1973 – Hong Kong, USA
Directors: Robert Clouse, Bruce Lee
Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Shih Kien
Words: Joe H.
An iconic pop culture figure of the 20th century, Bruce Lee’s achievements culturally and cinematically elevated martial arts and the film genre to new heights, leading to an explosion of people learning martial arts with incredible popularity in the 1970’s.
With the first martial arts movie to be produced by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Bros. offered Bruce Lee the opportunity to appear in what would come to be his final film – Enter The Dragon.
Enter The Dragon is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time – in it we follow Lee, a Shaolin martial artist from Hong Kong, who receives an invitation to a martial arts tournament organised on an island by the criminal warlord known as Han.
An agent from British Intelligence approaches Lee and asks for his help in an undercover mission – Han is suspected of being involved in drug-smuggling and prostitution, and Lee is asked to infiltrate the island stronghold and liaise with an undercover operative.
Lee learns that Han was also once a Shaolin student, but had been expelled from their order for dishonouring their code, and that Han’s bodyguard O’Harra had been involved in the death of his sister. Lee agrees to the task, believing that his efforts will restore the Shaolin honour that Han has disgraced, and along with thoughts of his sister, now finds himself on a mission of revenge as well.
Joining Lee on the island are fellow competitors Roper and Williams – Roper (played by John Saxon), an American playboy gambler on the run from the mob, and Williams (Jim Kelly), an African-American on the run after defending himself against two racist white policeman.
What ensues is one of the most enthralling martial arts movies of its time, with the anticipation leading up to every scene where Lee finds himself in a perilous situation being met above and beyond expectation with some astoundingly good bareknuckle action, defeating dozens of henchman with a striking ability on display clearly more than that of the rehearsed action choreography of present day actors simply going through the motions, with fight sequences standing the test of time – especially with ‘that nunchaku scene’.
The film is certainly of its era, with Han being reminiscent of a classic James Bond villain (having a prosthetic hand interchangeable with various weapons), and some of the dialogue is wrapped in the 70’s with an almost spaghetti western feel, but this now just adds a particular charm – all set against a superb score from renowned soundtrack composer Lalo Schifrin.
Going undercover in a martial arts tournament on an island fortress, we see why Bruce Lee became known across the world as one of the most exciting stars on screen, with the film culminating in the climactic and cinematically historic fight scene in a room of mirrors.
Bruce Lee died before Enter The Dragon was released in movie theatres in 1973, he never saw its widespread acclaim.
You may not have ever seen one of Lee’s films before, but you could introduce yourself to one of the biggest martial arts movies of all time and see why the man known as Bruce Lee became a legend.
2014/ USA, Germany, UK
Director: Wes Anderson
Words: R. Topham
“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” – M. Gustave, the voice of pessimists everywhere. Possibly Wes Anderson’s most aesthetically pleasing film to date, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightfully entertaining and slightly surreal cinematic gem that was such a hit with the public and critics that it’s since been immortalised as a video game.
Gustave, played spectacularly by Ralph Fiennes, is a legendary concierge at skiing resort The Grand Budapest Hotel during the 1930’s when he is framed for the murder of a beloved guest. The latter bequeaths Gustave a very valuable painting in her will, Boy with Apple, much to the dismay of her children. Gustave and recently appointed lobby boy Zero embark on a quest to prove Gustave’s innocence, encountering all kinds of surprises along the way, from a prison cell to The Society of the Crossed Keys.
It’s a kind of facetious modern twist on a period drama, but it works because the cheeky humour and the sheer ridiculousness of the quick-fire protagonist perfectly compliment the casually chaotic narrative. Much like previous classics such as Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore, what Wes Anderson did with The Grand Budapest Hotel was interweave wit, style and fun in the most charmingly ostentatious way imaginable. It’s evidently an explosion of Anderson’s psyche, and, with the help of trusty cinematographer Robert Yeoman, it’s an hour and forty minutes of pure brilliance.
And of course a multitude of Anderson’s go-to actors have cameos: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzmen, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe – you get the idea. Plus Tilda Swinton, barely recognisable beneath a heavy costume of wrinkles and grey hair, plays Gustave’s ill-fated 84 year old lover and nails it. A great cast, an impeccably written script, Academy Award winning make-up and costume design, all the ingredients for a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Words: N. Platts
We’ve all been there. It’s three in the morning, you’ve just made yourself a soothing cup of good old English tea and you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling. Sleep evades you and your alarm is going off in just four hours. What do you do? Now, maybe most of you will clamp your eyes closed and will yourself to at least get a few hours kip so you can be at least partly human the next day? Maybe you’ll make that classic cup of tea a little more Irish and attempt to tackle the situation that way? No? Okay…then maybe, like me, you trawl through Netflix and look for something to watch? Got it? Yes? Good. Bingo. We’re on the same page.
Now, hunting out a good film on Netflix (or the equivalent) is often a tenuous affair full of disappointment with the phrase “Seen it” seemingly drifting from between your lips over and over again. However from time to time you find that rarest of gems. A film you’ve not seen, a film that seems bearable and a film that has been directed by the same bloke that directed for us the return of the Tron universe in Tron: Legacy; a highly underrated film in this man’s humble opinion. So, I settled down, sipped my steaming cup of tea, and braced myself for Oblivion.
With a cast headed by miniature action hero Tom Cruise and Newcastle lass Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion depicts humanity within a situation so far up shit creek that you’d need a whole load of Mr Muscle to even see the edge, as Jack Harper (Cruise) and Victoria (Riseborough) are tasked with monitoring the last remnants of planet Earth prior to a worldwide evacuation; whilst also supervising a fleet of drones in their hunting down of the supposedly evil ‘Scavs’, a bumbling race of laser shooting humanoids that are hiding out on the surface. How bloody dare they!
Jack’s memory has been wiped clear by those above him in order to protect some of Earth’s secrets from falling into the hands of other hostile forces. However, this cleansing of memories seemingly missed one rather important moment in particular, namely a romantic encounter with an absolute corker in pre-war New-York (played by Olga Kurylenko), who eventually shows up in this debauched wasteland and tells poor old confused Jack; that not everything here is as it seems and that the Earthen authorities are telling him big old porkies!
Now, I won’t spoil the film for you by detailing all of the plot to you – not because it’d be spoilers – but because it could barely be called a plot at all. Oblivion discharges information at you at an alarming rate, and given the way in which director Joseph Kosinski dealt with the high-octane story of Tron: Legacy, this is a little bit of a disappointment. Before I even had time to take my first sip of tea, I wasn’t really sure who was who, where we were or what the hell was going on. You very quickly begin to feel with this film as if you are on a treadmill with the speed being gradually turned up, you can only stay on board for so long…and as soon as Morgan Freeman shows up in some bad guy turned good guy scenario, you have even less of a chance of tagging along with an already convoluted storyline.
That being said, the art direction and mise-en-scene of this picture are both genuinely outstanding. The sparse CGI is done at a really high level, the setting – most of which was filmed on location in Iceland (the country not your mother’s favourite frozen food store…) – gives the film a really pleasing and desolate aesthetic, and the cold clinical nature of Jack and Victoria’s surroundings; set the overall tone of a lonesome and thankless life in a way that harks toward a more realistic Mad Max.
Overall however, the film isn’t one that grasps me and pulls me into its arms and shouts “Love me!” The world feels genuine, with characters that exude texture and a sombre authenticity to them, especially that of Andrea Riseborough, who gives a stand out performance of pragmatism despite her character of Victoria being rather onerous and marginalised as the film reaches its climax. However, with a plot that twists and turns so rapidly with abject confusion, Kosinski and co. have created a film that I found at least; a little difficult to enjoy. In some aspects, Oblivion hits highs that many a filmgoer would pray to see, and in others it misses the point entirely, leaving you feeling just as empty and confused as poor Jack Harper with no memories nor personality to speak of.
To coincide with the release of Paper Towns, the Nat Wolff and Cara Delevigne starring adaptation of John Green’s coming of age novel, I take a look at the very best High School set movies. Although in fairness Paper Towns never really lives up to its brief, far too often embracing irritating indie sentiments in favour of allowing the very good coming of age aspects of the film to come to the fore, it did inspire me to think back to all the High School movies I have held dearly for so long. Without further ado here are my top five.
5: Dazed & Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater’s early film is on the surface a sprawling, uncoordinated mess with very little tying it together and just a series of random arcs clumsily strung into a feature film. Look a little closer however and the film is a lot more than the nostalgia factor that initially drew me into the film. In choosing to show such a wide expanse of High School society what Linklater does is create a film that speaks to absolutely everyone in some way or another. This is not just another film in which the dweeby kids get one over on the jocks, although that does obviously occur, but this is a film that does nothing other than revel in the exuberance and relative innocence of youth. Throughout his career Linklater has exhibited a great taste in his soundtracks and this period setting offers him great opportunities he takes with aplomb. There are a number of familiar faces including Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and most memorably Matthew McConaughey to look out for and marvel at how young they look, but for such a young cast the film is remarkably played. Linklater’s next film, Everybody Wants Some, claims to be a ‘spiritual sequel’ to this, a prospect that is truly exciting.
4: Mean Girls (2004)
It may now seem like a mere footnote in the incredibly troubled story of Lindsay Lohan but it is worth remembering just how snarky and of its time this film was. Over ten years on its depiction of the ‘Queen Bee’ side of High School is likeable while still being sufficiently harsh and judgemental of a particularly nasty aspect of American youth. Tina Fey’s screenplay showcases her comedic talents while cleverly making the audience’s introduction into this world through a newcomer’s eyes, with the jungle metaphor increasingly well chosen. Lohan is very good and one can only wonder quite where her career may have gone had she stayed grounded, and she is more than matched by Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried as her ‘Plastic’ cohorts. Even now the term ‘Burn Book’ is still heavily present in teen lexicon and the scene in which it emerges, and the wonderful sequence that follows really is this film’s high point. If I have one quibble with the film it would be that Fey’s script goes along with the tropes of the genre a little too much, and the Prom finale is all too predictable, but this does not alter one’s enjoyment of the film.
3: Heathers (1988)
Heathers still shocks today at how nihilistically it looks at the American High School, choosing to portray it as a place of untold horrors for the 99% who simply do not fit into the social moulds the 1% have chosen. If the ‘Queen Bee’ roles in Mean Girls are harsh then Heathers takes a nastily savage viewpoint on the terror that they have reigned upon countless unfortunate souls. The film’s blackly comic tone is expertly managed and prevents the film from slipping into a tar pit of deep unpleasantness. At the height of her popularity Winona Ryder is a suitably dangerous presence as Veronica, the insidious presence within the titular group taking them down while still one of them. The film’s heightened sense of reality leaves a sense of a time gone by, with the dress and love of croquet of the Heathers giving a sense of Victorian aristocracy rather than the more everyday American teen life John Hughes had been so effectively tapping into in the previous five years. Christian Slater has never topped his performance as J.D. in this film. Less an allusion to the Rebel Without A Cause actor than a direct homage, Slater’s performance here is so cool it hurts, and makes his later slide into Jack Nicholson aping parody even harder to bear. With an ending both bleak and uplifting, this is a breathtakingly ambitious effort.
2: Election (1999)
Sideways and Nebraska director Alexander Payne made his first masterpiece with this political drama set in the strange confines of a High School Class Presidential Race. Ferris Bueller actor Matthew Broderick subverts his free spirited 1980s icon with stilted, beige yet likeable teacher Mr McAllister, who is all too aware at the dangers of the Tracy Flicks of this world gaining too much power and influence, even in this most minor of arenas. The film’s joy is that it very quickly becomes a farce as McAllister’s efforts lead him more and more into trouble, and he slides further and further into personal and professional oblivion. Reese Witherspoon may be better known for Legally Blonde and Walk The Line but to this writer Tracy Flick is her greatest creation. Despite being such an open and likeable persona the audience immediately dislikes her, even before her actions stray from ambiguous to immoral. This being Alexander Payne there is a darkness to the film, not to the same extent that Heathers displays but all the same this is not an out and out comedy despite being constantly funny. Chris Klein gives quite probably his best performance as the dim-witted jock manoeuvred by McAllister to challenge Tracy as a puppet candidate, yet in between two tower house efforts he barely registers. All the same this is a far cleverer movie than it ever needed to be with an ending still pertinent a decade and a half on.
1: The Breakfast Club (1985)
If the truth be told this entire list could have been made from John Hughes movies but, having limited myself to one, this was the clear choice. A great display of limited filmmaking, utilising the all-day detention concept to bring the five characters together, confine them to one location for the entirety of the film, and build a movie less around actions and more around conversations. The leads were all key players in the ‘Brat Pack’ movement of the 1980s and here all play very much to type as ‘The Princess’ (Ringwald), ‘The Athlete’ (Estevaz), ‘The Brain’ (Hall), ‘The Basket Case’ (Sheedy) and ‘The Criminal’ (Nelson). Why does this work so well, creating what I would term filmmaking perfection? The answer lies in the message and the understanding John Hughes showed for the teenage demographic throughout the 1980s. Here he understands that even if from the outside the jocks and the princesses appear to have it made, the criminals do not care about their perception by others, the nerds are happy to just avoid the cool kids and the weirdos have their own circles to stick to, every teenager has feelings, anxieties and issues that they have to deal with day in day out. The film interweaves these five disparate personalities expertly, doesn’t rush their acceptance and understanding of one another, and doesn’t offer them solutions to their problems at the end, merely coping methods. There have been few speeches as brilliant as ‘The Breakfast Club’ letter, while the closing scene is simply one of cinema’s most iconic shots, and offers a simple reason why I love Don’t You (Forget About Me) quite as much as I do. A true piece of classic cinema.
Director: Josh Trank
Words: J. Senior
It’s hard to besmirch this film from the off without identifying who is truly to blame for the failure of Fantastic Four. However, you’ll have a job on trying to actually pin the blame on one individual alone. The whole affair has been a behind closed doors debacle, the likes of which blockbusters haven’t seen for a good few years. Let’s then look at the facts we know; Josh Trank fresh off of indie hit Chronicle directed the film and his name remains attached to the final project, yet an outburst on Twitter last week all but confirmed that Trank had nothing to do with the final cut, and that he has a director’s cut ocked away in a vault somewhere that he says is actually “pretty good”… so it’s not completely his fault… then who’s is it? Simon Kinberg who wrote and produced the thing too has had a hand in there somewhere, and more rumours have circulated that it was he who locked Trank out of the editing suite and finished the movie off in an attempt to polish off the turd that had floated up after filming was over. The fact that Trank was sacked from Star Wars: Rogue One, a Kinberg project also, points a big finger towards a falling out between these two. Finally we can even consider 20th Century Fox to blame, for just rushing another reboot to hang onto the rights to The Fantastic Four, much like Sony did with The Amazing Spider-man 2, which for the record I loved, but the rest of the world hated, leading to a new deal being struck with Marvel to incorporate the character into the MCU. Phew… that’s a lot of school playground shit going on there… so let’s just say to whoever had the final say on this movie, it absolutely sucked and lets get onto looking at why.
Fantastic Four attempts to reintroduce us to “Marvel’s First Family” Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. Or as I like to call them Stretch, Ghost, Candle and Pebble. The film essentially sets out to bring the characters more in line with the in-vogue darker comic book tales like The Dark Knight and falls flat on its face in comparison. What we have here is 70 minutes of expositional dialogue, interjected with a brief section where some green lava gives four “teenagers” super powers, that then culminates in a twenty minute long action set piece that couldn’t even entertain a six year old boy. It really is that bad, at no point is it entertaining or mildly captivating, it fails on all levels of human entertainment. Which is bad for a film that is trying to be gritty and more grounded in reality. Trank has said publicly that three of the action sequences he shot were cut from the movie, so that’s one big FU to whoever put this bastard together because it feels like you’re watching a half decent film until you realise there’s probably a whole hour or so of footage and story they just cut out of the middle. The reasoning for this cannot be confirmed but we never get to see that bit where The Thing falls from a plane and then attacks a tank… shame it looked cool in the trailer. The jump forward 12 months somewhere around the mid point of the movie does little to help this.
If you do a bit of digging alarm bells started ringing for Fox around a year ago when brief snippets of information about the director’s intentions for the story began to leak online. Initially Fantastic Four would have seen Reed Richards and Ben Grimm altered by some form of cosmic energy at age Sixteen, giving them their powers, the result being that they were kidnapped by the government and forced to act as super soldiers, this is touched on slightly towards the end of the film, The Thing does this stuff off camera though so we never really confront this notion properly. Had Trank persevered with this story line it doesn’t explain how Sue and Johnny Storm get dragged into the mix and is a tad bit confusing, but it’s something I wouldn’t have minded seeing.
Plus, Tony Kebbell did that interview where he came out and said his character name was Victor Domyshev and he was only called “Doom” online. This is completely altered in the film with some throw away dialogue about how Victor Von Doom is a loose cannon and they briefly allude to the notion that he was a hacker of some sort who dabbled in inter-dimensional travel. It’s actually quite clear how badly reworked this is within the film. The villain is often a films selling point and they use sloppy sentences and cut away shots to warp what could have been an interesting and abstract character. It feels here like Fox missed a big chance to produce a villain that would have been much different than any seen in a comic book movie before, but they instead shoe horn Doctor Doom into the plot right at the end and simultaneously kill him off in one fell swoop. Doom spends a period of exactly twelve months in the alternate dimension and suddenly appears dressed in a cloak? WHERE DID HE GET THE CLOAK FROM??? In his scenes on screen, as Doctor Doom, the villain himself is trapped inside a mask that doesn’t show his lips move at all so it’s obvious Kebbell just recorded some extra dialogue and they got a body double to do all the villainous walking down corridors and stuff. Metal Machiavelli he is, scary he is not.
At points you can actually see the moments where Kinberg or the other editors just simply went “stick that scene there, swap that one for that one, take that out and hey presto”, we meet Richards and Grimm when they are kids then jump ahead to when they are supposed to be Seventeen, if you can suspend belief and convince yourself Miles Teller and Jamie Bell look Seventeen then you may enjoy this film. Richards gets picked to join an elite research facility after he nearly blows up his school’s gym and after teaming up with Victor Von Doom he solves inter-dimensional travel in a few weeks. Ben Grimm is left out of all this because his family live in a scrapyard and Kate Mara’s Sue Storm who is “good at recognising patterns” does things on a big keyboard that seem to help them fix things. The actors on screen are so poorly used that you’ll notice Sue Storm never even comes face to face with Ben Grimm until the end of the film when they have their big stand off with Doctor Doom. Good teamwork.
With even more rage: Don’t even get me started on the scene where Richards, Johnny Storm and Von Doom decide to drunkenly use the teleporter they’ve built so that astronauts don’t get to use it before them… I’m not even kidding, this happens. Oh I wonder what will happen when a bunch of pissed up teenagers travel to another dimension? That’s right they all get fucked up and their bodies turn weird. The sequence where they actually get injured by the aforementioned green lava that gives them their powers, is the most entertaining bit because you think some of them might get killed off, it’s the only section with a slight aura of chaos, but they really hammer it home in a literal sense, Ben Grimm get’s pelted with rocks and then wakes up after as a big orange rock monster… it’s just all a bit wrote. The only reason Ben Grimm is there is because Richards calls him drunk and does the typical “you’re my best friend thing” so he turns up thinking he’s going to maybe clean up some vomit and put his friend to bed but ends up in a different galaxy, and, comes back with rocks stapled all over his balls, and we only know this because his crotch is on full display after that and The Thing it appears doesn’t have a “thing” anymore.
The Fantastic Four are supposed to be a family and a tight knit unit but they never seem like this on screen here. Richards lusts after the aloof Sue Storm, who is cool because she listens to Portishead… Miles Teller spends much of the film pulling a goofy grin whenever she’s near him. Johnny Storm just loves being on fire and racing planes, he’s obsessed with the notion that he can be a hero by going and blowing up terrorists for the government, thus hammering home the typical America-over-all message. But Ben Grimm really get’s the raw end of the deal, to say he’s a family member he spends most of the film away from the core group, when he’s with them he is either being horribly mutilated (much like Jamie Bell’s reputation now will be) or forced to hit things because he is made from rocks or even worse completely ignored.
The arrogance of the final scene nearly had me screaming in my cinema seat, the fact that after all you are forced to sit through in that painfully dull 90 minutes leads to the tease of a sequel is just mind blowing. I see where Trank was coming from, he built a cast of A- List indie up and comers and attempted to deliver a super hero film that was defiantly odd and off beat. I can’t say he is exempt from my tirade because a lot of what’s on screen is what he shot but he doesn’t get all of the burden of this on his shoulders. To whoever banged this monstrosity into shape with the reels of footage Trank had to offer I sincerely hope you someday come across my words. Not only have you made a bad comic book movie, but you have made a comic book movie so bad that it’s only equal is Cat Woman and the villain in that film used make up as a super power.
If they make Fantastic Four Part 2 I think I might explode in anger.
The trailer was good though.
Director: Mike Doxford
Words: C. Abbott
Shot and set in the town of Grimsby, this is a film that, on paper, is truly unique. A film that turns the cinematic spotlight on a part of England that is not only neglected but the target of international mockery (Or it will be). Regardless of any preconceived notions one might have regarding this town, the film itself has to been seen relatively, like any other.
As someone that grew up in the town, this is a film that has been on my radar for quite some time. Shot two years prior to general release, the build-up has been more than intriguing; especially after the reception the final piece has received for early screenings. The results are… better than feared, worse than hoped.
The story follows a soldier returning home after many years on tour, his town has changed and so have the people. He decides to intervene and the consequences soon spiral as both him and his family are faced with increasing danger. Now, obviously the main narrative is nothing new here. This is a tried and tested, by the numbers affair that, on the whole achieves its arch in an entertaining and coherent way. The issues are that nothing really new is to be had. How many times do we expect or even want to see these silent, stoic type characters meander through paper thin narratives and forgettable scripts?
On a personal note, the joy of seeing the familiar streets and locations of the town soon wore off. Geographically speaking it was all over the place but that is neither here nor there. The problems, no matter how crippling all link back to the script. The characters, much like the film as a whole are flawed, flat and one dimensional. This isn’t to say the filmmakers didn’t try and add layers to these characters; the issue is that nothing was explored to a sufficient extent. We see these characters suffering with addiction and negative traits but we don’t feel anything. They are just vehicles to advance a predictable and uninspired plot. In fact, if the script never repeatedly reiterated that the central character was a soldier, than there would be no way of knowing.
Nothing here quite feels fresh or exciting. The acting is serviceable, with performances from Gina Bramhill and Rick Warden being particularly noteworthy. Ian Sharp in the lead did a commendable job with the character that was at odds with a lacklustre script. It is clear that effort was made here by all the cast and crew and it does indeed show. Budgetary limitations may be the reason for the shortcomings but then again, a lot more has been achieved with a lot less.
It is a saddened truth that this is an unfortunate, squandered potential for an area to see more filmmakers unitise its unique landscape. Last year’s Catch me Daddy, which was similarly shot and set locally for Sheffield used the rugged Yorkshire wilderness to create an atmosphere and engaging aesthetic. Pleasure Island feels more television than cinematic and that is one of the worst feelings you can have towards a film. This isn’t to say Pleasure Island is a bad film; it just isn’t a great one.
2008/ UK, USA
Director: Christopher Nolan
Words: R. Topham
The Dark Knight is critically and publicly regarded as one of, if not the, best Batman films of all time. Not only is this because of Heath Ledger’s universally admired performance as The Joker, but because Christopher Nolan is a directorial wizard that injected some life and intensity into a previously struggling franchise. He truly grasped and understood what would constitute an authentic Batman film that honours the characters, story-lines and fans alike.
Hollywood blockbusters can walk a thin line between being an OTT cheese-fest and not delivering quite what was promised or expected. Ask around and prequel Batman Begins was the latter, though it introduces the perpetually solemn Bruce Wayne as a separate entity to Batman in a more authentic and pragmatic way than previous depictions. Christian Bale’s method acting and dedication to his work really shines through in this role, and even after the 500th time of watching The Dark Knight he’s so intense and convincing it’s hard to imagine him not as Batman.
The infamous Gothamite may be tough as nails after all that fancy training with Ra’s al Ghul, but he wasn’t quite ready for what The Joker was scheming. Core to this film is the binary opposition between good and evil, Batman the former and The Joker the latter. Since his creation, Bruce Wayne/Batman is hailed as the ‘good guy’, but Nolan cleverly reinforced the complexities in his character, emphasising his slightly twisted undertones that fellow superheroes don’t really tap in to. We see this during the interrogation scene, when Batman attempts to intimidate his annoyingly nonchalant nemesis and assert his authority through violence, getting so angry it literally oozes out of him in his spit.
Bruce Wayne is adamant that “Gotham needs a hero with a face” and that Harvey Dent is that hero. The district attorney’s fall from grace, however, is perfect because it shows the fragility of human nature and the overwhelming force of grief on our behaviour. Aaron Eckhart was a surprising casting choice, but his portrayal of Harvey Dent, the ‘good guy gone bad’, is perhaps one of the most underrated roles in the film.
The symbolism of the Batman character – that he could be anyone – is iconic in itself, and The Dark Knight anchors the tensions that a faceless hero acting above the law would unearth in a metropolis like Gotham. As Carmine Falcone reminds us in Batman Begins, people always fear what they don’t understand – fear is a foundational emotion in how Bruce Wayne/Batman conducts himself, and beneath the suit and the bravado he’s fearful of The Joker because he doesn’t, and can’t, understand him.
The Dark Knight has become a classic of the genre, a cult phenomenon. Every component of the film is memorable: Hans Zimmer’s legendary score, the solid script providing an abundance of unbeatable quotes, Heath Ledger’s improvised hospital scene… The list goes on. Ledger’s disturbing and tragic interpretation of The Joker will be remembered for generations to come as one of the finest performances of the 21st century, for it remains a true honour to watch.
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Words: E. Jackson
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows opens on a teen running from our ominous POV in a suburban street, terrified and stumbling from house to house in the smallest satin lingerie possible. Shortly after this girl is dispatched off camera we move on to watch the heroine, this time in a swimming costume, our gaze no longer murderous but lingering pensively (sleazily) on her shape, her skin. It’s a horror trope to have your female characters objectified from the buttocks outward before they’re really introduced, I conceded. It’s just a nod to the exploitation roots of slashers, pause for a sly wink to the genre fans as is currently trendy. The politics of the film will surely improve. It’ll get scarier than that first kill too. Won’t it?
The horror portion of the film begins when Jay (Maika Monroe) is drugged and abducted by the boy she was dating (Jake Weary). She is told that their previous sexual encounter has ‘passed on’ victimhood to an unknown force that will kill her unless she, too, passes on the role by having sex with someone else. To me that set-up is creepy for reasons more basic than supernatural and the allusions to an abuse dynamic are only briefly addressed, but soon enough Jay starts to see that she’s being pursued by a thing in myriad forms, invisible to others and characterised by following her at a snail’s pace and trying to kill her. So far so good, a chilling concept with room for everyone’s idea of frightening. Once this reality is recognised by Jay’s mostlylikeable friends, the plot revolves around how they handle this supernatural STD, together and with refreshing openness.
The question of morality in passing ‘it’ on is less considered here than whether the monster can be killed and if it can harm the group. Worryingly, the issue of whether Jay actually wants to have more sex also takes a back seat, as her increasing vulnerability leads to a clinical attitude of contact based on self-preservation: The sense of exploration and curiosity in related sex-threat movies such as Cherry Falls or Contracted is very much absent. A lingering shot of Monroe exhausted and looking towards a distant boat is intentionally nauseating, the implication being that she will seduce the three men on board just to push herself further down the potential chain of murders. Her predatory element is dismissed quickly in the case of a girl on guy seduction, references to porn culture hinting that for the guys on the boat or in her bed, it would be a short-lived dream come true rather than an unwanted encounter, and she has their inevitable deaths to worry about without having to question the original situation in context.
Conversely if we consider Jay as abused rather than abuser, lines like ‘You’re a girl, it should be easy for you’ (to prostitute for survival regardless of desire) make the film’s politics clear, ignoring the idea that the constant objectification and pornification that inevitably accompanies girlhood and attractiveness is also the climate that typifies the vast majority of physical abuse, kidnapping, rape, and murders preceded by stalking in the real world. It could be argued that the scariest place inhabited in this metaphor is the vulnerability to attack brought on by female sexuality itself, but that’s a conversation larger than a review will allow for and it certainly seems beyond the scope of the filmmakers as long as sexual identity is used as a bartering tool for the larger theme of menacing STDs.
Simply put, Jay can’t win here. For her sin of genuine desire, she’s made a carrier for something that either renders her a victim to be killed or a murderous femme fatale by association. Problematic doesn’t cover it. Additionally, Monroe’s given nothing to do with much of this emotional minefield besides run and panic, and no real personality means we have no real stake in what happens to her character, wasting the talent she demonstrated inThe Guest.
In fairness, male characterisations are equally thin on the ground for It Follows. A few seconds of incestuous horror in one particular scene come across as forced and flat because we have no idea of the existing family dynamic for that victim outside of a threatening context. Perhaps the most insulting of these male arcs, though, is the suggestion of Keir Gilchrist’s Paul as a white knight figure for Jay and a sexual partner we should be rooting for. Why is Paul subtly painted as a hero? Purely because he offers to have sex with the good-looking Jay in order to hypothetically sacrifice himself and save her from the unseen pursuer. Absolute gent! If that still seems relatively selfless in light of the murders, consider that it’s brought up following many years of post-childhood-kiss attraction in which Jay has (crucially) chosen to reject his apparent advances under the façade of genuine friendship. How heartless of her, then, not to reward his basic humanity and sullenly jealous staring with sexual transaction based on her affection towards him as an old friend, despite years of saying ‘no’ without saying it aloud. To sympathise with Paul’s character as intended is to buy into the sexist conceit of the ‘nice guy’ myth: That all well-intentioned men have an innate entitlement to be rewarded for good behaviour with female bodies, regardless of how the people inside those bodies truly feel about things. Flying in the face of Jay’s active sexual pull towards other men in the film and her many years of non-attraction to Paul, she eventually comes round to the idea that his attitude represents good boyfriend material, and the pair are united based on what’s purported to be attraction so deep Jay hid it from herself. It’s a sub-plot, but the feminist in me recoiled at what this is telling target audiences.
It Follows is as derivative as it is complex, and the comparison which really stood out for me was David Cronenberg’s masterful Shivers, dealing with the same STD-as-enemy metaphor in a manner that’s all the more disturbing for its crescendo of culturally inappropriate eroticism. We are told in the unapologetic exposition of It Follows that the pursuer can be anywhere, represent itself as anyone human, and that Monroe’s Jay and all her future sexual partners are now trapped by its slow, relentless hunt for them. These criteria are also met inShivers, but there the hunter is parasitic and alien, each new victim’s quest for spiritual and sexual awakening likely a wily ruse towards the adversary’s goal of survival. Here we are given no such perspective to wrestle with, no rationale leading back to us from the beginning of the chain, nor is there any real sense of magnetism in or out of the film’s several sex scenes. As a fan of abstraction and cinematic brevity I’d like to say that all this motivational ambiguity lends the film mystery, but it’s just not so.
In a penultimate set piece, the characters gather in an abandoned pool to protect Jay and bait the entity stalking her. Recreating Shivers’ terrifying ending seems like a perfect opportunity for Mitchell to more openly ‘pay homage to’ Cronenberg and go to the extreme yet logical sexual conclusion of the chase. He instead opts for something tamer, perhaps censored for ratings systems that balk at consensual teen sex yet merrily encourage on-screen violence towards potential shaggers. The result is no more frightening or original than previous scenes, but has all the crafty editing and staged grandeur of an event intended to be climactic.
It was another misfire in a film brimming with moments where I wondered if I should be tense, distractedly contemplating why I wasn’t and instead enjoying some snazzy, pretty effects work. It was also another instance in which I was reminded of a better film. See also: Being beaten over the head with the deliberately noticeable Carpenter-esque score; theHalloween lighting; Elm Street costuming and casting of Deppish Daniel Zovatto; the Let The Right One In pool terror and Swimfan swim along shots, and many others.
I feel I should note here that the film is indeed visually stylish and competently produced and acted, for all its faults elsewhere. However, if we’re to go home terrified by the notion that It Follows, we might first acknowledge that ‘it’ also plods at a decidedly unthreatening pace, structurally repeats itself beyond effect, acts as a collage of superior movie elements, and ultimately bores and offends in equal measure. That It Follows might polarise viewers is not a reflection of unrecognised skill or interesting controversy so much as indicative that this film, like the creature of the title, represents itself within a variety of guises and some of those may appeal. I have no doubt that the overall retro artifice will draw younger audiences who might see it as new or charmingly ironic rather than tired or desperate, but in my eyes, without exception, all of these skins were worn through long before now. There’s nothing more to the chase.
Director: Joe Dante
Words: O. Innocent
The runaway success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) changed a lot of things; the way movies are marketed, the summer blockbuster formula, public perceptions on sharks and swimming in the sea. It also popularised animal horror, inspiring a spate of clones scrambling to make their titular beasts the next big thing. When Jaws blew the floodgates open, all manner of creatures both great and small were awarded their own starring roles. Of course, there were a lot more sharks to be found with the likes of Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), Tintorera: Tiger Shark (1977) and The Last Shark (1981) openly aping Spielberg’s killer shark formula. Taking to the land to dissuade us from making comparisons to Jaws were Grizzly (1976), Day of the Animals (1977) and Prophecy (1979). Not convinced that sharks were the scariest things swimming about in the ocean, other filmmakers brought us such self-explanatory sea creature titles as Orca: The Killer Whale (1977), Tentacles (1977) and Barracuda (1978). While the aforementioned films can no doubt provide hours of schlocky entertainment, perhaps the best of the bunch is Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978), where the eponymous fish, mutated as a military experiment, are accidentally let loose to ravage a rural riverside community.
The perfect coalescence of producer Roger Corman’s fast-paced bang for your buck exploitation entertainment and director Joe Dante’s witty referential humour, Piranha stands as a shining example of low-budget B-Movie filmmaking done right. Corman and Dante know they can’t top Jaws so they each address this problem in their own inimitable way. Knowing that a film like Piranha can never match a highly regarded quality film like Jaws, Corman simply ups the exploitation quota, providing blood, nudity and high-octane action aplenty. Indeed, while the film doesn’t have the sheen or money of Jaws, what it does have is action, and lots of it; there are car chases, boat stunts, explosions, and scenes of mass fish-related hysteria and the ensuing bloody feeding frenzies to distract from the low-budget. Dante, on the other hand, solves the problem by embracing the fact that his film is a Jaws rip-off, and not taking the admittedly ridiculous premise too seriously. Letting us in on the joke from the offset, Dante has one of the characters play a Jaws arcade game, showing us that, yes, we do know we’re copying Spielberg’s film, but we’re going to have a lot of fun doing so. There’s also a scene towards the end of the film where a sunbather is reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, further cementing its position as a first-rate pastiche of fish and water-related popular culture.
Talking of riffs on pop culture, Piranha is also an unashamed throwback to the creature feature B-Movies of the ‘50s. Paying ample homage to the monster movies he grew up with, Dante infuses Piranha with the same kind of outlandish exuberance and cheap ‘n’ cheerful excess that made black and white big bug movies like Them! (1954) so enjoyable. With its overblown score, over-the-top characterisations, questionable science and mutated monsters, it is easy to see where Piranha’s influences lie. In turn, Dante’s film has itself proved highly influential, its influence being felt in everything from teen slashers like Friday the 13th (1980) (the lakeside camp setting, teens in peril, copious amounts of bare flesh and bloody wounds, etc.) to later animal horrors like Deep Blue Sea (1999). What’s most interesting about Piranha, however, is how its blending of horror and humour served as a blueprint for much of Dante’s later work, arguably reaching its zenith in Gremlins (1984) and The ‘Burbs (1989).
WATCH IN FULL HERE:
2015 – USA
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie
Words: J. Harris
If you were to speak to some of the more die-hard Marvel fans they may try to explain how characters (Spiderman, the X-Men, etc) exist in a different ‘universe’ to one another, this is not the case with The Avengers.
The Avengers Age of Ultron is the second call to action of the Marvel superhero collective, when Tony Stark attempts to jumpstart a global peacekeeping program but creates a being which puts the world under threat.
If you’re new to the Marvel superhero franchise you may want to familiarise yourself with the first Avengers movie, as one of the great things about it was that it gave a crash course in each of the characters, and there are some references to their previous solo adventures here
– the cause of the worlds impending doom for instance stems from an object called the Tesseract captured in the first Avengers film, and the story here does pick up from where the first film left us.
However if you don’t feel like going on an 8 hour Marvel movie marathon through all the individual outings of each of the characters (though the first Thor film is particularly enjoyable), you can enjoy this blockbuster as a standalone feature without any effort.
We’re all familiar enough with characters such as The Hulk (man gets green and angry, green angry man smashes stuff), and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 6 years Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man (who is at the centre of the story here) won’t be something new to you.
For those who are a little more Marvel movie familiar you might find some confusion/disappointment with the character Quicksilver who we saw in X-Men Days of Future Past (a standout character not featured enough in the mutant action), isn’t referred to here as a ‘mutant’ but an ‘enhanced’, has a completely different backstory and is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who coincidentally starred alongside the X-Men casting of Evan Peters in the film Kick-Ass.
The action sequences, spectacular special effects and performances by a Hollywood A-list cast make this an exciting ride with moments of seemingly unavoidable doom, conflict between the characters themselves with neat dashes of humour thrown in.
This is a movie which deserves an effort be made to watch on the biggest screen possible with with the volume turned all the way up – a good addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.