Sunday, 17 June 2018

Hereditary

Year of Release:  2018
Director:  Ari Aster
Screenplay:  Ari Aster
Starring:  Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Running Time:  128 minutes
Genre:  Horror

Annie Graham (Collette) is a miniaturist artist who lives with her husband, Steve (Byrne), their 13 year old daughter Charlie (Shapiro) and teenage son Peter (Wolff).  Following the death of Annie's reclusive mother, with whom she had a very troubled relationship, the family become haunted by mysterious, malevolent forces.

To say too much about this film would be to spoil it.  This is a quiet, unsettling, serious horror film, which, while referencing classics such as Rosemary's Baby (1968), is very much it's own thing.  It's worth pointing out that this film does demand patience.  It's long for a horror film and quite slow, building up atmosphere and suspense, but there are some shocking plot developments and towards the end it really kicks into high gear.  The acting is superb, especially from Toni Collette who really carries the film, although she is very well supported, particularly by Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro as the two kids.  It's very well made with effective sound design, a lot of the film takes place in complete silence, with subtle sounds emerging suggesting dark forces.  The film is largely free of graphic violence, although there are some disturbing images.

Family matters:  Toni Collette in Hereditary 

Friday, 15 June 2018

The French Connection

Year of Release:  1971
Director:  William Friedkin
Screenplay:  Ernest Tidyman, based on the book The French Connection by Robin Moore
Starring:  Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi
Running Time:  104 minutes
Genre:  Thriller

New York City police detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Hackman) and Sonny "Cloudy" Russo (Scheider) investigate a huge international heroin smuggling operation being run out of Marseille by wealthy Alain Charnier (Rey). 

This is one of the most influential cop thrillers ever made.  Inspired by true events it's filmed in a semi-documentary style with a jittery, constantly moving camera on the wintry streets of New York and dialogue that sounds like snatches of overheard conversations.  The filmmakers strived as far as possible for realism.  Police detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (the real-life models for the characters played by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider) were constant presences on set, and the film does spend a lot of time on the minutiae of police work.  The detectives spend most of the time standing in the freezing cold, or huddled in cars and dingy subterranean offices transcribing wiretap tapes, interspersed with sudden bursts of action.  A lot of viewers at the time found the film very confusing (a MAD magazine parody was called "What's the Connection?"), but that kind of storytelling is more familiar now thanks to TV shows such as The Wire (2002-2008).  Gene Hackman turns in a great performance as the generally pretty repellent racist, lecherous, boorish and violent "Popeye" Doyle. 
The film features some spectacular action sequences, including a justly-famous car chase  sequence, which is one of the best ever put onto film.  If you are a fan of thriller, and have not seen this one, it is definitely a must-see.


      Gene Hackman and friends make The French Connection

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Rosemary's Baby

Year of Release:  1968
Director:  Roman Polanski
Screenplay:  Roman Polanski, based on the novel Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Starring:  Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time:  131 minutes
Genre:  Horror

New York City, 1965:  Rosemary Woodhouse (Farrow) and her ambitious actor husband Guy (Cassavetes) move into a spacious apartment in a classy building, which has a dark history of murder, witchcraft and cannibalism.  Shortly after moving in, the Woodhouse's meet their eccentric elderly neighbours, the Castevets.  When Rosemary falls pregnant, she becomes increasingly suspicious of the Castevets, and convinced that she is being targeted by a Satanic conspiracy, of which her neighbours, friends, and even her husband are part.

This is possibly one of the most influential horror films ever made.  At the time, horror tended to be gruesome drive-in fare, or classier Gothic productions based on Edgar Allan Poe stories, or about Dracula, Frankenstein and other classic monsters.  In this film horror is brought bang up to date and into the heart of Manhattan, it's also aimed squarely at an older audience, Rosemary and Guy are young, but they are certainly not teenagers, and the film deals with pregnancy and middle-class ennui.  It also takes it's time, in a period where horror films rarely lasted much over an hour an a half, this has a generous running time of two hours plus.  It also doesn't look like a horror film, with the opening shots floating over New York City, with the opening credits appearing in pink copperplate lettering to the strangely eerie lullaby, the discussions about pop culture and news events, the evil Satanists worrying about stains on the carpet and having most of the film take place in broad daylight, this is more like a comedy-drama about a disaffected young woman.  The most memorable horror moments come in the genuinely disturbing surreal nightmare sequences, where Rosemary is attacked by a demonic creature, the morning after, in another deeply problematic scene Guy cheerfully informs her that he had had sex with her while she was passed out, he casually brushes off Rosemary's shock and distress at this.
The film is a very faithful adaptation of Ira Levin's book, in fact pretty much everything that is in the film is in the book.  The main difference is that at the end, the film still leaves it ambiguous as to whether anything supernatural is happening at all.  In fact the entire film could be read as it all being in Rosemary's mind.  This was because writer / director Roman Polanski had a strong aversion to the supernatural.  The horror in the film becomes more due to urban isolation and paranoia, a favourtie theme of Polanski's.  Rosemary is alternately abandoned or patronised by her selfish husband, she doesn't have a job, apparently, and spends most of her time rattling around on her own.
The film boasts some fine performances, particularly Mia Farrow, sporting an iconic hairstyle, combining frailty with steel.

Baby blues:  Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby         

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Year of Release:  2018
Director:  J. A. Bayona
Screenplay:  Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, based on characters created by Micheal Crichton
Starring:  Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pidella, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Isabella Sermon, B. D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum
Running Time:  128 minutes
Genre: Action, science-fiction

Three years after the events of Jurassic World (2015), the island of Isla Nubla has been more or less abandoned and left to the cloned dinosaurs.  However an imminent volcanic eruption threatens to destroy the island and the dinosaurs.  Despite strong opposition, a charity, headed by Jurassic World's former manager, Claire Deering (Howard), hope to save the dinosaurs.  Claire is contacted by a representative of millionaire Benjamin Lockwood (Cromwell), a partner of the founder of the original Jurassic Park.  He wants Claire to help find the dinosaurs and relocate them to a safe island, where they can live out their lives in peace.  Claire agrees and recruits the aid of former dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Pratt) to help.  However, once on the island, Claire and Owen find that they are being used for a much more sinister purpose.

This is the fifth film in the Jurassic Park movie franchise, inspired by Micheal Crichton's 1990 novel.  It's an enjoyable action packed adventure, full of spectacular set-pieces and eye-popping special effects.  It starts out as a familiar Jurassic Park adventure, escaping marauding dinosaurs on the tropical island, and then makes a sharp turn becoming something very different, dealing with the franchise's constant moral quandary about the rights and wrongs of cloning extinct animals.  The performances are fine, Chris Pratt is perfect as the roguish but lovable hero, and he makes a great double act with Bryce Dallas Howard, who really carries the weight of the film and does it well.  The bad guys however tend to be one-note villains, and the other character tend to get lost amongst the dino-action, including Jeff Goldblum who, despite prominent billing has little more than a featured cameo.  It holds the attention throughout it's run-time and fans of the franchise won't be disappointed, there are also enough changes in the story to keep it intriguing and surprising enough, while setting the stage for more to come. 

     Jurassic World:  Fallen Kingdom

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Monty Python's Life of Brian

Year of Release:  1979
Director:  Terry Jones
Screenplay:  Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam
Starring:  Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Micheal Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam
Running Time:  94 minutes
Genre:  Comedy

Led by a star, Three Wise Men come to praise a child born in a stable.  However, they quickly realise they want to praise the baby born in the stable next door.  The first baby, Brian Cohen (Chapman), grows to manhood in Roman occupied Judea.  Fiercely resenting the Romans, Brian joins the hopelessly over-organized People's Front of Judea, who spend more time bickering amongst themselves and squabbling with rival revolutionary factions than fighting the Romans.
Meanwhile a series of accidents lead to Brian being proclaimed as a Messiah, much to his distress.

This was hugely controversial in it's day, and still is in some places, with the film being accused of blasphemy, although while the film does poke fun at organised religion, as well as political groups, it actually treats Biblical figures fairly respectfully.  The Pythons themselves have frequently said that the film is not blasphemous nor was it ever intended to be.
What it is, is very funny.  It's often regarded today as one of the best comedies ever made.  As is frequently the case with Monty Python the humour ranges from juvenile, schoolyard humour (a character called Biggus Dickus) to the quite sophisticated (the Romans criticising Brian's Latin grammar when he graffiti tags a building), and some classic lines that have become popular among comedy nerds all over the world (Brian's mother (played by Terry Jones) angrily yelling to his followers:  "He's not the Messiah!  He's a very naughty boy!").  There is also a bizarre sequence where, escaping from the Romans, Brian falls off an unfinished tower straight into a passing spaceship where two, one-eyed aliens take him for a ride, get involved in a brief outer-space battle, before crashing at the base of the tower.  The film also contains the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", which has become quite a hit in it's own right.
The film, shot in Tunisia on a very low budget, mostly put up by ex-Beatle and Monty Python fan George Harrison, is well made.  It has a stronger plot than other Python films, feeling less like a bunch of sketches strung together, and for the first time has some genuine emotion rather than non-stop gags.  Graham Chapman has most of the straight acting to do as the lead, with most of the other characters being played by the Python's in multiple roles, including several of the female parts (most notably Terry Jones as Brian's angry mother).  Sue Jones-Taylor (who would go on to become the Mayor of Aberystwyth)  has the most prominent female role as Judith, Brian's love interest.  The film also has less of Terry Gilliam's distinctive animation, which only appears here in the opening credits sequence, although Gilliam did create the spaceship sequence.
This is Monty Python's finest moment, and one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Graham Chapman in Monty Python's Life of Brian         

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Pandora's Box

Year of Release:  1929
Director:  G. W. Pabst
Screenplay:  G. W. Pabst and Landislaus Vajda, based on the plays Erdgeist and Pandora's Box by Frank Wedekind
Starring:  Louise Brooks, Francis Lederer, Carl Goetz, Alice Roberts
Running Time:  136 minutes (also 100 minutes and 152 minutes)
Genre:  Drama

Lulu (Brooks) is a dancer, whose uninhibited sensuality provokes obsession and violence in the men around her, leading them to ruin and death.

This is a classic German silent film with a story that moves from Berlin to Paris to London, and takes in gambling, show-business, lesbianism, prostitution and Jack the Ripper.  At the time it was made it was hugely controversial and very heavily cut and re-edited for some markets.  Visually the film is very stylish, made at the tail-end of the German Expressionism movement, this has touches of the surreal, stylised look of Expressionism but blends it with gritty realism in the scenes set in the London slums.  The film hangs on the iconic image of Louise Brooks as Lulu, many films take advantage of the beauty of their lead actress, but rarely as successfully as this.  Blending knowingness, with naivete, and sensuality with innocence, she gives a luminous performance.  However, she is seen largely through the eyes of the men in her life, all of whom exploit her in their own ways, and the film sees her as responsible for all of the evils that befall them, rather than the men being held accountable for their own choices.
Louise Brooks became kind of a fashion icon following the success of the film (her distinctive bob haircut is still referred to as a "Lulu"), however the movie quickly fell into obscurity but was rediscovered in the 1950s whereupon it was declared a masterpiece.  It is an important and striking film, and a must-see for fans of silent cinema.

Louise Brooks as Lulu in Pandora's Box
     

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Annabelle: Creation

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  David F. Sandberg
Screenplay:  Gary Dauberman
Starring:  Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Running Time:  110 minutes
Genre:  Horror

In 1955, toymaker Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Otto), who never leaves her bedroom, grieve for their daughter Annabelle (Samara Lee) who died in an accident twelve years previously at the age of seven.  Despite their pain, they open their house to Sister Charlotte (Sigman) and six girls left homeless after the closure of their orphanage.  The first night, one of the girls Janice (Bateman), who suffers from polio, enters Annabelle's old bedroom and discovers a strange porcelain doll, which seems to be the focal point for powerful and deadly supernatural forces.

This details the story of the possessed doll, Annabelle, which was introduced in the movie The Conjuring (2013) and featured in it's own movie, Annabelle (2014).  Considering that this is a prequel to a spin-off, Annabelle: Creation is much better than might be expected.  It's very atmospheric with engaging characters and strong performances.  The scares are effective, sticking close to the old-school ghost train ride of the first The Conjuring film, and  the film allows itself time to build up before the horror elements kick in.  The films does suffer from the problem that a lot of prequels have with conclusions, in that it has to pave the way for other films instead of being it's own thing.  It's definitely worth checking out for anyone looking for a good creepy ghost story.

Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Annabelle in Annabelle: Creation