10 Reasons why the critics have got it so wrong about Gone Girl

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Last night, to dust off the writing cobwebs formed after a long summer of football, festivals, house moves and holidays, the Framerates team went to the cinema to see the highly-anticipated, critically-acclaimed, David Fincher directed, adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl. With the screenplay also by Flynn, and a top cast that included Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, our hopes were high. Could Fincher channel his immense talent to create a chilling, intelligent thriller that echoed the intensity of Se7en and Zodiac?

In a word: no.

To our surprise, though, Gone Girl is seemingly a hit with many critics. Here are ten reasons why we feel that this critical reception is a case of mass “drinking the Fincher Kool Aid”.

This article contains spoilers.

1) A faithful, unfaithful adaptation

Despite a screenplay from Flynn herself, the tense, psychological, emotionally engaging tone that is captured in the book fails to fully translate onto the screen. Flynn has faithfully stuck to the narrative laid out in the novel however without the continuous stream of thought from the characters the movie feels shallow and the characters motivations and emotional arcs unclear. This is no more apparent than in the final act of the movie where we see Amy heartlessly slaughter Desi Collings. This played on screen like the calculated acts of a horror movie psychopath whereas in the novel, despite Amy’s deplorable moral compass, the reader understands that she is left with little choice.

2) Tone issues

Perhaps Fincher added flecks of humour throughout Gone Girl to provide comic relief, and to heighten the darkest moments of the movie. However, when characters are making the stupidest decisions left, right and centre, unfortunately, the humour intended as light relief was actually just a series of snorts at the movie’s ridiculousness. An absurd movie this was; “an absurdist thriller” this was not.

3) Pacing. Pacing. Pacing.

I felt I was watching three episodes of a TV programme that were cut together by an amateur YouTube editor. I do believe that the movie got caught somewhere between police procedural and Stepford Wives thriller, and there was such a blatant division between the three acts of the film, which resulted in an extremely jarring watch.

4) Direction

Was Fincher deliberately telling his cast to act on the same level throughout the film? Everything was so flat, it felt like the director was intentionally channeling Frank Underwood and the entire feel of House of Cards, but with a mixture of Prisoners thrown in for good measure. It was very disappointing that this didn’t feel like a Fincher movie, but maybe that will act in his favour when people finally remove their tongues from his arsehole.

5) Acting

A flat tone, jarring pacing and seemingly misguided direction in Gone Girl all results in some rather underwhelming performances from the leads. Pike as Amy does a good job as coming across as cold, sharp and intelligent but fails to fully round Amy as a character- arguably this is in large part down to the lack of distinction between the opposing Amy’s (see point 7 for more). Affleck has always been a firm favourite over here at Framerates.net as an actor, as well as a director, however the stoic nature of the character of Nick required a nuanced performance that depicted an internal dialogue, instead Affleck at times felt vacant and the emotional weight was lacking.

6) Team Amy vs Team Nick

Fincher himself has said that people will leave in either a “Team Amy” or “Team Nick” camp. If the director has acknowledged that fact, there are clearly flaws in the way his characters are represented. One can claim “misogyny” towards Amy, or “men’s rights” at Nick, until they’re blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that all of the above factors have contributed to a film that leads us beautifully into Point 7.

7) Failing to define the character roles.

The single most important element of the movie to get right was the clear and apparent differences between the two Amys. ‘Cool girl’ Amy, the Amy created for Nick, and the real Amy. Fincher makes no distinction between the two opposing personalities. Without this we don’t understand Nick for falling in love with Amy and equally we don’t empathise with Amy and the façade she is forced to display. Instead of creating a compelling insight into two flawed characters, who we both empathise with and despise, or making a coherent point about gender roles and feminism, the movie leaves us with two people who we neither understand very much and who represent very little.

8) It looks beautiful, but what is below the surface?

When you look at a movie like Zodiac, you can literally peel back the nuanced layers within the frame, the acting, the cinematography and plot. In Gone Girl, because the characters were so unrelatable, it was hard to get fully immersed into the world that Fincher is normally so great at building. Gone Girl left me with a similar feeling as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is a movie referenced in another 10 things post from last year.

9) No one shags in a library after 3 years of a relationship

After 1095 days together, you’re lucky if you get your genitals get but a fleeting glance when you’re out with your other half, let alone being balls deep in a dark corner of a public library. I will suspend my disbelief for many things, but this is not one of them.

10) It’s just really not as good as people are claiming

All-in-all, the film was over two and a half hours long and after half an hour I was feeling frustrated and bored. The word flat has been used many times in this article to describe elements of this film and that’s exactly what the overall experience left me feeling. There was no excitement, intrigue or desire for any of the characters to succeed in anyway. Unlike Se7en, Zodiac or Fight Club, which are intense, thrilling and heaped with personality, Gone Girl is as grey as the colour palette it displays.

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The LEGO Movie

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Imagine drinking eight cans of cola, snorting a line of cocaine and standing on the roof of a skyscraper during a hurricane whilst listening to heavy dance music. That is what it feels like when watching a movie by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the million-miles-a-minute, comic genii behind this year’s surprise smash hit, The LEGO Movie.

Everything is awesome in the life of an ordinary LEGO construction worker, Emit. That is until he accidentally stumbles upon a plot by the evil, Lord Business; a lover of conformity, Business wants to put an end to life as LEGO knows it. Can Emit and his band of merry pop culture references save the day, and the LEGO universe, forever?

I will put my cards on the table now and say that, as a child, I was a huge LEGO fan. There was something so compelling about having the freedom to create whatever you wanted out of the small plastic bricks, even when it never looked as good as it was on the box. It is for that very reason that, after 5 minutes of watching The LEGO Movie, I was sold. The way the directors have incorporated, what feels like, every type of brick was extremely satisfying (even the little translucent fire!) It felt as if I was watching two drunk guys build the movie in front of me, talking to each other, saying “dude, what about this piece? And this piece? Oh man, that would be awesome to use that piece for the car! And the fire! Let’s use the fire on his hair! Haha, awesome; pass me another beer”. The film, while having all of the pop culture references and humour one would expect from Lord and Miller, felt very playful, which made for a great cinematic experience.

Ironically, even though it is in vogue with these directors’ style, one thing that may put some people off is the pacing. While the characters are hilarious, the story is compelling and the visual design is wonderful, the pacing is ridiculous. There are many occasions when the imagery is literally flying past the camera, so if you don’t mind the risk of seizure then you should be okay. I did find the humour hitting the mark for most of the movie, but the times when the jokes failed to hit the mark was mainly due to me being unable to register that it was a joke before we were onto the next one.

Aesthetics aside, the movie also contains a contemporary allegory that is concerned with conformity and independence. Much like the best animations – and greatest movies in general – one can read something from the narrative that teaches one something. For the first two acts, The LEGO Movie teaches us that conformity, rigidity and not getting out of one’s comfort zone is not good for creativity, or for culture and our society; the world in which Emit lives is rife with awful TV shows, annoying songs and friends who don’t see the real you. The independent thinkers out there are the one’s who influence change it says, however, for a movie that purports this message for 80% of its run-time, as we get to the climax, the message gets diluted by references. As evidenced by the last half a decade, it is easier to package an allegory within the threads of your movie without the presence of humans. Unfortunately, when Ferrell and his child share the screen time with Emit in the real world, even though it was a decent change of pace and I thought it worked in a superficial context with the story, the message gets lost in the saccharine; this is a shame because it was doing a satisfying job commenting on the vapid nature of entertainment culture.

Now that I have taken off my ponsy film school hat, it’s not everyday you get transported back to your childhood, yet, Lord and Miller have done it to me again. After watching The LEGO Movie, even though the ending didn’t quite hit it out of the park, I have to admit, mostly everything, really is, awesome.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction

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In a strange mixture of zero planning and coincidence, I found myself at Vue Angel Islington this weekend watching Michael Bay’s latest Transformers film, and this is what I thought.

When a philanthropic businessman (Stanley Tucci) unlocks the Transformers’ genome, a program that is supposed to save humankind from extinction threatens to spiral out of control. Can Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a Texan inventor and doting father, use his tech savvy in a mission that looks like it will involve the certain death of him, his beautiful daughter and her loving boyfriend?

Bay is not renowned for his use of subtext. I have not been his biggest fan in the past, I must admit, which is why I was so shocked while watching Transformers: Age of Extinction; Michael Bay has matured. Gone are the days of vacuous action and insulting representations of minorities. Woven into the texture of this movie was a thick, culturally-relevant allegory about acceptance, tolerance and liberalism, all while delivering a series of expertly shot action set pieces and rich, multi dimensional characters…

…is something I would say if I was twated on bath salts.

I will start with the good. Michael Bay can shoot sweeping vistas very well. He has the ability to point his camera at a vast expanse, which then makes for a sequence of compelling frames that I can look at for an extended period. This talent must be because he has eyes. Also, Stanley Tucci is actually very good in this film. I made a noise with my face about twice when he said some of the script.

In all fairness, that’s where I have to stop with the good.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (or How I Learned to Hate Optimus Exposition and his merry band of AutoBlands) rehashes the same old formula from the previous three movies but cranks everything by the Nth Degree. Not only are the characters so superficial they make Mickey Mouse look like he was written by Harold Pinter, but once again we get overloaded with style yet are forced to accept a critical lack of substance.

Wahlberg is at his The Happening best here as Yeager. The “All-American” hero Bay paints Wahlberg as – somehow he is a whizz with a sheepskin and can fix a Sony Walkman – is flag-waving patriotism at it’s most insulting; I think the stars and stripes flag is actually one of the supporting cast. Bar Tucci, the rest of the characters are just awful; Yeager’s daughter (the beautifully-dull Nicola Peltz) is one grimace away from inverting her face and don’t get me started on the “comedy sidekick”. And it wouldn’t be a Bay movie if we didn’t get a horrifyingly stereotypical portrayal of an African American woman, complete with “aaah, heeeeeeeeewll naaaaaaaaw”. Yes, it really is that bad.

Superficial characters who make incomprehensible decisions aside, this film makes very little sense from a narrative or world-building perspective;

  • Throughout the film we see Optimus Prime travelling everywhere by road, yet after the final battle sequence versus Lockdown, and after putting Yeager, his daughter and THE WORLD in danger, Prime just flies off with some rockets anyway, and I am like “why didn’t you fly back at the beginning of the movie, dude?”
  • One of the Autobots smokes a cigar, and they all cough when injured; do they have robotic lungs?
  • Yeager calls himself an old man, yet his daughter is 17 and he had her the day of his prom, which would make him 32-35. Is that old?
  • Breaking into a high security complex? Better pull up in a pimped out muscle car
  • Statutory rape is apparently funny
  • If all of the Transformers are made of transformium (which is a programmable alien metal), why don’t they all fly around as supersonic fighter jets?

This could be seen as clutching at straws to find something to hate because it’s Bay, but when you are sitting down for 161 minutes, don’t do something at the beginning of the film that contradicts what you are preaching at the end.

It’s also edited weirdly, with conversations paced and toned like Bay has never interacted with another human being in his life, and throughout we have to tolerate the director’s music choices; almost every scene is punctuated by either a heavy metal guitar or a song that would fit perfectly over the nauseating codswallop at the end of Armageddon.

I think what summed up how terrible this experience was occurred 90 minutes in, just over halfway through the film. By this point, Optimus Prime was out and proud, looking for his Autobot friends; for a number of scenes we see a the character traversing the sweeping vistas of the rocky American deserts, and it hit me – I had paid £15.60 to watch a heavy goods vehicle drive around…in 3D. That moment of self-awareness made me laugh out loud, much to the confusion of the 25 or so people in my screening.

There really isn’t much to sum up anymore with regard to Transformers: Age of Extinction, or even with Michael Bay. There is absolutely zero soul in these films. It’s just mindless, insulting dialogue, awful characters, boring, boring action, and I am really upset with myself because that £15.60 will go towards making this the UK Box Office number 1, and the cycle of shit will continue. Oh, and if you’re expecting the Dinobots, I wouldn’t even bother, they are only in it for about 15 minutes.

140 words: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

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Abraham Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, has been adapted for screen more times than I can count while at work. A story of blood-sucking Transylvanians and naive Victorian Londoners, the book packs a subtext of repressed sexuality, yet delivers that with mindless parasitic violence and uncanny death. Coppola’s Dracula, while being a movie that is steeped in atmosphere and Gothic imagery, is far too self-aware; each scene dripping with filmic techniques (frames within frames; film layered dissolves) to take seriously as a Dracula film. Gary Oldman as the titular character hams his way through each scene, and for some reason, rather than being a blood-lusting, mindless monster, is a little bit too concerned with his broken heart. Hopkins and Ryder were just passable, however Keanu Reeves’ English accent was piss-poor. It has to be said….Universal did this story better in 1931.

 

The Sacrament

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When a Vice documentary crew discover that one of their own’s sister has fled the US, they embark on a journey to a remote jungle in an undisclosed location to find her. Once they are on the ground in “Eden Parish”, their initial warm reception soon fades away, revealing something entirely more sinister.

In the past I have not hidden my love of Ti West’s style and directorial ability. The way he manipulates his audience with camerawork and sound is second to none in the horror genre, and I would definitely class him in the school of “soon to be auteurs”. That is why, when I discovered he was directing a found footage movie, I was slightly shocked.

The Sacrament, on paper, is certainly West’s most conventional movie. There is no vintage 80s aesthetic (The House of the Devil); there aren’t any ghosts (The Innkeepers) and we actually get to see some plot, unlike his short in The ABCs of Death. Instead of the lingering self-awareness he has shown in the past, we are treated to the traditional structure and pacing one would expect of a found footage movie. Maybe in the hands of another director that description could be used to show the film in a negative light, however West’s direction brings to The Sacrament a touch of class rarely shown in found footage movies. Not only are the performances of A.J. Bowen and Gene Jones absolutely stellar, but the story is entirely believable. Other commentators have pointed out the undeniable similarities between the infamous Jonestown Massacre and The Sacrament, which, upon researching, seem to be more than poignant, however these parallels should take nothing away from how this movie is constructed.

From the outset you can feel a creeping dread hanging over the film, even when things appear to be going well for our protagonists. The silence seems deafening at points, especially as the film beginnings to ramp up towards the final act. The way West marries his use of silence with his camera, to dictate pacing in scenes, is extremely compelling; we are treated to static mid shots cut with frantic steadicam chase scenes that all feel very organic. One particular scene in the final act is framed beautifully despite its shocking content. We also get treated to “film school shots” but they never feel pretentious within the context of the film; instead it just appears that West knows exactly how to create mood with form.

Another aspect of the movie that is very politically relevant at the time that this review has been written, particularly in Britain, is the topic of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Both of these terms denote acts of brainwashing the vulnerable, which is a theme that runs thick in this film; long, compelling speeches from the mouth of “the Father” seem to have everyone hanging on his every word, which, in the climactic scenes, proves horrifying and chilling (I really cannot do justice to how brutal, yet real, the end of The Sacrament is).

Beyond what has been discussed, I think the similarities The Sacrament has to Jonestown will either put people off or drive them to learn more. I knew of the event by name but had no idea the history of Jim Jones, and I do feel West has made a film that will prove a gateway into further reading for a lot of people. As for West, I am in no doubt that this director will go on to make a serious name for himself, not only in the horror genre, but in film as a whole.

 

All Is Lost

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PSA: At Frame Rates, we don’t like to reveal spoilers in our reviews. However, in the case of All Is Lost, it is impossible to discuss the movie without giving away the premise. Therefore, the following review will talk about the premise in detail, which in itself is a spoiler, but will not give away the finer plot points of the film.

After his boat collides with a stricken freight container, a seasoned sailor must not only battle the elements, but also fight the acceptance of mortality, in body and mind.

After 480 minutes of burning mind calories at work, one of the last things I want to do on a Monday evening is spend time questioning my own existence and attitude to mortality. Thankfully, rarely does a movie with such a delicate approach to storytelling deliver such a powerful message as the one I drew from All Is Lost.

The main thing to point out about All Is Lost, aside from a monologue at the beginning, is the complete lack of dialogue throughout. It is a bold move from writer/director, J.C. Chandor, and while his direction is precise, and his writing is compelling, it is because of Robert Redford’s on-screen gravitas that the silence works; he is called ‘Our Man’ in the screenplay, and his isolation begins to provide a insight into his nature. He is able to convey the smallest nuances of emotion by just literally existing in front of us; when his boat starts flooding, he goes about fixing it, and this happens throughout the film. By revealing nothing of his character, he actually reveals so much because we are made to think; about his past, why he is out on his own in the sea, and so on.

Some have commented on the movie’s lack of sailing realism, or complained about the seafaring techniques of the film’s protagonist. Only the most cynical of movie viewers would not accept the finer, more subtextual, aspects of the movie, and I feel these commenters have completely missed the point of this film. It’s not a film about sailing, but a story of survival and mortality that actually discusses its themes more successfully than Gravity; despite being absolutely gripping, the story and screenplay was the weakest aspect of Cuaron’s latest release. All Is Lost manages to say so much more about human perseverance, and the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit, without actually saying a thing.

One of the greatest achievements of All Is Lost is the fact it played entirely with my expectation of action/disaster movies. I was constantly second-guessing the story, thinking that we’d have a twist or that there would be a Hollywoodised moment of peril, but the realism on screen was refreshing. Every movement, every action taken by Our Man was logical. As we got further into acts two and three, I began to understand the character’s intelligence as he found ways to keep afloat; it was like watching a machine work.

The technical aspects of the film were fantastic, and definitely complimented the clever, mature storytelling. As there is no dialogue, the camerawork, cinematography and post-production (editing and CGI) have to be compelling; All Is Lost had some excellent uses of first-person perspective to convey distance, underwater shots, and some majestic long shots of schools of fishes dancing below Our Man’s boat. The sound design was also absolutely superb; I felt genuinely cold during the storms, and appreciated the moments of silent tension being cut through by the delicate sounds of water colliding and lapping against the innards of the stricken boat.

The Oscars have been and gone, but it surprises me that this movie was overlooked in more categories (it did receive a nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Editing). At 77, Redford should have been nominated for Actor in a Leading Role, if not solely for putting his body through the runners in this film. I do think this is not your average action movie, and is more art house in style and tone, but I do recommend it regardless, as it reached into the deepest corners of my own fear of dying, and made me consider the lengths to which I would go to stay alive.

The Square

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You know that feeling you get when you watch a movie for the first time and the phone gets put down, you get tunnel-vision and it feels like you’re floating? The Square did that to me.

Documenting two years in Cairo, from the beginning of the revolution against Hosni Mubarak until the last year’s troubles with Mohamed Morsi and The Muslim Brotherhood, The Square was a very powerful and moving piece of documentary filmmaking.

One of the great things about this film was how it balanced seemingly truthful objectivity, all while presenting a very cinematic arc for the story. We are introduced to the main protagonists, which the film followed from January 2011 until August 2013; Magdy, Ahmed, Khalid (who is a British-Egyptian actor), Ramy and Ragia. They were a small part of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who peacefully protested at Tahir Square in Cairo in early 2011 – this was the epicentre of the Revolution to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, a dictator that ruled Egypt with a tyranny unfortunately common-place across North Africa and the Middle East at the time.

To say that The Square was harrowing, powerful and deeply moving is an understatement; this film barreled along at an amazing pace, but still managed to touch on both the hope of the revolutionaries, as well as the heinous crimes committed by the army and gangs of thugs against peaceful protestors, with enough maturity and candidness for it to be very effective; there was nothing cloying about what was seen and heard, it’s just raw emotions that really jump out of the screen.

The revolution in Egypt, and the whole Arab Spring in general, was a defining moment in the history of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as being one of the most important socio-political events of this millennium. What really shone through here was how the camaraderie between the revolutionaries rapidly descended into rival factions, all with different ideologies, fighting each other; the people united against one tyrant and ended up with a situation in which the country felt a violent power vacuum. All of this – all of the horrific imagery of brutality and death – was captured by a camera crew on the frontline; nothing was censored, and it was painful seeing how the Army swore they wouldn’t use violence against the peaceful protestors yet ended up doing exactly that, and with deadly results. Furthermore, what is seen proves that the daily news outlets we read and watch everyday are sterile, agenda-ridden mouthpieces that avoid the finding the truth; it’s testament to the filmmakers that they present the real story of Tahir Square, the revolution and the real people and what drove them to fight; they just wanted democracy and were willing to die for it.

The Square was a fantastic, emotive experience, is fully deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, and is streaming for free on Netflix.

 

Robocop (1987)

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Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.

With the impending release of the Robocop reboot, I thought I would pop my nostalgia boner and revisit the 1987, Paul Verhoeven original. Oh, and spoilers for a 26 year old movie. Though you really should have seen this…

In a dystopian and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories. (Source: IMDb)

One of the main reasons I absolutely love this movie is the amount of horrifying brutality, and almost Manga-style violence and gore throughout; a cop gets shredded with a shotgun and his head blown apart; a perp gets shot in the the genitals; and my favourite kill…a gang member ends up doused in radioactive material, after which his deformed and sagging skin and body explode on impact from Robocop’s car. I remember watching this as a child and feeling a huge void, and almost nauseous, when Peter Weller (Murphy/Robocop) gets ripped apart in a hail of shotgun blasts. Oddly enough, I still feel a little bit repulsed upon viewing it today, but that’s quickly overridden by my love of horror movies and fictional gore.

Despite Robocop being an 80s, macho-action flick, I always enjoy the way the film deals with memory, repressed or submerged. It’s interesting that the relationship between man and machine is implicit in the resurrection of Murphy, with their manipulation if his memories going wrong later in the film, and resulting in some rough justice. Also, allegory-wise, Verhoeven confirmed it was a modern day telling of the story of Jesus, which can be confirmed in this set of pixels and by this 2010 quote;

It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 50 minutes, and then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes, and then is like the supercop of the world. (source: Uproxx)

It’s important to note that, apart from the visuals on the displays as well as Robocop’s HUD, the look of the movie stands up on viewing even today. Detroit probably looks better than it does today, the cinematography is gritty and set design has the standard Verhoeven playful-cum-dilapidated aesthetic seen throughout his dystopian sci-fi products. And much like Total Recall, this movie also has an amazing, industrial soundtrack, and one of the best theme tunes for any character in 1980s cinema.

Onto the reboot; I agree with Verhoeven that it is going to lack the soul that is obviously present in this version, which will mainly be due to the over-reliance on CGI. That and it won’t half as gory!

Robocop is an action/sci-fi classic, which not only has an interesting allegory (and fantastic style), but contains an awesome amount of horrific imagery, which should tickle the bloody-bones of any horror fans out there.

The Wolf of Wall Street

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Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. (Source: IMDb)

Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, has certainly caused a stir among the critical masses. On one hand, this tale of excess – both mental and physical – has been lauded in certain circles; it has earned a Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for DiCaprio and Hill respectively, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Oscars 2014. And then on the other hand, a number of dissenters have pilloried the movie for being misogynistic, vulgar, navel-gazing and ‘boring’ (last one being Mark Kermode, 2014).

I am not sure if this says something about my personality, but I found The Wolf of Wall Street and, more significantly, Jordan Belfort, immensely compelling. Even when he is acting his most debauched, there was a part of me that felt a modicum of fist-pumping machismo for the character. Perhaps it is my fondness of DiCaprio that I only strayed from the side of the protagonist once – during a scene with his daughter – yet that is not to take anything away from a performance that would in any other year be a dead-cert for Best Actor; unfortunately for Leo he is up against Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. The energy DiCaprio brings to the movie is nothing short of incredible. In the past, he always embodied his characters, but there was the ‘he was Jack in Titanic‘ aspect to his on-screen presence. It’s thanks to his talent and Scorsese’s direction in The Wolf of Wall Street, that I feel this Leo’s coming of age role, and now he can be considered as one of the modern greats. Turns from Jonah Hill, Naomi Lapaglia (in her first role), as well as Rob Reiner and Jon Favreau were all brilliant, and there was even a fantastic cameo from a certain favourite around here, Matthew McConaughey, as Belfort’s career role model, Mark Hanna.

At three hours long, one could expect oneself to go on a mental stroll, however the pace, biopic-nature and playful yet dark tone of the movie is very reminiscent of Goodfellas, a comparison which has undoubtedly been drawn, but is relevant nonetheless. There are scenes of cringeworthy humour, shocking drug misuse and abuse, and a lens that falls often on bare naked ladies (no, not the 1990s pop band). However, I don’t for one second feel that Scorsese’s camera is any way misogynistic; the excess of Belfort’s life is a literal orgy of naked flesh, drugs, and money, with one capitalist fist-pumping scene after another. Yet, even though there are some women in this movie that are tools for Belfort’s pleasure, I feel the leering ends up being at Belfort while he is of his face on drug cocktails (and more drastic these scenes become), and not at the breasts on screen; they are very matter of fact breasts, if you will.

The Wolf of Wall Street was a fantastically fun movie to watch. It ticked all my taboo boxes, one of which I didn’t even know I had, and albeit for one scene of genuine darkness and abyss-staring, it was a romp and a half. It won’t win any of the Oscars for which it is nominated, but in an ideal world, 12 Years would have been released this later this year and Leo would get the recognition he truly deserves.

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The Frighteners, Pet Sematary, Scream 3 (Ernie’s Horror Compendium #1)

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The Frighteners

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…is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, but not my favourite Peter Jackson horror (stand up and be counted, Brain Dead). Before Parkinson’s Disease really fucked over MJFox, he starred as Frank Bannister, a psychic con artist that finds himself in the centre of a serial killer’s posthumous killing spree. It’s rare for a horror comedy to be both horrific and comedic, and while some of the humour comes from mild stereotyping, the mid-nineties CGI had my nostalgia boner popping, and watching this was a fantastic way to spend an hour and a half. Great stuff!

Pet Sematary

Despite having one of the best New York-based punk rock theme tunes, Pet Sematary also possesses an uncanny narrative and one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of loss in horror history. There are numerous scenes in this adapted Stephen King novel that are very creepy, and while I wouldn’t call it ‘scary’, it goes beyond your average treatment of horror movie families; I would hate to be the dad in this, put it that way. Some of the practical effects hold up to this day, and Pet Sematary is definitely one to add to your list if you are a fan of classic horror.

Scream 3

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What’s your favourite scary movie? Because I would say Scream is up there in at least my top 10. Unfortunately, Scream 3 doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the original. That’s not a detraction from the film, as it is still a lot of fun, but there comes a point when your self-referentiality has gone full circle at least twice and it gets very contrived. I felt this was a lot more action-based, and the kills were somewhat half-arsed, especially compared to the first in the franchise, but I still enjoyed the 3rd installment as a genre movie. I will get to Scream 4 sometime in the near future!

12 Years A Slave

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One of the front-runners of this year’s Oscars is 12 Years A Slave, Steven McQueen’s latest attempt at the marriage of art and narrative film. The movie is based on the true story of Solomon Northup: an artisanal son of a freed slave, who finds himself kidnapped, taken to Georgia against his will and sold into slavery to a number of slave owners.

The fact that this story is true (and apparently not the only occasion someone was illegally sold into slavery at the time) is shocking enough, but McQueen does not shy away from showing the true brutality and undignifying existence for black slaves in the 19th Century. There are a number of scenes that are so harrowingly realistic, and acted upon a knife’s edge, that they will have you turning away out of respect for the victims of the torture. There is more genuine, effective horror in this movie than in any lowbrow torture porn flick and it is very difficult to watch.

A huge factor in how difficult the film is to watch can be attributed to a fantastically nuanced performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as the protagonist, Northup. Ejiofor changes how Northup holds himself throughout the film; he is a proud violinist with a loving family at the beginning, and by the end he’s a complete shell of his former self, hunched and invisible when white people are around. There were some great turns from Nyong’o, Cumberbatch and Dano, but I am not sure Brad Pitt worked in his role. I also felt that sometimes, the main antagonist, Epps (Michael Fassbender), was played too much like a Disney villain, which may have been a decision on McQueen’s part to create a foil to the nuanced Northup. Whenever he explode in a fit of entitled white Christian rage it felt like the movie was trying to fit into generic narrative conventions of good vs bad, which cheapened the movie for me somewhat.

As with any McQueen movie it is shot beautifully; we get the lingering mid shots and close-ups of peoples’ faces for which the director is known. Whereas other another director would chose to end a scene when an audience would expect, McQueen managed to draw out the rawest emotion by having the nerve to leave the camera rolling just that little bit longer. In a movie such as 12 Years A Slave – a movie that is so deeply-seated in visceral emotion – this technique worked extremely well. If Shame was McQueen’s breakthrough movie, then 12 Years A Slave is his masterpiece, and I very much doubt his marriage of art and narrative cinema will ever be as popular.

12 Years A Slave is not a film into which you should go lightly. The subject matter lends itself to some graphic brutality and devastating realism that is not for the feint of heart, however the central performance from Ejiofor is definitely a reason this should, and needs, to be seen by everyone.

Resolution

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When Michael (Peter Cilella) decides to intervene to save his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran), from the throes of methamphetamine addiction, he chains him to a pipe in a cabin to induce withdrawal. However, as the days pass, the pair begin to question their collective sanity after some uncanny events.

Resolution might be the most thought-provoking horror movie I have seen in a very long time. Many commenters point towards films such as The Shining or OldBoy when discussing ‘thinkies’, but I feel that Resolution more than deserves its place among these classics. Nevertheless, my eulogising of this independent horror film should come with a warning; Resolution is not for everyone. In fact, I’d argue the paths which the film take might put this in a micro-category of its own.

Artfully shot, fantastically acted, and completely void of music, this creepy meta-tale of friendship, loyalty and absolution will be hard to digest for some. Unconventional is a word I will use to describe the final act of the movie, and when the credits appeared, my initial thoughts were ‘is that it?’. However, I have been thinking about this movie since Wednesday, and I would group this with Primer, insofar as I am still trying to piece together the mystery and story.

Throughout the movie there is a thick, heavy sense of dread, which intensifies as we hit the third act, yet the ‘monster’ is not ever truly established or revealed. Glitches on screen are used to alienate the audience, which is postmodern in style; the director has knowingly employed clichéd genre tropes to a stunningly original effect.

[Spoilers paragraph]

Over the course of the movie, the pair begin to see into the future via a series of video clips and audio recordings, at each time managing to avoid their impending murder. Throughout this story, Chris is adamant he will not go into rehab when they get out of the situation; the character arc is satisfyingly rich and brilliantly acted by Curran.  When the final conflict occurs, he decides that he needs to turn his life around and check into rehab. As this happens, the glitches we have been seeing over the whole movie flash and a shadow appears over the characters. They look directly into the camera and state something along the lines of ‘…have we done it wrong? Should we do it differently?’. I believe that this line turns the audience into the monster, and that the director is making a statement about horror movies and our relationship with the archetypal characters with whom we are all so familiar. At each step, Chris and Michael make decisions based on logic, while at the same time learning about themselves and each other. It’s possible to forget you are watching a ‘horror’ movie at points, yet the feeling of dread undercuts moments of humour and drama, which keeps reminding us of the horror genre and it plays on our expectations; by addressing us directly I believe it’s an admission that we were expecting them to die due to the nature of the genre. It’s a play on the ‘give the audience what they want’ type of thinking in movies.

[Spoilers over]

Resolution was a difficult beast to dissect and I feel I have only scratched the surface of this postmodern, meta-horror. It was funny, tense, wonderfully shot and excellently scripted (despite an overkill amount of the work ‘fucking’). I don’t want to come across as a hipster for liking this movie, because it honestly is not for everyone, but if you watch it, you’ll definitely have something to think about for a long while.

Classics reviewed by a 13 year old: Citizen Kane

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Ugh. So my stupid dad thought we should spend some time together this weekend, so he dragged me to the BFI in London to watch a really this crap black and white film called Citizen Kane. I don’t know why he was so excited because all I saw was like 3 hours of talking and nothing else. On the poster is said it won some Oscars, but that was like back in the Victorian times, so it doesn’t surprise me. Literally all they had back then was coal and bad teeth. That’s what I learnt in history anyway.

Anyway, so the film was about a rich man in America who dies and then it’s like a flashback to when he was poor. THEN NOTHING HAPPENS for the whole time. There is this crazy search for some roses for the whole film (why didn’t they just buy some), and then more talking. Then he becomes rich and there are newspapers flying around everywhere (I think that was then), and then he dies again. All of his stuff gets burnt and then for some reason the film ends looking at a stupid snow sled. Sorry, but that’s just a terrible ending in my opinion. Can you believe that people were clapping the film when it ended? #Idiots.

To conclude, if you want to watch a film that has no point at all, watch Citizen Kane. The black and white colour was a poor choice from the director because it was too dark sometimes, there was too much talking, and they didn’t even find the roses that they were looking for for the whole stupid film.

Classics reviewed by a 13 year old: Rear Window

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So, the other day in my English Language class we watched this really old movie called Rear Windows. Basically a guy with a broken leg looks out of a window for ages and sees this woman get killed, which was totally boring and like the Simpsons episode I saw ages ago. It was made like before the world war 2 happened because they spoke with stupid accents, and the camera hardly moves (I guess they didn’t have the correct equipment to make the editing quick), and I felt like I was watching a play.

Teacher told us that the director Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense, but if I saw him on the street I’d tell him to add some better music in his films because I don’t like classical music with violins or bass lines. Honestly, if I have to see another one of his films I might literally die of boredom. That’s not to mention the acting was lame and he clearly didn’t have a broken leg because if he did why is he in a wheelchair? He’s not paralysed.

All in all I would say don’t bother with this film. It’s slow, it doesn’t make any sense (why doesn’t he watch TV instead of looking outside???) and the ending sucks because it’s really unrealistic.

Devil’s Pass [The Dyatlov Pass Incident]

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When a group of documentary filmmakers set off to the Ural Mountains in Russia to investigate a 50 year-old mystery, surviving in the freezing landscape becomes less and less likely, as they discover something sinister lurking beneath the snow.

Renny Harlin, director of Die Hard 2, returns with Devil’s Pass, a found footage horror that feels slightly out of place, and late to the party, among recent releases; The Tunnel and Lake Mungo spring to mindBoth of these horror films were different, exciting and contained great elements of horror, resulting in a rewarding cinematic experience. Right from the outset of the film you can see what Devil’s Pass was going for in its tone. Unfortunately, this promise falls apart quite quickly.

Harlin has constructed a visually compelling piece, capturing the beautiful snowy vistas as well as tying in some good post-production effects, however it was confused storytelling that caused this movie to fall flat. There are a number of changes in tone, at the beginning of each act, which are quite jarring. The beginning of the movie was presented in a similar way to the aforementioned The Tunnel, which was a clever hook. Nevertheless, this ended, and the found footage in the second act came across as too polished and glossy, unlike the news reports prior. We also visit some themes in the third act that question the very use of found footage as a storytelling device, and made me wonder why this wasn’t a conventional fiction film, rather than ‘found footage non-fiction’.

The acting is decent, and there are some tense moments of natural peril, but again, once the third act hits and the antagonists are revealed, I couldn’t help but laugh at its impotence as a horror. And then there is the final, almost confusing aspect of the movie: it has almost nothing to do with the Dyatlov Pass incident upon which the film is ‘based’. The beginning of the movie has the standard ‘based on a true story’ spiel, and then throughout we are drip-fed information about the real story, but the Wikipedia page is actually more interesting than anything seen in Devil’s Pass; the final mystery twist feels about as tepid as monsoon rainwater and it’s all just very silly, for want of a better word.

Unfortunately, while being competently made, Devil’s Pass has too many huge storytelling flaws that result in the movie being only slightly better than your average 5/10 found footage horror.

Bachelorette

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Last year’s female ensemble comedy, Bachelorette, is basically The Hangover, but instead of the groomsmen losing the groom, the bridal party have a misdemeanor with the bride’s dress and things get craaazy.

You may think my tone here is one of formal comedy snobbery. However, even though the plot of this movie breaks no new ground, and it is as predictable as Swiss cheese, there aren’t too many holes in what actually turned out as quite an enjoyable comedy. The comediennes Rebel Wilson and Lizzy Caplan, joined up with Isla Fisher and the lead, Kirsten Dunst, all play best friends and somewhat cookie-cutter characters (like the rest of the cast), but on evidence here they all have multiple funny bones in their bodies. The standout performance was from Lizzy Caplan, who delivers her coke-addled, wise-cracking yet insecure New York thirty-something with consummate ease.

Sometimes it felt like the humour was verging on tired, especially when one of the running jokes dealt with the mass use of a white class A drug, nevertheless, it was edgy enough at points. And there weren’t myriad dick and ball jokes, and the ones they did include weren’t the punchline of a major scene. There were also moments of genuine darkness that went beyond dark humour, which grounded the lives of these women in some reality, as it dealt with drug abuse, eating disorders and the results of one of life’s most difficult choices. The only real ‘problem’, if one can call it that, I had with this movie was a casting choice that verged heavily into racial stereotype territory, which was pretty awkward to watch.

Obviously, comparisons can be drawn between Bachelorette and Bridesmaids, and as a person with male genitalia that has seen both movies, I think I enjoyed this one more. One could argue that Bridesmaids broke the comedy mold by ushering in an age of strong female ensembles, and while Bachelorette is piggybacking on its success, the question is this; what white, male, conservative, American comedy movies have you seen in the last 5 years that have done anything original?

Maniac

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Frank, troubled mannequin shop owner, struggles to repress his sexually-motivated, murderous urges as he wanders the streets of New York City. When he meets a beautiful female photographer, what begins as a friendship, quickly escalates into something dangerous and sinister, and his urges become increasingly more uncontrollable.

Maniac, a remake of the 1980s William Lustig slasher of the same name, smashed me in the face right from the opening moments, even before the big red letters above this review proclaim the film’s name. In recent violent horror movies, I haven’t been that abjectly affected by the scenes of gore; Evil Dead and The Loved Ones, while being enjoyably graphic, both teetered on the edge of over the top. Maniac, on the other hand, contains multiple scenes of heightened violence, gore and torture, all of which are bowel-churningly effective. There were points during this horror film where I felt physically sick, which may have been the first time that’s ever happened, and it is almost certainly due to the point-of-view (POV) angle through which we are subjected to the scenes of violence.

Not only is this cinematographic decision executed fantastically – we often have shots of Elijah Wood looking at himself in mirrors seamlessly stitched together with POV mid shots – but this stylistic choice helps enhance the thematics of the movie. Some critics have understandably flagged the film as being gratuitously violent, misogynistic and a sign of the humanity we are evidently all losing thanks to films like this one. The main reason for this backlash is that the POV shot puts us as the murderous voyeur; we see everything, we see the blood evacuating freshly cut human flesh, we hear the panicked screams of helpless women, and in any other straight to VOD schlock it would be designed to titillate our inner id. However, in Maniac, Woods, who is fantastic, plays his character as a severely troubled soul. At points we see the ghosts of his childhood as visions of the night, and it’s becomes as sad as it is brutal. Ultimately we never fully sympathise with the killer, as the ending veers into the darkness at a rate of knots and we are complicit in some horrific killings, but it does make you question the past lives of people that feel compelled to commit horrific acts.

Maniac is not without its flaws. The female lead’s audio has clearly been ADRed, which becomes quite annoying at points; the sound recordist needs to learn how to mix down the audio better. There is also a killing near the beginning where Frank’s hands are bloody and bruised, yet he still manages to pick up a woman in a bar. I’ve met some freaky ladies in my time, but I am sure even they would have the wherewithal to turn down the advances of someone with literal blood on their hands.

Overall, I found Maniac to be one of the most effective serial killer movies I have seen in a very long time. It’s brutal, a hard watch, and has enough moments of hard-hitting violence to turn the most ardent horror fan’s stomach.

 

Off-topic: We are fully back now. San Francisco was a fantastic experience, and Lauren had a great post-wedding summer, but it’s autumn now, and we actually have some news for y’all that we will announce this weekend!

140 words: Dead Silence

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Jamie’s life is suddenly destroyed when a mysterious ventriloquist doll arrives on his doorstep. As he unravels the mystery he finds himself unravelling the horror that haunts an old American town.

This movie completed the James Wan set for me. Dead Silence, regardless of the annoying characters and paint-by-numbers horror tropes peppering the narrative, I really enjoyed this film. There is something about the way Wan uses the camera which I feel is adventurous, original and believe could class him as an auteur. And it’s pretty damn creepy!

The final scene does go some way to plug a few of the gaping plot holes, yet it still goes in tandem with one’s expectations for a generic horror movie. Overall, you can tell it’s a Wan movie, it’s exciting, but you may find yourself shouting at the screen during Dead Silence!

The Conjuring

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Insidious, I think it’s fair to say, was a movie that chilled a fair number of people out there. Unfortunately, it was on my ‘Meh’ list of last year. It held me for an hour, and, although it didn’t completely shit the bed, I felt the ending was weaker than a Smirnoff Ice. Regardless, being a fan of the first Saw movie, and liking James Wan’s general style and the way he tells a story, I jumped at the opportunity to see The Conjuring.

Based on true events: When a young family move into an old farmhouse, their lives get turned upside down by forces only a married couple of paranormal investigators can seem to understand. As things get more intense, the relationships between the family, their gifted helpers and the local police get tested to breaking point.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of most ghost/paranormal movies you’ve seen in the last 43 years.

However, and that’s a big however, The Conjuring may be the tipping point for commercial horror…in a hugely positive way. In my opinion, this movie was almost a complete success! It was genuinely scary and unsettling, the likes of which I haven’t felt since I was a young kid, and trust me, I have been searching. There were points in this movie during which my skin tingled with terrified euphoria, and it felt so fucking great.  The scares were lingering and not persistent, they were all varying degrees of terror, and although there were few moments of original horror, what was on show was absolutely engaging and never felt pointless. And the trailer didn’t reveal some of the best moments, which was refreshing!

Wan has constructed a movie that pays subtle homage to 70s cinema in general, especially when you look at the camerawork. Within the first 20 minutes we have a rapid zoom from the foreground, across the garden and onto one of the daughters who is playing at the foot of a tree about 100 metres (109 yards) away. This trend of self-aware zooms and exciting pans really enhanced what was on screen, and along with the costumes and set design, the movie was a thoroughly satisfying visual treat.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the Warrens, a real-life husband and wife paranormal investigation team. While the subject matter lends itself to scrutiny, their performances were completely believable and I never questioned their relationship. The tour de force on show was complemented by the rest of the cast, with standout performances from the dead pan Ron Livingston and his family, especially one of the youngest daughters (Joey King). Moments of light humour peppered the runtime, which actually enhanced some the scares, and I feel James Wan employs comedy as a tool to break down audience suspension of disbelief enough to get people emotionally invested in the story.

It was not without its flaws, however, as was evident when the ending ramped up. What I felt could have been a fantastically dark ending was hampered by the ‘true story’ elements, and it did almost get into cloying Disney territory. The big strings and bright sunshine felt like I was watching the end of Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, regardless of the Inception-esque final shot.

All-in-all, The Conjuring was a shining example of how you make a mainstream horror movie without the need for torture porn or slasher villains. While elements were directly referencing the demonic movies of the 70s, it was paced well enough, looked beautiful enough and was directed adeptly enough for it to hold the attention of a mainstream audience. It won’t be considered a classic, but it’s absolutely worth your admission money.

140 words: Side Effects

Side-Effects-Final-UKQuad1A young, depressed woman has her life collapse around her when the drugs she was prescribed by her psychiatrist have some extremely unwanted side effects.

Soderbergh’s self-proclaimed ‘last movie’, Side Effects owes a large debt to the classic thrillers of the 1950s, and almost glorifies itself as being Hitchcockian in style and tone. A winding narrative that initially delivers some intriguing twists and turns, unfortunately ends up in contrived places.

Performances were solid from Law and Mara, as psychiatrist and patient, however Tatum was redundant and Zeta Jones, Law’s psychiatrist friend, overacted her way throughout. Fortunately the cinematography and score kept the movie compelling, regardless of its flaws.

Side Effects was a decent enough watch, especially for free on a transatlantic flight, however it won’t blow any minds. You’re honestly better off searching out some Hollywood Era Hitchcock.

PSA, end of word count: Apologies for dropoff of content, Lauren is on holiday and I have moved to San Francisco for 2 months. We promise to get back on top of things ASAP!