Category: At the Movies

At the Movies: Raw

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For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as “I,” not as “they”…

-Julia Ducournau- Raw’s Director/Writer  

As with all the best horror movies, Raw’s prologue is nebulous and intriguing. It opens with a lone car speeding down a quiescent highway. A figure rushes across the road, forcing the car to make an emergency stop but, failing spectacularly, it hits the figure and crashes off the side of the road. At first it looks as though there are no survivors, but as we watch, the figure lying in the road begins to twitch, stretch its limbs and, standing up, makes its way slowly and purposefully towards the passengers in the car. It is at this moment we realize that the figure is a predator, not a victim, and that the car has driven straight into a trap…

I remember hearing stories about Raw a while back- apparently when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness screening, paramedics had to be called to treat all the audience members who had passed out from the horror and extreme gore! I also heard that sick bags were being handed out at film screenings…

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But despite all of this, the director Julia Ducourna says that her aim was to omit all generic horror clichés and challenge the traditional treatment of women in the genre. She sees it as more of a coming of age movie and described it as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”.

Inevitably, the first thing that’ll come to mind when you talk about Raw will be those few truly horrific moments which weave together cannibalism, horror, sex and violence. Some of the most memorable moments reminded me of other horrors such as Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby and Let the Right One In, whilst others bore zero resemblance to anything I’d ever seen before! But I think the horrific scenes stick in mind not just because they’re axiomatically shocking -Raw should never be compared to a Lars Von Trier Movie- (note- there is no link to any of his work), but because we’re completely submerged within Justine’s nightmare, discovering everything just as she does. There is therefore a sense of innocence, somewhat incongruous in a cannibal movie.

Raw divulges an unusual fresher’s year. The movie begins as 16 year old Justine arrives at University, ready for her first year at veterinary school. She is wide eyed, studious and, as a staunch vegetarian, firmly grounded in her morals and ethics. But at an initiation ceremony, she is forced to swallow a raw rabbit liver and becomes obsessed with raw meat. Swiftly realizing that her cravings cannot be satiated by animal flesh alone, her morals begin to lax…

Superficially, Raw is about a girl who eats people, but actually, there’s so more to it than this. It’s a rites of passage movie about going to University, growing up, and having the freedom to explore your principles, removed from the shadow of your parents. And inevitably, Justine’s primal urges for food and sex become interlaced, where the former becomes a proxy for the latter.

However, horror and realism are constantly interwoven: after unwittingly and compulsively chewing on her own hair Justine makes herself sick in the university toilets, and in an oddly placed comedic moment, upon hearing her retching, a fellow student in the bathroom gives her some friendly advice on how to make herself sick. This scene gives us a moment to comprehend how absolutely ludicrous this movie is! But it also draws clear parallels between Justine’s lack of control and (what can only be described as a very unusual) eating disorder and more typical eating disorders! The film consistently uses horror to explore the darker sides of growing up.

Raw asks us to consider the consequences of taking any of our beliefs to their logical extreme. At the start of the film, Justine questions why not eat humans if you’re going to eat animals and challenges her fellow students to site the differentiating factors that make one okay and the other not. Its certainly not just a promotion for vegetarianism but it got me thinking about that too….

I really loved Raw. It has a universal parable- esque quality and more than enough gore to satiate you. It’s the best horror movie I’ve seen this year (so far!)

Usually monsters are called “them.” They are creatures from outer space, or zombies, stuff like that. I’ve always found that funny, because we have all felt—and we will, and we sometimes still do feel—like monsters, you know? For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as “I,” not as “they.”

Julia Ducournau

 

At the Movies: Logan

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Oscar season is well and truly drawing to a close and March is beginning to welcome in an entirely new movie epoch. But despite what a lot of people seem to think, this month isn’t just about the big blockbuster releases; I’m particularly looking forward to Ben Wheatley’s new movie, Free Fire, the incendiary revenge rape thriller, Elle and the upcoming horror movie on ‘benevolent racism’, Get Out (So all the cheery ones…!).

However, this March, we are seeing the release of several epic Blockbusters that probably wouldn’t have come out during the more nuanced Oscar run. The new Tom Hiddleston monster franchise, Kong Skull Island came out just last week, and this week we’ve seen the release of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson. Often, movies such as these are accused of as being pre-packaged and formulaic in their attempt to mitigate as much risk as possible and exist simply to make money and act as a pillow for ‘risker’ movies to fall back on. Superhero movies are generally pointed to as being the worst culprits of this, and most recently, Suicide Squad, Batman Versus Superman Dawn of Justice and X-men Apocalypse have been largely viewed with disdain and a degree of cynicism.

Last week, I went to see the superhero movie, Logan. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of the Marvel Comic movies and the tenth instalment in the X-men film series. It marks the 17th year that Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, but the publicity surrounding the movie suggests a sharp tonal shift from its predecessors. Hugh Jackman insists that had the studio vetoed this version of the movie, he would have renounced his involvement in it. I had heard it described as ‘No Country for X-men’ and was immediately intrigued– Why is a superhero movie being compared to the Cohen Brothers’ Nihilistic, minimalist thriller…?!

The dystopian film is set in a version of 2029 far removed from anything we can expect to experience anytime soon (Even post-Brexit…). We are immediately plunged into the dusty decrepit Arizona desert. The heat is intense and overbearing and the cinematography reminded me of that in Mad Max.

Mutants are on the brink of extinction; Wolverine is weakening, and the former leader of the X-Men, Charles (Patrick Stewart) is suffering from a neuro- degenerative disease and slowly losing his mind. Both men have certainly seen better days! I’m not sure I could call them super-heroes- there is nothing ‘super’ about these weary anti-heroes, who are clearly both nearing the end of their lives and the plot unfurls with a sense of foreboding fatalism.

Logan wants nothing more than to stop fighting and go and live out the rest of his life in peace on a boat. This is until he meets a little girl, Laura, whose powers suspiciously resemble his own… He unwittingly becomes a father figure for her and resolves to take her to a safer place, all the while being chased by supervillain Donald Pierce who wants to steal Laura and use her powers for his own evil ends.

In essence, the plot is pretty simple and follows a classic a cat/mouse chase structure in which the ‘baddies’ are very bad: our evil super-villain comes complete with a robotic hand and some bad ass sunglasses that he sporadically removes and replaces for dramatic effect.

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In an unusually peaceful scene in the film, Laura tries to listen to a young boy’s music. As she inches closer and closer to his iPod, the villain’s inch closer and closer to our heroes and we hear Raury’s lyrics’ blaring out of the headphones ‘you better run, run from the devil!’. Clearly, subtlety is beside the point and these sorts of moments simply add another loop to this roller coaster- the movie is a lot of fun!

And actually, the predictability of the plot and the straightforward good/evil dichotomy allows us the opportunity to really focus on the three main characters who make for a very strange assortment! Logan must learn, not only how to be a father, but also how to care for his mutant 8-year-old daughter who is unaccustomed to the real world and uninhibited in her abilities to wreak total havoc. Laura’s strength and effervescence sharply contrasts with Logan’s waning determination. It makes sense that the film is called ‘Logan’ rather than Wolverine as it focuses on the weaknesses of the man rather than the strengths of the superhero. This is especially evident in the scene in which Charles has a seizure causing everything to freeze. It takes Logan all his energy to dragoon his body up the stairs and into the hotel room. However, by the end of the scene, Laura is still full of energy and rage and able to scream as she fires a shot. She has the energy that her father now lacks; she is the new superhero of the movie!

Logan is far more reflective than most superhero movies. Although it is visceral and grim, it is about regret and the consequences of violence. Hugh Jackman describes it as ‘about the soldier who returns home from war and has to find peace’. The film’s director, James Mangold, called it a Western and you can see similarities to a Western throughout the film, this is overtly pointed in a scene in a hotel room in which the movie Shane plays on a television screen.

Shane and Logan

So, although quite a few recent superhero movies have been formulaic and predictable, Logan is not one of them. This is more of a post-super hero movie (I’m so sorry for using that phrase!) than a superhero movie; more of a western than an action. It is genre bending in a similar way to Deadpool. In my opinion, this is proof that any genre can surprise you and be innovative and inventive. I look forward to more superhero movies like this one!

 

At the Movies: Hidden Figures

At the Movies: Hidden Figures

For me, the anomaly at this year’s Oscars was Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterley: Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women who Helped to Win the Space Race. The film tells the true story of three African American women, Katherine G. Johnson, (Taraji P. Henson) Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital role in NASA’s space launch in 1962.

The film’s title, ‘Hidden Figures’ refers to the ‘hidden’ algorithms that Katherine, uncovers, the fact that the women’s achievements were ‘hidden’ and the way in which NASA’s black women were physically ‘hidden’, sequestered in the segregated West Area Computers’ division of Langley Research Centre. But unfortunately, the movie has refused to live up to its title: it has unequivocally not ‘hidden’. It has been impossible to avoid…

And, to make matters worse, it has taken more in Box Office receipts than all of the Oscar Contenders (including La La Land!)

But I don’t want to be completely acrimonious about Hidden Figures because it isn’t all bad! It takes place in Virginia amidst the Jim Crow laws and it plays an important role in shining a light on these three women’s achievements, which might have otherwise gone un-noticed. It is also to the film’s credit that it features a leading trio of black women, aiding in the insurgency against last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

However, the film itself is anything but an insurgent: it is utterly predictable and riddled with clichés. It begins with an unimaginatively sepia toned flashback sequence in which Katherine’s parents are urged to accept her scholarship to a prestigious school that she would otherwise be unable to afford. This film sits firmly in the ‘inspirational-feel-good’ movie category, complete with a smattering of schmaltzy speeches. The film reaches a particularly low moment when Kevin Costner brandishes his ultimate one liner: ‘In NASA, everyone pees the same colour!’…

But even the cheesiest of speeches can be moving if they are well directed! (Because I’ve just realized that this must be one of the cheesiest speeches from my second favourite movie as a kid. And its fantastic.) But there was hardly anything cinematically interesting about Hidden Figures. And I found myself pretty bored in the cinema…

The film absolutely insists on hammering home its moral messages, resulting in moments that could have been poignant or enlightening, quickly becoming stale and predictable. Segregation rules dictate that Katherine must travel a mile each time she wants to use the bathroom because in her building, the toilets are for ‘whites only’. The first time we see the scene in which Katherine runs to the bathroom with all her papers, balancing precariously on her heels, we sympathize with her and the ridiculousness of the situation. However, after this moment was repeated again and again and again, accompanied each time by a cheery soundtrack (courtesy of Pharrell Williams) I found myself becoming increasingly exasperated with the unoriginality and repetitiveness of the movie rather than the ludicrousness of Katherine’s situation! And throughout the film, I felt as though the audience were completely patronized- every plot point, every moment of conflict or reconciliation was practically spelled out for us- there was no subtlety- it was as though the film makers had completely under-estimated the intelligence of their audience- which is quite insulting…

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I also found the final dramatic dénouement totally devoid of tension despite the film -makers’ best efforts to make it exciting. And it actually started became quite a satisfying cinema activity to try and predict what was going to happen next in the film!

However, the thing I really disliked about Hidden Figures was that it seemed purely tokenistic. I felt that the film focused disproportionately on race and gender, which, for me, detracted from the women’s actual achievements: it was almost patronizing to view their contributions purely through this lens rather than to laud their accomplishments for NASA and the Space Race as commendable in and of themselves.

I recently saw the film Loving, which I felt dealt with racial discrimination and prejudice in more powerful manner. The film tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving who are banned from their home of Virginia because they are interracially married. Rather than placing race at the forefront of the story, the film focuses on their relationship. This gives the audience the opportunity to truly care about these two characters as a couple, rather than simply as victims of racial discrimination. For me, this made the discriminations all the more shocking as they were happening to a real couple that I felt I was getting to know.

I think that Hidden Figures could have been a better film if it had had focused more on its heroines’ passions and ambitions. Perhaps if I understood why they were so excited about solving this particular problem, I might have cared more about them as individuals.

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Despite all my complaints about the film, it does attempt to inspire its audience, which has to be lauded. It tells us that we have the ability to take control of our own lives and don’t have to be dictated to by norms or conventions. Each of the women are able to assert control the moment they decide to be proactive. As soon as Katherine explains how far she has to walk to use the coloured bathrooms, her boss abolishes the segregation rules. When Mary takes her plea to pursue an engineering degree to court, she is successful. And Dorothy, upon seeing the threat of automation on her job from IBM 7090, decides to re-skill (quite timely) and is consequently promoted. I suppose I quite liked Hidden Figures’ melioristic message-that the world definitely can be made better by human action..!

And finally, when the question, ‘Could Hidden Figures encourage more black women to pursue a career in science?’ was posed to a group of black female A-level students, medics and PhD science graduates, responses included, ‘These ladies were unheard of and they are inspirational role models to us. They are glamorous and pretty but they feature in a film because of their intelligence … They make science exciting, a cool thing to do.’ And so, I’ll admit that although I found the film dull, predictable, patronising uninspiring and quite annoying, clearly, not every one did. And perhaps some things are more important than whether or not I enjoyed my 2 hours at The Ritzy last week…

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At the Movies: On the Oscars (Part 2)

At the Movies: On the Oscars (Part 2)

So, moving on to some of the other categories…

Best Actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) -probable winner, my choice

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Denzel Washington (Fences)

Casey Affleck is totally convincing in Manchester by the Sea. It would have been easy for him to over act some of his more agonising moments, but his restraint shows an intelligent emotional understanding of his character. I think he will win the Oscar and I think he deserves to.

casey-affleck

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Emma Stone (La La Land) probable winner

Ruth Negga (Loving)

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Natalie Portman (Jackie) my choice

My additions

Emily Blunt (Girl on the Train)

Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Arrival)

I’m pretty sure Emma Stone will win for La La Land. She is totally effervescent throughout. Although there has been quite a bit of La La Land backlash, none of it has come her way. She was nominated for Birdman in 2015 and lost to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood- I think The Academy may feel she is due an Oscar!

I would love for Natalie Portman to win. The film is laden with close ups and as such, highly reliant on the quality and intricacies of her performance. She certainly doesn’t disappoint and brings her character to life, portraying all of the complexities, dissonances and the dichotomy of her situation. Her impression of the real Jackie Kennedy is also uncanny.

I don’t think the Oscars would be complete without their obligatory nod to Meryl Streep’s latest performance. Has anyone actually watched Florence Foster Jenkins? I’m sure she was fantastic, as per, but I don’t think she will receive another Oscar, nor do I think anyone would be that excited if she did…!

I watched Girl on the Train the other day and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! Emily Blunt’s performance as a wavering alcoholic and snubbed ex-wife elevates this (admittedly trashy) movie.

Music (Original Score)

Jackie- Mica Levi– my choice

La La Land- Justin Hurwitz – probable win

Lion- Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight- Nicholas Britell

Passengers- Thomas Newman

The La La Land score is fab- jubilant, (slightly) cheesy, catchy and sticks in your head and.wont.get.out.

I love Mica Levi’s score for Jackie- it provides the movie with a feeling of other worldliness. It is almost beautiful and lush but it jars and you get that feeling of something cold spilling down into your stomach, that something is amiss and that something may have just gone terribly wrong- not the music you might expect for a historical biopic.

Original Song

Audition (The Fools Who Dream)- La La Land; Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Can’t Stop The Feeling- Trolls; Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

City Of Stars- La La Land; Justin Hurwit, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul– probable win

The Empty Chair Jim: The James Foley Story; -J. Ralph and Sting

How Far I’ll Go Moana- Lin-Manuel Miranda

My additions

Another Day of Sun -La La Land- Justin Hurwitz– my choice

Another Day of Sun announces the film spectacularly, assuring us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA on music and ambition. There’s no time to brace ourselves or prepare for this- we’re just chucked in at the deep end. For me, this song perfectly encapsulates the joy and spectacle of the whole movie.

Writing Original Screen play

Hell Or High Water- Taylor Sheridan

La La Land- Damien Chazelle

The Lobster- Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

Manchester By The Sea- Kenneth Lonergan– probable win, my choice

20th Century Women- Mike Mills

Surely, Manchester By The Sea must win this award. Lonergan’s script is devastating yet witty. He clearly cares deeply about each and every one of his characters and genuinely captures their nuances and eccentricities. Many of the scenes appears as vignettes- totally compelling and complete in and of themselves. Odd moments of humour are played against maelstroms of tragedy; the film feels completely fresh.

I don’t think the Lobster should win Best Script, but I’m quite impressed that this acerbic dystopian black comedy made it to the Oscars! The script is based on a unique premise: everyone must be in a relationship or risk being turned into an animal of their choice .(!?!) The film takes our notions surrounding relationships and drags them to their absolute logical extreme. The plot is completely original and quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before… or, probably, will ever see again!

Finally, here’s a recap of all of the past winners: