Friday, 29 November 2013

The Nines

The Nines is a psychological thriller and drama that shows a three part story all connecting with the same people but in different universes. Ryan Reynolds portrays three slightly distinctive but interlinked characters. The linear narrative is structured in three different parts, each of them a chapter of a characters life. “Part One” is a troubled actor called Gary who is under house arrest, “Part two” a television screen writer called Gavin who is trying to get his pilot produced. Finally we are left with “Part 3” with the Game Designer Gabriel whose car breaks down whilst on a road trip with his wife and child. The Number 9 appears constantly in each life and slowly becomes an obsession. Whenever we are close to discovering the truth of the number, the universe seems to be sucked into a vortex and ends, creating a new universe with a different life.
John August certainly does give a complex and confusing perception of The Nines. It is almost as if you’ve walked into a David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) or Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001) movie combination. Ryan Reynolds three divided characters all battle their moral ambiguity which seems to always revolve around the number nine. Part One house arrested Gary begins to question his sanity after spending countless hours alone in a house that strangely belongs to Gavin.  Part Two screenwriter Gavin is treading on very thin ice making sure the post-production of his pilot goes smoothly. Part Three universe is actually the Gavin’s pilot show. Gabriel is marooned in the forest with his wife (Melissa McCarthy) and their mute daughter (Elle Fanning) who are also linked between the divided three segments.
Ryan Reynolds character says "There's something wrong with the world!" and there certainly is some truth in that. However no matter how inexplicable and head scratching it may seem, you just have to sit it out and just wait as the film gets progressively more bizarre.Writer and Director John August undoubtedly has created a thrilling perplexity that sits nicely in a world where it seems to be out of this cosmos. With an out of sync world and a barrage of questions that need answering, the ending unfortunately wasn’t as climatic and breathing taking as I was hoping for. However this being a John August film and not an M, Night Shyamalan famous twist, I certainly wasn’t expecting the outcome. If I watched The Nines in the cinema I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much. But being a straight-to-DVD film and watching it at home it certainly is a better film being a DVD released film only. The Nines was even nominated for Best DVD release at 34th Saturn Awards, So I just shows that some films are better off not been shown on the big screen.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Lazarus Project

Ben Garvey (Paul Walker) is a reformed criminal who just finished his last day on parole. A loving father and devoted husband Ben unexpectedly loses his job because of his criminal past. Out of work and in need of desperate cash he turns to his brother to rob a laboratory full of gold dust. However the heist goes horribly wrong which results in the death of his brother and two other people. Ben is sentenced to death by lethal injection however after the execution he wakes up near a psychiatric hospital in a small Oregon town. He is told that he has been given a second chance from God himself and must live a new life as a groundskeepers at the local psychiatric hospital. Now a man ravaged by seclusion and the disbelief that he cheated death. However this psychiatric Oregon hospital is a bearer of secrets as Ben’s own sanity and faith is questioned.
The Lazarus Project is a chilling combination of drama and psychological thriller which is the most important fundamentals of a mystery genre. The constant eerie notion clouds our judgment as we begin to question the so called guardian angel that watches over Ben. A medical or psychiatric experiment begins to unravel in Ben’s quest to uncover the truth. However the journey to uncover the veracity is a nightmarish and menacing endeavour that is full of visions of demons or perhaps hallucinations. The core theme of The Lazarus Project is placed on the emphasis on cheating death, which makes for a brilliant relation to the Biblical story of Lazarus of Bethany found in the Gospel of John.
An intriguing story that is full of suspense and interrogations towards the protagonist’s state of mind or perhaps soul. Throughout the film we constantly question the sanity of Ben or the true intentions of the hospital. A Lazarus Project relation to redemption comes to play with Ben’s freewill and venture to uncover scientific or religious truths. The final conclusion is an outcome that leaves us with a gripping narrative that continuously plays tricks with our own minds and beliefs.
Director John Glenn shows a thrillingly frightening voyage of a man who is taken away from his loved ones and now faces a mystical obstacle and now must explore the struggle of his own state of mind and humanity. Even though the film does drag on, the question “is he nuts or does God exits?” comes to mind frequently. Garvey’s performance as a man whose faith and sanity is put to the test shows a raw performance that keeps the plot moving. The Lazarus Project is a mystical film full of surreal visions and religious tyranny. Although this is a film that went straight to DVD, it certainly deserves more recognition.


Monday, 25 November 2013

The Iceman

Based on the true story of the notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) infamous for not only being a brutally ruthless hitman but also how he stored his victim’s body. Given the nickname “Iceman” he would kill and freeze his victim’s body so to erase the time of death. A troubled childhood that left a tormented psychopath in the hands of the New Jersey Mafia, Kuklinski would kill as many as 200 people over several decades. However our merciless killer is living a double life and is also a devoted father and a loving husband to his wife Deborah Pellicotti (Winona Ryder). How could a man be so coldblooded and be such a loving father and husband? Director Ariel Vromen explores the solemn and blood-soaked thriller that pulls you into the bitterly gritty and dark industrial freezer.   
Before the killings we are introduced to Kuklinski on the first date with his future wife Deborah. An awkwardly shy and yet weirdly charming man, Vromen cunningly explores the inner psycho of our anti-protagonist. We begin to see the face of the stone cold look killer and Mafia Lord Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) in the ’60s noticed his cold-bloodedness and employs him as a contract killer. Unaware of their father and husbands double life, he maintains the wealthy life in the span over 20 years. Kuklinski quickly climbs up the criminal ranks by whacking victims with overdue debts, rival gangs or simply showing how tough and fearless he is by getting into bar fights.  We get an authentic feeling of time lapse through the facial-hair of our killer, from the clean shaven amateur to the slick back hair professional with a goatee.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal as the contract killer Kuklinski, unfreezes the atmosphere with a horrifyingly aggressive vigour. It almost makes you wonder if Shannon would have made a great “Capo” in The Soprano crew. Although he has a tall exterior, intimidating physique and heartless cold stare he still somehow carries an intriguing charisma for a man with few words. Shannon’s portrayal is an intensely thrilling performance that will leave you shaken to the core. It seems that after a brilliant performance in the supporting role in Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road (2008), he’s now flaunting his abilities outside the confined space of supporting roles and moving gracefully on to lead roles, such as in Jeff Nichos’s Take Shelter (2011).
Even though the narrative is a forward moving linear plot with flashbacks of the past, I still felt like there wasn't much of the family. Rather little snippets of the Iceman losing his cool or moments when his double life was nearly exposed. It would have been fascinating to see the Kuklinski family in their day to day lives and perhaps more of the dedicated father and caring husband side. However Ariel Vromen does make the crime thriller and true chilling experience of violence and by utilizing Shannon’s unblinking stone gaze, this film will certainly send a chill through your body.


Friday, 22 November 2013

The Hunt: Jagten

The Hunt (Jagten) is a truly gripping and well written film that is driven by a powerful performance from Mads Mikkelsen. It possesses a rare power that constantly keeps you engaged and bewildered by the act of human accusation. Director Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish drama is centred on a small town kindergarten teacher that is exiled when one of his infant students falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. Lucas is soon the object of more accusations which are all untrue. Naively believing that he will be cleared, the real problem becomes the cruelty and harassment that comes with the accusations. When the whispers reach the town folk, everyone jumps the gun and the cold shoulder violently turns to hostility and viciousness. The accusations shake the very core of Lucas, his family, new girlfriend and his close friends eventually dividing and breaking the group.
Thomas Vinterberg portrays the very idea of the perfect small town folk that can turn into a merciless vigilantly community. Even after knowing Lucas for years the stubborn community refuses to believe him. Vinterberg beautifully orchestrates the tension by showing how hostile your fellow neighbours and towns people can be. Though Lucas stays calm and humble we begin to see his sanity slowly crack with the constantly and enduring cruel treatment. The frustration and stoicism slowly give way as his emotional outburst become more frequent.
One of the best perks of the Hunt is the metaphors we are discreetly subjected to with the deer hunting scenes. The tracking and shooting play a key role as a representation of Lucas at first as the hunter and now the one being hunted. Before Lucas was the shooter and the deer in the eye line of fire, but now he is in the crosshair. Even after when all is calm, some forgive and others don’t. The unforgettable final scene leaves us and our protagonists with a troubling thought that once accused and acquitted, to some you will always be guilty.
Mikkelsen’s magnificent range of raw emotions crusades into a brilliant performance conveying Lucas. When continually pushed to the limit in an intensifying horrible ordeal that builds up to a beautifully heartrending and climactic confrontation at a Christmas church service. The Hunt is a textbook example of what a classic drama should be. It goes in-depth into the creation of realistic characters and is driven by an emotional theme.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Some Guy Who Kills People

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan), a downtrodden ice cream parlour attendant, is the small-town loner fresh out of the loony bin. After a cruel torture from the high school basketball jocks that left Boyd suffering from a symptom of post-traumatic stress, he decides to get even and kill his tormentors one by one. Director Jack Perez’s low key indie black comedy slasher is a brilliant hidden gem that you expect to find in most indie films. With a classy and funny cast, Perez creates an authentic comic book and aesthetic boost to this horror comedy. This ambitions and little odd indie slasher with some unforgettable cameos is a brilliant horror comedy that willingly vaunts its B movie appeal and pulls it off with its plot, script and funny gore.
This peculiar indie picture brings a delightful and well groomed cast. From the a oddly delightful and a little bit neurotic 34 year old artist Ken Boyd to the unloving and unsympathetic hands of his mother Ruth Boyd (Karen Black) and her town sheriff boyfriend Walt Fuller (Barry Bostwick). One of the jocks finally pushes Boyd, who is dressed as an ice cream cone, too far, thus setting off a killing spree chain reaction. Now the revenge seeking anti-superhero that Ken willingly accepts and draws in his sketchbook. An beautiful English girl Stephanie (Lucy Davis) takes a shine to our anti-superhero and a quirky romance comes to play. All the while the town Sheriff  is hot on his heels as he investigates the gruesome murders. As if things couldn't get any weirder and more complicated, Boyd’s estranged 11 year old daughter discovers that her mother has been lying to her and now is determined to bond with her father and make up for the lost time.
Some Guy Who Kills People is a hilariously unusual surreal comedy and horror film. It constantly leaves you giggling and chuckling. With an anti-superhero that can barely go on a date and lives with his mother we even begin to question whether Ken pull off this killing spree? Boyd may lack self-confidence and social skills but he is certainly well skilled with a machete. He just needs to make sure his mother doesn't blow his cover with the late night calls. One of the funniest duos is the Sheriff and Deputy Ernie Dobkins (Eric Price) with their strange dialogue at the scene of the crimes. After finally finding one of the jock's severed head at the local drive-in cinema, Sheriff Walt is compelled  to say "It's like his eyes follow you," and begins to slowly move left and right.
It’s great to see that actor Kevin Corrigan is finally stepping into the spotlight and moving away from supporting roles in films likes of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed and Greg Mottola's Superbad. Even back in 2001 with the American television sitcom Grounded for Life when he played role as Eddie, the weirdo womanizing uncle who can never give a straight answer to any question, his performance then had grown and can be seen in Boyd. From a TV actor to a supporting role actor to moving to lead actor, Kevin Corrigan is certainly someone we should keep on eye on.


Monday, 18 November 2013

Maniac

What better way to be inside the mind of a killer than to see through the eyes of one.  Elijah Wood stars as the mentally disturbed young Frank Zito, a brutal serial killer who stalks, murders, and scalps beautiful women at night. In this French and American psychological slasher film directed by Franck Khalfoun, everything we see is through the murderer's point of view. Franck Khalfoun shows us at first hand the day and night routine of a killer and his disturbed mind.  Every thought, every whisper and every memory is seen, heard and felt. The migraines of Frank blur and cloud our vision with flashbacks of his troubled childhood.  Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac is a brilliant insight to a killers mind.
The first person perspective is a fascinating and brilliant way to implicate the viewer in a discomfiting way. To see in the perspective of the killer and how he goes about stalking, hunting and killing his victims gives an entirely new meaning to fear. The fear is a nauseating, thrilling and psychologically destructive headache and that is what the point of view perspective wants to implement. Being inside the mind of a killer gives us the opportunity to feel nausea, the migraines and experience for the first time the level of brutality of committing a murder. This new level of fear is what most slasher and horror films seem to lack today. However to actually never be able to see the murderer apart from the reflections of mirrors and windows does lose its novelty fast in the film. But seeing how he selects his victims, watching him cleverly hunt his prey and gruesomely murdering and mutilating them is unbelievably graphic and gives a brilliant shock factor.
To be inside the mind of a killer we are also victims to his troubled childhood, which gives us a sympathetic feeling towards him. The flashbacks are a quick glimpses of the killers past. He grew up peeping on his prostitute mother as she satisfied her clients. Constantly feeling unloved, unwanted and abandoned we began to see what shaped our anti-protagonist into becoming a ruthless killer. As the murders become more violent, so does his migraines and the flashbacks transform into hallucinations and we see more vivid and disturbing memories of his past. It seems that this is Khalfoun's way to show a more human side to our killer. With the death of his mother that pushes him over the edge into a serial killer that scalps and removes hair and decorates his mannequins into makeshift wigs in his family mannequin store.
When a relationship sparks between him and a French photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder), we wait for the ticking time bomb of his sanity to go off. When the two have an odd fascination in mannequins we begin to see our killer in a whole new light. However as Frank tries to keep his internal struggle of madness at bay it is only a matter of time until we witness a bloody and gory ending.
Maniac is a technically impressive film with a chilling, twisted and eerie performance by Elijah Wood. Forget about his small structure, blue eyes and hairy feet. Wood mutters madness as he stalks his prey, kills his victims and keeps their hair as trophies. Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac violently shows the gruesomely cruel and shockingly twisted endeavour of a serial killer. The first person perception is an ideal and stylistic technique that shakes the very core of emotions when diving into this film of madness, blood, gore and beauty.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Last Cowboy Standing: Skavabölen Pojat

A fairy tale theme of childhood innocence lost by family indignity and secrets, director Zaida Bergroth tells the story of two endearing and wildly inventive brothers Rupert and Evert in the Finnish country side of the 1970’s. In this Finnish middle class family is a loving and caring mother who explodes into random fits of unstable rage and a charming loveable father who is untrustworthy and abusive. Skavabölen Pojat (Last Cowboy Standing) juggles between the past and present of the two brothers and their childhood with their mother and father. Rupert recalls the memory of the iconic moment when he found a secret letter from his father’s mistress, which marked the end to his idyllic childhood and loving family. The two brothers try to make sense of their childhood growing into adulthood, where their imaginative days of fantasy plays of cowboys and Indians are long gone and sweetheart romances with the neighbour girls have moved away. Partly an autobiographical play and adapted onto the big screen, director Zaida Bergroth shows the bittersweet nostalgia portrayal of a Finnish middle class family life in the 70’s and 80’s.
In the boys’ past we are shown a happy family with what seems to be the beginning of happy memories of family values, Finnish culture and childhood but which really marks the end to this fairy tale. A hidden letter shakes the very core of the family which they never really recover from as children Rupert and Evert witness the cruelty of their loving father when he beats their mother. Family friend’s whisper of separation and the father’s new girlfriend clouds confusion for the boys but this only fuels Rupert futile attempt into holding the family together. However after more confusion and tragedy strikes the boys, their innocence is finally lost. In the present day we see a guilt ridden and much older Rupert trying to make sense of his discovery which leads to the chaos of his family in the past and present.  To find absolution he delves deep in to his past in an emotional roller-coaster of tragedy which this family is constantly cursed with.
Last Cowboy Standing is a brutally wretched confession that hides a hidden message of domestic violence and abuse in Finland during 1970's and 80's. It is a film that shows the loss of virtue and family values.  Just like a matryoshka doll with the decreasing and smaller dolls, we already knew from the beginning the hollow emptiness of the truth. The more we venture through the family history we begin to realise we actually know the outcome all along.



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Hell

Hell is a German-Swiss post-apocalyptic film directed by Tim Fehlbaum, where a small group of people try to survive through the remains of a post-apocalyptic Germany. The sun which was once a source of life, light, energy and warmth has now become the destroyer of our entire world. In the year 2016 the sun’s solar flares have destroyed the earth's atmosphere and temperatures have risen by 10°C, virtually making life on earth near impossible under the rays of the sun. The world now is a barren wasteland filled with scorched forests, dried rivers and the night sky is a dazzlingly bright dusk. Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), her younger sister Leonie (Lisa Vicari) and Phillip (Lars Eidinger) head for the mountains in a desperate hope for water as rumour has it can still be found. But the journey to the mountain is a hazardous trip filled with uncertainty. As they gamble their odds of survival under the relentless beaming sun they are lured into an ambush by scavengers and cannibals. It is here where the real battle for survival begins. 
The intense gritty locations of a post-apocalyptic world are visually devastating and a strangely beautiful; a world overcooked by the rays of the scorching sun with humanity wiped out by the heat of the solar flares drastic climate change. What makes Hell such an engaging post-apocalyptic thriller is the direction it took by not starting off with an explanation of what or why that caused this disaster. We are simply dropped into this burning world and have to sweat it out with the characters. When the scavengers and cannibals come into action the burning sun is the least threat on our minds. This is a key ingredient of making a brilliant post-apocalyptic thriller, when taking humanity into extraordinary circumstances and creating a far greater threat than the strange conditions of the surroundings.
With the landscape brutalised by the solar flares it is not strange to think that humanity would turn to scavenging and cannibalising. If we look at other post-apocalyptic films like John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009) or Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes’ The Book of Eli (2010) we should all beware that your best mate might end up nibbling on your arm while you’re asleep.  Director Tim Fehlbaum should be praised for not over doing the gore factor in the gruesome murders scenes. Visually not seeing the chilling murders is a brilliant way of letting the viewer’s imagination take hold and create something far worse than what they could see.  Even the narrative of having a sun burn up the world is another interesting way of fuelling the imagination of a post-apocalyptic drama. A post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with burnt forests and deranged cannibals running around is a survival film worth watching.


Monday, 11 November 2013

The Mist

Although The Mist is a brilliant take on a doomsday monster movie, director Frank Darabont politically drives the film to explore the central theme of taking humanity’s sanity and breaking it in extraordinary circumstances. A politically incisive script with a terrifying narrative, Frank Darabont's adaptation of the Stephen King’s horror novella is set in the coastal town of Castle Rock. A successful movie poster artist, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his 9-year-old son Billy (Nathan Gamble) go grocery shopping after a terrifyingly freakish storm hits the town. A heavy mysterious mist rolls over the New England town, trapping the townsfolk inside the local supermarket. To their horror they witness a breed of ferocious insects, ethereal monster and pterodactyl-like creatures that have a taste for human flesh in the thick white mist. The small band of citizens now must defend themselves and fight for their lives but as the strain for survival drags on The Mist takes the story away from the monsters outside to the monsters inside.
Frank Darabont is no stranger to adapting a Steven King novel to a film. From The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, The Mist is his third take on a King novel. A survival grocery store Sci-Fi, Thriller, Darabont uses all the conventions of an Armageddon movie by building the cliché tension of telephones not working, no idea what is going on and waiting for rescue. The only luxury they have is being locked in a supermarket filled with supplies, people they relatively know and fortifying market. However a constant feeling of unease of not knowing where or what this mist is, a brilliant scene of pure raw suspense presents itself when a volunteer decides to go outside with a rope wrapped around his waist. As the volunteer ventures out and disappears into the mist, Darabont stays fixed inside the store. The outcome of the volunteer can be left to your imagination or better yet watch the movie.
What makes Frank Darabont’s The Mist such a worthy apocalyptic, Sci-Fi, thriller monster film is the focus change from the monster to the humans. As soon as humanity loses its privileges to working machines and emergency services to rescue them, then our civilized society begins to turn against itself. As survivors hold up in the grocery store fractions begin to appear focused around their racial, class and religious ideology. One of the survivors in the store Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) fuels the delusion that the mist and the monster is God’s way of punishing the world. The mist outside becomes a metaphor of the clouds of judgment and she convinces a large fraction of survivors to follow her in human sacrifice. Darabont now shows the monsters outside are less of a threat then the ones inside.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Voices from the 25th Hour & Interview with J.J. Tagle

An expedition into a world where everyone is human, technology is not in any way advanced or ahead of our time and the locations are scenes of everyday life that we are all familiar with. In fact there is no indication that director and writer J.J. Tagle’s short Sci-Fi film Voices from the 25th Hour is a Sci-Fi. With most films labelled with the Sci-Fi genre we expect the clichés such as, people in nylon suits, wielding nifty gadgets and set “In a galaxy far far away”. However this Sci-Fi is in our time and our solar system. Voices from the 25th Hour is a love story that focuses on the deep thoughts of two people and their trip into the 25th hour domain, which leaves time, space and people frozen for an hour except for them. A gift at first that slowly dwells into boredom leaves Chris (George Konstantinopoulos) mindlessly wondering the vast empty streets with frozen pedestrians. Another day another extra hour but a different outcome, a mysterious girl catches the eye of Chris who he falls in love with. As he always finds her in the same location and same pose his mind creates expectations of what she is like which only fuels his determination to find her. However when the frozen hour is over she is nowhere to be seen.
Watching Voices we are constantly driven by a small cast of characters with a much larger concept that drives the short film into the realm of Sci-Fi. With Chris and Hazel (Sofia Stephanou) we journey through the same locations but with a different atmosphere. Chris’s extra hour is during the day so we are exposed to the cold, murky, grey midday winter sky. However Hazel’s hour is focused around the evening, where we are subjected to a neo-noir cinematography with a luxurious fashion runway atmosphere. The dramatic shift from a chromatic, grey scenery of Metallic and Brutalist architecture to a lavish experience of spotlights. Also catwalks are a fine contrasting effect creating the juxtaposing between these two characters.

As a filmmaker what is the key focus that drives your creative inspiration?

J.J. Tagle: My creative inspiration is driven by the thought that every film maker takes the same pieces from the same Lego kit. That every filmmaker creates their own masterpiece with the different materials they take, but it all comes from the same box. So I’m using the same pieces I’m just simply assembling them into my own vision.

In this Lego kit who are the inspirations that become the building block of your vision?

J.J.T:  The Lego pieces are Japanese director of anime and former graphic designer Makoto Shinkai, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, A photographer that is an old friend of mine that truly inspired me as a visual artist in fashion Doc Marlon Pecjo and lastly Lana Del Rey’s Dark Paradise.

Looking at your documentary work Lost in Transgender, It seems that both Lost and Voices have a similar concept an unknown voyage?

J.J.T: Lost In Transgender is journey of a girl that embarks on a road to a world that she doesn’t know much about. The viewers that watch the documentary it seems are very much in the same place. This goes for the same as Voices from the 25th Hour, when two characters are bound by this gift but yet we have no understanding of how or why they have this gift. The story isn’t why they have the gift but rather a voyage that starts into the unknown that leads to a romantic tale between these two people. So we completely forget about the power and focus on their romantic story.

With such a small cast and a journey of the unknown that leads to a romantic tale, what does Chris and Hazel journey mean?

J.J.T: Identity is a key source of a character in a journey for any narrative.  While Voices is a journey into destiny the film is also as an idea that of the expectations and creations of what people create for one another without even knowing them. That in Chris’s mind Hazel is the love of his life, even though he has only seen her face but doesn’t actually know her at all. This goes the same for Hazel. It is the expectations we create for other people that we end up preferring the fantasy we create rather the reality.