Recut Trailers: The Neon Demon

Due to a lack of interesting releases this week and some personal reasons there has been no review written for this week.

A fresh review should be coming soon, but until that time here is a recut trailer for The Neon Demon. 

The video was more a personal exercise rather than being made for the site but I’m going to put it up here anyway. Clearly it is not good marketing to recut the trailer to a film that no one saw to look like a film no one would want to see, but there you go, it’s done now.

It was a serious challenge to recut the most stylish and interesting film of 2016 to look like generic crap and my editing skills are pretty much in their infancy. Any constructive criticism is more than welcome and some subscriptions to the channel would not go amiss as more videos are planned for downsize on YouTube.

Thanks for everyone who reads these things x

Get Out exploits horror tropes to tell an original story

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut balances mystery, humour and horror

Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key have put some serious man hours into their comedy careers over the past decade. Following the success of sketch show Key and Peele on Comedy Central the duo became highly in demand. They found guest acting roles in the likes of Bob’s Burgers, Rick and Morty and even the TV adaptation of Fargo. Key has since focused on his acting career while Jordan Peele, on the other hand, has concentrated more on behind the scenes roles. He has collected more writing credits, including the pair’s 2016 buddy comedy Keanu, a pretty decent venture that served mainly as a platform for the two to put their fantastic chemistry on screen.

Jordan Peele does, therefore have writing experience for feature films, what he did not have before making Get Out, however, is directing experience. And what comes from Get Out is some pretty stellar directing. The film’s plot is best left discovered for yourself, essentially it is the story of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s rich parents at a family get together in the countryside. Chris Washington has reservations about he will be treated over the weekend, he is played by Daniel Kaluuya, who might be recognised from UK TV roles like Black Mirror or Psychoville.

The plot moves forward with almost no diversions or subplots, there is a central premise and mystery in the film and the script serves solely to explore that. It is a strength of the horror genre that it can afford this tunnel vision like approach to filmmaking, it makes for pleasant, to the point viewing.

Get Out has undercurrents of real life racism but they are so well melded with the detached unreal racism on the screen that it never feels too heavy handed. True, most dialogue of the film is, to an extent, open to interpretation and serving another purpose but it benefits greatly working as a story first and foremost. It follows story beats, action cues, Chekhov’s guns and plot twists; it is not merely a vehicle for racial discourse and could be enjoyed in a social vacuum. It does however add another layer of enjoyment to the film to look at it through the eye of a first-time black director with an interest in these issues.

Yet Get Out impresses with its pacing, scenes are constructed in such a concise way, to create tension and tell the story through a great mix of visuals and sound design. The first scene of Chris and therapist Missy being a particularly strong example of this. The film eases the viewers into what it calls ‘a heightened sense of suggestibility’ becoming almost hypnotic with its ebb and flow.

Like with many horror films it takes place in few locations but manages to only feel claustrophobic when it needs to be. The small cast of speaking characters are given sufficient screen time to establish themselves and the waves of extras are effectively defined by one catchall description from Milly early on in the film “it’s a very white crowd.”

The film suffers at some points from overexplaining itself and some might think that it goes a bit too far into its own ridiculousness but I thought it appropriate considering the satirical element. Certain scenes featuring the comedic relief (LilRel Howery) can seem out of place but these are cancelled out by the charisma of his performance; these are all small nit-picks to what is a highly competent, greatly crafted flick. While I do understand the need for the budget to come from somewhere in such a small film, the level of Windows product placement is slightly off putting, shots linger on Lumia screens or bing searches a little too long that it did distract for a while.

However, I am looking for criticisms in the film because there really aren’t many to make, the film is a fantastically crafted, amusing journey into a well realised world with an interesting mythology. It takes its horror cues from its visuals, its outsider status and from a surreal warped view of humanity best likened to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Like last week’s review The VVitch, it avoids cheap tricks of most other Blumhouse pictures in favour of a more cerebral horror.

Recommendation

The film is a tight package, tied up with a neat little bow, it tells a small-scale story that hints at larger implications, it ends when it is done with the premise and resolves all possible loose ends. It is a pleasure to watch, prolonged stretches of tension and mystery are broken up with lightly comedic dialogue and a satirical remove that keeps everything light and breezy despite the subject matter.

 

The VVitch is a tortured descent into madness and hysteria

Fear is in the eye of the beholder in this jump scare free atmospheric horror

Occasionally, there is a film that is recommended to you time and time again that you, for some inconceivable reason, avoid watching. For me 2016 was the year of The Witch. It made an appearance on most best of the year lists and it came out in February, so why did it take me 14 months to finally sit down and watch The Witch?

Frankly, I don’t care why. I don’t care about much anymore. Not after seeing The Witch. I used up all my willpower powering through the last twenty minutes and I am now a husk.

The Witch is an atmospheric horror with the emphasis on atmosphere. It boasts a charcoal black tone and a slow creep of tension with a touch of phantasm. Aided by dimly lit, isolated locales and a tiny cast it is as low budget as can be, but also as low budget as it needs to be. It is a simple story of a family being tormented by a witch. That’s all there really is to say about the plot, the rest you can discover by yourself when you watch this amazing film.

The film’s greatest strength is its ability to construct fear as opposed to simply stating ‘here is the scary bit. You gasp now.’ Many movies mistake a jump scare as the payoff for building tension, Robert Eggers understands that the most terrifying payoff is one that is entirely constructed in the viewer’s mind. The Witch gives its viewers enough information to scare themselves with each new turn of the story without resorting to cheap tricks. The titular witch is revealed within the first ten minutes so it leaves no space for stupid clichés of the genre (“What was that?” “Probably just the wind” – “don’t be stupid, there’s no such thing as witches” etc etc)

There is a complete lack of jump scares and most the film’s power lies with the family unit that is being picked apart bit by bit. Like in The Shining, the film finds terror in the potential for family members to turn on each other. They search for meaning in God, the devil, fate and vengeance, all while the viewer knows its witchcraft. It’s a downward spiral of desperation and despair that only gets worse, and it’s fantastic.

It is held together by solid performances on all sides, Game of Thrones alumni Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie play their roles with a terrifically level mix of faith and despair. Yet they are both outshined by Anya Taylor-Joy, who hopped right from this role to the lead role in M Night Shyamalan’s Split. She plays the eldest daughter Thomasin with a fantastically mature and expressive performance and will hopefully be seen in more roles like this soon.

The film combines the atmosphere of The Shining with the aesthetics of The Blair Witch Project. It is well shot and simple in its beauty and muted colour pallet. However, criticisms will come from those who find difficulty acclimatising to the film, the characters speak in olde English and live in the 17th century, hardly the most glamourous or accessible of settings. Yet the dialogue is simple and easy to understand and the effort acquired to fall into the film is easily worth it for the terror that proceeds it. I hear potential whispers of people possibly calling The Witch boring and I hear louder whispers of myself telling those people to go fuck themselves.

Recommendation

It’s a dark film, a slow film, it is unpleasant and hard to watch and it all comes together to create a perfect unity. All in the service of atmosphere and mood, it creates weighty moments of real drama and tragedy, getting into the heads of the characters with an incredible effectiveness.

One of the greatest examples of ‘feel-bad cinema’ I have ever seen. The music is filled with dread, but not dreadful, the mood is horrible to bare but incredible to watch. If you can appreciate a good atmosphere and a story well told, then you owe it to yourself to see The Witch. I have not yet been so close to giving out my first A+ grade

Wolverine is at his most violent and vulnerable in the adventurous Logan

Logan approaches the super hero movie in a new way with varying levels of benefit

Why do people want to see Wolverine films? It always seemed strange to me that the character has had two solo films completely independent of the rest of the X-Men. The character of Wolverine is invariably a loner, but a loner thrust into the spotlight and forced to work in a team. For me as a young boy watching the X-Men animated show, I was always greatly entertained by the clashing of personalities of Wolverine and Cyclops – a dynamic leader, meticulous and measured – battling wits with a self-sufficient wild card, as skilled as he is fed up. It makes for great motivation when two people who dislike each other put aside their differences to take down future robots or ancient giants or people who are 90% head mass.

That is what Wolverine is to me, however, I am not representative of the population, and the fact that Wolverine is one of the most prolific characters in comic book history shows that the character must appeal to many people for different reasons. Yet it is still strange to me to have such a primarily straightforward antihero take the lead in three films when his character is so reluctant to perform as a hero at all.

Logan is the logical conclusion to the character that Hugh Jackman embodied first over 17 years ago in X-Men (2001). This final instalment takes place in 2029 after James Howlett/ Logan considers himself finally retired and like a thousand action stars before him is thrust back into his old lifestyle for one last job. The job is an escort mission of a young girl who shares his own characteristics, sporting matching adamantium claws and a similar violent blood lust. But the years have caught up to Logan, his face is transformed to an old man, his biceps stay in his sleeves, his beard encases his face. The Wolverine’s healing factors are weakening and he’s lumbered with the responsibility of looking after an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart this time), who is beginning to suffer from a form of an issue which is causing concentrated releases of the professor’s dangerous powers.

Structurally, the film is a simple point A to B road trip movie, it’s all pretty straight forward and is enhanced by a light seasoning of dystopia. It is the visuals that first stand out about Logan, and may be what has attracted many people to the cinema to see it. Trailers for the film were everywhere and Johnny Cash’s Hurt playing over saturated images of desert landscapes was enough to reignite interest in people who were put off by the previous two solo Wolverine films, the original trailers seemed to point towards Mad Max: Fury Road as an inspiration for Logan but unfortunately this style slowly dissipates over the two hours.

That is not to say that the film is not good looking because it is. It puts more effort into aesthetics rather than flashy CGI or imagined worlds, clearly the director of photography was given free rein to play with the potential of the American landscapes that passed them by on the trail. The film takes its time to let shots breathe and takes a more measured approach to exposition than ham-handed dialogue cues.

However, this is my indulgence and I know that people watch Wolverine to see Wolverine doing what he does best so how does the action fare in Logan?

Pretty well. Pretty damn well. With the film’s new R-rating it has acquisitioned the freedom to explore the disgusting reality of Wolverine’s adamantium claws. In the original X-Men, Wolverine let loose on an army of goons in Xavier’s mansion and it was all very exciting but nevertheless exceedingly clean. There was no blood, no guttural penetration, a cacophony of snikts and tings was all that could be heard – it was all a bit too tame. Logan goes all out on the visceral reality of the weapons, allowing blood to spatter and squirt and throats to gurgle, the final product benefits from it. The action is at an all-time high for the franchise and it used just sparingly enough to still be exciting each time it happens. This is the most real Wolverine has ever been and the movie does not shy away from the dark undercurrent that every person Wolverine has ever killed with his claws has been killed in this brutal manner, it adds to the traumatised characterisation that is so central to his conflict in the film.

Once again, a marvel film has let its viewers down by churning out another run of the mill villain. Here taking the form of Richard E Grant, some guy with modern hair and a super soldier right out of the most unoriginal fan fiction ever made. All are disposable and uninteresting archetypes that offer nothing that hasn’t been seen a dozen times in the last 17 years of comic book movies.

Wolverine on cinema has often had an issue with motivation, he always needs something to force him into the story, whether it is Rogue in X-Men or leadership thrust upon him in X-Men: The Last Stand. Here the job falls to the close to senile Professor Xavier, staying in the backseat of cars whispering into Logan’s ears that he must do the right thing. This comes across as a bit too on the nose at times. However, it is preferable to the effect that the villains have at driving the plot. Logan has a lot of weaknesses, it is overlong and takes itself too serious for a movie that features dozens of claw flailing hurricanranas. The dialogue is trying to serve the long contemplative style but isn’t quite at that level where it can grip on the quality of writing alone but it is hard to hold that against it. Logan is in the minority of superhero films that attempts to incorporate new styles into the sub genre, in an era of predictability and in house style, Logan is an outlier.

Recommendation

It focuses on the character of Logan in a nice way while still allowing for the best Wolverine action ever put on film. The near future is incredibly realised and lived in and performances on all parts do the characters proud. The film is a faithful send off to a prolific character.

Logan uses the extended universe of the X-Men as flavour to enhance the drama of the story instead of abusing aspects to allow for tie-ins, sequels or prequels. Despite it being the ninth Wolverine film, Logan is far and away the most unique, stand alone movie of the bunch.

Piece by Piece: Can Superhero Movies Take Risks?

Superhero movies have exploded in popularity in the last 17 years. But is there room for serious drama?

 

There have been three different Bruce Waynes and three Peter Parkers since Hugh Jackman first adopted The Wolverine’s claws and mutton chops. Two generations of the Fantastic Four, Professor Xavier and Magneto have been reincarnated and redesigned, collided with their new selves and The Green Lantern has gone the way of the Green Hornet and decided to make fun of superheroes instead. Careers have been made by superhero movies and some have already faded into obscurity. The Marvel cinematic universe has been entirely constructed and collided into two Avengers movies with a third on the way and through all this Hugh Jackman has been Wolverine.

Seventeen years as the same character, with nine film appearances as the man is an impressive feat (Roger Moore is the most prolific Bond with seven film appearances) but there is something equally admirable about Jackman’s commitment to portraying the Canadian loner throughout his entire career. X-Men was only his third career film appearance and is what thrust him into the public eye. Jackman’s career was jump started by the very film that is responsible for the seismic shift we have seen in box office cinema and the start of superhero movies as more than childish. His career has progressed along with the popularity of the superhero movie and with him bowing out with the incredibly final Logan it is fair to look at the changing nature and development of the superhero movie.

Real stakes, fake world

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I make no secret of the fact that my favourite superhero movies are those that have fun with the concept first and foremost. It’s why Guardians of the Galaxy was such a breath of fresh air and why Deadpool made it into my top 20 films of the year while Dr Strange sat on the bench. It’s why I believe that Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad the worst things to come out of Hollywood in 2016. There is room for the serious in the comic book flick, yet outside of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, how many can you name that have plumbed into real darkness and serious drama. It is true that Peter Parker is spurred by the death of Uncle Ben, that Wolverine and Black Widow are the results of experimentation and that Peter Quill’s mother dies slowly at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy but with it all there is a level of detachment.

The drama is merely a background – a motivation to spur on a character – to allow for moments where the audience can pump their fists and cheer over their hero overcoming. The actual meat of the drama in superhero films invariably comes from an outside source threatening the physical world with force; an alien horde, a Machiavellian God, a Nazi invasion.

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic

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One film that comes to mind as a film motivated by more than outward force is Captain America: The Winter Soldier which disposed of the basic superhero structure in exchange for a militaristic, political framework. It applied a superhero theme to a Bourne film, it had no single villain, there was no Apocalypse tearing the world apart or horde of alien invaders, its threat was based in the reality of the situation and Captain America, had he failed, would have been the main victim of the film. Unlike the city of New York in The Avengers or Gotham in Batman Begins, the danger in The Winter Soldier was focused primarily on Steve Rogers.

Its story was driven by character principles rather than an immediate threat to the world, it just so happens that Captain America’s principles are also the same as Americas. The world of The Winter Soldier was threatened by being overrun but the specifics of the takeover were not stated, the film simply placed its viewers in Steve Roger’s state of mind.

Age of Ultron is an example where the threat demeans the drama and action at the centre of it. The general threat of the world being overrun is too large, too vague and expansive that people cannot really engage with it. Even when Ultron focuses his attack on Sokovia, it’s honestly hard to care about these nameless faces and crowds. These kids and parents in car pile ups, stuck on broken bridges are simply objects, tools to tell a story. In Civil War Scarlet Witch accidentally causes a huge accident and multiple deaths in a busy city, it is an affecting moment not because of the civilians who die in the street but because the grief is focused solely on Scarlet Witch and how she feels about it, it’s just how empathy works.

The majority of people can’t bring themselves to be emotionally invested in the trials of real world horrors because it is too far detached from them, never mind a fictional comic book country. Film is best when it is smaller in scale, Die Hard is so effective at conveying the stakes because it is John McClane and HIS wife that are in danger, the drama unfolds in real time and we feel each small inconvenience because each small inconvenience is his. No one cares about Nakatomi’s bonds or any of the office workers, not even the pregnant woman who needs to sit on a couch, even Hans Gruber cares enough about her to let her sit down, so why don’t viewers?

It is because viewers connect with who they have had time to connect with, upping the number of people in danger never ups the stakes if the people in danger are undefined. Yet comic book movies abuse this trick to no end. It’s something that they struggle to grasp time and time again. But that is not to say that comic book movies should have Man of Steel’s complete disregard for the population, forcing buildings down and levelling an entire city all for the sake of a grudge match. It is that comic book movies will benefit from delving into the personal rather than the expansive.

The Anti-Cinematic Universe

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Yet, superhero movies are exclusively a box office deal, they are designed to be spectacle cinema, to sell popcorn, to please large crowds and sell IMAX tickets. They need to amaze, to meet expectations and simultaneously subvert the expectations of myriad subsections of fans who know every possible route that can be taken with a character. The rights to these films are also owned exclusively by larger companies, and Marvel, DC and Fox are keeping their rights close to their chest, meaning that every superhero movie must be excessively vetted to ensure it makes optimal economic sense. A small-scale Batman film that doubled as a detective story would be extremely feasible to pull off, but if it diverts from the larger goal of the studio then it cannot be created. Since Iron Man’s post credits sequence the cinematic universe has become the goal, each new film must serve to that. It even makes sense for Fox to split up the X-Men franchise into three separate franchises to allow themselves the gratification of the merging of these franchises in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The movies made to serve the cinematic universe are for the most part frustratingly similar, they follow the same character moments and story beats, feature unmemorable villains and share a tone. Whether it is the glum drabness of DC or the larger than life wit of Marvel, the point stands that there is less room for risk when all the chips are kept in the same pot.

Logan is far from a perfect movie but what it is film that shows a different direction for superhero movies, it is a sign that the subgenre could become its own genre, it has already developed enough tropes, actors such as Tilda Swinton, Chitewel Efijor and Anthony Hopkins are becoming more commonplace, and styles are being developed on different ends of the spectrum. Deadpool is a comedy, Logan is a drama, The Avengers is action, Winter Soldier is a thriller and Batman Vs Superman is CSPAN. Logan shows a proliferation that can only be good for the industry, and while it follows the Marvel route of struggling to create convincing villains it has taken inroads to create a more personal story, a road trip driven by self-destruction. It is adventurous with its direction and indulgent in its message. While viewers have been standing on the tracks waiting to be hit by the Marvel train of homogenisation Logan is prepping the ground work for an alternative track.