Felt

Year: 2014
Director: Jason Banker
Starring: Amy Everson, Kentucker Audley, Ryan Creighton, Elizabeth Ferrara
Written by Dalton Brown

Like most movies, when it came to ‘Felt’, I had heard some good things and I had heard some bad things. The ticks in the positive column outweighed the negatives though, leaving me pretty excited to watch this horror-thriller. As I was watching, I really, desperately wanted to enjoy it, but I simply could not. Indeed, ‘Felt’ is the most disappointing movie I’ve seen all year, and it’s not been the best year for films.

The coolest thing about ‘Felt’ is, without a doubt, the plot. Following Amy (Amy Everson), a victim of a rape attack, we see the effect this trauma has on her. She creates a costume and an alter-ego to deal with this damaging sexual experience. Things then start to get more complicated when a new man, Kenny (Kentucker Audley), enters the picture. Amy falls for Kenny, but she ends up letting her own insecurities get the best of her. I like the plot – it’s just the execution that I strongly dislike. It’s meant to be a slow-burn thriller, but there’s a strong emphasis on the “slow” part. There is a big difference between a slow, suspense-filled movie, and a slow, dull movie. I started zoning out around 40 minutes in, because nothing interesting was happening. Next thing I knew, it was all over. The ending was cool, but not enough to redeem the crimes of the rest of the movie. That is the problem with ‘Felt’ – aspects of the film are cool, but it’s not enough to salvage a poor film on the whole.

I think one of the many weaknesses of ‘Felt’ is the terrible acting. Horror movie actors are rarely at the top or their game, and it’s no different here. The actors fail to deliver convincing performances, nor do they make the viewing experience an enjoyable one; they’re just plain boring. The other thing that sucks – and this is a very personal and picky complaint – is that Amy’s voice was very annoying. In fact, the only good thing about ‘Felt’ was its cinematography and even that wasn’t anything spectacular. Another weakness is that it’s a very weird movie and this weirdness never feels natural. There is nothing wrong with a bit of strange intrigue, but this is of a more forceful kind, and it makes the movie painful to sit through. I know it sounds like I’m whining – and I probably am – but ‘Felt’ is just a big bag of disappointment. It truly is a terrible film. Truly. Terrible.

The absolute worst thing about ‘Felt’ – yeah, it gets worse – is the pacing. The film only comes with a 1 hour and 20 minutes runtime, but with the excruciatingly slow pace, it feels like a 2 hour feature. In all honesty, this would probably have worked better as a short film. With terrible acting, terrible writing and terrible direction, there really is nothing particularly positive to say about ‘Felt’, plot concept aside. I could never recommend watching this, unless you’re some kind of masochist, and even then I would warn you to stay away.

FELT
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The Gift

Year: 2015
Director: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, Rebecca Hall
Written by Nick Deal

‘The Gift’ has gone under the radar for a lot of people, even for myself initially. It wasn’t until I saw a billboard advertisement that I decided to investigate further, and upon said investigation, I decided that ‘The Gift’ sounded like the perfect film for me and my partner to go and see. We like our films dark, twisted and unnerving, and Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut was indeed a gift in all aspects.

The plot is simple, but quite difficult to explain at the same time without giving too much away. Simon (Jason Bateman) is a man that has everything going for him. He is very successful in terms of career and has a loving and caring wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). When the couple move to California after Simon’s promotion, a man from Simon’s past appears. Gordo (Joel Edgerton) is a socially awkward individual who tries to make his rediscovered friend feel welcome in his new home. Simon and Robyn soon begin to doubt that Gordo’s good intentions are as heartfelt as they seem, and Robyn’s quest to uncover the truth about the history between the two men uncovers some dark secrets as everything begins to spiral out of control.

As I said before, it’s really hard to do this film justice in terms of a review without giving away all the major plot spoilers, as a lot of the shock factor that makes this film so successful is reliant on events within the narrative. So you’ll just have to watch it to find out what I’m talking about, but believe me when I say that the narrative is fantastic, and the twist at the end is absolutely magnificent. Despite the plot being somewhat predictable in places, as a viewer, you never feel like you can completely predict what’s coming next. It’s that sort of film. It lures you down one path and then is quite capable of springing a surprise or two along the way. The slight problem I had with the film was that it is the definition of a slow burner. It certainly takes a while for the drama to start happening, but once it does, it doesn’t look back.

As ‘The Gift’ is a film produced by Blumhouse Productions – responsible for the likes of ‘Insidious’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’ – I was definitely expecting a scare or two, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in that respect either. There are jumpy moments that had the whole cinema screaming. Yet on the whole I wouldn’t describe this film as a horror at all. It’s definitely more of a psychological thriller. It has the typical horror setting; narrow corridors, and plenty of rotating camera shots where you’re expecting someone to appear from nowhere. As a result, the whole experience is thoroughly unnerving. A contributing factor to this is the fact that 80% of the film is filmed inside Simon and Robyn’s house. So as a viewer, you feel like the attacks on their house is an attack on you. Their house is a safe sanctuary throughout the early parts of the film, the place where they and us alike feel a sense of security, but as Gordo’s twisted games unfold, that sanctuary becomes a place of nightmares.

The characterisation within the film is brilliant, and it takes you on a roller coaster of emotions all the way through. I liked and loathed all three of the main characters at least once, and whilst a lot of that is due to the character narratives, this is also down to the standards of acting. Horror style films tend to fall victim to some horrendous acting and when I originally saw Jason Bateman’s name on the bill for a horror-thriller, I immediately feared the worst, but he is fantastic. Rebecca Hall is equally as adept at portraying a mentally unstable housewife. The star of the show however, in every respect, is Joel Edgerton. If his performance as the deranged Gordo wasn’t impressive enough, the fact that this is his feature length writing and directorial debut adds to the awe. If this is anything to go by, we can expect wonderful things from Edgerton in the future.

I went to see this film two weeks after its release date, and in this particular cinema the film is being shown just once a day for the next week. I cannot believe that this film has not caused more of a stir and I can’t fathom why it hasn’t been posted on every bus stop and had its trailers shoved in our faces on every terrestrial channel. Talking to friends and colleagues, hardly anyone had even heard of it, and it’s a real shame that this is not getting the attention it deserves. Psychological thrillers are a difficult genre to get right; ‘The Gift’ absolutely nails it and all on a reported $5m budget. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty impressive effort and I encourage all of you to go and see it before it’s taken out of the cinemas and replaced by something more mainstream and appealing to the mass market. I can only hope that this will be one of those films that gathers popularity and becomes more appreciated as public consensus warms over the years. A hidden gem, and the film you didn’t know you had to see this summer. Simon says…watch ‘The Gift’.

THE GIFT

Hannibal

Year: 2001
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta
Written by Nick Deal

After the success of ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow and continue the story of Hollywood’s most famous cannibal, although I’m rather surprised it took them ten years to cook this one up. But would it be worth the wait? Before I watch a film, I have an annoying habit of seeing how it’s rated on IMDb to get a brief idea of what to expect, and having done so for this film, I was expecting a worthy sequel to the original. Yet in reality, I didn’t enjoy ‘Hannibal’ anywhere near as much as I hoped to.

After living in exile following the events of ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) decides it’s high time that he got back in touch with his favourite FBI agent, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore). Starling faces a race against time to try and apprehend Lecter before he falls into the hands of Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). Verger has an evil plan to enact revenge upon Lecter, and Clarice must do her best to try and stop Hannibal meeting a grizzly end.

Whilst it’s slightly unfair to compare this to the original, it’s inevitable. This is the second time that Hopkins has portrayed the master-cannibal on screen, and ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ is our only go-to comparison, and as a result this film feels like little more than a misguided attempt at a tribute to the original. What made that original so encapsulating was the degree to which it managed to shock and chill you, achieved through fantastic characterisation and acting. This film doesn’t come close, which is surprising considering the cast that it boasts. Hopkins is just as calculating as ever, but doesn’t have the same wow factor that he delivered first time round. He lacks that on screen authority that was so powerful. We don’t get anywhere near as much access into the mind of Lecter, and as a result, in this instance, he’s not the same psychopath that terrified audiences in 1991.

Julianne Moore was the performance that annoyed me the most out of the big names. I much preferred Jodie Foster’s portrayal of the same character. There was an imbalance on Moore’s part, of trying to assert herself as the leading, empowered lady, whilst exhibiting a soft spot for Lecter, and as a result the character is a bit all over the place. Maybe that’s just the effect that Hannibal Lecter has upon you? Gary Oldman gives a reasonable performance, or at least I assume it was Gary Oldman under that mask and costume. Oldman’s character, Mason Verger, certainly fills the quota for a repulsive aesthetic this time around, but again, in comparison Ted Levine’s performance as Buffalo Bill in the original, this attempt at being a secondary antagonist was flawed overall.

I appreciate that they tried to distance themselves from Hannibal’s previous cinematic outing; the story begins in Italy and tries to steer clear of that dark suburban environment from the predecessor. The vast majority of the film is set in huge, luxurious mansions and beautiful Italian buildings, and that’s probably why I felt like it didn’t have that disturbing and dark edge that I was looking for. The narrative is also somewhat jumbled and at times a little bit difficult to follow. The film also loses that sense of terrifying believability, and there were certain times in the film that I found myself chuckling at something that I’m sure wasn’t there for my amusement.

As a crime-thriller, ‘Hannibal’ is decent enough. As a stand-alone film, it’s probably decent enough as well. But when a film is released as a sequel to one of the most critically and publically celebrated films of all time, you have to expect some comparison, and quite frankly, this film didn’t live up to the billing.

HANNIBAL

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Year: 2014
Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green
Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

The recurring theme found in most Noir films is that they were sombre action-thrillers. They are gritty, with real world elements, tones of mystery and 1950s clichés. The ‘Sin City’ series has always embodied just that, but with more blood and gore and less clichés. The thing that separates this sequel from the original is that it has a more sinister feel all-round. It has more unlikable characters, less interesting stories but much more violence. The original slowly drew you into a swirling vortex of pain, confusion, and dreary macabre; it really felt like a mystery. ‘A Dame To Kill For’ pretty much clearly spells out everything as the story progresses; mystery solved.

This isn’t a lazier story, but it is certainly a colder one, with lots of characters killed off throughout. Also, the main narrative and every major plot point was completely predictable. I don’t feel the believability of the story arc is anything within rational understanding. It seems anyone who isn’t blind could see what the temptress Ava Lord (Eva Green) was doing to the people around her. On top of that, I can’t understand why all the characters were so transfixed by her. Maybe it was the hammed acting, or the fact that she was just a truly terrible person. Sure, some ‘magic’ element was insinuated, but no witchcraft or magic themes were found in any other part of this film, or in the previous one. So why now? The major tragedy, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, left me wanting more, because it was so anti-climactic. The way his story arc ended made me wonder if his character was thinking about the consequences of his actions at all.

The finale is extremely disappointing, with poor acting from both Eva Green and Mickey Rourke struggling to hold up an overused concept. This was nothing more than a very watered-down “master and pupil” story about revenge. Ava caught onto everything rather quickly and made me wonder if she needed the help of Marv (Mickey Rourke) at all. This, out of all the stories, seemed particularly rushed and because of this it became exasperatingly dull; this was the worst of the series of stories they told throughout the film. There were also really odd scenes, which occurred far too often, in which characters would just stand there and look around. It made the whole thing feel too distant from normal actions, and made me realise I was watching a film instead of being immersed in a different setting.

It has familiar characters from the previous film – Marv made a bloody come back and was the usual go-to-guy for killing everything in his way. That’s fine, but he had less lines and his character made less of an impact to me. Also he supposedly died in the first film, and they don’t explain why he’s alive now. The droning voice-overs are back, and while they do add some character depth, it doesn’t seem to matter too much. The new characters we are introduced to are about as deep as a shallow puddle, so trying to add more depth to them only serves to make the narrative feel obnoxious.

As far as Noir cinema goes, it doesn’t get much more drenched in tragedy than this. However, some of the stories told don’t sway far from the average cop drama we get nowadays. In fact, it even has a few familiar faces from popular USA cop dramas (e.g. Christopher Meloni of ‘Law & Order’ fame). Sure they help to expand on the previous stories, but not sufficiently, leaving a lack of depth just as the others did. ‘A Dame To Kill For’ has a lot of the same familiar themes and styles as the previous. It even has impressive artistic shots like the first. Unfortunately, this installment seems lacking in colourful new characters, and the returning characters are less interesting this time around, since their minor roles could have easily been filled by any other nondescript character. It’s still a fun, action-packed watch, but doesn’t capture the bleak insanity of the first one. Some might consider it boring compared to the first, and I don’t think I can blame them.

SIN CITY 2

Disconnect

 Year: 2012
Director: Henry Alex Rubin
Starring: Jason Bateman, Haley Ramm, Frank Grillo, Alexander Skarsgard
Written by Patrick Alexander

It’s not often, as a viewer, you find a film as gritty, dark, hulking, and real as ‘Disconnect’. When I first clicked play, I knew one thing: Jason Bateman was the headliner, so chances are, at least I’d get some hearty laughs. Not the case. What I got instead, was a lot of genuine weight about tough subject matter that I wasn’t expecting. The thing about it though: it wasn’t a let down. The film digs into three perilous arcs, separately, but congruently – cyber bullying, underage teenage sex-cams, and identity theft. It’s a whirlwind of fictional investigation meets pseudo-factual exploration.

‘Disconnect’ explores the three storylines as they interact and overlap during the course of the film. The first revolves around a musically-inclined, teenage boy who gets bullied over the internet into a mournful suicide attempt. This part was extremely hard for me to watch. Cyber-bullying is a very real occurrence in today’s society, and it really is bullshit that people find it funny or amusing to rip others apart online. I genuinely hurt for that character, as I’ve had friends experience that pain. I’d give anything to end cyber-bullying, and rid the world of the cowards who hide behind their computer screens.

The second arc revolves around a couple who, through mutually hazardous dealings on the web (chat rooms and online poker), get their collective identity stolen, tearing their relationship apart as they go bankrupt and try to deal with their issues. I don’t know what that’s like, but on par with the rest of the movie, it was pretty heavy too. The third arc is about a teenage boy who, at a young age, began working as a “cam-boy” for an online sex-cam website, simply because it was the only life he ever knew. It’s nuts that this is a thing; adults who act as predators on young, confused children, is just disgusting and inhumane and needs to be stopped.

Maybe the real beauty of ‘Disconnect’ is that it might spark some of you into action. Maybe the highest capability of film is to generate real debate on hard topics. I fucking hate cyber-bullying, and this film makes me want to start a national campaign against it, like many others have before me. It terrifies me what other good people, especially kids, are going through out there because of some horrible people. Maybe in shining some light on identity theft and the effects on a family is horrible for you. Maybe underage sex profiteering disgusts you as much as it does me. It’s all fucked up and sad and distressing, but authentic because that kind of shit happens every damn day somewhere across the globe.

‘Disconnect’ is not a film you watch to enjoy the aesthetic or to be entertained. It’s a monologue which brings to the fore the feeling of agony others can feel from being taken advantage of and abused. I respect Jason Bateman so much for making this film. It needed to be done.

DISCONNECT

True Story

Year: 2015
Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill
Written by Patrick Alexander

Every now and again a film comes out of nowhere and hits you like a ton of bricks – so unexpected, so abrupt. ‘True Story’ was that movie for me. A delicate, somewhat baroque, true-enough story based on the memoir by Michael Finkel, a former journalist of the New York Times that had his life seemingly turned upside down by a mad man’s deception. On the bill, I read the names Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street) and James Franco (Pineapple Express) and thought I was in for, at the very least, a boatload of laughs from a few hours of presumably stupid jokes. However, this movie is unalike the expected stoner-buddy comedies such as ‘The Interview’ or ‘This Is The End’. In fact, ‘True Story’ doesn’t have a comedic bone in its body. It is almost as if Hill and Franco are so fed up with doltish, imbecilic comedy that they threw this dramatic thriller into the rotation just to keep us honest, a la ‘Moneyball’ for Hill or ‘Milk’ for Franco. Let me repeat: this movie is not funny. ‘True Story’ is a highly intelligent and fascinating film. 

The true story behind ‘True Story’ starts with Christian Longo (Franco) murdering his wife and three children and disposing of them in a nearby harbor. Following his horrific crimes, Longo flees to Mexico under the assumed alias, Mike Finkel, where he is later caught and imprisoned. Mike Finkel (Hill), however, is a semi-renowned journalist (probably played up in the film) with the New York Times, of whom Longo is rather fond. As a wink, Longo intentionally gets the real Finkel’s attention, who regrettably feels induced to share Longo’s story with the world via a highly anticipated book. As the two men bond through their prison chats, Finkel finds himself in too deep with a murderer as Longo’s trial serves to uncover the gruesome truth of the murders that Finkel is reluctant to believe. From there, Finkel realises he’s been played by Longo and becomes maligned towards his former friend with whom he is now inexplicably linked. 

In his first real feature film, Rupert Goold directs, coming from a background of almost exclusively theatre productions, outside of a few made-for-TV-movies. Goold succeeds in championing highly personal scenes between his characters. In the many jail conversation scenes, the camera gets right into Franco and Hill’s faces to the point where the audience can not only intricately see, but sense their raw response and emotions. It’s in his insistence on progressive, theatre-like sequences such as these, that savour the dialogue and grow the suspense organically, that Goold triumphs with his debut. 

While unpredictable, ‘True Story’ is more than simply a compelling novel turned into cinema, but a cautionary tale of knowing how to dissect information and read into the lies of a liar. It is an adroit commentary on human purpose and benign belief. It is a thematic clinic on not believing everything that you hear. And somewhere deep inside this film is a hint of friendship’s true meaning. Not of the everybody-has-friends cache, but of the friendship-is-determined-by-one’s-destiny manner. It’s surprising, though, that the friendship exhibited is not one cultivated through blazing herb on the couch, but instead through potent, unrefined conversations on a prison bench. The degree to which ‘True Story’ remains a true story is for the viewer to decide. But I implore you to watch and decide for yourself, because it’s not every day that a film comes out of nowhere to hit you like a ton of bricks; you should relish those moments.

TRUE STORY

The Counsellor

 Year: 2013
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt
Written by Patrick Alexander

Men are attracted to flawed women too of course, but their illusion is that they can fix them. They just want to be entertained. The truth about women is that you can do anything to them except bore them.”

The thing about movie critics is that we are attracted to flawed movies, of course. The illusion is that there is so much more to say about them. We just want to be entertained. The truth about movie critics is that you can show anything to them, except something boring. ‘The Counsellor’ is a rather warped, weighty, and dramatic crime-thriller. It’s heavy on lurid, abstruse quotations about the beauties and delicacies of life, and light on the action which a big-budget project typically demands. Yet, the action it does provide, among many willful disquisitions, is insane and appallingly gruesome. For every thirty minutes of build-up in ‘The Counsellor’, there are five minutes of sprinting, gory action sequences that blow you away with ridiculousness and unpredictability. Maybe we’re the flawed ones for believing it would be true to conventional form. 

The critics, for the most part, hated ‘The Counsellor’. They called it “wordy”, “clumsy”, and mercilessly “short on suspense”. I disagree. I loved it. It had a heady feel of ‘No Country For Old Men’ meets ‘Traffic’. The beginning is slow and plodding, which sets up delicately for the crass and destructive ending. The critics believe an all-star cast – consisting of Pitt, Bardem, Fassbender, Diaz and Cruz – was wasted on a pointless storyline that didn’t deliver anything but another Ridley Scott directing credit. Not so fast; ‘The Counsellor’ is raunchy, seductive and abhorrent, but cleverly electrifying. It’s the antithesis of everything we expect from this kind of film, yet finds merit in an almost idealistic union of Cormac McCarthy’s gloom and Scott’s precise sophistication.

In short; Cameron Diaz is a psycho, Brad Pitt equally so, Javier Bardem’s just plain confused by it all, Penelope Cruz is too sweet, and Michael Fassbender is the do-gooder. How they mix those actors with their inclinations, together is the beauty of film. One might call it a crossbred medley of calamity. Or maybe I’m alone in that opinion. The reason ‘The Counsellor’ works is that it refuses to conform. It slogs when it wants to slog. It decimates when it wants to decimate. I don’t think Ridley Scott and his team made this film to win anybody’s approval, and when you get over that, you’ll like it a whole lot more, much as I did.

Let me leave you with this powerful quote from the film that struck me as out-of-place in the moment, but definitive in the film’s aftermath:

You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, this world that you have created will also cease to exist. But for those with the understanding that they’re living the last days of the world, death acquires a different meaning. The extinction of all reality is a concept no resignation can encompass. And then, all the grand designs and all the grand plans will be finally exposed and revealed for what they are.”   

THE COUNSELLOR

Sin City

Year: 2005
Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez (and Quentin Tarantino)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Josh Hartnett, Benicio del Toro, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Nick Stahl, Clive Owen
 
Written by Wan Tyszkiewicz

The UK release of ‘Sin City’ caused quite a stir in 2005. Visually and stylistically ground-breaking, ‘Sin City’ brought Frank Miller’s work to life, making it jump off the screen and grab the audience by the throat. Incredibly violent and utterly unforgiving, ‘Sin City’ was true to the original comics and also to the hard-boiled, pulp-fiction genre, popularised in the 1950s. Classified as neo-noir, it is utterly impossible to identify the film’s temporal setting, due to the use of cars from the 1930s and 1950s, a modern Ferrari and costumes that straddle half a century at least.

The brilliance of this film relies on Frank Miller’s original work and his co-direction with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. A quick catch up in case you missed it: Frank Miller is an American writer and artist – responsible for many well-known comics and graphic novel characters – and a published author. His portfolio includes ‘Ronin’, ‘Daredevil’, ‘Batman’, ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘300’, and he also invented, penned and inked the character Elektra. Miller’s style sticks to conventional comic book standards but other influences can be seen; for instance manga in ‘Ronin’ and film-noir in ‘Sin City’. He has also written film scripts for ‘RoboCop 2’ and ‘RoboCop 3’, however, ‘Sin City’ was his directorial debut. Robert Rodriguez – the American screenwriter, director and multi-talented producer (editor, writer, cinematographer – the list is long) – has a close collaboration with all-round film wizard and alchemist Quentin Tarantino (no explanation necessary).

‘Sin City’ is a series of inter-woven, multi-dimensional storylines from four, separate, original comic books: ‘The Customer is Always Right’, ‘That Yellow Bastard’, ‘The Hard Goodbye’ and ‘The Big Fat Kill’.

The brief, opening scene features The Salesman (Josh Hartnett) and the customer (Marley Shelton) finalising a most unusual transaction – he has been paid by the customer to end her life. The second story focuses on police officer John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who is running out of time to save eleven-year-old Nancy from serial child-killer Roark Junior, the son of wealthy Senator Roak. What transpires is a web of deceit and corruption that runs through the police force to the top of the political sphere. ‘The Hard Goodbye’ features Marv (Mickey Rourke), a craggy vigilante seeking to avenge the murder of his love Goldie (Jaime King) murdered in his bed following a one night stand. His search for the killer takes him to Old Town, the seedier side of Basin City, in his search of the killer. ‘The Big Fat Kill’ introduces many more characters and plenty of violence and death, with twists and turns that finally bring us back to The Salesman Josh Hartnett, who is also the narrator throughout the film.

To say the plot is complex would be an understatement and it really doesn’t matter because this film is NOT about narrative – it’s all about style, with a monochrome palette and vivid splashes of colour. In this respect the film is very close to the actual comic books. It was also highly original in the use of high-definition, digital cameras to capture the material. This was early days for the technique and the footage was shot in full colour then converted to black and white, with the addition of colour contrast to highlight the blood, the costumes, grotesque make-up and other key elements.

The number of A-list stars in this production is extraordinary, often with small parts or a fleeting appearance. The estimated budget was $40 million, but returns at the worldwide box office to date have exceeded $158 million. Critically acclaimed for its innovative and original content, there were some negative responses aimed at the film’s unremitting violence and misogyny.

At the end of the day, ‘Sin City’ is a truly spectacular production with a formidable cast, and a textbook example of film-noir and everything that the genre adheres to – I loved it.

SIN CITY

The Game

Year: 1997
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn
Written by Chris Winterbottom

I adore the work of David Fincher. At least two films of his are wrestling with other classics to break into my top ten films of all time. To sit down and revisit the filmography of a director of this stature is a real pleasure and I have now seen all of Fincher’s work, save for the much maligned ‘Alien 3’. Although as a completist, it is on my “to watch” list. ‘The Game’ is one of Fincher’s earliest films and came off the back of the successful ‘Se7en’ – a film which is one of my aforementioned favourites. My expectations were high. Unfairly high, you could argue, although I would counter by saying there is nothing wrong with expecting greatness from a genius. It was to my bitter disappointment that ‘The Game’ suffered from a rather dull story and a twist that was so stupid, it made ‘The Happening’ look inspired.

The story centres on Michael Douglas’s character, Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy but lonely San Francisco banker. With his 48th birthday drawing closer, Nicholas is visited by his long-estranged brother Conrad (Sean Penn), who presents Nicholas with an unusual birthday gift. A curious Nicholas gives in to the perks of this present, but finds that bad things start to happen to him. The premise of the film did not make any sense to me at all to be honest, and this is where the film failed. In its opening few moments, Fincher failed to do what he usually does so well; grip the audience. In fact, I was lost within the first fifteen minutes and I did not recover.

Michael Douglas, a criminally underrated actor, does his best in injecting some tension, but ‘The Game’ was irrevocably lacklustre. The film follows the usual Fincher structure of a slow, methodical build up, but this is like a dripping tap and unlike Fincher’s more successful films, the water is tepid.

The cinematography, however, is beautiful – as is typical of any of Fincher’s work. His films always have a low-key, orange glow to their aesthetic, where the screen shimmers with vitality and ‘The Game’ is no different. The picture has a sepia tone to it, which adds a considerable amount of atmosphere and splendour to proceedings. But it is the story that lets the film down and no amount of cinematic splendour can save a poor script. There are some interesting camera movements and novel direction on display here, suggesting that this project was really built for Fincher to hone his craft before he went on to bigger and much, much better things.

The final act of the film left me so angry, I had to pause the DVD and leave my room. After nearly two hours of complete and utter boredom, enduring the convoluted build up and the efforts made to rack up some tension, the twist was revealed and rarely have I had my intelligence insulted so badly before. The worst aspect of this is not the stupidity of the final reveal – I have seen enough M. Night Shyamalan movies to become disillusioned with such a device – it is more the fact that it came from Fincher or that he believed this was a good idea.

I have to say that the film is not terrible. But it is far from excellent, and with a director as good as David Fincher helming the project, ‘The Game’ could, and should have been so much more.

THE GAME

The Silence Of The Lambs

Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster 
Written by Nick Deal

I will soon be undergoing a house move, which means there has been ample opportunity for me to have a root around in my DVD collection whilst packing stuff into various boxes. I saw the iconic DVD case for ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ and I thought a reunion with Hannibal Lecter was long overdue. It had been a few years since I’d seen the film and I had always remembered that the film creeped me out significantly when I had originally seen it. I thought that with age now on my side that a re-visit would leave me slightly less disturbed, but this harrowing and unsettling film left me with the same impression severals years on.

The film’s plot revolves around the tracking down of a serial killer who is named by the media as Buffalo Bill. Struggling for leads and ideas, the FBI turn to a group of imprisoned, deranged psychopaths to fill out questionnaires to try and get into the mind of a serial killer. Their main point of information, ex-psychiatrist turned cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) decides that he is going to be non-compliant in their investigation. As a last resort, the FBI turn to rookie agent, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to try and get information out of Lecter to help them locate the whereabouts of Buffalo Bill. Whereas the investigators think they are making ground with the help of Lecter’s information, he is simply stringing them along in his sickly game with the hope of securing his own escape from imprisonment.

There isn’t a lot to talk about in this film in terms of special effects or anything aesthetically pleasing or revolutionary. This films relies solely on its actors and performances to achieve the level of success with fans and critics alike that it so deserved, with both lead roles taking home Oscars. It’s success lives through the performances of three individuals in particular. Firstly, Anthony Hopkins as our flesh-eating psychopathic killer. As far as I am aware, he still holds the record for winning a Best Actor Oscar with the least amount of screen time; and what  a performance it is. He is cold and completely devoid of human characteristics; from his devilish appearance through to his monotonous and chilling voice. He has all the makings of a super villain. Not only is he powerful and callous, but he also has a brain – something that a lot of villains seem to lack in various films. Hopkins adopts the role so well that it becomes believable that we are face to face with a serial killer – I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing though?

Secondly, is the performance of the brilliant Jodie Foster as Agent Calrice Starling. She is a motivated woman, focused on her self-progression through the ranks of the FBI. She does however have a visibly soft and delicate side to her and of course this is something that Lecter sees and uses to his own advantage. Foster perfectly achieves the balance of extremely driven obsessiveness against fragility. She is the film’s hero, but that heroism comes at a significant personal cost. The third and final performance that is worthy of note is that of Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill. I think his performance gets forgotten about, purely because it is alongside Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter. Levine’s villain requires a different set of characteristics, but he delivers them with the same aptitude as Hopkins does. Whilst Lecter is in control of his actions, there appears to be a bit of a haphazard, impulsive nature to Buffalo Bill’s actions. As much as I appreciate and marvel at Hopkins’ performance (don’t get me wrong, he is incredible), I am still of the belief that Levine was and continues to be undeservingly ignored in his portrayal of the deranged serial killer. 

I’ve now watched this film a couple of times, and it still gives me the chills. The way that Lecter is portrayed, combined with his surroundings, make him one of film’s great villains (so great that they went on to make another three films and a TV series out of him). The claustrophobic and stark corridors of the maximum security mental institution perfectly support his cold and emotionless character. Brilliantly put together as a film, we think we witness certain things that are happening before our very eye, but it is not until they are later explained that we realise that what actually happened is something completely different. Not a film to put on with your other half for a quiet Friday night in, but a brilliant film that I urge you to make time in your busy schedules for. 

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

San Andreas

Year: 2015
Director: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Disaster movies are never as groundbreaking as the earthquakes and twisters they depict. It’s a sub-genre which allows for very little originality or plot depth, and for that reason, I wasn’t particularly eager to go and see ‘San Andreas’. I wasn’t totally against the idea either, until I started hearing bad things from other critics. However, I had a couple of hours to kill and that film just happened to have the most convenient screening time, so I decided to give it a go. I even went for the 3D option; I figured this film would need every possible enhancement to make it worth my while. But with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson at the head of the cast, I was expecting mediocrity at best.

Ray Gains (Dwayne Johnson) is a beast of a fire and rescue officer, with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Around him though, his family is in ruins, just like the East Coast of America! Coincidence? I think not. With his ex wife Emma (Carla Gugino) moving in with wealthy businessman Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), Ray fears his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) will start to drift away from him. Luckily for Ray, a sequence of devastating earthquakes tear their way along the San Andreas fault and gives him the perfect opportunity to take a sick day, borrow the company helicopter and try to bring his family back together.

The role of Ray Gains is perfect for tough guy Dwayne Johnson, who brings a charm and likeability to a character which could easily have been just another cliché. I certainly can’t see him winning any academy awards any time soon, unless we witness a Rock-aissance that is, but I doubt the ex wrestler will ever stray too far from the action man typecast which he clearly revels in. The wife of these kind of characters is always a rather non-descript support role, but Carla Gugino is more than capable of handling a few of the high impact scenes too. Their on-screen daughter, played by Alexandra Daddario, takes on more than her fair share of the action and carries herself with confidence throughout. She may come across as a little cheesy at times, but on the whole, an impressive display from the young actress.

It feels strange to say this out loud, but the standout aspect from the film was probably the plot, which was far from original but still had enough exciting and tense moments to keep me sufficiently interested. The CGI scenes are usually the ones which earn disaster movies some bragging rights, but I was somewhat disappointed with the special effects in ‘San Andreas’ to be honest. I appreciate the grandiosity of it all – I certainly couldn’t do better – but there is a distinct lack of authenticity in many of the scenes. The epic tidal wave scene is admittedly impressive though, and you get the mandatory destruction of the Hollywood sign of course, which is always a bonus.

The criticisms of ‘San Andreas’ that I’ve been reading are certainly not unfounded, but the film was nowhere near as bad as I expected and actually, I would say it is one of the better disaster movies I’ve seen. I definitely recommend getting to the cinema, feeding your curiosity and watching Mother Nature do her worst. Just the once though, never again. And I wouldn’t bother with the 3D glasses gig either, not worth it with the minimal amount of multi-dimensional action on offer.

SAN ANDREAS

Starred Up

Year: 2014
Director: David Mackenzie

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend
Written by Nick Deal

I will keep this review short and sweet, otherwise I could find myself writing a dissertation length piece on what is truly an incredible piece of British realist cinema. There is so much to love about ‘Starred Up’, and I shall do my best to concisely present my response to what has become one of my favourite films of all time. Yes, it is that good.

‘Starred Up’ follows Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) upon his transfer from juvenile prison to an adult offender’s institution. Eric is a “high risk”, volatile and hotheaded individual, who quickly learns that prison is not a game, finding himself embroiled in terrifying, life-threatening situations. His struggle is compounded by the presence of his father, Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn), an equally explosive and unpredictable character. This father-son duo forms the basis of the film’s narrative, with a dangerous tension existing between the two characters who enjoy the most unusual of love-hate relationships. There is a third influence in this decidedly confused and complicated relationship, in the form of social worker Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend), who heads a counselling group for inmates who wish to discuss their problems in a safe environment. Eric becomes a part of this group, who in turn become his family of sorts, with Baumer fulfilling the role of his father – a notion which doesn’t go down too well with his actual father. Neville’s childish nature, lack of self-control and inability to accept that his son might just be better off without him, is a recipe for disaster.

There are three performances of note, with all of the aforementioned roles brilliantly performed by their respective actors. Jack O’Connell continues his stunning rise to super-stardom with an impeccable display, and arguably his best to date. His accomplished portrayal of the troubled, socially inept and violent protagonist is hard to criticize. At times it is easy to lose yourself in the film, and forget that what you are watching is fiction and not a documentary; the journey O’Connell  depicts is full of very genuine fear, anger, hostility and desperation. The same can be said for Ben Mendelsohn and his portrayal of Neville Love. In a very different role to anything I have seen him take on before, Mendelsohn shines just as much as his on-screen son and the two of them form a deadly double act, albeit a dysfunctional collaboration. With Neville, we again feel every moment of his frustration and hopelessness, as he sees his son pulled away from him by Baumer – with Rupert Friend providing the third performance worthy of note. A “posh boy” with a troubled past, he is just as much of a sorry case as Neville or Eric, and Rupert Friend fulfils this role with absolute aplomb. All three of these lead actors are supported by good performances everywhere you look, and as an ensemble it is arguably one of the best group of performances I have seen, a factor that contributes to the realist nature of this film and makes it so impacting.

For this film to be successful, it was important that the film felt real, and as I have mentioned previously it does this remarkably well. The severe sense of claustrophobia creates an unsettling atmosphere and we are often thrust into the centre of the action alongside Eric. I cannot praise highly enough how powerful and intense this film is. It’s certainly not pleasant to watch, but it does make you want to relive the drama all over again as soon as the credits begin to roll. This is a film which perfectly balances violence and brutality with a heartfelt narrative and character interaction. ‘Starred Up’ is another fantastic film for Jack O’Connell to add to his portfolio, and if he carries on producing performances of this manner, it wont be long before we have a heavyweight, Hollywood name to call our own. Huge congratulations to all involved.

Nick’s rating: 9.3 out of 10