Tuesday 31 July 2018

The Mismade Girl

Miss Maid Of Honour

The Mismade Girl
(Juliette Society Book III)

by Sasha Grey
Cleis Press 
ISBN: 978-1627781824

So here I am with a review of what is, sadly, the final installment of The Juliette Society trilogy by the quite remarkable Sasha Grey. I’m not going to labour the long and awesome history of the author again other than to say, if you’re going to be reading something which, on the surface at least, is manifesting itself as erotic literature then there’s surely nobody more qualified than Ms. Grey to accurately portray that kind of journey. If you want to know more about her history then you could take a look at my reviews for the previous two instalments in the series… The Juliette Society (reviewed here) and The Janus Chamber (reviewed here)… or you could simply google her name although, beware, if you do that you may find that the majority of your search results will more than likely be firmly entrenched in the exciting category of… “not safe for work” (NSFW).

Now, The Mismade Girl is the usual fun and very interesting ride that the first two novels in the series have prepared us for although, if I had to pick a winner, I’d have to say that The Janus Chamber is my favourite of the three due to The Mismade Girl having a fair few less movie references and discussions of cinematic history than the previous two volumes. Fans of these needn’t worry, however, as the central character of Catherine (who I can only assume is a manifestation of the writer in terms of her personality and interests) still maintains an interest in the art of film and reminds the reader, on more than once occasion (the books are written in the first person viewpoint) that the character used to be an aspiring director and film studies student.

Indeed, it’s already only towards the end of the second chapter when she starts talking about John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (reviewed by me here) and a little later goes on to discuss the way certain movie sequels are perceived as being better than the original of a franchise… although, it has to be said, I wouldn't necessarily agree with everything she picks out by way of an example. She also, within the space of just two paragraphs, neatly touches on the current and quite necessary zeitgeist of equal pay for women and the necessity for better lead roles for actresses in the American film industry. So you really have to admire the lady here.

Another great thing which comes up in relation to the horror film genre is the word kenopsia, which I’d never heard before and, sure enough, I couldn’t find it in an English dictionary. But, again, hit a search engine and you’ll find it soon enough and see why this made up word is so appropriate for the analogy Grey is making here. It means, to quote the writer here…

“... the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that's usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet - a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds - an emotional after image that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are conspicuously absent… they glow like neon signs."

Isn’t that great?

This is just another of one of the writers more educational moments in a series of books which are full of wonderful and often cunning observations which are revealed in various ways in context to the experiences of the main character and are sprung, ninja-like on an unsuspecting reader in the most enlightening ways possible. For instance, if you want to be a little wiser about just how few big corporations are actually controlling and owning everything you buy, including stuff like that favourite organic or fair trade product you like, then this is the novel to point you in the right direction as to which questions you should be asking.

The story itself is a natural continuation, set a couple of years later, of the events detailed in the previous two volumes, picking up from the threads of the ‘missing presumed dead’ Anna and the certainly very dead Inana Luna, the sexual art siren whose fiery path Catherine was following in her role as a story hungry journalist in the second volume.

This time around we have her involved with a sex tape scandal (based on something which happened in the first novel), a car accident, a sexual paradise compound in a foreign country and, of course, various parties. If there’s one thing Sasha Grey does really well in her writing, bearing in mind she tends to do everything really well when it comes to her obvious intelligence and talents as a wordsmith, it's those party scenes. She somehow manages to write these seemingly throwaway revelry sequences with the ease and camera eye of one of those 1960s movie set pieces… as Catherine wanders around and interacts or observes various little vignettes in her walkthroughs. And, of course, being as this is written in the guise of an erotic novel, a fair few sex parties are on display here too.

Also, her imagination is not a phenomenon limited to her writing and I wonder if thoroughly sinister and attractive scene setters like the following, also come from her apparent skills as a DJ, as much as they do her own experience of such a milieu…

“The music is interesting, and creepy, and it takes me a moment to realise it's The Beatles being played backwards over Wagner, but there's an underlying bass line tying them together into something that curiously works."

Go on, wouldn’t you at least like to be at a party like that at some stage in your life?

I said earlier that The Mismade Girl is the last part of a trilogy and it does seem like it’s got a natural conclusion to all that’s gone before it. Indeed the title itself is a metaphor for a specific type of magic trick, again something I didn’t know myself, which Ms. Grey uses as a metaphor for a process of metamorphosis for her main protagonist that pretty much leaves things with a profound change in the character. I don’t see how the central character can go back to her original state of being after all the hands have been played here. And, as it happens, Catherine’s epilogue, which is directly addressed to the reader, certainly implies a state of conclusion to the trilogy as it stands. That being said, I do think the possibility of a future trilogy continuing things isn’t completely out of the question either but, well… we shall just have to wait and see what the writer does in the future.

One thing's for sure… when people mention Sasha Grey to me nowadays the first thing I think of is…  a brilliant, modern writer. All the glam and erotica, nice as it is, runs it to second place. So there you have it… as with the previous novels in the series, The Mismade Girl is well worth your time if you’re a fan of good, intelligent, observational writing. However, if you’ve not read the others then I would start with those two first.

Sunday 29 July 2018

Mission Impossible - Fallout

A Running Cruise

Mission Impossible - Fallout
2018 USA Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
UK cinema release print.

So here we go again. The sixth entry into the big budget, big screen versions of the popular Mission Impossible TV show is with us and, once again, the trailer managed to drag me in using the cunning ruse of a running Cruise doing lots of action stuff against a coolish sounding score. Which always works on me, to be honest.

For a few years now, I have observed that each one of these films released always seems to be even better than the previous movie in the series and this culminated in my favourite of these fizzy, spy action confections from the Mission Impossible team, Rogue Nation. I have to say that, while Mission Impossible Fallout carries on the same story, set a couple of years later, this one doesn’t actually get nearly as good as that previous installment. Although it’s still a pretty cool movie and certainly as good as the third and maybe fourth movies. Nothing to rival that wonderfully spy-hard cool opera house sequence in Rogue Nation though, alas.

The plot set up is that, with the captured Solomon Lane (played once again by Sean Harris) in the hands of various governments, the remnants of his terrorist group The Syndicate, calling themselves The Disciples, are being held together by a mystery man known only as John Lark. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt whose mission, should he choose to accept it, is to get back a load of stolen plutonium from The Disciples and, presumably, find out who John Lark is and shut The Disciples down before they blow various countries up etc and destabilise the world as we know it.

So, yeah, business as usual and Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin from previous films in the franchise are there to help him do it. Unfortunately, Jeremy Renner doesn’t return here as he was busy shooting the sequel to next year’s follow up to Avengers - Infinity War (reviewed here) but instead we have a new character played by the current Man Of Steel himself, Henry Cavill. Of course, Cavill is no stranger to the spy game as he played an interesting variant of Napoleon Solo in the recent The Man From U.N.C.L.E movie (reviewed here) and, sure enough, he does a pretty good job here as the ‘blunt hammer’ of a character he is initially introduced as. Also back in the mix, we have the very welcome return of Rebecca Ferguson as the double agent Ilsa Faust from the last movie and an interesting turn from actress Vanessa Kirby playing a character called White Widow. There’s also another, very special returning character... but I’ll get to her in a minute.

So the film is full of the usual action sequences and I was absolutely horrified as to how much of the stunts Cruise gets to do here. Sure, we all know the story of how he injured his ankle jumping between two buildings and, yes, you can totally see that shot in the final cut and feel the pain of the star as he does things to his ankle that  he’s not supposed to. What really worried me, though, is that he’s also flying helicopters quite dangerously by himself, riding motorbikes against traffic and even performing a free fall rescue operation and halo jump (for which he trained for about a year) and, wow, I’m so amazed this guy is a) able to get insured on set/location in any country other than Hong Kong and b) hasn’t accidentally killed himself making one of these things yet. This guy is certainly dedicated to his craft, though, so despite heavy qualms about his personal beliefs off of the set, you have to give this guy a lot of respect for these kinds of shenanigans. Not to mention he’s also a pretty great actor with a very likeable on-screen presence (and I know from a first hand story on a bus ride from one of his old costumers that he’s a pretty nice guy to be around on set with too).

The film is a blast if you like stunts and action sequences as they are all done with the usual slick, professionalism that this kind of high profile Hollywood blockbuster usually achieves but my biggest problem is that... okay, it’s good but there are absolutely no real surprises in it. There’s a so called twist in this and there are also a fair few scenes set up to fool the opposition and, for effect, the audience at the same time but, honestly, if you’ve seen just a few of these films then you’ll see all this stuff coming a mile off... not to mention the ‘not so well hidden’ true identity of John Lark. That one’s kinda obvious. So the lack of ‘I never saw that coming’ really does bring the film down a level, I think.

That being said, it’s still a blast and it also sees the return of Michelle Monaghan in a quite respectfully highlighted role in the last big section of the film, reprising her character from the third and fourth films and finally tying up that ‘big loose thread’ from the third one which people like me have been so worried about since that installment. Things seem definitely finished up with that character and Ethan Hunt in this one but they don’t do this in the obvious way and it’s not what you’re thinking... perhaps the only half surprise in the movie is the restraint by the writer/director not to do the obvious thing with her character... which is kinda nice.

And of course we have the all important score by a composer I quite like this time around, Lorne Balfe. Now, as much as I would have preferred the director retained the services of composer Joe Kraemer, as his score for Rogue Nation was possibly the best of the big screen franchise scores, Lorne Balfe does an excellent job here, as I knew he would. I really have to listen to the CD when it comes out (with extra music not on the stupid electronic release I’m told... Woohoo!) to get a more accurate impression from the score as it gets covered up by various explosive actiony noises here but from what I can hear of it, it’s not too shabby. He didn’t, from what I could make out, use Lalo Schifrin’s classic title melody as much as some of his predecessors (although The Syndicate theme also seems to be back here too) but when he does use elements of it he makes them count and I am looking forward to hearing this one away from the movie (I thought his score for the reboot of The Sweeney was superb).

And that’s about all I have to say about this one. If you are a fan of these films then you will already know what to expect and you’ll probably have a good time with this one. If you are more casual in your Mission Impossible viewing habits, however, then I would say you would be doing yourself an injustice if you didn’t watch Rogue Nation before watching Mission Impossible Fallout, to be fair, so you can get a sense of the recent history of the series. Definitely one to watch, though, when you’ve seen the others... should you choose to accept that mission.

Mission Impossible at NUTS4R2
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to click on one of the titles below to take you to my review.

Mission Impossible
Mission Impossible 2
Mission Impossible 3
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation 
Mission Impossible: Fallout

Wednesday 25 July 2018


Screen Of The Crime

2018 USA Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
UK cinema release print. Pre-release preview.

Okay, so Searching is a really interesting movie with a fairly fresh (or should that be refresh) take on the old police procedural style movies where a family member helps the cops to solve a crime. And it’s really great because it gives us a fairly new kind of cinematic experience ... it’s a little like the format of Unfriended (reviewed by me here) but with a much more ‘filmish’ bent to the way in which it is shot... I’ll explain that statement in a minute but this is definitely a much more sophisticated beast than the low budget horror movie mentioned above.

The plot, as you'll know if you’ve seen the trailer, is about David Kim (played by the new Mr. Sulu himself, John Cho), a father whose teenage daughter Margot (played here by Michelle La) goes missing. As events unfold, he realises that what she has been telling him about her life for the last six months and the actual reality of that are two different things. As little revelations occur, he uses various computers and online web sites to help Detective Rosemary Vick (played by Debra Messing) in her search for his girl. And that’s the basic set up and that’s mostly about all I’m going to reveal to you about the plot, such as it is.

The film starts off with a montage of David going through files on his computer... and all you see is the computer screen as he goes through various images, messages and videos and, for the next five or ten minutes, we see Margot born and how she grows up over the years. We learn about how important David’s wife, Pamela Kim (played by Sara Sohn) is to everybody and we watch her beat cancer only for it to come back and claim her life. All this set up is great, beautifully conveyed (and emotionally scored... there’s a lot of piano here too, to reflect the fact that Margot is learning the piano throughout her life) and if the sequence had just finished after that opening, I would still be heaping praise on this movie even if it turned out to be a clunker but, as it happens, the film is quite special. Here’s why...

I don’t know how I didn’t pick up on this when I saw the trailer but, the screens don’t stop when this sequence is done. The whole of the movie is told through what people, mostly David, are seeing and doing on their computer screen. You see David a lot because he’s often on Face Time or on Skype and, as you may or may not know, the camera on the computer often leaves a live feed of you and what you’re doing when nobody is on the other end of those kinds of software applications. So quite often we can see Dave in one of the windows as he fiddles with various things on screen and this gives the audience the desired stimulus to empathise completely with his character.

But this movie is way better than that... it’s not just blandly looking at a static image of one screen or another. The director takes this footage and, just as he would with first hand footage, he will zoom or pan into certain bits of the screen and edit out what’s not required to highlight and de-emphasise desired story elements. It even, as I mentioned before, has a score playing through the film... a quite effective one by Torin Borrowdale, to add tension and drama as certain revelations happen on screen.

The director also effectively uses little rest points to signal, almost subconsciously, the end of certain sequences and the beginning of others... such as using a giant shot of a blank flashing cursor quite memorably in a couple of places to usher in the next stage of the movie. There’s a lovely sequence where something fairly familiar to PC users suddenly becomes a surreal moment due to the unfamiliarity of seeing it so big on screen and with an underscore... not going to say what it is but the way it suddenly brings rest to the film’s pacing is quite brilliant.

I also enjoyed that at, one point, the film footage switches from David’s IBM compatible PC Windows machine to his daughter’s machine, which is a proper Apple Mac, because the blocky and slightly blurry picture resolution seemed to sharpen up a little while the Apple computer was telling the relevant portions of the story. As an Apple user both at work and home for over two decades, this really worked for me.

Now, I have to say that, if this was a movie shot in a standard manner, then I would have seen the ending of this film coming way before the finish. As it was though, because of the format that has been chosen to express this, my initial lead suspect (and perpetrator in this piece) was soon pushed out of my mind as I didn’t think the writers and director would even begin trying to attempt a twist of that magnitude in this kind of style. I really didn’t expect them to be running before they’d even proven they could walk but... oh yeah... they totally go where I suspected they wouldn’t for the end game of the movie and, bearing in mind the limits of the format, they really don’t cheat, much, in the way they achieve the general unfolding of the story. In fact, there’s a brilliant scene where David has set up multiple screens recorded on his computer (not being monitored by him at that time because he has to be in the footage) and, not known to him but clear to the audience, a major break in the investigation appears to be coming in from the detective but he’s not around to answer any of her calls.

Also... and again this may be due to the nature of the format... I was completely taken in by a scene where a character is suspected of ‘doing the deed’ and then it turns out to be a red herring. Was totally invested in the film being over soon after but then... things carry on and there’s a beautiful plot revelation at the eleventh hour which I won’t elaborate on here but, in keeping with the various apps and websites used throughout the movie to track and progress the investigation, it all involves around a stock photography site. Considering my own profession as a graphic designer, I especially liked this element.

So... yeah... Searching is an old school missing person yarn with a very modern setting (computer screens) but which is expressed through that modern setting by a very traditional film-making skill set, such as the use of pans, zooms, tracking shots, time edits, establishing shots of sorts (rendered as website landing pages, etc) and an accompanying musical score which is again, composed and performed fairly traditionally to capture the emotions and tension of the story. It’s all very well done and, though I hate to think it’s going to be that influential in terms of having to sit through a hundred gazillion copycat movies of this one anytime soon, I really think that lovers of cinema and the thriller genre in particular, should go and see this one. Searching hits UK cinemas at the end of August 2018 (and US cinemas next week) and is well worth a visit. My one piece of advice would be, due to the resolution of this kind of format on a big screen, that you don’t sit too near the front... get some distance on it. Definitely go and take a look at this one, though.

Monday 23 July 2018

Green Lantern/Green Arrow

Green Titans

Green Lantern/Green Arrow -
Hard-Travelling Heroes

By Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams
DC ISBN: 9781401280420

“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power… Green Lantern’s light.”
Green Lantern

One of those fragmented, early childhood memories I have is from the very early seventies. I would have been maybe two or three years old but I was already into comics, especially the American superhero stuff which was a lot more intriguing than some of the British comics at the time (unless you were really into Disney). Note to parents: if you want to start your kids reading early so they are way more advanced than the other readers in class, give them comics like Superman and Batman and they’ll soon want to know what’s being said when these characters take on monsters from space and such like in the colourful drawings.

I remember I used to regularly stay with my nan and uncle for a few hours one evening a week in the early 1970s and my uncle would always be reading at least three science fiction novels at any one time plus there would be one or two comics laying around. These were mostly DC comics (although I remember those non-coded drug issues of Spider-Man turning up) which he would either pick up with the novels from a cornucopia of sci-fi, crime and sleazy novels called Comyn’s Books* in Tottenham (if I remember the name correctly... now sadly long gone) or from one of the nearby news stands or possibly the only other news stand I knew that sold American comics at The Angel, Edmonton (that news stand is also now, alas, long deceased).

Anyway, I remember one of the titles he used to read was definitely this Green Lantern/Green Arrow run of comics from 1970 and I can just about remember flicking through the first issue, number 76, and taking in the pictures. Of course, I didn’t know how important this run would become in the history of comics at the time, nor how influential but, I did love the artwork by Neal Adams (who didn’t) and I kinda knew it was very different to a lot of the other DC comics at the time because the two heroes featured on that classic cover of Green Arrow destroying Green Lantern’s power charger (yeah, like a lot of comic covers in the day, that didn't actually happen in the issue itself) were to be found inside constantly at loggerheads with each other in this and later issues. I knew something was going down here but I was too young to know what.

Of course I’ve caught up with the odd back issue of this relatively small run of about 13 issues (and short story appearances in The Flash) in the intervening decades but, somehow, not most of them and this beautiful deluxe edition hardback from DC (also available now in paperback) finally allowed me to catch up with these guys in a complete reprint of this important run of comics. Why is it important? Well… at the time it was…

The Silver Age Green Lantern, despite being mentioned in Donovan’s groovy hit song Sunshine Superman, was a failing character by this time in that sales had really hit a dip and cancellation was looming. So editor Julius Schwartz gave the character to comic book writer extraordinaire (as he would certainly be known by some after this take on the character) Dennis O’Neil, who writes not one but two introductions to this collected edition, to see if he could do something to turn around the fortunes of this ailing character. And he certainly did… taking on the political and social issues of the day and giving Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) a counter balance in the form of Oliver Queen (Green Arrow… who somehow seems to be known as just Arrow these days in TV land). The whole point was to keep away from the cosmic adventures (that didn’t quite happen but even the stories set on other worlds were metaphors for what was going on in the then and now, such as overpopulation) and to send the two emerald avengers on a road trip around America to argue out and find compromise on the issues of the day. This was no longer going to be a world of black and white problems with easy solutions… this was going to be a world of barely discernible greys when one or the other of the two title characters, sometimes both, would end up being shown that they were making bad judgements and, sometimes, they would fail to get the happy resolution they might be expected to get in any other DC superhero title at the time.

So the banner with the distinctive masthead I loved as a toddler came into being on the first issue of this legendary run, Issue 76, for the first story No Evil Shall Escape My Sight. This one starts off with an absolutely beautiful Neal Adams splash page of Green Lantern flying towards the reader over the top of some traffic in a busy New York City street while various credits are rendered in funky lettering and integrated onto the side and back of a truck. This is gorgeous stuff and demonstrated why Neal Adams was so highly regarded as an artist in his day and is still considered as very influential with his mix of realistic drawing style combined with dynamic layout design.

O’Neil’s story quickly sets the tone for what was to come as, instead of a super villain, we have Green Lantern rescuing a villainous slum landlord who is being ‘attacked’ by some kids. After he tries to do what’s right in the eyes of the law the people in the street throw cans and bricks at him to suggest their displeasure at Green Lantern’s intervention and neighbour Green Arrow gives Hal Jordan a quick lesson in the issue of Law Vs Justice. After dealing with the strips villain under circumstances written to ensure the two are still seen by readers as the ‘heroes’ of the strip, it’s proposed that Green Lantern and Green Arrow (accompanied by one of the Galactic Guardians, for a while) go on a road trip of America to explore the dark underbelly of a nation still labouring under the horrors of the war in Vietnam and turning their hand at trying, not always successfully, to find some kind of a solution or compromise to the social injustices of the day.

And that’s more or less what this run of issues did… until it finally got cancelled but, not after it got itself noticed by the rest of the comics world, for sure. This handsome tome faithfully reproduces (sadly, sans the adverts of the day) the entire run and, even now, I found myself surprised at the direction some of these issues go as the two heroes take on pollution, racial intolerance, drug dealers, political corruption and even handle religious imagery in what must have been a very risky way for the day.

In their adventures, they are often accompanied by Oliver’s on/off girlfriend Black Canary, who is very much a feminist icon, I reckon (even at three years old I was a big fan of her costume incorporating fishnet stockings). I love the way that she’s described and drawn in action here as a total powerhouse who hates violence but is forced to use it to keep the bad guys at bay. Love the pained expression on her face as she is obliged to make short work of her adversaries.

Another impressive thing is the running continuity between issues, which take place in the same real time as the issues were published (so after a few issues the guys have been on the road for six months, for instance). As the characters get injured during their various confrontations, their wounds (not to mention their emotional scars such as when Green Arrow discovers that his perpetually young sidekick Speedy has turned into a junkie), stay with them over a number of issues. Another example is when Green Arrow gets shot in the arm, for instance. He’s still complaining about that bad arm and it becomes a major plot point even in the last story in the series. This is good stuff.

I also appreciated some of the pop cultural references in the strip too. Such as when the characters are attacked by birds under the influence of a mind controlling child and Black Canary compares the incident to the Alfred Hitchcock movie version of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. Sure enough, there’s a wordless cameo of Hitchcock himself in the left foreground of the panel. Wonderful stuff.

This was a great and important comic and, comparing the social issues described within the pages, you’ll soon realise that many, possibly all, of these problems are still with us today… some in an even more magnified form. So, yeah, great comic and a truly lovely and respectful reprint of them can be yours to read now. Green Lantern/Green Arrow - Hard-Travelling Heroes is an absolutely excellent book and a must read for anyone who considers themselves interested in the history of the form. Grab this one while it’s still relatively easy to get hold of. You really won’t want to miss it.

*If anyone remembers this bookshop or has photos of it, please share with me on Twitter.

Sunday 22 July 2018

The Endless

Cthulhu Hoops

The Endless
USA 2017
Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Arrow Blu Ray Zone 2

Warning: Some spoilers on this one, I guess.

Okay... so all I can say is that I’m really glad that I saw these two director’s movie Resolution (which I reviewed right here) before I saw this one. As it turns out, the low key approach that it shares a couple of characters and ideas with that earlier film is like saying The Empire Strikes Back shares some characters and ideas with the original Star Wars (resubtitled Episode IV: A New Hope for modern, post 1977 audiences). The Endless is less a shared universe movie and more a direct sequel to the original. The directors play the main protagonists in this one, who were minor characters in the first, using their own christian names as character names. However, the two main protagonists of the last film are seen in a sizeable sequence towards the end of this film too. This one also, kinda, explains what was happening to these two, how... or at least why... the artefacts that made up that story kept appearing and also, although set ten years or so after the first film, we get director Aaron Moorhead’s character Aaron watching the sequence we saw where Mike first arrives at the cabin in Resolution. Which will make more sense once you see The Endless.

Furthermore, although it’s a direct sequel, it’s a little bit like a rerun or almost a partial remake, in some ways, of the first and one wonders if the two directors are just reworking their ideas in a greater exploration of the Lovecraftian stew they concocted for Resolution. Indeed, The Endless starts right off the bat with a direct quote from writer H. P. Lovecraft, as though the two are instantly stating their alignment with the ideas, or at least style, of that writer for the audience... wearing their influences on their sleeve in pursuit of a more 'up front' movie than the first, perhaps.

The film starts in a very similar manner to the first but, in this instance, after escaping from a weird ‘UFO Death Cult’ ten years or so prior to the events in the film, Justin is sent some video tape footage which forces him to track down some old hardware to play it on at a local boot sale. I actually like the fact that the writing allows for the obsolescence of the technology to require effort to access it in the first place and I saw a similar ode to obsolescence played out in a scene in the combined Ringu/Ju On sequel Sadako VS Kayako a couple of years ago (which desperately needs a subtitled physical release in the UK instead of a stupid, corporate streaming version... my review of the Frightfest screening of the film can be found here). I also liked that buying the technology to access this means that Justin sacrificed the money saved for buying a new car battery and this will have consequences, or at least complicate things for the two characters, further on down the line.

After seeing footage of one of the people at the cult, Justin convinces Aaron to take them back for a visit and so the two go, only to find that all the people they used to know are somehow un-aged over time and with a, mostly, welcoming attitude. And there are some nice sequences in here...

Such as the felt (rather than seen) presence of some large, Cthulhuian monster roaming around the landscape and a tug of war game with, probably, the same creature. And the odd appearance of artefacts utilising what can only be likened to ‘missing time’ in the main characters. Also, it’s hard for our characters not to notice that there are now two moons in the sky in the area they’ve gone to... explained as a naturally occurring, mirage style phenomena by members of the cult. It’s nicely done, though and is possibly the most interesting effect in the whole movie. This is coupled with some cool design transitions every now and again focusing on circular shapes which hints at what is really going on here.

However, when those double moons I mentioned suddenly become three moons, things start to go wrong for our heroes, who have become separated from each other due to an argument and who are now wandering around the local landscape trying to find each other. However, what they find instead is... time loops created by the ‘ancient unspeakable presence’ that we glimpsed (or quite noticeably didn’t glimpse, in actual fact), at the end of the last movie. Loops where people are trying to break their personal cycles... whether they last months, seasons, years or, in one case, literally a few seconds, by killing themselves in various ways. Furthermore, the two central characters from the last movie are more than aware now they must be caught in one of these time loops and Aaron, kindly, doesn’t let Mike know that his wife, played once again by Emily Montague, is actually in the commune a mile or so away and very much in a kind of loop herself, one must assume.

The film has the same stylistic traits of the previous, with small, almost imperceptible hand held camera movement a lot of the time and lots of light contrasting with a slightly subdued colour palette. There is actually a score for this one by Jimmy Lavalle although, a lot of the time, it’s kept quite minimal. The acting is all pretty great and, joining the directors along with Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran from Resolution, we have some good supporting cast such as Callie Hernandez and Tate Ellington doing some nice work here.

And... I don’t really have too much more  to say about it than that. It’s less subtle than the first movie, perhaps a little over the top at times with a run time which could maybe have been cut by 20 minutes or so once all the points have been made. Like the first one, however, it rambles along at its own pace and, although I have nothing against films that take their time, I did find this one dragging just a little towards the end. If you liked Resolution then you’re probably going to really like The Endless because, I think, despite it being a bit more overt with its portrayal of events, it’s a slightly better movie than the first. That being said, I definitely think you’ll have a far richer experience and appreciation of this film if you see Resolution first so, if you’ve not seen that one then I would definitely seek them out in chronological order. Both worth a watch for people who like low budget horror with a strong mystery element in the DNA of the films they are watching.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Incredibles 2

Fantastic Five

Incredibles 2
USA Directed by Brad Bird
UK cinema release print.

Okay, this one’s kinda fun.

Despite dropping the definite article preceding the rest of the title, Incredibles 2 is still a sequel, 14 years later, to The Incredibles. I guess they’re thinking that if they want to ignore this sequel later down the line they can slap it back on and call that one The Incredibles 2 maybe?

Now there was no way in my mind that this follow up was ever going to be as good as The Incredibles because, frankly, that movie was one of the top ten greatest animated feature films of all time, as far as I’m concerned. However, I have to say director Brad Bird has done a good job on this one and it’s still a pretty great movie. It’s also not, quite, just a repeat of the first film although, honestly, there are some structural similarities and the ‘not such a surprise’ villain is a similar kind of reveal, in some ways, to the plot twist of the first movie (which I think was handled a little better).

This one concentrates on Elastigirl, voiced once again by Holly Hunter, as she embarks on a superhero campaign, marketing to bring ‘supers’ back into the limelight and stop them from being illegal anymore. Meanwhile, Mr. incredible, voiced once more by Craig T. Nelson, is left at home holding the baby and being a house husband trying to keep things going by solving a problem with Violet’s love life and Dash’s mathematics homework while trying to cope with baby Jack Jack’s growing list of super powers. And, like the first one, it all seems to work really well.

Now, the director does take things into slightly different waters where the first movie didn’t go, in one scene where he has anthropomorphised an animal... which does seem to mark new territory here in that, like in the first of the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons of the 1940s, it seems a little out of place in a film which is primarily a version of the world we live in (albeit one where super powered humans actually exist). However, I have to say that the sequence in question, where Jack Jack goes toe to toe in a ferocious fight with a racoon, is a pretty cute scene and it’s not too intrusive within the chemical mix of the rest of the movie, in that it in any way dominates the style of the remainder of the story. It’s just a fun scene which you can let go of as soon as it’s over without, necessarily, thinking about the way the ecosystem of the ‘Incredibles Universe’ works in these films.

As with the first film, it’s all very nice to look at with rich colours, neat editing and it all moves along at a breakneck pace. Everything, again like the first film, is held in place and glued in all the right places (pretty much wall to wall, in this case) by Michael Giacchino’s incredible score. Now, it has to be said that while the soundscape he used for the first movie is back here, as it should be, the film is not quite as derivative of the style of the first film’s rejected composer John Barry. For instance, you can hear the temp track of films like Goldfinger and Thunderball screaming through in the music from the first film to such an extent that you can literally just drop tracks from the Bond films into The Incredibles and they would be timed to hit exactly the same dramatic points. That being said, there’s one cue in the new film where Elastigirl is on the way to her first day on the new job which sounds like a glorious mash up of John Barry’s Into Miami from Goldfinger and Jerry Goldsmith’s Your Zowie Face from In Like Flint so... you know... some of this homage is still present in a few places. It’s maybe not quite as fun as his first score but it’s still pretty great and works well, again, as a stand alone listen.

I think there were maybe a few missed opportunities in terms of cameos of characters from The Incredibles that might have made it into the second but because it’s trying to do, to some extent, it’s own thing in terms of story (although there are some marked similarities, too), I can’t really blame the writer/director for having a few characters sit this one out. That being said, he still has deliberate echoes of the first film finding their way into this so the fans and admirers of the original don’t feel too disappointed. So... we have a scene with Edna Mode, voiced once again by the director, getting to grips with baby Jack Jack’s new powers and we have a plot set up involved around a superhero coming out of retirement and facing possible betrayal at some point in the story. The point is, though, that despite having this kind of thing built into it, it never really feels like you're retreading old ground and Bird seems to really hold everything together in order to give us a new adventure from the heroes we’ve come to love.

And that’s me done on this one. Incredibles 2 lives up to the superlative of its title and gives people who loved the first one something else to give their affection to. If you’re already on board with these characters then you should have a great time with this one. If you’ve not seen the original, however, you might want to go back and watch that one first as this one starts off literally with a flashback scene which picks up, to the second, where the last one finished. Whichever film you watch first though... have a good time.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

The Secret Of Marrowbone

The Fours Of Perception

The Secret Of Marrowbone
(aka Marrowbone)

Spain 2017 Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez
UK cinema release print.

Surprisingly... since I didn’t rate the trailer for this one much and especially in regards to the fact that I generally expect films that have had a name change before they’re released in England to be quite bad (thus warranting said name change in the first place... this film was originally titled, plainly, Marrowbone in the stateside release)... it turns out that The Secret Of Marrowbone is actually quite a well put together movie.

Following a quite long pre-credits sequence involving a mother and her four children fleeing to a new, relatively isolated home after allegedly horrendous events involving her husband, the film’s credit finally comes up (after the mother has died and the children’s worrying father has just found them), with the titular secret still firmly in place. Time has moved on after the credits and the four children are waiting out the months, hiding in plain sight and maintaining the fiction that the mother is still alive until the oldest of the four, Jack, turns 21 and they can no longer be separated by the authorities.

The solid cast of four... Jack (George MacKay), Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) have already befriended local librarian Allie during that opening sequence... played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who I’ve loved in everything I’ve seen her in so far with special shout outs to The VVitch (reviewed here), Morgan (reviewed here) and, to a lesser degree (although she was no less brilliant in it), Split (reviewed here). She is their ally but knows nothing of the hidden secret lurking in the new family unit, the discovery of which will eventually lead to a shift in her perceptions of what’s happening, to some extent.

Now, it would be inaccurate to say that I didn’t figure out the conclusion of the movie’s reveal here as we are getting fed clues as to what’s going on with regards to the ghosts of the house and such like all the way through the narrative. However, it would also be true to say the film took me by surprise at the end purely because, like one of those good old giallo thrillers of the 1970s, The Secret Of Marrowbone kind of presents us with so many possibilities of just what that secret could be that, by the end, you are bound to be focussing on one more than the other and, alas, I somehow failed to concentrate on the solution to the mystery that lay within for favour of another. So, unusually for me, the film retained its secret to some extent because of the almost needle in a haystack pursuit required to hit upon the right combination of story elements. Of course, once all is revealed you can look back at how things have been referred to in the story and how the true facts of things can sometimes lend possibilities which aren’t necessarily signposts to the true destination. For instance, when the importance of avoiding mirrors is raised a number of times early on in the film, it threw me off my original solution due to other possibilities that could be deduced from such a warning and all I can say about this is... very well played Mr. writer/director Sergio G. Sánchez.

The cast of the film all acquit themselves more than admirably and help lend credence, with the smoke and mirrors of their trade, to the mystery which slowly unfolds, in its own good time, as it is revealed to the audience a little before the people in the story, regarding their secret. And if that seems an absurdly enigmatic thing to say about the film here... I’m sorry but I don’t want to post any spoilers so these kind of verbal gymnastics are necessary to protect the secret as much as the Marrowbone children in the film would.

In some ways, the main protagonists, especially the four children who live in the house, are just like the inhabitants of an old Enid Blyton book like the Famous Five or Secret Seven and, honestly, I’d say that this is exactly how the movie plays out, in some respects. Like a children’s Enid Blyton adventure but, using the syntax of horror cinema in a few key places to add coal to the fire of the secret at the heart of the mystery. Whether this is, or is not, an actual horror film I shall leave for you to decide... except I shall say that, within my own strict definition of what comprises such an affair, I would argue that it definitely isn’t in any way a horror movie but that’s not to say the film doesn’t have some sinister and scary moments which horror fans will appreciate. And that stuff is all fairly well done here, too.

Mr. Sánchez’ direction, editing and use of slow camera over some nice shot compositions are all excellent and the score by Fernando Velázquez is typical of that composer’s work in this vein... that is to say it’s excellent, appropriate and possibly great as a stand alone listen (although I will have to wait until the CD arrives before I can confirm that last comment). Also, although she isn’t in it as much as the four other main protagonists, Anya Taylor-Joy’s presence lends the production a certain weight, not just in terms of her acting, which is always fine but, also, in the striking and slightly off kilter beauty she manages to project to the camera... a face not easily forgotten.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about The Secret of Marrowbone, though, is that it manages to tip its hat on the most important of the end reveals in a way that doesn’t provoke disappointment (at least not in this viewer) but in a way that one could go back to the film again and watch it as a completely different kind of experience to the first viewing. That is to say, the weight of the finality of the end solution and the, strange but possibly welcome ray of hope for at least two of the characters at the end of the movie, is not something that crushes the weight of the build up of the rest of the film and, instead, works hand in hand with the central logic of the piece in a way that doesn’t stifle your interest in the characters. Which sometimes happens in films with this kind of 11th hour plot reveal, it has to be said.

The Secret Of Marrowbone is a better movie than it’s currently being given credit for and certainly worthy of your time if you like a good old fashioned mystery with elements of the horror and supernatural thrown in as seasoning to the dish. Definitely one to check out if you have nothing else on.

Sunday 15 July 2018


Fire Hard

2018 USA Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
UK cinema release print.

I guess it would be somewhat lazy thinking for me to say that Skyscraper is really just The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard but, then again, it’s kinda lazy writing from the people coming up with these kinds of ‘seen it, done it’ story ideas in the first place so, you know, I’m just going to say it anyway.

Skyscraper is the latest fun romp of a movie headlining Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) in the lead role. I kind of see him as this generation's Errol Flynn in the kind of choices and personae he seems to be inhabiting of late and I have to say that, although a lot of the movies he’s in aren’t exactly think pieces, I have a lot of time for these light and fluffy action vehicles he’s so good at supporting.

In this one we see him as the one legged health and safety man, Will Sawyer, who has come to Hong Kong to give the once over for a brand new skyscraper, the world’s tallest building, before it’s opened for the public. And, yeah, in a brief pre-credits sequence, you do get to find out just how he comes to only be in possession of part of his right leg and you also you get to see how he meets his wife Sarah, played by Neve Campbell. His wife and two young children accompany him on the trip to this quite beautiful looking building, The Pearl, which presents itself as it gets near the top as two fingers holding a globe. They are the only people staying at the building before its due to be open to the public (asides from the owner and his team)... in a canny move by the writers, I’m guessing, so they don’t have to deal with gazillions of extras running around in their disaster scenes of burning debris.

Why does the building catch fire? Because those Die Hard style terrorists are trying to flush the building’s owner out so he grabs the most valuable thing in his safe, a drive with all the criminal pay offs they’ve been extorting from people globally... and safely shut it down while the owner is still alive so it doesn’t 'auto send' to the police on his death (I never know how you get computer drives to do that, myself). Sawyer has been set up and put in this situation by another member of his old military team (seen in the pre-credits sequence) and it’s up to him to somehow get back into the burning building past the police, locate his wife, children and the owner... and then somehow get them all out of there alive.

And in many ways its the fun kind of warm hearted bonding combined with hard edged action we’ve come to expect from movies starring The Rock... with a touch of flaming mayhem thrown in for good measure. Now, that being said, there are some terrible clichés and stuff you’re going to have to pretend you don’t notice if you want to have the best time possible with this movie.

For instance, near the start there’s a whole bit of business where The Rock is drumming into this wife that the best way to fix her phone is to use the old, tried and true method of switching it off and on again. Yep... so straight away you know there’s going to be a scene in this movie somewhere where something has to be rebooted and she will remember her husband’s advice and go for it. And... yeah... of course that happens.

Another slight issue is The Pearl... which is the name of the big globe near the top of the building which the structure takes its name from. Early on in the film, Will Sawyer is given a demonstration of the beauty of this place, which can have invisible walls so you can be ‘walking on air’ over two hundred stories up and which has a load of confusing, rising screens which come out and act like an elaborate hall of mirrors with feedback of the occupants walking around at various angles and zooms. And... yeah... if you know anything about movie history you’ll be thinking that the big, end confrontation of the movie is going to take place here as a partial homage to Bruce Lee’s final confrontation in Enter The Dragon. And, of course, if you are thinking that... you wouldn’t be wrong. Why else have such an elaborate set up demonstrated for you if they’re not going to make full use of it later. It’s not the only film to have done this over the past year, either.

So yeah, clichés abound and we even have the kind of villainous characters who kill off their own people to either prove a point or save on their payroll. I’ve never been able to work out movie villains who have this penchant for killing their own crew. How would this kind of behaviour inspire loyalty? What makes you think anyone is going to want to work for you again? Assuming you didn’t already kill them all off on their first job with you. So, yeah, Hannah Quinlivan’s character Xia makes a nice killer and I would have liked to have seen a few more action sequences with her but... seriously... who wants to hang around with this lady when she’s as likely to kill her worker bees as much as her opposition? Not me, for sure.

However, these are all the kinds of Hollywood style shenanigans you would expect from a movie like Skyscraper and with effective acting to portray likeable characters, supported by some decent action editing and a Steve Jablonsky score which will, apparently, be getting a CD release sometime in August (I’m happy to say), Skyscraper is a fun ride and a nice evening out at the cinema. And, yes, you can bet The Rock makes all kinds of weaponised, survival moves with his handy, prosthetic leg. Short review here for such a tall building but I don’t have much more to say about this one. If you like The Rock’s movies you’ll already know what to expect and this one certainly lives up to those expectations. Maybe give it a go if you are into these kinds of films.

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Hotel Artemis

Tight Rules For The Job

Hotel Artemis
UK/USA Directed by Drew Pearce
UK cinema release print.

Wow. What a great movie.

I'm somewhat dismayed to find the one and two star reviews in abundance on the IMDB for this one. To be fair, these mostly seem to be from bizarre individuals who thought they were going to see some kind of mad John Wick style affair, for some reason but, in all honesty that’s not the kind of impression I took away with me when I first saw the trailer for this thing a couple of weeks ago.

Another thing I definitely didn’t realise from the trailer... but which hits you in some very obvious ways right from the outset of the movie, is that Hotel Artemis is very much a science fiction film in that it’s set in the near future in Los Angeles and, I have to admit, I did get a very slight Blade Runner vibe coming off it, although not quite so outlandish, in some ways, in its predictions.

What it really is, however, is something much older and traditional in its place in the history of cinema, I feel. This is like one of those old 1950s/60s criminal’s ‘hospital safe house’ kinds of movies which would show up in the guise of a film noir or, sometimes, a 1950s western siege kind of affair. In fact, I can very easily envisage the young, late 1970s version of John Carpenter making a very similar style of film to this if he’d had this script.

The film starts off with a bank job which goes wrong for one of the main, more heroic protagonists... Waikiki played by Stirling Brown... when his crew screw things up and his brother gets shot up quite badly. So he takes him to the special floor of the Hotel Artemis. That’s four guest rooms and a mini surgery embodying a ‘patch you up quick’ hospital run by The Nurse, played by Jodie Foster and her assistant Everest, played by David Bautista. It’s an establishment which has very hard, unbreakable rules such as not killing the other patients/guests, no smoking, absolutely no cops and, unless you are a paid up member to the place, you won’t be getting into her establishment and past her little arrival room. I say her establishment... she just runs the operation but it’s actually owned by the most feared crime kingpin in Los Angeles, Niagara, played by Jeff Goldblum. Oh, by the way, only the patient’s code names are used in the Hotel Artemis, named after the room they have been assigned to but, you do find out a few of their names as the movie progresses.

And what a movie it is... Nurse and Everest also have another couple of ‘guests’ staying there on the evening in question. Acapulco, played by Charlie Day and the absolutely drop dead gorgeous, professional assassin Nice, played by Sofia Boutella. This film is about the night where all the rules pretty much get broken and everything goes wrong for Nurse and Everest. Waikiki is in possession of something his brother stole when the job went south which belongs to Goldblum’s character and he will be dead if it’s caught on him (Niagara doesn’t take too kindly to robbery). Also, it becomes pretty clear that one of the other characters has another agenda attached to their stay at the Hotel Artemis. Plus, to make things worse, Goldblum’s son, played by Zachary Quinto, is heading in their direction to smooth the way because his father is injured and needing The Nurse’s services. And did I mention this all takes place when a huge riot over access to water is taking place in the streets of LA?

So yeah, all the early cinematic storytelling clichés are here in abundance but it’s all given a nice, fresh coat of paint by writer/director Drew Pearce on his first feature length movie and it’s a real treat for fans of genre cinema, that’s for sure. And fans of acting too...

Jodie Foster is beyond excellent, giving the confident but anxiety ridden (if she’s ever faced with the possibility of leaving the hotel) character a nice kind of shuffling gait to her run and helping flesh out the flashbacks to her dead son... which will of course, although she doesn’t realise it yet, tie into another character in the hotel. Goldblum, as usual, is great but David Bautista, who is someone I’ve had my eye on for a while, totally knocks it out the park again with a character which is a slight variant on the kind of person he played in Blade Runner 2049. I have a lot of time for this actor and putting him as a kind of double act with veteran actress Jodie Foster is an absolute stroke of genius. And then there’s Sofia Boutella, who impresses me more and more with her combination of smouldering looks coupled with the ability to make hand to hand combat look amazing and lethal without ever seeming empty headed in her approach to the characters she plays. I’m really surprised that Marvel haven’t tapped her yet to lend credibility as one of their super heroines in the current crop of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, to be honest.

And it’s a really great juggling act of modern movie making. Invoking the feel of those old westerns and hard boiled classics, cross pollinating it with a science fiction setting and then throwing in some well choreographed action scenes into the mix too. I was truly impressed by this movie and would say it’s one of the more interesting of this year’s Hollywood style movies, in all honesty. In fact, I’m toying with the idea of seeing it again in a week or two when it gets a general release over here in the UK (I saw it at a Cineworld preview screening) and, certainly, am looking forward to a Blu Ray purchase when the time comes. It’s also got a really nice score by Cliff Martinez which utilises, if my ears were hearing right, some nice cimbalom melodies, often synonymous with the kind of dark, cold world of the 1960s spy thrillers. Alas, as far as I can tell, this score is only available commercially as a download rather than a proper CD release so, once again the movie music labels have let me down and I don’t get to hear what it’s like as a stand alone listen. Which is a great shame. I wish labels like Lakeshore, who publish the download version of the score, would stop doing this.

At the end of the day, the wonderful compositions and the beautiful, claustrophobic atmosphere evoked in Hotel Artemis make it one of the better cinema experiences I’ve had in a while and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about it. A hard recommendation from me with this one and, if you do go, stick around for a little scene just after the end credits start rolling... there’s possible wriggle room for a sequel if this movie had set the box office alight the way it should have. If you are a lover of cinema, especially sci-fi noir, then don’t let this one pass you by.

Tuesday 10 July 2018


Cthulhu You Think You Are?

USA 2012
Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Arrow Blu Ray Zone 2

Okay so... this is a movie I’m watching that’s technically an extra from the film I actually bought. I wanted to see this new horror movie called The Endless because the trailer looked good and I knew Arrow were bringing out this limited edition set the day after its, almost impossible to see, cinema release. Well, looks like I made a good call on that one because the set sold out on its initial run (I think before it even got to some customers... they may be repressing, which of course completely kills the point of having it as a limited edition in the first place) and it turns out there’s an older film by the two directors included as part of this set called Resolution.

Then I found out that the film, although The Endless is not technically a sequel, shares two characters played by the directors in that the two leads of The Endless are seen for about a minute as the same people in Resolution. So, yeah, I say it’s technically not a sequel but, frankly, any movie which shares a character is a direct sequel as far as I’m concerned (which is why Scream 3 should be called Jay and Silent Bob 6).

Anyway, I wanted to watch these things in order and so I gave this one a spin and... you know what... I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about it.

I looked on the IMDB after I’d seen it to try and gauge the reaction and it seems to range from 1 star reviews calling it the worst film ever to 5 star reviews calling it a masterpiece. I don’t think it’s either of those things but the fact that I’m still thinking about it a day after means I probably kinda liked it, I guess. It also allows me to feel happy that I wouldn’t resort to giving anything a ‘star rating’ because, you know, what would even be the point of writing a review if you’re going to kill it off with a hierarchical rating system.

I think the main reason this film works is because of the chemistry between the two lead characters/actors... Mike (played by Peter Cilella) and Chris (played by Vinny Curran). And, apparently, these two characters also turn up in some capacity in The Endless too... although whether it’s just repeat footage from this film or something else is not a question I can answer yet (I’ll hopefully watch it sometime this week). These two seem to go great together and the writing is of a quality that it all just works... at least in terms of these two.

The plot set up is very simple. Chris the artist has managed to alienate himself from all of his friends and is slowly killing himself with drugs in a patch of desert land on an Indian reservation. Mike is sent a video of him in this state and drives out to try and get him to go into rehab. When he doesn’t, Mike tasers him (done for real, apparently, at the insistence of the actor) and handcuffs him to the radiator for a week, staying with him at his dubiously acquired shack as he goes cold turkey. However, as the week goes by, an unusual trail of artefacts start showing up which initially show some kind of strange, cultish rituals before things get a little closer to home in what they’re depicting such as an old, dusty, unearthed record (possibly a 78 RPM by the looks of it) which has a distorted conversation of it on there... which only took place a day or so before between Mike and Chris.

It’s intriguing and it almost made me forget that the movie doesn’t have a musical score, for a while. Time passes very slowly and... you do kind of feel that to a degree (the person I was watching this with couldn’t make it past the 20 minute mark before he wandered off to do something else) but it kind of holds together due to the fact that the two lead characters are fairly likeable. Also, it’s got one of those ‘almost but not quite subtle’ hand held camera things going on where almost every frame is moving but, often only a little bit in reaction to things going on in the screen (which television has been doing for a while now and which has almost become a cliché in itself). Although a cameo scene from Bill Oberst Jr. as a somewhat sobering character called Byron seems to call for a rock solid, unshakeable attention from the camera in order to make one clever(ish) shot with a mirror work better.

I think it would be true to say that the dynamic between the two characters and their possible descent into madness brought on by supernatural shenanigans could be called a trifle Lovecraftian and certainly, as far as I’m concerned (although this movie is way open to different interpretations) the film gets a little Cthulhu like in its denouement... if denouement is not too strong a word for the final sequence in this movie.

Also, there are a fair few times where the media we are watching this on kind of jiggles around and has little glitches which brings into question the whole nature of the reality of the thing we are watching and, combined with some of the stuff which shows up on Mike’s laptop in the last third of the picture, certainly gave me cause to think of the camera itself as maybe being a camera-eye version of one of H. P Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones. One almost wonders if one of the books that Mike finds is a battered, old copy of the Necronomicon.

At the end of the day, Resolution is not an earth shatteringly great movie and, neither is it that scary but, putting some of the clichés of the way the media relates to the found artefacts aside, it is a kind of thought provoking scenario, at least in the sense that it doesn’t try and dish out a specific set of answers to the questions it keeps asking. I would say, however, that the idea that Mike does not want to leave danger and almost certain death and go home to his wife at one point is kinda silly when the video email that he received at home is obviously already part of the events that have been set in motion. It’s already at your door, man... not going home won’t stop it from including your wife in events. That being said, it’s the kind of poor logic that doesn’t stop the movie from staying credible within its own set of rules... you just have to figure out what those rules might be as you go along.

So, not the best movie I’ve seen but certainly something I’ll be thinking about for a while and, hooray, now I can watch The Endless (which is something I’ll hopefully be reviewing on here sometime in the next couple of weeks).

Monday 9 July 2018

The First Purge

Purging Territory

The First Purge
2018 USA Directed by Gerard McMurray
UK cinema release print.

Yeah, well, I don’t know about this one. The First Purge seems to me like a huge mis-step for the franchise.

The way I stand with the previous films in the series is thusly... The Purge (reviewed here) wasn’t brilliant but it had some great actors and a nice, pure dystopian sci-fi central concept which worked at odds with the kind of barbaric spectacle it was trying to be for the audience. Both The Purge: Anarchy (reviewed here) and The Purge: Election Year (reviewed here) freed the action from the ‘family under siege’ concept of the original and turned it into more of a full blooded action franchise with a more interesting attempt at ‘world building’, a nice moral heart and a further exploration of the original concept which showed how evil the people in power control and slaughter the population to suit their own needs. I quite liked these two sequels.

At the end of the third one there probably wasn’t much more that could be said and things felt like they’d reached a conclusion/turning point that would make any further iterations of this concept a little redundant, to be honest. So the people at Blumhouse, a studio who I think have done some good work over the last five or more years, decided to do what they did to their Insidious franchise in order to keep this popular series from dying... they’ve taken it backwards and made this a prequel to the original film, taking us back to the very first night of ‘The Purge’ experiment which, we are told, took place on Staten Island. It still doesn’t take a lot of time to talk in detail about how or why this ‘scientific experiment’ emerged in the first place but it’s such a simple concept that it doesn’t really need to. Things are as they were shown to be in the previous movies: America is overpopulated with too many mouths to feed... let’s put a ‘releasing and carthartic spin’ on this whole purge thing and let half the population kill each other to save on pensions etc. And there you have it... nothing much has changed.

Unfortunately, nothing new is revealed or tweaked in this one and, although it’s got some solid action set pieces and some remarkably good acting from the main leads, this film really has nothing further to add to the recipe except... I dunno... this feels a little like a blaxploitation movie. Which I’m fine with in some ways. I love some of those classics like Coffy, Cleopatra Jones and the Shaft series but... this one feels a little more of a powder keg to inciting racism, to be honest.

For example, both the thugs doing the purging and all the heroes trying to keep themselves alive or going out on the streets to protect their people are almost exclusively black, for some reason. I think, with the exception of the very first person who gets killed, there wasn’t a white face in the crowd down at ‘street level’ where the action is. Which seemed kind of bizarre, to be honest. Furthermore, the people in power who are manipulating things and who are the real villains, including the mercenaries and military goons they hire to ensure The First Purge goes exactly how the government want it to... are almost exclusively white. Now I’ve got no problem with the white guys being the villains... that’s possibly much more accurate to the way things are in real life at the moment but... I do have a problem with the ‘poor, huddled masses’ being portrayed as almost exclusively dark skinned because it seems like it’s pushing an ugly agenda.

In the last three movies it seemed to me that a good, underlying message was that people of all different colours, sexualities and religious beliefs were banding together and working with each other to stop  the evils of The Purge. This movie makes it seem like anybody who is poor is black and they need to target the ‘white oppressors’ and that’s the end of it... which doesn’t sit that well, I think. Especially since the majority of the white soldiers are costumed up as either nazis or klansmen (or some kind of crossbreed of the two, in some cases).

That being said, the heroes here are pretty cool with Nya (played wonderfully by Lex Scott Davis) looking out for her little brother (played by Joivan Wade, who some readers might remember best as Rigsy from two of the more recent stories in Doctor Who)... who is out on purge night for his own agenda. And “Who is the man who would risk his neck for his brother man?”, to quote a popular song about another great hero? Well he’s Dmitri, played by Y'lan Noel, who really knocks it out the park and makes a credible young anti-hero who you can really get behind. This actor needs to be playing a lot more roles in this kind of vein, if you ask me. His personality really lights up the screen here.  Alas, the other somewhat disappointing thing about the movie is that Dmitri is also a kingpin crime boss for the city and is shown to be a drug, girls and arms dealer who will happily rub out the opposition (if they make the first move). So, yeah, although I loved this character and would want to see more of him, the glorification of what his character represents is another thing which really didn’t sit well with me, in all honesty. It’s problematic at best, I think.

The other thing which is an issue with this film and with the series in general is something I think I must have mentioned with this franchise before but in this entry in the series it seems to be even more overt... and that’s the amount of deus ex machina rescues there are every time one of the main characters is about to be taken out. It seems to be happening as the tension release to a heck of a lot of the scenes in this movie and I really hoped the writing could have been a little better than this by now. They even do the classic of having a bad guy inadvertently saving the good guys by killing off some of the other bad guys and... yeah... the suspense kind of drops off because every time somebody looks like they’re just about to get killed, you kind of know somebody else is going to suddenly just pop out of the woodwork to save the day.

I’ve seen some people saying the storyline has some reveals and revelations about the dark heart of the politics behind The Purge but I really don’t think this has anything new to say. It’s like the people saying that somehow managed to completely miss the point of the last two movies, it seems to me. The First Purge is an okay movie with some cool acting and characterisations, some nice action and the odd bit of tension but it’s definitely the least effective of The Purge franchise and doesn’t give me much hope for the upcoming TV series which will be hitting screens in the US sometime very soon. I’m not really sure there’s anywhere else left to run with this specific, conceptual ball, from what I can see. I can’t imagine there will be another movie in the series until the inevitable remakes in 10 or 20 years time and, looking at the way this one has skewed. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Saturday 7 July 2018

Lost Girls

Wander Women

Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin
Edited by Samm Deighan
Spectacular Optical
ISBN: 9780992146320

I’ve been an admirer of Kier-La Janisse since I first read her excellent tome House Of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (reviewed here). At the time I think I called it the best book on the overall range of those specific film genres I’d read and I still feel that way. I remember she wrote it, in part, as a reaction to a documentary movie made about her and her Cinemeurte Film Festival, called Celluloid Horror (reviewed here) which is a movie I also think a lot of. So when I heard through the Twitter grapevine that her book label Spectacular Optical was involved in putting together a volume on the cinema of Jean Rollin, one of my favourite French directors, it would be true to say this went straight to the top of my obscure objects of desire list.

That being said, when the book was finally released, it seemed the only way you could get a copy was through the Spectacular Optical website and with a price tag of around $36 ($46 Canadian) with an added cost of postage to the United Kingdom (where I am) which far exceeded the price of the actual tome, if memory serves... well I just couldn’t justify paying that much to get a copy... and believe me, I tried every possible way of getting one into the country via UK stores and sellers that I could think of.

Luckily for me, Ms. Janisse is also heavily involved with The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies which has been running in a couple of countries the last year or two and a couple of the writers who contributed essays to this book... Virginie Sélavy and Marcelle Perks... were there to give a seminar called Virgins and Vampires: Gothic Damsels and Final Girls in the Cinema of Jean Rollin. I figured it was a safe bet to assume they would have a few copies of Lost Girls to sell at this thing so I and a friend booked ourselves a ticket and... well, while the number of the books they sold was finished up well before the end of the entrance queue, I made sure I was one of the first in line and snapped up a copy of this truly excellent publication for the more than fair sum of only 20 English pounds. Furthermore, I was able to get the book signed by both ladies on the night and it would be true to say that I and my friend were very happy that we decided to buy this thing before the start of the lecture and not at the end, when all the copies had been sold.

One of the reasons I was particularly interested in having a book on Jean Rollin is because there just is not much written about him in English. I have both the other books I know of specifically about Rollin in my native tongue... Psychedelic Sex Vampires by Jack Hunter (a somewhat slight tone in terms of textual content, from what I remember) and the excellent Fascination: The Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin by David Hinds (which I reviewed here). I’d like to be able to say that either Hinds book or this one is the superior volume but, truth be told, they are both very different kinds of books on Rollin and I think they are both worth reading.

One of Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin big marketing points was that it’s a collection of essays on Rollin which is from purely female contributors. Now, being a man, I can’t really see why that was flagged as a selling point... after all, I’m sure there must be some ‘men only’ collected tomes on a whole variety of subjects out there somewhere too and I don’t see what the sex of the writers has to do with anything but, in her afterword to the book, Kier-La Janisse explains exactly why she felt this was a good idea and, yeah, I can... kinda... see where she’s coming from.

The first thing you will notice about the book itself is that it’s absolutely beautifully designed and illustrated. The illustrations are by Jessica Seamans and the layouts are by Ms. Janisse herself. Both aspects are stunning and, with my pernickety designer head on, I only noticed one minor typographical error, where the text flow seems to have gone wrong around a picture, so I was pretty pleased. Each chapter has its own black and white header illustration around the number and the other thing which fans of Rollin will notice is that it has a vast amount of photographic stills accompanying the movies talked about in these pages. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many photos from Rollin productions all in one place before... or as beautifully reproduced as those in here are and it’s another reason why this book should be on the shelf of any lover of this director’s work.

The book starts off with a chapter entitled Le Viol du Vampire and the Last Surrealist Riot and it’s written, in a very informative manner, by Gianna D'Emilio. This talks about the production and reception of Rollin’s first feature film Le Viol Du Vampire and the way it was put together as two parts of a serial masquerading as a feature. And you get loads of little anecdotes here about this one... some of them the usual suspects but mixed in with a fair few stories which I wasn’t aware of. Stuff like the awful hotel putting up the cast and crew running out of toilet paper so, after eight days, the various copies of the script were either lost in the woods or used as a replacement for the absent bathroom equipment. The writer duly notes the stylistic influences from surrealism via the likes of Cocteau and Bunuel and mentions that one of the reasons for the riots and death threats at the screenings may have been because of the specific artistic sensibility of this piece as opposed to other vampire films popular at the time (such as Hammer’s contemporaneous release, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave). She also mentions that this film has the only existing footage of the old Grand Guignol Theatre before it was refurbished (for more info on the Grand Guignol, click here).

Actually, the difference between Rollin’s work in the vampire genre compared to many film makers over the decades is something that a lot of the contributors here choose to pick up on. For instance, in Heather Drain’s chapter Disgracing The Family Name: Vampirism and Societal Rebellion in Le Frisson Des Vampires (aka Shiver Of The Vampires) she points out the way the director used vampires to explore them as a family unit while in editor Samm Deighan’s chapter The Thing In The Coffin: Jean Rollin’s Female Vampire as Romantic Liberator, she makes the observation that the vampires in these films are much more likely to be companionable rather than predatory creatures. Deighan further looks at the way females in general are handled in another of her essays, Blood Sisters: Female Intimacy in Jean Rollin’s Contes De Fées and points out the way they are often portrayed in duos or groups and the way they are elevated with a fairytale sensibility which, again, sets them apart from the work of a fair few other directors in these kinds of genres.

Now I’m not going to go through every essay chapter in this book but I will pick out a few more of them here. In all but one specific case I found the writing to be a mixture of optimistic appreciation of the director’s work, written extremely enthusiastically from a place of knowledge and, in almost every case, the writer was able to dispense that knowledge in the most understandable and entertaining way possible. That being said, one of the earlier essays struck me as being the exact opposite of this but... I’m not going to name the writer or the title of the piece because that just wouldn’t be nice and, also, just because I thought it was the worst thing here doesn’t mean everyone else can’t see the worth in it. I may just be incredibly stupid when it comes to this kind of thing but one in particular seemed to be bringing in a lot of esoteric references without really making any point, it seemed to me.

But for me that one essay was really the exception to the rule... which is a pretty good ‘hit rate’ if you think about it. Let me just pick out a few more chapters of interest, though, before I finish this.

The Zombie-Gore-Disaster Film... Jean Rollin Style by Michelle Alexander is a really interesting one as she points out how topical, real life disaster stories of the time would have inspired, or at least informed, the plots to films like The Grapes Of Death (and probably also Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, I would imagine) with their sobering stories of chemical leaks and agriculture gone wrong. She also talks about the possibility of the deaths of some of the Bader-Meinhof Group in prison being an influence on Rollin’s Night Of The Hunted, which I found kinda interesting (I remember next to nothing of Bader-Meinhof being on the news when I was a kid so I need to watch the movie they made about them and get up to speed, I guess).

Alexandra Heller Nicholas’ chapter Les Démoniaques: Politics, Poetry and the Supernatural Rape-Revenge Film makes the curious point that the follow through on the inevitable revenge in such movies is often abandoned by the main protagonists in a Rollin film, as they get distracted or have other priorities coming to the forefront.

Serials in Soulless Cities: Les Trottoirs De Bangkok and Killing Car by Gianna D'Emilio looks more closely at the way Feuillade's serials of the silent era have influenced Rollin, specifically in regard to these two movies. She also looks at the way that Asian stereotypes are somewhat overturned in these, as opposed to one of Rollin's chiefly named influences, The Mask Of Fu Manchu. Meanwhile, one of Samm Deighan’s chapters, Phantasmes: Jean Rollin's Hardcore Reveries and Work For Hire, gives more of an overview, a welcome one, of some of his lesser seen work (in this country) and is good for trying to work out which, if any, of these specific movies from the director’s portfolio are worth tracking down.

My favourite chapter, however, has to be Virginie Sélavy’s wonderful Castles of Subversion Continues: From the Roman Noir and Surrealism, which looks at Rollin’s use of castles in his movies. For instance, out of his 20 main features (as in his personal projects, the one the majority of his fan base will be more familiar with), 12 of them feature castles of some description. She makes the point that they appear as ancient artefacts in the modern world where they shouldn’t necessarily be or fit in, creating an artificial environment and looking at the way Rollin perhaps uses the architectural atmosphere as a kind of mental space for his characters. She picks up that castles, the famous Rollin beach and cemeteries are anchor points signalling man’s futile battle against time and decay as these places often display physical manifestations of being run down or, quite literally, covered in floral history (so to speak).

As I said, I’m not going to go through the contents of every chapter of this for the purposes of this makeshift review but hopefully you’ll see that this is a thorough and very useful, not to mention spectacular, book to have on your movie bookshelf. The afterword chapter, by Kier La Janisse herself, is similarly wondrous in that she uses her own recollections of Rollin from his visit to her Cinemeurte Festival and beyond, along with various other somewhat authoritative voices on the director in terms of their initial experiences of his work (such as Tim Lucas, who wrote one of the greatest movie books ever with his monolithic study of Mario Bava, All The Colours Of The Dark), to pay a loving tribute to the man and his work to round things off.

And that’s about all I can say about this one now unless I want to be writing for a good many more hours than there are left in the day. Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin is truly one of the most interesting collections of essays looking at a particularly neglected (in English language print) body of work from one of the great, somewhat surrealistic French directors of the last 50 or so years. Definitely worth the price of purchase and, I have to say, I am so glad I went to that seminar last year to be able to get myself a copy (yeah, the seminar was pretty cool too, by the way).

The spectacular optical website is here and the Miskatonic website is here. Go explore.