Movie Review: Happy Death Day

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Director: Christopher Landon

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Stars:  Jessica RotheIsrael Broussard

Verdict: Stay away.

Honestly, with this, The Mummy, and Death Note we’ve had 3 so-bad-they’re-good movies already this year, and with The Emoji Movie coming out the movie-meme community is really going into overdrive. 

Happy Death Day follows the story of ‘Tree’, *vomits* as played by Jessica Rothe, (La La Land), who is pretty much the best thing about the movie. She is forced to live through the same day repeated in a slasher film take on Groundhog Day, in a way that you can just picture the smug little fucking face of writer Scott Lobdell, (Man of the House, X-Men: Days of Future Past), looking at Edge of Tomorrow and thinking, ‘wait, I can rip off a movie now as long as I put it into a different genre? Fantastic! What a great new way to be a complete fucking hack that I’ve found!”. That being said he was probably hired by a producer to write the movie but even so, it’s pretty fucking heinous. He did forget why Edge of Tomorrow got away with it though, by being an actually good fucking movie.

As you may have guessed already, Happy Death Day is pretty fucking terrible, and there’s not a lot more than that that needs to be said. I mean people were complaining about the gender politics of Blade Runner 2049,  next to Happy Death Day, Sex and the City 2 looks like a suffragette, Loachian political scream for equality. It seems to think that all women are obsessed with sex, being thin, being pretty, getting drunk, and partying, and my god, the way it makes its female characters speak is just abhorrent. Within five seconds I thought to myself, this was written by a man who has probably never talked to a woman in his life, especially a teenage one, and somehow has a complex about never getting laid. I must state I had no idea this was written by a man, which it was. ALSO, it seems to think that whilst admirable, not having sex with a drunk woman makes you perfect for her and she should be expected to just fall in your arms, honestly when people refer to white knights these are the kind people they think seem to populate the entire population of decent males. There are also a LITANY of other, smaller moments that, if I was to get into them, would take forever. 

It’s approach to race is also, well questionable. There are literally 3 non-white people in the film, two of them are shown to be stereotypical, reductionist, figures of fun, one especially exists only for a few seconds for every repeated day as “that one douchey mysoginistic boyfriend”, (which should mean the film is aware of its own sexism but no), and the other is a security guard with no personality. 

On top of being incredibly problematic it’s also just really badly put together and badly written, it has heavy-handed music choices in montages that just feel laid on, shovel like, and make pretty much no sense beyond a really surface-level type of logic. There are setups that don’t pay off, and payoffs that aren’t set up and its logic makes absolutely no sense, it has no through-line of theme or meaning that is in any way coherent so as a result, the whole film just doesn’t come together into anything approaching a whole. 

The film cites, through the time honoured method of having posters on walls, They Live, Back to the Future, and Repo Man, these are three sci movies with a comedic twist. Especially They Live, which pulls off what I think this movie is going for, which is, the aesthetic and logic of a dumb action movie but actually being really smart and subversive and edgy. Instead of being smart-dumb in that way, Happy Death Day just manages to be dumb.

This film really isn’t worth your time and the 66% Rotten Tomatoes rating confuses me.  I was never bored, but mainly because I was alternating between angry, laughing at how bad the movie was, and confused. Don’t bother. 

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Cinemanarrative Dissonance: The Ludonarrative of Video Games and How We Can Apply That To Talking About Movies.

SPOILER WARNING FOR; I, DANIEL BLAKE AND GREEN ROOM, MILD SPOILERS FOR BLADE RUNNER.

There’s a video by a YouTube channel Video Game Critic called Errant Signal, normally a channel which highlights individual games and does a more in-depth than most analysis of the said video game. The video is called Errant Signal – The Debate That Never Took Place, and it’s about how stupid the ludology/narratology debate as a thing is and how stupid it is that as a result, we need to use the term ‘ludo-narrative dissonance’.

Now, this isn’t an essay on video games but I still feel the need to quickly explain what ludo-narrative dissonance is. It’s very simple. Ludo is the latin for game, and narrative means story, so moving on logically from that, ludo-narrative dissonance is when the story of a game is not reflected by the gameplay. The example that coined this term is the 2007 video game BioShock. On its face, the narrative is a dystopian takedown of Ayn Rand’s objectivism as laid down in Atlas Shrugged. The tenants of this criticised ideology is basically to work only in your own self-interest however the gameplay itself is all about working for your own self-interest without the option to do otherwise, really.

At this point, I wish to point out that I can’t attest to the validity of this criticism. I have played maybe 15 minutes of BioShock and far more BioShock Infinite which y’know, has problems of its own but this is so not the place to get into that. But all the same, the originator of the term ludo-narrative dissonance used it to apply to a game which he perceived to have a message expressed by the mechanics of gameplay that was at odds with the message of the story.

Now you may be asking ‘James what the flying fuck does all this have to do with movies?’, and that’s a fair question. In order to highlight the ridiculousness of the state of affairs, Errant Signal talks about how no one talks about a movie as a demonstration of filmmaking skill and as a strong narrative but never at the same time and never in a way that would posit it ‘Cinemanarratively dissonant’.

Enter media and communication analytics channel Folding Ideas, of whom I am a fan.

In his video Ludonarrative Dissonance, he picks up on this somewhat throwaway comment about cinema narrative dissonance and suggests that it actually has some potential value as a critical tool and I’m inclined to agree. So what I intend to do in this essay is somewhat refine the term. Try to apply it to a few films and see what comes out of it. Most likely this essay will be ignored and the term written off as some obscure footnote, but hopefully not.

Cinemanarrative dissonance can now for the purposes of this essay be defined as when the use of cinematic language as a story telling tool is in conflict with the story it is being employed to bring to life. A misuse of otherwise sound cinematic tools.

Example One: Transformers.

I’m going to start off with the example bought up by Folding Ideas and see if I can add some to it. He talks about how in the 2007 movie Transformers the character Mikaela Banes played by Megan Fox is written in the script to be smart and capable but is treated by the camera as a “piece of meat”.

So I watched Transformers specifically to verify this and oh my god is Folding Ideas right, epitomised in this clip here.

This is clip epitomises what he means by cinema-narrative dissonance; whilst all the elements in the, albeit terrible script, suggest that Michaela is strong and competent and clearly knows about engines as demonstrated in this scene, both Witwiki and Micheal Bay himself are only interested in objectifying Michaela. This might just be why Megan Fox called Bay Hitler. Maybe.

The other example I want to bring up is bought up by Lindsay Ellis in this video here.

In the video essay entitled, Why is it So Hard to Remember What Happens in Transformers? | The Whole Plate: Episode 3, Ellis posits that the reason she and others find it hard to remember all the fucking weirdness and dumbness in its specificity is that Bay gives every action equal weight no matter whether they are of unignorable importance to the story or not. She cites a brilliant Every Frame A Painting video I suggest everyone watches, (Michael Bay – What is Bayhem?)

Now whilst I agree that Bay does this, does it count as cinema narrative dissonance? The argument for this being that the camera is deeming specific elements with an importance that they just don’t have in the story.

Now, there is an old adage in screenwriting that everything needs to be vital. If a scene or item isn’t needed it shouldn’t be there. This comes from the idea of Chekov’s Gun. Chekov being a playwright who believed fervently in narrative efficiency and whose ideas can be summed up in the example that if there is a loaded gun on stage then it must go off at some point in the drama.

The problem with Bay’s interpretation is that the scripts he uses have, frankly, lots of extraneous shit. If we were going to look at, for example, Mad Max: Fury Road. That story is incredibly simple, it’s an a to b and back again chase movie that just has a lot of moving parts. What that film does that is different is that using simple framing and a consistent centring of key elements through quick cutting, it holds your focus on all the important players in the game with inserts to set up all the things that become relevant later. This for me is epitomised in the scene where Max and Furiosa fight using Max’s chain when they first meet up with each other.

The gun and the car door and everything are set up well in advance of them being needed. Whilst things are not being set up the camera stays rock solid on the mechanics of the fight occasionally cutting to Nux or the wives. This is all kept track of by everything staying in the centre of the frame so your eyes never have to adjust. This is how to laser focus on a story with great set up and pay off where everything that’s bought up is important to the story. This is opposed to Bay who could never cut anything if he tried.

However, I don’t think this is necessarily cinema-narrative dissonance more than Bay just not being able to discern what’s important because all he’s interested in is holding the camera on his dick and pushing it right in your face. You may disagree, and that is entirely fine.

Example 2: Blade Runner

I just wanna get this out the way right up front. I love Blade Runner, and if it weren’t for the scene that we’re about to talk about it would be, in my opinion, a perfect movie. However, it isn’t, it’s far from perfect.

We will be referring unless explicitly stated otherwise to the final cut of Blade Runner.

For his second and third movies British director and producer Ridley Scott moved from the historic medieval fields of The Duellists to much more speculative fiction and in so doing crafted to towering behemoths of science fiction that sculpted both space fiction and dystopian fiction for the rest of time. Alien of 1979, and Blade Runner of 1982, they both approached the subject of sexual assault and rape in very different ways.

Alien, famously being about a parasitic invader that invades your body and gestates before bursting out of your chest. The writer spoke of wanting all the men in the audience to cross their legs, to really understand what rape is like. This was then beautifully captured in Geiger’s production design in a way that makes for one of the scariest movies ever. That being said, Scott’s approach to this seems more to be, ‘that’s a really neat idea that I can make look really cool’ than the morals of it. This suggestion of mine is only reinforced by the way he approaches one particular scene in Blade Runner.

The music is lilting, the cinematography, very noirish and chilly but also filled with toned back warm hues. Their faces singled out from the blackness by warm light highlighting the red of lipstick, the emotions of eyes, white reflecting off the shape of curls of black hair. It’s shot like a love scene, and if you try to find it on YouTube that’s what most of the videos will be titled. However, the actual text of the scene is one of deep emotional darkness. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, bullying, breaking, emotionally manipulating Sean Young’s Racheal Tyrel. Taking advantage of her desperate emotional state, physically manipulating her and preventing her from leaving and forcing her to give some warped idea of consent whilst she’s crying and he’s looking furious. You could frame this as a noir homage but that would really be making excuses, and for a film with such emotionally resonant scenes as the ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’ monologue, that kind of post-modern detachment seems, perverse at best. No, this is a rape scene framed as a love scene. It is a particularly egregious example of cinema-narrative dissonance because of how disturbing the disparity is. This is in a way what I mean when I say cinema-narrative dissonance, it is a duplicity, a hypocrisy of intended message and presented text. This is a particularly shitty breed.

Maybe Scott matured as time went on, after all the man made Thelma & Louise, I don’t know, maybe not.

Example 3: I, Daniel Blake

A hypocrisy of intended message and presented text. Does this apply to my issues with I, Daniel Blake because I’m really not sure it does? Let’s dig in.

So the plot of I, Daniel Blake is that a carpenter suffers a heart condition so can’t work but yet his benefits officers tell him he must. It then descends into this darkly comic Kafkaesque nightmare, a loose retelling of The Trial.  That’s all great and I was with the movie until right near the end, because its message, that the benefits system here in the UK is completely fucked and designed to stop you trying to get benefits, I fundamentally agree with, but then at the end they’re about to go to court and fight for their rights, when Daniel dies. Then his friend blames the government at his funeral for him dying of a pre-existing heart condition, and it makes no sense. Or rather it could have made sense if it had been put together a bit better, as it is it just feels rushed. 

Honestly, you almost expect her to say ‘like a dog’, (Kafta references ftw).

More than it being rushed it feels like Loach is trying to push a moral onto an event that doesn’t inherently have that moral. There is ‘a hypocrisy of intended message and presented text’. However, I don’t think that it’s cinema-narrative dissonance. It is a dissonance of the message conveyed through dialogue against the story, instead of a dissonance with the message conveyed through the camera and cinematic language against the story. So no, I, Daniel Blake‘s dissonance is not of the type we are examining the possibilities of usage of here.

Fourth and Final Example: American History X

In her video essay, Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis Ellis refers to how in American History X, the text is explicitly anti-nazi but Nazis love the imagery that it presents of them. I think Ellis hits it on the head here when she says, “the text shows neo-nazism and white supremacy as bad, but isn’t it also kind of bad… ass..? Isn’t it kind of cool the way he’s framed?” Yeah, it is pretty cool the way he’s framed; if you’re a Nazi. The text shows Nazis as explicitly bad, however the framing of Edward Norton’s Derek Vinyard, especially in this shot; 

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isn’t as broad as just bad. It’s more threatening, imposing, dangerous, which, if you’re a neo-nazi is exactly how you want to come across. The culture surrounding neo-nazism is really incisively captured by Ellis when she called Vinyard, (in an ironic sense), “an uncucked, neo-nazi, alpha”. Ugh, I feel like I need to bleach my fingers after typing the words ‘uncucked’. The point is the community is all about posturing without any real change, and yes I know the same criticism could be levelled at the left, I’ve made it, shush. Terms like ‘uncucked’ and ‘alpha’ are generally used by people, when used seriously, who are neither of those things, or people who aspire to those things without any regard for any other positive attributes, or both. In the same video, Ellis talks about the fragile nature of Nazi theatrical posturing, terms like uncucked and alpha to me are the modern equivalent to forming a swastika out of marching stormtroopers. Inherently likely to break down when criticised. The point is that if you’re a Nazi you want to be considered dangerous without being considered inherently bad. In that respect, the framing of Norton in American History X is perfect for them, and it’s because of a cinema-narrative dissonance between the intended framing of Nazis to be pathetic, inherently bad, and ineffectual against the actual framing using cinematic language, which paints the Nazis to be threatening and dangerous. Director Tony Kaye famously denounced this film, and maybe this was why.

Maybe the better example of how to do this would be Green Room. In this story both the narrative of the script and of the camera goes from showing the neo-Nazis in that film as threatening and taking all hope from its characters to pathetic in their own right, which is maybe a journey that in our modern times, with the Alt-right descending, and with a back-catalogue of media showing Nazis as terrifying, that the audience needs to go on. We need to go from seeing the Nazis through the lens that shoots Edward Norton in American History X to the lens that frames the Nazi played by Patrick Steward running away at the end of Green Room and getting shot in the head.

That’s the end of the article. I hope that you enjoyed it and that together we might have helped give the world a new and helpful critical tool, and refined it’s usage to a point where we really know what it is and how to use it. 

J x

References

Alien. (1979). [film] Directed by R. Scott. UK, USA: Brandywine Productions, Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.

American History X. (1999). [film] Directed by T. Kaye. USA: New Line Cinema, Savoy Pictures, The Turman-Morrissey Company.

Blade Runner. (1982). [film] Directed by R. Scott. USA, Hong Kong, UK: The Ladd Company,  Shaw Brothers, Warner Bros.

Ellis, L. (2017). Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62cPPSyoQkE [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Ellis, L. (2017). Why is it So Hard to Remember What Happens in Transformers? | The Whole Plate: Episode 3. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aE-6M7IbNSI [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Errant Signal (2015). Errant Signal – The Debate That Never Took Place. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBN3R0m31bA [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Every Frame A Painting (2014). Michael Bay – What is Bayhem?. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2THVvshvq0Q [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Folding Ideas (2017). Ludonarrative Dissonance. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04zaTjuV60A [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Green Room. (2016). [film] Directed by J. Saulnier. USA: Broad Green Pictures, Film Science.

Hellquist, P. (2007), BioShock, Video Game, 2K Games, Irrational Games, Australia, USA

I, Daniel Blake. (2016). [film] Directed by K. Loach. UK, France, Belgium: Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, BFI, Les Films du Fleuve, Canal+, Ciné+.

Kafka, F. (1925). The Trial. Berlin: Verlag Die Schmiede.

Levine, K. (2013), BioShock Infinite, Video Game, Irrational Games, USA

Mad Max: Fury Road. (2015). [film] Directed by G. Millar. Australia, USA: Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Kennedy Miller Productions, RatPac-Dune Entertainment.

Rand, A. (1957). Atlas Shrugged. New York City: Random House.

The Duellists. (1977). [film] Directed by R. Scott. UK: Paramount Pictures, Enigma Productions.

Thelma & Louise. (1991). [film] Directed by R. Scott. USA, France: Pathé Entertainment, MGM, Percy Main, Star Partners III Ltd.

Transformers. (2007). [film] Directed by M. Bay. USA: DreamWorks, Paramount Pictures, Hasbro, Di Bonaventura Pictures, SprocketHeads.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – “Fight Club” (Review)

Forgot to reblog this at the time, (I was working on a different platform), but this is a review I wrote of the seminal David Fincher film, Fight Club.

Sarah Saw A Movie

MHALOGO

Written by James
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One of the more interesting things about Fight Club, David Fincher’s apocalyptic adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s ground breaking and even more apocalyptic 90s novel is the first rule of the eponymous ‘Fight Club’ within the film, (‘you do not talk about Fight Club’). Reason being, if one were to merely go beneath the surface of Fight Club just a little bit it would involve massive spoilers, which to a degree encourages you not to talk about it. So I’m going to try my very hardest to avoid those.

Y’know, the spoilers, those are the things I’m trying to avoid…

Right.

The film is a meditation on masculinity, media, corporate culture, gender relations, fatherhood, and collectivism, and if there is a criticism to be made of Fight Club it could be that that’s a lot of themes to balance which has led to a…

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Movie Review: The Death of Stalin

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Director: Armando Iannucci

Writers: Armando IannucciDavid SchneifolloderIan MartinPeter FellowsFabien NuryThierry Robin

Stars: Jason IsaacsAndrea RiseboroughOlga KurylenkoSteve BuscemiJeffrey TamborRupert FriendPaddy ConsidineMichael PalinSimon Russell Beale

Verdict: Hella funny

Hello Jason Isaacs. 

The plot of The Death of Stalin follows the farcical power struggle in the fallout of the death of Stalin, (Spoilers, but I think the title gives that away). 

It’s sometimes hard to review comedies because there are only so many ways to say either, “it’s really funny”, or, “it’s just not funny”. That being said, The Death of Stalin is really, really funny. With Iannucci, I’ve always seen the opportunity for his work to completely blow me away although they have consistently failed to do so, whenever I go into a new Iannucci project I’ve consistently been let down. That so, so, didn’t happen with The Death of Stalin, I really, really liked it. I was concerned that it would just be one joke stretched out into 100 minutes, that joke being the grovelling and back-breaking limbo moves pulled off to maintain the party line but the way they get around that is by taking that joke at many different angles, looks, and infections, and by working in that really jet black humour about the offhand way that the executioners and torturers deal with their work. The tone of The Death of Stalin can best be summed up, in my opinion, in one of many jokes in the film, in which Stalin’s cabinet are moving is prone body and Jeffery Tambor, (Transparent, Arrested Development), complains, “I have a bad back” to the retort, “too much social climbing”. The tone is very much that sense of bickering, the kind of humour one might exchange over drinks, given this absolutely horrific sense of pitch black, gallows humour merely by its juxtaposition with the constant threat of death faced under Soviet Socialism. The Death of Stalin is the new black comedy from Armando Iannucci, (Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, In the Loop, Veep), which follows the power struggle in Soviet Russia in the fallout of Stalin’s death, (spoilers, although I think the title does that). 

It has an all-star cast, all of whom give really awards courting performances. Michael Palin, (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil), is in it and is fabulous as he always is. Jason Isaacs, (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Star Trek: Discovery), plays a character who is completely counter to the world that’s set up and my god does it work when you wouldn’t expect it to and does this outrageous Yorkshire accent and has many of the best lines. Andrea Riseborough, (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Oblivion, Nocturnal Animals), provides a really valuable female presence in a film that does seem a tad overwhelmed by the male bravado and toxic masculinity which it so deftly skewers, just, a bit too much of it all. In a film like, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the idea is that that’s a film about the way that old men interact with other old men, whereas The Death of Stalin doesn’t go far enough into that subtext to really justify its overwhelming sausage fest. 

There are moments of farce, (many moments of farce actually), moments of pitch-black humour, of tragedy, and of absolutely abject horror, it’s quite a spectacular achievement but the overwhelming irritatingness of its characters’ misogyny prevents it from being more than the sum of its parts. I was laughing like an idiot, I was the only one who was, I kind of get it not clicking with you, but it really clicked with me. Also, I feel in the end, maybe comedy is the more effective mode in which to deliver some messages because otherwise people just sort of become numb to never-ending misery, this film is really easy to engage with and the populous can engage with it and get its message really easily y’know. 

Trailer Thoughts: Annihilation

Holy.

Fuck.

This film from acclaimed Author turned Screenwriter turned Director Alex Garland, (Ex_Machina),  really represents a step up for him, and it’s shocking that he’s already this fucking good with visual effects after only directing a much lower budget movie.

The film also looks like it has the potential, like a lot of Garland’s work, to morph from sci-fi imperceptibly into horror with some really striking and beautiful production design. If the film doesn’t win that Oscar I will be pissed, off.

The fact that the trailer is #1 trending on YouTube is also encouraging because it demonstrates an appetite for intelligent sci-fi and I just hope it gets the reception it deserves.

Trailer Thoughts: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

So, Alicia Silverstone is back..? Ok then.

Yo I am a pretty big fan of Yirgos Lanthimos up until now. King of cult oddities his films Dogtooth and The Lobster and deeply allegorical and darkly funny. Upon that, I am really intrigued to see what he brings us with his first horror movie.

The trailer gives very little away which I like but at the same time, it hasn’t really left a lasting impression in the way his movies so far have, I will still go see it because my god is that trailer creepy, but, I’m waiting for the hook here.

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane GoldmanMatthew VaughnMark MillarDave Gibbons

Stars: Taron EgertonColin FirthMark StrongJulianne MooreChanning TatumHalle BerryElton JohnJeff BridgesPedro Pascal

Verdict: I will not remember anything about this film in a week

*deep, deep sigh*

So. This movie has gotten a lot of shit. I don’t hate the movie, but I do hate how forgettable it is, I saw it today and I’m already forgetting it. Let’s try and find out why. 

So Eggsy, played Taren Egerton, (Sing, Eddie the Eagle), has completed his only interesting arc, and become a fully fledged Kingsman, when a figure from his past comes and everything comes crashing down, including the walls of Kingsmen itself. The only ones left standing are Eggsy himself and the ever-charming Mark Strong, (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Miss Sloane), and they discover the only people that can help them are their previously unknown American counterparts, The Statesmen. 

I wasn’t hugely sold on the first Kingsman movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and if I’m honest a sequel always sounded like an inevitable but stupid idea to me. Why did you see it you may ask? I don’t know maybe I hate myself? Why did I think it was a stupid idea? Let’s go into it. The thing people loved most about the first movie, Colin Firth, (The King’s Speech, A Single Man, Love Actually), was categorically dead. Eggsy had already completed his journey from street rascal to princess-dating, fancy-cutlery-using, super-spy, so the interesting element of grounding a fantastical spy-action-comedy in reality that was present in the first one is no longer there. Third, and finally, Matthew Vaughn, (Kick-Ass), has always worked by starting the movie independently and getting the studio’s involved off the strength of earlier work so being involved with a studio from the start never seemed like a good fit for him. Do you know what? All of those elements are alive and present. There is one single scene of Eggsy interacting with his friends from home and it’s only there for some cheap jokes about how out of touch he’s become and to setup equally cheap emotional substance later, and it’s still one of the best scenes in the movie. Because it’s gone to America that means it’s bigger and stupider, which always irritated me. Loads of the best jokes are either done better in the trailer, or there are punchlines that are better in the trailer, or there are just jokes in the trailer that aren’t in the movie. It is dangerously infected with the male gaze and there’s one scene that thinks it’s being raunchy and cheeky but is really just dangerously misogynistic and unnecessary. The only female character in the whole movie who isn’t either useless or just a sex object is Julianne Moore, (The Big Lebowski, Children of Men, Maps to the Stars), who plays the villain and is pretty mediocre as a performance and utter shite as a character and before this, it has always been pretty unheard for Moore to be bad or uncommitted in a performance. This is a definite step down after such a spikey performance from Samuel L. Jackson, (Pulp Fiction), as the villain in the last movie. 

The film does feel hampered by being bigger and broader than the first. There are so many characters filled by famous people who do nothing and go nowhere and might as well not be there. The scope of the film in general just feels bigger than it’s really able to handle. There is a sense of weightlessness to it, both in the physicality of its acting and the sense of peril characters that wasn’t present in the first movie. There was this thing that Ben Wheatley, (Kill List, Sightseers, High-Rise), said about making Free Fire that that movie was inspired by watching the huge spectacle of things like huge robot dinosaurs and just kind of feeling, ‘meh’ because there was no emotional grounding or reality to it and I think that’s definitely true of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. During the opening chase scene that is really spectacular and drawn out, I was thinking about what I wanted to have for dinner. The movie really tries to throw everything at your face in every action scene as well, and it was kind of shouting me to sleep, a bit of restraint and variety to the scenes would have been welcome. 

It’s also structured appallingly, not that I’m a real structure nerd but it does have a place y’know and if you’re pacing’s fucked up so is your movie. 

There also a lot of really, really fucking painful throwbacks and callbacks to the first movie that just seem very shite in comparison. Not least a callback to the famous church scene that’s really three men fighting when redone here, and it, like the rest of the callbacks, all just feel hollow, empty, and underwhelming in comparison. 

That being said there are positives. I laughed about four times. There were about three moments where I thought ‘oh that’s cool’ because there was a clever setup and payoff in the film that I hadn’t anticipated, and I did feel engaged enough in the plot to not be bored. That’s about it. 

The real problem with this movie is, although I didn’t love or even really like the first one it did have interesting rough edges. They’re like Green Day, at the beginning they weren’t perfect but they were aggressive and edgy and in your face and had something to say and kind of punk rock, (incidentally their message in this one, which you really have to dig for, is kind of that the government are handling this drugs war like the AIDs epidemic, and even that is conflicted), with the current output, do you even fucking know what punk rock is anymore? If you want a better statement on how the government handles crises like this check out the documentary How to Survive a Plague. After which not only are you informed enough to notice the parallels with AIDs but also you’ll find the way that conflict is resolved, really contrived and cheap and really reinforces a status quo in a franchise resolved to upend it. 

I mean it is really not The Mummy levels of bad because there are scenes in it that actually worked but it’s pretty bad.

And Halle Berry, (X-Men 2), is shit in it. 

Movie Review: It

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Director: Andy Muschietti

Writers: Chase PalmerCary FukunagaGary DaubermanStephen King

Stars: Bill SkarsgårdFinn WolfhardSophia Lillis

Verdict: Really solid

So now it’s the movie that has caused you to become to absolute last person on the planet to make the joke, ‘hey I’m going to see It, you know It, IT!’. Hilarious. Pat yourself on the back. 

Based on the Stephen King doorstopper, it has famously been already to a 1990 miniseries which has somehow become iconic despite being really, really shit. It’s written by Cary Fukunaga who’s responsible for the Fassbender Jane Eyre, Beasts of No Nation, and True Detective; and directed by Andy Muschietti who along with Guillermo Del Toro, (Pan’s Labyrinth), brought us the 2013 movie Mama which a, well, fine horror film that I feel some degree of sentimental attachment towards. It has already taken an extraordinary amount of money. It was recently announced that it was the most financially successful horror movie ever, whether or not this inflation adjusted is, well, dubious. In fact, one of the most interesting thing about it is just what a solid investment it is and a solid job at adapting it to an audience they’ve done. There is a hole at the moment in the market for mainstream movies, all the good ones we’ve got in recent years, bar maybe Green Room, don’t seem that open to a wide market, so along comes It; off the back of Stranger Things last year, that itself referenced Stephen King, this movie adopting a look and cast member; it also cuts out the adults story for a separate movie, the adults honestly being the most trashy part of the trashy mini-series, they’ve really maximised the appeal of this movie through opportunity and invention. 

So that’s the first positive, it really highlights the positives of the original and focuses on them for the movie. The second is really the cast. I can’t really think of a performer who performs badly and they all really seem able to add characters who in the screenplay aren’t as fleshed out as one may like and add real depth to them through their performances. That’s really the nature of adapting such a fucking massive book to screen, you will lose some backstory but the filmmaking and acting does quite a lot to fill in the gaps. The performances themselves are also surprisingly subtle for actors of their age. Sophia Lillis is a particular standout and Bill Skarsgård, (Atomic Blonde), who plays Pennywise certainly doesn’t one-up Tim Curry, (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), because you can’t fucking one-up Tim Curry, but he does put a really interesting and chilling spin on things. 

One major problem I had with this new version was that in the scenes it puts in because the mini-series made them famous, it tries too hard to separate itself but feels chained to the original in a way. For example in one early scene that knowingly calls back to mini-series the dialogue is only tweaked, so it comes across as more awkward and forced than, well, chilling. There’s also the issue of the jump scares, which, above other films of this ilk it actually does for moments that are meant to be scary so it carries the tension over for more than just an instantaneous jump, which is nice, however, it would be nice if they were a bit more subtle, but subtlety isn’t really in this movie’s dictionary. 

That being said, It is still a really solid, scary, gripping, and poignant crowd-pleasing horror movie full of characters that you like and that the movie likes. I actually cried during the scene with the pool and someone actually screamed in my screen! WHEN THE FUCK DOES THAT HAPPEN ANYMORE!? I look forward to the sequel which is almost certainly happening. 

Trailer Thoughts: Isle Of Dogs

How is it really surprise anyone that Wes Anderson, king of meticulously designed frames has fallen in love with animation even for his adult films? Not to say this doesn’t look it will have family appeal, who knows we might even get out first good dog movie…

Now I know there’s a new Tomb Raider trailer out at the moment, (it is hot, steaming garbage), but I feel it’s important to cover more independent work that’s coming out at the moment and based on the amount of feels I got from this trailer along you can gosh darn rely on me to be going to see this movie when it comes out.

I really like how adventurous the premise is, how out there the imagination for this is, how the color palate is full of strong reds, whites, and purples whereas Anderson normally opts for pastels and I love the references to Wall-E, V For Vendetta, and wait, what? Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave..? Well ok, then I’ll take it.

It’s also back to melancholy Wes Anderson, like Moonrise Kingdom level melancholy Wes Anderson, which, let’s admit it, is peak Wes Anderson.

Movie Review: Victoria & Abdul

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Director: Stephen Frears

Writers:  Lee HallShrabani Basu

Stars: Judi DenchAli Fazal

Verdict: Eh

So this is a film that probably no one will remember that’s a sequel to a film… that no one remembers? Or is it? It’s not really clear and frankly, I don’t really care.

My real problem with Victoria & Abdul is really just how much it tries not to offend anyone. In a weekend where I saw Mother!, the low bar at which Victoria & Abdul aims just doesn’t seem good enough. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it because I did, I laughed a lot, but that’s about it. It has no real character depth, there’s no sense of believability to any of the dialogue which more often than not comes across as cheap and visually it’s really, really bland.

There are two real problems with Victoria & Abdul that are kind of, summed up by its real driving force to be innofensive. Number one is, it really sidesteps the real issues that it could talk about and would be really interesting. Instead of really talking about the Empire and subtlety or nuance with regards to racial prejudice the film becomes instead somehow about, what Pascal observed as the loneliness of Kings, and about being old and friendless. 

It also panders pretty strongly to modern politics, as in Queen Victoria is very much a modern woman with modern views, and although this is a neat way of sidestepping the ‘charming old racist’ trope it does come across as kind of fake. 

I mean there are good things about Victoria & Abdul, Judi Dench, (Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold HotelPhilomena), is, as always fabulous, as is the rest of the cast including unknown Ali Fazal, (Fast & Furious 7), who plays Abdul, who comes across really as a natural. And of course, the supporting cast is rounded out by the likes of Eddie Izzard, (Valkyrie, Hannibal), and Michael Gambon, (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Sleepy Hollow), who all do just as well as you’d expect. There is also, of course, an element of costumes and set design that can’t go ignored and is really done with some gusto and vigor in this film. 

The real disappointment for me though is that I really expect more from director Stephen Frears. He directed High Fidelity, which is one of my favorite films ever, and My Beautiful Laundrette, and Dirty Pretty Things, and Dangerous Liaisons, and Prick Up Your Ears. Talented man who’s done some really dynamic and substantial work but in recent years has just become a safe pair of hands who kind of churns out work, and like Woody Allen, (Annie Hall, Manhattan), who’s become similar he does some fantastic films, (Philomena), and some films that are just, vapid and without any real edge, like The Program, and Florence Foster Jenkins

In the end, this film isn’t really worth wasting a lot of breath on, it’s empty, ‘looking pretty but doing as little as possible’. Like it’s fine, but it’s not really going to inspire anyone to make films the way High Fidelity did for me is it?

Movie Review: Mother!

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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writer: Darren Aronofsky

Stars:  Jennifer LawrenceJavier Bardem

Verdict: Fucking baller

Fuck. 

Fuck fuck fuck. 

Fuck you, Darren Aronofsky, (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, The Wrestler),  now I’ve seen this movie I have to fucking talk about it. 

Life of a film critic I guess. 

Mother! starts with a vision of fire and Javier Bardem, (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), putting a crystal in a container that will recur frequently throughout the film, we then see a vision of a burned house coming to life again in a way that you just know in a Nolanesque, (The Prestige, Inception), way this imagine will come back again in the film with added context. We then move into this house where Javier Bardem is married to the much younger Jennifer Lawrence, (The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook), who seems obsessed with personally fixing and maintaining the house herself while Bardem spends most of his time moping in his writer’s room. Then Ed Harris, (A Beautiful Mind, Westworld), and Michelle Pfeiffer, (Scarface, Batman ReturnsDangerous Liaisons), turn up and just won’t leave. Things, well, you know that mad stuff you’ve seen Darren Aronofsky do before, it’s a bit like that, and I don’t know if I love it or if I hate it?

Let me elaborate on that, it is a fantastic film, like Black Swan and Requiem For A Dream it may appear like a descent into madness but it is a lot more controlled than it appears. The difference for me is that the pacing and editing are so perfect they really stride that line of instead of a descent into hell it always feels like escalating action. It was a film that I was constantly waiting to see spill over into terrible violence and madness and it does descent into that but it never feels like it’s spilling over it just feels, natural, in the most terrible way. 

I haven’t felt this trapped inside a movie since the first time I watched Kill List which was a long time ago. I hated Kill List when I first watched but now it’s one of my favourite films, and I feel much the same way about Mother! because remembering it is like remembering this pitch black hole of despair. It’s mostly shot with wide lenses in extreme close-up on faces so the background is compressed right into the face. 66% of the film is shots of Jennifer Lawrence’s face and it is fucking relentless. Only in Mother! will you see images that very deliberately evoke images you’ve seen in the middle east of people being shot, but by order of a Kirsten Wiig, (The Martian, Bridesmaids), cameo. IN A MOVIE, MAY I REMIND YOU, ENTIRELY SET IN ONE BUILDING. 

So yeah, it’s hard for me to say if I love this film but I will probably grow to love it on rewatches. 

On the subject of Wiig can we talk about her for just one second because she is fantastic in this film and I think her presence in the film is a good primer for the actual tone of the film. 

There was a point made by Red Letter Media about how Wiig and Melissa McCartney, (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat), basically started on SNL at the same time but whereas McCartney has gone on to do these crass, broad comedies, Wiig has gone onto, well, films like this. Even so Wiig still mainly works in comedy, just of the more interesting, indie comedy scene. That is very much the mode this film works in, which is this over-cranked, allegorical, surreal, and blackly comic tone that explores the area of just how black can comedy be before it becomes abject horror; which is an area that I am very interested in. It sets this plate out from the opening credits where the exclamation mark of the title comes in with a typewriter ding and I actually think it’s very important that it’s an exclamation mark that comes in like that and says something about the really in your face nature of the film and also the occasionally pitch black comedy. 

You could read it in a variety of ways. Aronofsky himself thinks it’s an allegory for the way in which the planet is exploited, and that reading is if anything extraordinarily on the nose at some points, I took it as an allegory for the toxic nature of male privilege and toxic masculinity and it works fine on that level as well and many other people have read it in a variety of equally interesting and valid ways; and that’s one of Mother!‘s core strengths that these could all have been somewhere in the dark dank recesses of the filmmaker’s brain as it was being made, giving it this really rich texture of meaning. 

There is one rather problematic scene of ‘rape but then she enjoys it’, which is a problem for me but it works a hell of a lot better than say, Blade Runner or Straw Dogs. There are scenes of great violence too, but then even in that near nape scene the camera never appears leering, exploitative, or titilatory, it seems, just really sympathetic and empathetic, which for female protagonists railing against implicit societal pressures is a real strong suit for Aronofsky. 

Watching Mother! is like trying to crawl through an increasingly tight maze with razor blades on the walls, but in a good way. It is a singular cinematic experience that I think you kind of have to see on the big screen. I mean I was in a multiplex and they played trailers for actual fucking movies like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Downsizing instead of the hyper-active explosion porn that modern cinema brings us. Then the BBFC card came and it was an 18 and it struck me just how long it’d been since I’d watched an 18 in the cinema which was probably The Neon DemonThen the first company logo came up and I realised it was shot on film (16mm), and I was primed and ready for a proper movie and that’s what I got and that experience alone was probably fucking worth it with the state cinema’s in.