Monday, 17 June 2019

Whodunit



In all honesty, I never thought I'd be dedicating a post to an Adam Sandler film. I cannot express the dislike I have for this actor. I hate all his films, except for Hotel Transylvania mostly because you can't see him, but there are some hideous inaccuracies in that film that have made me dislike it (for the millionth time, Frankenstein was the doctor NOT the monster, SORT IT OUT Hotel Transylvania). So, maybe I do just dislike all Sandler’s films then. I was subjected to ‘Big Daddy’ too many times in school. At the end of term, teachers would put on a film but the only films the damn school seemed to have was ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Notting Hill’ which is why I can’t sit through that film either. Moving on!

I hate Adam Sandler films and whenever I say this, I have people suggest either ‘Punch Drunk Love’ (which I’ve not seen) or one of his other terrible films. However, when I saw that there was a film called ‘Murder Mystery’ (not inventive but to the point) I obviously was going to watch it. Having Jennifer Aniston alongside Sandler softened the blow of potential disappointment. But it gets better. Not only were Aniston and Sandler playing the American couple invited along to a mysterious gathering but it was a gathering of British actors (well, 5 but still) playing a family and close friends of said family. In an American film, what’s more suspicious than a wealthy British family with secrets? As well as the Brits there are Icelandic, Japanese, Mexican and South African actors and to round out the cast, a French detective who is keen to pin the murders on the random American couple who showed up. This is exactly the sort of set up you want in an over the top murder mystery. As Mr and Mrs Spitz taking their honeymoon 15 years after getting married, Nick is the police officer having failed his detective exam many times but lying to his wife he passed, Audrey is a hairdresser and keen murder mystery reader, each bring their own ridiculous-ness to the plot. The Americans are the jokes, the suspects and leads of the story and play up to the stereotypes perfectly, as does everyone else in their role.

The plot is delightfully simple and actually funny throughout, taking it’s the que from all the murder mysteries (particularly Agatha Christie, because, of course!) before it. Outsider couple are invited to an exclusive weekend on a fancy yacht with a group of people who are all connected to the billionaire who hosts the party. A murder happens and everyone is a suspect, but the police believe it be the outsider couple SO they have to prove their innocence and find the killer, but as the holiday continues, the bodies pile up. 

The fact that Audrey really loves her murder mystery novels (who doesn’t?) and excitedly points out how certain things happen in those genre books and are mirrored in real life is exactly how I’d react. She solves clues just as well or as badly as Nick does. The pairing of a would be detective and murder mystery enthusiast is brilliant. In fact, I wouldn’t say no to a sequel. Murder mystery has that appeal.

I do love a hitman story and film noir and neo noir but murder mysteries will always be my favourite. It may be the set-up, the any characters with secrets to reveal or the puzzle to solve, whatever it is I always enjoy it. It’s just very surprising its on Netflix AND Sandler is in it, so if I can overlook him, anyone can. 



Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Smells Just Like...



At first glance, ‘Teen Spirit’ has the opportunity to glide under the radar, despite the star power and writer/director Max Minghella’s lineage. It isn’t a film that overtly demands to be seen or heard, very much like Elle Fanning’s character Violet. She likes to sing but doesn’t really have a plan beyond entering a competition. Despite this, the film is an underdog about a would-be underdog, it has a glow that would entice an audience to give it a chance realise how wonderfully understated it is.

Violet likes to sing, whether it’s in her room, on the farm where she lives with her mother, or in the fields. When a singing contest show comes to her home town on the Isle of Wight, she takes the opportunity to audition. But can she stay true to herself as she edges closer to fame and fortune?

The TV is littered with reality shows and talent contests that is overwhelming and quite dull when flicking through the channels BUT everyone watches some form of reality TV (mostly because you can’t escape it) so having the film been centred around a TV singing contest is both an odd choice but universally recognised. It’s a familiar setting and sets in motion Violet’s dream for fame and fortune. She wants to compete and wants to win BUT really, she just likes singing. She doesn’t go into any more detail, instead, she lets her voice and later her performance show how much she loves singing. The performance she gives, from the audition to the finale of the show, are inter cut with all the places she feels she can be truly free. Singing is her way to forget her home life, her work and a sense of loneliness, which is also something that is never really touched upon.

At the heart of the story, aside from Violet’s love of singing, is an unlikely friendship/father-daughter dynamic between Violet and Vlad, a Croatian Opera singer decades past his prime. He at first insists on being her manager after she asks him to pose as a guardian for the audition, but over time he becomes more than a coach/manager, he becomes the father figure that she didn’t she needed. At times it feels strained and odd to have this duo at the centre of the film, but Vlad serves as both a warning of where success can lead as well as the person who gives wise sage advice. Every star needs a mentor and Violet is no different.

Screened as the opening night film at the newly minted Fragments Film Festival in East London, it served as a diamond in the rough and kicks off the festival’s diverse programme, their answer to the big studio films. Having this festival at Genesis Cinema, a well-established indie cinema in the area and London as a whole is new and exciting. I hope that other indie cinemas take note and this idea of festivals catered to members catches on. On a personal note especially as I live the other side of London and the east is always a pain to get to!

‘Teen Spirit’ does feel like a first feature, with the familiar beats and characters BUT it also serves as taster of what Minghella will make next and seeing this film, I definitely can’t wait to see!


Monday, 10 June 2019

Three Parties, Two Best Friends, One Hell of a Night


Side note before we begin; there’s been a trend in my viewing lately, which I’m pleased to say, where I have been watching films made by women AND female led films and it is a trend I am trying to keep up.

Having seen the trailer for ‘Booksmart’ sometime last year and putting it on my watch list, I had no idea how important it would become. I laughed at the antics in the trailer, already loved the two leads and it had a simple enough premise, which meant enough room for characters to be the story. All pluses in my book. But a few months ago, my Instagram was pleasantly plagued with adverts for the film. This was when I realised, this film is something very special. Which is a strange time to come to this conclusion, I admit. It’s also strange to realise that we’ve really been missing a film that feminist and queer orientated in such a positive way. We have all been missing this in our film lives.

Straight A students and best friends Molly and Amy have dedicated their time at high school to working hard and sacrificing any sort of social life outside their duo. But on the day before Graduation, they decide that it’s time to let loose and t prove to their peers that they are also fun. But getting to the party that everyone is at proves to be no simple task, they of course are in for a wild night, with a few revelations and truths along the way.

Every aspect about ‘Booksmart’ subverts the stereotypical high school film, there are no eye roll moments of despair, every second is gold. Directed by Olivia Wilde and written by Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern and Katie Silberman, the film is most certainly from another gaze. Brilliantly scripted and constructed, the film and it’s various weird and wonderful characters are something new to watch. It’s clear that no one in the film is a stereotype and no one falls into the trap of high school film clich├ęs. These teens are smart and (some of them) know how to have a good time. There are elements to the film such as Amy, who is a lesbian, but this is just her and not the subject of the story, like it would be in other films. The film also does not revolve around Amy and Molly finding their crushes, this is just part of the whole night. Finding them is not the be all and end all of the film, unlike other films with teen boys at the centre of the story. Molly and Amy strive for greater things but more importantly, each other. Their friendship is the most important thing, even their differing goals, Amy the activist travelling to Africa and Molly the academic who wants to work in politics and law. You can easily believe the two friends, played by Kaitlyn Dever (Amy) and Beanie Feldstein (Molly), when they say they missed each other and they’re over the top compliments. The film’s story may be about going to a party but at its core, it’s about a friendship and the end of an era.

To say that ‘Booksmart’ is refreshing is an understatement. There may be many films about high school out there but there are precious few that really stand out. The film has been classed as a teen movie, a coming-of-age movie and even a female version of ‘Superbad’ (which it is not), the film is a comedy, an outright comedy that doesn’t step around anything, it hits hard and its actually laugh out loud funny. Having been in two different audiences for the film, it’s a universal hit. But more people need to see it for it to be a financial hit. The way female filmmakers are judged on one film and have a lot riding on a hit in order to continue making films is real. So, go support a film that deserves and needs more attention, you won’t be disappointed.   




This was part of 'Reclaim the Frame', an initiative started by Birds EyeView, exploring the female gaze as well as showcasing women in film.


Thursday, 6 June 2019

Sundance London: Animals


Few films have defined a moment, a period in one's life that appear on a wider scale. It is the 'smaller' films, the indies, that really capture how something is felt or is feeling and on a personal level, Sophie Hyde's adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s 'Animals' was that film for me.

Films about friends usually follow a pattern, whether it is to destruction or joy or even enlightenment, the stories usually go the same way. A group or duo are close knit, they mean the world to one another, but this can't go on forever, when someone wants to grow up or move one but are prevented because of their need or love for the friend(s). Sooner or later an outburst or argument cements a parting of the ways. The friends either never see each other again or they do, but only in passing. Such close friends who bring so much joy and happiness are usually the ones who lead you to your own undoing. For Laura and Tyler, it’s a familiar pattern but with so much more emotion, drink, drugs and blocked creativity.

Laura and Tyler are best friends living in Dublin, enjoying nights fuelled by alcohol, drugs and casual sex. Laura calls herself a writer but she's been saying she's writing a novel, for the last 10 years. Tyler is a barista by day and the instigator of all the women's wild nights out. But when Laura meets the soulful pianist Jim, everything seems to change in Tyler's eyes, especially when the couple announce they're getting married. Laura still thinks she can find a balance between her new life with Jim and her hedonistic ways with Tyler. Life changes no matter how big or small seem to be put this friendship to the test. 

The perfect pairing of Holliday Grainger’s Laura and the ever-brilliant Alia Shawkat’s Tyler was made in casting heaven. Each actress embodies their character and delves deep into their psyche that you feel even more immersed in their lives that just watching them on a screen. Every bit of grime and grit is explored, there are no beautification filters on the friendship between Laura and Tyler which makes it not only believable but, in some ways, hope that more films will show real friendships between characters like ‘Animals’ does. The pain and suffering of each character whether its with past/present trauma or with the struggle of everyday creativity, these issues are treated with care and not as side notes on a character’s background. 

Piecing together Laura and Tyler’s world is fascinating to watch. The design and decadence of the old fashioned looking flat looks like an ex- English lit student’s dream, full of book shelves, vintage-eques furniture and smaller touches like a drinks tray laden with martinis. The personality of the of the two friends are reflected in their home, the old Hollywood style for Tyler and the creativity blocked Laura.

Maybe it’s the age of the characters that it feels so relevant to myself or that it’s just about the acceptance that the party does have to end, but Hyde’s film really immerses you into the world of Laura and Tyler but not as an audience, but as a participant. 



Thursday, 30 May 2019

Watch List: April/May


The Missing Link
I love Laika Studios because their films are not just beautifully made, they are intricate and the details are amazing, but they're stories are heart warming as well breaking. They are afraid to end on a sad tone or realisation, they make realistic stories that children can enjoy and pick up on their messages, for everyone else, they get to enjoy the wonder. When explorer Sir Lionel Frost recieves a mysterious letter about a Sasquatch he comes face to face with the real deal who is actually a big fan of his work. The two go on a journey to the other side of the world so that Susan (that's the Sasquatch's name he gave himself) to meet his cousins, the yeti. But things don't always turn out how you imagine. 4/5

Eighth Grade
I think this is looking like my favourite film of the year (not seen Booksmart yet though). I wrote all about how much I loved this film and everything its about HERE.  5/5

Hellboy
My best mate made me watch this. Or rather, I was enjoying cocktails while we laughed/felt sick throughout the film. So much gore, so much pointless gore. When Merlin showed up in a cave, that's when I mentally checked out of the film. 1/5

Guardians
Superheroes, the Russian way. More info soon.

Avengers: Endgame
In all honesty, not quite the 'end of an era' film I thought it would be. I had no idea they were going to use time travel, or a rather a time heist to 'fix' everything. But they ended two character's stories well, Black Widow deserved much better, Thor is not done yet and how the hell are they are going to solve the time travel **** ups with Guardians of the Galaxy because their time line is all over the place?! More on this HERE 3/5

High Life
So much has been said about Claire Denis' science fiction slightly horror toned drama where Robert Pattinson looks after a baby, at least that's putting it lightly. Death row inmates are given the chance to serve science by journeying into space to extract energy from a black hole. Aboard this particular ship is Dr Dibs, who is obsessed with making babies. She collectes sperm from the willing male inmates and tries to impregnate the female inmates. There is also the terrifyingly shot 'fuck box' which the crew uses to masturbate, all except Monte, nicknamed, the monk. Existence on the ship shifts from sedative induced nights to bleak days, some of the crew finds solace in the ship's garden, others stare into the vast space around them. The mystery unfolds of how Monte comes to be the only crew member left, plus a baby to care for but the true myteries are left unanswered. Such as why were they sent there, what crimes brought them to the ship (only two inmates' backgrounds are revealed) and are there more ships apart from the one with stray dogs? It's a science fiction peice of art that you can dwell on for days. Horror, is other people and the feeling that you're not in control seeps into the cracks of the ship and story and never really leaves you, as well as that damn 'fuck box'. 4/5

Detective Pikachu
I was never really into Pokemon, I had a couple of the cards (which I found in the school car park) and the show never really caught my attention long enough for me to feel invested BUT the fact that Ryan Reynolds voice was coming out of an adorable Pikachu and actually was very funny, the trailer had me at 'that's very twisty'. As someone who knows nothing about the Pokemon world I felt invested in the characters, mostly because the pokemon are either cute or ridiculous (the duck who's head explodes - loved him) and the story of a missing father and conspiracy, even though it was predictable, I still enjoyed it. 3/5

Rocketman
Its about how Reg Dwight became Elton John, with music and musical numbers thrown in. My review is over on Vulturehound HERE. 4/5

Someone Great
Film about friends and growing up are usually a safe space where you can sit back and relate to the characters, enjoy the hijinx and think about your own life, at least thats some of the thoughts going through my head with this type of film. I love the main cast, they all have their issues going on, they have great chemistry and there are geniune funny moments BUT the fact they are all meant to be 'almost 30' was something that bothered me. Maybe because I'm almost 30 and do not have everything together. My own insecurites coming out here. I was saving this film for another day and maybe I watched it in the wrong head space, after I had recieved terrible and sad news or that something had ended the day before and I was just accepting it but, all these things aside, the film was ok but it was more about the end of a nine year relationship than about friends. 3/5

The Tribe
When a horrible corporate HR director fires 300 people, THEN gets caught cheating when he gets stuck inside a woman, only to be dragged out in front of the whole office and phone cameras, he loses his job, his wife and when he goes to meet with his biological mother, his memory too when he gets hit by a bus, Fidel is not having a great time. His mother takes him in, taking care of him even after she finds out who he is. She intriduces him to her dance class and as they say, that's that. Turns out he's a great dancer and makes an impression on the class as well as the teacher. Very funny at time, at others truely bizarre but the dancing is fun. 3/5


Sunday, 26 May 2019

Blind Spot Series: Alien


There was a time when I would never have seen a horror sci-fi because I would be too scared and worried how my imagination would run away after the credits roll BUT it was simply not a good enough reason to not watch a classic. Having seen the sequels (loved Aliens, not so much Aliens 3) it was time to watch the film that spawned an unlikely franchise, spin-offs, prequels and influences many film of the same genre. Having seen it, I really had nothing to fear... apart from a face hugger.

The premise of a small crew on an average mission in space working for a large corporation but then making a sudden detour when they receive a distress call from a near by planet, is now an opening that predicts something bad will happen. The already ominous tone of the film sets up characters but without stereotypes and without anticipation of what is their fates is, these days in film, rare. No one would have guessed that the last crew members standing would be the two women and the only black guy on board. BUT that’s not even the best part, its only after that you actually think about it that its unusual, while in the film, all you can think about it, oh my gad I hope they make it.

The evolution of Ripley as the unlikely heroine and survivor of the infamous ship, Nostromo, is that she never stands out as the leader, she’s the crew member who makes sense and wants to do things by the book. She clashes with the science officer, suspecting his creepy alternative motives early on. But she only achieves the title that so many bestow on her, ‘strong female character’, by the end of the film and technically into the next film. In ‘Alien’ she is the sole survivor and for me, that’s who she really is, just happens to be female. Casting the then unknown Weaver in the role was a bold move and one that really paid off. If the film, the story, setting and characters can absorb you into the film, it doesn’t matter who is playing them, that’s what I take away from Ridley Scott’s masterpiece.





The fact that science fiction and horror can easily go hand in hand means that more film exploring both these genres can cross over but these days so few have the same quality and patience of ‘Alien’. With such a simple title, straightforward forward plot and close quarters setting means the characters are the ones the audience is left with to engage with. The real horror in the story is obviously the alien but more deeply, fear of the unknown.

The tag line ‘In Space no on can hear you scream’ evoked terror and intrigue, something resonates throughout the film as well. The film lived up to this promise and I’m glad I finally watched the film and not just the infamous chest bursting scene, which was awful to watch by the way.


To find out how it all started, head over to The Matinee and to see what's happening now, check out Returning Videotapes who is the new host of the Blind Spot Series. 

Friday, 24 May 2019

"Jesus Loved Winners"

 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of so many films that were released at the end of the 90s. I was hoping to get to a few others BUT there is one that really deserves to be front and centre.

'Drop Dead Gorgeous' was one of the first 'grown up' VHS tapes I remember my sister and I owning, or at least, my Nana kept at her house for us to watch when we stayed round. It was a bright pink box, so inviting and sparkling next to all the dull grey boxes. Just something I remember. I only bought it on DVD (cardboard box would you believe) a few years back when I realised I didn't own it. It's really odd that the film hasn't been released on blu-ray yet. A 20th anniversary would be a prime opportunity. I hope the distributors can hear me!

For anyone who loves this film as much as me, you know how damn quotable the film is and just how brilliant the characters of Mount Rose are.

I've written a piece about the film that will hopefully be in the next Vulturehound issue but I also couldn't resist making a zine to mark the anniversary. I won't be putting up a more detailed version until after the VH issue is out. I have ordered a print version just to see what it looks like, but for now here's a sneak peak: