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1/15/18

VENGEANCE: A LOVE STORY - REVIEW


Another year, another Nicolas Cage film that passed by almost unnoticed. Recently released on Netflix, Vengeance: A Love Story is a thriller about a woman who is abused by a group of men one night in front of her daughter and the aftermath of that traumatic event.

On paper, this sounds like your typical revenge plot where someone is taken or raped or killed and a good cop takes the law into his own hands once all else fails. The film, perhaps aware of how overplayed that subgenre has become, makes a genuine attempt to keep that aspect of the film in the background and focus on everything else. While this was a wise decision as it allows us to spend more time with and feel for Teena (Anna Hutchison), the victim, and her daughter Bethie (excellent newcomer Talitha Bateman), the film is unfortunately not clever enough to really explore the impact of rape on someone or the justice system's failings on the matter in a way that rings true. Vengeance is like a poorly written essay: you know what the writer is going for and you agree with their ideas for the most part but the vocabulary, spelling and reasoning is so off that it's ultimately a missed opportunity. We're told Nicolas Cage's character, hero cop John Dromoor, isn't very talkative and we get the idea that he is some kind of quiet guardian angel but Cage brings nothing to this character and he sleepwalks his way through a role that, had it been better written, could have been worthwhile.

The rest of the performances range from decent to ridiculously over-the-top as it becomes pretty clear early on that the film has no idea how real people act or talk. The trial scene, for example, is handled in such a silly way that it completely distracts from whatever emotional punch it was going for. Director Johnny Martin, who is more known for his stunt work, struggles a bit with an underwritten script that didn't seem to inspire him much and, as a result, the performances are all over the place, the tone is disjointed and some sequences are confusingly shot. Ultimately, you should not be laughing at serious scenes in a film with such a dark and disturbing premise. You'll constantly be working out a better story in your head and wondering why some scenes just don't work and whether Nicolas Cage is actually awake or not. This is a shame because there is definitely a good film with a relevant story in there somewhere, it's just not handled correctly. The film is also weirdly paced, with the first half of the film dragging for no reason, but at least the very few scenes where Cage goes vigilante and takes out the bad guys are genuinely satisfying so there's always that.

Vengeance tells a story that should have been hard-hitting and emotional but, due to various caricatures and clumsy execution, the film just comes off as inept. Do yourself a favour and watch any of the other revenge-themed Nicolas Cage movies, or the underrated The Frozen Ground.

Disappointing mishit.

PHANTOM THREAD - REVIEW


Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, Phantom Thread, sees Daniel Day-Lewis play a respected fashion designer who meets a waitress and starts a rather awkward relationship with her. This is, as far as we know, probably the actor's final performance in a film.

In contrast to the grim and intense There Will Be Blood, this new film seemed like a potentially lighter and less depressing effort. In a way, this is true since we're dealing with a man who makes dresses rather than a scary moustached man who sucks up oil "milkshakes" from the ground but this remains another typically unnerving and dark P. T. Anderson creation. The point of the film not being the dress-making itself as this isn't exactly a biopic, but rather everything else. It's the relationship between the fussy and closed-off yet undeniably talented Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) that takes centre stage. Woodcock is shown to be a true artist and a perfectionist when it comes to his work as well as an occasionally charming man but this is tainted by several off-putting traits which Alma quickly finds out about. Their first date says it all: one second they're sharing a sweet moment by the fire, the next he's measuring every inch of her as she stands confused in her underwear while Woodcock's intimidating sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) watches. It's a very awkward dynamic and this escalates throughout.

You can definitely tell P. T. Anderson was heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock in this one from the gorgeous 60's-style cinematography to the twisted romance. Vertigo and Rebecca are the most obvious references but there's also some Marnie in there. You expect the film to show how Woodcock's perfectionism in every aspect of his life and his unhealthy obsession with his dead mother can lead to him repeating a pattern of meeting a woman, controlling her like one of his dresses, then discarding her like she's nothing. Then, in a clever twist, Phantom Thread throws a wrench in that and Alma proves herself to be more than just a naive victim thereby leading to a rather bizarre yet somehow uplifting third act. The film explores themes like art, love, control and lack thereof with exactly the amount of subtlety and precision Hitchcock himself would have used. Those expecting something as explosive as The Master might find this movie a little slow at times but it looks so beautiful and the performances are so good that you'll quickly forgive whatever pacing issues the film might have: this is one that stays with you long after it's over.

Phantom Thread is a fascinating look at the intricacies of human relationships that exposes how messed-up we can be but also how we can somehow make it work for us. Daniel Day-Lewis, once again, delivers a brilliant and flawless performance and it's certainly a strong one to end on, not to mention one that would deserve an Oscar nod at the very least.

Twisted gem.

1/12/18

STAY TUNED - VIDEO REVIEW


I review the 1992 dark comedy Stay Tuned.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY - REVIEW


Released on Netflix in 2017, What Happened To Monday is a science fiction thriller starring Noomi Rapace as seven sisters named after each day of the week who try to survive in a dystopian one-child-only society.

In order to tackle an overpopulation problem and attempt to fix the environment, the Child Allocation Bureau, run by Glenn Close's intimidating politician, enforces this one-child policy which takes the oldest siblings, if there are any, and cryogenically freezes them until society can accommodate them. When a woman dies while giving birth to identical septuplets, her father (played by Willem Dafoe) decides to raise the kids in a way that allows all of them to live their lives. Each of them is allowed to leave the house on a specific day of the week, hence their names, if they pretend to all be the same individual. At home, they can look and act like who they are but outside, they become the same person. Of course, when one of them doesn't come home as planned, they start to suspect that their secret has been compromised and try to find Monday, wherever she might be. This is an interesting concept and the film does a great job at making it convincing, mostly thanks to Noomi Rapace's several very good performances that help sell these sisters' elaborate lifestyle.

The seven sisters each have very different personalities and varying opinions on what they should do to survive so the film gets to approach individualism from a few sides, thereby getting you to think about what you would do in such a situation. While the film's scale is limited by its relatively low budget, it still manages to include some exciting sequences as the sisters are tracked down by the Bureau one after the other. You can easily imagine a film with this kind of plot being too dull or too silly but What Happened To Monday keeps things not only grounded but entertaining enough that it stays afloat from start to finish. There are some clever twists and turns throughout and you do feel for these characters as they desperately try, but often fail, to stay alive when facing such a powerful enemy. Like all good sci-fi films set in the near future, it doesn't go overboard with its technology and gets its point across clearly, without having to resort to too much spectacle or gimmicks: this is more akin to something like Strange Days than flashier science fiction actioners.

What Happened To Monday achieves what quite a few Netflix releases couldn't, namely introducing an clever, interesting concept then actually live up to it. Noomi Rapace's great performance(s) alone is worth it but the film itself is a solid piece of dystopian sci-fi and it deserves some attention.

Surprisingly good.

1/11/18

SHOCKMAN (TGFX-16) - RANT N' PLAY


I play just a few minutes of the game Shockman.

MY TOP 10 WORST FILMS OF 2017


My least favourite films of 2017 get the Top 10 treatment.

MOTHER! - REVIEW


Directed by Darren Aronofsky, mother! is a psychological thriller from 2017 about a couple living in the countryside who get a strange visit from another couple before things get truly out of hand, to say the least.

Jennifer Lawrence is the titular mother who lives in an unfinished house with her rather intense husband, a writer (played by the ever-intimidating Javier Bardem) suffering from writer's block until he is visited by a fan and his wife. The latter couple, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, show up randomly one day as Lawrence's character becomes increasingly suspicious of their bizarre behaviour and nervous about their influence on her husband. "mother" isn't all that normal herself as she appears to be obsessed with fixing her house and spends pretty much all her time walking around looking confused by everything. You're never quite sure what this awkward dynamic between her and her much older husband is all about since they're rarely together and you see everything through the wife's eyes. Mother! has been described as a horror film but this might give you the wrong idea about what to expect: while there are some disturbing scenes throughout and the whole thing is shot like a horror film, it's not your typical jump-scare-fest and it's never actually scary.

In the same vein as some of Lars Von Trier's output (see Antichrist), mother! is a memorably, sometimes amusingly strange film with some shocking surreal moments. What starts off as just an exploration of jealousy, fandom and paranoia soon evolves (or devolves) into familiar yet surprising territory as elements from the Bible start to surface and you start to see the main characters are more than just some weird couple that random stuff keeps happening to. This turns out to be one big allegory touching on various aspects of religion and mythology while also presenting a grim satire of celebrity, life and death. There's a lot to decipher here and, in fact, this is the best aspect of this movie: long after the credits roll, you'll be thinking about everything you just saw and you'll start to unpack its madness bit by bit. Aronofsky has been criticised for mixing perhaps too many ingredients in this movie and including one particularly violent and unpleasant scene. Having the film get to the point a bit quicker, admittedly, might have improved it a bit and the aforementioned graphic scene could have easily been toned down but mother! remains an effective piece of cinema.

While some will undoubtedly be put off by its edgier and crazier ideas, it's hard to deny that this movie is an unforgettable experience that's well worth putting yourself through. It's a cinematic experiment that's shaky, over-the-top and silly at times but always fascinating and, overall, it's a unique oddity you'll probably hate and love all at the same time.

Not for everyone.

1/10/18

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI DISCUSSION - PODCAST


A relatively short Star Wars: The Last Jedi discussion.

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD - REVIEW


After re-imagining Sherlock Holmes his own way, Guy Ritchie recently turned his attention to the Arthurian legends and delivered King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword. Due to a ridiculous budget that didn't translate to much on screen, the film was a box-office flop and was mostly panned critically.

The film opens with a scene in which Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) takes on giant elephants in an over-the-top sequence that would fit quite well in a Lord Of The Rings movie. This could set the tone for a proudly ridiculous, action-packed epic but, while it is indeed shamelessly silly, it's not exactly the thrilling actioner you'd expect. Parts of the film are over-stylised, bloated and full of giant CGI creatures, other parts feel bare and not unlike a relatively low-budget effort like Centurion or an Uwe Boll movie. But it's the sub-par writing that really prevents this King Arthur film from being the fun roller-coaster ride it wanted to be. The masterful Excalibur understood the importance of creating a certain atmosphere to tell these stories of magic, romance, tragedy and heroism. This movie wants to be a Robin Hood-style origin story that deals with the legends in a more realistic way but it also wants to be a goofy fantasy epic and that just doesn't work, especially when your film lacks visual flair, mood and characters you actually care about or at least recognize from the iconic stories.

Charlie Hunnam could have made a good Arthur but he is not given anything to work with, none of the cast are. Jude Law does stand out as the villain but only because he over-compensates for an under-written script by hamming it up constantly. The film fails to build any sort of pace or urgency as it repeats the same few scenes over and over again: the heroes plan something, this is intercut with a montage of what happens next, then a poorly edited fight scene and an anti-climactic resolution. This goes on for over two hours and it gets repetitive fast. Guy Ritchie knows how to put together a decent montage and he knows how to make a scene look good but you'd never know it here. By being over-ambitious and expecting this to turn into a full-on King Arthur franchise, the film is mostly filler setting up a potentially more interesting sequel as Merlin is teased throughout and Arthur fails to master Excalibur's Thor-like powers until the end. Parts of the film are amusing due to how silly they are and some brief sequences look cool but you'll find it tough to enjoy much more than that.

To say that Legend Of The Sword is a missed opportunity would be an understatement. It's easy to imagine a typically over-the-top King Arthur movie directed by Guy Ritchie that's low on accuracy and brains but high on sheer popcorn entertainment. Sadly, you'll have to keep on imagining all that as this is an underwhelming flop with an uneven tone, a serious lack of fun and very little substance.

Disappointing.

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