High-Rise (2015)

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Ben Wheatley is one of the most exciting British directors working today. His two best films are Kill List, a deeply disturbing horror/thriller about a tormented contract killer, and Sightseers, a black comedy about a troubled couple on their parochial, psychopathic honeymoon.

Key to these films’ success are strong characters with interesting dynamics. Kill List begins almost like a domestic kitchen-sink drama centred on the failing relationship between Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Burning), but it subsequently evolves, or rather devolves, into something dark, dank and horrible in a most unpredictable manner. Sightseers may be most commonly remembered for its scenes of outlandish violence, such as when Chris (Steve Oram) deliberately runs over a litterer in a fit of righteous anger. However, underneath the comic outbursts of gore is the poignant relationship between Chris and Tina (Alice Lowe), an oddball pair with a past of loneliness and insecurity.

Having proved himself as a director of visceral horror and emotional substance, Ben Wheatley is the natural choice to direct J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, a Goldingesque tale of violent class war exploding within a brutalist tower block. The fragility of civilisation, and the primitive savagery that lurks beneath it, is a darkly fascinating subject that has made for excellent films and books, such as Threadsa devastating vision of post-apocalyptic Britain, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which needs no introduction.

High-Rise does not brush shoulders with such works, for its allegory of class divide gets lost in a dull montage of blood, sweat and blue paint. Oh, and dancing air hostesses, for reasons that are, to put it politely, enigmatic.

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The focal characters – Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a measured, middle class doctor; Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a sultry woman who serves as Laing’s gateway in to the upper floors’ high culture; Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a pugnaciously aspirational documentary maker; and Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), the patrician architect who designed the building – are introduced well enough, but ultimately do not receive sufficient development.

As the lead and perhaps most relatable character, we are in the body of Laing when he traverses the tower’s social scene, which he admits to ‘not being very good at’. Some may find him steely, but Laing has an affable reserve and high emotional intelligence. He isn’t particularly interested in the petty one-upmanship that comes with climbing the social ladder, but he manages to deftly negotiate it anyway through his insouciant reserve that maintains peoples’ interest and disarms any potential enemies. Hiddleston, one of Britain’s hottest exports, is well cast here, he delivers the best performance of the film.

However, after a competent introduction to society in the high rise, Laing and the others get lost in an incoherent narrative that favours aesthetics and absurdity over credible character interplay. It begins three months ahead of the main events, showing a blood spattered Laing roasting a dog’s leg over a fire surrounded by dirt and detritus. After the aforementioned introductory period of around thirty minutes, the film then charts what led to this repellent spectacle with a disjointed series of set pieces that give little sense of progression.

Electrical problems are plaguing the building and resentment is brewing between the upper and lower floors, but the descent into nihilism just… happens. Dogs are being drowned, Laing’s painting his apartment (and himself) like a total madman and the whole building becomes a rubbish-strewn nightmare – but there’s no tension, no crescendo, no credibility and, curiously, no one who considers leaving! The worsening relations should have been more gradual and given much greater depth and meaning by the characters, their dialogue and their relationships. Instead, the main character covers himself in paint to communicate his increasingly aberrant state of mind, which appears to be an obvious metaphor for tribal decorations.

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Blue Jasmine – a real film about class.

High-Rise fails as a film about primal savagery and particularly as a film about class. In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, I cringed as Jasmine and her husband Hal, arrogant members of New York high society, barely contained their raging superiority complexes as they awkwardly condescended to Ginger (Jasmine’s sister) and Augie, a decidedly blue collar couple who wonder at Hal and Jasmine’s luxurious home. No such realist interplay is to be found in High-Rise, because its characters are thinly drawn and it isn’t rooted in reality, which is very much to its detriment.

Towards the film’s end, there are moments in which Royal and his minions discuss the politics and future of the tower, with Royal remarking that the lower floors should be ‘Balkanised’, meaning that they should be fragmented and pitted against each other in a manner reminiscent of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. I liked the use of that phrase, there should have been a lot more of this in the script, more overt political manoeuvring rather than surrealist claptrap and brutalist 70s chic.

Alas, Wheatley’s High-Rise is more concerned with aesthetics and the 1970s, which means there’s more in the way of shag-pile carpets, dodgy hair and the colour brown than developed characters, coherent narrative structure and sociopolitical substance.

58%

 

The Sound Barrier (1952)

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The Sound Barrier, one of David Lean’s lesser-known entries into his proud catalogue, is coming to Blu-ray on 11 April thanks to a joint effort from the BFI National Archive, STUDIOCANAL and the David Lean Foundation.

The transfer looks great, old fans of the film will be very pleased with its high-definition sheen. However, those who enter this film after seeing Bridge on the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia will probably be disappointed because of its poor characterisation and reliance on aerial spectacle, which has inevitably aged after 64 years.

Set in mid-to-late 1940s, the film follows John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson), a wealthy pioneer of aviation who believes the sound barrier can and should be broken. His pursuit is egotistical and uncompassionate, for he considers the project’s fatal danger to be par for the course and justifies the endeavour by comparing himself to Prometheus, the Titan of Greek mythology who ‘came to a sticky end… but gave the world fire.’ The problem with that it won’t be John who comes to a sticky end, but the brave pilots who are willing to become his guinea pigs.

Caught up in the grand experiment is Tony (Nigel Patrick), John’s son-in-law who eventually serves as his chief test pilot; Susan (Ann Todd), Tony’s concerned wife and John’s somewhat estranged daughter; and Christopher (Denholm Elliot), John’s son, apprehensive heir and doomed first test pilot.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Vulture Hound: http://vulturehound.co.uk/2016/04/lost-in-the-shadow-of-leans-masterpieces-the-sound-barrier-blu-ray-review/

Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is 90 minutes of cruelty with genre tropes that obscure any intelligent commentary.

With an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and claims that it is ‘thought provoking’, one would expect Eden Lake to be cut above Hostel, Saw and other torture films that appear comparable. While it may be superior to a certain degree, it remains a decidedly shallow film that is too constrained by the tropes of its horror genre framework to be taken seriously.

The film follows Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), a young couple who retreat to the Midlands countryside for a romantic break. As the couple drive north of London, there is an ominous radio discussion about the state of education and the perceived animosity brewing between the young and the old, assembling its themes of ‘Broken Britain’ in a manner that is perhaps slightly obvious.

After several disconcerting encounters with some obnoxious locals, the pair set up camp on the sandy banks of a flooded quarry. Their tranquility is soon interrupted by a chavvy young horde of Daily Mail proportions, led by the psychopathically aggressive Brett (Jack O’Connell). The conflict begins with general boorish behaviour and a wayward Rottweiler, and feeling the weight of his masculine responsibilities, Steve approaches the group and politely asks them to behave themselves. His reasonability is spurned and the couple are soon fighting for their lives in what is effectively their attackers’ back yard.

Many barbarous things have happened when the aggressive and the controlling have attracted the meek and the impressionable. The first example that springs to mind is the 1993 abduction and murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The pair’s twisted crescendo of rebellion began with truancy and shoplifting, which led to the idea of abducting a child and pushing it into the path of an oncoming car, which finally led to James’s abduction from the Bootle Strand shopping centre and his brutally protracted murder on train tracks by Anfield Park. The two boys enabled and normalised each other’s behaviour, and the roles of ringleader and minion became quite clear in police interviews.

Once arrested and interrogated by officers, Jon Venables was wrought with intense fear and remorse. He confessed to the killing, but was unable to tell the part of the story that he ominously called ‘the worst bit’. Conversely, Robert Thompson, described as ‘street wise way above the age of ten’, was hostile, dishonest and unrepentant. Thompson and Venables had a typical dynamic that became horribly toxic over a day’s truancy; it could inspire darkly compelling material for either print or cinema, providing it was created with intelligence and sensitivity.

Eden Lake could have been this film. It could have been a mature and intelligent insight into senseless violence and the nihilistic, ignorant, vulnerable people who commonly commit it; a film in a similar vein to A Short Film About Killing or Boy A. Instead, the viewer gets a tropey horror film that focuses on neither the group nor the couple in a meaningful way. The film’s main concern is brutality, such as showing us what it looks like when a Stanley knife is forcibly entered into someone’s mouth.

Despite Eden Lake‘s themes of class and age divide being highly superficial, political commentators have made the film fit their agendas. Owen Jones, one of The Guardian‘s most prominent PC enthusiasts, wrote the following in his book Chavs: ‘Here was a film arguing that the middle classes could no longer live alongside the quasi-bestial lower orders.’ Like many who are preoccupied with ideology and prone to knee jerk reactions, Jones mistakenly believes that the portrayal of one group of teenagers is supposed to be representative of an entire social group comprising millions of people.

With good performances and uncompromising brutality, Eden Lake grips and shakes its audience quite effectively. However, it is mere viscera rather than political commentary, sharing more in common with The Last House on the Left than A Clockwork Orange.

50%

Silent Running (1972)

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A soporific film whose message seems to be – eco-terrorism, it’s noble. (Spoilers, sort of.)

Read a brief synopsis and Silent Running looks interesting, it imagines the dreadful prospect of a dystopian world that’s bereft of wildlife and personality. It’s well intentioned and quite prescient; it chimes with contemporary environmental issues. This should all be interesting, but it’s very dull indeed.

Silent Running takes place aboard a spaceship which has several domes containing an array of plants and wildlife. These are maintained by Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), a man whose strong views on ecology make him a pariah among the other crewmen. When Lowell’s forestry is arranged to be destroyed by the powers that be, he reacts in a way that is, to understate, morally dubious.

One of the main reasons why this is all such a drag is because we’re given no depth, it isn’t explained why Earth is a barren dystopia or why they’re going to Saturn. You expect the crew members to imbue the film with substance however the character development is cut fatally short when Lowell blows them up early in the film. This plot development doesn’t do many favours for the sole remaining character either, because as much as Lowell’s indifferent and stupid colleagues annoyed me, did they really deserve to die? The film seems to justify their hurried dispatching, we’re supposed to care for this drab murderer and his forest.

One-man shows like Cast Away require a good leading man in an extraordinary situation. The last one I saw was All Is Lost with Robert Redford. It was the most extreme example of the genre I’d seen and was grossly overrated on the ‘tomato-meter’ at 94%, but the ambitious film just about worked for me.

Silent Running gets neither an interesting lead character nor a compelling situation. Outside of an impassioned diatribe against his colleagues’ indifference about the environment and the human condition, Lowell is a long faced, shaggy haired non-entity. Once he is the sole remaining homo-sapien, Lowell’s only companions are three charisma bereft robots called Huey, Dewey and Louie (this is cute apparently), whose organs of communication are metal flaps that emit a quiet, meaningless sort of whistle.

The supposed spectacle of Silent Running is also underwhelming. Director Douglas Trumbull worked on the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they’re very much of their time in parts but nonetheless sensory and epic in scope. However, in Silent Running, Trumbull’s directorial debut, the exterior shots of the spacecraft often look decidedly fake and miniature and the explosions are lamentably dated and intangible.

I watched this film on Mark Kermode’s recommendation. He loves this film, he considers it superior to 2001 and shockingly names it one of the greatest films ever made. He says that it’s a human tale, that Dern’s relationship with the robots is deeply affecting, I couldn’t disagree more. The reason why Kermode likes it so much is because it’s nostalgic for him, he saw at just 11-years-old and subsequently grew up loving the film – I’ve had similar attachment to films like Jaws, which is of course infinitely better.

After a while I was willing for the film to end, I became entirely indifferent towards the narrative’s dreary developments and the politics beneath them. I love nature and beautiful landscapes, I empathised with Lowell to a certain degree, however his actions make the film’s message all rather muddled. Silent Running may appeal to Green extremists, however I think even they’ll grow tired once they realise how little there is beyond its eco-friendly sentiment.

50%

Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

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Tom Green spends much of the film with his mouth wide open and shouting dementedly.

Much funnier than Jennifer Aniston.

And Adam Sandler and Kevin James and Rob Schneider and the scores of other popular entertainers who permeate Hollywood. Of course, these people are generally not critics’ darlings, however few if any of their hackneyed, horribly successful films have received the reception that Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered did in 2001. Roger Ebert no less was one of its most savage attackers, writing emphatically how it didn’t ‘scrape the bottom of the barrel’ and that it didn’t even ‘deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels’.

It is indeed a very polarising film; I concede that it’s just an immature indulgence from Tom Green, but at least it’s not a load of recycled tedium. It’s quite remarkable that this film was financed at all, let alone by 20th Century Fox. What’s even more surprising is that this is very much Tom Green’s film, no executives interfered in the creative process; it is, for better or worse, the work of an auteur.

The film focuses on Gord Brody, a 28-year-old animator/slacker living in his parents’ basement. In the film’s opening moments, Gord is seen strewn across his bed completely supine as he narrates one of his draft animations like a blithering idiot. He soon gets a job in a Los Angeles cheese sandwich factory while he tries to sell his work to an important animation executive.

Green has an irreverent, dark and extreme sense of humour that he releases through his character Gord in a series of outrageous set pieces, most of which begin with or entirely comprise him shouting maniacally. It is Green’s unhinged lunacy that makes the film so… different. Highlights include him violently handbrake turning as he is bowled over by the sight of a horse’s penis, his horrifying misinterpretation of an advertising executive’s advice, his impersonation of an obnoxious stock broker during a dinner with his new girlfriend and the many altercations with his father Jim (Rip Torn).

Rip Torn’s performance is a highlight of the film, he is brilliantly cantankerous and frequently clashes with his son, he is the perfect adversary for Green’s proverbial slacker. He shows, quite understandably, no faith whatsoever in what he calls Gord’s ‘doodles’.

I’ve personally always had a fondness for Freddy Got Fingered. Even for its admirers, it can indeed be a tough, tiring watch from beginning to end, I think it largely depends on what mood you’re in. Once the viewer has endured what has become quite an infamous 1 hour and 23 minutes, it is a film that’s best revisited as separate puerile set pieces rather than as a full narrative.

But however you watch it, whether its by yourself with a cup of Earl Grey or with friends and much alcohol (a recommended method), it will ultimately always be funnier than Adam Sandler.

50%

Rise of the Footsoldier (2007)

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An amusing film about obnoxious people.

Rise of the Footsoldier is a true-crime British gangster film that is both appalling and funny in equal measure. The film charts the criminal career of Carlton Leach, an Essex hardnut who was conditioned by the massive violence of the football terraces before he made his bones in the criminal underworld. Playing Leach is Ricci Harnett, who gives an appropriately obnoxious performance. His face regularly has this fixed expression of arrogance and bad attitude, and as Leach gets older and something of a veteran of the Essex underworld, he becomes so tough and smug that he can barely smile or even speak.

The initial phases of the film concentrate on Leach, but the focus later shifts to ‘The Essex Boys’, a moniker referring to Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe. Whilst Rolfe was largely just a minion, Tucker and Tate were successful and feared drug dealers, Tucker being some sort of kingpin of South East England.

They were all very profane individuals, firing a medley of Anglo-Saxon at each other every sentence. For people like this, ‘Cunt’ is a staple word even in innocuous small talk, where it appears to simply mean ‘person’ rather than anything derogatory. I don’t object to the film’s language, I can imagine the vernacular is depicted quite accurately. Indeed, the sheer vulgarity of the film’s horrendous characters is actually rather amusing.

After a brief exploration of the 1990s ecstasy scene and a routine plot of a drug deal gone awry in which there’s a lot of torture and cruelty, the film covers the most interesting element of the story – the Rettendon murders in which Tucker, Tate and Rolfe were shot to death in a Land Rover.

It’s a comprehensive account, depicting the three different accounts that have been speculated by followers of the controversial event. The director Julian Gilbey also ensured that we understand just how much blood sprayed everywhere on that fateful December evening. Indeed, the camera seems to relish the violence throughout, zooming right in on people being tortured with various instruments and headbuttings that spatter ludicrous amounts of corn syrup everywhere. While some of it is appropriately grisly and stark, like violence should be in a crime film that takes itself seriously, a lot of it borders on being comically gratuitous.

Rise of the Footsoldier made me laugh, I even bought it on Blu-ray, but it nevertheless falls into the Pooey category. There’s some competent acting, but the film fails because the whole thing is largely bereft of pathos or insight, it’s just a load of cockneys with dodgy wigs swearing and leering with frequent outbursts of syrupy violence. Ultimately, the main problem may be that the subject matter just isn’t worth adapting for the screen. However, judging by the seemingly endless stream of films based around the blasted ‘Essex Boys’, it appears that the lower echelons of the British film industry still hasn’t considered such an idea.

50%

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

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Too much siege, not enough Alan.

When I first discovered the premise of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which is a siege of the North Norfolk Digital building by a disgruntled former employee, I was concerned that, like many big screen adaptations, Alan Partridge was departing from its humble, unspectacular roots.

By half way into the film, my concerns had unfortunately been confirmed. There are gun shots, fire-extinguishers to the face, explosions, armed policeman – it is by no means an action film, but since when was there such commotion in Alan’s life?

It was the desperate loneliness, alienation and banality of Alan’s life in the original TV series that made audiences laugh and cringe while pitying and sometimes despising the pathetic central character. When I got home completely deflated after watching Alpha Papa, I reminded myself of just how good Alan could be by watching YouTube clips of the 1997 series.

A single five minute scene of Alan attending a funeral captured the essence of the character. The dialogue is so rich, almost every line provided a laugh and I was cringing at Alan’s complete and utter social ineptitude. Throughout the series you learn Alan’s behaviour, it doesn’t take one long to know when Alan has an agenda; he is so self-centred, immature and incredibly tactless that the viewer can read him like a book. It’s both amusing and toe-curlingly embarrassing to see Alan converse with people and deal with his many problems.

All of the subtlety and character study is missing in the film. Alan is no longer a sad-man, a complete liability. He’s still cringe-worthy, particularly in scenes where he attempts to court a colleague, but none of the gags even scrape the surface of the programme’s brilliance.

The gags are really quite tired. They’re predictable and rehashed, particularly scenes that initially appear melodramatic but are then abruptly interrupted by an action or one-liner like a needle scratching across vinyl. There’s also a genre-aware armed stand-off scene towards the end where the characters have ‘humourous’, flippant exchanges despite the immediate danger in the style of In Bruges, only not funny. More than once I found myself sighing with disappointment and embarrassment at just how off-the-mark and rehashed the comedy was.

Much like the film’s premise, Coogan’s performance is overblown – he needed to reel himself in. There would be flashes of classic Partridge, but generally both the dialogue and slapstick comedy just died. I commend Coogan’s skill for miming perfectly to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy, but it just wasn’t as funny as his air bass performance of Gary Numan’s Music for Chameleons in the second series. Also, Alan doesn’t look right in the film. His appearance is still demonstrably uncool, but he isn’t as awfully square and repellent as he was in the series. If anything, Alan’s ageing process seems to be in reverse.

The two principal characters of the programme, Lynn, Alan’s devoted and criminally underpaid secretary, and Michael, Alan’s good natured friend, seldom appear in the film. These characters were crucial in the series as they revealed many facets of Alan’s personality, exposing just how self-absorbed and manipulative he is whilst also showing how utterly dependent he is on their attention.

We have the original team of Coogan and Iannucci, but it lacks almost every element that made the series so funny, eminently quotable and re-watchable. It shares very little in common with its televisual sibling, all Alpha Papa has is a caricature of a caricature and a thin, boring siege plot.

50%

The Iceman (2013)

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Read the book – ‘The Iceman’ is a woefully underdeveloped disappointment, even for those who know nothing about the man.

Having read Philip Carlo’s biography of Richard Kuklinski ‘The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer’, I can say that Ariel Vromen’s big screen adaptation ‘The Iceman’ is a big disappointment. While the author had a habit of repeating himself and some of Richard’s recollections seemed rather dubious in places, Carlo’s lengthy book was an engrossing read, I enjoyed it very much.

The problem with the film is that it’s awfully constructed; it’s all so terribly rushed. It fails to develop both the narrative and subsequently the character of Richard Kuklinski, glossing over almost everything that made the book such an interesting read. I appreciate that cramming in one’s life story into a screenplay can be a difficult task, however there are major flaws in the script that could have easily been avoided – it should’ve been scrapped and completely rewritten.

His unspeakably awful childhood, for instance, is covered with an utterly perfunctory flashback scene that lasts for all of about 15 seconds. This is a fatal mistake, because it was his harrowing formative years that shaped Richard.

Stanley Kuklinski, his deeply cruel father, conditioned his son with the daily violence he inflicted upon his whole family. After Stanley dealt Richard’s brother Florian a particularly malicious beating, he died from his injuries; the police were told that he fell down a flight of stairs. Richard’s mother was also a callous, unpleasant person; despite her zealous religious values she had no qualms about battering her children with a broom handle. Even when Richard sought solitude in the placidity of his local church as an altar boy, nuns would punish him by splitting the skin on his knuckles with the edge of a metal ruler. All of this relentless anguish was compounded by his family’s total destitution.

When 13-year-old Richard also became the victims of local bullies, it all became too much for him – he beat one of them to death with a pole and discarded his body with brutal efficiency. Kuklinski recalled that it was at this moment that he discovered ‘it was better to give than receive’. The passages of Carlo’s book that cover his youth make for appalling reading; unfortunately none of this power is to be found in Ariel Vromen’s rather boring adaptation.

Lacking also are the details of Kuklinski’s career. The book recalls Kuklinski’s methods of murder, the way he stalked his prey and his utter indifference towards his victims’ suffering. Very little of this was explored in the film, we get little more than a brief montage of random people being blown away – it’s all so damn rushed and disorganised. Considering what a desperately violent individual Kuklinski was, ‘The Iceman’ is a rather neutered production. It has none of the visceral qualities that shock you like in ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Goodfellas’, mob films that draw you into their brutal world where death is merely ‘business’.

Not only is the narrative woefully underdeveloped but it’s also sheer fiction in many instances. Despite having great dramatic material to work with, Ariel Vromen and Morgan Land decided that their own version of events were better. Even the more faithful scenes have been tweaked and messed about with for no discernible reason. For example, Roy DeMeo didn’t introduce Kuklinski to contract killing, he had already had a career with the New Jersey DeCavalcante crime family and had killed scores of people both professionally and privately. It also forgets to depict the savage beatings Richard used to give his wife Barbara and the pernicious effect it had on the family dynamic.

As you have probably heard, Michael Shannon is the highlight of the film. Much like the real man, he has a steely reserve and an explosive temper; he also resembles him in both appearance and speech. However, despite his best efforts, Shannon is completely let down by the script. While Shannon is indeed cold and calculated, the film fails to truly capture Kuklinski’s aura of menace and particularly his notoriety in Mafiadom.

While the performances are fine, ‘The Iceman’ is quite frankly ruined by total underdevelopment. If I had entered the film with no knowledge of the man, I would have found it a boring, mediocre mob film. But knowing the depth and drama of this tragic figure means that ‘The Iceman’ is a complete misfire that deserves much more. The only thing that it successfully achieved was the credibility of its period styling.

50%

God Bless America (2012)

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The lead character is boringly cynical, stewing too much in self-pity.

‘God Bless America’ is a preachy, irritating film that ultimately failed to resonate with me. I regularly shared the sentiment of the film’s protagonist, I too hate the culture the film attacks, but he’s so tiringly cynical and grumpy that he loses pathos and becomes difficult to relate to. Though he is articulate, Frank (Joel Murray) started to remind me of the generalising fools with chips on their shoulders who smugly moan on and on about standards of education and the justice system as if they know what they’re talking about. While Frank was generally far more correct than people of this ilk, his unadulterated negativity meant that partial comparison became unavoidable.

So almost immediately, there was a big problem, but then it got worse, the film’s credibility sank upon the arrival of Roxy (Tara Lynee Barr), Frank’s annoying little side-kick. Their ensuing double act killed it – it’s just fantastical and silly. Though the film taps into your pet hates and everyday annoyances, its lack of reality means that it isn’t half as effective as ‘Falling Down’, which while it is rather manipulative manages to resonate through being funny, tragic, satiating and for the most part, realistic.

It is Roxy that places ‘God Save America’ alongside the awful pseudo-superhero film ‘Super’, but thankfully Tara Lynne Barr’s acting isn’t as unbearably irritating as Ellen Page’s.

There’s also a moment that copies the gun salesman scene in ‘Taxi Driver’ almost verbatim, something that I found more of an offence than some sort of homage.

A merit would be that some of the slayings are indeed quite funny in their brutality, especially one concerning a vile creature from those awful ‘Super Sweet 16’ programmes. Ultimately, the film unfortunately loses the steam it mustered in its opening.

57%

Blade Runner (1982)

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Admittedly this shot makes Blade Runner look quite good, but trust me, there is little beyond the iconic imagery.

Fatally overrated, this film is remarkably dull

Blade Runner is nothing more than a visual spectacle, and its special effects are quickly failing the test of time, which means it’s swiftly losing the only feature that could be considered somewhat redeeming. The film is remarkably flat, in terms of both its characters and narrative; it is completely unengaging in its entirety. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is assigned to find and kill ‘replicants’, which are ‘biorobots’ that have been declared illegal on Earth. The replicants effortlessly blend into society as they look and behave exactly like humans, their cover is blown only through detecting their lack of empathy.

Many people revel in the many different cuts and theories of ‘Blade Runner’, it’s got a prominent cult following. That’s fair enough, but on initial viewing I was left bored stiff – when it comes to sinister cybernetic organisms, it doesn’t get better than ‘The Terminator’ (1984)

This clinical, emotionally detached approach is common in many of Ridley Scott’s earlier work; the whole crew of ‘Alien’ were forgettable, much like the cast of ‘Blade Runner’. I didn’t sympathise with or fear any character, leading to its conventional, tired plot lacking any device to thrill, entertain or ultimately keep me watching. It took an act of will and devotion towards my friend (who is a fan of BR) to endure the whole thing.

I have been aware of the film and its reputation for years, however I had never been that interested in seeing it, but I felt obliged to see it, I’d always get looks and utterances of mock outrage when I said I hadn’t seen it. Well, now I have, and next time I can reply with ‘Yes, I have seen it, and it’s one of the most overrated films I have ever seen.’

50%

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

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No matter how hard I try, I just cannot like this film in its entirety.

‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ is ultimately something of a snorefest; watch this with even a grain of lethargy and you’ll be lost. And that’s a shame, because there is much artistic merit to be found in the film. The killer Wang Chung soundtrack compliments stylish sequences throughout, and is especially effective when capturing the Los Angeles landscape. The opening montage is very striking both visually and aurally; the sequence showing Master’s counterfeiting procedure is also a pleasure to watch. Sadly though, the first twenty minutes and the closing credits of the film are the most interesting and engaging.

Surprisingly even its stylistic flair becomes tired, Wang Chung is overused and placed in sequences that just don’t require it. ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ could’ve been far tauter; it rouses you from your catatonic state only a few times with its surprising violence and of course that famous lengthy car chase.

The premise is simply Richard Chance’s (William L. Peterson) relentless pursuit of a murderous counterfeiter named Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe) who has killed Chance’s partner and ‘best friend for seven years’. Chance, whose safety is hindered in the haze of his own hubris, is prepared to do whatever it takes to put an end to masters, even if it means breaking the law he enforces. Peterson’s anti-hero is certainly clichéd; when presented with his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow), he delivers the common ‘You know I work alone’ trope.

In its entirety, ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ is a superficial, viewer-unfriendly production that just doesn’t engage its audience. The characters are unsubstantial, the plot is tediously bloated and hard to follow and its aesthetic redeeming features soon become tired over its 1hr 56 minutes. Not even its director William Friedkin could save it; it wouldn’t be until his collaboration with writer Tracy Letts 20 years later that he would return to the form of ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The French Connection’.

55%

The Loved Ones (2009)

The Loved Ones

‘The Loved Ones’ is ultimately an exercise in frustration and indignation.

‘The Loved Ones’ is a well-made film, but it’s also hollow and nasty. It takes a developed, sympathetic character and subjects him to an array of torture and humiliation at the hands of Lola and ‘Daddy’, a vile father/daughter serial killing partnership.

The film drew significant parallels with ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, a film I like. The difference between the two is that ‘The Loved Ones’ is far crueler; the protracted scenes of humiliation and violence left me utterly indignant. ‘Chainsaw Massacre’ is also an iconic, genre defining piece of work; this film is merely one of its many imitators.

Tough films such as the fellow Australian horror ‘Wolf Creek’ serve as an endurance test; they’re full of tension, suspense and eventually unflinching brutality. They’re straightforward and not particularly good, but they do have a purpose, albeit a doubtful one. ‘The Loved Ones’ however is just overbearingly frustrating; how can anyone derive anything but negative emotion out of watching an innocent character being tied to a chair and tortured?

As I watched their exploits, I realised that Lola and ‘Daddy’ were such reprehensible characters that no come-uppance would be satisfying enough, my growing bloodlust would have only been satiated if I’d been able to jump into the frame and exact hyper-violent justice myself.

The effect the film had on me is clearly testament to the power of it. There’s no doubt that it’s taut, well made and well-acted, however ‘The Loved Ones’ is ultimately an exercise in frustration and indignation.

55%

Peeping Tom (1960)

 Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom has undeservedly become a critics’ darling.

Peeping Tom follows Mark Lewis, an introverted voyeur living in his late father’s large London property. To help make ends meet, Mark lets part of the house out to several people. One of his tenants is Helen Stephens, a sweet young woman who befriends him out of pity. Throughout the film Mark struggles to conceal his voyeuristic habit from her.

However, Mark Lewis is not just a peeping tom, he’s a murderer who records his crimes for warped posterity. Despite this, the film is has dated badly – the passage of time has neutered a film that wasn’t particularly disturbing in the first place. Clearly, the film is going to date, it’s 52 years old, but so is Psycho, which covers similar ground but in a appropriately graphic manner.

In a screening of the Hitchcock classic at my local independent cinema, I was surprised by the genuine anxiety I felt during the half-hour or so before the shower scene. This is the film’s defining moment; it is a classic example of a director battering his audience with what they believe is explicit violence when in fact he has shown very little. Michael Powell makes no such illusions in this film – he shows very little, period. For example, in this scene, Mark approaches one of his victims with a blade attached to his camera, and just before the blade makes contact, the woman falls out of frame, shrilly screaming “Mark!”.

Most modern audiences will agree that this just doesn’t cut it anymore. This scene depicts the creation of a snuff film, but it doesn’t feel like it, does it? Mark shares common ground with people like Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, the sordid serial killer partnership whose recordings make for deeply, deeply disturbing viewing. Peeping Tom should feel like a descent into one man’s world of degeneracy, a twisted existence that’s punctuated by lapses into frenzied sexual violence and eroticised death. This can be done without tasteless exploitation, the most germane example I can think of is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). 

Powell should be commended for approaching these darkest of themes, but his work just doesn’t hold up today. To think this film was given an ’18’ certificate as recently as 2001 is nothing short of baffling. The BBFC have since given the film a 15 certificate, but I think a 12 rating would be appropriate.

The lack of visceral edge is exacerbated by poor acting from almost the entire cast. Performances both wooden and overacted drag you further out of the film; it becomes an even bigger problem than its dated violence. However, thanks to Carl Boehm’s generally competent performance, Mark Lewis is the only interesting and somewhat credible character, but even Boehm is guilty of being badly stilted in places.

The only thing that’s noteworthy about this film is its historical audacity. This film was addressing themes that didn’t begin to approach mainstream until the 1970s, the New Hollywood era of rapidly changing opinions on sex and violence. If it had been released 15 years later and not championed by Martin Scorsese and various critics, it may well have faded into obscurity.

50%

Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful

It’s ultimately a rather exploitative tear-jerker

I entered ‘Life Is Beautiful’ not really knowing what to expect; I certainly didn’t anticipate a part slapstick comedy. The film charts Guido’s (Roberto Benigni) romantic pursuit of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), their married life, the birth of their son, and finally their removal from Italy into an extermination camp by the Nazis. The initial phase of the story is quite pleasant and sometimes funny, it has numerous running gags all concerning Guido, most of which he uses spontaneously to impress and bemuse his love interest Dora.

Guido is an affable, happy-go-lucky character, his spontaneous charm works well overall, especially in a scene where he manipulates an important guest’s choice of dinner and in another where he comically translates a rather ominous looking Nazi. However, he can become exhausting, and he also becomes somewhat brash considering his surroundings in the latter half of the film.

This brings me on to the depiction of the Holocaust. Guido’s escapades within the camp are completely implausible and rather stupid, he sneaks around being his effervescent self whilst it is clear that in reality he would’ve been shot on sight almost immediately. The film doesn’t offer hope because of its sheer implausibility, all it achieves really is trivialising the Holocaust. This film is rather like the term ‘Ethnic Cleansing’, it doesn’t work because it’s impossible and perhaps insulting to try and euphemise genocide.

I’m not sure who the film’s target audience is. Is it a children’s film? That is one of the few ways I could perhaps see it working, as a method of introducing a young mind to the holocaust. But there is a problem with this, too, the film doesn’t even begin to offer an insight into the haunting evil of the holocaust. Instead, the audience gets a completely maudlin tale of ‘spirit’ and ‘hope’ that, with very little veracity, exploits one of humanity’s greatest evils for the sake of saccharine pathos.

Judging from others’ opinions, I think this film will bode well with the overly sentimental who enjoy crying and disregard credibility.

58%

Gangster Squad (2013)

GANGSTER SQUAD

A dull, rehashed disappointment

I had read many damning reviews of ‘Gangster Squad’, however I was ready to accept it as mere pulp fiction, and during the opening 40 minutes or so, it seemed like I would be able to, but by the closing credits, I discovered it wasn’t even good enough for that.

The film tells the story, which is ‘inspired by real events’, of a covert group of tough police officers who endeavour to stop Mickey Cohen’s criminal activity encroaching on Los Angeles. Strangely, the film boasts a popular cast with the likes of Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte.

It establishes its characters and premise pleasingly enough, but ultimately it fails to deliver through a lack of humour, narrative baggage, clichés and a slew of boring stock characters. The film draws parallels with the infinitely superior ‘LA Confidential’, however there are more similarities with ‘The Expendables’, only without the laughs and nostalgia.

When it attempts to create even a slight portion of pathos, it’s baggy and dull; the film is bereft of any emotional weight whatsoever. The film operated more like a video game than a film, with its silly elaborate action scenes and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) feeling like the ‘boss’ villain rather than a human character. Actually, that comparison isn’t fair on the gaming industry; I have played and completed ‘Mafia II’, which has far more in the way of developed characters and narrative.

The film’s sole interest is period style; substance and veracity aren’t its top priorities. What occurs on screen is pure fantasy; the extent of its historical accuracy doesn’t go far beyond the fact that there was once indeed a man named ‘Mickey Cohen’ who wasn’t particularly nice.

The allure of 1940s Hollywood and its strong cast will bring ‘Gangster Squad’ to the attention of many people, however it is a formulaic, mediocre and superficial rehashing of films such as ‘Chinatown’ and ‘L.A. Confidential’.

50%