Joshy (2016)

This was a surprising movie. One which seemed like a production too cheap to be any good, but it actually works. The movie is written and directed by Jeff Baena (I Heart Huckabees, 2004) centres around attempts to cheer-up Joshua, Joshi, our eponymous hero. The movie covers the events of a “Batchelor” weekend a group of his friends had planned for Joshy (Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley, 2014). However, four months prior to the weekend, joshy’s fiancée, killed herself. While at home one evening, Josh arrives home to fine her in a funny humour, he goes to the gym only to return to find her dead.

As the bachelor party date falls due, the landlord of the property they hired contacts them to remind them of the booking, they decide to go ahead with it, in order to cheer Joshy up. And now enter the 21st century; the weekend was planned by email, and as a result various of the people on the weekend do not know each other, most know Joshy.

An so our group of soon to be friends gather, each, as it happens with their own ijoshyssues also. Josh’s pall Ari ( Adam Pally, Happy endings , 2011) looked after the booking and is the central point, he seems to be the level headed one, he is met by Adam (Alex Ross Perry, Queen of Earth, 2014) Adam is in a break-up situation with his girlfriend and is sharing his grief with everybody. Adam is one of those up-tight individuals who will not use a hot-tub because of the disease risk. They a joined by the very enthusiastic Eric, (Nick Kroll, “I Love You, Man” 2009)who has everything planned out, much to Adam’s disgust, who intended for everybody to play his extremely complex Co-op board game .

As the weekend moves on, various others join the group as they attempt to sail through the weekend and help Joshy. We see Adam eventually get in the pool after a long conversation with the repair man (Jake Johnson, New Girl 2011). Not helping matters is the visit by his dead fiancee’s parents who blame Josh for their daughter’s death. We also see Ari, possibly falling for one of the girls they met on the first night, despite his own family dynamic.

In short this is one of those “road” movies where the stars are on a journey through their lives, without actually going anywhere.

This is truly one of the saddest comedies you will ever watch (premise-wise). I’ve deliberately not mentioned many/most/all of the gags and situational comedy, suffice it to say it works well. You spend much of the movie thinking just how lucky you are – not to be any of these people, even though we can all recognise elements of ourselves in most of the characters.

 

6/10

The Neon Demon (2016)

 

The Neon Demon has been described as “weird” by many people, it is weird, slightly, but not in a plot sense, it is slightly weird overall.  This is the latest work from Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, 2008), who has made a name for himself in giving us movies which are stylistically his own. The movie can be described as a horror, but it is perhaps more a satire or allegory for the dreams and jealousies of the fashion industry. If it had been written 150 years ago it would have been on a par with the Grimm fairy tales (before Disney and the polite crowd tamed them).the-neon-demon

One of the first things to hit you about this movie, even before the story starts to take hold, is that stylistically it is an homage to the works of Dario Argento. Scenes such as the first meeting between our doe-eyed new girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning (Trumbo, 2015) and make-up artist “Ruby” (Jena Malone Inherent Vice, 2014) in the changing room of a photo-shoot are purely Argento, through-out many of the key scenes are the cinematography of Argento, even smaller seemingly minor shots are taken from the Italian Maestro (the hallway chase near the end is purely him) Indeed certain scenes and even plot lines seem to be taken straight from Susperia (Dario Argento, 1977).

The Story revolves around a young girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning, Trumbo, 2015), who is seen as having a natural look superior to the plastic augmented “false” beauty of many of the others. A boy, Dean (Carl Glusman, Embers 2015) she met, takes some photographs for her, which get her in to an agency (she had promised to “drop his name” but did not) She is befriended by a make-up artist, Ruby who brings here to a party where she meets Gigi  (Bella Heathcote (The Rewrite, 2014) and Sarah (Abbey Lee, Mad Mad Fury Road, 2015) a friendship of sorts begins due to Ruby’s efforts, immediately the digs and barbed comments begin, under the guise of opinions on the industry.

Ruby’s star continues to rise, while the others are left in shock as to how a “rough-diamond” like her with no plastic work can get work-on. This is all against the background of her own life and where she is living in a seedy motel, managed by an equally low-life, Hank (Keanu Reeves, John Wick, 2014). Reeves is excellent as the manager, projecting the seediness and darkness of the location.  The darker side of the modelling industry is constantly referred to, be it Ruby’s age (she turned 16 a couple of weeks before coming to LA), while her own boyfriend, the slightly older Dean, at first is rightly shocked by her age, only to have come to terms with it, within a few hours (as he tries to kiss her). Ultimately the motel becomes an allegory for the seedy nature of the modelling world and the young people aspiring to fame. One can only imagine the symbolism of the mountain-lion at lose in her room at one stage.

The violence in the movie draws very much from the imagery, and expectation. This is a visually stunning piece. Even the soundtrack harkens back to the music of Goblin and their work on th elikes of Suspiria. That said it can also be put against David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive  (2001) as we see a young hopeful aspiring Hollywood starlet coming up against the dreams, aspirations and failures of those who would make their fortune in LA.  One can also see hints of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, (2013),  nowhere more so than in the photo-shoot with the legendary “Mark” (Desmond Harrington, Dexter, 2008).

Visually it is fantastic, however the Horror element is a little underwhelming, we see so much of Argento, that we expect his horror touches, we get hints of them, but ultimately the horror is not in stomach turning detail, but realisation of the blood lust to gain the “thing” which the younger model had. Some people will love this film, many others will hate it.  It is not a film for amateurs, you have to want to watch it, and experience it.

7/10, it would be higher, except I think the plot suffered a little by being overly recognisable as an homage to Argento, as a result, I was constantly expecting something that did not happen.

Remember (2015)

Atom Egoyan’s (The Captive, 2014) latest movie revolves around an elderly Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer, The Last Station 2009) with early stages of dementia who has recently lost his wife, both of whom lived in a retirement home. With Zev is Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau, David and Fatima, 2008) another elderly Jewish concentration camp survivor, like the others.

Physically fit but mentally starting to suffer form dementia, Zev is about to undertake a cross-country journey in search of the man who they believe Killed so many of their family members;  a man called Rudy Kurlander. He is aided in this search by Mrememberax who despite being physically limited and confined to a chair, still has a sharp mind and has done all of the research.  He constantly reminds Zev of the pledge he made to his dying wife to find and kill the man responsible for so much suffering.

They have the name of the man responsible, as well as the knowledge that he moved to the US some years ago. Max has managed to trace the four Rudy Kurlanders alive in the US who might meet the description of the man in question.

Alone and with a letter from Max detailing everything (to help him remember), Zev sets out on a journey. As he progresses, he meets four very different people, one turns out to be a non-Jewish fellow Holocaust survivor on the edge of death, with whom Zev can spend a few minutes in shared grief. This in contrast to the former soldier, just an ordinary person not involved in the evil of the concentration camps and who claimed, like many others, not to know what was happening at that time. We can look at these people as individuals with a part to play or take the larger view, that they each represent a condition of humanity, the innocent victims, those blind to the atrocities, and as we shall see, the inherited evil of life and those who deny their own identity, hiding from their judgement.

As Zev progresses, with Max’s help and support, he eventually tracks down yet another Kurlander, John Kurlander, this time he is a policeman (Dean Norris, Secret in their Eyes 2015) son of a former Nazi. Kurlander jnr. Is proud of his father’s past and is happy to show Zev around, until he realises he is Jewish and the attitude changes completely. This is one of the more tense periods of the movie, where we genuinely do not know if Zev will survive it.

Against this Zev’s own son (Henry Czerny, The Fifth Patient, 2007) is frantically trying to find him, and manages to traxck him down to the home of the last Rudy Kurlander and arrives at the house shortly after Zev himself arrived. This last home is where this Rudy Kurlander (Jurgen Prochnow, Das Boot, 1981)  lives with his daughter and her family, in what can only be described as comfortable surroundings. Rudy does not like to discuss what happened in the war. This is said to Zev immediately, but they meet and begin to talk. Soon after Zev’s son arrives the situation come to a climax. Yes the others were Rudy Kurlanders, but this man was not, he had another identity, one known to Zev, even if he did not realise it due to his dementia, when the memory finally falls in to place and the big question from his search needs to be reassessed, Zev has only one “decent” course of action open to him.

Maybe Max knew Zev’s secret, more than Zev did. A slow boiler which brings you along, it was released shortly after Landau’s passing, but we still have Plummer giving his art to the world.

I need to mark this one out of 10, – 7/10, There are a number of scenes which are powerful in their simplicity, speaking with the young boy on a train, thinking he was his grandson, buyng a gun despite barely being in control of his abilities and the final climax where the truth is exposed finally; they all come together to give a solid production.

The Lobster (2015)

 

This is Yorgos Lanthimos’s (Alps, 2102), first English language film. Lobster finds us in a European setting, which does not specify where exactly, in a time set as the near future. It is a world not unlike ours except for a couple of very specific differences. In our heroes’ world single life is not permitted, once you are of age you are expected to find a mate, if through life your mate dies or leaves you, you are expected to find another partner. If you are found not to have a partner, you are sent to an establishment to try find one and so survive. If after the end of your stay, you are unsuccessful, you are turned in to an animal of your choice to live out your days transformed into whatever creature you pick.

And so it is that David (Colin Farrell, Fright Night, 2011    ) is introduced to us. After his wife leaving him, he now has to go and find a new partner over the next 45 days, or turn in to the animal of his choice.  David is a quiet, meek but thinking person, watching what is happening and trying to adapt to get through the experience. This is not a conventional movie, it is deliberate, paced and low key. Even the weather is dull and uninviting, but that all comes together to give us something we can perhaps relate to, the ordinariness of the surroundings, contrasts with the absurdity of the human activity.

As the days go on, many of the guests either was out and disappear or keep working to find a partner they are matched with. The “Hotel” runs a series of activities to help this, including hunting of loners (with darts) who are not up to the mark. Society is geared to couples; even parts of the hotel are off-limits to single people.  It is against this background that he begins to spend some time with some of the other guests in particular as they each try to cope or succeed in finding a partner.

As the days progress, David meets and begins to get to know a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz, Definitely Maybe, 2008). He also sees what his fellow guests are doing to survive and teams up and watches them. Ben Whishaw (Perfume, 2006) is the Limping Man, a character not beyond manipulating the situation to his needs, a lesson David quickly learns.  All of the characters are identified by their characteristics, their meekness, short-sightedness, limps or lisps.

Lisping Man, (John C. Reilly, Tale of Tales, 2015) provides us with that perfect foil to Farrell’s David. David is quiet and introspective, Lisping man is open and chatty, easily befriending such as David or Limping man. Emotions are high, as the stakes are and from time to time emotions flair, none better than the fight between Farrell and Reilly’s characters during the archery session.

The humour is very, much situational and dark, as much a reflection on our own society and the pressures we place ourselves under, issues such as our place in life, esteem, partnerships, human understanding.  The style is deliberate, dystopic and resembling something like the down-trodden masses we see in films like 1984 (Michael Radford, 1984).  The scenes resembling “Blind Date” showing the couples who have joined together.

It is certainly a thought provoking and dark movie which will have you questioning whether or not you want to actually watch it for the first few minutes, but then you find yourself engaged in it, willing the characters along, sharing the highs and lows  and asking yourself some serious questions about society.

A number of people will be thinking about watching this film because Colin Farrell is in it (from a sex-symbol)  perspective, this is not an action movie, it is a very cerebral one, and guess what, it is the type of role which he is best suited for. He cut his teeth in TV drama, and for a reason, he is a very capable dramatic actor, as are Reilly,  Weisz, Whishaw and many of the supporting cast. This is an excellent movie once you tune in to it.

The Overnight

 

Written and directed by Patrick Brice (Creep, 2014). This is a perfectly fine piece of entertainment. I say this because given the subject matter and story line it could have been made a number of ways, from a Woody Allen 1970’s angst ridden social farce or a glorified soft-porn TV movie.  Instead Brice manages to pull off an exploration of the fears  and weaknesses. tumblr_nq7ddbul0d1uwiej5o1_1280

Alex (Adam Scott, Krampus, 2015) and Emily (Taylor Schilling, Argo 2015), together with their young son RJ are new to LA and don’t know many people. Against this they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman, Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009) an extroverted Los Angelino while at the part with their son RJ, Kurt is there also with his son. After a short conversation (which leaves Alex and Emily scratching their heads) they are invited to dinner with Kurt and his wife Charlotte. Dinner starts off normal enough with Alex and Emily learning that Charlotte is an actress. They later see some of Charlotte’s “work” as they get to know their new friends better during the night.

Indeed as the night progresses we are exposed to the extroverted confidence of Kurt and Charlotte, which ultimately  reaches the point where Kurt decides they should all take a plunge in the pool outside, obviously the hosts are all for it, while our more reserved guests are somewhat shy about doing so nude. A reservation “justified” by the large size of Kurt’s manhood, compared to Alex’s. We can see the tension between everybody, Alex is not too comfortable with the events of the night while Charlotte is more open to allowing events unwind as the night develops.

This leads to some tension, which Kurt seeks to remove by showing Alex his pool-house where Kurt practices his art (the majority of the paintings are of the female reproductive organ) and also his breast suction pump films which they make for the Scandinavian market.

Alex, not at all comfortable with the night would be more than happy to leave. As the night progresses he spends some time talking with Kurt, as Emily and Charlotte also spend some time talking in the bed room.

As it turns out Kurt and Charlotte are not the perfect couple of their image, they have the same insecurities as the rest of us, but they do not want to accept these. While they all come from the point of not being happy with their lot in life, they begin to realise that what they have is not as bad as they thought it was.

On the down side the camera work resembles that of a cheap made for TV movie that does not inspire the casual viewer to sit down and watch the movie, the dialogue is a little stained in places but overall it works.

This is a safe 3*** movie with no pretensions of greater.

Timbuktu

The 2014 film by Abderrahmane Sissako, takes you by surprise and ultimately leaves you sitting there wondering what just happened with your life.  I say this because if like me you sat down to this film and immediately were struck with the slowness of life and the movie at the start, only to find that you cannot leave it, then you know what I mean.

Set on the outskirts of a small village near Timbuktu in Mali the film mainly revolves around a small cattle herder and his family and the “local” ISIS thugs who now control the area. The film is a serious statement made in a way that draws us in to listen to it, rather than shout the message at us.  We see the tranquil nature of life as people go about their normal lives only to have it regulated by the ISIS thugs to the way they believe the locals should live. Music and signing are banned, but yet the locals continue to play music and sign in the privacy of their homes, in defiance of the thugs. People are forced to dress according to the rules of their new overlords.

The local Iman is forced to walk a fine line between representing the local people on religious matters and protecting them where possible and lot having himself murdered in the process.  Against all of this Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) lives his life, looking after his family, his wife Saima (Toulou Kiki) and daughter, even his cow-herd (who might be suitable to marry his daughter one day).

There are difficulties such as the bad relations he has with a neighbour who nets the local river for fish. These nets are a cause of concern as the cattle get in to them and destroy them. Life is regulated by the ISIS thugs, who we get a look at.  Abdelkerim is one of the ISIS enforcers patrolling the region. He is helped by a local young man who speaks the local language. In deed much is made (in a subtle manner) about how the ISIS thugs are outsiders come in to impose their way on the local people. We see how many of them are in fact from places such as Libya and other countries and practice the bad habits such as smoking they are demanding the local population stop form doing.  It should be noted that Sissako’s balancing of the reaction of the local population with the specific story is well done, setting the background and conditions we need to know about for the story to work.

In the course of events, one of Kidane’s cattle is killed after destroying nets while in the care of the young cow-herd. Kidane goes to the fisherman to seek compensation, a struggle follows and in the fight the fisherman is killed. The murder is reported and the local ISIS thugs, taking a break from hunting down people singing and enjoying themselves, arrest Kidane.

The trial “scene” or questioning by the ISIS chief (Salem Dendou) is a study on true evil. The insidious quiet type which tries to present itself as right and decent.  Quietly, seemingly during the interview Kidane is sentenced to death the next morning as he could not pay the blood price of far more cattle than he owns. The chief inflicts cruelty in a manner which suggest he is being charitable. Through all of this they must use an interpreter (who seems to be not quite as fundamentalist as his leader) which emphasis the foreign nature of the overlords.  We also see just how hypocritical they are, practicing those things which they also ban. We also see through them as uneducated and nothing special.   These are a foreign unwelcome people who are not as true and pure as they would like the world to believe. Their power is in the force with which they inflict their way of life on the local populations.

With death approaching, there are no options left for Kidane, he is to be publically executed and the townsfolk forced to watch, is there any chance for him?

The power of this film is in its understatement. The dialogue is sparse and only used where needed. Sissako prefers to show the viewer what is happening, rather than tell. The cinematography is similarly used, giving us a picture not just of the landscape but also of the live of those people who populate that landscape.

An excellent film well worth the watch 4/5

 

 

The Witch (2015)

 

Robert Eggers’ (the Tell-Tale Heart, 2008) movie is set in the early 1600’s with a new England farming family, headed by the farmer husband and father (Ralph Ineson, Intruders, 2011), a man of strong religious views, are banished, for religious reasons from the community they live in.  Needing to build a new life for the family, they settle down a couple of days away from the town and build a new existence for themselves. Life is hard and the family is struggling to make an income in the harsh New England countryside.

As hard as life is, it still goes on. Each member of the family has their position and duties accordingly. And this is where the film works. The movie draws on the folklore of ththe-witche early New England settlers as they came to terms with the new land, the strange surroundings and the natural fears and superstitions of life at this time.

There is an under lying tension within the family, As the father and mother (Kate Dickie, Red Road 2006) struggle to make a success of their little farmstead, the children also have responsibilities and duties. It is to this background that things start to happen. The two oldest children are of an age where the tensions of hormonal changes are coming into play, most especially for the son, who is becoming aware of himself, so to speak. One day while taking care of the youngest child, the oldest, Thomasin, (Anya Taylor-Joy, Viking Quest, 2015) loses her, but only after taunting the middle daughter, Mercy (about witches and saying she was one). This of course leads to all sorts of implications. The Son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw, Oranges and Sunshine, 2010, a person who could have a bright future ahead of him) is caught in the middle of this and goes to find his little sister, only to make things worse.

The days following the disappearance of the child are tense ones, made all the more tense by the otherwise mundane arguments and struggles of life, which are blown-up in the tensions of the struggles.  Eventually things are said and accusations are made, Did Thomasin do something to her little sister, did an animal take her or did the [ubiquitous] with in the woods take her?

As we are drawn in to this struggle, the tension mounts, but then we are introduced to a new element, the witch herself, it turns out there is a witch in the woods, who might actually have taken the child.

Over the next while the presence of the witch is hinted at and explored at first, but then takes a larger part of the story-line, especially with the use of the family mail goat as a familiar, who might actually be the devil.  The last act or so of the film is an old fashioned blood and gore horror segment which needless to say culminates in the great showdown. This final denouement  (and yes any denouement should be final…) is to me the lessor event.  As the tensions in the household mounts and events begin to take their toll, the children are taken over and possessed, with young Caleb especially affected. This scene is one of the better ones of the film.

Now, let’s be clear; this is not the great horror movie people seem to think it is. It could have been, a nerve wrenching thriller playing on the fears and dangers hidden in the dark corners and damp ground, or it could have been an old fashioned horror with our heroes fighting the evil monster etc. Instead it tried to do both and so ultimately failed to succeed to the level it wanted. The acting by the younger actors in particular in first class, even if the character of the mother seemed a little over the top (more the character than the acting).

This is a good film, scoring a safe 3 stars, it could have been much more, if it decided to go one way or the other. Personally I would have liked a movie where we never say the protagonist, but only the fears, reactions and struggles of the family.