Saturday 28 February 2015

[REC] 4: Apocalypse by Jaume Balagueró - Review

Let's rewind. In the mid Noughties, when both the zombie and the shakicam subgenres of horror had not quite reached their peak, a duo of Spanish directors - Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró - innovatively combined the two, threw in a bit of possession lore at the end, and the resulting manic mélange was [REC] (2007), a gripping, almost unbearably tense reinvigoration of all these formats, confined almost entirely to a Barcelona apartment building.

[REC]2 (2009) brought into the old structure a legion of new intradiegetic cameras, and ingeniously wrapped multiple storylines in and around the events of the first film, creating along the way a near perfect sequel. [REC]3: Genesis (2012) was a self-conscious deviation from formula: not only a solo directorial effort from Plaza, but leaving the apartment block altogether for all-new characters at a doomed wedding party on the other side of town - yet when, midway through the mayhem, [REC]3 abandoned the franchise's signature pseudo-documentary style for more conventionally objective camerawork, it also lost its individual identity, becoming near indistinguishable from the hordes of other zombie flicks around it.

Saturday 21 February 2015

BFI Cult: Little Shop of Horrors by Frank Oz

Inspired by the monster movie directed by Roger Corman, a production he famously completed in 2 days, and based directly on the successful off-Broadway rock musical, Frank Oz’s 1986 horror comedy occupies a rare position in pop culture as both a mainstream movie and a cult item.

Headlined by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Vincent Gardenia – with a memorable supporting role for Steve Martin (credited as ‘Special Appearance by’) – Little Shop of Horrors had genuine crossover appeal, both as a musical and tale of the macabre. Perhaps unusually, given the subversive elements of the plot and its farce-like premise, kids embraced the film and found much to enjoy. After all, a giant plant that talks and eats people is an amusing concept. The risqué jokes and mild cursing pitched the film at an acceptable level even if, on closer inspection, the material is occasionally inappropriate and more than a bit weird.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Serena by Susanne Bier - Review

One would imagine that a film staring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper would have garnered far more interest than director Susanne Bier's Serena ultimately received either commercially or critically upon it's theatrical release. Now available on DVD, perhaps this oversight can be rectified or at least made more understandable.

Both Lawrence and Cooper are enjoying a true purple patch in their careers and both have collaborated before with the Oscar winning (for Lawrence) Silver Linings Play Book. Serena is set in Depression era 1930s North Carolina amongst the Smoky Mountains and it's timber empires. A primordial woodland setting has become a familiar setting for Lawrence with Winter's Bone (2010) and The Hunger Games (2012) series making her on-screen survival skills an example of a modern day heroine. Paired again with Cooper and vast woodland vistas perhaps it was a tree too far for a public who has arguably missed out on a particular film gem.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: Colour Me Surprised!

In Fifty Shades of Grey, naive journalism student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets young billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for an interview in her university paper. The connection and chemistry between the two is instant, yet Christian Grey has more in mind than dates at the movies followed by a nice meal: he is a master who likes to dominate women in his red room of pain, and he offers Anastasia a contract of total domination. Will she sign it, won't she? Will his steely confidence be shattered by a woman who, despite her young age and innocence, shows more strength than expected?

I love how cinema is full of surprises. It's fair to say that, apart from the numerous fans of the book, nobody was expecting anything from the Fifty Shades Of Grey film adaptation, except a good giggle. Yet what a pleasant surprises this turns out to be, and Sam Taylor-Johnson should be praised for what she achieved: satisfying the fans (and the studio) while elevating and improving upon the source material (with resulted in much on-set shouting matches with the book's author E.L. James apparently!)

Tuesday 10 February 2015

BFI Cult: Phantom of the Paradise by Brian de Palma

Phantom of the Paradise belongs to the golden age of Brian de Palma that went from the 70's to the mid 80's (or later, depending on your perspective), unleashing a crazier film each time, with his baroque, unbridled visual style and his unashamedly blatant Hitchcock references. Phantom of the Paradise is The Phantom of the Opera meets Faust, a baroque and psychedelic rock opera in which a naive composer, Winslow (William Finley) falls prey of ruthless music producer Swan (Paul Williams) who steals his work before leaving him for dead. Having survived the accident but badly disfigured, he strikes an uneasy alliance with his foe to allow for his music to be heard and for the object of his affection, Phoenix (Jessica Harper), to be able to sing it.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Jupiter Ascending by The Wachowskis - Review

The Wachowskis are among the most exciting directors currently working. While ironically I consider their Matrix trilogy to be their least interesting work, all that has come afterwards have pushed the boundaries of mainstream cinema, making them a rarity, two great experimentalists within the narrow confines of blockbusters. So obviously their films are big box office flops, one after another. Speed Racer was a monument of bubble gum pop art. Cloud Atlas was a wonderfully affecting and ambitious epic film that never took itself too seriously, having a lot of fun with the artifices of cinema. Jupiter Ascending might have appeared more conventional when it was announced but turns out to be none of the sort.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Altered by Kely McClung - Review

"You keep thinking like that, these streets will eat you up. You've got to change your negativity. What I'm saying to you, dude: it's the way you look at sh*t. I mean, change your perception, and you change the world." The speaker is one of several 'invisible' homeless characters in Kely McClung's Altered, serving as its marginal chorus and teasing the film's themes into a broader social and philosophical frame. Protagonist Sarah (Amanda Dreschler) herself harbours the belief that she can change the world with her own (often very imaginative) perceptions - and so the film replicates her unusual worldview by presenting a core of events in multiple alternate versions, playing and replaying its heroine's attempts to create the best of all possible worlds from darkness, decay and death. This is Groundhog Day (1993), only with a constellation of characters who shift and change before our eyes, and with an unhappy ending locked in from the very start.