Month: August 2015

The Nightmare (2015)

One part horror film to two parts documentary, The Nightmare is the sophomore effort of filmmaker Rodney Ascher. Looking at the subject of sleep paralysis, he interviews several sufferers from the US and UK. Each of them has a tale to tale that interestingly contain similar elements including shadow men, tingling experiences and other hallucinations.

Not content to merely have them recollect their experiences, Ascher performs reconstructions of these events to provide a shared experience for the audience. And this is where The Nightmare lets itself down. Have you ever had to explain a nightmare to a loved one? You try and capture the fear and anxiety you felt. Whilst your friends will nod and tut in an emphatic fashion, you’re never sure they truly understand. That’s what it’s like watching The Nightmare.

We can sit there and go ‘oh I see’ and ‘that’s a shame’, but it means naught. We are no better to understanding these people and what they’re going through. The reconstructions themselves are, unfortunately, rather cheap and so moments of tension sometimes end up being unintentionally amusing.

As a result, The Nightmare is an interesting premise let down considerably by its execution.

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The Great Gatsby (2013)

Bonds salesman by day/writer by night, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to the village of West Egg in Long Island to take a big bite out of the Big Apple, and potentially realise his dreams. Only ever drunk twice, Carraway is a wide-eyed innocent in a manner usually reserved for puppies in windows.

His second cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay in East Egg and it’s there that he joins her for polite meals and woolly conversations. Daisy is married to Thomas Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a broad stroke of old money and compacted arrogance who is also rogering the wife of a poor mechanic. Whilst Tom’s infidelities are well known by Daisy, she fails to react. Instead choosing to hide behind the carefree visage of a flapper.

Everything in Caraway’s life, however, is peachy, if a little dry and uninspiring. Soon, Carraway quickly becomes enamoured with the idea of his Nuevo riche neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonard DiCaprio). An enigma to seemingly all, Carraway watches the glow of Gatsby’s all night parties from his porch until one day he is finally invited to attend one. In doing so, Carraway becomes embroiled in events that will pierce right to centre of his own life, as well as Daisy’s.

And that’s the best place to leave it for fear of ruining some of the joy of discovery.

The Great Gatsby, as a novel, is synonymous with being a slight but powerfully poetic tale that nearly no one can find fault with. So it’s understandable that some balked at the idea of Luhrmann touching it. This is the man who, in previous movies, placed a gun in Romeo’s hand and conducted a gang of elderly horny men to sing a chorus of Smells like to Teen Spirit. He likes to experiment to the potential detriment of the original text.

For those looking for a restrained interpretation of the American Dream dissected should seek solace elsewhere. The Great Gatsby is as vibrant and colossal as one of the titular rich boy’s parties. Filmed in 3D, Gatsby doesn’t just reach out to the symbolic green light, he reaches out to us; All very showy and almost shallow. Almost being the operative word here, for Luhrmann has hung his narration on the device that Carraway is recalling the story 15 years later from the safety of a doctor’s office, where he is being treated for depression. Whilst this does cause problems for the flow of the film by sporadically slowing it down – ‘You must write this down’ the doctor cries in one of the film’s acts of onanism – it serves as a gateway to Carraway recalling the events of yesteryear. This puts the film in a constant state of heightened reality. The raucous parties, the vilification of Gatsby’s obsessive character… It’s all there, but maybe Carraway just isn’t that reliable a narrator. Even if the details have eroded away, the emotions have stayed.

And focussing all our attention on the big party pieces that Lurhmann gives us, negates the moments of intimacy the film provides. ‘I like big parties. They’re so intimate’ says Daisy’s golf pro friend Jordan ‘At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’ And Luhrmann proves this later on in a cramped sweltering hotel room, where our protagonists have holed themselves in a vain attempt to escape the summer. As the afternoon wears on, Tom and Gatsby politely go toe to toe, with Tom getting the upper hand through a verbal death of a thousand cuts. Joel Edgerton is wonderful as he stalks the scenes, taking pot shots whenever he can at Gatsby – The man from oxford in the pink suit.

And what of Gatsby himself? Like the film, we’ve waited a while to reveal him. DiCaprio, despite some hesitance on our part, is completely believable as the lovelorn and mysterious Gatsby. He owns every scene he’s in, willing to show Gatsby as vulnerable when needed.  It’s a shame then that Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire fail to sparkle. It’s not that they can’t act, it’s just they seem to solely be there to react to things. In the instance of Carraway this can be justified, but for Daisy who plays a large part in Gatsby’s life, it’s a bit of problem. At times, we’re never truly convinced that she warrants so much attention from Gatsby.

There are many angles with which to take Gatsby and whilst Luhrmann’s does not contain the florid nature of Fitzgerald’s verse, the book will still be there for those who need it. Luhrmann has made a bold movie that does something the serious analysis and coveting of the text will not achieve, it opens it up to the wider public. Like Gatsby himself, The Great Gatsby has got to be like this. It’s got keep moving on. And if it makes someone pick up a copy on their way back from the cinema what harm has it really done?

Tyke Elephant Outlaw (2015)

In 1994, an elephant by the name of Tyke was due to perform at the Circus International of Honolulu, Hawaii. Instead she trampled and killed her trainer, severely injured her groomer and managed to get out of the arena where the event was being held. From there, she roamed the streets for 30 minutes in clear distress. Pursued by the police, she was shot 86 times before finally dying, propped up against a car, in a novelty hat and surrounded by the gaze of several weeping bystanders. The owner of the elephant, who employed the trainer said that she had never done anything like this before.

Tyke Elephant Outlaw would kindly beg to differ.

Built around a number of talking heads and archival footage, this new documentary follows Tyke from the moment she was taken in Africa to her life in the circus, to her demise. The film’s narrative makes it clear that there were always warning signs. Like 2013’s Blackfish, which focused on SeaWorld’s attitude towards its main attractions, it becomes apparent that she had done things like this before, if not to the violent extent that would see her life being ended. It’s a powerful piece of work which is let down somewhat by the inclusion of the full video that shows not only Tyke’s death, but the brutal crushing of her trainer. Whilst its understandable why the filmmakers included the footage, it unfortunately cheapens the movie and makes it feel voyeuristic.

However, it’s an emotional journey for the viewer and, like others before it, raises issues about animal rights and despite how far we’ve come, how much further we still have to go.

The Guest (2014)

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest feature since You’re Next is similarly dark-tinged thriller, that is completely self-aware without ever being over indulgent.

The Peterson family are still recovering from the death of eldest son Caleb, who was killed on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Mama Peterson (Sheila Kelley) sits around wistfully thinking about her son, whilst Papa Peterson (Leland Orser) struggles with bureaucracy at his job. The youngest son Luke (Brenden Meyer) is quiet and picked upon by his peers in high school, whilst his big sister, Anna (Maika Monroe) has a problematic relationship with an older boy. What they need is Mary Poppins! What they get is David, played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, a former soldier who knew Caleb and wants to fulfill a promise he made to the deceased veteran. Turning up on the Peterson doorstep out of the blue, David slowly, but effortlessly, integrates himself into their lives.

An obvious and joyful throwback to the exploitation thrillers of yesteryear, The Guest is a schlocky, violent midnight movie suitable for any time of day. Start the day the right way with The Guest. As David gets his feet under the table, the family see their luck changing. Did someone say Dad got a promotion? Excellent. Shame about the double suicide of his colleague and their wife, but still… Winning! What’s that, little Luke? You’re getting picked on! Let your new Uncle David take you for a drink.

Not taking into account the skillful direction and killer soundtrack, the key to The Guest’s success is Stevens who manages to flip flop between homicidal maniac and housekeeper effortlessly whilst managing it to make it look incredibly sexy and cool. Coupled with what is becoming a uniformly excellent performance by Monroe, it’s incredibly hard not to fall for this film.

Yes, it’s all absurd. However, don’t think no one onboard is not in on the joke. The Guest knows what it’s doing.

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Last year, the BBC graced upon us the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen in lieu of a full length feature ever appearing. Last time it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and then last year, it was regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in the series 8 opening, Deep Breath.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appeared to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that had been the previous Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffatt wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that managed to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era.

Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties, which certainly gave the whole thing a bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It doesn’t sound much on paper, but revisiting the scene still gives chills.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during The Twin Dilemma. Of course, as the series progressed, there would be further examples of her being left out to dry, but Clara managed to scrabble back her dignity and eventually became The Doctor. If only for a short time.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi has certainly become one of the more iconic interpretations. He’s rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples. In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (i.e. us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Of course, we all know what happened to her. Or do we? Deep Breath was bursting with fun and was the perfect jumping on point for those who still hadn’t dabbled in Nu-Who over the last ten years.

Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up as the ninth season approaches.

Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.