mother!fucker – mother! #filmreview

What a shitshow. What a circus. What an orgy of biblical fucking violence. What a carnival. What a parade of the worst that humanity has to offer, concentrated into what will no doubt go down in history as one of the most shocking and extreme sequences in mainstream cinema. I’m not too sure if Aronofsky was simply trying to secure his tacit hold on gut-wrenching drama, or if the last twenty minutes of mother! is the ineludible product of trying and failing inexorably to resolutely conflate the horrors of human history into a single, post-Lapsarian fever dream, keening at fever pitch to the beat of the World Heart.

Darren: Cronenberg this is not, Lynch YOU are not, but a poor man’s von Trier mother! most certainly fucking is.

mother! is The Second Coming of art house shock schlock- a loose subgenre propped up by popular New Extremist and Dogme 95 films: one-note cinematography, lacklustre direction from a Jersey Shore auteur, shoddy acting and shockingly bad screenwriting. mother! is to the big old book of Jewicide and Jaysus what Baz Luhrman’s 1996 Midsummer Night’s Nightmare Romeo+Juliet was to Shakespeare and English literary heritage as a-hole: a penny-and-dime rehash of the oldest story in one of the post-classical world’s oldest and most culturally, socially and (unfortunately) POLITICALLY significant texts. Essentially, mother! is Biblical SparkNotes for snot-nosed movie buffs to slather over endlessly with other snot-nosed movie buffs- like me! And slobber we will, because beyond the very ham-fisted, on-the-rhinoplastic-nose Christian symbolism, as well as the lazy environmental-cum-theological subtext, there is quite a lot of overnight labour baggage to unpack here- most compelling of which is the maddening hoard of almost entirely credited extras who turn her and Him’s quaint little all-American home on the prairie into a wooden attestation to the folly and horror of the human condition.

Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t do anything noteworthy with the material; she spends almost the entire film reeling from showroom to showroom like a doughy-eyed incubator, asking people to leave. Lawrence is just another casualty in a long line of sullied Hollywood sweethearts; to me, she’ll always be the tweenage role model who betrayed millions of adolescent female fans by taking sexually degrading pictures of herself, that were invariably stolen and disseminated online during the 2014 ‘Fappening’. Maybe it isn’t my place to judge, but if you’re Katniss Everdeen to a global audience of impressionable young women, you should probably treat yourself with the same level of respect that your breakout role taught so many young girls to have for themselves. Going on that diatribe you can probably understand why I find it hard to like anything she does. And what an ineluctable shame when Silver Linings Playbook is still my favourite David O. Russell film, and one of the few portrayals of adult mental illness that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

As other (much better and actually popular) movie finickers like RedLetterMedia have already said, it is downright bewildering that mother! managed to secure a wide theatrical release from a major distributor, when the movie rubber-bands between an indulgent chore and unbearable disturbia. But kudos to Paramount for supporting Aronofsky and fighting his corner after the pretty predictable, and consequently boring backlash the movie has received, even if the writer/director is a pretentious, lip-flapping muggle with no talent on paper and very little talent behind the camera; it was a real treat for a movie buff like me to hear people leaving the theatre, TALKING about the film until they were out of earshot. I know my girlfriend and I argued about it the whole way home (because she thought it was indefensible sexist shite and I thought it was a wonderfully amoral merry-go-round of horrible violence and a timely parable about the human desecration of Earth), so I can only imagine how long it stuck in however many minds for the rest of the night and through til morning. And that is an achievement. Say what you will about mother!, but at least people are saying SOMETHING.

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Mastodon ‘Toe to Toes’ Track Review

I thought anybody who ‘yeah-eah’s had run out of ideas, but obviously I was wrong.

‘Toe to Toes’ is like an elegy for the plucky but unlucky protagonist (or protagonists depending on who you talk to or what day of the week it is) of Mastodon’s nigh-on twenty-year-long, colourful discographical narrative. Over almost two decades of hi-lo-hi with a Grammy nom and a head injury, Mastodon have done pretty much everything to their Eddies.

British cheesemakers Iron Maiden popularised the use of mascots in metal and popular music as a whole with the ‘zombie-like’ Eddie the Head

From a rambunctious reimagineering of Herman Melville’s Wet Hot American Summer, over rolling waves, into a great white mouth and along the long intestine of the leviathan on the Georgian metalheads’ second album of the same name, to cosmonautical freefall through the spacetime continuum into the body of Rasputin on progmetal paralydrama Crack the Skye, a cosmic concept album for drummer Brann Dailor’s late sister, Troy and co. have transmogrified their perennial protagonist every which way but loose: dead prey after dead prey for Mesozoic lizards in the sky and the octopi of Middle Life; a dummy, ventriloquised by gold and blow, on a paradimensional stage in a rock show for the Old Ones on polarising, Lovecraftian glamrockathon Once More ‘Round the Sun; and finally, a roaming cadaver, wandering through the empty desert beyond the hairline of time on the band’s seventh and most recent release, Emperor of Sand.

‘Toe to Toes’ is the teaser for an upcoming four-track compilation of outtakes entitled Cold Dark Place. While the other three songs on the release are leftovers from the 2013/14 sessions for OM’RtS, the lead single is the lone offcut from the making of EoS, and in my opinion, it is easily the best thing to come out of all of Mastodon’s time in the studio between 2016 and 2017, most of which was utterly fucking squandered on turning Mastodon songs into Stone Sour songs- like muzzling a good dog and teaching it to shit on the carpet when it used to open doors.

To me, ‘Toe to Toes’ seems to be the first time we’ve actually heard from Mastodon’s sonic mascot about being Mastodon’s sonic mascot; he (and he’s a he for the sake of simplicity and probability) knows the Hairy Bikers who sing him into life, and he knows that his seven-hour lifespan is a loop of the same 77 stories, bellowed, blastbeat and tremeloed into life by people with problems for people with problems, because the basic trial of Neanderthalean survival is the perfect cipher for the convoluted mush of modern life.

The single is remarkably fresh and flush with new, braver and better ideas. Opening with a commendably underproduced, two-bar star-spangled jangle, the song crashes headfirst into a frothing seastorm of viscous riffage, presided over by layers and layers of the Hair in Chief, Mr Sanders, roaring in place of the mouthless main character of the band’s discography and finally acknowledging his metaphorical metafictional prison. Other than the premature chorus, lyrically, the song is standard progmetal fare- claws and messages written in the sand in ‘your own blood’- but the cliches are educatedly elevated by stonking instrumentation. I could see Brann, Brent or Mastodon as a whole soundtracking something better than Jonah Hex in the future.

Thank god for the five-second rule, because it would have been a crime to leave this on the cutting-room floor. I can’t wait for Cold Dark Place to drop.

Stuck in a Rut: What I Came Out of so Maybe You Can Come out Now.

I wasn’t going to publish this. I wrote it for myself, to explain to myself why I was feeling the way I was and how none of it was true. If my brain would only let me think about how broken it was then that’s what I was going to do. But by doing it well, I could show it just how wrong it was, and prove to myself that I was actually okay.

Now, I am publishing it, because of what happened with Chester Bennington. I am open about my issues- if the conversation goes that way. Otherwise, it rarely comes up because, like most people with mental illnesses, I’ve gotten very good at covering it up and getting on with my day to day. And a sick day can always be a cold.

But after what happened with Chester, another casualty after Chris Cornell from the same world, for pretty much the same sorry reason, I think it’s only right that everyone with a loose screw adds their story to the conversation and does everything they can to keep it loud and, hopefully, helpful, so that nobody has to feel ignored, or unlike, or like they’re shouting into a void. I never really liked Linkin Park; I thought they were kind of embarassing- something that mental illness is very much notSo I’m not going to be embarassed, and I’m going to share with you what hurt me the most this year.

Less of a rut and more of a crevasse.

I’ve just finished a BA Film and English Lit degree and my brain is frazzled. Good parents, an unreasonably supportive girlfriend, late night trawls through Wikipedia and ‘consequently’ can only get you so far, and I found that out the hard way. I never really knew what it was to try; for so long, when something became a challenge I just gave up. I openly acknowledged that I was only interested in doing the things that I was already good at. Luckily, or maybe incidentally, that included a lot of my passions and interests- playing music, arguing and, for as long as I can remember, writing. But, in my final calendar year at university, 64s turned to 54s, and finally, a seafloor 53; by New Year, my confidence was shot.

It hasn’t recovered and, coupled with clinical GAD and ‘Pure O’ OCD (the fun one where you think everybody is trying to murder you), my final year turned into a NeverEnding Horror Story of late nights staring at blank Word documents, torturing myself with other, much more accomplished and substantial work- by both professional ‘adult’ critics and my former, ‘impeccable’ Year 2 self- and (if I’m going to do this I suppose I should be honest) suicidal thoughts. My GAD and OCD got so bad, had me doubting myself so completely, that I seriously started to consider what the point of it all was if I couldn’t do the only thing I was ever exceptionally good at.

Now that probably sounds dramatic but, for a kid who spent his tweenage years writing hundred-thousand word novels on the home computer, losing the ability to write was the most devastating thing imaginable. I remember I asked my mum when I was about eleven or twelve how many words were in a proper, proper book. She said about a hundred thousand, so I sat down and set myself a target of reaching six figures. When I ticked over 99,999 I stopped. I remember overwriting the last chapter for days just to clock those magic 0s (it was something to do with a dam flooding with the main character trapped inside, and I think the numbers gave him about four last laughs). Oh yeah: there were chapters, with individual titles and quotes from all-sorts, fictional or otherwise; a contents page and sketches, and anything else that a few hundred sides of A4 would soak up from my bulbous brain, burgeoning with faces and places and names and ways of making words sound so pretty where, now, they’re just ugly bothers that get in the way of saying what I really want to say.

I was always more interested in the big picture. I did it with my crappy books, I do it with my music, and I even did it with my BA Dissertation. For me, nothing beats finishing something, and getting to put my mark on the front: the title, the cover art; with my Dissertation it was the chapter headings- and I must have spent days deliberating between ‘Smashing’ or ‘Mashing’ for the ubertitle. In the end I went with both: ‘Smashing, Mashing and Anatomising the Body in Film’. It sounded good, but the essay itself was a convoluted mess. If I put my first draft and my seventh draft and the final thing I submitted somewhere in-between a tenth and eleventh side by side by side, it would be the picture of pettiness: they would be indistinguishable, save a few synonyms. But, to an obsessive narcissist, every word is the word, and every single thing you say has to be good enough to go on your gravestone.

The solution is simple to explain but very fucking difficult to realise. What you have to keep reminding yourself of is the indisputable fact that the misrememberings you make to justify your own self-loathing are all patent, lazy lies. You were never perfect- nobody is. You always felt like this- you always got tired and fed up; you always felt like a workhorse; you were never a rotunda of Dostoevskyian masterpieces. You are not the you you think you were; you were always the you you are, with the same foibles and scars, mortally limited talents and weaknesses. So stop beating yourself up- you’re a pink bag of guts and feelings, not a Slam Man.

Baby Driver: iKowalski

This is half an op-ed and half a review with spoilers throughout.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about film; I just finished a three-year Film and English degree and felt like I was justifiably tired of writing words about pictures on a screen, about words from a script, transcribed from the imagineerings of someone else’s head that I could never properly realise, especially if they couldn’t fully realise them for themselves with a (-) dollar budget. But Baby Driver (2017 (it still feels odd typing that, like we’re getting ahead of ourselves)) has pulled me practically tantruming from my slump because there is simply far too much to glean from it to pass up the op for me or my blog.

Suffice it to say (after I’ve already said it but) I just want to add to the already triple-point conversation surrounding Edgar Wright’s latest masterweerk. If there is anything to add. Obviously, because it’s still in theaters there hasn’t been much close analysis of the movie, so not much ‘why’ or ‘how’ to explain the 9 tens and a 6 it’s currently throning over on Rotten Tomatoes. So it occurs to me that that might be my way into the conversation, and my way to add something a little special. Because while I definitely don’t have a photographic memory, I would say I have a bit of a cinematic one, and what I already got from Baby Driver is enough for a throwaway piece on a blog no one reads.

Wright is the king of reincorporation: watch one of Wright’s films and then watch it again and you’ll start to pick up on all the clues, liberally peppered throughout the beginning of the movie to telegraph the key plot points of the rest. For example, in 2004 horror-comedy classic Shaun of the Dead, Ed’s plan to help Shaun get over his breakup is essentially the bare-bones of the whole story:

‘You know what we should do tomorrow? Keep drinking. We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here and BANG, back at the bar for shots…’

The pair do keep drinking; they sleep into a very quick, English apocalypse and wake up hungover to two zombified people in the back garden of their shared house- an obese man and a bloody woman with a name-tag: ‘Mary’. They drive to Shaun’s mum’s house where her second husband and Shaun’s stepdad, the ‘King’, gets bit; they go to Shaun’s ex’s flat, the ‘Princess’- they ‘stagger’ like zombies through the hoard to get into the Winchester pub and BANG, Shaun has to shoot his mum with the rifle hanging over the bar after she turns into a zombabo. Finally, after the zombies breach the Winchester’s barricaded doors and get into the pub, Ed, Shaun and his ex, Liz, set fire to a row of shot glasses along the bar to keep them at bay while they pick them off with the gun.

Baby Driver is no different. Buddy’s (Jon Hamm) arc is foreshadowed throughout the movie by everything from dialogue to what comes on when Baby (Ansel Elgort) is flicking through the channels on TV.

Early on, Baby watches ten or so seconds of a show about bullfighting. At Bo’s Diner, Buddy’s wife Darling/Moniker/Monica tries to intimidate Bats (Jamie Foxx) and shut him up by telling him about Buddy’s potential for blind violence:

‘When my Buddy see red, all you see is black.’

Bats claps sardonically and asks if the whole thing was rehearsed. Over the course of the movie Buddy is recharacterised from a party-boy to a bull; so much so that, during the final action sequence in the parking garage, running on adrenaline and grief, a wounded Buddy drives at Baby like a barbed bull, goaded by bullets, his face lit up by the red tail lights on another crashed car. Baby leaps over Buddy’s car, causing him to miss and crash into a wall instead. It’s probably the most ludicrous action scene in the film, but it feels earned because the binarised metaphor of Baby the matador and Buddy the bull is sewn into the overarching narratology of the movie. And that is why Wright does it, and why he can mish-mash Baby, Bats and the second gang grand-theft-autoing a woman with a baby and a lame one-liner about heistman JD (Lanny Joon of Lost and Saints Row fame) leaving his shotgun behind at the scene of the crime. There is no tone and there is every tone- in a way, like many of his post-postmodern moviemaking contemporaries, Wright’s films are omnitonal.

A lot of people have talked about the music in the movie, and that’s fine, but I’d much rather talk about the actual headphones that are super-glued into Baby’s ears.

Baby’s earbuds are the Apple-age equivalent of Flintstone Gazoo; they are a coping mechanism- for Baby’s literal and symbolic tinnitus and intervolved trauma from the car-crash that killed his mother and abusive father, as well as the stress of his illegal work- and they represent his moral compass, which is why his co-conspirators are always trying to pull them out, change Baby’s song to their song, and why Bats calls them ‘phones’: because they are a hotline to his subconscious. Yes, ‘phones’ is a colloquialism, but the choice was probably conscious when we have two separate scenes of two different crooks messing with Baby’s headphones, and a third of Buddy getting Baby to pull out a different iPod and listen to Queen with him. They bob their heads together, and so, essentially, Baby dances with a/the devil- something Wright stresses again using reincorporation, when Buddy reappears at the parking lot and plays the same song through the speakers on a stolen cop car, just before he accelerates at Baby and his girlfriend, Deborah.

By jamming out with Buddy, Baby accepts that his cohorts are people too, and lets them into his space; he opens the floodgates, and his personal and criminal lives start to overlap. Such a small, simple scene, like two characters nodding along to a song together, carries a staggering amount of narratological and moral weight; of course, Wright has an incredibly entertaining and brutally original way of making the mundane- from a boring London borough in Shaun of to a Gloucestershirean village ‘of the Year’ in 2007’s Hot Fuzz– overexciting, compelling, and meaningful.

Fallout 4 ‘Nuka World’ Review

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Nuka World is essentially a New Vegas redux with god rays and castrated decision-making. From parlay at noon with a hick robot to the arid wastes that cut up the park grounds, Bethesda have gone out of their way to recapture the messy magic of Obsidian’s Nevadan dystopia. Unfortunately, they fly far and wide of the mark.

Fallout 4’s final buildout shirks everything that Far Harbor did so well in favour of blatant padding and asinine fetch quests. Howard and team manage to make Disneyland dull; the park is a blunge of old assets and re-skins and fronts like it didn’t have a budget, even though it’s a videogame and the only limitation is effort. Ludicrously padded quests have you fast-travelling back and forth between Nuka World and the Commonwealth, which means a loading screen to switch maps and a loading screen to get where you actually want to go. Quest givers always seem to be shut up inside unloaded interiors, even when it makes absolutely no sense for them to be there. The most glaring example is Fritsch for the first Amoral Combat radiant quest. Fritsch, who you don’t and never know, is stood around inside the Nukacade for absolutely no apparent reason, and all he does is tell you what you already know and send you to where you were already going. It’s one of many transparent and empty attempts to lengthen the stunted main quest, which is easily the worst out of the expansions and the game proper.

You can’t really make an antagonist out of anyone. Mutant crustaceans, ferals and robots on the fritz have zero motivation, just instinct and programming, so it’s impossible to invest in fighting them for what is the sad majority of the DLC. You would think, then, that one or all of the gangs would pick up the slack and be your big, big bad(s); after all, The Pack are depraved, The Disciples are sadistic and The Operators only care about caps. For a good character, there are enemies everywhere. But they never get to be your villains because no matter how you feel about them, you still end up doing their bitchwork regardless, unless you slaughter them all straight away, emancipate their slaves and forfeit the rest of the questline. One will inevitably end up turning you during the final act of the main quest, but who it is is completely arbitrary. You get the same cut-and-paste ending whichever way you decide to go, so it’s not really a decision at all.

The most grievous issue with the story content is the dialogue. What you can do and what you can say completely undermines your position as lynch-pin of the desert triad: you don’t give the orders- Gage does; the gangs don’t work for you- you work for them. Sure, you can send them around and kill whoever you want in the end, but beyond some shallow settlement mechanics- that controvert your every effort in the main game to rebuild and resettle the Commonwealth- and a deposit chest that generates a few hundred caps every couple of in-game days, for all intents and purposes you’re the apocalyptic janitor you always have been. You do the bitchwork. For what had the potential to be a gluttonous Lord Humongous power-trip, everything ends up going limp; a sense of total impotence pervades everything you do and say, and the structure of main and radiant quests.

It’s not all bad, though. There are some great side locations, and the new weapons, especially the paint-splattered Problem Solver and the Commie Whacker, are pretty awesome. The rapacious Pack add a bit of flavor to the brown/gray mix as well. It’s also quite challenging- at least, it was on very hard. Some of the bugs, especially the cave crickets on the outskirts of the map, are a real nuisance.

Overall, this is another missed opportunity from Bethesda. They started strong and peaked with Far Harbor, but after this and the piss-poor Vault-Tec Workshop, I don’t feel content to let the game go. We need one more high note. Here’s hoping.

2/5

In Defence of No Man’s Sky

I should preface this by saying that I have only- and only plan to- play(ed) the game on PlayStation 4. So if you were looking to have a tidy bitch about how your three thousand dollar rig and seven industrial fans couldn’t even boot the game, you really haven’t come to the right place. 

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No Man’s Shoes

Ever since Sean Murray stumbled his way onto the E3 stage back in 2014, No Man’s Sky has been the every-game. For two tantric years, every gamer from every corner of the fiber optic globe flocked to Sony’s triple-E blindside like it was the Messiah reincarnate, and packed its empty spaces with all the dreams and hopes every seven-year-old boy with a couple of freebies on their boxy PC had scribbled into a notebook and promised they would reify when they grew up and figured out just how the hell any of those vanity cards did what they did.

What that meant was that there was absolutely no way it couldn’t disappoint. And so when the lukewarm reviews started piling in, I wasn’t surprised; that is, I wasn’t surprised that they were bad. But what I was surprised by was the lack of any sort of defense. It was like as soon as the space-worm in the trailer passed into pre-release myth, everybody with a pre-order and a week off work jumped ship. Or should I say spaceship. There was no sort of loyalty to the game or the developers or any of the things that they did do and did achieve and did deliver on.

The crux of the online criticism all over Reddit and YouTube is that we were lied to, and that half the features we were promised are inexplicably absent from the final release. I will concede that there was a lot of stuff in the E3 demos and trailers that incalculable random generation can’t even pretend isn’t there, but I’m not seeing a lot of ‘Where is’; I’m seeing a lot  of ‘What if it was’ and ‘What if it wasn’t’.

What if it was Mass Effect with a god engine? What if there were cities and politics and populations and people? What if I could build this or build that? What if it wasn’t a mining sim? What if it was a procedural shooting gallery? What if I could rear alien cattle and raise a god damn space farm? (These are all things I’ve read and all things I’ve heard; if you don’t believe me, I’d suggest checking out Previously Recorded or AngryJoe’s reviews of the game).

Don’t get me wrong; I would throw my money around like a madman for all of that stuff (bar the bloodbath). But that isn’t what was promised, and that isn’t what was sold, or hinted at, or implied, no matter how much you try to convince yourself or tell yourself that Sean Murray has the key to your imagination.

So let’s not get hung up on what the game doesn’t do, like everybody else, and focus on what it does.

What it does is a lot, and almost all of it is fantastic. The sound design is par-excellence, driving and shaping your journey and matching every emergent move you make. The score could beg to impress, but it doesn’t. It touches here and there, but it never breaks from the whole, chiming a warm key or a pulpy synth before a jet blast flushes it back through the stellar galactic milieu.

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Seven generations and counting

The technology and what it has the capacity to produce is awesome, and, from what I’ve seen during my 20+ hours, the variety of its planets and solar systems is staggering. The infinite minutia of its ships, its lifeforms and plant-life, give the whole game a reality and genuine magnitude that nothing else on the market has ever come close to achieving. Yes, Minecraft is big and random and yes, you can do more with the environment. But it’s also made out of blocks. The graphical fidelity that Murray and team have managed to achieve in a game of this scope is mind-blowing. And to make it all feel real, to make a lightyear feel like a lightyear, is quite the feat.

No Man’s Sky is not the Second Coming, but it is pretty special. If Sony hadn’t bused Murray around like a tech Belfort, maybe things would have been different. Maybe people would be talking about that awesome new indie game instead of a fresh batch of digital snake oil. Because Sean Murray and his tiny team are not to blame; this is a case of corporate pressure on a studio, not corporate rooking of a playerbase, a la Watch_Dogs. Stop playing market victim and take a measured look at the size of Murray’s team and the scale of their project.

For all its faults, No Man’s Sky is the first game in a long time that has floored my flesh and blood brain with a 2D screen, and for that it gets my gratitude (if the opinion of one blogger among millions, like a planet among 8 quintillion, means anything at all…)

 

Suicide Squad: The Avengers on bath salts Escape from New York #MovieReview

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Suicide Squad is a hot, hot mess. There’s some good stuff on offer here- the best that DC have been able to cobble together since The Dark Knight– but it’s muzzled by a checklist military hodgepodge plot and a film student editing job that makes the Margot/Smith mega-movie more music video than film. Luckily, because of the bitty puzzle-piece plot, it’s not too much of a challenge to separate the good from the bad. And the very bad.

Ayer’s antihero flick is a bipolar blockbuster of binary halves: half a good cast, half a bad one; half a good script, half a bad one; half an original idea, smothered in its bed by a pillow stuffed with cash. And as that metaphor implies, none of this is a surprise. The film is a mess because the production was a mess, and the production was a mess because of the massive financial pressures and expectations that the film’s grossly overblown marketing budget and tortured production cycles ultimately precipitated; a vacuum for an empty film to fill.

Essentially, DC couldn’t have picked a tougher adaptation to sell, and a worse time to try to do it after Vancity Reynolds blew in from Nowhere and punted them into the fucking Marianas Trench; hence the reshoots, rewrites and competing cuts that turned a simple adaptation into an impossible project with too much to do and too many people to please.

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But, like I said, there is a lot of praiseworthy stuff here. Jared Leto’s Joker is a personal standout; Leto manages to echo Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning 2008 turn without overrunning or aping it. He does his own thing, and I think it works. He’s a Joker for the iPhone age, with silver grills and tats and a Sony tablet with Steve Stephensian Periscopes on standby. Margot Robbie is a bit of a blood diamond. For the most part, she’s a lot of fun and brings a lot of life to an otherwise dead and done-over cast. But almost every other laugh gets a flop for a chaser, and every bit of badassery is disappointingly checked by a perturbing and frustratingly persistent sexual infantalization that caters to the creeps and fucking no one else. Think ‘BB Talk’ on a Sony lot.

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NB: there is something seriously wrong with the baby/daddy talk of modern sex. Why is it sexy for Harley to blabber and blubber like a toddler? Is that the fantasy? For her to be physically developed and mentally arrested? And if so, why? Or maybe I/we don’t want to know.

In short, the film tries to juggle too many balls. The film turns on 175 million dimes from crocodile Sambo to empowered African-American power-player Amanda Waller; daddy’s lil’ nymphomaniac to daddy’s lil’ archaeologist; Eminem to royalty-free rouse #4 with no semblance of self-awareness or irony atfuckingall. I’m sure Ayer had a solid idea of what he wanted the film to be, and I’m almost as sure that his first cut, before the test screenings and corporate screenings and, of course, Deadpool, had a consistent style. And I say that not just because he’s the guy who wrote Training Day, but because most of what is wrong with the film lies in the way that it’s cut, and that means post-production. It’s less a movie than a bunch of random scenes on shuffle; a dislocatory Janusian shambles thrashing around in the deep-end of the Deadpool. What a shame that we all saw coming from miles to the power of googol away.

But real talk… WHERE THE FUCK WAS BATMAN?

The Neon Demon (18) Film Review

Have your cake, eat it, and then throw up because you look like a pig.

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Modelling is truly the Refn film’s compeer; people are ornamental, violence is sex and vapidity is substantive. The film’s ethereal L.A., guttural and glittering, finds itself somewhere in-between the arterial urbanism of Drive and the neon-drenched dank and fatalism of Only God Forgives: a lurid wonderland of rapacious wolves and fresh golden sheep. Its narrative velocity is just as medial. The story moves forward with a more accessible pace and purchase than OGF, but waits far longer to blow its gruesome load than Drive. The narrative momentum pays off, however, giving Refn’s autonomic aesthetics more credence, and his characters more to show us, to give us and present us with, and so more to be invested and involved in. It also helps that the characters are characters, rather than glorified symbols. There’s a mystery to the film, about who these people are and what they want- what they are; if they’re even people, if they’ve pushed themselves past that definition, been pushed past it, or always been outside it- that is genuinely engaging and that envelopes and corroborates the visual and aural tension of the first two-thirds.

Elle Fanning’s virginal lamb, Jessie, is the quietly captivating heart of The Neon Demon, and a big one at that. Fanning moves and talks with a slow confidence that more than matches the acute aura of Ryan Gosling’s stoic driver and emotionally arrested drug-dealer Julian. Jessie is every bit of every smile, every glance and every slow word, and is everything that the film’s agents and photographers make her out to be. It is rare for a character to actually have that same allure for the audience; the stunning woman is usually not as stunning as the script thinks she is, as casting could get her, or as the characters around her fawn and scramble to reify. But Fanning is. This isn’t Goldie. We’re not just told that she’s different; she is different. We don’t just have to buy that she’s captivating; she is, and she captivates us. She really is the something else that everybody says she is, and I look forward to seeing what she does next, because I think it could be a lot.

Overall the supporting cast is solid, with Keanu Reeves’ sleazy motel manager and Karl Glusman’s boy next door with a fast car and a heart of gold being the two big standouts. Jena Malone should be commended for a committed performance, but maybe not a good one. The same goes for Heathcoate and Kershaw; it’s great that they’re willing to work with challenging material, but it would be better if they could live up to it. All three women were stiff and difficult, and as the film progressed, it became more and more apparent that they couldn’t hold a scene without Fanning. Every minute of screen-time Refn gave them was just another opportunity to lose believability and substance. Which is ironic.

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Cinematographer Natasha Braier brings a fresh set of eyes and ideas to the visuals that help Refn top himself yet again. In terms of aesthetics, Refn is unmatched by anyone working today. Composer Cliff Martinez’s third successive collaboration with Refn is an icy, aortic melange that pounds and throbs with tension and psychosexuality, knowing when to recede and when to explode. The script, too, is a huge step up from the rather clunky two pages that Refn scribbled out for OGF. The film consistently nails the careful tonal balance between drama and absurdity; it stays serious enough to make meaning, but self-aware enough to keep out of its own arse.

But then, on the homestretch, it lets itself down.

Maybe I just knew too much about what was coming; the hyperventilating Cannes press had already robbed me of my ignorance before I had a chance to hit the cinema (scratch that- before the film was even on general release) something which was compounded by scaremongering BBFC press releases and obnoxious Daily Mail empty-head-lines. But, then again, maybe I’m just being generous- maybe it was just silly shocksploitation with illusions of grandeur. Well there wasn’t anything grand about the last forty-five minutes; I can tell you that now and save you the hassle of wondering when you’re sitting there.

And you should be sitting there, because despite where it ends up, the meat of the movie is actually pretry special. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, and if you love cinema, I think you have a duty to make sure that you do, and to support a filmmaker who is doing his damnedest to bring us something better and something different.  Don’t let the press nanny you into Absolutely Fabulous and don’t let the cynics tell you it’s pretentious; I mean, it is, but that’s half the fun, right?

4/5

Review: Game of Thrones S6E9 ‘Battle of the Bastards’

(Originally written for The Edge)

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They did it. They more than did it.

And no, I’m not just talking about the Starks; I’m talking about the entire team behind this unbelievable show. The eponymous battle of ‘Battle of the Bastards’ was one of, if not the, best medieval war sequences I have ever seen, in TV or otherwise. Every facet of the fight was expertly crafted, produced and shot. And the scale. Say what you will about the Dothraki horde, and Daenerys’ scaly pets; this wasn’t sleight of hand: it was practical, physical stuff. The effects, the choreography of so many actors and extras, the camerawork, and the amount of bodies – living, dead, or somewhere in-between – on screen, all at the same time, made this not just the crowning achievement of the sixth season, but potentially the entire show, and maybe even the entirety of television’s second golden age.

And god, how satisfying it was to finally see the Starks avenged. After six seasons of failure and death, finally things were put right, and in the best of ways. We all wanted Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) to get a good death – apart from maybe the Bolton loyalists over at the Dreadfort subreddit – we just didn’t know what that meant, or if the showrunners could pull it off. Well, they did, and it was spectacular. What a fitting end for a man obsessed with control to die because he could no longer exercise it.

Image via screenrant.com

The North was fantastic, but what a slog of an emotional marathon! The writers spent almost the entire back half of the episode dangling Jon Snow (Kit Harington) off of a cliff edge. His mindless charge at the Bolton ranks, in a hail of arrows; his faux final stand against Ramsay’s charging horsemen with only Longclaw and his man-bun; being trampled in the body-pit by his own panicking men. I was more than ready for fate to double-down on the mortality of the world’s favourite bastard. But it didn’t, and he won. Of course, credit has to go to the Vale, but bloody, muddy Jon was the real hero of the hour, charging down the Winterfell gates with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Wun Wun the Giant (Ian Whyte) to raise the Stark banners. While Ramsay watched from a horse on a hill, Jon was slicing and dicing his way through the thick of the battle. The bastards’ penultimate Fist Full of Dollars showdown in the Winterfell courtyard captured that dynamic perfectly; Ramsay’s tricks had run dry, and even if he’d had a mile and a bottomless sheath, Jon’s fists were going to reach his smarmy face. If we’ve learnt anything this season, it’s that Jon Snow is more determined to kill bad guys than the Gods are to kill him.

One more thing I want to mention is the use of bodies. D&D (Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) moulded the battlescape with corpses, trapping the Stark forces in a literal death pit, and giving us some of the most grotesque and upsetting imagery we’ve seen from the show thus far. It was innovative and incredible, in all the wrong and right ways.

So, that was the North. But what about Meereen? I hadn’t expected to see anything from the rest of Westeros this episode, let alone from across the sea; I thought we were going to get another Blackwater (my second favorite episode of the series now, after this one!). But we didn’t; instead, we got a cohesive double narrative with a lot of great parallels – most notably the children of terrible fathers coming together or coming to blows. Bastards one and all.

Image via screenrant.com

Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) dragon-mounted return to Meereen was cathartic and spectacular, and one of the all-time most satisfying moments in the show (again, only second to Jon pounding away at Ramsay’s face with a metal club of a fist – if you haven’t guessed the score by now you haven’t been paying attention). Finally, the dragons are free; finally, the masters are dead; and finally, thanks to some helpful plot teleportation from the Greyjoy siblings, things are on track for the Dragon Queen invasion we’ve been anticipating since season one, and for the first book readers, 1991.

Oh, and I ship Dany and Yara (Gemma Whelan) too hard. I think it’s becoming more and more clear that Game of Thrones is a fantasy about how women could have fixed human HIStory. The fiction is that they got their chance. Sansa (Sophie Turner) has won the North, and Dany and Yara are about to take Westeros. Let’s have it.

This was simply the best episode of the show. It was everything we wanted and way, way more. And as an aside, thank god that the spoilers and leaks floating around the internet weren’t true, or were at least weirdly sparing. No mention of Ramsay’s death or the battle in Meereen? I’m calling bullsh*t.

 

Clown (2014) Review

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Well, Eli Roth certainly knows which pies to put his fingers in.

Clown, directed by Jon Watts and produced by gorno prince Eli Roth, is a Canadian-American body horror film that’s just about the best movie I’ve seen in the last few months.

Originally released in 2014 in Italy, and 2015 in the UK, Clown has only just found its way over to the States. And although I’m not a Yank, I usually get into stuff about the same time they do, so here we are. Call me blinkered, but I guess that’s just my demographic.

Clown is about a dad, Kent McCoy, played by Andy Powers, who gets stuck inside a clown suit. And that’s because it’s not a costume: it’s a demon’s skin; a demon from Nordic mythology, Cloyne, that lived up in the mountains and ate children. Kent stumbles across the costume in a chest in the basement of one of his properties. The rent-a-clown for his son’s birthday is a no-show, so Kent decides to put it on and rush home to do the job instead.

And there starts the madness- the disgusting, bloody madness.

That probably all sounds a bit silly, and that’s because it is. But make no mistake: this is not a film to be scoffed at. Yes, the premise is ludicrous, but Watts engages with it in a way that is both novel, emotionally weighty and responsible. Clown is equal parts absurdist Cronenbergian body horror and anguished Kafkaesque tragicomedy; a gory trip into the supernatural depths of a fictional Norse legend, that takes a buzz saw and a big heart along for the ride.

Everything rests on the broad and capable shoulders of a truly talented main cast; Laura Allen, who plays Kent’s wife, and Christian Distefano, who plays their young son, deserve particular praise. Distefano goes above and beyond what is expected of an actor his age, convincing us with every line and every face. Allen flawlessly matches both Powers’ possessed patriarch and the wonderful Peter Stormare’s ‘guy who knows exactly what’s going on and why and has all the answers’ (but this time he’s not a priest- he’s a Swede!) Herbert Karlsson, and deserves heaps of praise for committing so fully to a concept that could have easily let itself go too far and get too serious. And we have the cast and the writers to thank for the fact that it doesn’t.

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The film turns on an admirably competent dime, trading dark comedy and body horror for purist tension and suspense without so much as a stumble. I’m happy to admit that my heart was in my throat  throughout the entire back half of the movie.

Clown looks great, too. The cinematography is clean and crisp, and the costumes, the practical effects, the blood, the guts, the viscera and Matthew Santo’s morbid rainbow palette are a treat for the eyes and a turn for the stomach. Matt Veligdan’s soundtrack is in perpetual panic mode, and in tandem with Robert Ryang’s rhythmic editing, it ratchets up the tension, scene by scene, until one finally explodes with confetti-colored blood and bone fragments.

The film is brilliantly self-aware, and plays around creatively with its undeniably silly premise. There’s a way to be sincere without being completely serious about your concept, and Clown does it perfectly. Unlike James Wan’s unoriginal horror tripe, Clown makes you feel and fall about laughing with sick delight all at once; it knows its premise is ridiculous, and that’s what makes it so clever.

As for the ultimate point, I’m not entirely sure. It’s complicated, and maybe even a little provocative; suffice it to say that there are a lot of different things going on: pedophilia, abuse, homelessness, mental illness, etc. etc. It’s not explicit, but it’s there if you want to read it.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Clown is everything a horror movie should be, and more. This is a true genre gem; not a meandering art-house flabbergast like The Witch, but an effortless, kinetic fright-fest, with blood and gore to the rafters and a gloriously macabre sense of humor. You’ll be laughing yourself off the sofa one minute, and behind it the next. What more could you ask for?

An easy…

5/5