Friday, 16 September 2016

Blue Ruin Review



Blue Ruin came out in 2013 was easily one of my favourite films of the year. This review was originally posted at Filmoria.

Jeremy Saulnier is a name you better get used to. Writer, director and photographer of the brilliant indie revenge thriller Blue Ruin, he will need to watch his back if he carries on like this. Everyone will be after him and his considerable talent and there are bound to be a few directors jealous enough of his skills to try and take him out themselves. For that matter, the magnificently bearded lead Macon Blair is also a serious talent to watch.


Blue Ruin is the story of Dwight (Macon Blair), a homeless drifter who takes baths in empty houses, sleeps in his car and gets food from anywhere he can. Dwight is the silent type; his mouth seemingly lost beneath his impressively overgrown beard. When he finds out that Wade Cleland, the man responsible for the murder of his parents has been released from prison, Dwight immediately swings into action, carrying out his burning desire for revenge. However, killing Wade may only be the beginning of Dwight's one man rampage of revenge.

Because unfortunately for him, Dwight is no Rambo. He hasn't got the skills, the savagery or the insanity to just pick off bad guys left, right and centre. He is clumsy and clearly crap at all this killing stuff. Though he is committed to his cause and clever enough to carry it out with the possibility of getting away with it, he is also just an ordinary guy. His early mishaps with a knife show his worrying lack of prowess in the weapon-wielding department and it makes him believable, sympathetic and impossible not to root for.


Blue Ruin starts off like a deceptively typical indie movie; all intriguing close ups with shallow depth of field and bereft of dialogue for most of the first half hour. The composition of early shots are gorgeous with the camera later prowling around the dark locations building an unbearable silent tension. The subtle score exacerbates this, brooding in the background and anticipating the violence. Suddenly and viciously, Blue Ruin becomes a black comedy  and edge-of-your-seat thriller.

And when it comes, the first murder is brutal, bloody and swift. The first act of the film ends where most revenge thrillers would finish but Blue Ruin has plenty more in store. The exact details of the murder that has spurred this mission are deliciously drip fed through sparse bursts of dialogue, punctuating the scenes of silent Dwight stalking. After he seems to have succeeded in his goal, it suddenly and frantically becomes clear that what started out simple has just become far more complex as Dwight has ignited a terrifyingly dangerous family feud.


From revenge thriller to home invasion movie and back again, Blue Ruin is never less than absolutely thrilling. As Dwight rolls around in his old battered car, he beautifully blurs the lines between victim and predator. Though he is a man of very few words, he is impossible to take your eyes off. Macon Blair is revelatory in the role, transforming his features so he is almost two different characters during the story. His amateur assassin becomes reluctant protector to his estranged family and his bravery, resourcefulness and  determination are hilariously balanced by his total authenticity, lack of faith in himself and deep sadness he lugs around with him. It is a wonderful performance; at times bringing real warmth and empathy to the character while being darkly funny as he is forced to tend his wounds and deal in death. There clearly can't be a happy ending for poor Dwight who never smiles and takes no pleasure in his actions. He is a man driven to do what he simply has to do and he has no illusions that he deserves to get out alive. However you are guaranteed to wince with him when he is hurt and cheer him on when he takes revenge.

Helped along the way by an old friend who warns him not to make speeches before killing people, Blue Ruin is gripping from start to finish even when it pauses for pitch black humour. The villains may not have much shading, but their love of guns is enough to make them (for the most part) a mysterious and chilling foe. Bleakly funny, tense beyond words, breathtaking and heartbreaking, Blue Ruin is everything you could possibly want in a thriller. Dwight is undoubtedly one of the best characters of the year and his story will keep you riveted. As Dwight travels to another showdown, he hears a song about having no regrets on the radio. Like Dwight after his spree, you certainly won't have any regrets after seeing the brilliant Blue Ruin.

Watch the trailer:


Check out my review of writer/director Jeremy Saulnier's latest Green Room and watch out for my interviews with Saulnier and Green Room actor Callum Turner coming soon at Starburst Magazine.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Blair Witch Review: Does Adam Wingard's Sequel Match the Original?



You've got to wonder where the parents of Heather and James Donahue are, and what exactly they think they're doing. We didn't see them before their daughter got lost in The Blair Witch Project and now they've only gone and let their son James wander off in search of his sister 20 years later. Surely one of the parents might have advised against this madness.

And so Blair Witch begins with director Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) taking us back into the haunted woods of Burkitsville as another group of camera-carrying crazies go in search of the elusive Elly Kedward. This time there’s six doomed younglings; James Donahue was four when Heather disappeared, Lisa wants to make a documentary on James’ ill-advised search for his missing sister, and their friends Peter and Ashley are just along for moral support (and to handily up the body count and prove that in horror, black guys are still first on the kill list). The four friends are then joined by oddballs Lane (darknet666) and Talia who uploaded footage to YouTube that they claim to have found on a tape in the woods. The shaky camera video appears to show a female figure in a house just like the one at the end of Heather’s original project. Is Heather still alive after all these years, or is the Blair Witch up to her old tricks again?


No points if you guess the answer, but prepare for another bumpy ride on you’re way to the climax. Blair Witch ditches much of the ambiguity of the original film. There’s no room for any real debate over what exactly happens to this bunch of terrified youths. Anyone still fuming that they sat through The Blair Witch Project and never got a single shot of the Blair Witch can rest assured that there is definitely something to see here. Thankfully, not too much though. Wingard is smart enough to know a little goes a long way and milks the most suspense possible from his characters’ shaky cameras and inability to confront the Blair Witch face to face. The sound design is also racked up a notch, sometimes a little too much as it sounds like the black smoke monster from Lost might have found its way into the woods of Maryland.

Though the Donahue kids’ parents could have done much more to stop at least their second child from heading into the woods, at least James and his buddies are much more prepared for their camping trip than Heather, Mike and Josh were back in 1994. This new crop of tech-savvy millenials have Walkie-talkies, GPS, wearable cameras, a drone camera, lots of lights, food and just more cameras than you can shake a spooky stick-man at. Unfortunately, they obviously didn't watch that footage filmed by Heather and Josh carefully enough as they don't seem to realise that it's all bloody useless when faced with the power of the Blair Witch.

And if you thought she was too passive in the original, or  maybe you don't believe that there was a curse and that everything can be explained rationally in the footage from Heather’s project, prepare to think again. In Blair Witch, the late Elly Kedward really unleashes her powers. She messes with their technology, messes with time and space, magics that old house from out of nowhere again and even throws in a few new tricks that are best left unspoiled. Wingard leaves you in no doubt that the Blair Witch exists and she's pretty much as terrifying as she ever was.


Fans of the original have to endure a little catch-up exposition to fill newcomers in on the legend of the Blair Witch, but at least a little more is added to the mythology. Rustin Parr’s house is also expanded with previously unseen elements providing one particularly claustrophobic moment. However, it's what goes down in the house that really gives the sweat glands a workout as familiar beats (people standing in corners, apologies, unseen attackers) get new and thrilling updates.

For those sick to death of found footage films, this offers little to win you over. There’s more cameras and camera technology so a slightly more varied visual experience than many other similar films. And the old charge of ‘why would they still be filming in this situation?’ is at least partially answered by having the characters wear their cameras on their head requiring them to not have to think about filming when the shit really hits the fan in the final act. These cameras also provide Peep Show style interactions as the characters talk to each other but gaze directly into the cameras. This pays dividends when two characters can only see each other's torch-lit faces while the space behind them remains in total, terrifying darkness.

So Blair Witch is scary, but it's not as ingenious and won't be as influential as the original. It's mostly a shame that Wingard didn't use the ‘method directing’ tactics of original directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick. Clearly some of the scenes were unpleasant to film, but the actors in this film got off lucky. Though there is less ambiguity in Blair Witch, there’s a higher body count and more hysteria to make up for it. It's just a shame that there isn't anything as iconic, moving and ‘real’ as Heather’s final apology in the project that started it all. Still, Blair Witch fans won't be disappointed and newbies will learn that the woods of Burkitsville can be scarier than Crystal Lake, Elm Street and Haddonfield put together. Go back to bed Paranormal Activity, the Blair Witch is back with a vengeance and as terrifying as ever.

Here's the trailer:



More on Blair Witch and the original:


 
 
 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Blue Room Review (starring Mathieu Amalric)

Wow... some films take a while to make it from the festival circuit to cinemas. Some films take a while... Some films take over two years. I give you The Blue Room. I saw this at Cannes in 2014 and it seems to be getting a limited release in the UK in September 2016. Probably not a great sign, but hey at least it's getting a release!


Here's a snippet of my review:

Triple threat actor, writer, director Mathieu Amalric explores infidelity, obsession and a tragic desire that turns from lust into violence in his latest film, The Blue Room. While the star gives a worthy performance, the story is slight and adds little to what could possiblly be called a sub-genre of ' secret-affair-turns-nasty' films.

Starting in a hotel room where lovers Julien and Esther are having a lusty, erotic and passionate affair behind the backs of their respective partners, The Blue Room then skips in its chronology between the romance and its later repercussions. These repercussions include Amalric’s Julien questioned in custody and standing trial for a crime that remains a mystery for much of the running time. Julien has a wife and daughter at home while Esther has a sick husband in her own life but both are more interested in their frequent forays into the blue room for lovemaking so intense, it even involves biting that draws blood... kinky!

Like the sound of this? Want to read the rest of my review? Head over to Tastic Film where you can read the full story on what I thought of The Blue Room.

Check out the trailer:



More reviews from I Love That Film:

The Measure of a Man

Mon Roi
Green Room
Son of Saul
Louder Than Bombs

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Blair Witch trailer investigation

So Adam Wingard, what have you been up to down in the woods today? The director of You're Next and The Guest has finally put his cards on the table. His movie The Woods is now officially titled Blair Witch and IS a sequel to the original 1999 found footage horror.

The trailer takes us straight back into what looks like psycho hermit Rustin Parr's house way out in the woods of Burkitsville where the Blair Witch is known to lurk. If you don't know the backstory of the Blair Witch, (what do you live under a rock?) then check out the original film's website and the mythology section here.


The found footage point-of-view shot shows a frantic rush around the old house, before it is revealed that this is footage from YouTube which a guy called James is watching. The footage was uploaded by another guy who found a tape in the Black Hills woods. There is the distorted sound of screaming and at 11 seconds into the trailer, there is a person visible in the footage. That's all I can tell you about that.

But then James states to whoever is now filming him, 'I think that might be my sister'. I'm not the only one who immediately thinks.... 'You're sister???' Heather Donahue? Did Heather have a little brother in the original movie? I don't think it was ever mentioned, but then this girl's voice, who I assume is the off-camera camera operator filming this guy says, 'You really think you're sister could still be out there after all these years?' That's 17 years by the way if we're counting and assuming this sequel takes place in the present day.

Yikes! Please tell me Heather is still out there. I know the actress Heather Donahue has been busy growing weed and then writing books about it, but that means she's surely available for a cameo. God that would be a interesting development in the story... maybe.


So the Wikipedia page for the film states that this guy's name is James Donahue, so it definitely is supposed to be Heather's brother, but I don't know if this is 100% confirmed. It looks like James and his five college buddies head out into the woods to search for Heather after finding this YouTube footage. They know the legends, they know about the curse, they know about Elly Kedward a.k.a. The Blair Witch.

So then shit hits the fan as you would expect. Those creepy stick men; they're back and they're bigger. The kids start walking in circles again. Somebody (probably) kicks a map in the creek.

There is a shot of one of the girls with a camera in hand, suggesting that there must be at least two characters that will be carrying cameras, and in the great words of Cloverfield's Hud 'documenting everything'.  I wondered when I first watched this trailer if the film was all going to be found footage. The shot 7 seconds into the trailer suggests that either these college kids have a nice drone for capturing aerial shots (doubt it, though that would be awesome), or the film won't be all found footage, or it's just a nice shot to insert in the trailer but it won't be in the movie. I'm going with that last one.


Well anyway, then the kids start turning on each other and the woods start turning on them as the (hopefully still) invisible witch works her magic on them all. Looks like this film will have a lot more going on in it than the original. I suspect it will be gorier, more graphic and have more than just traipsing around in circles and arguing going on. There's a shot in the trailer that looks as though nature will attack them more than it ever did in the original. I'm talking Evil Dead style trees. And then there's the shots that remind me of The Descent with one of the girls crawling through a whole load of shite to escape from somewhere.

I hope they don't dare show us the Blair Witch and I hope this film keeps up the ambiguity. I'd love it if there was a link back to the original with Heather appearing in some form, but it needs to be ambiguous and it needs to be done well.

Also in the trailer: we have a person standing in the corner facing the wall, hand prints all over the spooky house and the voice of someone apologising. It sounds more like a bloody remake than a sequel when you put it like that.

More than anything, I hope this honours the original by limiting the gore, having no CGI whatsoever and being bloody scary. I don't want to see the witch, I don't want to know exactly what happens at the end and I don't want this to turn into a franchise that goes on and on and on with new batches of disposable teens. I'm already concerned that some of the six characters in the film are simply there to allow for a bigger body count.

I loved Adam Wingard's The Guest so I'm optimistic that this will have some good stuff in it. But I suspect that Wingard probably didn't go into original directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick's 'method directing' techniques and I think that is a huge shame. It will show in the performances, the cinematography and the dialogue and it will make Blair Witch a hell of a lot less believable than The Blair Witch Project is.

What do you think Blair Witch fans? Talk to me... I'm here for you! And please buy my book on The Blair Witch Project.

Here's the Blair Witch trailer:


Blair Witch Sequel Trailer is here!

Blair Witch fans... it's here! After waiting 17 years and ignoring a pretty poor sequel (Book of Shadows) that already came and went, The Blair Witch Project looks like it might be finally getting the sequel it deserves. Formally titles The Woods, it's now been made official. This is a Blair Witch sequel, and frankly it looks wicked!

Here's the trailer:


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Remainder Review

If you like your films a little out of the ordinary, then give Independence Day: Resurgence a miss this weekend and see if you can find a cinema playing Remainder instead. Think Donnie Darko meets Synecdoche, New York and you might be getting an idea of what an oddball little film this is.


Here's a snippet of my review from last year's London Film Festival:

Rushing through a city and pulling a black case behind him, an unnamed man (Tom Sturridge) is hit by falling debris from the sky. After awaking from a coma and going through extensive rehabilitation, he discovers that he has been awarded with £8.5 million to keep quiet about the incident. He is plagued by strange visions of a building, a boy, an old woman and some cats on a roof, and decides to hunt down these elements in order to piece together the fragmented puzzle forming in his head. His recreations are handled by helper Naz and become more elaborate, including eventually the staging of a bank robbery.

Sturridge's character becomes like a filmmaker, manipulating and directing these recreations from his mind, while an ever-expanding roster of 'actors' are employed to carry out the actions and scripts that he envisions. The surreal nature of his visions means he must dress extras in morph suits, have people repetitively play Chopin in the same building and an old lady constantly cook liver so that the smell will waft up to his apartment. He is obsessive in capturing the detail, repeating the process over and over again to the befuddlement of all others involved...


Here's the trailer:


More reviews from I Love That Film:

 The Measure of a Man
The Conjuring 2
Mon Roi
Green Room
Son of Saul
Louder Than Bombs

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Tale of Tales Review: Three Stories For the Price of One!

Do you really need three stories for the price of one?  Tale of Tales thinks so. I wouldn't mind, but apart from being set in the same world, these three have nothing to do with each other. Pulp Fiction this ain't. This film is completely mad, but not in the most satisfying of ways. Here's the synopsis bit of my review:

Based on a 17th century collection of tales by Italian author Giambattista Basile, the film features three different storylines, not all as engaging as each other and never tied together in any satisfactory way. First up, Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly take centre stage as the king and queen of a dusty kingdom where all the entertainers in the land can’t keep the queen from desiring a baby. After a visit from a mysterious hooded figure who offers them the chance of creating offspring, Reilly’s devoted king steps up to the plate and boldly goes to kill off a sea monster in order for his wife to be able to eat the heart and thus, magically conceive. Needless to say, things are never this simple and things soon turn awry.


Meanwhile, Vincent Cassel is a lecherous king who has seemingly used up all the women in his nearby kingdom and is looking for more playmates to be debauched with. After hearing a lone beauty singing beneath his castle walls, he ventures out to find the owner of such a sweet voice. Little does he know, the voice belongs to one of a pair of ugly old crone sisters who may or may not have found their way here after auditioning for Cinderella. Not wanting the king to see them in their decrepit state, they hide behind the door of their home but the king is nothing if not persistent. Then things get really weird.

Finally, Toby Jones is yet another king, whose only daughter he dotes on until the day he discovers he has a talented flea who has taken a shine to him. While the flea grows into his beloved pet, his teen daughter wants to find a prince, but gets more than she bargained for when her father makes a dubious choice by giving her to an ogre.

If you want to read what I really thought of all this, head to Tastic Film now to read my full review of Tale of Tales from the Cannes Film Festival.

Here's the trailer:



More recent reviews from I Love That Film:


The Measure of a Man

The Conjuring 2

Mon Roi

Green Room

Son of Saul

Louder Than Bombs

Hardcore Henry

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Measure of a Man Review

The film that won Vincent Lindon the Best Actor award at Cannes in 2015 is finally released in UK cinemas this weekend. The Measure of a Man is a challenging watch, but worth the effort. Here's a snippet of my review:


Last year in Cannes, it was Marion Cotillard and the Dardennes brothers examining contemporary workplace relations in Two Days, One Night. That razor sharp, but repetitive critique of the ills of modern corporate practices is bested this year by The Measure of a Man which finds its unemployed protagonist facing a moral dilemma when he finds a new job working in shop security.

We meet 51 year old Thierry mid conversation at the job centre, frustrated by the pointless course he has recently wasted his time completing in order to find that there are no jobs waiting for him at the end of it. Along with his wife, Thierry has a disabled son who he wants to put through further education. Money is tight, and after meeting with his bank manager, Thierry grows increasingly desperate to find employment. After rejections, humiliation and disappointment, he finds work in surveillance and security at a supermarket. But when required to spy on his fellow workers, Thierry may be pushed to act in opposition to his morals.

To read more of my review of The Measure of a Man, head to Tastic Film now.

Here's the trailer:



More recent reviews from I Love That Film:


The Conjuring 2

Mon Roi

Green Room

Son of Saul

Louder Than Bombs

Hardcore Henry

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Conjuring 2 Review

James Wan returns to horror after conjuring Paul Walker back from the grave in Fast and Furious 7. People loved The Conjuring, so it's no surprise to see a sequel. But as someone who found the original film a little bit average, I was surprised to find The Conjuring 2 so scary. It's great to have Wan back working in the genre that made him! Here's a snippet of my review:


"Never play with Ouija boards. Unfortunately, the kids in the 1977-set The Conjuring 2 will have been too young to see The Exorcist, so inevitably they unleash a demonic force in their home when they mess with a homemade hotline to unfriendly spirits. Janet Hodgson lives with her single mother and three siblings in a rundown house in Enfield. When Janet starts to go bump in the night by being lifted out of her bed and planted downstairs in the living room, paranormal investigators the Warrens travel to England to see if they can help.
 
This isn't supposed to be your average haunting. The fact that the Hodgson family are poor and English is supposed to make a difference. But actually, they still live in a typical house with large bedrooms full of things to smash, a living room with a spooky rocking chair in the corner, and the all-important set of stairs that can creak whenever anything (supernatural or otherwise) steps on them. The accents might be different and the walls could do with a lick of paint, but this is still your average haunted house movie..."

To read more of this review of The Conjuring 2, head to Starburst Magazine now!

Watch the trailer below:




More recent reviews from I Love That Film:

Mon Roi

Green Room

Son of Saul

Louder Than Bombs

Hardcore Henry






Thursday, 26 May 2016

Attack of the Werewolves - Blu-Ray Review



Feel pity for the low budget horror comedy.  Not only does it have to be scary, but it also has to make you laugh; it’s not easy to do either.  Evil Dead 2 nailed it where many others have failed.  Shaun of the Dead hits the funny bone, has a nice bit of gore but doesn’t try to scare you.  An American Werewolf in London balances mirth with mayhem like a professional but in general, horror comedies tread a too thin line between making us feel fear and making us chuckle; one is just bound to cancel the other out.

Following successful efforts of the last few years such as Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Rubber and Cabin in the Woods, comes a Spanish entry into the comedy-horror hybrid genre.  Re-titled from the original Lobos de Arga into Game of Werewolves (why?) and then finally to Attack of the Werewolves (does what is says on the tin), this film is almost as confused as the people tasked with giving it an English title.


Beginning promisingly with an explicit graphic novel style introduction featuring plenty of sex and death, the film then flashes forward to commence with the story of Tomás (Gorka Otxoa).  The animated opening sets up a small rural village and a gypsy curse that befell it a hundred years ago due to some raunchy hanky-panky and gratuitous murder.  In the present, Tomás is a writer from the village of Arga who left when he was fifteen to live in Madrid and is now returning for a celebration in his honour.  On arrival, Tomás learns that he has actually been invited back to the village so the locals can spill his blood and finally lift the curse.

The early scenes are slow and sadly humourless before the pace picks up, the sinister locals show their true colours and the film transforms into a jolly romp featuring more werewolves than you can shake a stick at (or throw a stick for, as one character tries to do).  The film fails spectacularly to approach scary but the comedy does emerge as the quirky characters find themselves under increasing threat.

The interplay between Tomás, his literary agent Mario and his old best friend Calisto is occasionally very funny with the relationships being strained even as the werewolves multiply. Their methods for dealing with the dangerous situation are comical at best, and silly at worst, but do raise frequent smiles. Watch out for a great scene involving alcohol, severed fingers and a dog. 


The introduction of new characters comes a little late in the game but one in particular, the Guardia Civil (Luis Zahera) manages to make a memorable entrance and despite limited screen time, gets the big laughs. It’s a shame he wasn’t introduced earlier.

The make up and effects are refreshingly old-school with the werewolves being quite impressive creations and the inventive gore being very effective. The transformations are skilfully shot and edited resulting in a package that often looks better than its budget deserves.

It’s just a shame the film takes a while to get going and the gag rate is so hit and miss. With a title like Attack of the Werewolves you know what to expect and if you’re just after a bunch of old-school hairy beasts that aren’t created through hideously bad CGI or turning into bare-chested pretty boys like Taylor Lautner every five minutes, then this might just be the film for your Saturday night with a six-pack. Then again it’s Spanish and subtitled so you might want to take it easy on that six-pack.