Thursday, 13 April 2017

Raw (2017): Review


Raw is a 2017 Belgian-French horror film. Directed by Julia Ducournau (Mange) and starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf (Tiger Girl) and Rabah Nait Oufella (Girlhood). The film was first released at the Toronto International Film Festival, amidst reports of fainting due to the film’s graphic scenes.


The film follows teenager Justine (Marillier) as she attends her first week at veterinary school. A lifelong vegetarian, Justine becomes subject to the various hazing rituals orchestrated by the older students, including her sister Alexia (Rumpf). One particular task requires her to eat a raw rabbit kidney and, after initially being reluctant, the ritual soon awakens a strange desire for human flesh. As she struggles to conceal her metamorphosis from her roommate Adrien (Oufella), Justine discovers that she is not the only one with a taste for flesh and tries to make it to the end of freshers week without her secret being revealed.


Raw would have to considered one of the most impressive feature length debuts for any director in recent memory. The themes and ideas are actually pretty well worn in horror ie body horror as a metaphor for puberty, cannibal families and comparisons to Carrie (76), Ginger snaps (00) and We Are What We Are (10) are more than fair. Ducournau puts the French post modern spin on the premise, without going as far as the New Wave of French Extremism. Rather than gory, the film would be much better described as visceral in a way that has rarely been achieved since the heyday of David Cronenberg.


Equally as impressive in her feature length debut is young actor Marillier, throwing herself mentally and physically into the role of a teenager being tortured by her own desires and urges. The concept of a vegetarian becoming a cannibal is obviously a rich vein of irony and black comedy and Ducournau wisely peppers this style of humour throughout the script to give the audience a rest after some rather intense sequences. The film is visually stunning and a washed out palette is complimented by some jaw dropping wide angle shots which force the viewer to focus on the slightest of movements like a laser.


Raw doesn’t forge any new ground but it takes reliable horror tenets and weaves them together in a eye wateringly intense experience that you’re not likely to forget soon. As one of the new wave of female directors forcing their way into a male dominated genre, Ducournau certainly has a bright future and has crafted a film of the year candidate on her first attempt.


5 Stars *****


What did you think of Raw? Did you find the film intense?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Free Fire (2017): Review



Free Fire is a 2017 crime comedy film. Directed by Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Sightseers) and starring an ensemble cast featuring Cillian Murphy (Sunshine), Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island), Sharlto Copley (District 9), Sam Riley (Control) and Michael Smiley (Kill List). The film was produced by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorcese.

Free Fire opens with IRA members Chris (Murphy) and Frank (Smiley) going to meet with South African arms dealer Vernon (Copley) in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Boston. They are accompanied by hapless duo Stevo (Riley) and Bernie and the meeting is facilitated by Justine (Larson) and Ord. Initial tensions over weapon specs and protocol soon descend into violence as it emerges Stevo was involved in an incident with one of Vernon’s crew the previous night. This transforms into a prolonged shootout between the two gangs that lasts most of the movie as they fight to get out of the warehouse alive, and preferably with a briefcase of money.

Free Fire is a return to Wheatley’s (and Jump’s) comedy stylings first flexed in Sightseers, as well as a return to his crime caper debut Down Terrace. Here the action is transplanted to America where a whole mix of accents serve to support the witty script. Murphy, Smiley and Copley all get to use their own accents whereas Riley effects a Bostonian twang. The script is packed with killer one liners with Sharlto “watch and Vern” Copley stealing the show as the pompous, but still somehow affable, Vernon. Riley is also perfectly cast as the scummy junkie who throws the spanner in the works but who you also somehow root for, despite learning of his psychotically violent tendencies.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal more to say about Free Fire as not a great deal more happens, and here is where it starts to slip down the mighty totem pole of Wheatley instant classics. Around an hour of the film is simply one group of people shooting at another group of people and, sadly, no amount of pithy dialogue can sustain that. It’s also a pretty bloated cast with, ironically, the American actors Larson and Armie Hammer left trying to play catchup with their international counterparts in between shots being fired. There is a peppering of gore to keep things interesting and a tremendous sequence involving a van driving in circles to a John Denver soundtrack but, overall, the film limps to a close rather than the kind of explosive finale seen in Kill List or Sightseers.

Ben Wheatley is arguably the best director in the UK with a string of tremendous, and varied, films on his CV but Free Fire would have to rank fairly low on that list. A middling film from Wheatley is still better than a lot of directors best efforts and, perhaps, crime films just aren’t my thing (Down Terrace is also one of my least favourite Wheatley films). Free Fire is an amusing romp that, very nearly, kept me entertained throughout, but certainly won’t leave as much of an impression as some of Wheatley’s more bizarre efforts.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of Free Fire? What’s your favourite Ben Wheatley film?


Friday, 31 March 2017

New WFTPOTA trailer


A 2nd trailer has been released for the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes. Whilst not quite nailing the brevity and impact of the first trailer, this does seem to shed more light on Caeser's motivations against the human militia and, interestingly, indicates some of the Apes have turned traitor and joined up with the humans. Woody Harrelson also gets some cracking dialogue as the Colonel Kurtz-esque character including “Sometimes it is necessary to abandon our humanity, to save our humanity”. Check it out...


This also promises to be the most action packed instalment of the rebooted franchise, after Rise (2011) and Dawn (2014) so skilfully set the scene. This is my favourite franchise of the decade and I can't wait to see the full scale wintery warfare promised in this trailer. War for the Planet of the Apes will (ironically) be released in July.

What do you think of the trailer? Are you a fan of the series?

Thursday, 30 March 2017

IT gets first trailer


The first trailer has been released for the upcoming remake/adaptation of Stephen King's IT. The creepiness factor is definitely strong with this one and I was impressed by how much they held back, showing very little of Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise. check it out...



Although I'm not completely sold on this interpretation of Pennywise, it was always going to be difficult to replicate the sheer terror of Tim Curry's iconic performance, everything is looking good here and they've certainly nailed that classic King atmosphere. We'll have to wait til September to be traumatised by Pennywise all over again.

What did you think of the trailer? Are you looking forward to the new Pennywise?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Get Out (2017): Review (spoilers)



Get Out is a 2017 psychological horror film. Directed by Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) and starring Daniel Kaluuya (Psychoville), Allison Williams (Girls) and Stephen Root (Office Space). The film is the directorial debut for Peele, who was previously known for his comedy sketch work.


The film follows the young couple of Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams), as Rose prepares to take Chris home to meet her family. Chris is initially paranoid at being the only black person at the house before being introduced to the black staff Georgina and Walter, however, they begin to exhibit very strange behaviour. After being coerced into a hypnotism session with Rose’s mother, we learn that Chris has been harbouring guilt from his childhood relating to his own mother’s death and, during a party at the family home, the rich white guests start to take an unhealthy interest in him. It soon becomes clear that Rose has been luring young black people back to the family home where, bizarrely, her brain surgeon father transplants the consciousness of the rich white people into their bodies. Trapped inside the house, and under hypnotic mind control, Chris has to fight for his life to escape his grim fate and remain in control of his own body.
 
Jordan Peele has crafted one of the most witty, socially relevant and suspenseful horror films in recent memory, and the fact that this is his first film is all the more impressive. The set up is somewhat familiar, reminding me of Funny Games (97) or You’re Next (11), but the idea of race as a source of tension is introduced right away and is the main thread from which the plot points hang. It is an exceptionally well written film as Peele plants seeds throughout that will only be paid off in the third act, or even on a second viewing, and there are many lesser directors that simply don’t think this far ahead. Crucially, the heavy subject matter of racism is peppered with comic relief, mostly in the form of Chris’s friend Rod, as well as clever eccentricities in the characters that ensure it is a film that can be enjoyed and analysed in equal measures.

The performances from the supporting cast are excellent with Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener providing the perfect balance between sinister weirdos and strangely likeable parents. Allison Williams proves much more interesting after Rose’s true motives are revealed and Georgina and Walter’s performances are fascinating when reassessed in the light of the third act reveal. The only downsides, performance wise, are the pretty bland protagonist Chris and the under-utilised Stephen root but this can be forgiven in quite a busy cast. As ambitious and original as the whole hypnotic slave/consciousness swapping angle is, I have to say the idea of mashing 2 brains together in one skull to create an avatar was a pretty far fetched notion in an otherwise grounded movie.

Get Out reinvents the twisty Hitchcockian thriller for the interesting modern times in which we live and offers a rare black perspective within the horror genre. Multiple mysteries are deployed and resolved with the precision of a much more experienced director than Peele and, no doubt, the horror world will be watching his next move closely. Get Out doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it is surely the freshest take on the genre you'll see this year.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Get Out? Did you feel the plot was a little too out there?


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017): Review


Kong: Skull Island is a 2017 American Kaiju film. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer) the film stars Tom Hiddleston (High Rise), Brie Larson (Room), John C. Reilly (Stepbrothers), Samuel L. Jackson (Snakes on a Plane) and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane). The film is part of Legendary pictures continued “Monsterverse”.


The film is set in the early 70s against the dying days of the Vietnam war as Monarch operative Randa (Goodman) attempts to get an expedition together in order to visit the mysterious Skull Island. Joined by Mercenary James Conrad (Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Larson) and Colonel Packard (Jackson), the team soon discover that Skull Island is far from uninhabited as the giant ape lays waste to their squad of helicopters. Stumbling upon castaway Hank Marlow (Reilly), we soon learn that Kong is the protector of the island and that the subterranean “Skullcrawlers” pose a far greater threat. The team must survive the horrors of Skull Island and escape, as Kong does battle with a jumbo Skullcrawler, in order to tell the rest of the world about these gigantic new creatures.


Skull Island has long been pitched as King Kong (1933) meets Apocalypse Now (1978), which is a pretty bold claim considering those are two of the greatest films ever made, and, on this promise, it delivers in spades. Vogt-Roberts is clearly well versed in both these films, as well as kaiju and war movies in general, and does a fantastic job in creating this fresh take on a modern monster movie. The direction and visual set ups are eye watering as, locations wise, we’re taken on a world tour of Vietnam, Hawaii and Australia and the visual effects, as with Godzilla, blend seamlessly into the world. The design of Kong is a welcome return to the classic bipedal character, with Peter Jackson’s anatomically correct character now a distant memory, and the King has been massively scaled up so that he can do battle with the other King in 2020.


The pacing is perfect, as the film wastes little time getting our protagonists onto the island, and the cast is strong despite a wasted John Goodman and a woefully miscast Tom Hiddleston as an action hero (Kurt Russell, he is not!). I particularly enjoyed Jackson’s turn as the Colonel Kurtz-esque Packard, he just made it through a war, he’s not about to let a damn dirty ape trample all over him! My immediate concern when I first saw the trailer was that John C. Reilly was there to provide ill-advised humour and, although his character has unexpected depths, I felt that a lot of the attempts at comic relief still fell flat on their face. However, for every human character that was in danger of becoming irritating, there were more than enough creatures on display to marvel at including a giant Octopus, Spider, water Buffalo and, of course, the sinister Skullcrawlers (themselves actually based on a briefly glimpsed creature in the original King Kong).


Much like 2014’s Godzilla, the film isn’t perfect but it does exactly what it needs to do, it brings these beloved characters back to life and sets them in new and vivid adventures for Kaiju fans, old and new, to enjoy. The philosophy of enlisting Vogt-Roberts is clearly the same as Gareth Edwards, these are technically exceptional directors with a passion and nerdom that we can all respect and relate to. See it on the big screen at least once to maximise your adventure to Skull Island, and don’t forget to stay for the post credits sequence. There’s never been a better time to be a kaiju fan!

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of the film? Did you like the Vietnam war setting?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Gaff returns for Blade Runner 2049


Some very welcome casting news has emerged surrounding the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 in the form of Edward James Olmos reprising his classic Gaff role. A mysterious and infrequent character in the original Blade Runner, he said more with his origami skills, however, also got to utter one of the greatest final lines in film history.

"It's too bad she won't live. But, then again, who does?"

Olmos joins Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto in Denis Villeneuve's belated sequel to the classic sci fi film.

What do you think of the casting choices? Are you excited for this one?