death and believing Edith to be in danger, he decides to leave for England.
A project that del Toro has been looking to film since 2006, Crimson Peak arrives with a great deal of anticipation and hype preceeding it, and with the enviable status of being the only movie of its kind – a gothic romance with distinct horror overtones – to be released in 2015. It’s a movie that splits its narrative in two, and in the process ends up making the first part more effective than the second, which has the unfortunate effect of leaving viewers with the impression that del Toro and co-screenwriter Matthew Robbins had a firmer grasp of what they were trying to achieve with the scenes set in New York than they did with the ones at Allerdale Hall.
This leads to the movie lacking a sense of true development once we’re ensconced in the Sharpe ancestral family home. It should be the other way round but while del Toro and Robbins expand on the mystery behind Thomas and Lucille’s motives, it soon becomes apparent that the ghostly visions Edith experiences are less of a threat to her and more of a series of clues as to what has happened at the Hall in the past. With this in mind, it’s puzzling that del Toro has decided to make these apparitions as scary as possible, and in particular the spectral wraith that is Edith’s mother (played by the erstwhile Doug Jones), a depiction that seems at odds with her role as a guardian in death of her daughter’s safety – did she have to be so frightening?
But while the recreation of pre-1900 New York is achieved with considerable success, it’s not until we reach Allerdale Hall that del Toro reveals the true focus of the movie: making that towering creation feel like a living, breathing character in its own right. The Hall is a triumph of production and set design, and is endlessly fascinating in its construction, with darkness leeching from the walls and corridors that look like they’ve been carved out of the vertebrae and rib cages of dead whales. Everywhere you look there’s another interesting detail to take in, some new quirk of the architecture to observe, but so good is this attention to detail that it overwhelms the story, leaving Edith’s plight of secondary importance. And with a subterranean level thrown in for good measure, the house and its “personality” become far more interesting than the pallid-by-comparison storyline involving Edith and the conspiring Sharpes (though you might wonder where all the leaves that tumble continuously through the roof are coming from, as the house is shown to sit proudly alone at the top of a hill).
As a gothic romance, the movie is on better ground, with Thomas’s pursuit of Edith feeling more than expedient from the beginning, and as he becomes less and less sure of the path that he and Lucille have embarked upon, it becomes obvious that his true feelings will cause his doom. Hiddleston relays the torment and indecision that Thomas endures with a great deal of yearning for a chance to be free of his family burden, and makes the character more sympathetic than his initial actions would warrant. As the wounded and betrayed Edith, Wasikowska ensures her would-be author isn’t shown as too soft or easily dominated, but is still asked to rein in Edith’s assertiveness in moments where the script requires it. She and Hiddleston do well in making their characters’ relationship more credible than most, but despite their good work there’s just not enough passion on display to make their feelings for each other too convincing.
The same can’t be said for Chastain, an actress who it seems can turn her hand to any character in any genre. As the taciturn and tightly controlled Lucille she’s a riveting presence in any scene she’s in, even when she’s in the background. By the movie’s end she’s asked to abandon all the subtleties she’s imbued her performance with in favour of a more traditional approach required by the material. Before this, Chastain is quietly chilling, her manipulative, simmering-with-anger personality more compelling in its intensity than any of the house’s blood-slicked apparitions. (In comparison, Hunnam is the movie’s anodyne hero, and one who almost operates as an historical forerunner of Hallorann from Kubrick’s The Shining.)
By the time the mystery has been revealed and the machinations of the plot (loosely) explained and sewn up, the movie has descended into the kind of bloody, violent showdown that audiences will be expecting, but it isn’t the best showdown you’re ever likely to see, and it lacks vitality. Partly this is due to the pacing, and partly due to the editing, which never picks up the pace, and never seems likely to add any kind of punch to proceedings. It all leads to an oddly melancholy ending that befits a gothic romance, but not the thriller this movie has become. With so much effort having gone into the look and feel of the movie, viewers may well feel let down by this half-hearted denouement, and they’d be right to, but the movie retains a strange fascination even at the end, and one that lingers long after the closing credits.
Rating: 7/10 – not as chilling or impressive on the plot or storyline front as it is when it comes to how the movie looks, Crimson Peak falls short on delivering the chills and thrills it promises to provide; del Toro has made better movies, and will probably make better ones in the future, but for now this will have to serve as a reminder, however disappointing, that there’s no one else out there who can make this kind of movie and with this kind of ardour.
Cast: Tim Roth, Robin Bartlett, Michael Cristofer, Sarah Sutherland, Rachel Pickup, Angela Bullock, Nailea Norvind, David Dastmalchian, Maribeth Monroe
David (Roth) is a male nurse who provides palliative care for terminally ill or seriously disabled people living in their own homes. When his latest patient, Sarah (Pickup), dies, her family are surprised to see him at the funeral, and when Sarah’s neice (Monroe) tries to ask David some questions about Sarah’s final weeks, he is uncooperative and avoids talking to her. At home, he checks the social media page of a young woman named Nadia (Sutherland), focusing on the pictures she’s posted.
Later, David is given another patient to look after, an architect called John (Cristofer), who’s had a stroke. As John recovers, he and David become friends of sorts, even to the point where David turns a blind eye to John watching porn on his laptop. But when one of John’s family walks in on David giving him a bed bath, the situation is misread, and David finds himself being told by his boss that he can’t continue as John’s carer – or indeed anyone’s – because he’s about to be sued for sexual misconduct. While he waits for another job to come up, David tracks down the young woman from the social media page, who it turns out is his daughter.
They haven’t seen each other in a while due to a family tragedy that David blames himself for, and which caused him to have a breakdown. As he gets to know Nadia again, and begins to mend his relationship with her mother, Laura (Norvind), David is offered a job looking after a woman called Marta (Bartlett) who has cancer. All is going well until one day she asks David to help her commit suicide…
A measured, sometimes agonisingly slow drama about one man’s attempt to redeem himself by caring for others, Chronic is always going to be a tough sell for potential viewers, mostly because of the subject matter, and partly because it’s paced so deliberately and so precisely. It’s like a chamber piece made for the big screen, with a restrained, honest performance from Roth that is so internalised it makes David seem removed from everything – and everyone – around him. And while he does keep his distance (except when it comes to his patients), the legacy of that tragedy has left very deep and lasting scars that he can deal with only by focusing his energies on people he can help; he’s trying to make amends in the only way he knows how.
It’s a fairly straightforward tale made up of long static shots where the action is kept firmly within the boundaries of the frame, and where David’s attempts to reconnect with his daughter offer the only evidence that he’s not entirely subsumed by the lives of his patients (when he learns John is an architect he does his homework on the matter, even going so far as to visit one of the houses John built). This way of identifying with his patients could have been presented as creepy or unhealthy, but it’s yet another way that David is trying to find a place for himself in the world he’s been absent from.
Franco directs his own script with a clear idea of what he wants to achieve, but makes the mistake of distancing not only David from others, but the audience from David, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves if David’s plight is affecting enough for them to bother. And there’s a final scene that’s likely to alienate viewers who’ve made it that far. With the decision to skip having a musical score or songs to act as emotional cues for the audience, the movie relies on its talented cast to highlight the various ambiguities of each character’s relationship with David, while its ideas of what it’s like to care about others when it’s difficult to care about oneself, are handled with care and sensitivity.
Rating: 8/10 – not for all tastes, not least because of Franco’s slow-burn, reflective approach to the narrative, Chronic is a showcase for Roth’s acting abilities, and the ways in which personal pain creates barriers between people; too plainly rendered for many, it’s a movie that is uncompromising in terms of the narrative, but rewards upon closer inspection.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Nik Pajic, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, Carrie Brownstein
Therese (pronounced Ter-rez) Belivet (Mara) is young, has a devoted boyfriend, Richard (Lacy), works in a department store, but is unsure of her future. One day a female customer in the store engages her in conversation, and even though the customer makes mention of being married with a young child, it’s clear to Therese that there’s a mutual attraction. When the woman leaves her gloves behind, Therese goes to the effort of finding the woman’s address and sending them to her. This act of kindness leads to the woman, whose name is Carol Aird (Blanchett), inviting Therese to lunch. They meet, and a friendship begins, one that starts to cause problems between Therese and Richard, as she begins to lose interest in a planned trip to Europe with him, and spends more time with Carol.
Unbeknownst to Therese, Carol and her husband, Harge (Chandler) have separated due to his awareness that his wife has had an affair with her best friend, Abby (Paulson). Willing to overlook this “indiscretion” if she stays with him, Harge warns her that if she doesn’t then he’ll seek sole custody of their little girl, Rindy. With Xmas approaching, he takes Rindy to his parents for the holiday period; Carol decides to invite Therese to come stay with her. Although nothing happens, Harge returns home unexpectedly and sees them together. Fearing that Carol is embarking on another lesbian relationship, he files for divorce and sole custody of Rindy. Unable to see her child until the custody hearing, which will take two or three months to happen, Carol invites Therese on a road trip, where they can spend some time together, and where Harge can’t find them.
They stay in a succession of motel rooms, at first staying in separate rooms. At one particular motel they stay in the Presidential suite; the next morning, Therese gets to talking with a travelling salesman called Tommy (Smith). Although he tries to sell them something from his sales kit, he has no joy, though Therese wishes him well in the future. At the next motel, she and Carol finally make love. But a telegram Carol receives the next morning reveals Harge’s awareness of where she is, and the fact that she and Therese are now lovers. Unable to risk the now serious possibility of losing the custody hearing, Carol decides she has to return home to face Harge, and sends Abby in her place to see Therese gets home safely. But for both women, returning to their old lives proves unsatisfactory…
There’s a moment in Todd Haynes’ beautifully crafted Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, when it looks certain that the title character and Therese will make love for the first time. It’s a moment that the movie is clearly heading toward, and it’s a moment that audiences will be expecting, but Haynes, along with screenwriter Patricia Nagy, holds off from that first time and maintains the sense of anticipation that both characters (and viewers) must be feeling. For the audience, it’s also a moment – among many others – that shows just how much control Haynes has over both the material and its emotional centre, and how finely calibrated it all is, for Carol is without a doubt, one of 2015’s finest movies.
Of course, with previous projects such as Far from Heaven (2002) and the TV version of Mildred Pierce (2011), Haynes has already shown an affinity for what used to be termed “women’s pictures”, but here his immersion in a time – the 1950’s – when lesbianism was still something to be kept hidden, and where male attitudes towards the issue were still highly aggressive, feels also like a snapshot of an era where female empowerment was beginning to gain the upper hand, despite the so-called Lavender Scare that was prevalent at the time. Through Carol’s determination not to be defined by her sexuality, we get to see an example of what, in historical terms, was a turning of the tide, and also a love story that is simply that: a love story.
This simplicity is at the heart of Haynes’ confident handling of the story, and it shows in every scene, with every look and every gesture, and in the way that he brings Carol and Therese together within the frame – these moments where they’re “close but not touching” are so charged with pent-up emotion and increasing desire that the idea that they might be kept apart by Harge’s machinations becomes intolerable. These scenes are so expertly handled, with repressed longing so forcefully expressed, that the viewer is swept along with the characters’ desire to live freely and without sanction. Haynes makes great use of the era’s sense of propriety, using it as a touchstone against which Carol and Therese’s affair can be measured in both intensity and necessity. Therese quizzes Richard about same sex relationships but he has no point of reference, and has no understanding of why they occur; he loves her unequivocally but can’t see that two women – or two men for that matter – might feel the same way about each other as he does about Therese. It’s another of those moments where the audience can see just how difficult it was to live a life outside the (perceived) norm.
With the historical and social background of the story firmly in place, and with Nagy’s script making it clear that lesbians were expected to pretend to be happy in heterosexual relationships or face the social consequences, the movie paints an honest portrait of two women, both of whom gain increased confidence in themselves through their relationship, who come together at a point in both their lives where they’re looking for a way to find future happiness. That they find it in each other, if only briefly, and with such passion, gives value to the idea that any relationship is worth pursuing or fighting for. And even though Carol leaves Therese to fight for custody of her child, it’s not the end of their affair, but rather an interruption (albeit for Therese an unexpected one), and even though the younger woman is upset by it, her feelings remain, and though the movie tries for an air of ambiguity in its final scene, viewers won’t be fooled at where Carol and Therese’s relationship is likely to find itself.
The difference in ages might feel like it should be an issue but it’s left unexplored, and with good reason: it doesn’t matter. Love is love, and though an argument could be made that Therese is looking for a guide or a mentor first and foremost, it’s not the role Carol adopts in their relationship. As the “older woman”, Blanchett gives yet another astonishing, awards-worthy performance, striking the right balance between heartfelt longing for an honest life and acknowledging the difficulties that longing entails. Her brittle, striking features show the pain of Carol’s situation without too much need of more overt playing, but in those moments when overt emotion is required, Carol’s fears and hopes are etched indelibly on those striking features. It’s a magnificent performance, sincere, heartbreaking at times, and riveting.
She’s matched by Mara, whose portrayal of the unmoored, ingenuous Therese is so finely tuned that watching her blossom, however slowly, into a stronger, more confident young woman is like watching a flower grow out of the shadows to its full height. There are moments where the camera focuses on her smooth, unlined features and the only expression is there in the eyes, but Mara uses this approach to such good effect that the viewer is never in doubt as to what Therese is thinking or feeling. And as the movie progresses, Mara subtly shifts the weight of Therese’s longing for love so that it becomes a part of her, and not the whole, leaving her a character as strong in her own right as Carol is in hers.
With two such commanding performances, it would be a shame if the supporting cast were overshadowed, but Chandler, in what is superficially the “villain” role, brings out Harge’s pain and sense of loss over Carol with such force that his actions are less stereotypical than expected and driven more by his own deep love for her. In the same way that society says Carol can’t have Therese (in public at least), it also says that Harge can’t have Carol because of her “sexual impropriety”. Both characters are in danger of losing what they want most, and both are suffering as a result. Chandler is unexpectedly moving in the role, and his scenes with Blanchett are so emotionally charged it’s like an intense version of force majeure. Meanwhile, Paulson comes late to matters as Abby, but gives a brief but potent performance as Carol’s longtime friend, confidant and ex-lover, filling in the gaps of Therese’s knowledge about Carol, and providing further context for Carol’s emotional and sexual desires.
It’s all beautifully filmed by Edward Lachman, with lots of bright primary colours mixed in with rich earthy tones, making the period seem so alive as to be almost intoxicating, and acting as a dynamic background to the impassioned nature of Carol and Therese’s relationship. There’s some equally impressive attention to historical detail, and Haynes makes the era come alive as a result; this is a fully realised world, even if it does appear at first to be bathed in nostalgia (the scenes in the department store appear right out of a Fifities child’s fantasy of what such a store should look like), but in many ways it was a simpler time, and the script reflects this with aplomb. And the whole thing is embraced by a smoothly nonchalant yet spirited score by Carter Burwell that complements the on-screen proceedings with well orchestrated brio.
Rating: 9/10 – a firm contender for Movie of the Year, Carol is a masterpiece of mood and repressed emotional yearning, with two outstanding performances, and a director on the absolute top of his form; a model of period movie making, and rewarding in every department you can possibly think of, this is a movie that should go to the top of everyone’s must-see list.
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens
New England, 1630. Expelled from their newly settled community for religious differences, Puritans William (Ineson) and Katherine (Dickie) take themselves and their family – eldest daughter Thomasin (Taylor-Joy), eldest son Caleb (Scrimshaw), twins Mercy (Grainger) and Jonas (Dawson), and their newborn son Samuel – off into the wilderness where they make their new home. They build a dwelling, establish crops for food, and have goats for milk. All seems to be going well until one day when, in Thomasin’s care, Samuel disappears.
Katherine is devastated, and prays continuously. William and Caleb go into the surrounding forest to hunt for game, but have a strange encounter involving a rabbit that has an effect on Caleb. When they return, they find Katherine angry at their having gone, and Thomasin unable to control the unruly twins. Later, Mercy’s antagonistic nature annoys Thomasin so much that she threatens her younger sister by saying she – Thomasin – is a witch and will do terrible things to Mercy if she doesn’t do what she’s told; Mercy believes her completely.
Soon after, Caleb and Thomasin are in the forest when they become separated. Caleb meets a young woman (Stephens), while Thomasin searches in vain for him. She is found by William, but it isn’t until later that night that Caleb returns, naked and feverish. Katherine blames Thomasin for this, and Mercy reveals what Thomasin said to her about being a witch. Both Katherine and William believe Mercy at first, and confront Thomasin over it, but she manages to convince her father that she isn’t a witch, and that it is Mercy and Jonas who are in thrall to the Devil, and that they speak to him through one of their goats, Black Phillip.
Matters become worse when Katherine becomes afflicted by madness, and Thomasin and the twins are locked in the goat pen while William struggles to make sense of what’s happening. But the supernatural events that surround them begin to increase, and circumstances lead to Thomasin being the only person who can find of keeping herself at least from further harm.
The Witch is one of those movies that comes along every once in a while, gains some media attention and gets some critical mass behind it, so that by the time it reaches a wider audience it’s seen as something to be admired and sought out at the earliest opportunity. And so it is proving here, with Robert Eggers’ debut feature having picked up a lot of traction from film festivals around the globe throughout 2015 (including Romania’s Dracula Film Festival). Usually, the hype that attaches itself to such a movie proves to be undeserved – or is at least just that: hype – but for once, here is a movie that lives up to its promise.
Based on folk tales, fairy tales and legends from the New England area, all of which Eggers grew up with, The Witch is a fabulous collision between faith and evil, loneliness and paranoia, that is being marketed as a horror movie, but which is a whole lot more. While there are very definite supernatural elements, and we see the witch of the title very early on, this isn’t just a horror movie, this is a powerful drama that sees one family fall apart under conditions of deprivation – the crops fail, the goats give blood instead of milk – loss, paranoia, mistrust, lies, pride, and arrogance. The true horror is seeing this otherwise contented family undone by the loss of a child and the subsequent emotions that develop, and which each member is unable to deal with. By placing them in the middle of a forest, with no close neighbours to help, and leaving them to deal with the isolation that all that brings, Eggers exposes the fragility of faith and the inherent strains brought about by personal sacrifice.
The supernatural elements are well handled, and for once there’s no attempt at allegory or making it seem as if it’s all coincidence, or that there’s a more rational explanation for everything. Here, there is a witch, and we see her clearly, and there’s no room for doubt that she is responsible for setting in motion the events that lead to the family’s downfall. Without any possible ambiguity to muddy things, the straightforward horror of the situation is allowed to take hold, and as mutual suspicion leads to paranoia and then to madness and death, the movie is pitiless in its observational nature, leaving the viewer to watch a series of scenes in the movie’s last twenty minutes that signpost an outcome that is inevitable, even if the way in which it all happens isn’t.
Eggers’ confidence in the material, which is often very dark and uncomfortable – the scene where Caleb revels in a kind of sexual ecstacy is a good case in point – is aided by a trio of superb performances from Taylor-Joy, Ineson, and Dickie. The casting of Ineson and Dickie is particularly important: their accents and English speech would have been the norm at that time, and they both have a clear grasp of the religious and moral underpinning that their characters rely so heavily on. But as all that certainty begins to crumble, both actors retain an honesty in their performances that make their eventual fates all the more affecting. Taylor-Joy is similarly impressive in a role that, if the movie had been set somehow in modern times, would have reduced her to little more than the screaming virgin who gets chased through the woods. But Thomasin proves to be more than that, and there’s a scene where she confronts William over his behaviour that is compelling for the way in which the hypocrisy of William’s religious stance is exposed as a cruel sham (and which gives both actors the chance to highlight the true cause of the family’s problems).
The soundtrack is a big part of the movie’s effectiveness, with dissonant noises and choral sounds reaching their own kind of fever pitch, and serving to illustrate the weird nature of the events taking place, as well as being eerie in their own right. The score by Mark Korven is also highly evocative, and has an unsettling nature to it that is occasionally unnerving when allied to the visuals. Those visuals are expertly composed by Jarin Blaschke, and the dour, oppressive feel of the Canadian location where the movie was made, is evident in almost every exterior shot. And Louise Ford’s careful, measured editing style adds further lustre to a movie that, otherwise, could have lapsed into wilful obscurity in terms of the narrative and its intensions.
Rating: 8/10 – an unnerving examination of one family’s disintegration due to a lack of true faith in themselves, The Witch is a horror movie that works on several levels and has an embarrassment of riches, not least in its casting; Eggers’ confidence in the material and the way it holds together is compelling, and the whole thing is drenched in the kind of suffocating atmosphere that lingers long after the movie has ended.
Cast: Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover
On Mars to explore the terrain and collect samples, the crew of the spaceship Hermes, headed by Commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain), have established a habitat station (the Hab) that allows them to check their samples before sending the results back to NASA. It’s also a living space for them. When a fierce storm approaches more quickly than expected, and some of the team are caught outside, botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is struck by debris and catapulted out of sight. With little option but to abandon the habitat centre and return to the Hermes, Lewis makes the decision to leave Mars even though she wants to find Watney. When NASA learns what’s happened, its director, Teddy Sanders (Daniels), holds a press conference that details the mission’s current status, and Watney’s unfortunate death.
But Sanders’ declaration proves to be wrong. Watney is still alive, though when he wakes after the storm has passed, he has a piece of antenna sticking out of his torso. He makes it back to the habitat station where he removes the antenna and staples shut the wound. He then starts to work out how long he can survive on the rations left in the Hab, but quickly realises that he doesn’t anywhere near enough to sustain him until a rescue mission can reach him. Drawing on his knowledge as a botanist, Watney decides to use the Hab’s resources (including his and the crew’s waste), and the Martian soil to grow potatoes. Meanwhile, back at NASA, mission director Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor) is alerted to the fact that there is unexpected movement occurring on Mars, and soon it becomes apparent to everyone that Watney is alive.
Watney travels to where the Pathfinder probe lies abandoned and manages to get it to transmit images back to Earth. He and NASA come up with a means of communicating with each other (even if it is a bit slow due to the distance between them), and soon Watney is able to establish a more stable comms link. With NASA determined to rescue Watney, they finally decide to tell his crewmates that he’s alive. They’re all pleased but angry as well for being left out of the loop. But disaster strikes, when an airlock decompression at the Hab destroys the potato crop, leaving Watney with only enough rations for around 200 days, and a rocket supply drop arranged by NASA malfunctions and blows up before it even leaves Earth’s atmosphere. With time running out, NASA must find a way of getting to Watney before his food runs out, and he has to find a way of making his food last as long as possible.
An adaptation of the bestseller by Andy Weir, The Martian is something of a return to form for Ridley Scott, with the septuagenarian director making his most accessible and expertly constructed movie for some time. This is largely due to Drew Goddard’s assured, though not entirely flawless screenplay, which juggles successfully not only the hard science that keeps Watney alive (and making it relatable to the average viewer), but a myriad cast of characters, all of whom had the potential to become stereotypes. But Scott keeps all this in check and presents us with a sci-fi thriller that feels fresher than most recent outings (despite some obvious antecedents), and which features an impressive central performance from Matt Damon that helps ground the movie immeasurably.
So good, in fact, is Damon as the embattled astronaut of the title, that sometimes the events happening on Earth come as a bit of an intrusion. Yes, it’s good to see the effort being put in to rescue one man (even though you could argue that the cost of doing so would be too prohibitive for even the most caring of space agencies to consider), but these scenes too often feel like second cousins to those in Apollo 13 (1995), and Ejiofor’s character also feels like a close relative to his character from 2012 (2009). With this element of the narrative ticking several expected boxes, even down to the plucky, rule-bending astrodynamicist (Glover) who comes up with a plan to save Watney that no one else has thought of, it’s thanks to Goddard’s understanding of the necessity for these scenes, and Scott’s accomplished direction, they’re intrusion becomes less worrisome, and as Watney’s continued survival comes closer and closer to connecting with his rescue, the viewer can root for both camps.
But with so much happening back on Earth (and with such a large ensemble cast to cater to), the script doesn’t put Watney in as much jeopardy as Weir’s novel does. Part of the fun of reading the novel was that Weir consistently came up with ways to put Watney in danger, and he consistently made it seem as if Mars itself was conspiring to make Watney pay for being there. But here the suspense is lessened in favour of Watney’s unflagging determination to survive, which is admirable in itself, but there needs to be more in the way of peril, even if we can all guess the outcome. Harking back to Apollo 13, it was the way in which problems continued to mount on that mission that heightened the drama, and the way in which each problem was overcome that made it all the more engrossing and exciting. Here, Watney’s methodical, never-say-die attitude ensures that each setback is dealt with matter-of-factly and in double-quick time (and usually by virtue of a montage). By taking some of the natural tension of the situation away, the gravity of Watney’s dilemma is lessened when it should have had us on the edge of our seats.
But Damon holds it all together, making Watney a pleasure to spend time with, and be sympathetic of. The little dance and shouts of joy he makes when he discovers he can talk to NASA is a small moment of inspiration, especially when he looks round to check if anyone has seen him. And Damon is equally good at expressing the character’s somewhat arrogant sense of humour and keeping the viewer on his side, even with lines such as “They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonised it. So technically, I colonised Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!” There are few actors audiences would want to spend an entire movie with, alone, but Damon is one of them, and he keeps the viewer focused on what is essentially one man’s battle for survival against (almost) impossible odds.
He’s supported by a great ensemble cast headed up by the ever reliable Ejiofor, with Wiig playing serious for once, and Daniels giving Sanders a sardonic air that fits well with his job as director of NASA. Chastain and Peña grab most of the limelight from Mara, Stan and Hennie as Watney’s fellow astronauts, and The Martian marks one of the few occasions when Sean Bean’s character in a movie doesn’t get killed (he’s also part of a great joke involving The Lord of the Rings). As you’d expect from a movie directed by Ridley Scott, it all looks incredible, with Jordan standing in for Mars, Arthur Max’s expressive production design, and very impressive cinematography from Dariusz Wolski (Scott’s go-to DoP for his last few movies). And on the music front, anyone expecting to hear David Bowie’s Life on Mars? at some point will find that Scott has gone for Starman instead, and there’s the completely unexpected use of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, which should feel out of place but is surprisingly apt for the point at which it’s used.
Rating: 8/10 – good sci-fi these days is rare (as anyone who’s seen Prometheus (2012) should know – sorry, Ridley), but The Martian is that rare beast, and is intelligent enough overall to overcome a few narrative concerns; with Damon in commanding form, and the drama of the situation sufficiently gripping, being stranded on another planet has never seemed so tempting.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Steve Valentine, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel
1973. Philippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt) is a street entertainer in Paris, France, who includes some wire work in his act, usually strung between two trees and without the benefit of having a permit. One day he accepts a gobstopper from a young girl in his audience, but when he bites into it, it causes a painful problem that he goes straight to the dentist with. While in the waiting-room he sees a magazine article on New York’s Twin Towers. Straightaway, Petit knows what he has to do: he has to learn the intricacies of high wire work, and from the acknowledged master, Papa Rudy (Kingsley), in order that he can fulfil his dream of walking between the Twin Towers on just a length of cable. Rudy agrees to teach him. Aided by his girlfriend, Annie (Le Bon), and mutual friend, Jean-Louis (Sibony), Petit determines to travel to New York and carry out his dream.
Once there, Petit enlists the aid of further “accomplices”, such as J.P. (Dale) and Barry Greenhouse (Valentine), who works in the South Tower. Several visits to the site are made in an effort to discover the best time for stringing the cable between the two buildings, and more importantly, when Petit should make the crossing. Petit, though, steps on a nail and injures his right foot, but won’t hear of cancelling or postponing the high wire walk (which has been set for 6 August 1974, and is called The Coup). Aided by Jean-Francois (aka Jeff) (Domboy) and two others recruited by J.P., Petit forges ahead with his plan and they manage to sneak all the relevant equipment into both buildings. But on the night of the 5th, with Petit planning to commence his walk across “the Void” at 6am, the presence of a night guard, and some unexpected problems with the cable and the lines used to stop it from wobbling, throw the endeavour off schedule. Eventually, with Jeff to help him, and Jean-Louis on the other tower, and with Annie, J.P. and Barry watching from the street, Petit takes his first steps out onto the wire…
James Marsh’s documentary on Philippe Petit, Man on Wire (2008), won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar in 2009, as well as a whole raft of other awards from around the world. The one criticism that can be levelled against what is otherwise a very good examination of Petit’s particular brand of “artistic madness”, is that there’s no footage of Petit walking between the Twin Towers. In the hands of Robert Zemeckis, The Walk seeks to remedy this by putting the audience up there with Petit, and by showing just how dangerous it was. However, the key phrase here is “seeks to remedy”, as by and large, Zemeckis takes his cue from Petit himself and dismisses any attempt to instil any fear or heart-pounding terror into the walk itself. While it may well be true that Petit was confident of his abilities, and that the walk – or walks: he traversed the wire several times – was easier than he’d expected, but once he’s out there, the tension that Zemeckis and co-screenwriter Christopher Browne have so successfully created in the movie’s third act (of four) swiftly evaporates.
The movie takes an odd approach to the material, and feels schizophrenic as a result, with a first half that concentrates, in a very old-fashioned Hollywood way, on Petit as a young man just starting out as a street performer, before becoming inspired to walk between the towers. It has the look and feel of a regular biography, with key moments ticked off against a list, and with any potential spontaneity halted before it’s given a chance to start (there’s even a scene where Petit and Annie are getting to know each other by romantic candlelight). And if truth be told, these scenes aren’t even that interesting, delaying as they do the central focus of the movie, namely that walk. Petit shows off his arrogance, Annie melts under his charm too quickly, and things happen with a convenience and disregard for clarity that it’s easier just to go along with it all and wait for the movie to pick up by itself.
Which it does once Petit and friends start “casing the joint” and begin installing the equipment they need. This stretch of the movie contains the most tension and is easily the most compelling, as obstacles need to be overcome and the Coup becomes in danger of being cancelled indefinitely. As the fiercely determined Petit, Gordon-Levitt holds it all together, and if his accent slips from time to time, it’s not the end of the world. He channels Petit’s passion for high wire work with aplomb, even if the character – as written – isn’t as socially aloof or as difficult to work with as Man on Wire revealed. Gordon-Levitt also proves to be a proficient high wire walker, having spent time learning how to do it for real. It’s this level of commitment that helps the movie overcome the weakness inherent in the narrative, the one that doesn’t allow the other characters to be as fleshed out as Petit.
While people like Le Bon, Valentine, and Dale left to stand on the sidewalk and stare at proceedings through binoculars, it’s left to Gordon-Levitt and Domboy to ratchet up the tension, especially Domboy, whose character Jeff, is terrified of heights. Kingsley floats in and out of the narrative and acts purely as a mine of information or encouraging mentor. But while the main performances, however truncated by the need to fit as much in as possible, are comfortably undemanding of the cast, don’t let them die.
Another issue is the unconvincing CGI work carried out once Petit and Jeff are on the roof of the South Tower. The backdrops are impressively detailed, but it’s not enough to allow them to look any better. They stand out against their surroundings, and unfortunately, it’s distracting, as well as a shock to see that an innovator like Zemeckis can’t overcome the lighting issues that have caused this effect. And even more unfortunately, when the camera swings or pans its way over and around Petit’s head when he’s on the wire, there’s no real sense of depth to the image, no sense that this is a very long way down (or somewhere very high up). Petit’s own storytelling image, the emphasis he puts on the danger, and the awkward position it puts him in with the authorities is nicely handled but it’s all too little, too late. And the decision to have Petit holding forth on his exploits from the top of the Statue of Liberty may have semed like a good idea at the time, but in actuality it’s off-putting and makes for dramatically turgid viewing.
The movie does benefit from a classy, contemporary score by the ever reliable Alan Silvestri, while the movie – on the ground, at least – offers some superb visuals courtesy of Dariusz Wolski. If the movie tries to include too much of Petit’s history for its own good, then the end result is a little uneven, and still very ragged in places, but overall the movie does have its charms, and some viewers may yet find themselves overcome by some of the aerial shots
Rating: 6/10 – too uneven and too much like a soap opera in the first half, The Walk treads the Hollywood line once too often to create a movie no one will be able to remember even when they’re buying it; a disappointment then (even in IMAX 3D), and not as gripping as it should have been, it’s still a much more attractive proposition than most movies that are out at the moment.
This year’s BFI London Film Festival began on 7 October 2015 with a gala screening of Suffragette. The festival, which boasts 240 films from 72 countries in 16 cinemas over 12 days, is a must-visit for this particular blogger, and each year I aim to cram as many movies into five days as I possibly can. This year, I was able to see two extra movies, the surprising and brutal Bone Tomahawk, and Black Mass, which sees Johnny Depp remind everyone he can still act/put in a good performance/be hypnotic for all the right reasons. With those movies already under my belt – and having proved so good as well – my optimism for the other movies I’ve chosen to see is running high.
As an appetiser for those five days (and to give everyone an idea of some of the movies that are likely to be reviewed in the near future), here are the movies I’ve pinned my hopes on, and which will hopefully prove to be as gripping and/or entertaining, or as absorbing and/or rewarding as they look likely to be. (A special thanks to the various reviewers on the BFI website, whose capsule reviews I’ve taken the liberty of adapting for this post.)
Wednesday 14 October
The Witch – In 17th-century New England, a devout Christian family are banished from their plantation. They relocate to a humble farm situated on the edge of a dense forest to live a life of self-sufficiency. With the elements taking their toll and food growing scarce, the family are thrown into despair when their youngest child inexplicably goes missing. As they hunt desperately for the lost child, tensions and paranoia breeds within the family and the growing belief that a supernatural force is at work slowly leads them to turn on each other.
Chronic – An uncompromising study of grief and isolation, which focuses on David, a full time care-giver for the terminally ill. Seemingly altruistic and entirely devoted to his work, it becomes clear that David’s dedication to his patients comes at the expense of his own personal life and with each new client his attachment to them veers increasingly toward the unhealthy. Starring Tim Roth.
Desierto – Whilst attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the United States, a group of illegal immigrants find themselves stranded when their truck breaks down, leaving them no choice but to make the rest of the journey by foot. But upon entering US territory, the gang become the unsuspecting target of a gun toting racist who has taken the concept of border control into his own hands, and is determined to pick them off one by one. The second feature from Jonás Cuarón.
The Ones Below – Kate and Justin are a successful, wealthy couple expecting the birth of their first child. One day they notice that the vacant apartment below theirs has new occupants, Jon and Theresa, a married couple also expecting a new addition to the family. Kate and Theresa strike up a tentative friendship, but while Kate experiences fears and doubts concerning her pregnancy, Theresa is filled with the unquestioning joys of impending motherhood, as though it were her life’s vocation. When Kate and Justin have their new neighbours over for dinner, an already awkward night is shattered by a tragic accident which has a chilling impact on all their lives.
Thursday 15 October
Carol – Therese (Rooney Mara) is an aspiring photographer, working in a Manhattan department store where she first encounters Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring older woman whose marriage is breaking down. Ambushed by their sudden attraction, the two women gravitate toward each other despite the threat their connection poses to both Therese’s relationship with her steady beau and Carol’s custody of her beloved young daughter. The latest from Todd Haynes.
Truman – A character study of two old friends – Julián and Tomás – who are reunited, just as Julián is entering the final stages of cancer. Tomás flies over from Canada to Madrid to visit the ailing actor and his pet dog Truman, to whom Julián is devoted. Over four intense days, as the focus of conversation constantly reverts to the notion of mortality, the friends look back on their lives – their loves, successes and failures – and speculate on what the future holds.
Green Room – When an unsigned punk band, The Ain’t Rights, book an impromtu gig at a seedy dive bar frequented by neo-Nazis, they are expecting a tough night. But when they accidentally become witness to a murder, the band find themselves trapped in the venue’s green room, hunted down by a gang of thuggish mercenaries (fronted by a truly unsettling Patrick Stewart) determined to ensure they keep their mouths shut.
Friday 16 October
The End of the Tour – A low-key two-hander by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), which documents the five days that Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) spent with acclaimed writer David Foster Wallace in 1996, following a national tour to promote his novel Infinite Jest. Based on the many hours of taped conversations that Lipsky recorded, Ponsoldt’s film creates an intimate portrait of the man and his art, anchored by an intuitive performance from Jason Segel as Wallace.
Rediscovered Laurel and Hardy: The Battle of the Century (1927) – The long, thought-to-be-lost Laurel and Hardy silent comedy, The Battle of the Century has been rediscovered via the ‘Mostly Lost’ film Workshop at the Library of Congress Film department. It comes courtesy of a collector – an eagle-eyed film accompanist – and has been restored by Serge Bromberg. The eponymous battle starts in the ring then turns into a battle royale of staggering scale… with pies! Only half of the film had been available to watch – including a section of the pie fight – until now. Also showing: You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928), Double Whoopee (1929), and Big Business (1929).
Saturday 17 October
Schneider vs. Bax – Nobody wants to work on their birthday. Neither does Schneider (Tom Dewispelaere), a suburban father whose glamorous wife is planning a dinner party to celebrate. Nevertheless, he takes the job and travels to the countryside where he must shoot and kill one Ramon Bax, a novelist who lives alone in the reed fields of the Netherlands. It should be a piece of cake for a slick and experienced professional killer like Schneider, but much like Bax, nothing in this oddball thriller is easy to execute: the writer’s neurotic daughter turns up unexpectedly, while the assassin accidentally picks up an unwanted passenger along the way.
Ruben Guthrie – ‘Let’s get smashed!’ The battle cry of our eponymous, party animal ad-man proves inadvertently prophetic after a drunken rooftop dive from his swanky Sydney pad. Adding insult to near-fatal injury, Ruben’s long-suffering Czech model fiancée Zoya walks out, issuing an ultimatum: quit alcohol for a whole year and she’ll return. Maybe. Sceptical at first, it’s only when Ruben genuinely attempts to sober up that he realises just how much his job, his lifestyle and an entire society isn’t just underpinned by boozy excess, but actively enables it.
Sunday 18 October
Sunset Song – It’s the early 20th-century in rural Scotland and Chris Guthrie is a young woman with plans. Excelling at her schooling and in possession of a burgeoning independent streak, she seems destined for a job in teaching. But family life has its own pull and her religious father exerts a formidable force on his brood, as well as on her mother whose body he treats as both refuge and battleground. As the constellation of her family shifts around her and romance comes calling, Chris grows into womanhood just as the First World War begins to devastate a generation. The latest from Terence Davies.
Sherlock Holmes (1916) – News that a long sought-after Sherlock Holmes film had been found caused a sensation amongst fans of the great detective. It was based on the popular play by William Gillette and links film representations back to this key stage work in the Holmesian canon. Gillette made a unique contribution to our image of how Holmes looks and to the development of the character of Moriarty. Gillette’s performance is the key thing to watch out for here. And for Chaplin fans, there is a chance to see the character of Billy in action, which he played on stage back in 1903. Beautifully restored and tinted by Rob Byrne of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
The Wave – Kristoffer Joner plays Kristian Eikfjord, a first-rate geologist who is about to leave the remote town of Geiranger, Norway to take a top job with an oil company in the big city. Leaving his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) to join them later, Kristian sets off with the kids, but some unexplained power outages in the nearby mountains are playing on his mind. If his suspicions of an impending landfall are correct, the town will have only ten minutes to evacuate before an 80ft tsunami engulfs it.
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Kathryn Morris, Fred Melamed, Sean Young, Sid Haig, Evan Jonigkeit
The quiet town of Bright Hope finds itself host to thief and murderer Purvis (Arquette). With his behaviour proving suspicious to town deputy, Chicory (Jenkins), Purvis’s attempt to resist arrest by the sheriff, Franklin Hunt (Russell) leads to his being shot in the leg and put in jail. Later the same night, while being tended by the town’s medic, Samantha O”Dwyer (Simmons), and guarded by young deputy Nick (Jonigkeit), the jail is attacked and the trio are abducted.
When this is discovered the next morning, Hunt seeks advice from a local Indian scout as to who could have done such a thing, as a peculiarly shaped arrow was found at the scene. The scout is quick to tell Hunt that it’s the work of troglodytes, a flesh-eating “clan” that live in the nearby hills; he also tells Hunt he won’t go with him as any attempt to rescue the missing will be guaranteed to fail, and anyone who goes will die. Hunt has no choice but to go, as does Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Wilson), even though he recently broke his right leg and it’s still in a splint. John Brooder (Fox), the man who introduced the O’Dwyer’s to each other, feels obliged to go, and despite Hunt’s objections, Chicory insists on going as well.
The four set out alone into the nearby hills. They encounter a couple of Mexicans who prove to be scouts for a larger group of bandits. When the bandits attack one night, Brooder is injured, and O’Dwyer’s broken leg is further damaged. With no choice but to reset his leg, and leave him to recover – and if able to, follow them later – Hunt, Brooder and Chicory continue on. As they get nearer to the hills where the troglodytes are supposed to live, the trio begin to hear strange unearthly noises. Hunt is convinced these are warnings; the discovery of human and animal skulls near to a gulley serves as a further caution. When they’re ambushed by a group of troglodytes, Brooder suffers a more serious injury, while Hunt’s left arm is hit by an arrow, and Chicory recieves a nasty head wound. With Brooder too injured to continue, Hunt and Chicory make their way nearer to the cave that appears to be the troglodytes home. But they’re ambushed again and this time they’re captured and taken to the troglodytes’ cave. Meanwhile, O’Dwyer regains consciousness, and sets out to follow the others and rescue his wife…
A strange, mercurial hybrid of Western and Horror, Bone Tomahawk is a movie that consistently outdoes its low budget in terms of originality, unexpected twists and turns in the narrative, and a recurring sense of humour that often threatens to undermine the seriousness of the drama, but which actually works as an escape valve for the tension that first-time director Zahler seems able to pull together at will. At times, this isn’t a movie for the faint-hearted or the squeamish – Nick’s fate is particularly gruesome – but in amongst the sometimes extreme violence and the matter-of-fact tone that accompanies it, Zahler manages to explore themes of masculinity, comradeship, loss, self-sacrifice, and most surprisingly of all, manifest destiny.
From the outset, this is a Western that isn’t interested in telling a typical Western story, and although it bears a (very) basic resemblance to John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), it soon abandons any pretense at wanting to emulate that classic movie by taking a no-nonsense approach to the times, and the events that unfold. It also steers away from traditional Western motifs by having its quartet of lawful avengers put at a disadvantage right from the start, with O’Dwyer’s broken leg proving exactly the type of hindrance that’s likely to get them all killed. When they’re forced to leave him behind, not only does the size of their task increase, but also the likelihood of their ending up as buffet for the troglodytes increases too; they soldier on because they want to for each other, not because they have to for the abductees, which was how they set out.
By changing this kind of stance along the way, and by making their opponents so animalistic as to be unreasonable, Zahler avoids any sentimentality that might occur in a regular Western, and isn’t afraid to put his characters through the wringer, so much so that there are times when the viewer isn’t sure if any of the quartet will survive, or if they do, how intact they’ll be. With a rugged, inhospitable looking backdrop to the action (expertly rendered by DoP Benji Bakshi), the main characters’ confidence is slowly eroded by their surroundings and the troglodytes’ uncompromising ferocity, and this is where Zahler’s ability to ratchet up the tension is most prevalent – how are they going to get out of this alive? It’s an interesting question, as by the movie’s end it’s not about the survival of the fittest, but survival at any cost.
With so many weighty themes to incorporate, and with the violence and escalating tension proving so effective, it’s left to Jenkins’ daft, lovably clueless deputy to provide some much needed humour. There’s a lovely moment when he insists a travelling flea circus was operated by real live fleas, and he continually misunderstands things that have been said or done. Jenkins strikes just the right note of encroaching senility mixed with amiable foolishness and is a joy to watch as a result. Elsewhere, Russell’s flinty portrayal of Hunt will remind viewers of his turn as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (1993), and his whiskers should by rights be given a movie of their own. It’s good to see him play a character who makes so many mistakes, and if he maintains a degree of unshakeable tenacity throughout, then the movie is all the better for it (even if it’s cruelly undermined by the troglodyte leader’s treatment of him).
As the equally tenacious O’Dwyer, Wilson is headstrong, determined and completely focused on the task ahead, even though O’Dwyer will suffer for it. As his captive wife, Simmons is appealing and vulnerable, and more resigned to her fate than anyone would surmise. Both give credible performances and are matched by Fox’s belligerent martinet Brooder, a man as out of place in the quartet as he is oddly appealing. With Arquette and Morris (as Hunt’s wife) offering strong support, the movie benefits from having assembled a fine cast who are all committed to telling the tale at hand, and their are fine turns from the likes of Haig and Melamed in minor roles that add to the richness of the characters.
With a low budget fixed in place, Zahler is forced to resort to some necessary sleight of hand in telling his story. The troglodytes’ cave is reduced to one static location that features little in the way of set dressing, and there’s a sense that the exterior scenes were all shot in the same place but from different angles to hide the repetition. There’s also a problem with the pace, as some scenes – notably those where Hunt et al travel to the hills – are flat and in need of tightening up. Otherwise, Zahler’s debut is a taut, gripping endeavour that breathes new life into a (mostly) moribund genre, and is a great way of announcing there’s a new director in town who’s definitely worth watching out for.
Rating: 8/10 – a surprise on so many levels, Bone Tomahawk is an uncompromising, unapologetic movie that revels in its ability to subvert the Western genre, and gives us a tribe of inbred cannibals that easily surpasses the cartoon equivalents in the Wrong Turn series; with a great cast clearly relishing their roles, and assured writing and direction from Zahler, this is meaty stuff indeed, and a rare treat.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Colleen Camp
Architect and committed family man Evan Webber (Reeves) is forced to stay home for the weekend due to work commitments, while his artist wife, Karen (Allamand), and their two children go to the beach. On the first night he’s hard at work when he hears a knock at the front door. Not expecting anyone, he’s surprised to find two young women – Bel (de Armas) and Genesis (Izzo) – trying to find the location of a party they’re going to, and who are soaked through thanks to the rain. He lets them in to wait for another taxi, and gives them robes to wear while their clothes are put in the drier. He’s hospitable and friendly, but as the two women begin to flirt with him, Evan becomes uncomfortable. When the taxi finally arrives and he tries to give the girls back their clothes, he finds them in the bathroom, naked, and wanting very much to have sex with him.
Evan succumbs to their advances and they end up having a threesome. The next morning, he wakes to find Genesis and Bel have no intention of leaving. When they vandalise one of his wife’s sculptures, he threatens to call the police, but they call his bluff by saying they’d have an interesting story to tell the police, what with their being underage. Evan is shocked, and backs down, and the young women continue to disregard his pleas not to interfere or damage anything. Eventually he gets so mad he starts to call the police to report a break-in, and the women agree to leave. He drops them off where they’re supposed to live, and back home, cleans up all the mess they’ve created. Later that night, Evan is working again when he hears a noise. He goes to investigate and is knocked unconscious by Genesis. When he comes to he finds himself tied to the bed, and that both Genesis and Bel are determined to make him suffer for his actions of the night before.
A pretty awful movie by Eli Roth.
Sorry, we’re out.”
A remake of Death Game (1977), which starred one of this movie’s producers, Sondra Locke, and cast member Colleen Camp, Knock Knock has all the tension and edge-of-your-seat suspense of an episode of The Simpsons. It’s stupid, ridiculous, annoying, derivative, farcical, erratic, ludicrous, woeful, preposterous, idiotic, and just plain dumb. It’s a psychological thriller that forgets all about the “logical” and plumps for the “psycho” side of things with a passion that will leave most viewers shaking their heads in disbelief. This is a home invasion movie where you can’t feel sympathy for Reeves’ character, or the barmy antics of Genesis and Bel, or even the unlucky Louis (Burns), Karen’s assistant, who proves that an asthmatic can still play piggy-in-the-middle long after they should have collapsed fighting for their breath.
The script, co-written by Roth, Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo, is a lumpen mess that judders from one unconvincing scene to another, and resolutely avoids giving Evan the chance to gain the upper hand, keeping him the shouting, sweating victim throughout, while making Bel and Genesis the equivalent of avenging angels (though why they do what they do is obscured by their commitment to behaving like five year olds on a sugar high). Reeves is also lumbered with some of the most awful dialogue written in recent years, and it shows up his deficiencies as an actor (it doesn’t help that for most of the movie’s second half, and one rant aside, his general reaction to what’s happening to him is to repeat the F-word). And Roth, whose caché as a director is becoming increasingly devalued, directs each scene as if it’s completely independent of the ones before and after it, and shows no interest in making it exciting or dramatic for the viewer.
Rating: 3/10 – a wince-inducing thriller that remains a huge waste of time, and confirms Evan’s question part way through of “What’s the point?” with every subsequent scene; more knock-off than remake, Knock Knock plays around with a decent clutch of ideas but ultimately hasn’t got a clue what to do with any of them.
You’ve got to hand it to the Coen Brothers, they sure know how to make a period movie shine. Watching the trailer for their latest movie is like opening a window onto an older but seemingly more vibrant time, with the colour design and the lighting making the whole thing look lit up from within. Even if the story isn’t up to much – and who am I kidding? – Hail, Caesar! looks certain to be one of 2016’s most beautifully lensed movies (thanks to the estimable Roger Deakins), uproariously funny, and with its affectionate recreation of Hollywood in the 1950’s, looks certain to be in the running for an Oscar or two come 2017. And if you think the cast highlighted in the trailer is pretty good, that’s without Dolph Lundgren, David Krumholtz, Clancy Brown, Christopher Lambert, Fred Melamed, and Robert Picardo being included as well.
Cast: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono
Ever since Margo Roth Spiegelman (Delevingne) moved in across the street from Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Wolff) when they were kids, Quentin has looked on her as his one true love. But even though they grew up together as friends, and spent a great deal of time together, they’ve drifted apart and no longer even acknowledge each other in high school. All that changes however when, one night, Margo comes in through Q’s bedroom window and asks to borrow a car. She tells him that she has nine things she needs to do that night (some of which are illegal), and she needs his help. Reluctant at first, Q agrees to help her, and they take his mother’s car and head to the nearest Costco.
There they pick up various supplies including duct tape, a lot of Saran wrap, and a raw catfish. Margo explains that she’s out to get revenge on her boyfriend and her close friends; her boyfriend has been cheating on her with one of her friends, and at least one more friend knew it was happening and didn’t say anything. As the night progresses, and they play prank after prank, it becomes more and more like the times they spent together as kids, and Q finds his attraction for Margo rekindled. The next day though there’s no sign of Margo; a few more days pass before it becomes clear that Margo has disappeared.
Q is certain that Margo has left for a reason and that she wants to be found. He bribes her younger sister to look for clues in her bedroom. A Walt Whitman quote leads Q to finding a note with an address on it. With his friends Radar (Smith) and Ben (Abrams), he goes there and finds an abandoned store but they don’t find another clue. The next day, Q is approached by Lacey (Sage), one of Margo’s friends who is concerned about what’s happened to her. When the boys go back to the abandoned store she follows them there, and the four of them discover an atlas with a page torn out, a page that indicates Margo has gone to a small town in upstate New York called Agloe.
Q decides to throw caution to the wind and travel to Agloe. His friends, and Lacey, all agree to go with him, but only as long as they can get back in time for the upcoming prom. Radar’s girlfriend, Angela (Sinclair), comes along with them. Along the way they have a near-miss with a cow that sees their car spin off the road. Stranded for the night, Ben and Lacey develop a fondness for each other, while Radar and Angela pre-empt the plans they have for after the prom. The next day, with the car repaired, they finally make it to Agloe, but what they find there isn’t exactly what Q expected…
A teen romance where the romance is potentially illusory, and a teen drama where the drama is assembled through the filter of a mystery, Paper Towns is a heartfelt ode to teenage longing and seizing the moment. It features several moments where it seems the narrative is being forced along by contrivance and crude coincidence, but the movie has the presence of mind to excuse itself by a trick of the very same narrative. This is to do with the clues Margo has left behind, and the way in which Q responds to them, but as they are the crux of the matter – even more so than Q and Margo’s relationship – it’s hard to imagine the movie working out in any other way, faithful as it is to the structure and tone of John Green’s novel.
However, what is difficult to pin down successfully in the novel is also difficult to pin down in the movie. Q’s commitment/devotion/attachment to Margo is never quite believable, despite Wolff’s compelling performance, and hinges on that one night of prankdom that in itself seems unlikely. Some viewers might not be too concerned by Margo’s appearance in Q’s room after so long, but it’s hard to believe that after so long “apart” that she would rekindle their friendship, and then make it so memorable for Q before disappearing. And Q’s disappointment only lasts until it becomes clear that Margo has run away, but instead of feeling taken advantage of, he becomes certain she wants him to find her. All of which begs the question, is Q just lovesick, or a stalker in training?
Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter’s adaptation does its best to portray Q’s search for Margo as the grand romantic gesture it appears to be, but the script never manages to make his obsession credible or based on anything but an intellectual challenge (can he find her from the clues she’s left behind?). As a result, and again despite Wolff’s engaging portrayal, Q comes across as a loyal puppy dog willing to do whatever he believes his mistress wants him to do. So wedded to the idea of his being with Margo does Q become that a more appropriate liaison with Lacey is quickly nipped in the bud by pairing her off with Ben, a relationship that would be more credible in a Revenge of the Nerds movie.
In the end the movie’s central concept is that we – or more particularly Q – should live for the moment, and create our own dreams instead of following someone else’s, and while this is a tenet that’s worth taking to heart, here it follows in the footsteps of too many other teen dramas to be either relevant or anything other than jaded. But thanks to its gifted cast, and a sense of fun that is more appealing than the drama that occupies centre stage, the movie is by no means a chore to watch, and features warm, soothing cinematography by David Lanzenberg, and a charming score by Son Lux. Schreier’s direction is unobtrusive for the most part, and with the help of Wolff and Delevingne he imbues the scenes between Q and Margo with a sense of unspoken yet mutual affection that is entirely touching.
Rating: 7/10 – in many respects a missed opportunity, Paper Towns has a superficial fascination that draws in the viewer but will leave them feeling less than fully satisfied by the movie’s end; competently made but missing that vital spark needed to make the material sing, it has another delightful performance from Wolff, and gives Delevingne the chance to shine in what is the movie’s most important, and unexpectedly fascinating, supporting role.
Cast: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson, Luke Bilyk, Peter DaCunha, Emir Hirad Mokhtarieh, Joe Silvaggio, Sydney Cross
Dora Vogel (Rose), is a seventeen-year-old who lives with her mother, Kate (Wilson), and younger brother Remi (DaCunha). She has a boyfriend, Jace (Bilyk), who she’s intending to go to a Halloween dance with, but the news that she’s four weeks’ pregnant gives her pause. Afraid to tell her mother who has high hopes for her, Dora decides to stay at home and not go to the dance, but she doesn’t tell Jace. When her mother and brother go out trick or treating, Dora discovers that being home alone isn’t as comforting as she’d hoped, not least because of the oddly costumed child that calls at her door. Deciding she will go to the dance, she gets dressed up but now two children call, and this time one of them places their hand on her stomach leaving a bloody handprint. Shortly after, Dora begins to experience painful stomach cramps and calls her physician, Doctor Gabe Henry (Sutherland), to come over.
The cramps subside but when they do there’s a further knock at the door. Angry, Dora throws the remainder of the candy into the children’s sack – and sees something else there that shocks and petrifies her. She calls the police and while she’s on the line to the police dispatcher the house is seemingly possessed by a violent storm that sees various items hurled around by a powerful wind. The line goes dead and in time the storm subsides, but now Dora can see that there are more and more children outside, all wearing odd costumes. The arrival of an injured Doctor Henry sees the nature of what is now a siege intensify, and he and Dora lock themselves in the basement. But the children show tenancity and find their way in; Dora escapes through the laundry chute but the doctor isn’t so lucky. Dora tries to escape the house, and in the kitchen she comes face to face with one of the children. In her efforts to escape, Dora throws whatever comes to hand at the child, with no effect, until a salt shaker hits the child and the salt causes it to dissolve.
Now outside, Dora finds the sky transformed thanks to a bloody full moon that saturates everything in an eerie reddish-pink colour. She hides in an outhouse where the voice of one of the children speaks to her in her mind. It tells her they want her baby, the baby that is now growing at an advanced rate. Scared and horrified, Dora is found by Officer Corman (Patrick). They prepare to leave but hear Doctor Henry’s voice calling to them from the house. They go in, but Henry’s survival proves to be a cruel joke, but it’s one that allows Corman to realise what’s happening, and just how much danger Dora is in…
In 2008, Bruce McDonald gave us one of the most cleverly assembled zombie movies of the last ten years in the deliciously quirky Pontypool. Since then he’s laboured mostly in television, with the occasional feature thrown in (his last, The Husband (2013), is well worth checking out). Returing to the horror genre, McDonald has done his best to make a movie that combines a creepy, single-location setting with a broader supernatural raison d’etre (the children are demons looking to swell their ranks with Dora’s unborn child). In bringing Pascal Trottier’s script to life, however, McDonald is unable to overcome the deficiencies of the script, and as the movie breasts the hour mark and descends into fever dream territory, the tightness of the script up til that point drifts off into a soup of elliptical imagery and random occurrences that seem designed to pad out the remainder of the movie instead of bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion.
The set up is simple and effective, and the children – decked out in sackcloth hoods, unnerving masks, and surprisingly sinister metalware – are menacing, freakish and nightmarish to look at. Part of their effectiveness lies in their costumes, corrupted versions of children’s characters such as Raggedy Ann and Pinocchio; there’s nothing innocent about these kids, or what they want. McDonald highlights this horror at every opportunity, and even the kid wearing a tin bucket on his head (the leader, appropriately named Buckethead in the credits) is uncomfortably menacing. The children are the movie’s best asset, and whenever they appear the horror of Dora’s situation is more apparent and more terrifying.
What is less successful is the lame attempt to explain that this isn’t the first time they’ve done this, as Patrick’s dogged officer recalls the same thing happening to his wife, and the legacy of Carrie (1976) is resurrected in a superfluous final “scare” that fans of the genre will see coming a mile off. Elsewhere, Halloween is used as a backdrop for the supernatural shenanigans, but there’s no clear connection between the occasion and the children’s actions, and the field of exploding pumpkins is a triumph of unconvincing CGI. As a home invasion movie, Hellions is on firmer ground, and Rose’s performance is the glue that knits all the disparate elements together, from her shocked gaze at learning she’s pregnant, to her annoyance with the first child to knock (“Good luck with puberty”), to the moment when her realisation that salt can kill the children offers her a brief respite from being scared out of her wits.
Although the script’s unevenness hurts the movie overall, there’s more than enough to keep the viewer interested, even if it does go off the rails in the last twenty minutes. Dora is a sympathetic heroine, and it’s not hard to root for her, even if at one point she’s incapable of navigating her way through several hanging bedsheets. The various violent encounters are well handled, and the movie is refreshingly free of the post-modern irony and self-awareness that’s blighted so many horror movies in recent years. And the movie may be the first of its kind to make the colour pink seem ominous and sickly at the same time.
Rating: 6/10 – making a virtue of its restricted setting and an intelligent performance from Rose, Hellions is an above average horror/thriller that features some truly scary demon children and intuitive direction from McDonald; spoiled by a dilution of the threat towards the end, and a lack of focus the longer it goes on, it’s still a movie worth catching up with, and another example of what its director can do on a limited budget.
Cast: Seann William Scott, Olivia Thirlby, Garret Dillahunt, Kate Walsh, Kyle Gallner, Mackenzie Marsh, Evan Ross, Rob Riggle, Connie Stevens, David Arquette, Diane Ladd, Missi Pyle, Clancy Brown, Beth Grant, Griffin Gluck, Elisha Cuthbert
When his marriage falls apart, Ted Morgan (Scott) finds himself reassessing his life. He doesn’t like what he sees and this leads to him making the decision to return to his hometown and right the wrongs in his childhood that he feels have contributed to where he is now – and then he’ll kill himself. He moves in with his older brother, Lucky (Dillahunt), and his family: wife Kathleen (Walsh), and sons Zeke (Gallner) and Randy (Gluck). Ted’s first mission is to confront one of his teachers, Mrs Lawrence (Grant), who treated him harshly and undermined his confidence. He finds her in a home but his confrontation doesn’t go as planned, though he does meet Greta (Thirlby), his teacher’s granddaughter. When he tells her why he was there, and about his plan to kill himself, Greta threatens to tell Lucky (who’s also the town sheriff) unless Ted lets her tag along and film everything in lieu of his having to leave a suicide note.
Ted next visits the man who bullied him mercilessly at school, Rowley Stansfield (Riggle), but Ted’s plan to beat him up is ruined when Rowley apologises straight away for his terrible behaviour. With his expectations being dashed at every turn – a meeting with the one girl in school who treated him kindly, Vickie (Marsh), leads to a one night stand – Ted finds himself taken into his nephew’s confidence over the issue of Zeke’s confused sexuality. He also finds himself recognising that not everything is okay with his brother’s marriage (Kathleen spits in Lucky’s coffee and “sleep masturbates” in front of Ted each night). Still intending to kill himself despite how much he finds people like him, a secret from Greta’s past threatens to put an end to their burgeoning relationship, and an incident at school leads to Zeke disappearing. Faced with being involved with everyone else’s problems, Ted has to lend what aid he can before going through with his own “self-help” plan.
For a movie that deals with themes of suicide, childhood bullying, homophobia, teen peer pressure, sexism, marital disharmony, and adds a dash of casual racism to the mix for good measure, Just Before I Go could have been one of the dourest, most depressing movies of 2014 or any other given year. And while it contains a layer of seriousness that befits all those themes, Courteney Cox’s feature debut opts instead to throw in all manner of comic additions to the material, from the aforementioned sight of Kathleen “auditioning the finger puppets” (thankfully not in close-up) to a totally unexpected moment when Lucky sports an early morning hard-on that he does nothing to hide. It’s moments like these when it seems that David Flebotte’s script has lost any confidence it had in its own effectiveness and goes for the cheap laugh as a way of maintaing the audience’s interest.
What this means for the movie is that the humour, misjudged and awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative as it is, leaves the undercooked drama somewhat isolated and struggling to make the required impact. Take away the humour and you have a movie that, while it still struggles to be insightful, is at least broadly entertaining, with a quiet, understated performance from Scott, and an awareness that the issues it’s dealing with aren’t being tackled with any real depth but with enough energy to keep the audience involved (if only to see how many tonal switches the movie can make in ninety-five minutes). Cox apparently had advice from David Fincher and Gus Van Sant, but it’s hard to see where, or if, their advice was taken up, and she has trouble focusing on the emotions needed in any given scene, which adds to the disappointment of seeing a pretty good ensemble cast given very little to sink their teeth into. That it’s all wrapped up so neatly as well, merely reinforces the soap opera dramatics that do the movie such a disservice.
Rating: 4/10 – there’s already a movie called Trainwreck (2015), but this comes close to being the celluloid equivalent, as crass humour collides with sentimental drama to very poor effect; saved by a handful of well-judged if directorially unsupported performances, Just Before I Go is a badly constructed mess that stretches the patience and often betrays itself, let alone the viewer.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki
With Scotland ruled by King Duncan (Thewlis), his throne comes under threat from a Scottish lord seeking to overthrow him. Duncan’s depleted army is led by Macbeth (Fassbender), the Thane of Glamis, and thanks to his savagery and skill on the battlefield, Duncan’s forces win the fight and rout the opposition. On the fringes of the battle, Macbeth sees three women who stand watching him. When he approaches them, along with his trusted servant Banquo (Considine), they prophesy his rise to become Thane of Cawdor as well as Glamis, and his future role as King. They also tell Banquo that his offspring will provide a line of kings to come.
Soon after, Macbeth receives word that Duncan has awarded him the title of Thane of Cawdor (as predicted), and that the King wishes to spend the night at Macbeth’s home. News sent by Macbeth to his wife (Cotillard) of the day’s strange events prompts her to plot Duncan’s death so that her husband can ascend to the throne, though Macbeth is in need of her persuasion to even consider the idea. But when Duncan proclaims his successor will be Malcolm (Reynor), Macbeth sees no option but to go ahead with his wife’s plan. He kills Duncan, but Malcolm flees for his life, allowing Macbeth to blame him for Duncan’s death.
Macbeth is crowned king but he frets over the prophecy’s assertion that Banquo is the head of a line of future kings. Unwilling to see his reign usurped by Banquo’s inheritors, he charges two men to kill him and his son. Banquo is killed but his son escapes. At a feast later that night, Macbeth sees the murdered Banquo amongst the guests, and becomes maddened by the sight of him. Lady Macbeth does her best to calm him, but the actions of Macduff (Harris), who leaves in disgust at the new king’s erratic behaviour, lead Macbeth to have his family – his wife (Debicki) and three children – apprehended and put to death. Macduff has already left for England, and when he hears of his family’s fate, determines to have his revenge on Macbeth, and joins the army Malcolm has assembled to take back the crown. But while they plan their assault, Macbeth relies on his belief that “no man of woman born” can ever harm him, and is invincible. Lady Macbeth, though, seeing how much her husband’s mind has deteriorated begins to see that their futures have become heavily fore-shortened.
In a year that has seen any number of disappointing big-budget, action-stuffed, plot-lite, spectacle-driven adventure movies, it’s a pleasure to finally watch a movie that is the whole package – the real deal, if you like – and doesn’t pander in any way to any one particular audience demographic; in short, Macbeth is simply stunning. Thanks to a concise, yet exacting adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie, and Justin Kurzel’s robust, instinctive direction, this is a movie that sizzles with energy and fire and passion, and grips from its opening, dreamlike battle, shot and edited to perfection as Macbeth becomes aware of the three witches watching from the battle’s edge and the fighting rages around him. It’s a virtuoso sequence, visually arresting and exotically violent, and gives the audience a firm idea of the approach that Kurzel is taking with the material.
Indelible image follows indelible image as the wilds of Scotland are photographed to highlight both their inherent beauty and the eeriness that can be sensed within them, while the interiors, hemming in the passions that motivate Macbeth and his manipulative wife, act as a melting pot for the murderous intentions and descent into madness that erodes the new king’s grip on his throne. Rarely has a movie used its locations to such striking effect, with mist-shrouded hills and candle-strewn rooms becoming just as fervid and foreboding as each other. Kurzel’s eye for a powerful, arresting image is maintained throughout, whether it’s a church emerging from out of the highland mist, or the overhead shot of the King’s throne (almost lost in the emptiness of the great hall it resides in). Kurzel’s innovative style reaches its zenith in the way he presents the moment when “Birnam Wood doth come to Dunsinane”, a blazing wall of flame that reflects the ferocity of the attack and the intensity of Macduff’s thirst for revenge.
But while the movie is often a thing of beauty (and cruelly so), it’s the depth and richness of the performances that stands out most. Fassbender is a tightly coiled Macbeth, his conscience unravelling with ever increasing speed as his attempts to thwart the prophecy drive him to ever more desperate measures. Fassbender plays him at first as a reluctant conspirator, reliant on his wife to persuade him that killing Duncan is the “right” thing to do, but once he becomes King his sense of regal propriety gives way to paranoia and madness and prideful arrogance. These are aspects of Macbeth’s character that could easily be overplayed by the wrong actor but Fassbender is more than up to the challenge; when he tells Lady Macbeth his mind is full of scorpions, the smile he offers her is chilling in its murderous intent, and all the more effective for being fleeting and unexpected.
Matching Fassbender for intensity and the intelligence of their portrayal is Cotillard. The French actress is superb here, her cold-hearted determination and rejection of moral rectitude as unnerving as it is coolly self-justified. The scene where she realises she’s lost control of Macbeth and can do nothing to prevent his madness consuming him (and her) is magnificently handled, the character’s sudden awareness that everything is about to crumble around her, and that she’s misjudged her husband’s actions, is affecting and credibly realised. And later, Cotillard provides what is perhaps the movie’s best scene, as she delivers the “Out, damned spot” soliloquy with such an emotional wallop that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch (it’s also possibly the best single scene in any movie this year).
Of the rest of the cast, Considine is quietly commanding as Banquo, his taciturn visage used to best effect when placed among the unsuspecting guests at the feast, and Harris’s Macduff swirls with uncontrolled hostility, as maddened in his own way as Macbeth. Thewlis is an avuncular Duncan, Debicki and Reynor minor presences due to the adaptation’s focus on the key characters, and there are smaller roles for the likes of Maurice Roëves and David Hayman. The violence is stylised, though not as bloody as you might expect, and the make up team have done a great job adding various scars and cuts where needed (and excel themselves with Macduff’s broken nose). The costumes are functional rather than ornate – though Duncan sports what looks like a scarf made by a favoured child – and it’s photographed with rigorous style and impressive use of filters by Adam Arkapaw, Kurzel’s cinematographer on Snowtown (2011). There’s also a terrifically mournful, plaintive score supplied by Jed Kurzel that acts as a character in its own right, and underscores the tragedy of events with such conviction that it’s ultimately haunting.
Rating: 9/10 – easily the best Shakespeare adaptation in a very long time, Macbeth is a triumph of casting, directing, scripting, filming, and every other aspect required to make this one of the films of the year; an oft-told tale given a new lease of life through its presentation of the title character enduring a semi-lucid fever dream of grandeur, madness and inevitable tragedy, this is a tour-de-force of modern movie making and not to be missed.
Away from the world of studio marketing, where movie posters are increasingly showing signs of creative fatigue, and often are little more than images of the main characters in a scene from the movie, the movie poster as art is being left to pass away quietly in a dark corner somewhere, neglected and forgotten. With the studios seemingly unwilling to invest in getting an artist or illustrator to add a little extra lustre to a movie’s reputation, it’s left to the fans to really show them how it’s done. The following ten movie posters have been created by people who understand the concept or idea behind a movie, or just want to see something more original than what we see at our local cinemas. And usually, they’re a damn sight more clever as well!
NOTE: If you’re looking at these and thinking, “That’s my poster, I did that!”, then please let me know so I can update this post with the appropriate credits.
Cast: Ellie Mahyoub, James Francis, Martin Alcock, Junior Daws, Angela Fleming, Teague Davis, Kimberley Windsor, Matthew Mellalieu, Darren Smallridge, Chris Salisbury, Rachel Grainger, Armani Katija
A young, heavily pregnant woman collapses outside her house. She later dies in childbirth, but her child, a daughter, survives. The daughter is adopted by the Twists, and is raised by them in Stoke-on-Trent. The marriage is cut short by Mrs Twist’s death and Olivia is left in the care of her father, Barry (Smallridge), but their relationship has become a distant one. At school it’s little better, though she does have a close friend, Dick (Davis) and they support each other against a group of bullies. When Olivia punches one of them for saying nasty things about her mother, she is meant to see the headmistress, Miss Corney (Windsor), but she ducks out of school and heads home instead. There, an unexpected discovery makes her leave home for good.
She wanders aimlessly and spends the night in a barn. The next day she comes across a group of youths who are mugging an old man (Salisbury). The police arrive and Olivia runs off; when the coast is clear she encounters a young man who introduces himself as Jack Dawkins (Francis). He takes her under his wing and tells her there’s a place she can go where she’ll be looked after, run by a man called Fagin (Alcock) who looks after waifs and strays. At Fagin’s it soon becomes clear that the other teenagers there are part of a gang of pickpockets and thieves, and that Fagin runs things. In return for looking after her, Olivia is expected to become a part of the gang but she’s resistant to the idea. When a criminal acquaintance of Fagin’s, Bill Sykes (Daws), is looking for a small child to help rob a house, Olivia’s slight frame makes her the ideal candidate. But when she gets inside the house, she’s knocked unconsciousness before she can let Sykes in.
Much later, Olivia wakes to find herself in a nice bed and still at the house, which is owned by Mrs Maylie (Grainger). With the aid of an Afghani girl called Aziza (Katija), Mrs Maylie explains that Olivia is safe there for as long as she wants to be. Meanwhile, Sykes is worried that Olivia may have talked about his and Fagin’s “business dealings”; they hatch a plan to get her back in their clutches. They get a message to her that’s apparently from Jack, and she agrees to meet “him”. With a riot going on in the city, Fagin and Sykes reckon the police will be too busy to worry about them, but when the pub that Fagin operates out of is raided, Olivia is given a chance to escape her captors for good.
Since 2006, the British Youth Film Academy has allowed students to work on (and appear in) some seventeen movies and two television series, and in the process gain the experience necessary for these students to go on and work in the industry. It’s a great initiative, and t’s equally good to see that there’s a structured, sustainable annual programme where budding movie makers can learn skills in a variety of departments, decide on which area they want to concentrate on, and build a career for themselves. In the past, the BYFA has made quite a few movies based on the works of a certain William Shakespeare, but this is their first attempt at adapting Charles Dickens, and while the attempt is to be applauded, the final result is less heartening.
By updating Dickens’ tale to the modern day, and playing it against a background of social and industrial unrest, Olivia Twist seeks to ground itself, and make it sound and feel more relevant to contemporary audiences. On the face of it, it’s a solid idea, and rich with possibilities, but thanks to budgetary constraints and the random nature of director/writer Arno Hazebroek’s screenplay, the movie never really feels relevant or too up-to-date. At one point, Jack Dawkins uses a huge dollop of irony to praise the less-than-attractive area of Stoke-on-Trent that he and Olivia find themselves in, but this is less a comment on the grim functionality of industrial buildings than a clumsy reminder that this is a movie about fateful circumstances and where they can lead you. Stoke-on-Trent is clearly meant to be as much a character as any of the human ones, but a couple of references like Jack’s isn’t enough to elevate the decaying environment to better effect.
The dialogue is another, huge, problem. It’s a curiously uneven, patchwork combination of prose from Dickens’ novel, less obviously archaic forms of speech, and odd snatches of modern day vernacular. This leads to various members of the cast having difficulty sounding confident about what they’re saying, and the meaning of some lines is lost altogether as they sprint through them (and finish with a sense of relief). Unfortunately, this also leads to the drama inherent in the story often losing traction, and there’s an air of some scenes having been included purely to connect one scene to the next as a formality rather than in any organic way.
As a consequence the performances vary wildly in quality, with Mahyoub given the unenviable task of looking worried/perturbed/annoyed/miserable/scared depending on what scene she’s in, and the awkward requirement of reciting the novel’s most famous line at an entirely unconvincing moment in the school cafeteria. Francis fares better than most, and injects a much needed sense of humour into his portrayal of the Artful Dodger figure, while Alcock plays Fagin as an avuncular gang leader who doesn’t quite seem to have the smarts necessary to run such an outfit. Of the rest of the cast, Fleming is perhaps the only member who navigates her role and the dialogue without sounding arch or false. It’s noticeable that other members of the cast look decidedly uncomfortable throughout, and the attendant awkwardness borne out of Hazebroek’s approach to the material only confirms that this is a movie that would have benefitted from more time, more money, and more attention to detail.
It’s a dour movie as well, with a depressing visual style that is no doubt meant to highlight/complement the idea that Olivia’s journey and circumstances are less than desirable. The drabness of the locations used doesn’t help either, though the daytime interiors have a brightness to them that feels like the lighting was designed to compensate for the exteriors (and yet this in its way proves distracting). And yet, with all this detracting from the overall experience, and proving frustrating to watch, the movie does have a certain appeal, and one that allows the viewer to keep watching even though they might be wondering why. The relationship between Olivia and Jack is unexpectedly sweet and believable, and there’s a wonderful transformation at the end that sees Fagin in a jail cell morph from human being to Victorian illustration. It’s moments and flourishes like these that show just how good the movie could have been, and bodes well for future adaptations, but only if more care and attention is made in the process.
Rating: 4/10 – disappointing on so many levels but with an obvious intention to be as good as possible with limited resources, Olivia Twist stumbles and falls far more often than it runs unimpeded; however, it’s still a movie that shouldn’t be overlooked or disparaged too much as this is a first-time effort for most of the crew and within the constraints imposed upon them, they’ve not disgraced themselves.
Back in 1999, when The Iron Giant was first released, Warner Bros.’ marketing of the movie was so ham-fisted that the movie – which would be described by one critic as “the best non-Disney animated film” – was a disaster at the box office, recouping just over $23 million in the US against a budget of $70 million. If ever there was a case of a studio having absolutely no idea what to do with a movie, then this fits the bill completely. But thanks to positive word-of-mouth, and the advent of DVD sales, everyone could now see what the critics had been so captivated and impressed by: an animated Cold War thriller with an alien, metal giant protagonist and the young boy who befriends him.
Now, the movie is rightly regarded as one of the finest animated movies of all time, and Warner Bros. have decided to re-release The Iron Giant in selected US cinemas for two separate days only – September 30 and October 4 – ahead of a late-2015 blu-ray release. What makes such a re-release so noteworthy? Well, two scenes that were abandoned during the original production phase have been completed, and are now ready to be seen for the first time. They increase the movie’s running time by around ten minutes, and have led to this version being branded… the Signature Edition. It has Brad Bird’s full support, the HD quality of the image is breathtaking, and even though the trailer gives away too much for audiences who didn’t see the movie on its first release, it still makes the movie look as poignant and funny and heart-wrenching as it’s always been.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Warren William, Glenda Farrell, Grant Mitchell, Arthur Byron, Henry O’Neill, Douglass Dumbrille, Russell Hicks
Ambitious state Attorney General Robert Sheldon (William) and Ruth Vincent (Stanwyck), the daughter of the state governor (Byron), are head over heels in love and decide to get married without telling anyone. But before they can announce it, an investigator working out of Sheldon’s office, Breeden (Dumbrille), discovers evidence that implicates the Governor in a potential bribery scandal. Breeden’s evidence comes courtesy of Willis Martin (Mitchell), the private secretary to J.F. Holdstock (Hicks) who deposited money from his boss into the Governor’s private bank account. With no credible business reason for these deposits to have been made, it looks very much as if the Governor was accepting money from Holdstock, a convicted embezzler, whom he’d pardoned.
Sheldon is obliged to investigate this claim and bring it before a legislative body. He tells Ruth about it and they decide to keep their marriage a secret for fear of Sheldon being accused of having a conflict of interest. Their first course of action is to speak to Holdstock but they learn he’s committed suicide, and later they find an incriminating letter amongst Holdstock’s papers. That night, Breeden visits Martin’s apartment, and it becomes clear that the investigator is working his own angle. Later, at Sheldon’s offices, his secretary, Hazel Normandie (Farrell), leaves to meet Breeden outside the building. As he comes toward her, he is shot and killed. Ruth has seen everything from Sheldon’s inner office, and knows Hazel wasn’t the shooter, but keeps quiet to protect her marriage and Sheldon’s enquiries.
Hazel is arrested and charged with Breeden’s murder. Meanwhile, the legislature is becoming suspicious of the Governor and Sheldon, believing them to be withholding evidence surrounding Holdstock’s death from them. With Hazel’s trial for murder fast approaching, Ruth takes a desperate chance and visits Martin in his apartment. She learns that Holdstock’s death wasn’t suicide, and that her father’s main political supporter, Jim Lansdale (O’Neill), is more involved than even she, or her father, suspects.
Based on the play by Leonard Ide, The Secret Bride is, on face value, the kind of mystery thriller that Warner Bros. seemed to churn out on a weekly basis throughout the early Thirties, but a closer look reveals a movie with more going on than meets the eye. Its construction will be familiar to anyone who’s seen similar movies from the era, and the playing is as heartfelt and melodramatic as the script demands, but it’s a movie that plays well on a number of different levels, and uses its bribery and corruption storyline to make several cogent and pertinent observations on the politics of the time.
That it does so is a testament to the professionalism of the cast and crew, and in particular, Dieterle and Stanwyck. Dieterle made the movie because he was contractually obliged to; in addition he thought the script – by Tom Buckingham, F. Hugh Herbert and Mary McCall Jr – was weak. Stanwyck was in a similar position, and wanted out of her contract as soon as possible; after this she made just one more movie for Warner Bros. before returning to the studio in 1941 for Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe. With its director and star both less than enamoured of the project, it still remains an object lesson in how to mount a tightly-focused and entertaining little drama, and make it a better feature than expected. That it only played in a small number of theatres when it was released is discouraging, and perhaps reflects Warner Bros. own concerns over its commercial viability.
But it is a great little movie, with several directorial flourishes that make up for some of the more (deliberately) pedestrian scenes (Breeden’s death is a perfect case in point, shot from a high vantage point with rain falling and the horrified presence of Hazel Normandie to give it an emotional impact). Dieterle’s preference for low camera angles is a feature of the movie’s look, as is the way in which the camera is allowed to move in close when characters are panicked or anguished or frightened. A lot of this is also due to the presence of the great Ernest Haller behind the camera, and he even manages to make the movie’s static set-ups visually interesting, while Owen Marks’ assured cutting and editing provides the movie with its fast-paced rhythm.
Along with Stanwyck, William and the rest of the cast, Dieterle also teases out some of the script’s obvious subtexts, and explores them thoroughly. While the absence of trust in politics is pushed to the fore, the notion that such an absence is sometimes necessary is also given expression in the Governor’s resignation to his probable fate, as if his treatment by the press and his colleagues is to be accepted as par for the course. Sheldon and Ruth’s keeping quiet about their marriage is cleverly shown as a way of protecting themselves from associated harm and their selfish actions (while allowed to be put aside later on in the movie) go unpunished, adding to the idea that deception and falsity in politics is okay, whether it’s for the “greater good” or not.
As the embattled and battling couple, Stanwyck and William make a great team, sparking off each other in their scenes together. Stanwyck could always be called upon to be glamorous and alluring, but here she’s a muted heroine, her wardrobe reflecting Ruth’s single-mindedness and inner fortitude. William, often the charming rogue, is equally restrained, drawing the viewer in by showing the doubts Sheldon has as the mystery surrounding Holdstock’s death and his father-in-law’s involvement becomes less and less clear-cut. And they’re provided with efficient and formidable support from the likes of Dumbrille (unprincipled co-worker), Farrell (wise-cracking but vulnerable secretary), O’Neill (smoothly objectionable political fixer), Mitchell (devious and scared private secretary), and Byron (principled but naïve career politician). It’s an enviable cast, and everyone is on fine form, creating solid performances and characterisations, and adding to the pleasure to be had from watching the movie in the first place.
It’s true that the scenario is unremarkable, and the outcome entirely predictable, but then what movie from the period was ever any different? What makes this movie stand out is the attention paid to the characters, and the way in which Dieterle – against his better judgement perhaps – took what he believed to be an unpromising script, and made it as absorbing and compelling (and more so) than many other movies made in the same vein. And that’s to be rightly applauded.
Rating: 8/10 – an unappreciated gem deserving of critical reappraisal, The Secret Bride overcomes its potboiler preconceptions to provide a hour and four minutes of substantial entertainment; Stanwyck and William are on great form, and the whole mystery of the Governor’s innocence is played out with such a convincing touch of ambivalence that it helps the material immensely, and leaves the viewer wondering for quite some time, if he really is as guilty as it seems.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski, Fiona Shaw
Ten things you’ll be wondering while watching Pixels, and the answers that may well pop into your head:
1) How on earth has Adam Sandler landed a four-picture deal with Netflix – didn’t anyone at Netflix see this before they signed on the dotted line? (He must have something on the guys who run it.)
2) Is it really necessary for Sandler and Michelle Monaghan to behave like five year olds in the White House? (No, but it does seem like the script’s idea of cutting edge humour.)
3) Will it be easier to watch if I shut my eyes? (Probably.)
4) Would Americans really elect a complete idiot to the highest office in the land? (Hang on, who was that guy George something or other?)
5) When is that unfunny Rob Schneider cameo going to turn up? (Hopefully when it’s time for a toilet break.)
6) If the aliens are using video game characters that were around in 1982, just how many video games that came out post-1982 are they going to be allowed to use as well? (Loads, because nobody could be bothered to do the research.)
7) When is Chris Columbus going to direct another decent movie? (On this evidence, not any time soon.)
8) Why are the human characters more like cartoons than the video game characters? (Perhaps it’s meant to be ironic? Maybe?)
9) Just how many young actors are there that look like Adam Sandler when he was a kid, and are they all receiving counselling? (Too many, and probably not; what help could they possibly be given?)
10) Hang on, hasn’t this been done before – and better – in an episode of Futurama? (Yes, it has, so why aren’t I watching that instead of this mess?)
Rating: 3/10 – sci-fi has had a rough summer this year, and Pixels, with its lazy script and so-what-if-it-doesn’t-make-sense-or-is-particularly-funny approach acts as yet another nail in the coffin of tent-pole sci-fi movies; Sandler coasts, James gives yet another unfunny embarrassing performance, Monaghan and Cox look inconsolable, and Gad is left to – well, it’s not clear – making this ill-advised project one of the biggest disappointments of the year.