MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

He’s Not Like Us

Director
Jeff Nichols

Starring
Jaeden Lieberher
Michael Shannon
Joel Edgerton



Opening on a news report detailing a kidnapping, we witness the accused, Roy Tomlin [Shannon], in a hotel room; the windows covered with cardboard and gaffer tape. With him is concerned-looking accomplice, Lucas [Edgerton], who explains it’s nightfall and they should leave. Packing weapons into a duffel bag, Roy approaches an illuminated blanket and reveals Alton, a young boy wearing swimming goggles, reading a comic by torchlight. The group quickly depart in a beat-up car and speed into the night. Simultaneously an isolated cult/community run by Calvin Meyer [Sam Shepard] is raided by the FBI, who are looking for Alton. Calvin explains that the boy is somehow divine and goes into fits wherein he communicates in tongues but the authorities believe this boy is somehow gleaning sensitive government information and finding him is a matter of national security.

Midnight Special feels like a vanguard for nostalgic science fiction filmmaking, indicative of releases like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Starman, Escape To Witch Mountain and ET; high-stakes fantastical developments as experienced by a small family group in the vast Midwest. Jeff Nichols’ oeuvre is an impressive one, a chain of critically acclaimed, clever, independent releases utilising subtle direction and gripping stories. Critics love his work but it seems audiences don’t often connect with them; more than likely due to his favouring of styles employed decades ago. At the centre of this film is a smart script that avoids almost all forms of exposition and allows the audience to come to their own conclusions about the characters and their story; a “what does it mean to you” tale. Building on his previous achievements, Nichols creates wonderful tension throughout, broken only by sudden moments of intensity. Working in harmony with this wonderful direction and editing is a pulsing unnerving score from David Wingo’s; I can’t stress enough the benefit of a simple theme built upon to bring audiences to the edge of their seats. To top it all off, Adam Stone’s cinematography is beautifully simplistic, proudly pushing a blurred vignette while maximizing light sources as much as possible for a film predominantly set in a car at night.

The first thing I noted about this film was the uncertainty as to when it was set. Based on all the clothing, kitchy decoration and dated technology, one would assume it’s a period piece but in fact it’s set in the modern day. I can’t tell if this was an effort to preserve the aesthetic of the films it was emulating or highlighting the divide between the noise and advancement of major cities and the featured locations and characters. This air of simplicity bleeds out from the script, to the set design and even to the performances themselves. Despite limited dialogue and a plot that effectively boils down to a chase from A to B, each central actor gives a compelling and nuanced performance. Long-time collaborator Shannon’s style perfectly fits Nichols’ writing and he conveys a great deal through simple anguished strains, bringing this emotionally stunted but wholly dedicated father to life. Similarly, Edgerton as Lucas sits in the role of driver and henchman but feels like the bridge between the cult-sheltered leads, the agenda driven intelligence agencies and the perplexed audience. Then you have Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Paul Sparks and Sam Shepard who all deliver able support, although one could say they take a distinct backseat to the leads. Which brings us to the incredibly talented Jaeden Lieberher. Following his success in St Vincent, Lieberher gives a satisfying performance as Alton, while side-stepping the pitfalls most young actors fall into, leaving them sounding overly cutesy or excessively precocious.

Negatively speaking, the film actually tells you how it’s going to end and for that reason may underwhelm a few. Furthermore, its air of ambiguity, while personally appreciated will alienate many people who go to the cinema expecting succinct closure from the story they’re watching. Midnight Special also rides that nostalgia train headfirst into the most predictable of stations and you can’t help but feel the lack of subversion is a little disappointing. As with all homages, sometimes you can inherit all the flaws and find yourself simply rehashing what has come before; albeit with grander visual effects. But in truth, these issues are perspective based and functionally speaking, this is a truly well-made film.

Considering how aptly it’s titled (paying homage to all those late low-budget, sci-fi releases televised in the middle of the night) Midnight Special is a hard sell to audiences hungry for big, obvious, explodey science fiction but extremely worthwhile cinema and definitely worth a watch. And if that wasn’t enough, one could argue that, at times, it’s a better Superman story than anything else currently being put out by Warner Bros.


Release Date:
8th April 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
As the story slowly unveils more and more of itself it becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint one specific standout moment. But in truth, the opening scenes are spot-on. The methodical movements, the eccentricities, the anxious expressions, the unspoken purpose that drives these men and their ward into the night, it’s frankly tantalising and begs the audience to see it through to conclusion.

Notable Characters:
Expanding on what I said earlier, Lieberher’s performance as Alton is great. Captivating, charming and a little daunting, he delivers an otherworldly performance without drifting into that weird automaton territory. An incredible achievement and one which the whole film essentially rides on. Not to mention the fact that the questions surrounding the character himself are engaging and fascinating.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’m an electrician, certified in two States. What do I know of such things?”

In A Few Words:
“Skilful, engrossing, riveting, cogent emotional storytelling”

Total Score:

4/5

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

God vs Man, Day vs Night

Director
Zack Snyder

Starring
Henry Cavill
Ben Affleck
Jesse Eisenberg



In the world of superhero comics (especially when it comes to Marvel and DC, the “big two” publishers) you get monthly instalments of stories featuring your favourite characters. On occasion, other characters of that universe will turn up when the story calls for it and often you’ll get crossovers which take place in two different titles. This is commonplace and can really add to the story, bringing a new moral perspective. Then there are huge publisher-wide crossovers called events. These are stories that are so monumental and affecting that they pertain to every character across the entire active line. But while the central strut of the event takes place, there are certain loose threads that could be followed if one so desired. The most notable is the pre-event one-shot; a story which acts as a disconnected prologue which doesn’t really do much to bolster the story and is really there to act as a teaser for things to come. In a collected omnibus, it’s a pretty weak segment relegated to an expanded section of the book for those who want to dig around in the backstory and the continuity lore. No actual story, all set up, no pay off. That’s what Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is.

***Bear in mind that from here on everything is SPOILER HEAVY. So unless you want the story and reveals dissected and examined, stop reading now.***

Set a year and a half after the events of Man Of Steel, Superman [Cavill] continues to actively do what he feels is his duty by helping others. In spite of this, people are divided as to whether he is a force for good or a potential threat accountable to none. At the same time we are introduced to Bruce Wayne [Affleck], a billionaire orphan who has been operating as the masked vigilante Batman in Gotham City for several decades. Wayne witnessed Superman’s battle with Zod in Metropolis and believes that this alien being cannot be trusted and if there is any doubt whatsoever about his intentions, he must be eliminated. Then there’s a metric fuck-tonne of other things ranging from the inclusion of Superman’s eventual arch nemesis Lex Luthor [Eisenberg], various Senate hearings about Superman’s accountability, the survivors of Zod’s attack, Kryptonite and the growing presence of metahumans with super abilities.

One thing this film is graced with is exceptionally strong components. The respective ingredients and elements that make up this film are great. I like the casting, I like Chris Terrio as a screenwriter (Goyer less so), the controversial platform left by Man Of Steel is a great starting point for an in-depth, complicated dramatic action film, Hans Zimmer has produced a very strong Superman theme and Tom Holkenborg’s work on things like 300: Rise Of An Empire, Deadpool and Mad Max: Fury Road have been brilliant, not to mention a whopping budget, full studio support and a diverse history of seventy plus years of comic plots.. and yet there is nothing especially memorable or standout about the entire film; not when compared to something like any of the other superhero movies around at the minute and not even when compared to Man Of Steel. And I’m not one of these people who “hates on DC” or has any us-and-them agenda. I love both Marvel and DC comic characters/stories and rather than rooting for one over the other, I want both to succeed. I want to gorge myself on fun, visually pleasing, clever and touching filmmaking based on these really strong properties. It’s just thoroughly disappointing that we can have successful films about c-list characters from Marvel’s stable but we can’t get DC’s main trinity off the ground without a rocky takeoff.

First thing we have to talk about is the head, the man at the top. Back when the Dark Knight trilogy was a glowing success of cinema, everyone agreed that Christopher Nolan’s gritty, grounded take on superheroes would be inappropriate and ultimately the wrong foundation for a DC shared universe. In truth, so was the man that came along next. Zack Snyder, for all his flaws, failures and successes has in no way proved himself to be capable of helming something of this magnitude. And I’m saying that as a Man Of Steel defender, I really wanted to like this film, I want it to be a success. But as it stands, from a clear and concise narrative perspective, Man Of Steel was a superior release and I neither expected nor wanted that from this film.

But if Snyder’s the wrong choice, I have to then turn my vitriol to the people who gave him that power. Much like 20th Century Fox and their terrible Fantastic Four reboot, one has to wonder whether the heads at Warner Bros are arrogant or just stupid. In a desperate dash for franchise success, they’ve thrown so much into a small space, then handed it to a man who didn’t really understand how best to present it to an audience and frankly flubbed it. Marvel’s success comes largely from a combination of luck, patience, franchise vision and a rotating door of untapped talent. And a lot of that really falls on that second word: patience. Back in 2008 when Iron Man was released, the idea of an Avengers movie was a distant one that had to be earned. The keystone needed to be placed so that once these characters shared the screen for the first time there would be a true sense of spectacle and historical accomplishment. But DC hasn’t the time for that, if they hadn’t completely fucked up Green Lantern, they may be at a wonderful stage right now but they took a dark Superman world and shoehorned all these characters in the world he resides in. The cement is weak and everything that is built upon it will no doubt suffer because of these starting blocks; say what you will about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I’m one of the very few people who actually enjoyed it), I didn’t mind the world building, the on-going questions, the constantly growing sea of villains. If it had run its course, who knows? But the problems that everyone had with that film, I can see here. Nothing is earned and we’re all simply expected to swallow the gigantic leaps taken by the narrative developments.

Blame aside, what’s Batman v Superman’s biggest setback? Well at first you’d think it’s the utterly atrocious editing from an absolutely over-stuffed script but even that can be simplified to the fact that this movie has far too many plots and none of them are developed to full fruition. Firstly you have a Man Of Steel sequel which deals with Superman’s place in this world and the fallout for how he handled the Battle Of Metropolis. You have his budding relationship with Lois, Clark’s role as a neutered journalist and the growing megalomania of industrial tycoon Lex Luthor. Second we have a Batman solo feature, reintroducing us to the billionaire vigilante Bruce Wayne, complete with his origins, tough stance on crime, his flare as a detective, his connection with Alfred and twenty plus years of established crime fighting history and all the horror and loss that came with it. The third layer is a confrontational rivalry pitting Batman against Superman over the way justice should be enacted by those in a position to take the law into their own hands. And finally we have the Justice League setup film which lays the various breadcrumbs to what will become a convergence of superheroes, fighting for the common good.

Now, that’s a lot to juggle for any writing/directing team but when you’ve got all of that interspersed with countless dream sequences and flash-forwards/backs WITHOUT GROUNDING ANYTHING it’s just a chaotic mess. Diana Prince appears then disappears when the script calls for her, only for a full suited-up Wonder Woman reveal in the finale, with no real explanation for those who have no idea who or what a Wonder Woman is. I mean, in all honesty, I know my comic book lore but WHICH Wonder Woman are we going with here? The Amazonian sculpted from clay? Demigoddess daughter of Zeus? And one of the biggest “what the absolute fuck” moments, having only just introduced us to a new Batman and you’re already throwing a time-travelling Flash with premonitions of Darkseid and an army of Parademons? It’s all over the place! Other elements are less easy to define; there’s some extremely heavy handed direction, pandering when it comes to plot points, reiterating certain things over-and-over: Aquaman reveal, the senator’s Granny’s Peach Tea moment, the Wonder Woman picture. So many sections are awarded extra screen time to hammer home the significance which weren’t overly necessary while others were glossed over with immense flippancy and nonchalance.

Speaking of which, we need to quickly talk about those Justice League elements. There are individuals who have been waiting for so long to see any sight of these characters on-screen that they’ll love it regardless but they felt like really dumb, tacked on cameos. All the things in the trailer, the little nods and cues, like the Darkseid omega symbol and the Robin costume, are completely flat. Nothing is there but the visual presence of these things, in the same way that easter eggs are handled in other comic films. They do nothing to further the story and serve only to alienate and confuse mainstream audiences.

But what about the practical aspects? Is the film at least nice to look at? Not really. I’ve never been a fan of Snyder’s dark, high contrast, syntheticy aesthetic and the CGI is average which means it will age terribly. Specifically, Doomsday reminded me of the Hulk/Abomination Harlem attack in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and the action sequences themselves while pleasing in places, were hard to follow. To top it all off, the strongest thing going for this release wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg’s score was acceptable but didn’t do a great deal other than serve to highlight when a Justice League moment was about to kick off. One thing I’ve complained about in the Marvel universe is the lack of musical themes tying together in a central cohesive dynamic. One of Zimmer’s first tasks was to pen individual character themes which could be used across the board in each release. I loved this idea, I can’t speak highly enough for it but the problem still remains that we have no affinity or connection with these score elements. The drums rumble up out of nowhere and you’re taken out of the story for a second, then a wailing guitar chimes over everything and you’re looking around like, “is this supposed to mean something? Is this Wonder Woman’s theme music?” Again, it’s not earned so rather than producing that desired Pavlovian anticipatory effect, we just shrug and mutter, “if you say so.” I have no real qualms with the themes themselves but without having the initial pointer to indicate which instrument represents which character, I can’t give you that requisite response.

Back to the story again, one has to wonder where the fuck it came from. It’s apparent that they were desperate to avoid the complaints generated in the aftermath of Man Of Steel by throwing around expository lines about evacuated areas of the city, deserted islands and workers going home for the day, etc but it doesn’t fix the problems that Man Of Steel created; or put another way, the things detractors of Man Of Steel didn’t like. “Superman doesn’t save enough people? Fine, here’s a one minute montage” that’s not enough, that doesn’t define this character. It’s a classic example of saying Superman is good because he uses his powers to save a kid from a burning building. No, it’s the less obvious things he does that illustrate his nature, personality and temperant, the way in which he treats every interaction, every problem. It’s certainly hinted at but never fully explored. And don’t get me started on the waste of time that is Clark Kent, or any alter ego for that matter; the idea of secret identity doesn’t really mean much in this universe. Everyone seems to know everyone but rather than highlighting how intelligent these individuals must be to have figured it out or seen past the facade, it only serves as yet another reminder of how rushed everything is.

Man Of Steel’s influence to one side, let’s look at the source material. There are, arguably, three key comic book runs that this film draws on for inspiration. The first is Frank Miller’s dark and gritty The Dark Knight Returns. This is set decades into the future in a world where people have become cynical to superheroes and Superman is seen as a corporate stooge working for the President. The only real element of The Dark Knight Returns that’s present here is an older, more grizzled Batman and the fight between Bats and Supes, specifically the use of weaponised Kryptonite (minus the assistance of Oliver Queen) and a massive batsuit. Then we have the inclusion of Doomsday and the whole early 90’s Death Of Superman storyline that went along with it, which only served as a way to get the public back on Superman’s side by the end of the film and forcefully put all the alien hate to bed. And finally we’ve got something that actually emanated from a video game before it was adapted into an elseworlds comic. For those unfamiliar with Injustice: Gods Among Us, in it the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane and their unborn child whilst simultaneously wiping out all of Metropolis. Superman goes off the rails mental and Batman forms a coalition of heroes to try and take down this tyrannical superpowered menace. But again, this is a vision or a dream or a message or whatever the fuck it was – it’s all a bit ambiguous – and while these are hugely successful landmark stories (mostly) they don’t exactly bleed together perfectly. So you take the established Man Of Steel continuity, mash in a few comic threads here and there but you’re still left with stupid questions and sections that don’t make sense. One, which is completely inconsequential but important to me, is the fucking location of Gotham and Metropolis. Unless I completely missed something, they appear to be across the river from each other!? I always thought of these places as New York and Chicago, like a 16 hour train ride away, not on the other side of the bay! Are they twin cities or something?

So before I wind down this massive review, let’s look at the positive elements. There are some really really interesting questions posed by the script: must there be a superman? can Superman have a relationship and remain impartial? Neil deGrasse Tyson’s statements about Copernicus and our place in the universe being redefined and minimalised, would this have an effect on the mentality of our best and brightest? does a government have the right to stop a higher functioning being from acting how it pleases and does this curtailing endanger human life? Regrettably, for every decent question there is neither an answer, nor adequate time or evidence to produce any sort of pleasing resolve.

As is a staple of all superhero films, we seem to forget that actors by the very definition of their craft, take on different roles and personas. Just because Gary Oldman is cast in a specific part doesn’t mean it will or won’t work until you’ve seen the finished film. Having said that, I appreciate that certain personalities shine though more than others and it can be difficult to separate someone like Samuel L Jackson from.. well.. anyone Samuel L Jackson has played. In light of this statement, the casting is good. I still think Cavill is a good Superman but the script never affords him the opportunity to be a good or interesting Clark Kent. In fact, all things considered, he’s given so little to actually do. At one point he (I think) hangs up his cape to walk the Earth and find himself. If I sound uncertain it’s because this development is given so little time to flourish that it takes place over a handful of scenes and it’s impossible to tell exactly how long he was/wasn’t gone for; Lois even says “you came back” to which I quietly responded, “he was gone?”. As for his eponymous colleague, as I suspected, Ben Affleck is a glorious Batman; more than that, for a lot of people he will be considered one of the best iterations of Batman. I will admit though, there will be a lot of people who won’t be able to get past the fact that this hardcore furious Batman murders the ever-living crap out of a lot of people. Even if you exclude the future nightmare vision thing, he still storms the room wherein Martha Kent is being held hostage and obliterates everyone present with a ferocity and lack of care about the use of firearms whatsoever. Staying with Batman for a minute, Jeremy Irons was a great Alfred and also managed to bring something slightly different and unique to a very worn-in role. While it’s still far too early to tell how this character will be employed I think Gal Gadot did a decent job with Wonder Woman. Her undercover alias had an air of mystery and sophistication to her, while also expressing a subtle impatience with the advances and trivial matters of everyone around her. And when she finally appears in full Wonder Woman garb, her abilities were never questioned, she seemed to almost revel in the battle, as if it was a challenge rather than an insurmountable task. We’ll see how that turns out in her own feature. Which brings us to Lex Luthor. This Lex is extremely eccentric and would have played off nicely if we had the time to see the character develop. Although, if I’m honest, all one has to do is look at Vincent D’Onofrio’s take on Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s stellar Marvel series, Daredevil, to see how to bring that kind of calculating, driven genius to life. In truth, I would have preferred to see Luthor portrayed in the same way Eisenberg played his alternate, James Simon, in The Double. But the real grating didn’t come from the portrayal, more his motivation. Sure, there are piecemeal touches like his overbearing and possibly abusive father and a few quirks and ticks but why does he do anything in this film? What exactly is his end goal? One could argue he’s a puppet for Darkseid but a.) that was never established outside one line right at the end of the film (ding ding ding he’s coming, etc) and b.) that’s a MASSIVE disservice to Lex.

I think we can all agree, following Man Of Steel, this should have been a Superman sequel with a touch of Batman. But along the way, Warner Bros’ excitement reached fever pitch and suddenly all these other elements were forced in. More Batman! More Justice League! Put out a statement saying we’re putting the film back a year to “allow the creators time to achieve their vision.” It was too much, too soon. In that way, I’m reminded of the madness of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath Of God. Warner Bros watched their fellow studios traversing an insanely rapid and rocky river in a sturdy boat that took a lot of time, trial and error to construct and reaping wondrous success with it. Assuming they could easily do the same, they set out with Man Of Steel – after a failed attempt to float a nasty piece of driftwood in the form of Green Lantern. Their little raft barely held up but now it seems their flotilla is separating, falling apart and will probably sink, drowning everyone aboard. But it’s too late, they’ve come too far. It’s now either success or death. And either the upcoming individual releases of the DC Extended Universe, which is really only Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, will have to provide enough buoyancy to keep whatever the fuck Snyder is working on in his two part Justice League film afloat, or we will witness a listing slab, littered with bodies and one mad-eyed individual stood at the centre, surrounded by screaming monkeys muttering, “Who else is with me?”

To close this review, I’m reminded that legendary comic writer, Grant Morrison once pointed out that comics are just stories. The old ones still exist and things tend to revert back anyway, so why not sample something different? The Christopher Reeve films still exist, Nolan’s Batman is readily available and after the backlash Star Wars: The Force Awakens received for not trying something new enough, one could argue you can’t win. And I would largely agree with that, this iteration may not be for you. But in light of the tirade from critics, outcry from fans, confusion from the mainstream and overwhelming disappointment amongst the smattering of glowing feedback, my questions is thus: who is this film for? And what will be wrought from this painful gestation?


Release Date:
25th March 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
Without a doubt, the opening Battle Of Metropolis scene, from Bruce Wayne’s perspective, was great. The music soared wonderfully, we got an idea of who this man is, saw some great acting from Affleck and were reminded of how the events at the end of Man Of Steel would have been interpreted from ground level. Which would have been perfect if it wasn’t for Wayne calling one of his employees (whom he has some sort of connection with, it’s never explored) and telling him to get out of the building, resurrecting something from Man Of Steel which was monumentally stupid – the concept that in a city under attack, people will just stand by the window and wait to be told to get the fuck out of there!

Notable Characters:
If anything, this movie is worth the watch for Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman. Riveting stuff, can’t wait to see more of his character in a better director’s hands. A director like.. oh, I don’t know.. Ben Affleck? But I need to talk about the absolute worst element of the cast, carried over from Man Of Steel. You people need to stop trying to make Amy Adam’s Lois Lane a thing. By putting her at the centre of everything, the story is doomed to escalate around the weakest element. I hated Amy Adams in Man Of Steel and I hate her even more in this film. She should act as an inspiration for Superman, a beacon of humanity’s resilience and defiance, its thirst for knowledge and truth as well as our capacity to love and change. But she’s none of that! She’s a vapid, whiney, mopey, useless character who somehow knows exactly where to go to further the script: realising that someone knows her connection to Supes; taking a helicopter to the centre of the action in Gotham without really knowing where it’s taking place; locating the Kryptonite spear without knowing if it’ll affect Doomsday. And don’t get me started on her diving on a pinned Superman to explain to Batman that Martha is his (Superman’s) mother’s name. Fuck off! “My mom died. Her name was Martha. I couldn’t save that Martha.. but I can save this one.” Just.. Jesus. All Superman needed to say (before the fighting started, I might add) was “they’re going to kill my mother!” Did it have to matter that they share the same name? AND DID LOIS NEED TO DIVE IN AND SAY IT!? And stop calling him Clark, lady! I know no one gives a shit about secret identities but can you see how easy it could be for someone to kidnap both you and his mother if someone keeps bleating his goddamned alias!?

Highlighted Quote:
“Crimewave in Gotham. Other breaking news, water wet”

In A Few Words:
“Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is far from a terrible movie, if anything it’s acceptable. The problem is the rich source material provided the opportunity for something mesmerising and apparently, despite all the money and talent involved, this is the best they could do”

Total Score:

2/5

HIGH-RISE

Leave The Real World Behind

Director
Ben Wheatley

Starring
Tom Hiddleston
Sienna Miller
Jeremy Irons
Luke Evans



Set in 1975, we are introduced to Dr Robert Laing [Hiddleston], a recent new resident on the 25th floor of a state-of-the-art tower block. As he settles in, he quickly learns that while the building provides equally for its occupants (a supermarket located on an entire floor, an indoor swimming pool and various sports and gym facilities) there is a distinct hierarchal divide between those on the higher and lower floors. Those below feel they are pressed upon by the wealthy elite, suffering frequent power outages and lack of supplies, while the privileged few at the top feel the disquiet of the complaints from below are sheer ingratitude, furthermore, they suffer similar power outages and blame those beneath them. Strangely, the only proposed method to combat this disharmony is extravagant drunken parties. Finding common ground with both tribes, Laing learns the more he spends time in the building, the less the outside world seems to matter.

Written around the time when tower blocks were being built at an extraordinary rate in the United Kingdom, Ballard (author of the High-Rise novel) already seemed to know how these towering constructions would turn out – neglected, rundown and rife with crime. Admittedly this story focuses more on the nature of classism within the high-rise, the tower exists as a microcosm of the outside world, eventually replacing the need for an outside world; and as such it’s probably the closest I’ll get to a BioShock film. As a social study, High-Rise is a brilliant feature. At first we are drawn in by the bright strip-lit floors catering to all amenities and desires but quickly realize this is merely a veneer and the heart of the building is rotting from the inside out – an overriding metaphor which presents itself in multiple ways from fruit to teeth.

The key to really appreciating this release is to understand that this isn’t a period drama, nor is it a dystopian science fiction, it’s a surreal thriller, indicative of works like A Clockwork Orange and The Lord Of The Flies. Complaints of the film’s obscure setting, disorientating nature or skewed narrative might rile certain audience members but from what I understand, the script loyally sticks to the source material and as such can’t be held directly to blame. In truth, there isn’t a great deal to criticise; if you are familiar with subversive, avant-garde filmmaking you will know what to expect from this release and probably enjoy the mad, disjointed nature of the film, especially when considering its separation from reality. If anything, I would claim that High-Rise’s biggest flaw is that it didn’t do more to push the envelope. As someone who reveled in the chaos of A Field In England, High-Rise came off as a significantly more mainstream production with a lack of truly outstanding moments. I wouldn’t even say this is really a fault, per se, more a personal preference.

Ben Wheatley is a fascinating talent and both he and longtime collaborator Amy Jump have produced some very impressive features; bold, unusual and everything one would think an independent release should represent. His style is wonderfully approachable despite employing methods and visuals which can feel jarring to the untrained eye. Part of the success of this direction is largely thanks to the acting talent involved. From the top-billed to the supports, everyone does an exemplary job bringing these unconventional caricatures to life, ensuring that the pillars of each end of the societal spectrum are in some way represented; albeit lampooned. Hiddleston commands his performance well and while nobody is particularly likeable, he is probably the closest thing to a relatable individual, embodying the middle class’ desire to rise through the ranks, knowing they’ll never truly fit in and trying to distance themselves from the problem of the lower ranks.

Second to the performances is the fantastic production design, perfectly evoking the key stylistic qualities of Britain in the mid 70’s. The concrete brutalism is brought to life with an air of sterilised beauty and order rather than the decrepit monoliths we associate it with today. From the props, to the costumes and the hair and make-up, the world of High-Rise is a fond look at a lost time that may never have existed. In the same way, Clint Mansell’s unintrusive score compliments the haunting visuals, forcing the audience to feel lost and isolated; mirroring Laing’s own disassociation.

Far from perfect but in my opinion thoroughly enjoyable and a worthy directorial medal on Wheatley’s chest.


Release Date:
18th March 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
Unlike most, surface-level narrative releases, High-Rise deploys allegory to make a rich tapestry of points and observations. One of my favourite examples of this the wonderful drive that there is no money to be had anywhere and the rich are just as starved as the poor. The truth is everyone is suffering equally but believe those above/below them have it better off and are either withholding resources or whining unnecessarily, respectively. A concept which is highlighted by the line, “That’s the problem with the poor, they’re obsessed with money.”

Notable Characters:
The supports are a host of eccentric individuals but none of them really stand out as truly noteworthy. Like an eclectic mix in a Gilliam release, anyone who isn’t front-and-centre fades against the backdrop somewhat. This partly ties in with my aforementioned gripe about pushing the envelope further. Unlike a David Lynch film where every character is memorable in their own way, those present feel they are filing a social class tick-box quotient without escaping the base trappings of their inspiration. But, in all fairness, this could be a problem with the source material rather than the film.

Highlighted Quote:
“It takes a certain determination to row against the current”

In A Few Words:
“A slick stylised release combining all the best elements of Wheatley’s oeuvre”

Total Score:

4/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #163

[13 March 2016]


Winning Team:
War! Movies It’s Good For!
Genre – Absolutely nothing – the ultimate prize of all wars revealed in a metaphysical documentary

Runners Up:
Shaving Ryan’s Privates II: Let The Waxing Commence
Genre – It all goes down in a war-porn city
The Dogs Of Whore
Genre – Waaaar!!!
The Bridge Over The River Wensum
Genre – The tragic story of three brave souls who built the bridge from riverside to the waterfront
War Whores
Genre – Slutty Spielberg’s Best Picture
Shaving Ryan’s Privates
Genre – WWII porn based in Northern France
WARL-E
Genre – A Disney film about a bomb disposal robot who falls in love with Jeremy Renner


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is the name of the spy portrayed by Rowan Atkinson in the Johnny English films?
JOHNNY ENGLISH
2. 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure all belong to which genre?
DISASTER
3. How many Night At The Museum films were made?
THREE
4. 8 Mile tells a largely fictionalised interpretation of which rapper’s origins?
EMINEM / MARSHALL MATHERS
5. Who directed Bad Boys and its sequel?
MICHAEL BAY
6. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Alan Tudyk and Justin Long starred in which film?
DODGE BALL
7. The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, was released in which year?
2006
8. The following is a quote from which film, “I love lamp”?
ANCHORMAN
9. Which film starred Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson?
ANGER MANAGEMENT
10. What was the subtitle of the second Tomb Raider film?
CRADLE OF LIFE


ROUND II: Filming [War special]
1. **7000th question asked!** Vietnam War: What is the title of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war film? Platoon? Dead Presidents? Apocalypse Now?
APOCALYPSE NOW
2. WWII: 1962’s The Longest Day is set during which military conflict? World War II? Spanish-American War? The Cold War?
WORLD WAR II
3. Napoleonic War: Which Carry On film is set during the Napoleonic War? Carry On Henry? Carry On Jack? Carry On Dick?
CARRY ON JACK
4. Anglo-Zulu War: Zulu, starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine was released in which year? 1958? 1964? 1971?
1964
5. WWI: In Gallipoli, Archie and Frank (played by Mark Lee and Mel Gibson) are dispatched to the trenches in which country? Egypt? Belgium? Italy?
EGYPT
6. US Civil War: Which of the following did not appear in the four and a half hour long Gettysburg? Patrick Stewart? George Lazenby? Martin Sheen?
PATRICK STEWART
7. Gulf War: In The Devil’s Double, Dominic Cooper plays both the roll of Latif Yahia and which of Saddam Hussein’s children? Uday? Qusay? Khairallah?
UDAY
8. Cuban Revolution/Bolivian War: In both parts of Steven Soderbergh’s Che, Ernesto Guevara is afflicted by which medical condition? Migraines? Diabetes? Asthma?
ASTHMA
9. Irish War of Independence: Finish the following quote from The Wind That Shakes The Barley, “The treaty does not express the will of the people”. But the will of the English? But the fear of the people? But our failure to produce a lasting resolve?
BUT THE FEAR OF THE PEOPLE
10. English Civil War: During filming of 1970’s Cromwell, Alec Guinness had a nervous breakdown and believed he was going to genuinely be executed as Charles I. True or False?
FALSE


ROUND III: Post-Production
1. Which seven actors played the title roles in The Magnificent Seven? (one point per correct answer)
YUL BRYNNER / STEVE MCQUEEN / CHARLES BRONSON / ROBERT VAUGHN / JAMES COBURN / HORST BUCHHOLZ / BRAD DEXTER
2. Rob Hawkins, Beth McIntyre and Hud are the lead characters in which 2008 science fiction monster film?
CLOVERFIELD
3. What was the first film to star both Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?
MR AND MRS SMITH
4. The following is the poster tagline for which film, “There will be greed. There will be vengeance”?
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
5. Who directed Shallow Grave?
DANNY BOYLE
6. Bugsy Malone was released in which year?
1976
7. In Match Point, Tennis professional Chris Wilton and his pupil Tom Hewett strike up a friendship based on their love of what?
OPERA
8. The first and second rule of Fight Club are the same but how many rules are there in total?
EIGHT
9. Ben Affleck appeared in which Tom Clancy adaptation?
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
10. What is the name of the lead character in 28 Days Later?
JIM


ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Which of the following films is the story of a long-distance rider taking part in the Ocean Of Fire race? The Black Stallion? Secretariat? Hidalgo?
HIDALGO
2. Which actor played the role of Rory O’Shea, a wheelchair-bound young man suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy in Inside I’m Dancing? James McAvoy? Michael Fassbender? Nicholas Hoult?
JAMES MCAVOY
3. The following quote is from which film, “If anything happens to me or my family, an accident, an accusation, anything, then first your son will disappear; his body will never be found. Then your wife. Her body will never be found. This is guaranteed”? Body Of Lies? Syriana? The Bourne Supremacy?
SYRIANA
4. James Dean appeared in how many films before his death? Two? Three? Four?
THREE (plus four uncredited)
5. Dark City, I, Robot and Gods Of Egypt were all directed by whom? Alex Proyas? Stephan Elliott? Roland Emmerich?
ALEX PROYAS
6. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant tells the story of what? A corporation scamming a farming community out of drilling rights? An university student befriends a reclusive novelist? A school shooting massacre?
A SCHOOL SHOOTING MASSACRE
7. Which animal was Alan Parrish’s playing piece in Jumanji? Elephant? Monkey? Lion?
ELEPHANT
8. What is the name of the hacker in the anime Ghost In The Shell? The Laughing Man? The Individual Eleven? The Puppet Master?
THE PUPPET MASTER
9. What is the name for the police force that terminates runners in Logan’s Run? Sandmen? Watchmen? Minute Men?
SANDMEN
10. During filming of the last scene of Leon, a thief robbed a nearby store, saw all the police set up outside a nearby building and decided to surrender.. to extras. True or False?
TRUE


BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Tropic Thunder / Dallas Buyers Club / Reign Of Fire
Poster: Sahara
Actor: Matthew McConaughey


THE WITCH

Evil Takes Many Forms

Director
Robert Eggers

Starring
Anya Taylor-Joy
Ralph Ineson
Kate Dickie
Harvey Scrimshaw



I adore this film; which may come as a surprise. Regular readers will know that I don’t review a lot of horror films because it’s the one aspect of cinema that I genuinely don’t enjoy. But this fact is actually a slight inaccuracy as the thing about horrors I don’t enjoy is the constant utilization of jump scares. The Witch, on the other hand, is an extremely smart horror film that preys on tension, suspense and unease through the use of gut-wrenching sound, wailing music, masterful performances and subtle visuals.

Set in New England in the 1630’s, a family of puritanical Christians are expelled from their community for their doctrinal interpretation of the town’s running. Eventually the group settle far from the plantation, in a clearing near a thick forest and start their new life. The family is made up of six members (William, Katherine and their four children Thomasin, Caleb, Mercy and Jonas) but a seventh is born. One day whilst playing with her new youngest sibling, Thomasin [Taylor-Joy] loses sight of baby Samuel and he vanishes. The family are distraught, Katherine [Dickie] moreso than the others, who fervently believes that her unbaptised baby is in hell. With the crops failing, William [Ineson] and his eldest son Caleb [Scrimshaw] set out into the woods to hunt for food. Unfortunately they return empty handed. Back at the homestead, the two youngest siblings, twins Mercy and Jonas [Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson], are running wild tormenting a black ram they dub Black Phillip. With food a sparse commodity and fear of what lies in the woods growing, the family unit breaks down and slowly turns on each other, accusing one another of consorting with the devil and a witch who lives in the woods.

Every single individual component is stellar. The cinematography is beautiful and continuously framed wonderfully. The setting is claustrophobic, haunting and looming; a fact cemented by the choice to shoot with a 1:1.66 aspect ratio. Much like The Revenant natural and available light have been utilized well to ensure a very real look, which also serves to highlight the exemplary production design work on the set, props and costumes. The editing is brilliant, maintaining a slow-burn suspense from start to finish, as is the invasive and unsettling audio work. And then we have the acting. Any time your story relies heavily on the performances of children you put the film in immediate jeopardy of being labelled amateur. Thankfully everyone involved, from Inseon and Dickie to all the children and even that fucking evil goat bastard are captivating. The script is penned in unfamiliar inflections and structures and being able to convey everything within the plot as well as making the dialogue sound natural is an example of extreme talent. All-in-all, this film is the epitome of mature cinema. It’s not a cash-grab sexfest with beautiful nubile teens running around screaming as they are hunted by some unseen menace, it’s a sophisticated exploration of fear and madness presented in a way only cinema can deliver.

Another aspect I thoroughly enjoy is the uncertainty. On the surface this is a very straight horror story, the likes of which have permeated through spoken history for centuries. Under that is the possibility that the depicted events did not occur in the manner they were presented. If we accept that the film is told by an unreliable narrator, the validity of the supernatural elements can be brought into question. There is a possibility that the whole thing was conjured from a paranoid state brought about by excessive hunger and religious hysteria. All of which simply adds to the level of finesse at work here. The film closes with a title card stating the majority of the language and experiences detailed originate in documented folklore and tales from the time, a fact which is clearly demonstrated early on during the disturbing ‘flying ointment’ scene.

So with this abundance of praise, are there any negative aspects to this film? In my opinion, no. I personally believe this to be a marvelous release and a credit to all involved. Having said that, I can easily highlight two or three issues that many cinemagoers will raise. Firstly, as stated earlier, despite being a genre film, The Witch sidesteps all the typical tropes and delivers something unique. Unfortunately, unique doesn’t always translate well for the mainstream. People who like their horror big, flash and gory will be sorely disappointed and feel mislead by marketing and reviews. To them, this is less a horror film and more a period drama. Said individuals may also complain that the contents are slow or boring. Once again, because it’s different from what people are used to (and therefore seek out and enjoy) they reject it. I’m quite happy to say they are wrong.. and probably stupid.. the kind of people who would make the same complaints about The Shining. The second point of contention will be the language. Anyone unfamiliar with thick Northern (English) dialects, may find absolutely anything said aloud a little hard to follow. Now, this side of things I can’t slate people for. There are countless dialects which garble vowels and make interpretation tricky. From the deepest bayous of Louisiana to the wildest parts of Western Ireland, if you have yet to experience how the English language is used, it can sound unintelligible. But I can in no way fault the film for the choice to employ authentic sounding dialogue.

Depending on your genre preferences, this film will either be loved or loathed. As someone very much in the former category, I can’t help but recommend it.


Release Date:
11th March 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
I mentioned the flying ointment scene earlier, which kicks off so quickly into the film’s running time and is such an unpleasant and startling event that it lingers in the foreground of your mind. But instead I’d like to highlight the scene in which Caleb awakes. Everything about this is expertly handled and an example of how this film fires on all cylinders. Without going into too much detail, it’s a riveting, disconcerting ordeal, brilliantly acted out.

Notable Characters:
As stated above, each member of the cast not only brings an interesting and creepy performance to the film but manages to do so in a way that sounds natural and credible. No one performance reigns over the others as they each rely on one another so completely. As such, I will do the only logical thing and highlight Black Phillip, in all forms for being the creepy bastard he is.

Highlighted Quote:
“Dost thou want the taste of butter?”

In A Few Words:
“Psychological horror will always take a backseat to cheap base-level scares, which means a great many people will miss out on this fine feature”

Total Score:

5/5