“We Do What We Can To Endure…”
Fresh from an inevitable and well deserved Oscar win for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, Casey Affleck returns to the big screen alongside Carol and The Social Network star Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story, a supernatural drama written and directed by David Lowery who reunites with the duo after previously working together on the 2013 drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. With an eerie, off-kilter sensibility, a staggeringly ambitious ideas narrative and one of the most affecting musical accompaniments of the year in film, Lowery’s latest is unlike anything seen on-screen this year, a film which utilises the basic horror trope of a common haunted house movie but then manages to expand its’ horizons into something which resembles closer an allegorical mix of themes which evoke everything from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. With little dialogue and a raging art-house aesthetic, A Ghost Story is a film undoubtedly not for everyone, but for those with the patience and willingness to embrace its existence, Lowery’s movie is an exquisite work of art.
Shot in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or in televisual and layman’s terms, 4:3, A Ghost Story follows a sheet cladded Casey Affleck who after passing away due to the events of a traffic collision, follows his unnamed wife, portrayed by Rooney Mara, throughout her life after his death, all within the confines of the dated home in which they both shared. With directory David Lowery utilising the retro and “boxiness” nature of the aspect ratio to ensure the audience understands the claustrophobic nature of the film from the point of view of Casey’s spectral presence, the film utilises endless long shots and unbroken edits for the first half of the movie, including the now infamous one-shot “pie scene” and a chilly, uncertain introduction to Affleck’s transition from life to death, and whilst at times the pace of the movie does begin to falter, the second half of the movie in which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar seemed to be a obvious blueprint for the direction of the narrative, concludes the film in a stunning and ambitious fashion. A Ghost Story isn’t a movie which belongs on the big screen, instead, Lowery’s latest is more akin to a museum piece where examination and steadiness is key to admiring its’ beauty, and whilst the film doesn’t hold together everything it intends to accomplish within such a short amount of time, A Ghost Story is undoubtedly an unforgettable and bold moviegoing experience.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”
Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.
Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.
In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Statistically You’re More Likely To Die In A Hospital Than Anywhere Else…”
Directed by the one-two duo of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, filmmakers who are primarily known for being primary cogs in the wheel of Astron-6, a Canadian based production company renowned for creating primarily low-budget, retro-centred, independent movies which tend to be based around the genre of black comedy horrors, with perhaps its’ biggest release to date being 2011’s Fathers Day, a film based upon the vengeance fuelled hunt for a sadistic rapist and murderer, The Void, starring a relatively unknown cast including Aaron Poole and Daniel Fathers alongside the cult figure of Twin Peaks favourite, Kenneth Welsh, is an all-knowing and all-loving B-Movie splatter-fest which takes riffs from a wide spectrum of famous horror and monster movies and throws together them all together in a 90 minute bundle of surrealism and ropy, old-fashioned special effects which are as charming as they are downright peculiar. Whilst the narrative structure holding the movie together doesn’t entirely work, with a concluding act in which aims particularly high but doesn’t in the end hold together too well, The Void is a solid enough fan-fare which will impress the likes of horror genre geeks across the globe.
After coming across an injured outsider from the idyllic and close-knit neighbourhood of which Aaron Poole’s Daniel Carter is the local and well-known face of policing, The Void primarily takes place within the confines of the local hospital of which Kenneth Welsh’s eerie Dr. Powell is the leading figurehead alongside Carter’s ex-partner Kathleen Munroe and the inexperienced, rookie figure of Ellen Wong’s Kim. After an array of events which include the appearance of a Wicker Man-esque cult, a Hellraiser inflicted monster marathon and a finale which is as baffling as it is bold, The Void struggles to contain its’ excitement throughout the entire length of its’ runtime, with the first act managing to have an effective mix of intrigue and suspense which runs parallel to a underlying thread of black humour which is brought on primarily by the retro design of the creatures which infest the movie primarily within a second act which does unfortunately being to lose steam come the hour mark. Independent and full of interesting elements, The Void may not be the most cinematic of releases this year, but for what it’s worth, it’s pretty darn fun.
Overall Score: 6/10
“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”
As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?
In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Keep Thinking About This Story. There’s This Video That Kills You. Seven Days After You Watch It…”
Blah, blah, blah. Whilst there is nothing new in the notion of American remakes, the category in which really grinds my gears is the one filled to the rim with English-speaking “re-imaginings” of foreign language horror movies, with absolute classics in the form of A Tale of Two Sisters, Let The Right One In and Ju-on: The Grudge all being mashed up and reproduced in the flight of gaining a quick yet tainted blood-stained buck on the account of the butchery which tends to happen when foreign movies are translated onto an audience which is primarily English speaking. Of the many horror franchises which has roots well and truly set in the minds of more intelligent filmmakers, Rings, directed by Spanish filmmaker F. Javier Gutiérrez, is yet another entry into the Ringu canon which began all the way back in 1998 with Hideo Nakata’s terrifying cinematic take on the Koji Suzuki novel of the same name, and whilst the third American entry seems to begin with an element of interest, Rings unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, ends up being yet another wasted opportunity, with it not only coming across as incredibly offensive to horror fans across the world, effectively spits on the shadow of its’ former self with its’ sheer and utter dreadfulness.
With a leading star who carries as much charisma and interest as an ASDA bag for life, Rings begins with a narrative which looks as if it is set to offer some new light into the world of spooky water-covered teenagers with long black hair by delving into a somewhat underground network of shady college preps who view the infamous killer video tape as a reason to get up in the morning, using the threat of Samara as a messed up type of adrenaline rush alongside a basis for Johnny Galecki’s character’s thesis on the mystery of her existence. Whilst this interesting notion covers roughly the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the following 90 minutes is essentially a cheap re-telling of a story in which every single person in the cinematic world is now bored to death with, trading real elements of threat and suspense with cheesy dialogue and awful jump scares which rely on the power of the cinema’s sound system in order to actually come across as worthwhile. News alert; they don’t. Ending on a supposed twist which offers up the idea that the franchise is set to continue into the future, Rings is the type of cinematic face-palm which you really struggle to understand its’ existence. If you’re thinking of buying it on DVD, don’t.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Some People Build Fences To Keep People Out And Other People Build Fences To Keep People In…”
Before we begin, a small round of applause is needed alongside a suitable level of kudos for Viola Davis, with a win for best supporting actress at this year’s Academy Awards by no means a small, meaningless feat, and whilst most of the hype surrounding Fences has been towards its’ two leading stars in the form of Davis and Denzel Washington, who also serves up the time to act as the film’s director, the fact that these two have previous in regards to the late August Wilson’s famous play gives the cinematic adaptation at least a suitable level of credence regarding its’ existence on the big-screen, particularly after the success of the stage play both during its’ first run in the 1980’s and its’ revival in 2010 of which Davis and Washington both starred and won subsequent Tony Awards for. The big question remains however is whether Fences is the type of movie which ultimately works on the big screen after its’ success on stage, and whilst Washington’s adaptation feels like a successful larger platform for its’ leading stars to flourish, the overall execution is somewhat plodding in places, over-dramatic in parts and a movie which doesn’t exactly break the chains of its’ stage-constructed genetic code.
Whilst Davis reaps the historical element in terms of her Oscar win, which in retrospect and in my own personal opinion deserved to go to Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Washington is without doubt the powerhouse element of the movie, portraying the character of Troy Maxson in a manner both entirely delicate and masterful that the audience’s feelings towards such changes from hatred to sympathetic in the course of a few simple scene changes. A forgotten man whose regret and failures resonate on those around him, the character of Maxson is the archetypal father figure of the mid 20th century; bullish, hateful and hell bent on the outdated rule of adhering to generic gender and familial conventions, Washington is spellbinding from beginning to end. Where the film inevitably falls down is in the rather tedious elements in which it fails to disperse itself from its’ stage-based heritage, with endless, trivial moments of ludicrously over-dramatised dialogue which honestly, do not sit entirely right on the big-screen, resulting in a feeling of willingness come the end to be sat in a smoky auditorium instead, revelling in the notion of witnessing a live performance of a tale which is albeit powerful, is inherently stage-worthy.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Never Wanted Fame, I Just Became A Kennedy…”
Of the many Oscar nominated movies this year, there are still are few which have managed to slip by my eager eyes even after the conclusion of the ceremony on Sunday, one which ended in a somewhat controversial yet wholly hilarious fashion of course and one which ended up with a final tally of zero wins for Pablo Larraín’s first English speaking movie in the form of Jackie, a cinematic adaptation of the life of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, one which focuses primarily on events within her life directly after the infamous assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy in 1963. With critical success all around and a barnstorming level of hype regarding the performance of Natalie Portman in the leading role, Jackie is yet another case of a film this year which suffers from the remarkable amount of reputation which precedes it, and whilst films such as Moonlight, at least on second view, and La La Land are examples of movies which stood up and deserved the many plaudits propelling them forward, Jackie is indeed a solid body of work with some superb individual elements, but ultimately a movie which is not as memorable or exciting as many that have preceded its’ release this year.
Of the most impressive elements of Jackie, Natalie Portman in the leading role is of course as superb as you would expect, with her performance a strangely captivating depiction of one of the most famous faces of the mid 20th century and one which almost requires the audience to tune their ear in order to distinguish performer from performance, particularly in regards to an accent and tone of voice which is extremely peculiar to say the least and actually requires an immediate referral to YouTube in order to find out whether the real Jackie Kennedy actually spoke in such a manner. Alongside Portman, composer Mica Levi continues her supermassive success in Under the Skin with an equally eerie soundtrack, one which succinctly captures the sense of strangeness of a post-assassination life of Jackie Kennedy whilst also seeming entirely out of place, with it having a sense of belonging to a knuckle-biting horror flick instead in a surrealist Lynchian-esque conundrum. Whilst these individual elements are impressive, the winding narrative of the movie becomes mildly dwindling after a while where the second half of the movie doesn’t carry the immediate captivation of the first, resulting in a very solid adaptation of one of the most respected First Lady’s to ever grace the White House.