Martyrs Review

Preface

Cinema as a medium is great. I don’t just mean for the fantastic stories, the heartfelt emotions and all the rest, but I think one of the main reason people love cinema is spectacle. So many people have seen The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, not because they were looking for some rich story or characters, but mainly for the increasingly horrid spectacle put on screen. And now, a review for one of the worst I’ve seen, Martyrs. It’s been remade and is slated for an October release, so I wanted to review the original.

Review

Martyrs stars Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi and is directed by Pascal Laugier. The film follows Anna (Alaoui) who tries to help her friend Lucie (Jampanoi) who was psychically and psychologically abused as a child.

I heard about Martyrs on a list of “Horror Film For Beginners”. Martyrs was listed as one of the last films to watch, under the title of “only for the hardcore”. So naturally I went and watched it, to see what could deem a film only for those brave or stupid enough to go and watch. A damn, what a film.

Martyrs starts off so clichéd. Young girl, history of abuse, orphanages, friends in need, if you’ve seen practically any horror film from the last two to three years, they’ve used at least one of these tropes, it’s one of the those perpetual bread and butter’s of horror cinema. After the opening though…argh, I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to divulge too much, because this is a horror film that is built on its story.

The horror switches throughout. You’ll be scared of the dark foreboding atmosphere at the beginning, but that is dropped as soon as the credits finish. It goes to gore, then to body horror, isolation and finally existential. By the end you’ll just have a bottomless pit in your stomach through the constant revelations and turns. The film just keeps going and going, there isn’t even a break in the despair, even after the film is over. The film is only 94 minutes long, but through the constant horror it feels much longer. You think it’s about to end but then something new appears and it drags you back in, making you wish it was over.

Most horror films, there is a reason behind the madness. Someone is looking or revenge, survival against the odds or just general curiosity. While there is a little bit of explanation at the end (which makes you want to watch Martyrs again to see the clues), for most of the film nothing is explained. It makes the horror even more crushing, as you don’t know why things are happening.

While there are several cast members, the main character is Anna, played by Morjana Alaoui. I can’t even start to comprehend what she as an actress had to go through while making Martyrs. Anna goes through several gruelling scenes, some so disturbing you would be forgiven it was real. Credit to her and the make-up and effects team to showing the growing despair and disgust that the one location of the film (Yep, it’s all done in one house) ends up revealing.

Martyrs goes into an exclusive club of mine for being a film I had to take a break from. The other two films were horror, but I had to pause them for being truly scary (When A Stranger Calls and Dark Water if you’re interested). Martyrs, due to that ever-present horror, exhausted me. And while I never enjoyed myself while watching it, I was pleased that I watched it. if you end up going and watching it, you will have seen one of the most bizarre, fascinating and horrifying films ever created. It’s not a film that I can see anyone truly “enjoying”, but it’s something that everyone should see at last once.

Score: 7/10 It will haunt you for the rest of your life.

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Alien Series Collection

Preface

The Alien franchise is known as one of the defining series in both science-fiction and horror. Being passed from director-to-director and catapulting many of the then unknown actors and actresses into the mainstream, it deserves it’s place in film history. So I decided to review all of it.

  • Prometheus
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien3
  • Alien: Resurrection

Review

Prometheus

The prequel set nearly 30 years before Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. While many (including I) first disliked this film, on a second viewing it grew in standing. The sets are beautiful, with Iceland and Spain being used for the endless landscape shots of planet LV-223. The built sets, such as the ship Prometheus and the gigantic head statue with the black vials are some standouts of recent set design. Noomi Rapace (from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is tremendous as Dr Elizabeth Shaw, especially since this is her first main actress role in an English-language film. Michael Fassbender as android David is another spectacular role for the actor, who is strangely charismatic and sinister simultaneously.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score merges seamlessly with the awe of the world, highlighting certain scenes like David in the Orrey or the Space Jockey as being great points in the film. While it doesn’t answer many of its questions (much like Alien didn’t) it still stands as a singular film, and stands well.

Score: 8/10 A certain highlight that doesn’t get as much love as it should.

Alien

Released in 1979, with Scott directing and starring Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. A massive group effort, with script writer Dan O’Bannon and designer H.R. Giger working with Scott to create a truly terrifying film. Giger’s design for the xenomorph, with it’s odd steampipe design is one of the most revered monsters in all of movies, and the chest-burster scene is a memorable and scary entrance. The set design, also done by Giger, especially the Space Jockey and Nest are impeccably created and totally deserved the Oscar they won.

The film is shot like Jaws, very few open shots of the monster. While it makes the film tense, it’s a bit of a let-down, especially because of the exquisite design. It’s slow paced and the final showdown feels rather anti-climactic, but apart from that, it’s rather well made.

Score: 7/10 Greatly influential and rather scary.

Aliens

James Cameron took over directing for the 1986 sequel, with Weaver returning, also starring Lance Henricksen, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton, as well as Carrie Henn. Set 57 years after the first film, it sees Ripley return to the planet LV-426 from Alien, along with a platoon of colonial marines to exterminate the xenomorph menace once and for all.

The marines featured can be seen as creating the stock types for army grunts in all other war films (the black sergeant who loves cigars, the diminutive but badass girl, the comedy “wacky” tech nerd) and hopelessly misjudge the situation with a cocky attitude that quickly dissolves in the face of the perfect predator. Weaver builds off the rather lacklustre characterisation in the first film, working with Carrie Henn’s adorable Newt, who set’s a high bar for least annoying child actor ever.

Filled with expert set-pieces like the Powerloader fight, the tunnel escape and several raging gun-battles as well as some of the most quotable lines in cinema (there are so many, and most of them aren’t really suitable for a family friendly site like this). Aliens builds on the success of Alien by doubling the size and scope, moving from horror to action and moving up in score.

Score: 8/10 A fine sequel that is better than the original.

Alien3

Released in 1992, Alien3 once again stars Sigourney Weaver and introduces Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite and is directed by David Fincher (his first feature film). Set another 20 years after Aliens, the emergency pod from the Sulaco marine ship crashes onto a mining planet and penal colony Fury 161. An Alien egg crashes down with them, sending the mining site into disarray.

While Fincher is on record as saying he hates the film due to not being allowed full control over it, for a debut it’s rather well done. The dialogue and acting is sometimes over-the-top and comical (it seems all convicts in the future are cockneys) but the film features several excellent characters such as de facto leader of the prisoners Dillon (Dutton) whose constant quoting from religious scripture lends the film a nice sense of gravitas. The dark brown and grey colour palette becomes a bit dull and the CGI Alien is rather poorly merged within the film, but a fast-paced finale involving Ripley and the inmates trying to guide the Alien into the mining pit brings the ending up from a drab middle.

And the trilogy concludes by reinforcing the notion that runs throughout the entire series; the Alien always wins.

Score: 7/10 Give it a chance, it’s surprisingly alright.

Alien: Resurrection

You just can’t keep a girl down. Set two hundred years after her death at the end of Alien3 , the film follows the clone of Ellen Ripley who is brought back to life by Weyland Yutani to harvest an Alien foetus from her DNA. Featuring Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film follows a set of mercenaries who after coming aboard the Weyland Yutani ship are attacked by Aliens.

This is seen as the worst Alien film in the franchise, but it still has some standout scenes. Brad Dourif as crazy scientist Dr Gediman, who gauges the Alien’s intellect through a series of tests is an impressive moment, showing how clever the super predator is. An underwater pursuit of the heroes by Aliens is another well-made scene and shows the Aliens working as a team to catch their prey. This film also features the Newborn, a xenomorph with human traits. While the human eyes look rather silly, the rest of the appearance, which looks like Slimer crossed with Skeletor, is rather disturbing and creepy.

The film feels rather like the first Alien, ordinary working people trying to make a living while facing off against an enemy too powerful for them to comprehend. But the switch from comedy to horror to action feels rather awkward, while Sigourney Weaver looks thoroughly bored again as Ripley, only there to pick up a check.

Score: 5/10 It’s ridiculous but has some superb scenes.

Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

Blue Is The Warmest Colour Review

Preface

Now that university has ended for this year, I thought it was time to jump back to doing more retro reviews. It gives me chance to look back at a film that I might have seen a long time ago with some fresh eyes. And that’s what today’s choice is. I watched this film when it first came out in 2013 and I can’t really remember what my views on it were like. But let’s settle what they are now, one of the most controversial films of the 2010s, Blue Is The Warmest Colour.

Review

Blue Is The Warmest Colour stars Lea Seydoux, Adéle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche and is written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh, the film follows teenager Adéle (Exarchopoulos) as she becomes enraptured with blue-haired tomboy Emma (Seydoux).

The script is one of the best things about the film. Written by director Kechiche, it manage to be both awkward and stilted but incredibly enthralling to listen to. The film is all about realism, it creates believable conversations and situations (sometimes to the point of being bland) rather than a glamorised Hollywood life. We see the duo move from home life to work/school and the trials of grappling with your sexuality at a time where trying to fit in is a vital part of life. The subtext is in the pauses and shy looks, adding to a much deeper storyline and character development.

This may be due to the two lead actors selling the hell out of it. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have great chemistry first as friends then as lovers, both deservedly being nominated and winning several Best Actress and Supporting awards. But it’s Exarchopoulos who comes out on top between the two. As Adéle she moves through awkward teenage years to her young adult life and eventually into her job as a teacher, and fields a variety of different emotions. For a first time actress it’s an incredibly tall order, but Exarchopoulos manages to pull it off.

Another thing to note is the vast run time. Clocking in at just under three hours, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a slog to get through, but somehow it’s incredibly watchable. Sure, some scenes feel redundant in the grand scheme of things when looking back, but the engaging script and Seydoux and Exarchopoulos being innately watchable means that you won’t want to turn it off half way through.

Okay, now for a talk about THAT scene.

Around half way through the film, Adéle and Emma are sat down in a park, eating a picnic. It’s a nice scene, full of the previously mentioned excellent dialogue and is symbolic for containing the character’s first kiss. Then BAM!, we are dropped into a seven minute long sex scene filled with everything and anything you could have imagined and blurring the boundaries between art and pornography. At the time, nothing this mainstream had done something so jaw-dropping and I bet a lot of tickets we sold on the idea of “OMG lesbians!” Looking back at it now, away from the controversy, it’s rather badly made. The lighting is off, there are many obtuse shots and after a while it just descends into sleaze. It’s a well known fact that both actresses rounded on the director after the scene, with Seydoux saying making it was “horrible”. Perhaps the very idea of putting sex on screen (especially when it pushes the boundaries of “real” and “fake”) is inherently voyeuristic.

For me, I found it rather cheap. The sudden jump from picnic to sex was jarring, and would have liked a bit more a build-up. Something along the lines of Sid and Gwen from The Pacific. We get the sex, but the build-up reveals a lot more about their characters and emotions on a subconscious level. Here we just jump from calm afternoon to rampant romping. And another thing, the scene is full of full body pans and decadent shots of the two actresses. There’s nothing wrong with titillation now and again, but this feels more like exhibitionism for its own sake rather than adding anything to the narrative. Add to it the director being male, it brings up the ideas of shooting the film with a hetero-majority audience in mind, using homosexuality for gratification rather than to explore meaningful relationships. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think it could have been constructed better.

In the end, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is one of the top films to have come out in 2013 and will be remembered as being a defining moment in cinema history. It’s one of the best love stories in film that just happens to be between two women, something that really shouldn’t be a big deal anymore.

Score: 8/10 A sweet, touching and relatable romance for the ages.

Cyberbully Review

Preface

For my retro reviews I like to broaden out what types of films I choose to review. Some are old classics that I want to write down my take on and some are complete unknowns. And since I did the short film Qalupalik, I’ve been wanting to branch out into different sorts of films. So for this one, I chose a television film. I introduce to you, Cyberbully.

Review

Cyberbully star’s Maisie Williams, Elle Purnell and Wilson Haagens and is written and directed by Ben Channen. The film follows teenager Casey (Williams) who is tormented by an anonymous culprit online.

Television films always get a bad rap. There is an idea that the word “television” means that it’s cheaply made and isn’t worth your time. It’s not always true, there have been several great “made for TV” films. Studio Ghibli, the guys behind Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro made Ocean Waves for television and that’s my favourite Ghibli creation. But anyway, back to Cyberbully.

I did mainly choose to watch this film because of Maisie Williams. She’s been on a roll since her breakout roll in Game Of Thrones and her performance in last year’s The Falling, a British horror film was nominated for a Clemwood Award. Here in Cyberbully she shows her tremendous range as an actress. At the start she’s carefree and happy, talking to her friend’s like a typical teenager, but soon descends into worry and fearfulness over the messages that the anonymous hacker is sending her. The last ten to fifteen minutes, where Williams breaks down into tears is a extremely effective stab at high traumatising drama and is reason enough to give Cyberbully a watch.

The film is done in real time, which is not a very well explored creative choice. The most well known films to use real time are Hitchcock’s Rope and the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda (remade as Silent House in America). The real time adds to the sense of immediacy and there are several long takes that Williams takes in her stride. The whole film is set in Casey’s bedroom and for the majority of the film it is just her and her laptop.

While the film’s title evokes ideas of teenage trolls and online bullying, the film instead goes for a more ghostly approach. It reminded me of last year’s Unfriended (although Cyberbully did come out before it) but it works a lot better here. Unfriended had small moments of downtime but mainly relied on jump scares. Cyberbully has a jump scare, which doesn’t really fit, but the rest of the tension/terror is built up through the actions of the anonymous hacker and Casey stooping to his level. It feels like something that Hitchcock would have made if he knew what laptops and the internet were.

The script was written by the director Ben Channen and David Lobatto and to give it sense of authenticity Channen asked both his own daughter and Williams to read through it and take out anything that felt fake. This does mean that the early part of the film where Casey is talking to her friend Meg sounds believable, similar to The Spectacular Now. The rest of the story has many twists and turns over who the anonymous hacker is, and while some moments feel predictable (a moment about someone else who Casey was in contact with is signposted early on), when it looks like the film will fall flat with a reveal it pulls the rug out from the audience and turn’s the story on its head.

Cyberbully is an incredibly taut and on edge thriller. Cyber-based suicides are an all too common story nowadays, and Cyberbully cuts right to the problem with online hate. It’s very easy to find, so if it sounds like something that you would enjoy, then Cyberbully get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Tense and topical, a very good film.

Silent Hill Double Review

Preface

As you might have gathered from my other forays of video games turned into movies (Hitman: Agent 47 and the Tomb Raider films) I love video games. And with one of my university courses this year focussing on horror, I recently got back into one of the most interesting game franchises ever, Silent Hill. And since it’s one of the many franchises that has been adapted, I thought I would take a break from actual work and bring you another double review, Silent Hill and Silent Hill: Revelation.

Review

Silent Hill

Silent Hill stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland and is directed by Christophe Gans. The film follows Rose (Mitchell) as she tries to find her daughter Sharon (Ferland), after she loses her in the town of Silent Hill.

Games like Hitman or Tomb Raider, while they have some semblance of story are not the most cinematic of games. Silent Hill however, is very focussed on narrative and that’s one of the films strongest points. It’s a straight adaptation of the first game’s story, with minor points from the rest of the series thrown in as little Easter eggs for the fans. The major change in the story is changing the main character from male to female. Gans says that he made this change as when he was writing the film, the main character’s emotions and dialogue had more in line with a woman than a man. To be fair, the main character from the game, Harry Mason, hardly had a personality to begin with, so Gans would have had to create a background for whoever the main character was and Radha Mitchell does great as terrified mother Rose.

Gans does a good job of capturing the iconography of the series; the radio static, the misshapen Freudian monsters and the beautiful detail as the haunted town peels away into the “Otherworld”. This is another one of the films strong points, with CGI blending seamlessly with the built sets, creating a flaking snowfall effect to both bring in and take away the dark world.

The film does have several problems however. A lot of the cast seem to be hamming up the script (despite the original Silent Hill already having a lot of camp in it), with Sean Bean’s atrocious American accent being the cherry on top. Along with this, the film is very American in its horror, meaning the horror is mostly all gore and blood with no deeper meaning. Silent Hill was created in Japan, and a lot of their horror stems from psychology, but here a lot of that has been stripped backed for a more in-your-face approach. And just as a fan, why is Pyramid Head here? He’s a (spoiler alert) Freudian/Jungian manifestation of the main character from Silent Hill 2, him being in the film is a total undermining of his symbolism. But in fairness it is pretty good visualisation of the infamous monster.

In conclusion, Silent Hill has a few slip ups, but overall, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the game very well.

Score: 7/10 A good enough example of a video game film done right.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation stars Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Kit Harrington and Malcolm McDowell with directing duties being moved over to Michael J. Bassett. The plot follows Heather (Clemens) who on her eighteenth birthday is called back to Silent Hill, with the town holding dark secrets about her past.

You won’t find a good Silent Hill film here. You won’t find a scary horror film here. You won’t even find a good film here. What you will find, if you ever decide to watch Silent Hill: Revelation, is something that flips from being incredibly tedious to unintentionally hilarious.

Where to start? Well, at the beginning. The film just starts in the middle of a conversation, with no build up to introducing the main characters or back-story to get us up to speed from what happened since the last film. I rewound the film several times because I was sure I had missed a few minutes of the film before realising that the film just begins abruptly.

Sean Bean’s American accent appears again and is terrible, but Bean is only the start of a selection of bad performances. Adelaide Clemens as Heather does nothing but scream and pout and Kit Harrington once again shows that the only good performance he can give is in Game of Thrones. Malcolm McDowell shows up for a couple of minutes in a dress and overacts his heart out. Sure, the script doesn’t help, with endless exposition and dialogue so wooden is basically a tree.

Quite a few of the monsters are done practically, but the effects are so poor you can tell it’s a guy in a mask. The rest of the monsters are created with cartoon levels of CGI which just adds to the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of the film. Pyramid Head shows up again for no reason, becoming a good guy and helping the protagonists out at the end, which makes no sense.

The film was made for 3D viewing, so there are lots of moments when stuff is meant to be jumping at the camera. Since all I’ve seen is the normal version of the film, the spectacle of a blade being jabbed at the screen or blood flying at me doesn’t work and just makes the viewing experience worse.

It’s not like the film doesn’t try. There are a few moments when the snow is falling in the streets and enough of the plot and characters from Silent Hill 3 that it feels like a film that everyone involved thought it could be a good film. The fact that it tried and failed is fascinating to watch.

The ending is what really got me though. The film has the gall, the sheer temerity to not have one, but three sequel baits, with several characters from the series turning up. A sequel will never be made, which is good but also sad. This is one of the best series to adapt, but the people making it don’t know anything about Silent Hill.

In conclusion, Silent Hill: Revelation is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. That sounds like praise, but then you remember that it was meant to be a horror film.

Score: 1/10 A slow-motion trainwreck of a movie.

Halo Legends Review

Preface

Halo is probably one of the most played video games series in the world. I have played several instalments but I never really was too interested in them (although I do think the “Don’t make a girl a promise” quote is great). Film is what I’m more interested in and after learning there was an anime film about the Halo universe produced I thought I would track it down and watch it.

Review

Halo Legends stars Shelley Calene-Black, David Wald and John Gremillion and is directed by Toshiyuki Kanno, Hiroshi Yamazaki, Koji Sawai, Tomoki Kyoda and Yasushi Muraki. The film follows seven different stories in the Halo universe, based on several characters over thousands of years.

Instead of a single story based on the video game (which has apparently been in development for several years, once with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg as directors), Halo Legends decides to be an anthology series, swapping between four different anime houses. There’s Production I.G. (creator of Ghost In The Shell), Studio 4C (who created The Animatrix) BONES (Full Metal Alchemist), Casio Entertainment and probably the most well known, Toei Animation (Dragonball Z). It’s a mix of art styles and keeps the visuals changing from story to story.

The most visually striking segment is The Duel, a samurai/ronin style film, featuring the alien species, The Elites. It’s created with CGI, but then retrofitted with a watercolour feature, making it look like an in-motion painting. It looks beautiful during the sweeping shots of the battle, but looks a bit odd during dialogue sequences. There is traditional anime in Homecoming with Prototype, Origins and The Babysitter being more broad in their animation styles. Odd One Out, created by Toei, is very reminiscent of their Dragonball series and The Package is CGI, looking like an overlong cutscene.

While the stories take different characters and situations, most descend into action sequences. If you have no interest in violence then Halo Legends will not be for you. While certain stories (like Odd One Out) are over-the-top comedy violence, others like The Duel are filled with blood. Sure, the blood is green and purple, but it’s still very graphic. All the rest of the sections are filled with machine guns and rockets and is your standard action/war film.

Despite being violent, the sections do have some good storytelling. Homecoming brings up the ethics of torture and taking children to become soldiers and the opening to Prototype discusses ideas of survivor guilt, but loses a bit of sparkle during the second half. The Duel is standard samurai affair, and The Babysitter and The Package are very generic in their story, despite The Babysitter being one of my favourite segments. Origins, narrated by series female AI Cortana, is a re-cap of the entire Halo back-story. Even to someone like me who doesn’t really like Halo, it was interesting and is another favourite section. It actually makes me want to go back and play, but then I remember that there is literally no story in the video game.

Odd One Out is probably my least favourite section. This section is the only out of canon in the anthology, and the influences of Toei’s Dragonball Z don’t really mesh with the Halo Universe. There are martial art students, three orphans, a T-Rex and an gorilla who can control electricity. It feels out of place, and the comedy is very forced.

The music from the game, by Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell, is reused in Halo Legends, and despite the change in the medium it fits very well into the stories. There are remixes and new scores created by Tetsuya Takahashi, Naoyuki Hiroko and Yasuharu Takanashi, mainly for The Duel, and despite radical changes it still feels thematically similar to Salvatori and O’Donnell’s work.

In conclusion, Halo Legends is a well-executed experiment. It will appeal to Halo fans, as well as general sci-fans and anime/animation fanatics. If you don’t fall into one of those categories then maybe this will be one to miss.

Score: 7/10 A fun sci-fi romp that is visually stunning.

Life Review

Preface

He made three successful films and died before he was even 25 years old. Yet, sixty years after his death, James Dean is still one of the most studied and admired style icons of the last century. Back in 2015, I was looking forward to Life, the biopic of Dean and his friendship with photographer Dennis Stock, but for some reason it did not get a wide release. Now it’s out on DVD, so I’m catching up on it.

Review

Life stars Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton and Alessandra Mastronardi and is directed by Anton Corbijn. The film follows Magnum photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) as he follows James Dean (DeHaan) in an attempt to produce a photo essay for Life magazine.

It’s interesting how director Anton Corbijn started as a rock photographer before turning to film. It’s almost a return to his previous profession as we watch Stock follow Dean almost like a lost puppy, trying to steer him towards something resembling a photo shoot. It feels like a pet project film and Corbijn’s knowledge of the working relationship photographer’s forge with their subjects is very clearly seen throughout the film. His time spent as a photographer can be seen throughout Life, he composes some lovely shots that would look great just as standalone stills, and the film has a golden sheen, reminiscent of the films that Dean made.

I’ve always liked Robert Pattinson. I defended him during his initial star making roles in Harry Potter and Twilight and I thoroughly liked his performance in Cosmopolis, here is Life he’s doing a much steelier an colder performance than I’ve seen him do before. It reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling in Drive, you don’t get a lot on the surface but you see the performance behind his eyes. Sadly though, a lot of these moments, where Pattinson decides to act are few and far between, leaving the performance rather wooden and without passion. He looks like he isn’t enjoying the role half the time.

On the opposite hand, Dane DeHaan, well known for his roles in Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is perfectly cast as James Dean. It’s a completely different role to anything he’s done before and he manages to embody everything that James Dean stood for. The dishevelled-but-stylish hair, the half-asleep daze, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth and speaking in a quiet and almost shy voice, DeHaan looks the part but also manages to bring a lot of depth to the secretive Dean. Through the film we follow Dean back to his childhood home in Indiana and we see the small interactions with the rest of his family, working on the farm in the deep snow, or reading comic books with his younger cousin, it shows the sort of man he was. DeHaan makes the part his own and is one of the standout reasons to watch the film.

I talked about my problems with Pattinson’s acting ability earlier in the review, but it isn’t confined to him, the whole film seems to have an underlying problem in that it never feels, dare I say, alive. There are small moments where it does come to life, mainly helmed by DeHaan as Dean, such as a monologue on the train back to Indiana, or a speech he gives at a high-school dance as well as some lovely moments of silence on the homestead while Stock is taking pictures of him. But apart from these minute flourishes of brilliance the film sadly falters and feels too reverent and sombre, as if it’s a museum piece rather than a work of film.

In the end, while I enjoyed moments of Life, I just felt a little let down that it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. It’s still a good watch, but it’s not going onto the Must-Watch List.

Score: 7/10 DeHaan’s performance is the main reason to watch.

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.