Tag: Film

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: Jackie

At The Movies: Jackie

There is definitely a case to be made that a film about a seminal moment in American history should be made by someone unattached to American history. Jackie’s producers, Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) wanted their director to have as few preconceived notions about the Kennedys, the assassination and The First Lady as possible. This is one of the reasons they chose to work with Chilean director Pablo Larrain. The three envisaged a film predicated on political events without being overtly political, a biopic about Jackie Kennedy, unconfined to the experiences of The First Lady. The result is a movie that intimately explores the universal feelings resulting from bereavement and all its dissonances. It transcends the political to scrutinize the personal.

In case you don’t already know, the film is built around the interview that Jackie Kennedy gave to Time Magazine’s Theodore H. White in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination: ‘For President Kennedy: An Epilogue’. It is also based on her televised tour of the White House. The movie vacillates between the interview, the tour and Jackie’s own account of the assassination and ensuing events.

The movie opens with reporter Theodore H. White drawing up to the White House to meet the cold and reserved Jackie Kennedy. Although he will write the article, she will vet his every word; this will be her story, not his.

Jackie is an expert manipulator and defends her actions throughout: ‘people like to believe in fairy tales’. She sees it as her duty to construct a narrative in which her husband is the Camelot that America needs, and she is his solid, resilient First Lady. She resolves to give him an arguably undeservingly grand funeral to elevate the Kennedy legacy beyond merely that of ‘the beautiful people’.

Seemingly cold and standoffish, Jackie is in fact attempting to cultivate an image of herself that she deems as appropriate for a First Lady: confident and emotionally stable. Yet she is anything but: in one scene she loudly declares, ‘I love crowds’, and in the next we see her in a crowd whilst the camera practically flails around her, revealing her unease; she is floundering, and out of her depth. And there is a palpable contrast between Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the onscreen Jackie Kennedy, performing for the camera as she gives her tour of the White House and the Jackie behind the camera, anxious in her attempt to appear flawless: she has an obvious ‘performing voice’, accentuating her vowels in order to appeal more regal.

Similarly, Jackie’s feelings towards JFK are multi-layered as, obviously, his untimely death left so many things in their relationship unresolved. Throughout the film we are made aware that their relationship was in no way perfect; now that he is dead, this makes her feelings towards him even more confusing.

The cinematography, costume and set design perfectly encapsulate her shock, grief and sense of the uncanny. There is a scene in which she returns to the White House alone after her husband’s death, The house is immaculate, and she would have blended in perfectly with her pink Channel suit, were it not splattered with her husband’s blood- more like a scene from a horror movie than a historical biopic!

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I actually found all of her costumes extremely memorable, which something I don’t generally pay a lot of attention to in a film. But I’m not sure if we can really credit the movie for this as obviously they were all based on the designs from the real Jackie Kennedy’s wardrobe….

But I think it is important to talk about the music: it was composed by Mica Levi, who’s other credits include Under The Skin, a suitably creepy movie about a weird alien/monster type creature played by Scarlet Johansson who drives around in a truck in Glasgow to entice men back to her home before putting them in a trance and trapping them in some sort of liquid abyss…its really weird (but quite good!). So hopefully that gives you a sense of the tone of the music…!

It is not the conventional historic biopic music you might expect, but 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…

Interestingly, Jackie isn’t aware of her pyrrhic victories: she tells the journalist that JFK’s funeral should have been bigger and grander, and he has to reassure her that it was spectacular from an outsider’s perspective. The film examines the problems and contradictions of being a story maker and how important this role actually is. (A theme that Hollywood is often accused of being obsessed with- arguably another reason as to why this film has been so highly regarded by the industry!)

I don’t know whether or not this is an accurate depiction of the real Jackie Kennedy’s reaction to the infamous events, but it is certainly an insightful character study and fantastic portrayal of The First Lady by Natalie Portman (Her voice is absolutely perfect-it would be very difficult to distinguish between Natalie Portman and the real Jackie!). It allows us a glimpse into the way in which people may react to loss, grief and shock, which I found fascinating and moving.

At The Movies: La La Land

At The Movies: La La Land

I appreciate that not everyone has to be be this obsessed with La La Land:

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But I’ve been struggling with some of the accusations made against this masterpiece: ‘it lacks plot!’ ‘Ryan and Emma can’t even dance- or sing!’, ‘its totally overrated!” and, worst of all, ‘it was okay’….

Although I understand that these (first 3) do contain elements of truth, for me, they are irrelevant.

As is inevitably the case with films which receive masses of hype, La La Land has also been hit by a flurry of backlash from those whose high expectations cannot possibly be met. And so I think that one of the reasons I love this movie so much is because I went into my screening without any pre-conceptions.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of La La Land a few months ago, back when there were no reviews, and only one rather short enigmatic teaser to go by…

So it was with a jolt that I was launched into this exuberant musical reverie. As you probably know by now, the film opens with queues of frustrated passengers caught up on the LA highway. Chattering LA-ers, the beeping of car horns and the cacophony of sounds coming from car radios give us the impression that this truly is a city bustling with music. Director Chazelle takes inspiration from his own favourites, “…like in Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Rear Window you’re hearing Italian opera coming from one apartment window and Frankie Vali from another and jazz from another. But this is Los Angeles. The cacophony of sounds is coming out of cars. And I loved the idea of presenting the soundscape of the city that way”. Fed up of waiting in line, one by one the drivers exit their vehicles and in a spectacular explosion of colour and sound, jump on top of their cars, proving that a bit of madness is key.

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Interestingly, the very first edit of the film opened with an overture of credits before the camera swooped down to reveal Mia and Sebastian’s meet cute in their cars. But I think that by announcing the film by way of this spectacular 6 minute (made-to-look-like-a) vast singe shot, Chazelle assures us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA, on music and ambition.

I left the cinema feeling euphoric, unsure of whether to cry, run around, or just immediately book a flight to LA and try to live out the movie in real life!

So I think that to point to the ‘lack of plot’ would be to miss the crux of the film. As my friend (Mark) pointed out yesterday, there is no way that, after watching the opening car sequence, you would expect to find a thriller filled with twists and turns. Clearly, La La Land tells a pretty simple ‘boy meets girl’ story, but tells it with overwhelmingly breath-taking panache.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone do not dance to perfection, but the camera does; it swoops around them, capturing a sense of movement and excitement that may not have been possible had we been solely focused on the finesse of their movement. And where their dancing lacks, their performances more than make up for- Emma Stone is captivating throughout. Each minute facial expression reveals what she is thinking at every second. What more could the casting directors in her audition scene possibly have wanted from her?

Throughout the film, we can see clear parallels between La La Land’s Mia and Sebastian and Whiplash’s Andrew (Milles Teller). A clear theme is emerging in Chazelle’s work: clearly, he lauds tenacity and determination.

**Spoiler!!**

For me, the ending wasn’t unsatisfactory because the film wasn’t primarily about Mia and Sebastian’s relationship with each other; it was about the way it fostered their ambitions. So I don’t think it was necessary for them to stay together for their relationship to be perfect. It was perfect.

At the Movies: Manchester by the Sea

At the Movies: Manchester by the Sea

I totally accept that going to see a film in January that wasn’t La La Land was slightly insane…but I feel that after having seen it twice already, and knowing the soundtrack back to front (Ryan Gosling’s suit is wool- obviously) it was probably time to move on, and venture on to one of the (probable) ‘serious’ Oscar contenders….

Manchester by the Sea is writer/director Kenneth Lonergan‘s third film and stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. The trailer promises us a bleak tale filled with woe and hope in which a man, upon learning of his brother’s death, must return to his hometown, (Manchester by the Sea) to look after his brother’s teenage son, and in doing so, ‘find himself’…probably not Just Another Day of Sun…

But the sincerity of the trailer doesn’t do this film justice…

Affleck plays Lee, an irascible, monosyllabic janitor who has absolutely no interest in forming any sort of relationship- with anyone. He regularly insults his customers and picks fights with random men in grotty bars. He is clearly disillusioned with life and appears intent on paying penance for his mysterious past. His return to Manchester by the Sea is met with whispers and shock: he is not just Lee Chandler but the Lee Chandler. Whatever he has done, or whatever has happened to him is apparently too horrific for discussion and we are left totally in the dark. Throughout the course of the film we learn about his past, his relationship with his wife (Michelle Williams) and his children. But nothing prepares us for the shocking revelation ¾ through the film where, suddenly, we understand.

But the film is so much more than a mere vehicle for this denouement. 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 (eg. Joe Chandler’s hospital diagnosis). And so, despite the plot not being the most original, the film feels completely fresh. In complete contrast to Clint Eastwood’s  Sully (the most recent film I’ve hated) Lonergan doesn’t simply pay lip service to his characters, he genuinely captures their nuances and eccentricities. And the dissonance of Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler from an extraverted family man in the flashbacks to total gnomic loner left me with a sense of intrigue…

But the thing that jarred with me was the music, which felt somewhat incongruous. And although it worked at the start of the film and hinted to the fact that perhaps, all was not well, and there was something yet to be discovered, in some of the more overtly emotional moments, it felt a little overblown (notably in the funeral scene and in the final scene). But perhaps it was to the film’s credit that, bar a few moments, it didn’t try to force an emotional repose from its audience.

There’s a scene in a police station towards the end of the film in which Lee struggles with the idea that no one is to blame for the tragedy. And I think that moment was very revealing. Things are left unresolved and relationships cannot be salvaged. But the film offers no solution, nor any real redemption. No one is really to blame. And this makes it all the more devastating.

Honestly, the most sensible thing to do after coming out of a screening of Manchester by the Sea, is to walk straight into a screening of La La Land.