Review: Free State Of Jones

 

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DIR: Gary Ross • WRI: Leonard Hartman, Gary Ross • PRO: Jon Kilik, Gary Ross, Scott Stuber • DOP: Benoît Delhomme • ED: Pamela Martin, Juliette Welfling • DES: Philip Messina • MUS: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali

More like the Free State Of Jonezzzz… Yes, I have replaced a the ‘S’ of Matthew McConaughey’s latest film’s last letter of its title with a ‘Z’ followed by a further four Zs. Childish? Maybe. Fact? You’re goddamn right! It would appear that the McConaissance is over. After Free State Of Jones I yearn for the shirtless/slanted stance rom-com McCon. In Hollywood, slavery has become a hot asset rather than a hot potato since Lincoln and Django Unchained in late 2012. Smash it out the Box Office and you can whip, lynch, tar and feather all the blacks you want. It’s hip to be a victim now. Audiences got feels and they’re mulitplying.

Free State Of Jones was inspired by the life of Newton Knight, a Civil War deserted, who teams up with a group of runaway slaves in an attempt to rebel against the Confederacy. This chapter in American history would seem like an exciting film to shoot. Poor whites and poor blacks uniting to fight the forces that oppress them. Well when you read it like that on paper the hair might stand on your neck, but when you see it like it is on screen, you shudder and your hair sheds.

The opening battle scene is very promising. You notice slight influences from Saving Private Ryan and in all fairness, the action sequences throughout the film remain at a high standard. Then why does Free State Of Jones fail? Why was it a box-office bomb? It’s because what occurs between those violent action scenes is just so boring. It’s borderline embarrassing how preachy and one dimensional this film is. These characters and dialogue are so flat and monotonous that even Newt’s great grandson is finding it hard to stay awake flash forwards.

This is textbook filmmaking, and that’s the problem. It literally plays out like some history book edition lacking any cinematic panache. Adaptations of novels or true stories must bring something new that you can only get in the medium of film. Non-fiction limits the filmmakers from going places they could go within fiction so they better bring someting big to the plate. I suggest skipping this class while these folks pat themselves on the back and basque in their rectitude.

Cormac O’Meara

139 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Free State of Jones is released 30th September 2016

Free State of Jones – Official Website

 

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Review: Tale of Tales

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DIR: Matteo Garrone • WRI: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso • PRO: Matteo Garrone, Anne Labadie, Jean Labadie, Jeremy Thomas • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Marco Spoletini • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Dimitri Capuani • CAST: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones

Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales is certainly easy on the eye. A lavish landscape for the bizarre surrealism of Giambattista Basile’s gruesome fairytales that even predate the Brothers Grimm. The film is loosely based on three of the Neapolitan poet’s tales – The Enchanted Doe, The Flea, The Flayed Old Lady – that all crossover and interlink. I think what intrigued most people about the film was its international casting. It’s always quite a rush to see a Hollywood actor mix it up with the European “intellectuals” and, on the surface, John C. Reilly looks very convincing as a Renaissance king. That is until he opens his mouth. This isn’t a lambasting of Reilly as I consider him as one of cinema’s best character actors working today, but his renditions of the script does not to anybody justice. Hayek seems much more at home as the maternally desperate Queen of Longtrellis. Her subtle mannerisms and ice-cold glare convince us that she is a force to be reckoned with.

The Queen is unable to bear children, but is determined to do everything in her power to do so, including nibbling on the raw heart of a sea beast. Naturally, this permits the Queen immaculate conception and she gives birth to an albino-esque boy called Elias (Christian Lees). Unbeknownst to her majesty, a peasant woman is a sucker for bloody, raw, beast heart too. She also gives birth to an albino boy, twin of Elias, Jonah. The tale of the prince and the pauper begins. Meanwhile, a king from another region (Toby Jones) commences an odd obsession with a flea, feeding it until it reaches the size of a Galapagos tortoise, eventually dying from respiratory failure. The King’s obsession and pride for the tortoise leads him to unwillingly wed his princess daughter to a ghastly ogre.

Simultaneously, in another land, another king (Vincent Cassel) with a debauched lifestyle becomes infatuated with the aura of a poor old hag, who has the voice of an angel and the physical features of a witch. Nymphomaniac that the king is, begs the old lady for a blind date before having a rude awakening and literally gives her the boot.

All these short stories are quirky and mildly amusing in their own right, but the Garrone’s decision to intercut between them doesn’t allow us enough time to get invested with the characters or care about their outcome. The structure and flow of the film becomes tedious, until the princess’ escape from the ogre’s squaller. We get a chase that ups the ante for a few frames, but too little too late.

It could be argued that there’s a theme of obsession that sews the three stories together – the yearning for maternal control, playing God, lustful desire – but at the end of the day, who cares? I really wanted to like Tale of Tales, but the lack of character development and potency wouldn’t allow me to. Even the beautiful imagery, mise en scene and eccentricities couldn’t keep me invested in the overall piece. There was always a threat of violence throughout that the filmmakers never really capitalised on, making way for a very geriatric fantasy-horror, which has been likened to Game of Thrones. Heavy lies the crown, I suppose.

Cormac O’Meara

133 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Tale of Tales is released 17th June 2016

Tale of Tales – Official Website

 

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A Second Look at Everybody Wants Some!!

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Cormac O’Meara takes another look at Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! 

 

Richard Linklater received more universal claim for Boyhood than any other film of his career. A heartwarming tale of motherhood, family dysfunction and the evolution of popular culture in the noughties. And how does Linklater respond to all the accolades and critical acclaim? By stepping back into the ’80s, throwing a bunch of horny college baseball players into a house together, supply them with alcohol, drugs, testosterone, misogynistic lingo and disco. This isn’t a filmmaker who panders for universal admiration. A true indie maverick at heart, who has always stayed true to his laissez-faire style of filmmaking.

The trailer for Everybody Wants Some!! pulls no punches in terms of its raunchiness, and neither does the film. No foreplay, straight into it. Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at Southeast Texas State college three days and fifteen hours before class commences. He’s a baseball player, riding into college on a scholarship, along with his new college teammates. He’s not there ten minutes before they’re cruising around campus picking up chicks and knocking back beers. Linklater introduces us to a dirty dozen of new talent. An eclectic clique of newcomer actors, who all carry their own in diverse and magnetic performances.

Once again, Linklater, with his lackadaisical flair, scraps any form of plot and allows us to simply hang out with his characters on their hazy weekend before college begins. His films always convey a specific time and place. The “spiritual prequel”, Dazed and Confused depicted the last day of an Austin high school in 1976, Boyhood portrayed a boy growing up around Texas during the 2000s, and Everybody Wants Some!! examines the coming-of-age of a group of guys before college in 1980. Linklater shows great affection for the early ’80s  era here, down to every little detail, but never comes across as forced. Linklater doesn’t reach, he’s not desperate. He lays back and allows his characters do the work. Similar to Boyhood, when it comes to selecting the soundtrack, Linklater doesn’t choose the obscure or “cool” tracks that filmmakers such as Tarantino or Scorsese do. He uses the songs that were actually popular back in a certain period. Boyhood had Coldplay and Soulja Boy while his latest film blasts Van Halen and disco.

The Place: A Texan native, Linklater has always made his region a character in his films. His love of the red state is evident throughout his career (founder of the Austin Film Society) and you can tell he has a fondness for the great outdoors – cruising around in cars (Dazed and Confused), father-son camping (Boyhood), swimming in rivers (Everybody Wants Some!!).

The Time: Billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, Linklater pushed on from the last day of high school in 1976 to the first day of college 1980. The music, clothes, hair and wonderful moustaches are all pedantically portrayed, but another aspect of that time that’s utilised in Everybody Wants Some!! is the technology. You can constantly see analog paraphernalia within various scenes around the interior of the Alpha House. All this mise-en-scene conveys a substantial dose of nostalgia.

Linklater also stays true to his characters. He doesn’t make excuses for them or try to overstretch them. They’re not funny like comic actors. Similar to real life, their humour can be hit or miss and sometimes just downright cringeworthy. But they’re honest and naturalistic in their roles. The camera glides along smoothly for the ride, following the boys-to-men on their pre-season odyssey. Their coach implements two rules for their Alpha House (no booze & no broads) that are quickly abandoned due to the player’s alpha-maleness. And this theme of alpha and competition plays throughout the movie, which would have worked even better if Linklater didn’t have the character of Jake actually say it – “you notice that everything around here is a competition”. This line undermines the audience. We can clearly see the competitiveness, we don’t need to be told. It’s like watching Jock National Geographic for Christ’s sake. The fact that they are aware of their competitive nature makes it a lot less interesting for the viewer.

Besides the cut-throat mentality and boisterous aura on the surface, what lies beneath is a bunch of boys on the cusp of adulthood. It’s a coming-of-age camaraderie, where the characters are having too much fun to realise they’re going through this rite of passage. They all must work as a team, but their first weekend together allows a glimpse at their search for individuality and identity. Although, the film’s sentimentality doesn’t hit as high as the raunchy and witty comedy, at least when it comes to the female characters anyway. The last few scenes between Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a performing arts major he takes a liking to, go just a little too smoothly and lack any notion of unpredictability. Maybe it would have been more compelling if Linklater stuck around with the lads, because the route he took we’ve all seen a thousand times.

The two little discrepancies that I found in the film still can’t stop Everybody Wants Some!! from completely knocking it out the park. Linklater has given us another effortless comedy with crisp and dynamic dialogue, spontaneous and natural performances, and variety of diverse and loveable characters. Similar to the stage of life Linklater illustrates, you don’t want the film to end. You want to keep hanging out with these guys after the last reel wraps up. The two hours go by like a breeze, blowing a smile onto your face that’s hard to wipe off.

A perfect film to get the summer started. Swig some cold ones and watch the good times roll. It’s a dinger.

 

Everybody Wants Some!! is in cinemas from 13th May 2016

 

 

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The Long Good Friday

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For the day that’s in it, Cormac O’Meara revisits the classic British gangster film The Long Good Friday.

It’s Good Friday, the Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Christ. In secular terms it’s a day that leant its name to one of the greatest British films ever made, The Long Good Friday. America is the home of the gangster movie and, of course, has made some great classics. Warner Brothers had a boom of gangster flicks throughout the 1930s, similar to the success that Universal had with horror. During the 1940s the gangster film fused with mystery, spawning an increase in film noir. These effortlessly cool films influenced French filmmakers such as Godard, Melville and Dassin during the 1950s and the dawning of the new wave movement. The French took elements of Hollywood crime films and merged them with their own laissez-faire style. The British followed suit. But where the French utilised a smooth style to the genre, the Brits cut with razor sharp force. The British brought more grit to the genre. Unlike the Americans, they didn’t try to sugarcoat the grim realities of the criminal lifestyle. They didn’t attempt to make it look sexy or fun, or glamorize it in any way. The tone of these films was harsh, cold and unforgiving, making you feel like nobody within the film was safe.

The Long Good Friday is the pinnacle of British gangster films. There are other greats from this era too – Get Carter, The Hit, Mona Lisa – but where these films transcended from the gangster genre, The Long Good Friday sticks to its guns and flourishes within London’s underbelly, boasting a wonderful array of archetypal characters. It’s a film with a complex plot and character. Bob Hoskins is muscular as crime boss Harold Shand, who is in the process of going into partnership with the American mafia in order to buy London’s derelict dockyards and redevelop them for the 1988 Olympics. Harold and his firm must be on their best behaviour in order to impress the Americans, but Murphy’s Law has a sharp sense of humour that causes Harold to walk a tightrope between aristocratic and animalistic.

While Harold and his wife and partner in crime Victoria (Helen Mirren) entertain the Americans and the pocketed police on their yacht along the Thames, a series of deadly events unfold that puts a damper on their ambitious plans. “For 10 years we’ve had peace, and now there’s been an ERUPTION!” roars the cockney crime boss. We follow Harold and his gang on an odyssey throughout the city’s underworld, determined to decipher the cause behind this chaos. By his side predominantly are Jeff (Derek Thompson) and Razors (P.H. Moriarty), while level-headed Victoria uses her brains and charms to keep the Mob from hightailing it back across the Atlantic.

Barrie Keefe’s screenplay is stunning. It conquers plot, character and great dialogue that keeps you engaged throughout. Great lines such as “Meet Razors, or as the youth of today call him, the human spirograph” or in reply to one of his friend’s corpses being picked up in an ice-cream van – “Lot of dignity in that, isn’t there?. Going out like a Raspberry Ripple”. Despite being an edgy gangster flick, the film is extremely funny. Witnessing Harold’s predicament, in all his confusion, is almost screwball comedy. Yet the dramatic and violent scenes are equally as affective and keep you on the edge of your seat.

The genius behind The Long Good Friday, besides its excellent performances and screenplay, is the fact that the story takes place over 36 hours. I love the fact that all this carnage erupts on a Friday afternoon, and Harold has limited time to uncover the mystery in order to retain his connection with the Americans. The unsavoury, seedy characters that we come across on Harold’s hunt add to the rawness of the film. As the murders against Harold’s firm increase and the walls begin closing in on him and Victoria, the stakes get higher and we really begin to care for the couple and route for them.

The Long Good Friday still holds up today. Not only that, but it surpasses the majority of contemporary gangster films across the U.K. and the U.S. Bob Hoskins should be recognised up there with the likes of De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson for his work in crime genre. A great double feature to demonstrate his prowess as an actor are The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. Any young screenwriter or director interested in making a great crime film should watch this film and take notes. So if you’re off the booze this Good Friday and are in some desperate need of intoxication, switch on The Long Good Friday and get lost in its world. It’s a great movie.

 

 

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Review: The Witch

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DIR/WRI: Robert Eggers  • PRO: Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Jay Van Hoy • DOP: Jarin Blaschke • ED: Louise Ford • MUS: Mark Korven • DES: Craig Lathrop • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

British folk horror packs its bags and sets sails to the New World. A Puritan family living in a New England community are excommunicated when the father, William (Ralph Ineson. Yes. That’s Chris Finch from the UK Office), commits the crime of prideful conceit. The family leaves the plantation with God on their side, alive in their hearts and infested in their brains. They discover new land, a new home and settle themselves. William builds a house on the cusp of some menacing woods, while his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie) prepares to give birth to her fifth child. Call me old fashioned, but I’d take it easy on the baby booming if I were unemployed, banished and living in exile. Baby steps. Several months later little Samuel is born into a cropless farming family. Times are hard, but William’s forceful faith assures his family that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

 

However, the sun never rises for the family, who become victims of an onslaught of supernatural activity. The eldest daughter, and film’s protagonist, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing peek-a-boo with the baby one day and roles are switched in the cruel game when Samuel disappears from her sight. The film doesn’t forge any illusions when it comes to the supernatural, which is intrinsic to its story. There is a witch in their midst and she has taken the infant, but unknowingly to the family, who are baffled by the mysterious disappearance. That is because the witch isn’t the core antagonist. We rarely see her, but when we do the visuals are striking. The real antagonist is blind faith and the hysteria of religion that tears the family apart. Christianity creeps throughout the film in an unsettling manner causing the “fear” to lie within.

 

Struck by overwhelming grief, Katherine lays the blame on Thomasin for the supposed negligence. The parents believe it’s a punishment from God as Samuel wasn’t baptised, asserting the idea of a vengeful deity, which does not settle well with second eldest Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), who conveys overtones of inscestual desire for Thomasin. Life is rural isolation can do weird things to a young lad. Although, The Witch falls into the genre of supernatural horror, it is essentially a domestic drama. The walls are close in on the family and Thomasin becomes heavily scrutinised. A wave of Puritan paranoia crashes on the family and at times it’s difficult to decide which is worse – the Satanic rituals of the supernatural or the fanaticism of Christianity.

 

The director, Robert Eggers, gets great use out of his cast. Finchey’s Yorkshire accent is spoken through a fantastic subwoofer bass boom, while Scrimshaw’s God fearing and Thomasin’s increasing agnosticism attributes are spot on. Kate Dickie deploys those crazy eyes that’s a staple among creepy mothers in horror. But the best performance comes from a hellraising goat called Black Phillip, who gives an eerie presence everytime he comes into frame. Eggers has a flare for drama or psychological thriller, but lacks the pace and shlock for horror. The best scene of the film comes during an Exorcist homage when the family finally implodes. But for the most part The Witch relies on tone and unsettling transitions that give you the creeps, but not the terror.

 

Throw into the cauldron the paranoia of The Shining and the hysteria of The Crucible and you’ve got The Witch. What’s lacking is some eye of newt, a sense of playfulness. There have been an abundance of indie horror films recently that turn their nose up at horror customs and try to surpass the genre with an air of pretension. I was told by somebody before seeing The Witch that it was a step above horror films, which I registered with disdain. This idea of ideals trumping aesthetics is becoming more and more prominent within indie horror. The Witch is strongest in terms of its authenticity and slow-rising tension between the family, but doesn’t provide any real catharsis when it reaches boiling point. It lacks the exuberance of last year’s The Hallow, another folk horror that grabbed the horror conventions by the horns and went Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle with it.

In conclusion, The Witch certainly displays the craft and discipline of a fine director, but might not satisfy true horror enthusiasts or have the shelf life to become a genre classic.

 

  Cormac O’Meara

92 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

The Witch is released 11th March 2016

The Witch – Official Website

 

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Review: Bone Tomahawk

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DIR/WRI: S. Craig Zahler • PRO: Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier • DOP: Benji Bakshi • ED: Greg D’Auria, Fred Raskin • DES: Freddy Waff • MUS: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler • CAST: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins

Somewhere in between The Searchers and Cannibal Holocaust lies the brutal, genre-dissolving Bone Tomahawk, an audacious directorial debut from S. Craig Zahler. Bone Tomahawk doesn’t politely invite you back to the old west, it grabs you by the jugular and forces you. Although the film does contain elements of the horror genre, it still remains a true western and abides by western conventions. It’s a throwback to cowboys and indians, but without the social commentary or political correctness. The film is strictly aesthetic, strictly primal and strictly instinctual, and without a cloak of PC comfort, we the audience are left vulnerable. We’re not gonna be treated as docile, we’re gonna be tested.

Giving his mouth some T.O. after the chamber piece gab of The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell ventures back west, this time as Sheriff Franklin Hunt of the small town of Bright Hope. That’s cheap, as there is nothing brightful nor hopeful in this nihilistic west. The film opens with a rusty throat cut as Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette), two vagrants with no elegance, who are making off with loot after brutally murdering some travellers. They get lost and wander into no man’s land and discover they are walking on an Indian burial ground. Purvis escapes and makes his way to Bright Hope. Buddy, not so lucky.

Bright Hope appears to be a nice, quiet, little town, similar to those introduced by a Rod Serling monologue before things get weird before the tumbleweeds pick up momentum. In Bright Hope, the tumbleweeds gain momentum when backup deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) sees the drifter, Purvis, burying something. Suspicion entails, Purvis is shot and arrested, everything seems right with the universe again. Bedridden during all the evening’s excitement is Arthur O’Dwyer, whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) nurses Purvis at the jailhouse. The next morning they’re gone. The wife, the drifter, a deputy, some horses, even the poor black stable boy gets gutted.

Thus unfolds the John Ford Searcheresque ride out to rescue the lives or bodies of their friends and loved ones. Saddling up are the solemn Sheriff Hunt, old-timer Chicory, crippled husband Arthur and fancy-pants gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox). Their local token Native American gives a stern word of warning before they ride out, claiming that the perps are a specific demented breed of Indian, who feed on their own mothers. Cheers for the confidence boost there Chief.

Zahler, who has four novels under his belt, delivers an excellent script. You can literally tick off the list of necessities that’s taught in screenwriting classes out of this movie.

In a screenplay, above all, conflict must be constant and it always bubbles to the surface throughout Bone Tomahawk as these four men with different worldviews constantly clash and argue. Whether it’s about marriage, murder or morals, there’s always an aura of tension. It also helps when we’re being thrown great lines like “smart men don’t get married” and “Saucy wouldn’t let no greaser get on top of her”. The film can be surprisingly tender at times too, but never comes close to being smarmy. It rolls on subtle, understated, until the final reel when all hell breaks out.

Brooder is the hot head of the four, and appears to be the most untrustworthy. He wears all white, rides a white horse and flaunts a fancy German telescope. He’s a dandy. In a generic movie he’d get his comeuppance for his bigotry and immorals. However, Zahler understand that this is too easy an archetype to simply chuck at the audience. Never judge a book by its cover rings true as the character of Brooder expands.  

On the journey, Zahler keeps the audience in western mode. That is until we reach “Injun” territory and we are now under the wing of a madman. A short battle ensues before our protagonists are captured and imprisoned in a cave with Samantha O’Dwyer and poor deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit). Oh Jesus, poor deputy Nick! Zahler has now flung us into horror territory. Duke, pack your winchester and ride off into the sunset because you’re not wanna hang around to see this….

Before seeing Bone Tomahawk I vaguely remember reading a line or two about its brutal and shocking violence, but the perverted slasher aficionado in me was all too nonchalant to pay any attention. There is a scene in that cave that will have jaws smacking floors in unison. The pure primal terror of the violence raises the stakes through the roof and we begin to empathise for the protagonists on a whole new level. This is “on edge of your seat” cinema right here and the faint hearted might wanna check out Deadpool or Triple 9 instead. Right after the camera cuts away from the entrails, there’s a close-up of Kurt Russell’s face and his expression evokes an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that leaves the audience with the completely shattered.

I can’t remember the last time a moment of such explicit violence had such an impact on a cinema audience. The image stuck in my head for days. I’ve noticed too, that although critics have warned readers about the violence, they haven’t condemned it. This comes down to the fact that one; the violence is done extremely well in terms of aesthetic and realism, and two ; Zahler’s movie doesn’t rely on the graphic violence, but rather builds up to the bloodshed by delivering us eclectic characters that we grow to care about. Whether it’s Russell’s modest mannerisms, Jenkin’s comic timing (channeling Walter Brennan) or Fox’s vanity, we slowly begin to gravitate towards them. So when the slicing and dicing starts we’re putty in Zahler’s hands.

This film will no doubt succeed in terms of cult status. It will more than likely be out of cinemas as soon as it hits, possibly build up a reputation through word of mouth that might develop during DVD  or VOD release. However, if you’re a fan of genre cinema or in the mood for something different then try catch it in cinemas. There’ll be few visceral and awe moments like it on the big screen this year. There has been a small resurgence of westerns over the past few years – Django Unchained, Hateful Eight, Slow West, The Salvation – but it will take a lot more than that to make the genre really viable again in today’s market. But if we get any westerns with half the originality and audacity that Bone Tomahawk has, I’ll lace up my boots and saddle up right now.

Cormac O’Meara

18 (See IFCO for details)

132 minutes

Bone Tomahawk is released 19th February 2016

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hallow

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DIR: Corin Hardy • WRI: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Nick Emerson • DOP: Martijn van Broekhuizen • DES: Alex Cameron, Mags Linnane • MUS: James Gosling • CAST: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton

Me folking nerves! The woods are lovely, dark and deep in Corin Hardy’s multi sub-genre horror The Hallow. The film tries to be so many things and even though it doesn’t transcend the genre on a universal level, it highlights the sheer excitement and vibrancy of a director about to transcend from the independents unto the big leagues. Hardy shows an uncensored and unabashed love for the horror genre and it shows in his work. The Hallow begins as a traditional British folk-horror that relies on atmosphere – rising mist, full moons, thunder and strange neighbours, evolves into a monster movie in the second act, and by the time we reach the third it has become somewhat of a hippy horror, an allegory for environmental issues.

Our protagonists are tree doctor, Adam, and his wife Claire, who, with their infant son Finn, have migrated from the streets of London to the mosses of rural Ireland. The big lumber corporations are back at it again and have their minds set on tearing down these Irish evergreen woods. Adam and his family have been located to the outskirts of the woods so he can survey the forest. Naturally, like there always is in these types of movies, there’s a unwelcoming tension between the young new family and the dreary locals, who warn Adam and Claire about the hallowed grounds and to steer clear. Right on cue, these sophisticated, pot-smoking, city shhlickers laugh off these dreaded warnings as backwards thinking.

Something a wry comes along their way when Adam finds a gruesome corpse of a deer in the forest. A treacle, tar-black goo oozes from the animal’s rotting carcass, which Adam snatches and takes back to the house to examine. He discovers the goo is ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as ‘zombie fungus’, which infects the brains of ants, controls them, morphing them abnormally before death. In other words, one helluva Friday night. So Hardy lays down the science for the audience, foreshadowing Jack Torrance behavior, while simultaneously conveying for us, through the town’s people’s superstitions, a sense of supernatural horror that haunts the woods.

We don’t know whether to turn to the science or the mythical folklore. Luckily, we don’t have to choose, because Hardy, so hopped up on excitement, blends the two together, raising the stakes and conflict for the family. We are introduced to the monster so soon and as soon as we do The Hallow departs the slow rising tension of folk horror and goes head first into a relentless siege from the second act on. Along the way, those bastard forest creatures have shot Adam in the eye with the “zombie fungus”. Shit! The energy of terror doesn’t run out of steam as Adam and Claire try everything in their power to defend themselves and protect baby Finn.

A mother’s primal instinct comes into play in the best sequence of the film, when Adam goes to fix the generator and Claire is left in the attic with Finn. A creature’s pointy hand smashes through the attic door and Claire puts all her strength into holding back the beast. The suspense rises as the sharp slimy finger gets closer and closer to Claire’s eyeball as the camera gets closer and closer, giving us an extreme close-up before the attic lights up to save the day. (nice homage to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2). As Adam’s infection gets worse throughout the gruelling siege, our alliance turns to Claire, who must fight the monster on the outside and the inside in order to protect Finn.

The Hallow is full to the brim with sub-genre tropes and cult horror throwbacks, so much so that it’s a miracle that it actually works. Hardy might be indulgent in his fanboyism, but he has the technical and visual skill to back it up. He also backed himself up with a great team – co-screenwriter Felipe Marino, John Nolan on animatronics and strong performances by Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovik. But it’s Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s rich cinematography that helps make the woods a character, balancing foreboding with natural beauty. The picture of nature is so clear you can almost smell the grass, crack the bark and feel the dew.

It’s an impressive debut feature and will be interesting to see Corin Hardy’s elevation from the indie to the mainstream. The closing shot begs for a sequel, where nature reaps havoc on mankind in the an urban environment. (Suggested title: Night of the Living Christmas Trees). But before Hardy steals my title, he’ll be directing Relativity Media’s remake of The Crow, transcending to franchise territory. Let’s hope he makes sure the actors use blanks this time round. With the right people behind him, Hardy’s career in the horror could be an evergreen.

 

Cormac O’Meara

16
96 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hallow is released 13th November 2015

The Hallow – Official Website

 

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Review: Steve Jobs|

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DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Elliot Graham • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

 

In regards to the biopic film, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs|is a breath of fresh air, albeit a breath that their actors seldom get in this backstage linguistic battle royale. Their portrayal of Steve Jobs doesn’t follow the tedious and meandering cradle-to-the-grave format, but actually abbreviates the narrative into three separate acts respectively – 1984, 1988, 1998 – all commencing minutes before a major product launch. And like the three acts of a stage play, this film relies on talking… a lot of talking. And like playwrights before him – Mamet, Chayefsky, Shakespeare – Sorkin boasts his own trademark dialogue.

Straight out the gate and we’re riddled with rapid Sorkin rat-a-tat spitfire, piercing and deflating any notion of exposition, as we play keep-up with Fassbender’s Jobs and his backstage world. We follow him, mostly by tracking shot, through corridors as characters from his work and personal life berate him about his lack of empathy. He talks down to his work colleagues, threatens his friends, his ex-girlfriend and daughter are on welfare despite his wealth – anyone who comes into contact with the man becomes miserable… I mean this guy’s a real jerk!

His closest confidant is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing executive, and in ways, his guardian angel, who acts as his conscience constantly urging him to do the right thing for his daughter and ultimately himself. Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), is somewhat a father figure, a close friend until the Apple began to rot. Apple co-founder and friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) pops by before each of the three launches to support Jobs and ask him to acknowledge the Apple II team. The recurring sentimentality throughout the film is Jobs’ daughter Lisa, who at first he denies is his, but slowly builds a closer relationship with her throughout the years. A lesser films would have saturated the audience with this sentimentality, but luckily here the filmmakers keep their protagonist as unlikable as possible.  

The characters walk and talk in breakneck speed, accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s lavish score – a fusion of operatic classical and techno burps – that sounds like Beethoven and Kraftwerk had a few too many and stuck the DO-NOT-DISTURB sign up. The high tempo dialogue always keeps the audience alert and on their toes. There’s a sense of emergence about it. Danny Boyle’s sleek, yet uncharacteristically subtle, direction compliments Sorkin’s pace and overall Steve Jobs’ minimalist style and vision. Boyle incorporates colourful visual distortions into the few moments of silence we get. Another little touch Boyle brought to the movie was filming the three acts in different formats -16mm, 35mm and digital, an artistic stroke that Jobs probably would of lapped up like a dog.

The style that Boyle and Sorkin convey is like that of an Apple product – compressed, precise, dynamic, icey, minimal – all subtle characteristics that Jobs utilised when marketing and releasing a new computer. As the most quoted line in the movie – “musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra” – exclaims, Jobs was a man who needed to be in control. The film suggests that he was a man who was afraid to delve too deep professionally and personally. He felt in control about how he marketed and presented, the bigger picture, the vision, but when it got complicated in IT or with his ex-girlfriend and daughter he couldn’t cope or understand. He wasn’t a man of tech or science, but a man who knew how to manipulate the people, stay ahead of the curve and adapt his vision to the culture.

Fassbender doesn’t resemble Jobs physically, unlike Ashton Kutcher, whose personal admiration for the man and bad acting hurt his feature. What Fassbender brings to the role is sheer energy, whether firing off some Sorkin dingers or utilising great physicality to compliment the erratic dialogue. He doesn’t have to rely on his appearance for the role because he delves deeper in himself to find the character. He has a great cast to support him too, specifically Kate Winslet, whose subtle Polish accent is right on point. Seth Rogen’s performance is modest, which is a great relief and Jeff Daniels straight corporate demeanor fits the bill. There’s one scene in particular between Fassbender and Daniels that is the verbal equivalent of a western showdown. The volume of the score heightens, as cuts to flashbacks help push the argument forward, raising the dramatic ambience as the two characters scream at each other.

Critics have acknowledged the film’s Shakespearean overtones, but I haven’t seen anyone mention Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Jobs being the wealthy entrepreneurial-tech Ebenezer Scrooge, who lacks empathy and is visited by friends and enemies who either want a favour or want to help. Has a few flashbacks to a time before the megalomania and it take three acts to slightly redeem him. Or in more recent years, Sorkin’s Steve Jobs anti-hero characterisation can be compared to There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview – another man so professionally driven that he becomes isolated from people.

Some have criticised Steve Jobs| of relying too heavily on style and cartoonish dialogue rather than conveying a true depiction of the man, as if all the epic sentimental biopics have it down to a tee. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictional film based on true events and the filmmakers made the right decision to narrow the focus down to three important events in Jobs’  professional career, whilst intertwining elements of his personal and ultimately pursuing a day-in-a-life portrayal of the man. Others have complained about Sorkin’s snappy dialogue, criticising it for being unrealistic because people in real life don’t speak like it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to tech jargon spoon fed to me in Bob Geldof mode for two hours. I want it razor-sharp and potent so it grabs me and pulls me into its accelerated world. I don’t want to remain docile, I need to adapt.

Sorkin has proved to be one of the most distinctive voices in television and film dialogue working today bearing a strong sense of high-speed energy within his body of work. For Boyle, this is a nicely understated return, abandoning his trademark kinetic visuals and adapting a more subtle approach in order to accommodate Sorkin’s writing. The result is  a well crafted and precise three-act farcical algorithm with a sharp silver tongue. iReally liked it (I am sorry).

Cormac O’Meara

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Steve Jobs| is released 13th November 2015

Steve Jobs| – Official Website

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