Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Review: The Belko Experiment





The Belko Experiment
Cert: 18 / 89 mins / Dir. Greg McLean / Trailer



Saturday night at the movies, who cares what picture you see? As long as someone gets beaten to death with a tape-dispenser and all the office-workers in the audience grin and silently fist-bump. Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment is a non-supernatural horror movie which is not for the faint of heart (relatively few films actually get an 18-certificate these days).

During an apparently normal working day, a seven-story building full of administrators for the mysterious Belko Corportation is put on enforced lockdown, whereby employees are informed by an unknown agency that they're to begin systematically reducing their numbers by any means possible. With no particularly favourable way out, the group begins dividing into leaders and followers, survivors and compliers, killers and victims.

The Belko Experiment is exactly the film it sounds like, and is all the better for it. The opening scenes are packed with background exposition and visual-callback setups, but at a lean 89 minutes, it wastes absolutely no time in getting to the starting line of having eighty colleagues holed up and panicking. The film's not particularly incisive with its social satire, and it's not even trying to be that clever. It's just gleefully amoral and nihilistic, not offering any solutions, just underlining the problem which has always been humanity's biggest enemy: other humans*1. Much like The Walking Dead, the plot-structure means that pretty much any of the characters can die at pretty much any point, without warning or justification (albeit often with ecstatic poetic licence).

Given the outlandish nature of the movie in general, it's fairly solidly performed all round, with strong leads from John Gallagher Jr, Adria Arjona and Tony Goldwin, a fairly easy paycheck for Michael Rooker (although the employees aren't going to stay trapped in the building for long with the amount of scenery John C. McGinley's chewing his way through, surely?). And when the James Gunn-penned flick opens with José Prieto's Yo Vivire, you just know this is going to be fun. Outside of the orchestrated score, the film's song-selection is often camp, always arch and never over-egged. Oh, and bonus point for the old-school Orion Pictures ident, too. Fantastic stuff.

The Belko Experiment was never going to redefine the genre, but if you get no enjoyment out of it then you obviously don't spend forty hours a week trapped in a building with beige electronics and idiots…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Purge, Would You Rather and fuck it, Office Space.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you can, hell yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Pretty much.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Don't know if I'd go quite that far, not that it makes the film any less glorious.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
No.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This flick's got that Michael Rooker in it, and he was in 2008's Jumper alongside Hayden 'Skywalker' Christensen.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although it's 2017 for crying out loud, if the film's sharpest stick is 'people are awful by default', that's hardly a point which needs reinforcing, now is it?[ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: The Transfiguration





The Transfiguration
Cert: 15 / 97 mins / Dir. Michael O'Shea / Trailer



It's a slyly self-aware movie which focuses on a kid obsessed with vampires who berates the 'unrealistic' nature of the Twilight series, but also uses that same series' typeface to display its screen-credits. I approve of this wholeheartedly.

Michael O'Shea's shocking yet quietly-introspective drama/horror stars Eric Ruffin as Milo, a teenager living with his older brother (JaQwan Kelly) in the NYC housing projects who fixates on the undead*1 as a coping-mechanism after a trauma. As he gradually befriends the awkward and introverted Sophie (Chloe Levine) in the same apartment block, they both begin to come out of their respective shells, but how much of their past is lurking, waiting to pull them back?

The Transfiguration is beguiling in that it's a vampire film that's not really about vampires, but still is. And much like that other recent genre-wildcard, this film does have moments of genuine, brutal heft. The the film is very indy, all handheld cameras and awkward silences, and the three central performances are absolutely outstanding here. The silences almost become a character in their own right, with what happens between the beats being every bit as important as the beats themselves. While the film isn't presented in black-and-white, my memories of it are almost entirely desaturated by its claustrophobia. This demands re-watching.

Watch The Transfiguration
It isn't about vampires.

But also, it totally is.*2



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Imagine someone smashed together Moonlight and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night in the Large Cinematic Collider.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
As much as I loved it, this is a DVD-type movie.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Everyone here was new to me, so I couldn't say.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Hell, no.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Hell, no.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Chloe Levine who also appears in TV's The OA, as does Jason 'Inquisitor' Isaacs and Riz 'Rook' Ahmed.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 I love that the film's protagonist is a black teenager who's obsessed with vampires, if only because that's a demographic that the genre really doesn't cater for (certainly not at the broad-yet-nano level which he's into it). That said, Milo is a kid who (while he namechecks a shitload of bloodsucker movies) can apparently lecture people on the logic of vampiric physiology, yet he's got a copy of Dracula Untold in his house. What the hell kind of vampire obsessive would give that dreadful old shit any shelf-space? The fact that it's a home-taped VHS (presumably from off of the telly) makes it even more baffling. That film's not worth the effort required to write its name on the tape-label, never mind actually deciding to keep afterwards…[ BACK ]

*2 Come on, you're genuinely unsure if the occupant of that body bag is going to sit up…[ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Review: The Handmaiden





The Handmaiden
Cert: 18 / 145 mins / Dir. Park Chan-wook / Trailer



Well, that film is definitely a thing. Upon that, the critics and I can agree. Park Chan-wook's lavish*1 reworking of Sarah Waters' The Fingersmith is a magnificent looking and intricately constructed film. The visual symmetry is frequently breathtaking, and the script is full of poetic refrains and callbacks. Earnestly acted and surprisingly witty despite the language barrier*2. It's just punctuated with stretches of exploitative trash masquerading as provocative-cinema.

The Handmaiden was already precariously balancing an intricate tale of deception and greed, using a non-linear timeline and set in a historical/geo-political period I know basically nothing about. To be entirely honest, the thing which kept me from engaging properly with the film was All Of The Sex All Of The Time. I understand of course that sex (notably not love, here) is one of the central pins around which the story is spun, but the longer each of the scenes went on, the less they added to the overall film (other than raw run-time, obviously). And while I'm pretty certain it was never the director's intention, the whole thing starts coming off as For The Dads. The film's fixation would be seen as tacky and exploitative in a mainstream Hollywood movie*3, I don't see why Korean/Japanese cinema should be exempt*4. As previously noted, great cinematography is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for smut.


And speaking of directorial vision etc, how come the self-same cinema I attended was showing the regular 145-minute version*5 of the film at 11:00, 14:10 and 17:10, but a 167-minute Director's Cut at 20:10? Why does the 'standard' version of the film even exist if the distributor is willing to show a 'purer' cut of the film within the same release window? Did they figure the extra 20 minutes was just going to be too much for most mainstream punters?

"Here, have this lovely burger. Mind you, if you come back later today, you can have a better version of the burger that our chef actually approves of, but for the same price. The first one's not crap. We never said that, no…"


Short version: there are things in this movie that I really love, but in the end I couldn't be more than interested in the final product. Maybe I should have held out for the director's cut after all? Plus I was waiting for Doctor Eyebrows there to bust a move with that octopus: nothing. It's like Watchmen all over again...
It's not that I hated The Handmaiden at all, but at the time of going to press I watched it three days ago and the only lingering memories I have are of the things I disliked. I'm intrigued by the film cinematically, but evidently don't love it the way everyone else seems to. Although that's hardly an unusual state of affairs.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Genuinely no idea.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you want to see it, sure.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Judging from pretty much all other critical response, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In terms of the cast, I couldn't say.
In terms of the director (Oldboy, Stoker), no
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nah.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nah.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: As mentioned, this is directed by Park Chan-wook, who also helmed Stoker, which starred Ralph 'Ric Olié' Brown.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Yep. Best I can give it, I'm afraid.


*1 The sort of thing which, were it in magazine-form, would be most likely enjoyed in a lav. There, I said it. [ BACK ]

*2 Never a script to pull its punches, the UK cut is subtitled from both Japanese and Korean (yellow text for the former language, white for the latter, which works fantastically well). And it feels very much like the dialogue has been adapted by someone in the UK, rather than by an American or broader-European translator. The word 'flummoxed' appears twice, and references to 'mother' are denoted as 'mum' (ie not mom'). There's also the repeated use of the exclamation "fucking hell" (something us Brits say on average 3-4 times a day, more in my case). But the film's best line, "You thought Miss Hideko to be a lamb. Lamb, my arse.", made me begin to wonder if this had been script-edited by The Inbetweeners[ BACK ]

*3 There were twenty-one people in to see this on a Saturday-morning. Twenty-one people to see a two-and-a-half hour Korean/Japanese film that's already been out a week. So it's still garnering over five times more interest than the latest Katherine Heigl pot-boiler, also notably "for the dads"… [ BACK ]

*4 While I assure you I don't write middling/snarky reviews to be a contrarian film-reviewer type, I am nonetheless expecting All The Comments for this one. Go right ahead. Nothing you say will have made me enjoy the film any more/less, and in all likelihood won't make me see it in a different light after the fact… [ BACK ]

*5 And while I'm on, the two cuts at Picturehouse Central are listed as 145 and 167 minutes, but the registered version on the BBFC website says 156? Don't tell me there's a third edit floating about..? [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review: Unforgettable





Unforgettable
Cert: 15 / 100 mins / Dir. Denise Di Novi / Trailer



I see yer da's been browsing the steamy-thrillers section in Ritz Video again…

Yes tonight we're going to party like it's 1991, with the story of a jealous ex-wife who'll go to any lengths to blah blah blah you've seen it before oh look there's going to be murders and it'll end with a cat-fight*1. Unforgettable is a film which desperately hopes the paying-audience isn't old enough to have already gotten bored of this format once and still not forgotten about that. As a tale of manipulation, obsession, vulnerability and deceit in which no-one really comes out smelling of roses, it'd be easy to think that this film hates women, although since it's directed and co-written by females I think it's fairer to say that it just hates its own audience more.

But it's not only the structure of the film that's the problem here, but the type of performance which is inevitably required of the cast. Katherine Heigl's psycho-Vogue performance is so gratuitously hammy that there was a group of animal rights protesters outside the cinema. I know the film's meant to hold a creeping air of unease, but I'm fairly certain that's meant to come from the plot developments, rather than worrying if the cast will ever work again. I understand that this is essentially Heigl's default-level of movie these days of course, but what the hell was Rosario Dawson thinking? Okay, Trance had its issues, but it was at least interesting to watch. Unforgettable's director, Denise Di Novi, doesn't even have her name at the top of the end-credits. That could be a sign of professional humility but I suspect it's more likely to be embarrassment, hoping all the punters*2 will have filed silently out of the room by the time her own moniker floats across the screen.

In fact, given the mechanically linear nature of the story and the box-ticking 100 minute runtime, the only surprise was how bored I got waiting for the film to actually end. The only things that aren't a half-arsed love letter to 1990s trash thrillers are a) Facebook as a plot-device*3, b) the incessant Apple product-placement, and c) the excruciating R&B soundtrack. And for three things meant to lend a hackneyed screenplay some modern-relevance, they feel very much like a geography teacher telling his class he likes the new M&M album.

Perhaps worst of all (and despite my moaning), Unforgettable isn't even bad enough to be classed as A Bad Film. So it fails on that front, too.

By the way, if you're ever looking through someone's stolen phone and you see a file named "life ideas", I'm pretty certain that allows you to go ahead and kill them anyway.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Anything Channel 5 used to show after 11pm.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Hahahahahaha.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
No.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Cast, no.
Director, I certainly hope not although I haven't seen her other work
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, I think I probably will.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Rosario Dawson provided voice-work for 2016's Ratchet & Clank movie, along with James Arnold 'Kenobi' Taylor and Jim 'a shitload of SW videogame voice-roles' Ward.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Okay, I have to confess that I'd already written the non-specific framework of this review based on the trailer alone. Not so much wilful prejudice as the fact that the promo-reel sells this film perfectly, and you just know it. [ BACK ]

*2 Four. At the first showing on the opening day of this movie, there were four people in the room. I know that's hardly the fault of the cast or crew, but still. Four. [ BACK ]

*3 It's perhaps worth noting that while the film is allowed to say Facebook, they actually show a sloppy facsimile of the site. Whether this is down to budgeting reasons or FB's brand-reputation management isn't clear. Also, the production can't seem to afford playing Nat King Cole singing Unforgettable, which was almost certainly a feature of the script at one stage. Why the hell else would the film be called that? [ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Review: Fast & Furious 8





Fast & Furious 8
Cert: 12A / 136 mins / Dir. F. Gary Gray / Trailer



Sixteen. As someone who spends a not-inconsiderable amount of time in the cinema, I've seen various trailers for Fast & Furious 8*1 and, as a result, had wondered how many times the word "family" would appear in the final script. It's sixteen times. I counted. To put that in 'cinematic catchphrase' context, the second Paul Blart movie featured A Fat Man Falling Over a mere eight times. Make of that what you will, but I'm at least glad that Peggy Mitchell's secured a job as a screenwriter.

So despite my thinking that the F&F series really should have been laid gently down after part seven, it's evident that it may well be the last great franchise that Universal have. It's certainly the best vehicle (no pun intended) for the dubious talents of Vin Diesel*2, who at least has the rest of the cast to share the limelight and ease the burden of the script (which is frequently excruciating, but who's here for the dialogue, right?).

The film is, in pretty much every sense, exactly what you expect it to be (and no less than you'd expect from the eighth installment of any series). From the opening race around the streets of Havana in which Diesel pushes an old banger literally into the red, this is impressively ridiculous stuff. Things take a predictably mawkish turn when the aforementioned 'F'-word rears its head, but the faux-sentimentality doesn't get in the way of what is essentially a petrol-burning action flick. Old faces and characters appear like at a reunion party, past transgressions not necessarily forgiven, but put on hold out of general goodwill. And once more, the screenplay takes the same cavalier attitude to technology and hacking as it does to the general laws of physics*3. F&F8 may not be everything it could be, but it's certainly everything it needs to be to meet its own selection criteria.

Best line is awarded unapologetically to Jason Statham for "Let's go, Scarface. These arseholes aren't going to kill themselves…".

Fast & Furious 8 is largely an immense amount of fun*4, albeit the perfect definition of Bubblegum Cinema™. It's brightly-coloured and distracting, of no real nutritional value, and after a couple of hours you realise it's pretty much without taste.

Plan your viewing schedules accordingly.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The movies which preceded it.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you like your testosterone and burning rubber to be on a massive screen, yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Pretty much.
Whether that's a good thing is up for debate
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not even the best of its series, to be fair.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Michelle Rodriguez, who performed voice-work in Turbo alongside Sam 'Windu' Jackson and Bill 'BB-8' Hader.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And seriously Universal, you attach the tagline "Fate of the Furious" to the eighth movie in the series and not one of you thinks to type it "F8 of the Furious!" on the poster? You had one fucking job, mate. And don't even go thinking about 'Fast10-Furious, because a friend of mine's copyrighted that shit already. [ BACK ]

*2 Although obviously he's more than acceptable when he has three words to say as the voice of an animated tree. Make of that what you will, as well. [ BACK ]

*3 Notwithstanding that the film's centrepiece of an EMP-device which not only disables electronic devices but magically shuts down wholly mechanical engines and opens all locked security gates (y'know, the setting you'd definitely have in the event of a power-cut), Vin Diesel's car is clocked doing over 200mph to get onto the boarding ramp of a moving plane, yet he manages to come to a stop within 40 feet once he's in the cargo hold… [ BACK ]

*4 That said, I'll admit that the bits about the unstable egomaniac who's set to launch nuclear warheads just to prove a facile point tasted a touch more bitter than they were no doubt intended. Maybe I should have seen the movie before last weekend, to be fair… [ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.