The Neon Demon Review

Yes, back to films that’s I’m actually looking forward to. After his hits Bronson, Drive and Only God Forgives (the latter one being in my top 5 favourite films), I was thrilled to find out that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was bringing out a new film this year. Would it face up to his previous success, or get lost in all the Refn nonsense?

The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and Keanu Reeves and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows Jesse (Fanning) who heads to L.A. to become a model. The film follows her monumental rise to the top, which is resented by other models she works with.

With a Refn film you know you’re going to get two things, excellent cinematography and a beautiful musical score. The Neon Demon doesn’t disappoint on those two fronts. Cinematographer Natasha Braier captures several outstanding shots, many of which will stay with you long after you finish the film. Her use of neon light creates some brilliant contrasts between light and shadow and is pretty integral to understanding a lot of the visual metaphors that expand the narrative.

The score by frequent Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez is on a par with the rest of his work and helps create this odd sense of beauty and foreboding. Twinned with Braier’s cinematography, it makes just looking and watching The Neon Demon a joy. Sia also makes an appearance on the soundtrack, playing over the end credits of the film. Her song, Waving Goodbye is a good addition to the film and ends it perfectly.

The film, like the rest of Refn’s most recent work is an 18. I don’t want to spoil it here but…stuff happens. Like, really messed up stuff. Bone Tomahawk made me squirm a bit due to the graphic things it was depicting on screen, The Neon Demon had my jaw open during the final act. It’s a film that obviously is going for the shock factor and doesn’t pull any punches. Refn is on record as having a violence fetish and this definitely has his stamp of over-the-top exploitation all over it.

The weirdness is throughout the film, but is most evident in the acting. The acting can feel a bit stilted, but I think that’s what the film is going for. English isn’t Refn’s first language and the majority of the speaking cast are actually models, but the off kilter dialogue and long pauses add this deceptive layer to the story. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has something to hide and something they want and it all spills over during the second half of an orgy of excess and debauchery.

While Elle Fanning might be the head star, the film is stolen by Jena Malone as her friend and make-up stylist Ruby. Her bubbly charm makes her one of the only trustworthy characters in the whole of the story and she commands the screen in two of the most provoking scenes in the entire film. Keanu Reeves does his thing as a seedy motel owner that Jesse stays at and Fanning does well as the innocent schoolgirl with big dreams, but Malone tops them all as the reason to go watch The Neon Demon.

To really enjoy The Neon Demon, you need to just go with it. It’s a film that you have to put a little bit of effort into. Paying attention to certain points and visual cues means you will get a lot more enjoyment out of the end experience. It’s a Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella fairytale wrapped up in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles with a moral about beauty and fame. Be warned, if you want an enjoyable film, this might not be it. It is though one of the most exhilarating.

Score: 8/10 Easily the best-looking film of the year.

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Anomalisa Review

Anomalisa has been on my watch-list for about half a year. It featured on many critics best of 2015 lists and one of my fellow students has been raving about it seemingly forever. Today, it opened, so I went to the very first screening at 9:15. The things I do for cinema…

Anomalisa stars David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan (yes, only three actors) and is directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. The film follows Michael (Thewlis) who on a business trip to Cincinnati meets Lisa (Leigh) who he becomes enraptured with.

Charlie Kaufman is well known in the film industry. He’s the writer and director of films like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Anomalisa fits perfectly into the quirkiness and the engaging script of the other three films. It doesn’t have the cutting wit of a Tarantino or a Sorkin, but that is actually something in its favour. It’s more nuanced and believable and the dialogue between Michael and Lisa feels like we are peeking into a real life conversation. The film is full with dark humour, luckily none of which was spoiled in the trailer. I was almost in tears at some of the jokes, especially a extended computer segment at the hotel between Michael and a concierge, or an encounter with a golf buggy being driven through the hotel. Thewlis also has a speech during the final third that will become a defining moment of cult cinema, much like Sam Jackson’s “Ezekiel” or anything by Morgan Freeman.

The film is stop-motion, with the models being created by 3D printers. It took over two years to create and it looks stunning. There are moments when I stopped seeing puppets and began to see them as actors. That might be down to Thewlis and Leigh, who do a fantastic job at voicing the characters. Leigh especially, coming off the back of The Hateful Eight, Anomalisa is a complete change of character and shows her range as an actress. There is a third act reveal that uses the puppetry to great effect. I’m trying not to spoil it here, but it will go down as one of the greatest mind trips in the history of surrealist cinema. I’ve done some stop-motion before and I know how taxing it is, but Kaufman and Johnson have transcended a lot of what has come previously.

The BBFC gave Anomalisa a 15 certificate and it earns it well. Strong language is throughout as well as a fully animated sex scene. It’s not over-sexualised but is still a bit out-there in terms of weirdness. I guess it’s the fact that it’s stop-motion, it makes it seem very awkward but in a good way. It reminds me of a similar scene in The Spectacular Now, which is my favourite love scene due to its realism.

I don’t want to spoil the film, as it’s one of those rare ones that works wonders if you know nothing about it, but you have to be prepared for some out-there scenes. I already talked a little bit about the surrealist scene, but there some moments which will throw certain audience members. A lot of the oddness comes from the third member of the cast, Tom Noonan, who plays every other character, be it male or female, young and old. All of Noonan’s characters have the same face, which is a nice visualisation of Michael knowing there is something special about Lisa. It takes a while to realise what the film is doing with Noonan’s characters and it’s a bit strange to see female characters talking in a deep bass voice (which then is the same voice for their child). But it all adds to the feeling of there being something not right underneath the surface of Anomalisa.

I came out of Anomalisa feeling so many different emotions. It’s changed my perspective on certain things, it’s something that hits on a very deep level. If you watch Anomalisa, you’ll laugh, you might cry and you’ll have watched one of the greatest films of the 2010s.

Score: 10/10 Just go watch it. There is no equivalent. This is perfection.

Sin City Double Film Review

Preface

Noir films have always been a genre that I’ve loved. From movies like The Third Man to Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, I can’t get enough of the hard-nosed detectives, femme fatales and beautiful black and white contrasts. While there have been several films of recent time to try and capitalise on the noir form, I think there has only been a few to properly do it justice, harkening back to the classical days. Two of those films are, Sin City and it’s sequel A Dame To Kill For.

Review

Sin City

Sin City stars Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Clive Owen and is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, with Quentin Tarantino guest directing. The film follows several characters from different stories of Frank Miller’s Sin City series.

The cast list is one of the film’s strongest points. Playing along with the previously mentioned are stars such as Benicio Del Toro, Powers Boothe, Michael Clark Duncan, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett. Every actor and actress is giving everything they’ve got on-screen, obviously reveling in the noir feel of the film.

I managed to read a few of the Sin City books before this review, and from what I’ve seen, there are several panels that have been directly lifted from Miller’s books and put in the film, giving the sense of the comics coming alive. The film hardly had any built sets, instead using large expanses of green screen to fill in the background of Basin City. Filmed in colour and retrofitted into high contrast black and white, it’s a marvel of cinematic engineering and wizardry and the film looks so much better for it. There are small inflections of colour, such as character’s irises, police sirens and lipstick, making the sometimes juvenile storytelling a lot classier than it should be.

Sin City takes an anthology approach to storytelling, similar to Miller’s original books. The film takes several stories such as The Big Fat Kill, The Hard Goodbye and That Yellow Bastard and juggles between them, each one linked with the other through characters and their actions. All stories are filled with sex, nudity, bloody violence and gore and a healthy amount of swearing, marking out Sin City as not one for the faint of heart. Some stories are better than others (I’m in the minority that doesn’t like That Yellow Bastard) but all give us fun characters and action-packed sequences.

In summary, a beautiful tour into debauchery and deceit, even if some characters are reprehensible. Why can’t all comic book films look this good?

Score: 8/10 This is cinema as art.

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

A Dame To Kill For stars many of the same cast, with new additions of Eva Green, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Josh Brolin, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach, Ray Liotta and Lady Gaga with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller returning as directors.

Just like the original film, A Dame To Kill For takes several of Miller’s stories such as A Dame To Kill For and smaller sections of Booze, Broads And Bullets. Two new stories, The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance were created exclusively for the film, both written by Miller. This marks a problem for the film, as the stories here take place during, before and after the stories in the first film, and even ret-conning a few of them. It’s sometimes confusing, but if you just go with it then you’ll still find enjoyment.

Eva Green absolutely nails it as the title character, Ava Lord. Green plays the femme fatale perfectly, capturing the style of iconic ladies such as Rita Heyworth or Lauren Bacall. Her and Josh Brolin’s chemistry pays dividends, as you totally buy that Brolin’s character Dwight would throw his entire life into jeopardy for one more night of passion with her. Joseph Gordon Levitt also does a good job as Johnny, an original character for the film as a kid gambler who gets in over his head when he cons the powerful members of Basin City out of their money. His story, The Long Bad Night, feels a lot more like a classical noir story, as it doesn’t feature any of Miller’s monster-men or scantily-dressed strippers.

My main problem with A Dame To Kill For though is that it spreads itself too thin. After the first segment of The Long Bad Night and the standout story of A Dame To Kill For, the film seems to lose a lot of its pace with the second part of The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance. The last two stories feel very repetitive as we see Johnny playing cards against the same characters and Marv helping someone storm a mansion for the second time during the run time. There are also many subplots during the bigger stories and many side-characters who don’t add much to the film apart from another big name to the list of great actors.

In summary, A Dame To Kill For isn’t as good as its predecessor, but still has some new stories and characters to pull you back into the world of Sin City.

Score: 7/10 Watch for Eva Green’s standout performance.

Only God Forgives Review

Preface

After my The Raid 2 review, I was thinking “What are my other favourite films?” The usual’s came up, Psycho, The Thing, Gran Torino, on and on the list went. There are many people who have already argued the merits of those films, you don’t need me to tell you they’re good. But one film on my favourites list stood out, receiving both glowing and panning reviews. The retro review I do for you today is, Only God Forgives.

Review

Only God Forgives stars Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm and Rhatha Phongam and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows Julian (Gosling), a criminal in the Bangkok underworld, who is urged by his mafia mother (Scott Thomas) to kill a local police lieutenant, Chang, (Pansringarm) in revenge for killing Julian’s brother.

While Psycho may have been the film to get me interested in the idea of studying film at university, Only God Forgives was the film that cemented it. And what a film to inaugurate a degree choice with. I had enjoyed the last Refn/Gosling team-up Drive and while Only God Forgives has many similar elements to its spiritual predecessor, it’s by far the stranger film.

I realise now that I have a penchant for neon-infused streets and buildings (see my love for John Wick and Blade Runner) and Only God Forgives doesn’t let down in this department. Both Gosling and Pansringarm walk on the seedy side of Bangkok, full of drinking-dens and barely legal brothels, and all of it is drenched in vibrant blues and reds. It’s breath-taking, and truly shows what a master cinematographer Larry Smith is.

The music, composed by another Drive alumni Cliff Martinez, fits the neon cinematography well, drawing in several different elements. Martinez uses organs, Thai strings and drums and even synths to create weird hybrid that fits all of the films themes. It’s similar to Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner, with a definite 80s vibe running through it.

Ryan Gosling seems to be channelling his earlier Refn role from Drive, but somehow even more quiet and awkward than before. While Gosling’s lines in Drive added up to around five minutes of film when collected together, his lines in Only God Forgives would be less than a sixty seconds. Julian has only 17 lines in the film, with one of them just screaming like a madman at his favourite prostitute. While some might call it pretentious, I believe it’s a master-class at showing a character through his actions rather than his words. Vithaya Pansringarm turns in a very good performance as Chang, who probably has less lines than Gosling, but manages to have an ethereal presence over the film, since Chang is playing what Refn called the “Angel of Vengeance”. According to sources, before starting a take, Refn would whisper in Pansringarm’s ear, “You are God”. This tactic seems to work dividends, as you can almost see the power building up behind Pansringarm’s eyes as his dishes out punishment or forgiveness all over Bangkok.

The standout role however is an unrecognisable Kristen Scott Thomas as Julian’s mother Crystal, a mafia matriarch who flies to Bangkok to find her son’s killer. Crystal seems to be a mash-up of several different people, equal parts Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace, making for a truly terrifying and antagonising female presence in the film. With her bleach-blonde hair, cigarette always in the corner of her mouth and wearing the tightest and brightest clothes known to man, it’s a far cry from Scott Thomas’ earlier work. And once you add all of that to the expletive ridden dialogue she has, it makes for one hell of a character.

When I first finished Only God Forgives, I didn’t think too much of it. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I wasn’t a fan. I watched it again the next day and when the credits came up I had completely switched minds. It’s a film that you have to go away and think about before knowing if you like it, but on the way to finding out whether you like it too, you’ll have a whirlwind of a film.

Score: 9/10 One of the strangest and most compelling things put to film.

 

The Raid 2 Review

Preface

I was looking through several of my older reviews and there was one film that kept coming up: The Raid 2. So I decided I would do a retro review of it, as The Raid 2 was not just one of the best films of 2014, but one of my favourite films of all time.

Review

The Raid 2 stars Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad and Yayan Ruhian and is directed by Gareth Evans. The Raid 2 starts an hour after the end of The Raid, where rookie cop Rama (Uwais), after escaping the tower block in the first film is sent undercover to infiltrate a criminal empire.

Most martial arts films have thread-bare stories (just look at nearly all the films in the Bruce Lee Collection). The Raid also fell prey to this, with the only plot being “try to survive”. Thankfully, The Raid 2 has a lot deeper story, something akin to Goodfellas or The Departed/Infernal Affairs, as Rama goes undercover to keep is family safe. While the plot is still a device to bring the next extended punch-up along, it’s quite a good gangster/cop drama.

With this deeper story, the film’s length shoots up, from a simple 90 minutes in the first film to well over two hours in the second. This is where I hear a lot of fans of the first film complaining, as the second film isn’t as much wall-to-wall action as its predecessor. I can kind of see their problem with The Raid 2. By the end the film can feel like it’s running out of steam, so even while we get the final showdown between Rama and the main bad guys, my investment in the film has drained considerably since the first fight scene.

While several of the first films actors were just stunt-doubles and fighting champions doing their best to act as a police squad, The Raid 2 flexes it’s tale of gang warfare and deceit by adding in several top actors into major roles. Several actors, such as Afrin Putra as mob boss’ son Uco, or said mob boss Bangun, played by Tio Pakusadewo are great to watch and listen to and ultimately make the down-time in between the protracted fight scenes fun and interesting. The stand out though is Alex Abbad as Bejo, a mystery man who appears out of nowhere in a bid to create his own crime empire by teaming up with Uco. Abbad is a master at projecting a thin veneer of style and smarts but who is always a thread away from snapping and going nuts with a shotgun (which he does).

The fight scenes, inevitably, are amazing. While The Raid was one of the main films that gave birth to the long-take, brutal and bloody style of fighting, with some excellent stand out moments (The machete gang fight is still one of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve ever watched), The Raid 2 surpasses it with both sheer numbers of fights as well as signature fighters. The Assassin, with his twin karambits, Hammer Girl with her claw hammers (a small nod to Oldboy) and Baseball-bat Boy, whose fights get even cooler when he starts bringing in the baseballs, these are all memorable characters and their fight scenes are some of the best of the film, if not some of the best character introductions ever.

While I already mentioned the length of the film as one of my top bugs, the other problem I had with The Raid 2 is the inclusion of Yayan Ruhian again as a minor character in the film. Ruhian was one of the main antagonists in the first film, playing Mad Dog, the contract killer of the tower block. In The Raid 2, he seems to be playing the same character type as one of Bangun’s assassins. It took me a while to realise that he was playing a different character and that they weren’t just ret-conning one of the major characters from the first film.

In conclusion, The Raid 2 builds upon its success of its predecessor with even more violence and mesmerising stunt work, while also managing to add a bit of story behind all the punching.

Score: 10/10 Quite possibly the greatest action movie ever created.

Macbeth Review

William Shakespeare is one of the most adapted writers in history, with an estimated nine hundred films based on his plays. In my opinion, I would say Macbeth is his mostly widely adapted. I’ve seen versions of it set in Soviet Russia, in the back streets of London and even one done with Team America-esque marionettes. But by far the best adaptation of the infamous play is the 1971 Roman Polanski version. Can the new adaptation, starring Michael Fassbender reach the heights of the much watched 1971 version?

Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis and Paddy Considine and is directed by Justin Kurzel. Based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name, the film follows Macbeth (Fassbender) as three witches tell him he will one day become King Of Scotland.

The cast for Macbeth is spectacular, Along with the four top actors I named in the introduction, the film also features such great actors as Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sean Harris and Jack Reynor (who we last saw in the woeful A Royal Night Out). It’s a stellar cast, and all of them perform Shakespeare’s lines with passion. The script hasn’t been modernised or updated, it’s a simple transition from stage to screen. In fact, the film feels more like a play than it does a film, with long takes of the actors performing their soliloquy’s out loud. It’s nice to see a film that isn’t afraid to keep the meddling of Shakespeare’s material to a minimum and just let the film play out.

The standout actor of the film though has to be Michael Fassbender. The man brings an entirely new take on the classic character, giving a much more battle-scarred approach to the role. The action scenes, which seem to all be performed by Fassbender himself is making me very excited to see him in next year’s Assassin’s Creed. Macbeth could almost be his audition piece, as he glares menacingly at his foes (in that assassin way) before coming in with his dual swords or his nifty twin daggers that are strapped to his arm.

This version of Macbeth is rooted much more in the battles than the supernatural elements that other adaptations have been based on. The very first scene after the title credits come up is of the battle that the play opens with, and it’s brutal. Fassbender roars like a madman as he races towards his enemies and just as the two opposing sides clash the film drops into slow motion, similar to Zach Snyder’s 300, and lets us watch the blood soaked action unfold.

The Director of Photography is Adam Arkapaw (the guy responsible for the six-minute long take in the first season of True Detective) and just like his television credentials, Macbeth looks stunning. I’ve already talked about the long soliloquy takes and the wide shot battle scenes, but just the establishing shots of the Scottish Highlands are incredible to look at. Another scene worthy of mentioning is the final battle that is surrounded by burning trees. The film basically becomes one giant red haze, with only the silhouettes of the actors outlined amongst the flames. It looks like something out of Dark Souls or The Cursed Crusade, and it’s awesome.

Jed Kurzel (brother of the director) returns to a Michael Fassbender production after their collaboration on Slow West and provides yet another amazing score. There are no stereotypical bagpipes here, it’s mainly violins and battle drums, each perfectly encapsulating the misty highlands and the war-centric story. I remember several times sitting in the movie theatre with a massive grin on my face when Kurzel’s music kicked in, punctuating certain scenes and bringing them to a higher level of filmmaking.

I did find some problems with Macbeth. For some bizarre reason, nearly every line of dialogue is spoken in a half-whisper by the cast. It’s like a weird game of Chinese Whispers, and it sometimes gets to a point where you are struggling to hear the actors speak their lines. Second of all, the first act simply drags on for way too long. I know that the first half is crucial to the story progressing but there was two times within the space of a minute where I did nod off for a couple of seconds. Luckily just as I was falling asleep an incredibly violent stabbing took place on screen (I don’t care if the play has been around for almost 400 years, still no spoilers) and it was the perfect remedy to wake me up for the rest of the film.

In summary, Macbeth is one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash films since Gladiator. If you think you would be put off by the fact that it’s a true Shakespearian script don’t be, otherwise you’ll be missing out on quite possibly the most epic film of the year.

Score: 9/10 Dark, brooding, moody and blood-drenched, everything you want a Shakespeare play to be.

Killing Them Softly Review

Preface

Killing Them Softly has been on my list of films to watch. I always see it on sale but never actually buy it, saying I’ll get it next time. But eventually, I went and got it after hearing great things about it, so here’s my review.

Review

Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta and is written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the film follows mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) as he is brought into solve the economic crisis that has hit the mob world.

While the original novel is set during the mid 1970s, Killing Them Softly updates the story to late 2008, using the banking crisis and the election of Barack Obama to parallel the main story in the film. This dual narrative is played throughout radio and televisions in the world, almost giving a subtle commentary that the mobsters and racketeers at the bottom of the ladder are just as sleazy as the bankers at the top.

Despite being tied to the banking crisis, the story almost feels timeless, with the clothing styles of the characters, the cars they drive and especially with the choice of music that plays throughout the film. The music flits between decades with songs like Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around“, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and “Love Letters” by Kitty Lester, making the film a mash up of the 2000s and of the early 50s and 60s. This reuse of music ties in with how the central story is about characters doing the same things over and over again, it’s a clever way to tell us, the audience, that this is just a routine occurrence and it’s a normal day for the characters on screen.

Brad Pitt is at the top of his game as hitman Jackie Cogan, a man who observes everything, doesn’t get involved and is somehow oddly delicate about his job of murdering people. As he remarks to Richard Jenkins during the film, when tasked with killing someone, he likes to “kill them softly.” James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta are the most fascinating characters, who are so high on their own machismo and place with the male-dominated world of the mafia that when they are in turmoil they start crying and wailing, turning into scared little children. Richard Jenkins plays the role he has done in a million other films, as the older man who has stuck around for longer than he should have, but his interactions with Brad Pitt in the film make up for the rather stereotypical casting.

I counted only four women in the film (two of which aren’t on screen, and the other two aren’t on it for less than a few seconds), all of whom are described or characterised by sex or their gender. It’s a film that focuses on the male characters and how they talk to each other and how they describe the women around them, showing that these men (unlike the more romanticised gangsters of years before) should not be looked up to and are rotten to the core. They are despicable, idiotic and diseased, but that makes the film even more enjoyable to watch.

For once, I don’t have to say the film was either too long or too short. Much of my criticism with films nowadays is that directors don’t know how to pace their films, leaving it over-bloated or insubstantial. Killing Them Softly only clocks in at around 90 minutes and it’s the perfect length for the film. Every scene feels like it’s been thought out methodically and has an actual reason for belonging in the film, whether it adds a little bit of back-story to a character or adds more to the puzzle of the story. The last part of dialogue between Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins is an excellent way to end the film by tying in the banking crisis storyline without becoming preachy, and the last line by Brad Pitt is like a bullet in the way in punches to the heart of his character and his motivation.

In conclusion, Killing Them Softly feels like it takes some of the most overused genre conventions of the gangster film but creates a completely different take on them. If you can stand the hateful characters, the explosive and bloody violence and the ever present swearing, you’ll have a blast.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest gangster films ever created.

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.

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.

John Wick Review

John Wick has been one of my most anticipated films of 2015. I mean, I heard about this film all the way back in mid 2014, followed its success in every other territory that it was released in, read the Guardian review of it in October 2014, and then had to wait another six months before I could finally watch it. But boy was it worth the wait.

John Wick stars Keanu Reeves as the title character, Willem Dafoe as his friend/co-worker Marcus and Michael Nyqvist (well known for the Swedish version of The Girl With Dragon Tattoo) as his ex-employer Viggo. When his pet dog is killed and vintage ’69 Mustang are stolen by a gang of Russian thugs, John Wick comes out of retirement, as he was once a revered hitman, to exact revenge.

First off, this film looks gorgeous. With rain-slicked streets, neon infused nightclubs (and subtitles) and swanky hotel suites littered throughout the entire film, credit is due to cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who captures several beautiful scenes. The nightclub in particular, which houses one of the best action scenes of the film, is awash with contrasting red and blue lighting, giving us a beautiful silhouette effect on the characters that are fighting.

Praise must be given to all actors and actresses involved, who all give standout performances. Keanu Reeves doesn’t really display much emotion (that’s unfair, I do like Keanu Reeves) but special praise must go to him for his performance of many of the stunts and fight work, which at age 50 is pretty spectacular. Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist play both their roles with some beautiful overacting, and Adrianne Palicki as the possibly psychotic hitwoman Miss Perkins is fun to watch interact with Reeves. A small role for Lance Reddick as a concierge has some funny quips, but the star everyone will fall in love with is Andy, the beagle puppy. Even if you hate dogs, the first time the camera zooms in on his face, with his large brown eyes, you’ll melt.

While the story is paper-thin at best, another thing I really liked about John Wick was the world-building it did. Throughout the film Reeves makes his way to bars, clubs and hotels where he is known, and which are filled with other hitmen and women. Sometimes they’ll see each other and exchange greetings, and reminisce about previous work, and it all works without coming off as odd. Mr. and Mrs. Smith did a similar thing, what is does is flesh out the world. It almost makes me want to see a prequel/sequel, just so that we get to explore the world full of assassins again.

The fight scenes, while sometimes stunning, do occasionally focus on extreme close ups, which leads to some fight scenes being a bit unfocused. To continue with a couple of the other negatives, the first half of John Wick does seem a bit overly long, and that does mean it suffers from some pacing issues in the second half when what should be big important fight scenes are pushed quite close together.

Another problem is the score for the film. While the film has several composers, with Tyler Bates and Joel J Richard creating most of the original score (notable past work includes 300, Rise of The Argonauts, The Bourne Identity and Guardians of the Galaxy) the score here feels a bit generic, with only THINK by female duo KALEIDA being memorable. However, those few nitpicks don’t dilute the film too much into being anything short of enjoyable.

In summary, John Wick is a must for action fans or those looking to see some fantastic camera work or in camera stunts. If you like The Raid or its sequel (two of my favourite films of recent years) then I would strongly recommend John Wick.

Score: 8/10 Classy cars, sharp suits and visceral violence makes this film one to remember