Thursday, 7 July 2016

100 Essential Films that Deserve More Attention - 5. Peppermint Candy

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Peppermint Candy 

Director - Chang-dong Lee
Country - South Korea
Year - 1999
Runtime - 129 Minutes

Previously Published by The Big Picture Magazine

At the turn of the 20th Century, the Lumiere brothers' short film Arrival of a Train at the Station defined the technological advancements of the era, and terrified audiences who believed the train would fly out of the screen having seen nothing like it ever before. Over a hundred years later, at the turn of the 21st Century, the arrival of a train in Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy is used to signify so much more than wonder and awe, being a key part of his storytelling process, and this shows not just how far cinema has travelled, but also that true auteurs do not forget its humble beginnings.

Peppermint Candy is that rarest of film, a devastatingly real human drama relayed in an innovative form of storytelling that is both masterful and timeless in its execution. As a train passes through a pitch black tunnel into the ever growing burst of daylight at the end, so begins our journey with Kim Yongho; a middle aged Korean whose life has passed him by almost as fast as the speeding carriages that traverse the screen. Told in reverse chronological order, Peppermint Candy begins in the Spring of 1999, just moments before Yangho makes a final decision to take his own life on the train tracks situated where he met his first love, and works its way back over the course of 20 years to unravel the reasons that have led this desperate man to suicide.

Used as a framing device between time shifts, the train shots were filmed from the back of a moving carriage and then reversed in order to emphasise the journey backwards through the defining moments of Yangho’s life. Chang-Dong’s choice to painstakingly sift through hours of footage to pick the most evocative and beautiful shots certainly shows; falling blossom from a tree rises back to the branches it once left, a passing jogger appears to run backwards in slow motion, and a family appear to linger cautiously watching the train pass by. These natural scenes indicate Yangho may finally be at peace with himself but the audience are still invited to take a trip back into Korea’s troubled past to see how seemingly insignificant actions can lead to consequences capable of driving a man to despair.

In a strange turn of events, moments from certain points in Yangho’s life mirror those which come later on, or vice versa, signifying the repercussions of simple acts and ironic twists of fate that cannot be avoided in everyone's passage through life. We see the reasons why Yangho's marriage and working life fail, and ultimately the destructive act which leads to the loss of his innocence and plagues his existence until the very end.

Many classic love stories involve train journeys, with romances blossoming from chance encounters or a last minute decision to catch a different train, but unlike the hopefulness of these meetings in films such as Before Sunrise and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the appearance of trains in Peppermint Candy reflect moments of weakness in Yangho’s life. At various points throughout the film our protagonist is seen betraying his wife, destroying a gift from his first love and standing by whilst his friends tackle an assailant, all of which are accompanied by the passing of a train in the background, which acts as a constant reminder of Yangho’s inevitable fate.

Much akin to Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, which used a similar narrative twist as a plot device, Peppermint Candy’s closing scenes are moments of serene beauty as Yangho experiences a fleeting glimpse of young love. This seemingly peaceful end to the film is marred by the bittersweet knowledge of events to come; just as Yangho regrets the paths which he chose as a young adult, a mature audience will certainly relate to the loss of innocence and sense of regret that befalls not just our protagonist but everyone as time passes by.

By encapsulating certain periods in recent South Korean history, Chang-dong ensured that his film would resonate with a domestic audience and although some of his references may be lost on international audiences this is unlikely to detract from the overall experience. It is no surprise that such an articulate and politically aware director went on to become South Korea's minister of Culture and Tourism back in 2003, but it was also a relief when he returned to film-making as he continues to deliver both beautiful and powerful dramas, even if his later outings do not reach the near perfection of his overlooked masterpiece.

As the Lumiere brothers were shooting footage of a train's arrival back in 1896 they would have had no idea just how immersive and powerful the medium of film would continue to be into the next two centuries and beyond.



If you take the time to watch Peppermint Candy then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 4. Rapture

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Rapture
Director - John Guillermin
Country - USA/France
Year - 1965
Runtime - 104 Minutes

John Guillermin's Rapture is a hauntingly beautiful coming of age tale about a delicate and troubled teenager, Agnes, who is on the verge of blossoming into a young woman. Cared for by her unsympathetic father, Frederick, who has been deeply affected by the loss of his wife and Agnes' mother, she lives a lonely and sheltered life on their isolated homestead with only her doll and the housemaid, Karen, for company. Their world is thrown into disarray when a wounded convict, Joseph, seeks refuge after a daring escape from the local gendarmes, and his arrival stirs up new feelings for Agnes as her curiosity develops into an unhealthy infatuation.

Patricia Gozzi was only 15 when she portrayed Agnes, and the depth of her character is astounding for such a young actress. Each moment of torment and heartbreak is delivered with genuine emotion in a powerful performance that showcases a talent who is mature beyond her years. This beguiling display of Agnes' innermost feelings is matched by Guillermin's deft command of the camera; jarring cuts and unnatural yet enchanting camera angles emphasise her distress and confusion, with the ever-looming threat of being incarcerated in a nearby mental institution plaguing Agnes' fragile mind.

Joseph's gentle nature has a calming effect on Agnes, and Dean Stockwell - who you might remember from his role in another simple, yet exquisite piece of storytelling as Walt Henderson in Paris, Texas - inhabits the role of a loveable rogue with ease, acting as the perfect counterpoint for Agnes' unpredictable yet endearing persona. On the emergence of a curious love triangle between Joseph, Agnes and Karen, tensions rise and the taciturn nature of Frederick is pushed to the limit as he fears for his daughter's safety, whilst being confronted by Agnes' ever growing resemblance to her late mother.

Set amidst the backdrop of rocky cliff faces and the great expanse of the Atlantic ocean, Rapture makes use of the stunning Brittany coastal scenery with shots that encapsulate the beauty of nature whilst simultaneously providing the audience with valuable insights into its fascinating characters. As Agnes retreats to the solace of her childhood den amongst the rocks, gazes wistfully up at a flock of circling seagulls or frolics playfully along the beach with Joseph we see her childlike nature running free from the restraint of her strict father in some of Rapture's most memorable sequences.

When Rapture reaches its heart stopping conclusion, you are likely to be completely enthralled by the wonderful world John Guillermin has created, even if it visits some dark places along the way. Its French title, The Flower of Age, may be accurate in describing the growth that Agnes experiences as she traverses this tumultuous path to adulthood, whilst the religious connotations of its English title hint at Joseph being her saviour, and symbolism seen throughout lends itself to this spiritual interpretation.

This is rich and meaningful storytelling that deserves a wider audience, and I hope I have given you the inclination to watch this essential, and unfairly overlooked, classic. Although the film has been uploaded to Youtube, I implore anyone who watches it this way to invest in the Blu-Ray release by Eureka! Classics like I have done. Not only for the excellent extra features but also to support a fantastic company who put the time and effort into restoring forgotten classics.



 
If you take the time to watch Rapture then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

100 Essential Films that Deserve more Attention - 3. The Incident

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Incident
Director - Larry Peerce
Country - USA
Year - 1967
Runtime - 107 Minutes
 
1967 was a milestone year for American cinema. The success of ground-breaking films such as Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night paved the way for film-makers to show more violence and tackle subjects that were previously deemed too risqué or controversial for the general public. One such film also released in 1967 that is arguably more provocative than the aforementioned titles, yet didn't receive the same critical acclaim as they did, is Larry Peerce's superb thriller, The Incident.

In a scene that would not feel out of place in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets we are introduced to two foul-mannered delinquents, Artie (Martin Sheen) and Joe (Tony Musante, pictured below), playing billiards and tormenting the owner of a snooker hall by refusing to acknowledge it is well past closing time. When they eventually head out into the night we begin to see the full force of their volatile and violent nature as they take over a subway carriage and refuse to let an innocent group of passengers leave.
 
Although it starts out as a playful joke, the situation soon turns sour and the two hoodlums become hostile, berating every traveller in turn. With each passing moment the audience hopes that someone will intervene, particularly as there are two soldiers on board the carriage (albeit one with a broken arm) but no-one steps forward as they are all too fearful of becoming their assailant's next victim.

 Where The Incident really succeeds is in the portrayal of its victims. By taking the time to show each and every passenger prior to them boarding the tube, Peerce adds to the pervasive air of unease as the audience can relate to their predicament by empathising with the passengers. There are people of all ages who represent many different walks of life and we get to see them all fall apart under the scrutiny of their attackers. Peerce knowingly provokes us with the uncomfortable question - 'Would you intervene?' No-one knows for certain how they would react in such a situation but it poses a difficult question by challenging the audience's courage in the face of moral dilemma.

As well as putting forth an important social message, The Incident works on its own merit as a gripping thriller but the underlying meaning adds power and depth to Peerce's film and prevents it from being just another blistering assault on the senses. In this way, The Incident is likely to resonate with audiences who have a penchant for exploitation films as much as those who relish a thought-provoking commentary on society. If you are open to both of these attention-grabbing approaches of storytelling then I am certain that The Incident will appeal to you just as much as it did to me, and I urge you to seek out this obscure gem as soon as possible.

I have scoured the internet to find a trailer for The Incident but my search proved fruitless. Instead, here's a clip of one of the intense scenes that shows exactly what you will be in store for:


If you take the time to watch The Incident then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Monday, 27 June 2016

Cinema Review - Silver Linings Playbook

Previously published by Front Room Cinema in 2012

Bradley Cooper has become the go to guy for Hollywood in roles that usually involve either a stereotypical ladies man, big laughs or lots of action, but it is great to see his acting ability given room to breathe in Silver Linings Playbook, as he proves that he is far more than just a pretty face with his gripping performance as Pat, a recovering patient fresh from a stint in a Psychiatric Unit. The wonderful film title refers to a message Pat takes to heart during his time in care as he searches for the silver lining in every situation but he still struggles to keep his composure when exposed to a certain song that was playing at the time of his breakdown.

It is initially unclear why Pat has served time in a psychiatric unit but the signs all lead to difficulties in his marriage, and this is soon confirmed by his increasingly desperate attempts to contact his estranged wife by any means possible, despite a restraining order being in place. Whilst an encounter with a new female friend - similarly troubled by events in her past - does provide a distraction to his desire, Pat's heart appears to be firmly set on rekindling his marriage, but this does not deter the ever resourceful Tiffany from becoming a key figure in his rehabilitation.

David O Russell proved he could bring dysfunctional families to the big screen with last year's fantastic sports film The Fighter, and he continues to expand on his flair for human drama by coaxing riveting performances out of a very talented cast. Pat's family is rounded out by the ever wonderful Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro as his increasingly concerned parents and Shea Whigham as his annoyingly successful brother who serves to remind Pat of his shortcomings, and all involved make every scene a joy to watch. Jennifer Lawrence shines as Tiffany, and her turbulent relationship with Pat is the key to most of the films laughs, as he remains immune to her constant advances.

Films which approach a serious subject matter from a humorous point of view can be in danger of offending certain audiences, but much like last year's 50/50 which tackled the risque subject of cancer in a comedy, O Russell's portrayal of mental illness is treated with such care that the viewers will undoubtedly sympathise with Pat and Tiffany's problems, whilst still finding laughs in the hilarious situations they encounter. 

Heartwarming, funny and at times poignant, Silver Linings Playbook is a great adapation of a well-received novel and it is likely to touch all but the most cynical of viewers thanks to the array of incredibly entertaining characters who breathe life to this story. Perfect for those tired of the usual romantic cliches as well as being funny enough for those seeking laughs, this is an uplifting drama which will hopefully inspire others to seek out a silver lining when everything appears to be against them.


Direction - 4
Acting - 4
Screenplay 3.5
Film - 4

Bottom Line - David O Russell's follow up to last year's Oscar grabbing The Fighter is a moving and at times hilarious character study of how a psychiatric patients recovery impacts on the life of a young woman bereaving the death of her husband.

Positives - Cooper and Lawrence shine as the unlikely couple who find friendship despite their personal problems

Negatives - With such a great cast, some of the actors involved are slightly underused

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

100 Essential Films that deserve More Attention - 2. Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.


Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen
Director - Gyorgy Pálfi
Country - Hungary
Year - 2012
Runtime - 84 Minutes

Imagine a film that takes memorable scenes from all of your favourite movies and pieces them together to create a single narrative, where shots of different actors are used to represent the same character, and all form part of a new, yet familiar storyline. Director György Pálfi has done just that, and although copyright issues prevent the film from ever being officially released it is (at the time of writing) available on youtube for all to enjoy, and I have included the full film at the bottom of this article should you wish to consider my recommendation - trust me, you won't regret it! Where else would you be able to see Anthony Perkins (as Norman Bates from Psycho) smiling maniacally after Sharon Stone flashes him during a romantic meal?

Pálfi has painstakingly sifted through countless hours of footage to create Final Cut, and his unbounded passion for film is clear to all who behold it. Every film fan will relish the opportunity to play 'name that movie' throughout the film's runtime - I certainly did - although the simple yet effective boy meets girl storyline adds another layer of enjoyment to this incredible labour of love.

The films used range from mainstream cinematic classics such as Pulp Fiction and Singin' in the Rain to lesser known gems, like The Hill and Closely Observed Trains, and finally on to more obscure Hungarian pictures (that English speakers like myself are unlikely to have ever encountered before). All of these have been carefully spliced together in a way to create the illusion of a seamless narrative, in a manner that is both enthralling and incredibly impressive. Although foreign films are used there are unfortunately no subtitles to accompany the different languages which feature in Final Cut (unless you can read Hungarian). Thankfully, this doesn't detract from the experience as Pálfi relies on visual cues to form the basis of his storytelling; a look or a gesture can be just as expressive as spoken words - if not more so - and there are actually very few clips where words are uttered by the actors.

By utilising a selection of evocative film scores to accompany Final Cut, Pálfi taps in to our emotional receptors as it is difficult to listen to such grandiose and stirring themes without recalling the emotions we felt during previous encounters with the music. Artists such as Vangelis (Chariots of Fire), Michael Nyman (The Piano), and Simon & Garfunkel (The Graduate) feature among a host of eclectic musicians whose only connection is that their music has previously been used as an unforgettable backdrop to a powerful cinematic canvas. Hearing these familiar sounds cut to visuals that we wouldn't normally associate with the music is a satisfying experience for any film fan, and is another reason why Final Cut is deserving of far more attention that it has garnered since its inception.

You might be mistaken in thinking that Final Cut is nothing more than a novelty but I have watched it numerous times and find that it improves on repeat viewings. My first encounter with Final Cut left me in awe at the sheer volume of clips on show, as my brain frantically scrambled to identify the films which had been used to create this unconventional masterpiece. Following on from this, I managed to look past the clips on display and immersed myself into the beautifully realised story that elevates Final Cut to its position as a monumental tribute to the world of cinema.




If you take the time to watch Final Cut then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Sunday, 29 May 2016

100 Essential Films that Deserve More Attention - 1. Happy End

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.


Director - Oldrich Lipský
Country - Czechoslovakia
Year - 1967
Runtime - 71 Minutes

Choosing my first film for this series posed an enormous challenge; I wanted to pick something that would convince you of my ability to unearth forgotten classics without placing too much of a demand on those taking the plunge on my first suggestion. Some people may consider an overlooked black and white Czechoslovakian film from 1967 as too much of a punt but those who do would be missing out on one of the most innovative and downright entertaining films I have seen in years. With a runtime of just over an hour - and the entirety of the film available to stream on YouTube - there is no excuse for ignoring my recommendation, and I am fairly certain that anyone who watches this will be back for my second article in the series.

Many successful directors have played around with the notion of time as a narrative device; Christopher Nolan's Memento, David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Gaspar Noé's Irreversible all do this to give their stories an edge by taking the audience down unexpected timelines, but Oldrich Lipský's Happy End introduces a brilliant method of storytelling that is quite unlike anything I have ever encountered before.


It is not unusual for a film to begin with the death of an important character. However, in this instance, the scene is played out in reverse with our protagonist's freshly decapitated head rolling up from the floor to join its body as the executioner's blade is lifted up from the block. A voice-over informs us that this is the birth of Bedrich Frydrych (also known as The Butcher) and whilst the narration continues to describe the start of his life, the on screen action plays out in reverse for the film's entirety, creating a strange yet enthralling view of The Butcher's life.

The Butcher's stint in prison prior to his execution is narrated as if it is his formative childhood years, and the reason for his incarceration leads to one of the most morbidly fascinating scenes in the film when we are introduced to his wife and her lover. It may take a few moments to get your head around this backwards tale but once you do it is so utterly compelling that you won't ever want it to end.

Oldrich Lipský clearly had a lot of fun putting Happy End together; his visual gags have a timeless quality, and watching everyday life play out in reverse is far more entertaining than you could ever imagine. Observing people eating their food backwards is hilarious in its own right but when sex, murder and butchery enter the equation you find yourself in a whole new world of hilarious back-to-front shenanigans.


Clocking in at only 71 grin-inducing minutes, Happy End doesn't overstay its welcome but instead leaves you with a bitter-sweet sense of longing for more inspired madness. The jokes come thick and fast with barely any space for breathing room and range from moments of full blown slapstick comedy to smatterings of well-crafted word play which delight and amuse in equal measure. You will inevitably derive more pleasure from the gags that don't register until repeat viewings and this works to its advantage as Happy End is a film that deserves demands to be seen more than once.

Happy End is undoubtedly a work of comic genius but it also ventures into the realm of cinematic brilliance with its long takes that play out in reverse. The lively camera work heightens the feeling that you are watching something very special indeed, and the audacious shots are matched with a playful classical soundtrack that lightens the mood during the sombre scenes and adds a delightful poignancy to key emotional moments.

Why Happy End isn't more well known is beyond me, this classic comedy should easily sit alongside the greats of the genre and is definitely deserving of more attention, as you will hopefully find out for yourself. If you have come this far in reading my high praise for the first essential film that deserves more attention then what are you waiting for? Click play below and I guarantee you will be hooked in the first five minutes.



If you take the time to watch Happy End then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Cinema Review - Green Room

In one fell swoop of a machete, Jeremy Saulnier has risen into the ranks of my favourite directors working today. His debut feature, Murder Party, showcased a love for genre movies in an innovative and exciting way that caught my attention as well as opening the doors for his well-received follow up, the excellent thriller Blue Ruin. With his third film, Green Room, Saulnier has gone full John Carpenter to deliver an incredibly intense siege flick that adds shocks and gore to an enthralling premise in what is his finest work to date.

As a teenager I submerged myself in the local music scene and visited my fair share of dives over the years (that's bound to happen to anyone growing up in Stoke-on-Trent) but none of those venues come close to the horrors that await the fictional punk rock band 'The Ain't Rights' in the Green Room of a questionable bar deep in the backwoods of Oregon. Faced with ending their self-financed tour of small venues and siphoning petrol to fuel their journey home or playing one more gig to make ends meet, the band plump for the gig, which unwittingly puts them in the hands of a very dangerous Neo-Nazi movement. After provoking the crowd with a risky opener The Ain't Rights knuckle down for the rest of their set hoping that their steadfast attitudes and tight performances see them through. It is only when the time comes to collect their gear backstage that they encounter an ugly situation and things go south faster than a Mohawk caught in the rain.

This simple yet effective premise sees the start of a stand-off between the punk group and a legion of skinheads helmed by Darcy (Patrick Stewart), whose fiercely commanding presence comes close to stealing the show despite his limited screen time. Macon Blair returns for his third collaboration with Saulnier and delivers an understated performance as Darcy's right-hand man, providing smatterings of comic relief when you least expect it as he attempts to rectify the mistakes made by their subordinates.

When The Ain't Rights tool up to fight back all hell breaks loose and it is Anton Yelchin's reluctant guitarist, Pat, whose leadership qualities are called into action. Imogen Poots, who starred alongside Yelchin in 2011's disappointing remake of Fright Night, also comes into her own as Amber, an alluring insider who witnessed the event that kick-starts the tension. She doesn't shy away from acts of violence, bolstering the band in their desperate hour of need and providing them with valuable insight into the workings of the bar and its denizens. There is a clear chemistry between Pat and Amber, and this kindles the audiences interest in their survival as they work together with the rest of the band to escape the Green Room, despite the odds being stacked against them.

For a film chock full of exciting characters each is given enough time to develop a memorable persona and all appear with distinctive styles for the audience to easily identify them amongst the action. Neither aggressors or the victims are faceless, and this adds to the impact when blood and sweat permeates the atmosphere as the volatile skinheads clash with the desperate punks.

The relentless carnage and unsettling violence ratchets up the nail-biting tension, taking you into the heart of a stomach-churning fight for survival. A fight that the special effects team have rendered  incredibly raw and realistic, so much so that the brutal confrontations become almost too painful to watch, particularly when the torment is dished out to those characters we care for. It is key for the audience to root for the Ain't Rights and thankfully the exposition helps the viewers to do just that, establishing the group as a spunky bunch of misfits with integrity and a strength of character that comes from touring the road in a clapped out old van.

Amongst all the wanton carnage there are moments of almost serene tranquillity; stirring slow motion shots of The Ain't Rights and the pulsating crowd conjure up memories of watching your favourite local bands, an aerial shot of their ramshackle touring van lost in a corn field is a visual treat to behold, and the simplest action of lighting a cigarette adds clarity and beauty to the darkest of moments. By allowing his characters the occasional chance to breathe and take stock of their situation, Saulnier provides the audience with brief respites from the action and skilfully does so in a way that demonstrates his flair for visual aesthetics alongside his penchant for grisly fight scenes. This combination elevates what could have been a low-brow grindhouse flick into a credible and utterly captivating thriller, and should hopefully catapult the director and his team on to bigger and better things.

In short, Green Room is an absolute riot. You will be hard pushed to find another thrill ride brimming with as much potent energy as is on show here, but if you do then point me in its direction immediately.

4/5


Friday, 6 May 2016

Cinema Review - The Cabin In The Woods

Previously Published on Front Room Cinema in 2012

With The buzz surrounding The Cabin in the Woods increasing day by day, Tom headed to a preview screening to find out exactly what was lurking deep in the heart of the forest...

From the writer of Cloverfield, Drew Goddard, comes this latest horror that on first glance may appear to be a run of the mill treatment of a tired genre but delve under the surface and you will find that there is a lot more to this film than anyone could be able to predict. Every so often a horror film comes along that completely turns the genre on its head, and it would be high praise to say that the Cabin in the Woods does just that, but there is no denying that it comes pretty damn close.

I went in to the film having not seen a trailer or read anything about it and I can highly advise that you do the same. For this reason, I want you to know that I have purposely avoided including any spoilers in my review and will not give away anything that would detract from your enjoyment of what was one hell of an experience. Not since Kick-Ass have I left the cinema feeling so pumped and overwhelmed by what I had witnessed on screen and although it isn't quite a horror classic, fans of the genre are sure to appreciate what is a devilishly fun ride from start to finish.

Beginning with one of the most overused cliches in horror today, the film starts when five friends venture out to a cabin deep in the heart of the woods with plenty of booze and drugs to kick back and make the most of their weekend. As their story unfolds we are also introduced to another set of characters, and it is not until later on in the film that we realise how the two are connected but it is a great piece of writing and the demented geniuses behind this screenplay, Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, who have been involved with Buffy, Serenity, Cloverfield and the forthcoming Avengers film, have invented one hell of a twisted creation.

The Cabin in the Woods is full of nasty shocks and surprises that are guaranteed to delight horror fans, and it is impressive that the countless nods to classic films of the genre never feel tired or outstay their welcome. Full of clichés but self-aware, the film shifts in tone from full on horror to the black humour of the recent comedy horror outing Tucker and Dale vs Evil without losing any of its impact. There have been a number of comparisons to early Raimi which are well deserved although I would argue that the style has far more in common with the full on depraved insanity of his recent outing Drag me to Hell, as for the majority of the screening I was sat there with a big goofy grin on my face that refused to subside.

I couldn't help but notice that the score sounded remarkably similar to that of the Descent in some of
the more serious scenes, where the focus was on scares rather than laughter, and wasn't surprised to find out that it was actually composed by the same artist, David Julyan. It really aided the transition from the more humorous elements to the bleakness of our protagonists' struggle to survive and the constant shift between the two extremes of the horror genre rarely feels so natural.

There was a certain moment in the film when I anticipated what was going to happen shortly before the events unfolded on screen and it completely surpassed my expectation of how it would pan out. As a huge horror fan it felt like all of my nightmares had come true but I was very glad that they did. Although there are a few scares in the film they are unlikely to leave a lasting impression on the audience as it is the story that really leaves an indelible footprint on the mind. I still can't get over how the film-makers managed to convert what may have sounded like a massive gamble on paper into what could possibly be a contender for one of the best horrors of 2012.

I could probably go on all day about how impressed I was with The Cabin in the Woods although people unfamiliar with the horror genre probably won't take as much from the film as those who love nothing more than to be scared. It does borrow heavily from those that have come before but also adds so much more that The Cabin in the Wood even manages to transcend the majority of its influences which is very impressive considering a large portion of the film revolves around mocking the cliches of the genre.

I am unsure whether the film will hold up as well on a second viewing with prior knowledge of the eventual outcome but there are still numerous sequences that I cannot wait to view again. An essential film for horror fans and a recommended viewing for everyone else, make sure you take a trip to the cabin when it hits cinemas, I guarantee that you will have no idea of the horrors that are waiting in store for you.

4/5

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Cinema Review - Begin Again

Previously published on Watch This Space Film magazine in 2014:

Since 2007, when John Carney captured hearts everywhere with his incredibly moving and exceptionally well-written musical ‘Once’, audiences have eagerly awaited the directors return to the genre, hoping that Carney will be able to capture the magic and originality of a film that rightly took home an Oscar for the song ‘Falling Slowly’. His latest film, Begin Again, is a perfect companion piece to Once, (even if Carney’s decision to move away from the intimacy of two relatively unknown actors to a cast of stars does detract from the feeling of stumbling upon something very real and very special) which follows two down on their luck musicians who cross paths in New York city, and it continues to build upon the themes prevalent in its spiritual predecessor.

It begins with a chance encounter that leaves Dan (Mark Ruffalo) smitten with Greta’s (Keira Knightley) music and entranced by her undeniable charm as she regales a heartfelt song about a failed relationship to a mostly uninterested crowd in a dingy bar. As a failing music business executive, Dan believes he has stumbled upon someone special who may just give his career the resurgence it needs, and Greta is equally intrigued by his enthusiasm and openness, which is mainly due to the large amounts of alcohol flowing through his veins.

As the two embark on a musical and emotional journey we learn about the moments leading up to the start of their friendship through flashbacks and accompanying songs; Dan struggles to connect with his estranged daughter and partner, and Greta is still torn from her break-up with the up and coming rock star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) who she travelled to New York to be with. The decision for the unlikely duo to record an album on the streets of New York gives way to a newfound creativity and both Dan and Greta slowly begin to come to terms with their troubled pasts.

Knightley and Ruffalo give superb performances in a genre that neither are overly familiar with, and Carney coaxes a raw honesty from both his stars and the supporting cast to provide the film with a vibrancy matched only by the stunning locations of the city itself. Whilst the story does resonate on a deeper level than most musicals, it doesn’t quite have the emotional heft of Once, but offers enough humour and energy that audiences will still be able to relate to the characters regardless of their preconceptions.

Making the transition from the lead singer of Maroon 5 to the big screen far too effortlessly is Adam Levine, with his natural good looks and the ineffable swagger of a lead singer being perfect for his role as the story's villain, Dave Kohl - whose name is likely to either amuse or annoy fans of the Foo Fighters every time it appears on screen. James Corden is also a valuable addition to the cast as Steve, with his light-hearted humour and reassuring encouragement allowing Greta to shine even when she is feeling down.

As far as feel good summer movies go, Begin Again hits all the right notes, with its uplifting melodies and dazzling cinematography making you forget that you are actually in a dark cinema when you could be outside enjoying the sunshine. It doesn't bring anything new to the table, but then again, it doesn't need to, as Carney has crafted a delightful tale of two kindred spirits finding solace in each other as they set out to realise their true potential in a joyful celebration of music.

7/10

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Blu-Ray Review - The Shrine

Previously published on Front Room Cinema in 2011

As you read the synopsis of The Shrine you could be forgiven for thinking that you have seen this film countless of times before; the usual horror cliche of a group of young journalists investigating a spate of mysterious disappearances in a Strange European location no longer sounds appealing to me in a world where Hostel part three exists. Far from being your typical gruesome and pointless torture porn horror, The Shrine throws up enough unexpected turns to keep your eyes glued to the screen and whilst none of the ideas are particularly new or inspiring, the way they are included in the story is original enough to make this an enjoyable watch for horror fans.

A couple on the rocks; Carmen (Cindy Sampson) and Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), are joined by Carmen's journalist sister, Sara (Meghan Heffern), to see if they can get the scoop of a lifetime to boost her ailing career, and set off to Poland unaware of the dangers that await them. Hostile villagers, bizarre smoke above the forest and terrifying statues are just the start of the unnerving situations the group encounter and, up until the final part of the film, the audience are left in the dark as to the villager's motives. All three of the characters make a number of questionable decisions, as is usually the case with horror films, but thanks to the story's unique approach to the subject matter of bizarre cults I found myself able to overlook these minor flaws.

Some of the acting does lack conviction but for the most part the performances are solid enough to be believable. Trevor Matthews stood out as an actor to watch for the future, his role as the steadfast villager who warns the trio to leave the area adds an air of menace to the proceedings as he is constantly bristling with aggression and at times he appears genuinely intimidating.

I'll admit that there were a few startling moments that did cause the occasional shudder, and people who are easily scared would do well to watch The Shrine with company, or at least a cushion or two to hide behind. If however you are like me and thrive on a good scary film, make sure that your surround sound is turned up loud - the creepy atmospherics add to the build up of tension and enhance the films eerie feeling that will leave you unsettled and on edge.

There have been a number of comparisons made to all kinds of horror films ranging from The Wicker Man to The Evil Dead but The Shrine does have enough innovation to stand on its own two feet. Jon Knautz who wrote and directed The Shrine has borrowed ideas from the classics and given them a fresh spin to ensure that this is something that horror fans will not have encountered before. In a world full of endless remakes and rehashed ideas it is great to see an innovative horror film and although it is not quite the classic it could have been, The Shrine is certain to obtain a cult following.

3/5


Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Scarlet Blade Review

Previously published on Front Room Cinema in 2012.

This Hammer production from 1963 has lurked in the depths of obscurity for almost fifty years but is finally being released on DVD which will be news to the ears of any Oliver Reed fans out there. Unlike the typical horror films churned out by Hammer in the 60's, The Scarlet Blade is a historical adventure that takes place during the tumultuous civil war that reshaped England in the mid 1600's, with the Roundheads and the Cavaliers taking up opposing sides due to their loyalties to parliament and royalty respectively.

Daunted by the task of watching a forgotten Hammer film that had only received 87 votes on IMDB, my fears were soon laid to rest when the opening sequence exploded across the screen with a fairly impressive battle in full flight, cannons launching across fields, soldiers on horses charging at infantrymen, and what appears to be the same extras in every shot. Braveheart this isn't, but The Scarlet Blade has plenty of entertaining swordplay to keep fans of bloody history films interested for the entire 83 minutes, and enough semblance of a plot to capture the attention of all but the easily distracted.

The story follows the exploits of a group of Roundheads headed by Colonel Judd who is played by Lionel Jeffries and his second in command Captain Sylvester, portrayed by none other than the man himself, Oliver Reed, who capture King Charles I near the start of the film. It is not long before a number of cavaliers, who would not be out of place in Robin Hood's band of merry men, attempt to sabotage the well laid plans of the roundheads in order to rescue the King. Heading up this rebellion is the eponymous Scarlet Blade, who you would be forgiven for thinking should have a certain level of charisma, but Jack Hedley's uninspiring acting fails to compete with the film's more heavyweight actors.

A love triangle soon begins between Colonel Judd's daughter, Claire, the Scarlet Blade and Captain Sylvester and it is not long before loyalties are tested and sides are switched, with informers and infiltrators causing all kinds of havoc for both sides. I was surprisingly intrigued by the story, and despite a few camp and whimsical moments that could easily have been excerpts from a Monty Python sketch, The Scarlet Blade was an enjoyable historical romp that did not overstay its welcome.

6/10

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dead Heads Review

Previously published for Front Room Cinema in 2012:

When horror and comedy are mixed well it can lead to some fantastic results; splatter-fests such as Bad Taste and The Return of the Living Dead prove they are a combination that is meant to be together, and some of the best horrors are tinged with black comedy. I am always wary when approaching horror comedies as it is not hard for them to miss the mark but, when a handful of originality can lead to a cult classic, I was intrigued to see if DeadHeads would be up there with Bad Taste or end up leaving one in my mouth.

The simple premise of siding with the villains throughout a horror film is an under-used storytelling technique that has recently gained popularity thanks to the success of hillbilly horror spoof Tucker and Dale Vs Evil. DeadHeads treads a fairly similar path, choosing to follow the actions of a recently turned zombie, Mike Kellerman, who is struggling to comprehend his new existence.

With a burning desire to visit the love of his life, Mike sets off on a voyage of discovery stopping only to pick up other zombies who are eager to join him for the ride, and are only too happy to help when it comes to easing him into his new life as a shuffling corpse. Pursued by people hunting the living dead for different reasons, Mike and his pals soon bite off more flesh than they can chew and end up in a number of sticky, and very gory situations.

It is not long before the homages come thick and fast with nods to countless other zombie films being a staple of the film's script, thankfully this is not to DeadHeads detriment as the send-ups are all in good faith as well as fitting nicely alongside the story. Unfortunately, when it comes to humour, DeadHeads is disappointingly lacking, and some of the weaker sub-plots fail to flesh out what at times seems to be an overly long film.

There are a number of redeeming features though; Deadheads contains the best intestine scene since Machete came along, and although that's not saying much, the gruesome effects are impressive for the low budget, with some very convincing dismemberments and bucketfuls of blood thrown in for good measure. Whilst the acting is not pitch-perfect, the cast all deliver enthusiastic performances and it is worth sticking around until the end to catch the fantastic improvisations that run alongside the credits.

It is clear that DeadHeads is a labour of love and as such it feels wrong to criticise the film too harshly but there are times when the humour feels forced and falls flat. This is by no means a bad film, and will certainly be enjoyed by zombie aficionados, but I doubt that it will find a wider audience and is perfectly suited to its direct to dvd release.

5/10