Precinct Seven Five Review

Originally being shown at Sundance in 2014, Precinct Seven Five almost slipped under the radar with me. I only found out about it when looking up the releases that were scheduled for the 2015 summer period, and upon investigation I became extremely excited to watch it. Does it live up to the expectations and the reviews?

Precinct Seven Five stars Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw and Dori Eurell and is directed by Tiller Russell. Focusing on the 75th Precinct in New York City during the crime rise of the 1980s and the 1990s, Precinct Seven Five follows the cops who used the situation to their advantage, becoming both police officers and criminals.

Precinct Seven Five starts with the testimony and trial of police officer Michael Dowd. He starts to be quizzed by a member of the commission and he admits to the crimes that he has committed over the past years. Burglary, extortion, drug trafficking, its all here. It’s a brilliant way to start the film, giving us a list of the crimes that we are about to see unravel in the film, knowing that eventually, they will all come back to put him behind bars. The film keeps jumping back to the testimony every ten to twenty minutes, with these brief exchanges telling us the audience that a new sequence of debauched acts are about to take place.

The amount of research and footage is amazing. Credit to the filmmakers for probably pouring through hours of news footage, mugshots, maps and tape recordings. But all that time spent pays off, with the film seamlessly flitting from one to the other, filling in the backstory and showing us the situation in New York in the late 80s. Credit must also be given to the filmmakers for being able to find all of the major people involved and getting them to agree to share their stories.

We spend the majority of the films running time with the retired cops Michael Dowd and Ken Eurell, and their eventual descent into the life of crime. Even so, the film paints the two in a light where we understand what their motivation for becoming a little bit crooked. It’s like a good Scorsese film, we relate to the main character even when they’re destroying the innocent lives around them. It gets to a point in Precinct Seven Five when a former gang boss who the pair worked for subtly hints that he may have had a man killed, and you find yourself unable to root against the two main players.

To go back to the comparison with Martin Scorsese, the film, despite being a documentary, follows a chronological sequence, with the interviews of Dowd and Eurell, along with fellow officers “Chicky” and Walter being brought back in and out when the film calls for it. The story feels just like one of the famed directors best works, as we watch the ultimately flawed individuals reap the rewards of being a crooked cop and not stop when they going was good and resting on their ill gotten gains. Instead we watch, getting almost infuriated as we watch them lose everything around them.

There are moments when the film cuts away to other cops, such as Joe Hall and DEA agent Mike Norster who were tracking the corrupt cops down, and it feels much like The Departed or Infernal Affairs, rather than something that actually took place. There are even times when car chases and shootouts are the subject of the film, and even though most of the time all we have is the narration and the real footage (with small parts of reconstruction), the film is still a lot more pulse pounding and thrilling than it really should be. It’s sometimes even better than some recent cop dramas.

The only problem I had with Precinct Seven Five was the length of it. Even though the film is only around one hour and forty minutes, the film feels a lot longer than it is. It may be due to the fact of the repetitive nature of the film. By the third or fourth time we’ve seen or heard that Dowd and Eurell are getting deeper and deeper into the world of crime, it feels like we’ve heard the overall narrative before with only the minutest difference in the details. However, the film does come back around again in the final ten minutes with another Scorsese-esque moment, giving the ending a really good punch. Stick around during the first few moments of the credits as well for one last interview where the police officer Joe Hall tells the story of watching Dowd eventually go to jail.

In conclusion, Precinct Seven Five is a thrilling and exciting documentary with a main story that is on a par with most classic gangster films. If you can stomach the copious amounts of swearing and the gruesome injury detail that is sometimes shown or mentioned, then you’ll see one of the greatest hits of the summer.

Score: 9/10 A crime story so enthralling you’ll find it hard to believe it was true.

Trainwreck Review

Judd Apatow is said to be one of the best comedy directors around today. With several films such as Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Funny People under his belt, it seems like he is consistently creating funnier and funnier films. Can Trainwreck follow these earlier hits?

Trainwreck stars Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, LeBron James and John Cena and is directed by Judd Apatow. The film follows Amy (Schumer), who after being told by her dad (Quinn) as a young girl that monogamy isn’t realistic, lives her life as a series of sexual flings. But soon, a young doctor (Hader) appears in her life, and Amy starts to think is her single life as good as it seems?

The cast and acting is phenomenal. Amy Schumer is looking to be the next biggest hit in comedy, and Trainwreck cements her new role as one of the funniest female comics today. Her chemistry with Bill Hader as Aaron seems very real, and they bounce well off each other. John Cena turns in a very respectable performance, actually having some character rather than just being a set of pectorals and abs. The only weak performances are given by LeBron James (playing himself), which is very one-note and wooden and an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton who is Amy’s boss. She has a very plummy British accent which seems rather annoying and most of her jokes and lines are just not funny.

The jokes come at a rapid pace, from the very first scene to the last. The first scene in particular, where a young Amy and her sister are being told by their dad “monogamy isn’t realistic” is a brilliant scene, full of child interpretations of cheating on your spouse. A recurring joke about a black and white film called The Dog Walker featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei is funny as it is a brutal satire on the more “art house” and Sundance style of filmmaking. There is also a nice little nod to Woody Allen’s Manhattan halfway throughout the film, with a funny sexual pun at the end. The script shows that Schumer is a brilliant writer and she has a knack for creating jokes when you least expect it, making them even funnier. However, there are quite a few jokes that don’t work or just feel really off kilter. An extended joke about Cleveland, Ohio, which probably doesn’t make much sense for audiences outside of the US, is pretty dire, but that’s not even the worst part. Racism, homophobia and ethnic slurs are used, mostly by Colin Quinn as Amy’s father, but they are not used to subvert the stereotypes used. The scenes are just long enough for it to start feeling just a bit too awkward before the script jumps back to a less offensive character.

The film also references several current events and cultural events, which might seem fine now but after a few years the film will seem incredibly dated. Game Of Thrones’ Red Wedding (which was two years ago at time of writing) a child talking about Minecraft and the several cameos of famous sport stars, they all feel like they’re going to be obsolete conversations and people in the future, and some just feel tacked on just for the sake of naming them in the film.

Along with Tilda Swinton’s boring character and the off-colour jokes, the other problem I have with the film is not diverting from the Classic Hollywood Narrative. The CHN (as it’s known within the industry) is a very clichéd plot sequence that everyone has probably seen a thousand times i.e. boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl argue and break up, they both look out windows while soft music plays in the background and finally reconcile and get back together. It’s the film that Matthew McConaughey has made several hundred times under different names. Trainwreck doesn’t deviate from this plan at all, even doing the clichéd montage of the person getting their life in order at the end of the film. It’s only the script that makes the film stand apart from its shackles of a cookie cutter story, but that’s all it needs to create a big enough wave in the comedy genre.

In conclusion, Trainwreck is one of the funniest films I have seen in the cinemas in a long time. Laughing at least ten times before the main titles had even flashed up on the screen, it’s a brilliant new take from a excellent new female voice, a role which until recently only seemed to be filled by Melissa McCarthy. Give this film your time, you won’t regret it.

Score: 9/10 One of the best comedies of 2015.

Slow West Review

After a long hiatus, Western’s seem to be coming back into our cinemas. While some like The Lone Ranger have been shameless cash-ins, others like Salvation have been critical successes. Will Slow West, the newest entry into the Western genre, be one of the latter, or will it fail to ignite audiences?

Slow West stars Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smitt-McPhee, Caren Pistorius and Ben Mendelsohn, with John MacLean both writing and directing. The story follows a young boy called Jay (Smitt-McPhee) as he travels from Scotland to the west of America to find his love Rose (Pistorius) when she flees for her life. On his way he encounters the dangerous Silas (Fassbender) and his old gang.

The set-up is one of the most basic of stories. It’s basically the one hundereth retelling of Romeo and Juliet, this time set in the Wild West. That Wild West (represented here by New Zealand) however is beautiful. Throughout the film our heroes and villains trek through several miles of desert and forest, so we see several stunning landscapes which are breathtaking. Credit is due to cinematographer Robbie Ryan for capturing these shots.

Slow West flips between the trek from east to west of America with Silas and Jay and then back to Scotland to Jay and Rose, their supposed blossoming relationship and the act that makes Rose flee along with her father. The back-story is interesting and engaging, before we are catapulted back to the main story. Even though flipping back to a “shameful escape” it’s an overused trope of storytelling, the Scottish seaside that we see is just like the New Zealand Wild West, beautiful and for a few moments, actually breathtaking.

The film is near silent most of the time, with only small interupptions by Kodi Smitt-McPhee which are soon silenced by a death stare given off by Michael Fassbender. For a time the film does starts to just feel like a travelogue of New Zealand with some period costumes thrown in, but what it is a build up to a final third act gun battle that is spectacular.

The final shootout is one of the most well directed shootouts I have seen since John Wick. With a contrast of wooden prairie houses, wheatfields, and wide open expanses all being used for the shootout and with none of them feeling out of place, and with five different parties playing a violent game of whack-a-mole in the wheatfield, it’s a memorable scene to watch. It’s even at moments bloody, with gaping bullet wounds adorning both our heroes and villains. There is even a small little Star Wars reference with the last kill. Once we have our last man/woman standing, we get a run-down of all the bodies left in the wake of not just the final shootout, but all of the unattended and unburied bodies that have been littered throughout the film, from the final scene to the very first. it’s a solemn reminder of the bloody death that the Wild West will deliver you if you are not alert.

The film is as the name implies, a slow build, and this is where some of the audience might be left in wanting. At 84 minutes, the film is pretty short for most cinema releases, but with only the final ten minutes being the pay off for over an hour of build up, some audience members might feel cheated. This isn’t your old-skool John Wayne style cowboy flick, or an irreverent Django Unchained style murder-fest. It’s a slow, artsy think piece with the trappings of cowboy stereotypes.

In summary, Slow West is a film that will not be for everyone. It’s slow pace, near mute characters and constant build up to the final scene will definitely alienate some viewers. But if you stick with it you will find one of the most artistically beautiful and best films of the year.

Score: 9/10 Destined to be a classic in the Western genre

The House At The End Of Time Review

Preface

Back in late 2014 a playable teaser/trailer for Silent Hills was announced to the world. I was drawn to the teaser/trailer, for it’s use of horror and mind-bending puzzles. Once I had watched the teaser many times, I began a search on the Internet for various theories for what all the different clues left throughout meant. I went through several videos and sites, each one with a different interpretation, from the credible to the tenuous. Then I came across one by games journalist Jane Douglas, who referenced a 2013 Venezuelan horror film that was similar to the teaser, La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos, or The House At The End Of Time for non-Spanish speakers. I checked out the trailer soon after and well, here we are.

Review

The House At The End Of Time stars Ruddy Rodriguez, Gonzalo Cubero, Rosmel Bustamante and Guillermo Garcia and is directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. When Dulce (Rodriguez) supposedly murders her husband and son (Cubero and Bustamente respectively), she is sent to prison, despite claiming she did not do it. Thirty years later she returns to the house where she apparently killed them, while a local priest (Garcia) tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Trailers are a funny thing. Looking at the trailer and the poster (the trailer will be below) you would be forgiven into thinking this is just another haunted house film with subtitles. This is not the case. While there are many scary moments of both varieties, jump scares and extended sequences of pure terror, these aren’t the main focus of the film. Instead the film has quite a beautiful story about motherhood, siblings, loss and regret with some scary moments sprinkled on top. It’s not the first film to suffer from bad promotion, and it certainly won’t be the last. But while some films might not recover from that, The House At The End Of Time manages to get around that problem by having some genuinely heartbreaking moments in the second half of the film as well as not giving away it’s story within said trailer.

Even though the set-up is one of the clichéd in the horror genre, The House At The End Of Time brings enough fresh ideas with its story for the setting to not get stale. Some of the scares come from stock scares (silhouettes moving about and doors rattling), but these scenes are made to stand out by how well shot they are. Kudos to cinematographer Cezary Jaworski for some truly mesmerising shots. The two first scares are ones that will stay with you just for how gorgeous they look. It’s amazing how something as simple as a rattling door handle can be so terrifying.

The acting is well done by all involved. While the make-up that transforms Rodriguez from 30 years old to 60 is a little unconvincing at the start, but her movements and actions make it seem a little more believable. Praise should go to the two child actors Rosmel Bustamante and Hector Mercado, who unlike normal child actors are actually quite good. Come the second half, Bustamente really comes into his own when confronted by the horrors that the house hides, and displays some heartfelt emotion.

I’ve left off talking about the details of story until now apart from the small setup in my introduction. And it’s going to stay that way. Even though I have the policy of no spoilers on this website, I refuse to even let the small details of this film be let free. You will thank me for it when you watch it; because The House At The End of Time’s plot is one of the most ingenuous I’ve seen in a long time. Some people will require a second viewing to snag all of the major clues, but the film manages to slowly reveal it’s hand without feeling like it’s just telling the audience what’s happening. My jaw was hanging open during the final scenes, staggered at how amazing the plot had been crafted.

There is one small fault I had with the film. Even though the plot is crafted excellently, there is one plot point (funnily enough, the one that puts the whole plot in motion) that comes out of nowhere. Maybe I just missed a subtitle that explained it, but even if I did, it’s still a “What the…” moment because it’s such a left field move. Either way, the plot picks it up and just runs with it and you become engrossed in the film again quite quickly.

In summary, The House At The End Of Time is a good horror film wrapped around a fiendishly clever plot. It’s available both on DVD and to stream, so go and watch it now.

Score: 9/10 One of the most suspenseful and imaginative thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Preface

This review come courtesy of Galleon newspaper film critic Zach Lockwood, who after coming back from the opening day screening offered to write a review for the website. Thanks Zach!

Review

If there was one thing that was consistent in the original Mad Max trilogy, it would be the madness. The post-apocalyptic madness of Australian policeman Max, played by Mel Gibson, setting out to track down a vicious biker gang in the first part of the trilogy Mad Max.  Then the sequel The Road Warrior (and very much the best of the three) is basically a futuristic Seven Samurai. Finishing with Beyond Thunderdome whose narrative is so convoluted its barley possible to give a 50-word synopsis. One key theme follows all of these movies, madness. The outlandish design of the cars, costumes and landscape paints a horrifyingly punk-western future of the human race. Mad Max: Fury Road has that same element of madness, that takes the normal action movie, and blows it completely out of the water, and for the first time, George Miller (director, writer and producer) has got it right.

Max, played by Tom Hardy, is a survivor, living through the apocalypse that’s seen the world vying for commodities such as oil, water and bullets. Captured by the warrior slaves of Immortan Joe, self-elected God of the Citadel, Max finds himself tied to the front of Nux’s (Nicholas Holt) Death Race style desert car, leading the tirade of post-apocalyptic gothic vehicles in pursuit of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who’s escaped from the clutches of Immortan Joe with his slave wives (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee).

If I’m entirely honest it is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. As it’s a continuation of the original Mad Max trilogy, and not a prequel/reboot, it would seem odd to cast Tom Hardy who looks nothing like Mel Gibson. He also seems to be channelling an even more silent and grizzly Harrison Ford from Blade Runner. The film is also near silent, with very little dialogue, which may seem a wise decision post-casting four catwalk models as leads. The film has the look of Rodríguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, powerful reds and oranges highlighted by long wide shots of the deserts and the multitude of vehicles smashing and crashing into each other. The cinematography is breathtaking, and I would advise anyone to see this film in IMAX if they have the slightest opportunity. Saying that the 3D as usual is interesting in the first twenty minutes with multiple in your face action, but after that it just serves no purpose. There are many flashback scenes that Max has, hinting at the original trilogy with the murders of his wife and child, but other than that it doesn’t really delve into the original that much.

This film is not only one of the best of the years so far, I would find it very hard to think of any film other than the forthcoming James Bond film SPECTRE and the Star Wars sequel that could challenge Mad Max: Fury Road for best film of the year. Tom Hardy in his dialogue-free acting is electrifying. George Miller has assembled and directed a fantastic female cast, giving new voices to the action genre. Few people were expecting powerful feminism from the Mad Max franchise, yet here it is, and it’s refreshing to see. But most of the fun is in watching the magnificently eccentric and crazy world that Miller has created over four films. The cars that are just a mish-mash of what can be found at the nearest scrap yard with an engine attached. The violence is revolutionary for the action genre, evoking the films title, ‘mad’ in every punch, explosion and gunshot. It’s very surprising to see a clear blockbuster explosion film deliver so well without having to leave your brain at the door. The dialogue is punchy and the visual effects are spectacular. This isn’t just a great summer blockbuster; it’s a great film.

Score: 9/10 Thirty years on, George Miller still has it in him to create a great action film

David Lynch Collection Review

Preface

This review has been a while in the making. I first teased this collection on my Twitter feed nearly a full month ago, but I finally thought I should start now, after finishing the last film I wanted to feature on this list. This collection review will work much like my Bruce Lee one, yet this time focussing on the director David Lynch.

I love David Lynch. I believe he is one of the best directors alive today, with his creation of epic-spanning surrealist nightmares and non-linear narratives getting him both lauded and criticised in the film world. The seven films I chose for this review are:

  • Dune
  • Eraserhead
  • Blue Velvet
  • Lost Highway
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Inland Empire
  • Wild At Heart

A brief warning, nearly all of these films contain copious amounts of swearing, violence, nudity, and a few contain some of the most unsettling and foreboding moments in cinema. Watch them at your own discretion.

Dune

Lynch’s first big-budget studio film, Dune is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel of the same name. Featuring Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, a son of the Duke of Atreides, one of the several warring partners in the empire of space. The film focuses on the struggle over the planet Dune, which is rich in the spice required for interstellar travel. Featuring a vast array of talented actors, Dune also features some impressive miniature work, with Herbert’s giant Sandworm being a standout attraction. Also be on the lookout for Lynch’s cameo and the soundtrack composed by Toto.

Score: 8/10 It’s a bit like Game of Thrones in space.

Eraserhead

Lynch’s first feature film, and one that is made of nightmares. Eraserhead is about a man named Henry (played by another Lynch regular Jack Nance), who after his wife gives birth to a deformed mutant, leaves him and the new baby to fend for themselves in the post-apocalyptic dystopia. Shot in stark black and white, this is the start of Lynch’s surrealist imagery, with stop-motion chicken breasts, gruesome body horror, and a chilling song with the famous Lynch line, “In heaven, everything is fine.” The constant crying of Henry’s child is laced throughout the film, making the film one of the most disturbing of the bunch.

Score: 7/10 Not one to watch before you go to sleep

Blue Velvet

Probably the sanest and easily to follow of the film on this list. Kyle MacLachlan returns again, this time playing Jeffrey Beaumont, who returns home after his father is hospitalised. While on a walk, Jeffrey discovers a severed ear in a field, and starts his own investigation into the mystery, when the police go nowhere with the case. Dennis Hopper’s portrayal of sadistic criminal Frank Booth is one of the most memorable villains within cinema history, while Isabella Rossellini portrayal of his abused plaything Dorothy is unnerving. Video game fans will get a kick out of several scenes within the film that were recreated in Silent Hill 2.

Score 10/10 Lynch’s best film by far.

Lost Highway

A twisting narrative of parallel lives and invasions of privacy, Lost Highway features Bill Pullman as jazz musician Fred, who keeps receiving tapes of him sleeping in is bed. Again featuring an all star cast, with an unnerving performance by Robert Blake as the Mystery Man, Lost Highway has some of the more frightening flashes of Lynch’s filmography, (viscerally similar to the hells scenes from Event Horizon), yet stumbles around the halfway mark with some rather boring story points. In the end it all comes together, but this one you might need to read several internet theories to eventually get.

Score: 5/10 Visceral and unsettling in places, but it’s not one of Lynch’s greatest works.

Mulholland Drive

After an attempted assassination/car crash on the eponymous street, a woman called Rita (Played by Laura Harring) is left with amnesia. She stumbles across aspiring actress Diane (played by Naomi Watts) and together the two set off to find what actually happened to Rita on Mulholland Drive. With several Lynch cast alumni featuring, along with an odd bit of casting in the form of Billy Ray Cyrus, Mulholland Drive is a brainteaser that answers more and more questions with each repeat viewing, with everything drenched in symbolism. With several startling moments and foreboding imagery, it’s a feast for the senses.

Score 10/10 This is one you’ll keep coming back to.

Inland Empire

Lynch’s most recent work and also his longest, at just under three hours. Inland Empire could be considered a very loose adaptation of anime classic Perfect Blue, with Laura Dern playing actress Susan, who while filming her latest film starts to lose her grip on reality. The closest thing to a horror movie that Lynch has created, with several scenes making me jump out of my seat with fright, Inland Empire has many of Lynch’s scariest moments. The three hour run time might be a bit too long for some, along with the meandering story, which feels like it’s about to end before going on for an extra half an hour. Plow through it though and you’ll have some of the most frightening and surreal images ever committed to film burned into your psyche forever. Stick around for the credits and you’ll be treated to nearly all the cast singing and dancing to Nina Simone’s Sinnerman.

Score: 6/10 The run time kicks the legs out from Inland Empire, but it is still a clever and enjoyable (in a horror way) film.

Wild At Heart

A romantic/crime road trip based on the novel of the same name, featuring Nicolas Cage as Sailor and Laura Dern (again) as Lula. While some of the subject matter discussed and shown, including, childhood abuse, murder, shotgun injuries and a ridiculous amount of sex can be off-putting to several audience members, what is left is a darkly funny script about two people who are in love. Nicolas Cage is as crazy as usual, and extra praise should be given to the bad guy Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe, who exudes menace. Throw in a superb rock and roll soundtrack, and you got yourself a pretty good movie.

Score: 9/10 A fun neo-noir thrill ride.

White God Review

Name the film. Socio-political allegory involving animals that turn on their once human caretakers/slave masters in a violent bloodbath that evokes the video nasties of the 1970s and 80s? 2011s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes I hear you say? No, this is White God.

White God is an odd film to describe the premise of. Raised eyebrows and scoffs of incredulity usually follow the synopsis, but there in lies White God’s charm. White God is about a young girl called Lili, who when staying with her absent father, is not allowed to keep her mixed breed dog Hagen. Her father is therefore given no option other than leave it on the side of the street, leaving the innocent Hagen to fend for himself on the tough Budapest streets.

White God is notable for winning the “Un Certain Regard” award at Cannes, which kind of sums up where the film is going. “Un Certain Regard” winners are said to be the films that are “original and different”, so you can tell a film that takes the premise of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and substitutes the apes for dogs is going to be a hell of a ride.

To start, the practical effects are stunning. I can’t even comprehend how the film crew managed to keep 274 dogs (a world record for film) all under control, making them the standout of the film. Credit to the animal trainer, Arpad Halasz, for creating believable stampedes and fight scenes involving the dogs, and to the dogs themselves, who each get their name on the end credits. Praise should also be given to cinematographer Marcell Rev, for beautifully capturing Budapest’s skyline and the haunting city streets. Rev does however, have a penchant to Grengrass-esque handheld cam, which does become a bit of an annoyance when he is obscuring characters or the dogs.

The acting is a bit sloppy, with many characters feeling one-note and token. Zsofia Psotta as the main character Lili, is very wooden, but comes into her own at the end. The most notable characters are her father Daniel, played by Sandor Zsoter, who bucks the Hollywood stereotype absent father by being quite ruthless before displaying heartfelt emotion in the second half, and Luke and Body, the dogs that play Hagen. We are with Hagen for the majority of the film, and despite being an animal, we are able to gauge his every emotion without any words being said.

Be warned though, if you are not a fan of violence and gore, you will find it hard to get through White God. In the screening I was present at, there were a few walkouts, and even I, someone who is a fan of ultra-violence such as The Raid or Audition was finding it hard to watch a few of the scenes. In the middle of the film, Hagen is taken to become a dog fighter, and we are bare witness to his punishing fitness regime. Whips and flogs are used on our canine protagonist, his whimpers punctuating the soundtrack, making for some genuinely unnerving scenes. The actual dogfight as well, where two dogs at set at each other’s throats, is brutal and bloody, and hard to keep watching because of it. But it’s the later scenes, where the violence and scale is taken to the whole city, where the dogs leave massacres in their wake that is the truly gripping stuff. We see the aftermath at the very beginning of the film, where the city is eerily quiet and abandoned, similar to a zombie movie.

White God is a film that will fill you with feelings, despair, fear, elation and joy. It’s a film that also had me welling up at its poignant ending. I can’t remember the last time I nearly cried at a film (Okay, yes I can, it was last week when I first watched My Neighbour Totoro, but shut up I’m trying to make a point here) and White God’s final line of “Let them have a little more time” brings the film crashing to earth with the cruelty that will inevitably happen off screen. If it’s coming to screen near you, go as soon as you can.

Score: 9/10 As the tagline says, “The unwanted will have their day.”

Bruce Lee Collection Review

Preface

Being a film student and also a regular old cinephile, I have seen quite a few films that are part of the collective “Hong Kong Cinema”. Many people may well be familiar with popular “HKC” films, such as John Woo’s magum opus Hard Boiled, or the police/triad Infernal Affairs Trilogy (remade as The Departed in the United States). But for this review, I wanted to go through a few films that were collectively put together and published, a selection of Bruce Lee films;

  • Fist of Fury
  • Way of the Dragon
  • The Big Boss
  • Game of Death
  • Enter the Dragon

Since I won’t be able to do a full review of each film in one post, as well as the fact that they are all part of a collection, I thought I would just do a quick review of each for your entertainment. Get ready to hear Lee’s signature chicken squawks as you watch, and enjoy.

Fist of Fury

The best of the collection from a story aspect, with Lee being a kung fu student in China during the Japanese occupation. Some people may know it as the original version of the Jet Li film Fist Of Legend, the film boasts amazing choreography and fight sequences, with fights both with “Petrov”, a Russian gangster and also an entire dojo full of Karate students, with an appearance from a pair of deadly nunchuks.

Score: 8/10 A fun piece of pulp action

Way of the Dragon

Set in Italy, WOTD has Lee protecting his family by facing off against the Italian Mafia. This probably Lee’s most comedic film in this list, but the comedy is juxtaposed with some great fight sequences, including another appearance of the double nunchuks. This is the film best known for the final dramatic fight between Lee and US Karate champion Chuck Norris inside the Coliseum.

Score: 7/10 Light on story, but the fights carry the film along

The Big Boss

Lee’s first motion picture and set in Thailand, it has Lee trying to bring down an ice factory that is a front to a drug smuggling ring. The fight scenes are not as well choreographed as later films and do not come along at a frequent pace as the others. This leaves us with the story, which is quite thin, to the point where it is almost non-existent. The final fight with the Big Boss is quite interesting though, as we get to see Lee working at peak performance.

Score: 5/10 Only watch it if you’re interested to see how it all began

Game of Death

Lee’s last film before he died, it goes a bit meta in this film, as Lee plays a character called Billy Lo, who is an actor who plays Lee’s characters in Fist Of Fury and Way Of The Dragon. Be on the lookout for Bruce Lee’s body double playing Lee through most of the film, and for the yellow jumpsuit that Tarantino paid homage to in Kill Bill, along with footage from Lee’s actual funeral. Fights are littered throughout, all culminating in a pagoda containing martial arts legend Dan Inosanto and seven foot tall basketball player and Bruce Lee student Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Score: 7/10 Despite the odd story, the forty minute pagoda fight is a great part of cinema history.

Enter the Dragon

Arguably Lee’s most known and considered his best, ETD see’s Lee go into a martial arts competition to avenge both his dead sister and bring back the honour of his shaolin temple. With its basic set up of story, the film has more time to focus on the fights, which are brilliant. All choreographed by Lee himself, the fights range from the simple fists, to sticks, to the famous nunchuks and then to Wolverine-esque claws, with each fight escalating in brutality and body count. Be on the lookout for the James Bond-lite story and Ken Adam inspired sets. The final showdown in a hall of mirrors is breathtaking as well as fun.

Score 9/10 A fantastic escape into mortal combat

The Spectacular Now Review

Preface

Well, this review has been a long time coming; it could almost be considered a retro review. The Spectacular Now originally came out in August 2013 on a limited run (only four theatres showed the film) but after that initial viewing the number of theatres was upped dramatically for a nationwide release. In America. I remember seeing the trailer for The Spectacular Now on YouTube when it first came out and I was intrigued, yet I could not find a movie theatre or a DVD copy when it was released in early 2014. Yet due to the wonders of the Internet, I finally found a copy so here is my review of The Spectacular Now.

Review

The Spectacular Now is about a high school student named Sutter Keely (played by Miles Teller) who after being dumped by his girlfriend goes on a apocalyptic style alcohol-binge only to be woken up the next day by Amiee Finecky (played by Shailene Woodley) on a neighbour’s lawn. After this meeting the two strike up a friendship which soon turns into a relationship, where they help each other overcome obstacles in their lives.

Let me say this right off the bat; I had high expectations going into this film. Maybe it was the two years of waiting to finally see it; maybe it was that the writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber were responsible for the script of (500) Days of Summer, one of mine and many other people favourite romantic comedies of all time. Whatever the multitude of reasons, my expectations were high. And wow, were they met.

The Spectacular Now is not a “dumb, mindless action movie”, this is a story/dialogue focussed film, in the vein of Quentin Tarantino (when he’s doing the colourful dialogue and not coating everything with blood). The dialogue between our two leads feels very fluid and natural, to the point where many people have speculated that most of the script was ab libbed by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. I tried to find evidence for either but I couldn’t find anything concrete, but if you do know then please comment below. The film feels as if you are just watching two friends having a natural conversation, which is still a problem some mainstream Hollywood films can’t recreate.

The love making scene in the film (lauded by Woodley herself for being her favourite scene in the film) has been touted as the most “realistic” sex scene in film history. It’s awkward, both for our leads and us, the viewers but also adorably cute, something which Blue Is The Warmest Colour, another contender for 2013’s most realistic sex scene failed at, to the point where it became a bit crass.

The casting of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley is superb, as two teenagers coming from broken families and finding solace within each other. While Miles Teller at the time of filming had been known for the “Comedy Character” (see Footloose, 21 and Over and Project X, and then That Awkward Moment afterwards) its here for me that we finally get to see a broad range of acting ability, with the final twenty minutes seeing an outpouring of emotion that is brilliantly contrasting with his earlier carefree attitude. Shailene Woodley as well is performing in what I consider to be one of her best roles, duly earning the awards that she collected for this film. The rest of the cast are good in their roles, with special mention going to Andre Royo and Saul Goodman…oh I mean Bob Odenkirk as Andrew’s teacher and boss respectively, who give lectures to our main character about growing up without turning into mawkish clichéd conversations.

In conclusion, The Spectacular Now was one of the best romantic comedies of recent history, even if we are a couple of years late to the party. Go watch in now on Netflix, or if you are able to, get a DVD copy.

Score: 9/10, Deserved all the praise it got from Sundance.

Whiplash Review

Take the premise of High School Musical, who’s script has been written by Quentin Tarantino crossed with the boot camp parts of Full Metal Jacket and you’ll get an idea of the film you’re about to watch: Whiplash.

Whiplash (which is also the name of the main accompanying song by Hank Levy) is about a drummer named Andrew (played by Miles Teller), who after catching the eye of Terrence Fletcher (played by JK Simmons) the possibly psychotic band leader of the music college Andrew goes to, becomes the main drummer of the band.

That’s where the connection High School Musical ends. What we now get is one and a half hours of JK Simmons using every single cuss word under the sun against Miles Teller, with nothing off the cards. Ethnic slurs are used; f-bombs are dropped and family members are being verbally disrespected. That’s the Tarantino script. Now for Full Metal Jacket. During the first band practice after getting the timing wrong for what seems to be the hundredth time, Fletcher finally throws a chair at Andrew’s head, before slapping him repeatedly in the face to teach him about timing. That isn’t the first use of violence against our lead and it won’t be the last. Welcome to class.

JK Simmons is one of those actors that everyone knows from somewhere. Be it J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films or Ellen Page’s father in Juno, everyone has that film that they’ve seen him in before. But Whiplash has to be the film that will win him an Oscar. The ferocity that Simmons brings lends him an air of menace which can be seen in every scene that he appears. Whenever he walks into a room, everyone falls completely silent, to the point you would be able to hear a pin drop. That coupled with his use of snatching the air when there is a single imperfection within his band makes us feel like the man is a single break away from total psychosis. Simmons ferocity is only levelled by Miles Teller’s determination to prove he is the best drummer of the band, to the point where Teller’s real blood is being spilled on the drum kit. But it all comes to fruition, just like JK Simmons Fletcher has planned, since we get to bear witness not just the best drum solos ever put to film but some of the best musical performances, with a nine minute drum solo near the end of the film being the crowning achievement. It’s the first time I have come away from a film and been genuinely exhausted after watching it

The film is akin to Hollywood blockbuster, with the story merely a device to bring the next big musical set piece along (the music is front and centre in the film) yet it differs enough from Hollywood narrative to give some flourish to the story. While some scenes might seem daft in other films (one scene where Andrew pulls himself from a car crash, covered in blood and still wanting to play the drums at a concert springs to mind) we the audience buy into it in Whiplash, as the sense of dedication that Teller brings to Andrew makes us believe that the character would do something that drastic.

The only real problem I had with the film was a romantic sub-plot which is set up early on in the film, which apart from two more scenes in the film doesn’t really pay off. It would have been fine to cut this from the film as it doesn’t add anything more to the story.

In conclusion, this film definitely isn’t for everyone. If you are sensitive to foul language or are not a fan of music then I’m not sure that this is the film for you. However, if you’ve ever had a teacher akin to the Demon Headmaster and need something cathartic or if you’re a fan of jazz music, then go see Whiplash, it is well worth your time.

Score: 9/10 An exhausting tour-de-force that never lets up.