Month: April 2013

Trance (2013)

After becoming the Nation’s favourite after directing the Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle returns to the big screen with British psychological thriller, Trance. James McAvoy plays Simon, a fine art auctioneer who falls into the hands of French gangster, Franck (Vincent Cassel). Helping Franck steal a piece of fine art, Simon ends up cracking his head open and forgetting where he left the painting. Silly Billy. To help spur his memory on, Franck books Simon a session with hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson).

What follows for the next 100 minutes, is a film that frustrates and fascinates in equal measure. There’s a real feel of Boyle’s earlier work at the beginning. An opening narration by McAvoy brings back fond memories of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, whilst Boyle’s direction reminds us of the kinetic energy of Slumdog Millionaire.

The performances are all perfectly fine, with McAvoy playing Simon as man who is clearly in over his head; scared, alone and just really wanting to have a lie down. Dawson mixes up the sultry with the professional in a manner that makes us wish she had Catherine Zeta Jones part in Side Effects. Cassell is dependable as the most patient, angry gangster in the world.

And that last line hints at one of the issues we have with Trance. The script by Joe Ahearne (This Life and Ultraviolet) and John Hodge (Shallow Grave and The Final Curtain, to name but two) asks the audience to make leaps of logic in the run up to the dénouement. Returning to our original example, would a criminal, who has already been shown to be quite violent, really stay this calm for this long? Surely McAvoy would be wearing his testicles as earrings by now!

When the ending does arrive, you will either punch the air or a cat. It asks an awful lot of you, and whilst we were willing to suspend our disbelief for Side Effects, it took a hell of a lot more than a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down.

Trance does not have the strongest story and it’s as sexual as an episode of the Red Show Diaries, but Danny Boyle’s direction ensures that you won’t question any of this until you leave the cinema. What you make of it then is up to you.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Robert Downey Jnr is back as everyone’s favourite playboy millionaire who fights crime and isn’t Batman: Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. In the next installment of the hugely, ridiculously popular Marvel Movies franchise, Stark becomes entangled in the machinations of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a Bin Laden-esque terrorist with a rather tenacious desire to see America burn. Meanwhile, in comes Aldrich Krillian, a rival businessman in the shape of Guy Pearce, who wants to get into Stark Industries from the top floor and holds some deep feelings for Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

It’s been all change behind the scenes in the Iron Man franchise, Shane Black takes over the reins from Jon Favreau, who directed the first two movies and remains on the Iron Man train as an executive producer and series regular Happy Hogan.  For Black, Iron Man 3 is a follow up to the meta-noir that was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black’s debut was a giant arched eyebrow in the world of buddy cop movies. Black goes out of his way to question people’s expectations of the genre, with cheeky asides, self-referential material and Abraham Lincoln visiting Robert Downey Jnr in hospital.

And it’s this impishness that Black brings to the franchise. References are made to the tropes of superhero movies, the reality of gun fights are questioned, henchman almost acknowledge they’re giving exposition and wide-eyed children play it all ‘aw shucks mister’ to deaf ears. Out loud it sounds like a nightmare, but trust us, it works. After the somewhat po-faced nature of Iron Man 2, it’s good to seem some fun return to the proceedings.

As is becoming the norm for the incestuous nature of the Marvel films, references are made to The Avengers, or Avengers Assemble if your country was unlucky. Tony is suffering anxiety attacks from the big smack down in New York. Worried about another potential invasion, he stays awake for 72 hour periods at a time, incessantly rebuilding his suit. We’re not saying Stark has gone all Dark Knight Rises on us, but it’s good to see Downey Jnr being given something more to play with than just the preening, sex wizard he normally plays.

When it was announced the very much Chinese Mandarin was to be played by the very much not Chinese Ben Kingsley, a number of people were quick to point out that this was to deliberately appeal to the Chinese market. Whatever the reasons, Kingsley is superb as the Colonel Kurtz-esque leader of the Ten Rings. His performance is very much a theatrical one as Kingsley parades around his lair, sending out frequent live transmissions to the peoples of America. Whether he’ll work for everyone is debatable, coming out of the theatre we could tell that he was going to divide the fanboy community.

And even Gwyneth Paltrow gets to do a bit of ass-kicking this time round.

It’s not an action film without shit blowing up and Black delivers on that front too. Things and people go bang, kersplat, pew pew on a fairly regular basis which makes a nice change from the drawn out and serious conversations that came with Iron Man 2. An attack on Stark’s home stands out as one of our favourites.

Marvel has proven once again that you don’t have to be hunched shouldered, gravelly voiced and missing your mum and dad to be a superhero film. Iron Man 3 is superbly cast, well-directed and is already in the running for one of our favourite movies this year.

Interview: Scream and Scream Again

Halloween has come a little early to Melbourne, Australia, with a season of horror films being shown at the Australian Centre for The Moving Image. Having started in April with Amityville 2: The Possession, Scream and Scream Again, hosted by Fangoria and Cinemaniacs will be showing various horror film sequels, finishing in December with Damian: Omen 2. We spoke to Lee Gambin who is running to event to get some more info about the films, his favourite sequel and how he got it running.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Yep! I’ve been writing forever really. I am a screenwriter, playwright, essayist and author. My new book Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film is out now and doing well! I am a writer for Fangoria magazine and that is just a wonderful thing because it has not only been a life dream to be a key contributor to one of my all time favorite rags, but it has opened loads of doors and gotten me in contact with so many amazing people I grew up loving.

Take us through the genesis of Cinemaniacs. What made you want to start this? Why choose crowd funding?

Cinemaniacs, named by Lisa who is one of the group, started really a few years back. Well the seed was born a few years back. Me and my friend Ki Wone wanted to start-up movie screenings that were different to other kinds of movie screenings where we would use contacts and people who were directly involved in the making of these films to contribute. Ki is a big horror fan like me, in fact she cowrote my retrospective on The Howling for Fangoria a few years back. She and I gathered a group of people and we decided to get it happening.

Why choose crowd funding to raise the needed cash?

Crowd funding was something we thought would be a great idea to just cement our hiring fees etc. We are very thankful to all these beautiful horror movie lovers and movie lovers in general in Melbourne who have donated.

Why choose sequels for the festival?

It came as a default really. We had it planned that Mark Patton the star of Nightmare on Elm St 2 was gonna be in attendance, but he didn’t end up coming, not his fault at all. Even thought he wasn’t there (we had an in-depth Q&A with him planned and everything) people still came along to the screening! That was amazing and very cool! So after chatting with the group, we thought, hey let’s do a year-long of horror sequels! Just to continue the theme. Plus it let me indulge my obsession with Amityville II: The Possession.

For more information about Scream and Scream Again, checkout the ACMI site here and Cinemaniacs Facebook page here. Lee’s brilliant book Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film is available from Amazon and Minotaur.

The Evil Dead (2013) Will it swallow your soul?

There are certain films that horror fanboys, (and girls) would have you believe should never be remade. They should exist forever in their original state, a testament to their genius. The Exorcist, The Shining, Suspiria, Videodrome and Don’t Look Now to name but a few. The Evil Dead definitely fits into this category. Its fans are some of the most hardcore that I know, their love of this cheap as chips video nasty runs deep, I know because I am one.

I went expecting another poorly conceived and executed rehash. I left pleasantly surprised at what someone can do when they truly love the original.

Director Fede Alvarez is obviously a fan of the original films. Their fingerprints are all over this well executed remake. He has approached this with the right attitude and tries to deliver all of the elements you would expect from the original films but brought to you in a way that twists it so as not to deliver a shot for shot remake, (Gus Van Sant’s Psycho anyone?). The Oldsmobile is there, the swing is there, the close up clock shots are there but only as references and not as a part of the story. At times this feels as though he might have been co-erced by Raimi, Campbell and Tapert, (all on board as producers) to include some of these familiar items so as not to alienate the old fans. Personally I thought it was a nice touch.

With this new Evil Dead they have tried to introduce a more cohesive plot, instead of a group of demon fodder twenty somethings just going up to a cabin in the woods for no obvious reason this time we are introduced to the gang as holding an intervention for their drug addicted friend, Mia (Jane Levy). Her older brother David is there with childhood friends Eric (the nerd), Olivia (the nurse), and Natalie (the blonde). This makes for some interesting ideas on withdrawal. Are the things Mia is experiencing just part of her going cold turkey? This isn’t explored for long as the shit starts to hit the fan in glorious bloody and gory style.

When the splatter starts it’s actually a welcome relief. One of the negatives of the film is the first 25-30 minutes. There is a completely erroneous opening scene that is in no way relevant to the rest of the film. I have no idea why it wasn’t cut.

Also in trying to introduce the characters to us our leads all have to act. They seem to struggle a little with this, emoting is not their strong suit.

But one possession later (this will make most women in the audience cross their legs), we have our first Deadite and the film takes off and takes off in a tidal wave of effluvia.

While you could argue that most of what happens next has been done before I would argue back that it has been a long time since I’ve seen it done so well. The fact that Alvarez has used virtually no CGI in this film is a real feather in his cap. The gore is brilliantly well done, he seems so proud of what his team has accomplished that the camera lingers on a few scenes to the point that you are almost begging him to stop. In particular are a shot involving a Stanley knife and a tongue and an electric bread knife and a possessed arm. From there we have rivers of blood and gore, he really has turned it up to eleven with the amount of the red stuff that we see. He keeps the shocks coming thick and fast and you barely have chance to catch your breath, (one scene in the bathroom had another of the Early Bird team pressed so far into his chair it nearly enveloped him). Characters fall, toolsheds are visited and redemption of sorts is found by fiery purification.

You need to go into this film and be prepared to switch off your critical brain and just enjoy it for what it is, an extravaganza of blood and guts and a very loving nod to a horror classic. On the whole I think it has succeeded in bringing a 32 year old franchise right into the modern-day. Where it goes from here I don’t know but if they keep Alvarez on board then I think they are on to a winner, he’s a real horror talent and one to watch.

If you like your horror creepy and subtle you may not get the most out of this, but if, like me, you like it loud, in your face and with tons of blood and sinew then this is the film for you.

Well worth the admission fee.

Spring Breakers (2012)

Spring Breakers is lurid, unpleasant and hollow, three adjectives that somehow become complimentary when thrown through Harmony Korine’s twisted-eye view of the vapid corruption of youth. If this is the writer of Kids bid for mainstream attention, the mainstream may have to watch through its fingers.

Candy, Faith, Brit and Cotty are desperate to make the pilgrimage down to the Florida Keys to join in the annual celebrations of thousands of like minded college students, as they drink, smoke and dance into oblivion in the hot and humid tip of America’s mainland. Finding themselves with barely enough money, they logically decide to rob the local Chicken Shack with sledgehammers and water pistols. However, after a few days of “spiritual” partying, they find themselves arrested and in prison. Then a mysterious local, calling himself Alien, bails them out and their downward spiral into the dark heart of America’s black market, economic structure begins. At this point Faith has had enough and leaves, the girls, bereft of their moral compass, find their descent complete and the endgame begins, in the form of a violent, slow motion, bikini clad shootout at a local drug-dealers opulent house.

The casting of sweet, television sensation Selena Gomez, some Disney princesses and Korine’s young bride as our four hedonism seekers works in much the same way as Verhoeven’s inspired decision to use plastic himbos and gleaming toothed soap stars to heighten the absurd fascism on display in Starship Troopers. It’s tempting to ask the question about whether these four actresses have already been corrupted by the almighty House of Mouse before Korine convinced them to do beer bongs, rob diners and fuck in swimming pools. Indeed, America’s current fallen angel, Britney Spears is referenced throughout, Alien sings “Everytime” on a baby grand by an outdoor pool as the girls request something sensitive from him. Her presence here is an effective and obvious metaphor, mirroring our four protagonists attempts at self-destruction.

James Franco deserves kudos (mad props?) simply for saying yes to the role of Alien, a corn-rowed, drug dealing rapper whose celebrations of excess for excesses sake are complimented and accelerated by the liquorice blunt permanently clenched between his gold plated teeth and the southern drawl of a snake-oiler. He gets his moment in the sun during a brilliantly, low level, capitalist, “look at all my shit” speech. He talks the girls through his “dark tanning oil”, his “shorts in every colour”, his “two types of Calvin Klein, wear ’em both at once, smell nice” and all his drugs, weapons and “Franklin’s”. It’s a speech highly reminiscent of Hudson’s “sharp sticks” speech in the director’s cut of Aliens. Franco pulls it off laconically, almost breaking character and sniggering at the bare-faced ridiculousness of what he is being paid to say. “Look at my blue Kool-Aid…” he smirks, loud and proud.

The pounding, distorted score by Cliff Martinez (Requiem for a Dream, Solaris) and Skrillex (assorted “club-bangers”, EBFS is reliably informed by a passing young person) screeches along, heightening each drugged out, party scene. The colour palette on display is turned up to about a million, Korine calls the effect “skittles” and he isn’t lying, even the font for the credits makes the eyeballs ache. There is an Enter the Void sense of nihilism to the ebb and drift of most scenes, so it’s no surprise that Korine chose Gaspar Noe’s DoP, Benoit Debie, to provide his visuals. An excellent, one take shot of a car crawling round a diner as we see the robbery taking place within through each window is particularly noteworthy. the other obvious visual reference points are MTV, particularly Jersey (or Geordie) Shore, shows that actively encourage their “real” people to behave like airhead hedonists, safe in the false knowledge that youth is immortal and infinite. However, like Icarus before them, when our girls get closer to danger (and therefore, reality) in the form of Alien and his feud with former friend, Archie (Gucci Mane, a rapper, Wikipedia this time), the film’s visual style changes once again, to that last bastion of cinema verite, internet pornography. Korine admits to having collected images from spring break porno sites, so the appearance of harsh lighting, grim faced men surrounding vulnerable women has a creepy frame of reference. The script is loose, almost Malick like, with lines repeated over and over and not lip synched for effect. Alien breathes “spring break” again and again in voiceover like a mantra for a religion only he is privy to.

In the end, Spring Breakers purposely drowns in its own vulgarity, with its endless shots of beer soaked breasts and glassy-eyed revellers, operating on autopilot, getting fucked up and fucking for the sake of it, or because everyone else is doing it. Korine has crafted a morally moribund piece, without the answers to the anachronisms on display. Whether it’s a good film or not is hard to say, it’s certainly grotesque and that may be the real point.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Ryan Gosling is stunt motorcycle driver Luke Glanton, whose job in a travelling circus makes him a fleeting presence in the lives of others. One such other, old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), reaches out to Glanton upon his return to Schenectady, New York to inform the wandering thrill seeker of his having fathered her one year old son, Jason. In an attempt to convince Romina that he can provide for their son, despite her having set up house with new love Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Glanton decides to put the speed and technicality he’s developed as part of his circus act to criminal use in a series of bank robberies.

So far, you’d be forgiven for believing from this description and the film’s own marketing that The Place Beyond The Pines is simply a retread of Gosling’s most iconic role to date – a blue collar version of 2011’s Drive perhapsBut Pines reaches far beyond its initial plot motivations to deliver a meditative, if often meandering, study on the relationships between fathers and sons. As Glanton gathers confidence – some would say misplaced cockiness – with each bank robbed, he puts himself on the map of the police, in particular Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop Avery Cross who has also recently fathered a boy. As the admittedly long running time unfolds, Pines casts its spotlight on how the families of both men have evolved beyond their first act actions, and becomes a nuanced observation on family dynamics more akin to director Derek Cianfrance’s previous effort, Blue Valentine.

 As in that film, Cianfrance puts his documentary making past to good use in allowing the camera to observe rather than dictate the action, and never is it more evident than in the film’s opening tracking shot that fully immerses the viewer into Glanton’s death-defying world of small town thrills, as well as the film’s one-take bank heists. In keeping with this, the performances of all involved are subdued and rightfully so, with no showboating scene stealing despite the wealth of familiar faces.

Pines does have its flaws, particularly under any close comparison with Cianfrance and Gosling’s original collaboration. The novel-like structure is perhaps too broad in its reach, and as such the characters don’t feel as fully fleshed as they could be, meaning the film’s attempts at emotional punches aren’t as immediately visceral as those in Blue Valentine. The film also precariously tip toes the line between down to earth realism and extraordinary situations, complete with cheesy dialogue designed for poster taglines, none more so than “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

So whilst the film’s attempts at epic scope may fall a little short, The Place Beyond The Pines succeeds at providing a lingering and insightful exploration into the effects of the sins of the fathers over the generations, proving that when it comes to cinematic dissection of familial relations, Derek Cianfrance is a reliable force.

The Bay (2012)

For every 50 get rich quick found footage films released, you will occasionally stumble across one that’s shows them how to do it properly. The Last Broadcast, Lake Mungo, V/H/S and now, The Bay.

More of an eco-horror than straight out scarefest, The Bay takes the form of an underground documentary trying to raise awareness about the deaths of several hundred people due a potential viral outbreak in a coastal town in America. Using cam footage, iPhones, CCTV footage and Skype converstaions, director Barry Levinson weaves a tapestry of conspiracy, shocks and human tragedy.

In the hands of others, this could easily have been an overblown exploitation flick – Fluid flying out of every orifice and maybe even the occasional bio-zombie. I mean, why the fuck not! That’s what the kids love, right?! However, despite the potential for puss, blood and gore, Levinson is restrained in his approach with short sharp shocks delivered sparingly and intelligently.

This is a horror for the grown ups. PG-13 need not apply.

GI Joe Retaliation (2013) No really, one of us actually went to see it.

Where do we begin with this turgid, lumbering and, most disappointingly, boring film. Well we’ll start there. Boring.

GI Joe Retaliation picks up exactly where the first one left off. We all remember how that ended, don’t we? Well some stuff happened in the first one with some people and things were blown up in slow motion. But it did these things with a sense of glee and self-awareness that a film based on a 4” high plastic soldier needs. The sequel however takes any sense of joy its predecessor had, straps a grenade to it, and boom. Gone.

We could outline the plot for you here but there really is no point. You’ve heard and seen it all before and executed much better.

Instead we want to talk about missed opportunities. These films could have been brilliantly silly and yet somehow we end up with a film, (based on a doll with a drawstring voice box and eyes that were moved via a back of the head slider, gizmo thingy) that is so weighed down by its own seriousness and importance that it cripples it. The only levity comes in the short time that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Channing Tatum spend on-screen together. They had the making of a passable buddy relationship. There’s even a pretty funny moment about the irony of one of these elite soldiers being terrible at Call of Duty. But then we lose the lofty skills of Tatum and are left with The Rock to carry the movie with some attractive people who looked confused. Even Mr. Johnson’s bulging biceps struggle under the weight of the task.

The fight scenes are clumsy, the action set pieces are all close up and shaky cam and useless, the script is beyond terrible and the “acting” appalling. We’re not sure what we expected from the director of Step Up 2 and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never but still, this?

Bruce Willis phones in yet another performance, (when did he stop smiling?) and salvages no credibility from this film.

We imagine that if you are 5 years old and a little on the slow side then you will love this film. If you are not, well then you will most certainly not enjoy it.

We considered doing a Spinal Tap, Shark Sandwich/Shit Sandwich review as we didn’t want to go over this film in our head again. We’re dumber for watching it. If you are thinking of watching this then please, for the love of Die Hard, don’t.

In honour of the late Roger Ebert we give this film 3 thumbs down.

Stitches (2012)

When Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle (Ross Noble) is killed entertaining a bunch of brats at a birthday party, he’s resurrected by a cult of demon worshipping clowns to exact his revenge on those same youths ten years later.

If you sighed at any point during that sentence, this is not a film for you.

Stitches is a glorious throw back to the 80s, when the local Cineplex and VHS machines were Freddy and Jason’s stomping grounds, followed by a bunch of clones and rip offs eager for a bit of that slasher coinage. Obviously, we mean this in a good way. Throwing caution to the wind, director Conor McMahon works well with a low-budget, providing some pitch black comedic deaths, whilst Noble bounces around gleefully speaking in one liners that would make Krueger blush.

There are some plot holes and leaps of logic that don’t exactly work and there’s a sense that the middle act was mixed up a little, but these are minor quibbles in a film that will exploit anybody’s coulrophobia (look it up).

The Croods (2013)

When a family of cavemen, The Croods, are uprooted from their cave by seismic activity, they become involved in the machinations of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the supposedly next stage of evolution who wants to climb to the highest point he can find, so he can ride the Sun to land in tomorrow before the apocalypse arrives.

The Croods feels like a human edition of the Ice Age movies, as our protagnists face off against the natural disaster we know will wipe them out at some point in history. Sounds depressing when we say it like that, doesn’t it? Well, thank heavens, we’re not making a kids film any time soon.

Whereas Ice Age was a victim of diminishing returns where jokes about the time period gave way to fucking pirates, The Croods tries to keep the humour about the charcters rather than any potential Flintstones – oh look the bird is a cement mixer – kind of shenanigans. When it does dip its toe into modern humour, it doesn’t feel too out of place.

Whereas most kids films promote the message that you should stay true to yourself and everything will be fine, The Croods bucks the trend with a heartwarming message of ideas are great, thinking is brilliant, always keep striving forward or you’ll just end up burning alive in lava. Again, we’ve made it sound more depressing than we meant to!

Overall, The Croods is a simple tale that isn’t going to threaten the likes of Pixar, but it provides solid laughs and maybe even the odd tear jerking scene. Good family fun.