Self/Less: when a terminally ill millionaire has his mind copied into a young and healthy body he gets a second chance at life… but there’s always a catch. This one has a great, high-concept idea at the core, however it deliberataly shifts lanes into a generic Bourne-type action movie instead; shying away from the higher brow sci-fi elements. It’s not all bad though as the action is to a decent standard, the story is a bit different, and because it’s a Tarsem Singh film the look and design is fantastic (although it’s nowhere near as styalised or ‘Tarsemmy’ as his other movies). The emotional scenes are also stronger than you’d expect from a film like this. Reynolds is great at portraying a new man; and I love how he isn’t afraid to take on more risky and interesting pictures than his peers: stuff like Buried, RIPD, The Nines, Deadpool. While Self/Less won’t be going down as a Sci-Fi (or action) classic, it’s a both solid and interesting enough to keep you entertained – and maybe even think a little – for two hours.
There are very brief glimpses of Tarsem’s visual flare
Black Mass: follows the criminal activities of the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger and his closest conspirators. First off; why the fuck would anyone want to make such a pointless film? One that tells the story of an evil murderer, pointing out that he’s an evil murderer by showing him commit and sanction said evil murders. We get it; but y tho? There’s no arc, no development, no story… it’s just a series of decreasingly effective cold-blooded killings. The pacing is dead slow, full of unlikable characters and shows zero motivation for anyone’s actions; especially the vampiric and despicable lead. If anything, it felt farcical that a FBI would allow such openly compromised detective to continue working on cases they were obviously invested in! Being set in Boston we’re treated to everyone trying (but failing) to nail BAWSTAN accent: Cumberbatch lands poll position with a change in both pitch and hammy accent, that feels like a straight-up comedy voice. The ensemble cast are phenomenal, but nobody is given a credible character to work with, and although he’s as good as he’s been in the last 10 years or so Johnny Depp continues his obsession with distracting dressing up / make up to get in to character. Black mass is well shot, boasts a couple of good scenes, and a decent central performance but it is the opposite of an enjoyable or interesting film. It’s the film that nobody was crying out for; and a great companion piece for Killing Them Softly.
Arrival: when aliens make contact in twelve different countries the race is on to find out why they are here. The main themes and purpose of the movie is revealed very slowly, in tiny pieces that don’t slot together at all until the very end, where – if you’re still paying attention – it should hit you like a ton of bricks. Because of this, it’s the type of film that I imagine would be more rewarding on the second viewing, knowing how it plays out and fits together from the start. There’s a lot of nice details & observations about language; and Villeneuve’s recurring themes of repetition, circularity, loops, and significant numbers (12!!). Other than the director, as mentioned everywhere else Amy Adams puts in a great shift; although I’m not so sure she’ll be taking home an Oscar as there’s a lot of CGI reaction shots, and not many big acting ‘moments’. With the critical praise, box-office hype, and an alien–invasion trailer I felt that arrival suffers from the ‘Sicario Effect’ in that it’s smarter, lower key, and more nuanced than the film it’s been sold as; with absolutely massive ideas and questions thrown at the audience, played though one character’s story and experience. Is Arrival intelligent? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Thought provoking? Yes. Compelling? … Somewhat. A ‘great’ film? I don’t think so. For me it feels like Villeneuve spends too much time setting up his ideas instead of telling a grand story.
The Final Girls: when a freak cinema fire leaves Max and her friends stuck inside a slasher movie she finally has a chance to re-connect with her dead ‘scream queen’ mum. The premise of the film is fantastic, allowing the movie to play with every trope from the classic slasher pictures: stock characters, language/dialogue, sounds, flashbacks, on-screen text and so on. It even gets the tiny details right, like how the ‘teenagers’ from the old film are older than teenagers. Like the original slasher films, every character is stock and all of the actors slot in to their roles perfectly; the sexed up girl’s Adderall-fueled Cherry Pie striptease was the highlight of the film for me. Director Todd Strauss Schulson handles both sides of the story with care (70s/80s era slasher nostalgia + modern cult/horror fandom) and the film looks absolutely fantastic with crazy-vibrant colours, tons of very striking visuals, and great camerawork – it sounds like a low blow, but it’s too well-made when compared to the films it’s homaging. The Final Girls is fantastic love letter to the great slashers of the 1980s; it’s great fun to watch, looks brilliant, and it can stand tall alongside recent postmodern horrors like of Tucker & Dale and Cabin in the Woods.
Dear God NO! [Grindhouse Cut]: a murderous outlaw biker gang kill their rivals and hide out in the woods, where they meet a crazy scientist and big foot… I think. Yup, here’s another ‘nasty nostalgia’ film with faux grain effect, pops and scratches, heavy saturation, projector sounds, mono/muffled soundtrack, tracking issues, etc, etc. It’s only 81 minutes long, but is crammed with filler: you get 5 minutes straight of up-close ‘mondo’ style topless dancing, a psychedelic heroin dream trip, and a Nazi Dr Frankenstein babe trip – all for no reason other than padding out the runtime (and increasing the shock factor). Made on a shoestring, the film’s packed with bad dialogue, bad acting, bad characters, actor changes, and ‘plot threads’ that make literally no sense. It’s like the director asked a 15 year old boy what he thought was cool – boobs, swearing, drinking, and bad attitudes man – and just rolled with that. We first meet the biker gang the morning after they trash a bus full of nuns and rape/murder them all, and it only goes downhill from there; bottoming out with a snuff scene that goes too far with a double rape and fetus removing/killing. I’ve seen much worse than this and not been as disgusted as this just nasty for nasty’s sake; and I couldn’t believe that there are directors out there that make Rob Zombie look like a proficient filmmaker. I’ve sat through some truly terrible movies in my day, and this is down there with the worst of ‘em. The only good thing about the entire project is it’s old school poster, and the only way I can imagine convincing anyone that this has worked is if you pitch it as a poor-taste no-budget physical effects show reel – or a masterclass in using controversy and a good poster as a get-rich-quick idea. A very very niche and ultra-nasty bikesploitation film.
Green Room: when they witness a murder in a remote neo-nazi music venue crusty-punk band “The Ain’t Rights” have to fight their way out. It’s the sort of weird blurb that you’d expect from a shitty B-Movie, but this one is anything but that. The setup is a great portrayal of the Punk/DIY scene and touring life in general; whereas the main chunk of the film switches to a tense, claustrophobic cat-and-mouse thriller as the band are trapped, and the balance of power inside/outside the room shifts back and forth. The final act changes gears yet again into more of a generic hillbilly survival horror story; yet keeps up with the breath-holding, seat-grabbing set pieces. The film is littered with moments of ultra-violent ultra-gore; limbs being slashed, people being gutted, graphic gunshot wounds… which are offset with some wonderfully wicked black/morbid comedy moments; like fighting off a dog with a mic stand and getting ridiculous feedback from the PA system. Visually, the film is very slick and the director skillfully keeps the majority of the runtime confined to a the small, grotty, bar: unsurprisingly, all of the green colours have been popped out, giving it a vibrant – almost neon – wash. The entire cast is solid; it’s a great turn by Yelchin in one of his final roles, and it’s fantastic to see someone straight like Patrick Stewart play a proper ruthless peesashit baddie. Green Room exceeds all expectations for a film with its niche plot, and is handled exceptionally by the cast and director, creating a solid and effective thriller.
List of bands mentioned / referenced: I’m sure there’s more!
Fugazi, Dead Kennedys, Dillinger Escape Plan, Misfits, Black Sabbath, Simon and Garfunkel, Prince, Madonna, Slayer, Iggy Pop, Minor Threat, Distillers, Dare to Defy,