“I Just Don’t Want To Put Any More Stress On My Family…”
Within the pantheon of modern-day horror cinema releases, only a few since the turn of the twenty first century have truly managed to encompass the sense of true terror that only the best examples of the genre always create, and with the overly worn out “cattle-prod” franchises still continuing to be admired by particular audiences who believe horror cinema simply relies on cheap jump scares, the rare chance a particular filmmaker comes along and offers something fresh to the genre is one that should always be admired and supported. Step forward director Ari Aster, a young American filmmaker whose debut feature, Hereditary, conforms to a style of horror cinema which is as tantalising to see explored within a mainstream setting as it is genuinely unsettling and and down-right evil, a film which wears its’ obvious inspirations on its’ sleeve but still manages to feel both unique and original, and one with a particular ominous and uncomfortable tone which for some, may seem just too much to handle. With superb performances from its’ central familial quartet, staggeringly unsettling imagery and set pieces which verge on the edge of full-throttle nightmare, Aster’s big-screen breakthrough is not only a perfectly constructed movie but a masterful example of the horror genre at its’ most inventive and gut-wrenching.
Beginning in a familiar, ghost story-esque setting, the death of the Graham family matriarch brings with it supernatural stirrings, unravelled secrets and a claustrophobic sense of death’s presence remaining within the confines of an Amytiville-inspired household, complete with creaky doors, unkempt attic’s and tree house which emits a seething, blood-red shadow whenever occupied. With Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) as Annie, the grieving mother of two whose skills as a miniaturist artist seem to help her cope with the sudden loss of her secretive mother, her newly found role as head of the family brings with it startling realisations about the previous pastimes of her mother as she finds solace in the hands of Ann Dowd’s Joan, a similarly grieving mother figure who attempts to aid Annie through her struggles. With the screenplay beginning with a contemplation on the effect of death and the psychological power it can evoke within the human spirit in a very Don’t Look Now thematic sensibility, the early ghostly imagery lays a solid foundation of skin-crawling creepiness which echoes the oddity of Personal Shopper and the horror-realism of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and with the first act fixed on developing the destructive nature of a family teetering on the edge of collapse, the cold and brooding tone of the first hour is well executed, even when at times the editing pace holds particular camera shots for just a few seconds too long.
After a powerful and stunningly played midway twist, one which leaves you in a gasping and spell-binding state of shock for pretty much the remainder of the movie, the increasing sense of dread which occurs as the direction of the action switches from ghostly chiller to full-on, teeth-rattling nightmare is simply unbearable at times in the best way horror-movie way possible, and with a staggeringly uncertain plot direction, the tension which transpires from a culmination of eerie soundtrack and imagery leaves you constantly on edge as you attempt to piece together and understand where the plot is ultimately heading. Whilst the movie does cave in at times to generic conventions which weaken its’ claim as “The Exorcist of the twentieth century”, particularly in its’ use of the tried and tested depiction of seances, the final act of Hereditary offers one of the most genuinely unnerving and oppressive works of cinema I have ever seen, and with a final twisty resolution which obviously picks at the likes of The Wicker Man and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Ari Aster’s stunning and deliciously twisted debut is a dark and twisted assault on the senses, a horror movie for genuine horror fans and a movie which features one of the most iconic leading genre performances by Toni Collette in years. Dread it, run from it, Hereditary still arrives and stamps its’ mark as the horror movie to experience this year.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Downsizing Is About Saving Yourself. We Live Like Kings…”
Although, rather ashamedly, awareness of Alexander Payne’s previous work is limited to absolute zilch, resulting in a complete bypass of the likes of Nebraska, Sideways and The Descendants, the Academy Award winning American’s latest, Downsizing, is ironically somewhat unavoidable thanks to an early hurricane of hype regarding its’ quality and the decision for distributors to plaster its’ trailer on every release for at least the past three months. Starring Matt Damon as Paul Safranek, a downbeat, struggling occupational therapist, who along with wife, Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, decides to agree to the titular, groundbreaking operation in order to reap the individual and world wide rewards which are offered, Payne’s latest is a particularly wild oddity, one which revels in a concoction of varying ideas and yet fails to clutch at a single straw and stay strictly on course. Sold as a comedic social satire, Downsizing begins in entertaining fashion, focusing primarily on Damon’s Safranek and his decision to undergo the procedure which reduces his mass to a fraction of his normal size, and with particular attention to detail and a number of cute, size related chuckles, the movie’s first hour is a real triumph, with the pace and script effectively managing to hold the balance between hypothetical science fiction and rib-tickling comedy.
Unfortunately for Payne however, once the movie moves into territory which can only be regarded as mindless, sanctimonious preaching, the film begins to test your patience, and with a final act which discusses notions of apocalyptic foreboding and the survival of the entire human race, Downsizing almost becomes two completely different movies, with the second so wrapped up in a narrative so conflicting with its’ first, the size of our leading characters is somewhat normalised and loses its’ the sense of purpose it ultimately and successfully began with. With Damon on solid form and the likes of Christoph Waltz and Brawl In Cell Block 99′s, Udo Kier, doing the best they can with the little time they have on screen, Payne’s wild card in the form of Hong Chau’s Vietnamese political freedom fighter, Ngoc Lan Tran is also a troublesome element within the film, a broken English speaking Asian with a prosthetic leg whose appearance in the narrative seems only to be there in attempt to widen the comic relief. Whilst not exactly ever resorting to the level of Mickey Rooney’s overtly troubled portrayal of I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tran is indeed a misjudged caricature, who although is portrayed as somewhat brazen and overwhelmingly commanding, is still a completely off-kilter inclusion within a movie which rightly can be lauded for its’ ideas but too can be criticised for its’ execution, and whilst Payne’s latest may seem impressive on the surface, underneath it bears a more than a few staggering issues at the heart of it.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You’re Fifty Years Old And You Still Think The World Was Made For You…”
Tackling notions of the mid-life crisis and looking back on a lifetime gone swiftly by, School of Rock writer, Mike White, directs and provides the screenplay for Brad’s Status, a low-key and pleasantly thoughtful comedy which utilises the leading star skills of Ben Stiller who returns to the big screen after a somewhat nonexistent cinematic footprint over the course of the past few years or so. Whilst Stiller’s comedy can somewhat not exactly hit the mark, take the likes of Zoolander 2 for instance, the emergence of White’s script and a wide range of lovely supporting performances from an extravagantly well-versed cast, proves to be a solid winning return for the comedic stalwart, and although the underlying narrative point of the movie is one which has been tackled before in a wide range of differing movies ranging from American Beauty to last year’s Ingrid Goes West, Brad’s Status is a cool, sombre and sometimes heartwarming drama which doesn’t ever feel the need to raise up from its’ subtle examination of its’ titular leading character.
Accompanying his son, Troy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns) along the East Coast whilst they seek out potential future colleges, Brad Sloane (Stiller) reminisces about the success of his out of touch school friends whilst he contemplates his own life’s middling mediocrity, one which is full with seething regret and unwarranted shame in comparison to his long lost forgotten acquaintances. With the narrative primarily explained through the use of Stiller’s voiceover and some rather excessive yet undeniably comedic dream sequences which convey’s Sloane’s belief of his friend’s individual successes, White’s movie works primarily thanks to a brilliantly conflicted leading performance from Stiller alongside the grounding of its’ youthful cast, with the likes of Abrams and Shazi Raja counteracting Sloane’s contempt for the world by explaining its’ true riches in a It’s a Wonderful Life style monologue. Whilst the movie falls at times for swaying too much from the central narrative and limiting its’ actual comedic zingers to a minimal amount, White’s movie is still an interesting social drama which reinforces the idea that when put to good use, Stiller is still an important and welcome leading star.
Overall Score: 6/10
“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
“Hashtag: I Am Ingrid…”
In a week in which every single cinema in the county has been asked to cram its’ screens with the toxic waste of Justice League, thank the heavens for a film in the ilk of Ingrid Goes West, an interesting, blackly comic contemporary stalker drama with a cracking lead performance from Legion star, Aubrey Plaza as the titular social media obsessed Ingrid Thorburn. Directed and written by big time debutant Matt Spicer, the movie depicts an Instagram fixated dreamer who relocates to Los Angeles after the death of her mother in order to seek out Elizabeth Olsen’s social media star, Taylor Sloane and become part of her excessively independent lifestyle which she shares with Wyatt Russell’s hipster husband, Ezra. Beginning with an opening act which straight away highlights the aggressive nature of Ingrid’s obsession and to what end she may go to in order to combat her rage and discomfort at being isolated in a world riddled with people’s wishes to be noticed, Ingrid Goes West goes on to explore the contemporary issue of social media excess and the notion of a life based solely around the viewing of society through a small shiny screen.
With Black Mirror vibes aplenty and the likes of Single White Female a sure inspiration, with a name drop in the narrative necessary to cement such, Spicer’s sure footed direction allows the movie’s key players to bring all round top notch performances, from O’Shea Jackson Jr’s Batman obsessed screenwriter to Billy Magnussen’s hateful steroid fueled junkie, all of whom acting as catnip for Plaza’s character’s downfall into complete and utter obsession with a character who is the epitome of everything wrong with society’s quest for avocado on toast and early twentieth century sociological literature. Whilst Spicer’s movie does involve elements of jet-black comedy and ironic societal comments, most of Ingrid Goes West’s healthy ninety minute runtime is played particularly straight faced, accumulating in a concluding act which although is admiral in what it’s attempting to say, doesn’t exactly pay off, but with a brilliantly kooky and unpredictable leading performance from Audrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West is a highly enjoyable ideas laden social drama which reminds that you don’t always need a big budget to win an audience around.
Overall Score: 7/10
“David, I Don’t Think You Should Ever Have Children…”
Eraserhead. Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks. Mulholland Drive. Inland Empire. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the one and only David Lynch is hands down my personal favourite filmmaker of all time, a man who knows no boundaries when it comes to the creation of cinema and a director who continues to baffle, amaze and wonder even to this day, with the return of Twin Peaks currently gracing our screens and being as surreal and beautifully constructed as ever. With that in mind, the chance to see David Lynch: The Art Life can only be classed as a “no-brainer”, a documentary constructed by the triage of Neergaard-Holm, Barnes and Nguyen, and a film which documents impressively the early stages of Lynch’s life, beginning with his upbringing in the Western state of Montana through to his breakthrough love of artistic freedom and concluding just before the release of the surrealist 1977 classic Eraserhead.
Narrated completely by Lynch himself, The Art Life combines an awfully extravagant array of elements in order to gather an effective understanding of what it was like to be a young, doe-eyed, expressive Lynch, highlighting the extraordinary and wholly eclectic catalogue of Lynch’s penchant for surrealist art and and adding context to its’ foundations by channelling stories which seem to have crafted the entire back catalogue of Lynch’s propulsion onto cinema. Whether it be a tale of a clucking, mentally ill woman on his street or the first sight of natural, naked beauty, Lynch’s fundamental and wholly natural ability as a storyteller is really what makes the alluring appeal of his presence so impressive and when up against the challenge of holding the camera on just himself for ninety minutes, Lynch inevitably manages to pull it off. Whilst the film does lull in places, with the normality of Lynch’s life never really holding its own when contrasted with the nightmarish images that haunt particular scenes of the documentary, The Art Life is an interesting portrayal of one man’s quest onto cinema and whilst Lynch himself is never going to be for everyone, the documentary is clearly made for those who truly adore him. Myself included.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You’re Our Most Unwelcome Visitor, And We Do Not Propose To Entertain You…”
Although the inevitably of almost always being regarded as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola more than anything else, Sofia Coppola has more than done enough to earn her stripes as an effective creator of film in her own right, with the Bill Murray starring Lost in Translation always being the first movie which really kicked off the critical plaudits for art and something which has continued through the likes of Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and this week’s release of The Beguiled, a somewhat eclectic collection of previously used Coppola stars including Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, all set within the confines of a Civil War-ridden Virginian school for girls which features Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha Farnsworth as headteacher. Featuring the smoky, charcoal cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd and some top-notch performances from its’ wonderfully selected cast, The Beguiled is an interesting and wholly entertaining claustrophobic drama, one which dwells on the presence of the outsider and the battling nature of fundamental human emotions.
After allowing the recovery of the wounded Irish mercenary, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) within the confines of her school, Farnsworth (Kidman) attempts to balance the safety of her fellow residents with the emotions brought up by the inclusion of McBurney’s charming, elegant mannerisms and ways, emotions which are shared also by fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the youth infused innocence of Elle Fanning’s Alicia. With an opening title sequence which completely sets the tone for the classic feel of Coppola’s latest, The Beguiled mixes seething sexual tensions with a thrilling twist of ambiguity, bringing to light recent releases such as My Cousin Rachel and even It Comes at Night as obvious reference points, even when Coppola’s script is wholly based upon the 1966 original novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the 1971 Don Siegel movie of the same name. With brilliantly measured performances from Farrell, Kidman and the ever-radiant presence of Elle Fanning, The Beguiled culminates in a final act which is as juicy in its’ execution as it is suitably fulfilling, something which could serve as a pithy review for the film as a whole, and whilst the drama is rather televisual at times, The Beguiled is a well-played, short and sweet drama which proves that not all remakes are destined for the bargain bin.
Overall Score: 7/10
“What I Need Is An Amazing Adventure…”
In a world where American comedy is usually as effective as a chocolate teapot, Amy Schumer undeniably is up there with the worst that particular side of the continent has delivered over the course of the past few years, with her venture onto the big screen with releases such as Trainwreck burdening millions with her screechy Americanised tones and hysterically dull sensibility which really doesn’t compute with my idea of an effective comedic personality, particularly in a day and age in which memorable comedies are quite hard to find. Co-starring this week in Snatched with Hollywood legend Goldie Hawn, mother of Kate Hudson and partner to the awesomely cool Kurt Russell, Schumer once again proves that her particular brand of comedy just doesn’t work within the cinematic atmosphere, resulting in a performance which ultimately solidifies the notion of her inability to create laughs through a tired and cliche-ridden narrative which attempts to turn the vulgarity up to eleven in order to distract the audience from the utter boredom which encompasses the events on-screen. Goldie Hawn, what on Earth are you doing in this movie? I guess a gas bill must be due sometime soon. Ker-ching indeed.
After being dumped by her rock and roll boyfriend, Schumer’s unbelievably annoying leading character decides to make the most of her pre-planned trip to South America by inviting her feline-loving mother (Goldie Hawn) with a penchant for over-protection and questionable sculpturing techniques. Cue loud and completely unnecessary scenes of alcoholism, party music and nudity, Snatched is the type of 21st century so-called “comedy” which adds to the argument that the good times have most definitely come and gone in regards to its’ respective genre. Whilst Hawn seems to be there only for the sake of financial inducement, the film really doesn’t paint a sympathetic picture of its’ leading character, resulting in a warped sensibility which desires her captors to actually go through with their sickening plan and dispose of their prisoners as swiftly as possible. If this was indeed the case, the audience would have been spared from a 90 minute bore-fest whose only redeemable character is the poor U.S state department official who gets forced to help save their lives. Maybe next time mate, just forget the rescue and leave them to it.
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
“You’re An Exception. The Rules Don’t Apply To You…”
Whilst Warren Beatty might be best known in contemporary media circles as being lead conspirator in the Best Picture fiasco at this year’s Academy Award’s ceremony, a recent high-profile cock-up more commonly known as “La La-Gate”, the attention comes in a somewhat suspiciously well timed manner considering the release of Rules Don’t Apply this week, a picture directed, produced, written by and of course, starring the cinematic legend, who takes the leading mantle as infamous businessman Howard Hughes within the setting of 1950’s Hollywood, supported by a simply enormous cast featuring the likes of Hail! Caesar star Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin and the always superb, Ed Harris. With a cast as vast as this, Rules Don’t Apply is the type of movie you would think on the surface is one which everyone in the current cinematic world seemed to aching to be involved in, particularly with the reputation of Beatty at the helm, yet the finished picture is one of entirely mixed fortunes, one which suffers from a non-existent narrative and some misjudged moments of self-indulgence amidst some basic film-making errors which makes you wonder whether the real Warren Beatty should most definitely stand up.
Of the good things within Rules Don’t Apply, the leading trio of Beatty, Ehrenreich and Collins each give respectable performances amidst a screenplay which doesn’t really offer much chance to break new ground, with Beatty really hitting the zany mark in his depiction of Howard Hughes, taking cues from DiCaprio in The Aviator when needed but strictly focusing on the wilder side of the infamous billionaire, whilst Ehrenreich continues to impress every time I see him perform on screen, gearing him up for inevitable higher levels of stardom come next year’s Han Solo spin-off release. Star of the picture however is Lily Collins as the doe-eyed and wondrous Marla Mabrey, the keen and confident Virginian rookie who although is trying sometime in terms of awkward character quips and decision making, is a real find and completely holds her own against the likes of Beatty in a leading role. As for the not-so good elements of the film, Beatty treats the film as a personal blueprint for himself to engage in exceptional levels of excess, an understandable element when considering the character in which he is portraying, yet the sight of an aged Hollywood legend feeling up an intoxicated young star really didn’t sit well on a personal level whilst some fundamental film-making traits are completely disregarded, with endless questionable edits and narrative trails which simply go nowhere. resulting in a movie which ultimately is a complete drag to sit through and when you consider the talent at hand behind it, Rules Don’t Apply can only be regarded as a monumental disappointment.