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Film Review: Arrival

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Arrival, 2016
dir. Dennis Villeneuve
★★★★★

[why, yes, I still do film reviews — real life gets in the way of running a blog though so apologies for that]

One of the best and brightest directors working right now is back with this incredible science fiction film that is, for once, pure science fiction, without any faff. Arrival is the story of Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she is recruited by the U.S. Military to help translate the language of a mysterious alien species that land on Earth out of nowhere and make no obvious contact. We don’t know their motivations and we only meet them through their interactions with Banks and the military. The film also follows her own personal story, which is as intriguing as it is fascinating, especially towards the end, and I of course will not spoil you because this is the first time in a while that a twist has come out of nowhere for me.

It’s a beautiful film, masterfully shot. A very pale colour palette that gave the film a calm, serene atmosphere, and the sets, especially inside the alien ship, are really great. There isn’t much diversity in the locations, but it never feels boring. The world is very much grounded in its own reality, and I found the lack of pointless exposition refreshing.

The stand-out in the film though is Amy Adams. Here more than anything, she has cemented herself as probably the best actor working at the moment. Her range is incredible, and she conveys a realism that is believable without feeling forced. If she doesn’t win all the awards for this, the film industry will have failed her. (Never mind that her performance in Nocturnal Animals was also absolutely stunning.)

There’s something really beautiful about the purity of science unencumbered by pointless violence that I really enjoyed in this film as well. It is ultimately a story of unity rather than difference, and it could not have arrived at a better time.

I can go on and on about all the things I love in this film, but you’re better off going to watch it. At 116 minutes long, it goes by super fast and it leaves you with important questions to think about.

 

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Halloween Spooktacular: Day Twenty-Four

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978
dir. Philip Kaufman

Yet another classic horror film it took me far too long to finally watch, but I did it! At last! [thunderous applause]

You can clearly see why this is a classic — it’s a fantastic film, from the really cool practical effects, right down to the schlocky plot (which I love.) Also, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy are in it, what’s not to love. (RIP Leonard Nimoy.)

The copy I watched was the Arrow Video blu-ray, which is a really wonderful transfer from the 35mm print, and the film looks flawless, really sharp and bright, which honestly I think is something that is lacking in contemporary horror. Not everything needs to be dark all the time, and actually if you can bring terror to a world that looks normal as opposed to all dark and gritty, then it’s all the more effective. (See also: John Carpenter’s Halloween.)

And speaking of John Carpenter, I think this film would be a great double feature with They Live, as they are both about the loss of self to the working machine. People becoming cogs of the Capitalist clockwork. Well, that’s my interpretation of it as well.

They are also similar in terms of bleak ending. We think our heroes will save the world, will restore the balance to the natural order, but in fact their efforts are fruitless and we are left without hope, with the knowledge that you can’t stop the workings of evil, from the inside or out. Evil is inevitable. (I guess that’s what Joss Whedon was trying to get at with The Cabin in the Woods, but it would have been more effective if the film took itself more seriously and there were fewer quips and wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments.)

Anyway, really loved this, and I would highly recommend getting the same copy I did if you can because it’s really worth it.

Halloween Spooktacular: Days 21-22-23

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[Hello! Sorry I haven’t updated the past couple of days, but I’ve been suuuper busy and only got around to watching the films today. I have seen them, however, and I’ll review them all in one post right here. One of the reasons why I was busy was that I went to see JOHN CARPENTER live with his band playing music from his films and his albums — it was AMAZING! This week I’ll watch some JC films, so stay tuned. And you can check out the photos and videos I took from the gig on my twitter @thefilmology]

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Audition, 1999
dir. Takashi Miike

I was recommended this film by a friend, and then I learned that it was a Takashi Miike film, which made me really happy because I’ve seen The Happiness of the Katakuris and it was such a fantastically weird film that I really didn’t know what to expect with this. Anyway. I watched it, and really quite enjoyed it.

The film had some weird elements, like some of the “dream” sequences set ups were odd and there was a certain surrealism to them that I really liked, but overall it was pretty straight, and by the end there it got genuinely creepy. Not particularly scary, though — I think the torture scene would’ve needed to either be longer or more explicit for me in particular to feel scared or tense during it. But it looked amazing, the effects were fantastic and super realistic-looking.

Another great addition to my growing collection of East Asian cinema!

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The Haunting, 1963
dir. Robert Wise

This is like The Innocents with lesbians, no?

Joking aside, fantastic film! I can see why this is Martin Scorsese’s favourite horror film, in a cinematic standpoint, this is absolutely marvellous. (Plot-wise, it’s pretty silly.)

The monochrome is quite eerie, and it gives the film a similar feeling to The Innocents and Psycho. And the camera work is really interesting, how it pans and shakes, the fluid movements of the camera, which are not really common in films from that time, so that was particularly interesting to see.

Even though the plot itself (guy gets some random people to join him in a haunted house to check if the house is really haunted) is a bit on the iffy side, reading through the Trivia of the film I learned that the writer wanted to go on a somewhat different direction, having all the events of the film being part of the lead character’s imagination in a psychiatric institution. Now, with that in mind, the film becomes far more interesting. The doctor who seems aloof but caring; the teasing nurse who likes to rile her up; the custodian who is scary-looking; the maid who keeps to strict schedules — all of those characters would fit really well in a hospital, and if the events of the film were not real but rather a figment of her imagination, all of the surreal sequences involving Eleanor would make much more sense, and generally the film would have a lot more depth to it. So I personally choose to believe that this is what it is, even though the ending negates that somewhat. Oh, well.

Really wonderful film, nonetheless, and I’m glad there’s another pre-1970s horror classic on this list.

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The Exorcist III, 1990
dir. William Peter Blatty

To be honest, all I knew about this was that Fabio was in it playing an angel, so I thought it would be hilarious. It turns out, Fabio’s cameo was like six seconds long, and it’s actually quite a scary movie!

The Exorcist is probably one of the few horror films I’ve seen more than once which still scare me. This film borrows a lot from it in terms of tone, but it’s also a detective story, kind of like The Exorcist meets Zodiac, if I’m honest. But that works in its favour, because even though it’s following the events of the first film, and there’s similar elements, because the actual set-up is much different, and there are so many more locations, it doesn’t feel like a rip off, but rather like a fluid continuation of the Georgetown story.

I really didn’t see the twist with Gemini/Patient X coming, and the exorcism scene at the end of the film was genuinely scary! As well as the catatonic old lady, Mrs Clelia, and her as a nurse going to the cop’s house.

In a surprising twist of fate, The Exorcist III happens to do exactly what a sequel is supposed to do, and succeed quite well at it. The only thing I’d change is I’d get Martin Sheen to play the detective guy. George C. Scott is good, but I kept imagining how Martin Sheen would have delivered the lines, and it would’ve been so good!! Oh, well. Too late now. About twenty-six years too late, ha-ha.

Halloween Spooktacular: Day Twenty

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Thirst, 2009
dir. Chan-wook Park

Can we just settle right now that Chan-wook Park is pretty much one of the most interesting filmmakers of the past few decades? Are we good for that? Yeah? Okay.

As per usual, this is a really beautiful film, it looks phenomenal, sharp contrast, lit like a dream, really interesting mise-en-scene. It’s really funny as well, which was delightfully unexpected. It looked more like a proper horror film at first, but it ended up kind of a dramedy featuring lots of blood and gore.

I don’t really know what else to say about this. I personally would’ve enjoyed it a lot more it’d been a little shorter. A hundred and thirty minutes is too much for this kind of film, but I didn’t mind it as much I thought I would. Overall, an excellent film that I’m looking forward to including in horror watches in the future.

Film Review: “A Bigger Splash”

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A Bigger Splash, 2015
dir. Luca Guadagnino

★★★

Well, that happened. A Bigger Splash follows power couple Marianne (Tilda Swinton), who is a rock star recovering from throat surgery, and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a documentarian, in their Italian holiday as they are interrupted by the past in the form of Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a record producer and an old friend of the couple’s, as well as his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who is yet another aloof yet sexy teenager who, and I quote, “falls in love with pretty things.” Barf.

There isn’t much of a plot to it, it’s mostly trying to understand these characters, what they want from each other, and how they behave in different combinations. We get a few flashbacks that add very little meaning to the overall story, and we spend far too much time on Penelope who is probably the most annoying character I’ve encountered this year in a film. She’s just too cool, she reads by the pool with vintage sunglasses on, wears loose combat boots with high-waisted short shorts and a see-through vest, she doesn’t brush her hair, and she smokes. She’s just the coolest girl in the whole world, and the final moment of humanity they give her in her last scene does not redeem her utter lack of any character whatsoever.

Marianne, Paul, and Harry’s interactions are interesting enough, also thrumming with a sort of tension that I think would have been more gripping without the presence of the daughter, which makes the whole situation look too much like Swimming Pool, only more bland. Their acting is wonderful, though. Swinton and Fiennes are masterful as always, and have wonderful chemistry onscreen, while Schoenaerts is kind of a revelation because it’s very different from the roles I’ve seen him in lately, and his American accent is pretty decent.

What the film does really well is present naked bodies very matter-of-factly, while almost fetishising certain aspects of it with the clothes on — the men’s chests as they get out of the pool, Marianne’s legs on the table. It’s both demure and decadent, and the warmth of the saturated images really adds to the sensuality of it.

The camera work is very neat as well. It’s very playfully directed, and whips about sometimes, while panning others and closing up on unimportant things. The images in this film feel very fresh and beautiful, accompanied by a wonderful score and a great soundtrack. I only wish we’d heard more of Marianne’s music, because it sounds an awful lot like Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era stuff, which is of course wonderful.

Overall, I liked it well-enough, but some things really fell flat for me and it did not meet my expectations for this much-talked about film.

review by Mariana Duarte

 

 

Film Review: “The Hateful Eight” on 70mm

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The Hateful Eight, 2016

dir. Quentin Tarantino
film: ★★★★
70mm experience: ★★★★★

Regardless of what one thinks of him as a person or of his choices of subject matter, it can’t be denied that Quentin Tarantino is a skilful filmmaker, and he proves this yet again in his eighth film, The Hateful Eight. In this, he is still in the past, now in post-Civil War Wyoming as his untrustworthy characters eye each other in a cabin in the middle of a blizzard trying to figure out who will kill whom. It’s your average Tarantino script — funny quips, gripping dialogue, everyone is shady in one way or another, and you should not align your sympathies with anyone whatsoever because they will most likely either kill or be killed.

What makes The Hateful Eight extraordinary alongside Tarantino’s earlier work is the sheer audacity of it. Set in primarily one location — the cabin — and all the exterior shots taking place in the snow, this had every chance to be a boring-looking film, and perhaps it would have been in the hands of someone less skilled at making every shot count. Tarantino somehow makes every shot looks effortless, regardless of how intricate and choreographed it is — I’m thinking here of the scene of Daisy picking up the guitar and playing it while two other men return from the blizzard.

And adding to that one-maybe-two-locations pile, he decided to shoot the film in 70mm film. Tarantino is well-known for his preference of film over digital, talking endlessly in interviews about the magic of film, which is a series of still images moving in front of our eyes making us see the whole film. I understand that, and though I have nothing against digital — people can do great things with it, after all — watching this film in 70mm really made me appreciate the texture and realness of film prints.

From the very beginning of the experience — the overture, the old school Weinstein Company logo — you are completely immersed in the film, and it hasn’t even started yet. Then it begins and it opens from a close up to a wide shot of the snowy mountains, and the grain of the film can be seen, almost like a texture over the image. Before your eyes get used to it, you can sort of see the trembling of the picture as the reel unrolls, and it really feels magical because the film seems to real all of a sudden. You are actually in the room with the film.

Other than that — utterly subject lovesick perceptions — the film itself looks fantastic. I have not seen The Hateful Eight in digital, so I can’t compare, but this version is incredibly sharp. The colours are vibrant, and the sound is glorious. The beautiful score by Ennio Morricone resonates deep in your bones. (Fun fact: Ennio Morricone wrote the music for The Thing, another film featuring Kurt Russell stuck in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard while a bunch of other guys are trying to kill him.)

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was so so worth it to see it in 70mm because it looks beautiful and it sounds beautiful. I don’t know where the roadshow is going or if it’s going to go anywhere after here — I saw it at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, fantastic projectionists! — but hopefully it will, and if you’ve read this, and haven’t seen it in 700 but still has the chance to, please go. It will definitely be worth it.

 

Film Review: “Room”

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Room, 2015

dir. Lenny Abrahamson
★★★★★

Started off the year with a bang, I think. This was my first cinema trip this year, since the film opened on Friday here in the UK, and I’m really glad I went because it’s a beautiful, beautiful film.

In case you don’t know, Room tells the story of Joy (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) as they live trapped in a shed where Joy is kept as a sex slave by a man they call Old Nick. Jack is his son, but Joy raises him with her in the shed, and she doesn’t let Old Nick see or touch him. I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone, so let’s just leave it at that. Ultimately, it’s a story about hope and lack thereof, solitude, and struggling with depression, and we mostly experience it through the eyes of Jack as he observes the world around him.

It’s an absolutely wonderful film. The world they live in, their little room, feels so real. They really created a space that looks lived-in, and the way they play around with how Joy and Jack use the room is ingenious. The look of the whole film is very realistic. They are not wearing make-up, they look sweaty, and Joy has spots on her face and hair under her arms, and in order to give him nutrients she breastfeeds him even though he’s five years old, which is great.

The best part of Room though is the relationship between Joy and Jack. It feels incredibly real, it’s not overly sappy, and they get angry at each other often, but they also make up just as frequently, and the way she holds him is very motherly. Brie Larson does a brilliant job in this. She looks gentle and frustrated, and the way she portrays her character’s depression is painfully realistic. I think this role more than any other (though she has had some fantastic roles in the past) really shows how brilliant an actress she is. She comes off as natural and mature, which is a wonder to watch. Alongside her, Jacob Tremblay also gives a fantastic performance. He is one of the best child actors I have ever seen, and his portrayal is real and sweet, especially from the second half onwards. He plays off Larson really well, and they have great chemistry onscreen.

Overall, I think this is already one of my favourite films of the year. It’s a simple story that will touch your heart but it is not pandering or tearjerking sap. I would 100% recommend this to anyone.