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.


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.


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.