Sunday, 6 September 2015

Ouija (2014) Review


After a huge hiatus of watching or reviewing any horror (since any recent productions have been so catastrophically disappointing. I’m looking at you, Babadook), last night I watched Ouija, and felt the need to write again. So, let’s start from the top.

Ouija is yet another offspring of the jumpscare reliant-sequel crowd, from 2013 onwards (The Conjuring, Annabelle, Insidious 2/3 and Sinister 2) but with One Missed Call mixed in there. Artistically Ouija is not remotely interesting, the monsters look stale (a stitched mouth?! come on) and not frightening, soundtrack was cripplingly insignificant, sets were also very uninteresting. All signs of an intelligent plot twist seem to have vanished out of the window, and apparently need to be made explicitly obvious in on-screen dialogue for people to understand it. With this, I refer to the dialogue between Lin Shaye and the protagonist, when she tells her the evil spirit is in fact her sister. Cringe central, and it occurred to me as I already mentioned, that this is pretty much taken straight from the plot of One Missed Call.

Methods of scare/building atmosphere are nonexistent, and I guessed correctly most of the time what would happen to characters, and when jump scares were coming. It’s true, to an extent audiences like tropes, but not to the point you’re watching a film you already know every turn of the way. That’s tedious, and unimaginatively lazy. Subverting tropes is all part of the fun to keep the audience on their toes.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m genuinely bored of seeing horror narratives play out having characters do the exact opposite of what anyone would do in real life. I also could be wrong on the empathy front, but I’d imagine most people would be severely emotionally traumatised by the death of multiple close friends. Nope, not the cast of ‘teens’ in Ouija. In fact I barely even remember anyone being upset at the death of the first girl. There’s also the interesting debate of how incredibly normal it is for the parents of these teens, to leave them to sit the house in which their close friend committed suicide days before, and for them to then attempt a séance? Totally believable, realism count through the roof, guys.

The ‘recyclable’ element to the film hit its peak when Lin Shaye made her laughable appearance, reiterating dialogue almost exactly the same as the script in Insidious. Of course, we do have memories of goldfish, hence why we need an Insidious 12 and remakes of all the good 80’s horror.  

So yeah, we’re well into 2015 and Hollywood plus many indie directors are still churning out incoherent, unoriginal horror. The only thing I have recently watched that I found interesting was gameplay of Until Dawn, as it has an element of unpredictability. Ouija seems to embody the absolute epitome of being unrealistic & predictable. This is particularly blatant through the actions of the characters, in order to come to an abrupt conclusion. Could never say I expected this film would be anything other than a regurgitation of similar modern horrors, but er, I wouldn’t recommend it. Felt completely unengaged from start to finish.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review 

Moonrise Kingdom was enchanting and lovely, but strangely juxtaposed with a serious atmosphere of two mentally troubled children as protagonists. Directed by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, it was almost slightly Dr Seuss-ish aesthetically with the bold block colours. Uncomfortable in places (I found it more than a little troubling to watch 12 year olds kissing and talking about erections in their underwear), quirky and pretty unpredictable in how funny it was. Unexpectedly violent at times, but humorously so.

Did everyone act well? I suppose so, yes, in a strangely monotonous way (bar Edward Norton). The cinematography and artistic elements were carefully and beautifully executed, as I'd heard they were. Particularly the scenery and the weather.But I did find the setting claustrophobic and oppressive at the same time in how tight knit the community was. Despite how idyllic everywhere looks, you wanted them to get away…

I also liked the ‘Coping With the Very Troubled Child’ book shot. Special mention to the kitten, I couldn’t control myself squealing when it came on screen. Some parts were surreal and made no sense (particularly the lightning teleportation), but I'm so pleased that no one died and nothing unpleasant happened to the kitten.

The soundtrack was amazing, particularly the main theme/score. Also, I found this film very inspirational for friendships/possibly future relationships… running away on adventures through forests and being artsy with people is the best. I have a real hankering to paint watercolours, put flowers in peoples' hair and send secret letters after seeing it.

As a film it was recommended as being cute, artsy, uplifting, and it definitely fit the bill.

Overall rating: 8/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Maleficent (2014) Review

Spoiler warning!

Maleficent was a truly brilliant film, a complete subversion of all the cliche Disney tropes. While I think she is a good actress from what I've seen (mainly being Girl, Interrupted and Salt), I wouldn't say Angelina Jolie's acting was phenomenal. But, they crafted a well thought out and sympathetic redeeming of Maleficent's character, and I'm not sure who, or how they could have done a better job theatrically. In comparison to Charlize Theron's evil queen from the Snow White and the Huntsman, aesthetically they are at a match - the costuming was beautiful. Particular moments that I thought were emotionally moving were both, the scene where Maleficent awoken to her wings having been taken, and also Jolie showed her resentment for the baby very well/humorously.

There is most often a good reason behind villainy that's always left not expanded upon. So, I've been looking forward to this film for some time, given it elaborates on Maleficent's previously very one dimensional back story. For the first of hopefully many more villain protagonist orientated films, this was delivered fantastically and fit in well with the original story canon. I don't buy the whole 'audience gain pleasure from familiarity', good vs. evil formula, which is why I often lean towards indie and horror in search of films. Not for predictability in genre, but for films from more obscure perspectives. Hannibal: the Beginning is a mediocre example of this.

The special effects in Maleficent were very LOTR-esque, I noticed, although very impressive (the light shooting up into the sky looked identical to Minas Morgul.)

The only element that caused internal debate for me was why the director chose to make Maleficent the one who decides to put Aurora in a death "sleep". Merryweather was the one who lessened the severity of the curse in the Disney version, and, if Maleficent's desire for vengeance was so strong, I don't think she would show King Stefan or his offspring any leniency. She originally wanted Aurora dead, right out. But then, I also agree with the concept that Maleficent's 'evil' nature and villainy is not as dichotomous as cinema portrays and she probably might have some compassion left to entertain toying with King Stefan. There's also the "true love doesn't exist" cynicism present to consider - much down to personal beliefs, but it certainly has a resonance in the context of the rest of the film. I also agree with Jolie's statement in one of her recent interviews with Buzzfeed, that innocent bystanders often taken the brunt of vendettas, and I personally would have liked to see King Stefan suffer more. Not his wife, or his child. The way Maleficent was portrayed as a guardian, or 'fairy godmother' given how inept the fairies were I found to be realistic and believable - I seem to remember the fairies as bumbling and irresponsible.

The overall tone was touching, and the readjustment of ideals in regards to 'happily-ever-after's', was a refreshing departure from stifling perspectives of one track formulas to happiness, and moral stereotypes of character. As argued in Gilbert & Gubar's 'Madwoman in the Attic' essay, the more breakthroughs regarding character tropes, the better, particularly with female characters and their fictional expectations. The subversion of 'true love's kiss' was fantastic. No, I don't believe this is pushing the lesbian front - I think the patriarchal damsel in distress and true love reliance concept is ridiculous. If love was ever at it's strongest or most sincere, it would be familial/maternal. While of course love isn't necessarily always present in a familial environment, but that brings us onto another debate entirely.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Friday, 30 May 2014

Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises (2014) Review

The Wind Rises was a very engaging and moving film with a bittersweet ending, despite the fact I have no specific interest in planes and watched this film on recommendation. Not what I was expecting from the select films I had previously seen by Miyazaki. But then, I’m no die hard fan to make any real comparisons with all of his works. A friend of mine did note this was much more mature in content, how kiss scenes were featured and a very implicit reference to sex. I noticed it was much less whimsical and fantastical in nature compared to Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro, (the latter only viewed in part, as I fell asleep). We also watched the dubbed version this time, as opposed to subbed - and the voice acting was better than I expected.

This film was apparently based on a true story and dedicated to an aircraft engineer who was an idol of Miyazaki’s. I found the tender moments in the film were created distressingly well, despite the fact it was animated - I’m sure quite a number of the people in the cinema were crying by the end. Felt a little bit cheated we didn’t see more development in the relationship between Jiro and Nahoko, the ending seemed quite abrupt. But I’m sure all that been garnered from drawing it out, is sadness. This negative feeling seemed to be deliberately (but not so successfully) countered by Caproni’s oddly upbeat last words in the final scene.

Ultimately the film had a… deeply sad resonance, Jiro seemed too absorbed in his work to truly value what time he had left with his fiancée. As with all Miyazaki's films, The Wind Rises was wonderfully drawn and animated but it was a touching departure from the fantastical nature of his other works. To bring in another recent viewing, there was a similar lack of closure at the end of watching a recent screening of The Name of the Rose. The plot of the film was intertwined with/centred around Adso’s deep feelings for the peasant girl, her survival despite everything, only for him to only leave her behind at the end and never even learn her name. Cue renewed appreciation for cheesy Disney films and happy endings.

Overall rating: 6.5/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Le Roi et l'oiseau (1980) Review

Some of the fantastically surreal and egotistical aesthetics of the film, with the statues of the King.

Le Roi et l'oiseau, or, the King and the Mockingbird (or the Shepherdess and the Chimney-sweep), is a French 1980's animated film based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Given there is a robot involved for a good portion of the film, this did throw me off a bit as I'm quite sure there are no stories regarding robots written by him. This film was viewed on recommendation of a friend - primarily as not many films have taken my interest at the moment. So, instead of being exposed to nothing at all like a stubborn horror fan, I have elected to viewing recently a mix of innocently whimsical and general foreign cinema.
(Being located in York where an independent cinema is accessible has been really great for spontaneous film screenings of obscure animations and foreign film such as this, but, I shall get back to my review.)

The King and the Mockingbird was overwhelming and basic all at the same time as a narrative, given how extreme the events of the plot progressed to be. One segment included lions waltzing in couples to classical music, while a mockingbird convinced them why they should storm the king's castle for 'scaring away sheep'. Couple wants to fall in love without any issue, but the King gets in the way - there is the plot in it's entirety. Along with many other surreal elements, such as the real King being replaced with the portrait painting king (it's not explained what magic is existent in this world, but apparently portraits and statues can come to life). The Mockingbird serves as a gaudy and pantomime-ish narrator who lost his avian wife to the King's hunting habits.

This film was aesthetically seamless. Remote controlled thrones and motor thrones, everything was very rapidly paced and smooth sounding. The simplicity of the diegetic sound effects were very effective - which was shown particularly well in the opening scenes with the King on his throne and his dog.  It was also in a way, uncomfortably seamless, as heights and defiance of physics distress me (curiously), despite employing these aesthetics in my own artwork. Specifically, the King's rocket shaped lift that seemed to continue up without any overhead or substantial supports, like a scene from Where's Ruff's Bone. The Chimney Sweep and Shepherdess characters also had the same face, which was a little bit odd. I suppose the elements of the film were intentionally so ridiculous and exaggerated, it made you giddy. Along with how the King could re-position the trap door to dispose of whoever he wanted, wherever he wanted, in his fantastic palace towering up to the heavens.

The main protagonist I found to be gratingly gaudy and daft, "Don't worry children, daddy knows what he's doing", particularly in how he kept letting one of his children get caught in a trap repeatedly. The final image at the conclusion of the film, is strangely apocalyptic - the destroyed kingdom and barren lands left with the robot used to bring the palace down. There is no doubt, however, this film is intricately, carefully and beautifully animated in how elaborate the setting of the palace is, while the aesthetics are not appealing to me. I think this is vastly underrated and unknown as a children's animation (although, I agreed with my friend this might give anyone that age nightmares). Something that made me chuckle a fair bit was how emotive the lions' faces were, too. Supposedly this film was also one of many inspirations for Hayao Miyazaki and his films. Certainly an interesting watch.

Overall rating: 6/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Thursday, 22 May 2014

I racconto di Canterbury (1972) Review

At university, our module group this term recently got around to watching Pasolini's film adaptation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (very much for educational purposes). Let me tell you, it was shamelessly crass and far more ridiculous than I could ever have expected. I am quite sure everyone was in shock by the end. There was a lot of nudity, which was expected, as the book seems highly sex orientated from what I’d read already. Even the cinematography was oversexualised (particularly the shots of Damian at the feast as he is looking at May) as we analysed in depth for our practice presentation. The overall tone of the film was surreal, lingered on uncomfortable moments with close up shots such as January with his filthy laughter, and mischievously humoured. The January and May segment I thought was the most accurately portrayed to my own envisioning given the cold colour scheme and stony interiors of January's castle (I'd imagine this was possibly reflective of his own impotence contrasted with the warmth of the garden outside).  

Moving on, however, I must confess. When I read in the credits Tom Baker starred in this film, I wasn't exactly prepared for seeing full frontal nudity of him in The Wife of Bath segment, and even now it has burned into my nightmares. Curiously the film is set and filmed in England, the majority of the actors are English, and yet everyone is dubbed over in Italian.

Now if any of you have seen this film already, you will know the end segment is the most visually impacting, where we are taken to a surreal version of hell with multi-coloured winged demons. One is farting out friars from a gigantic anus for an extended period of time (apparently this was in the Friar’s Tale but I hadn’t got around to reading that part yet). Notably, I found this was very much like the animated sequences from Monty Python's the Holy Grail - which similarly are surreal and silly, incorporating medieval artistic elements/illustrations.

But, I racconto di Canterbury didn’t really have the aesthetics I imagined. Some parts did, but on the whole, the mise en scene possessed a very 70's vibe. Particularly some of the haircuts/costume choices for some of the characters. I thought the setting would be more… medieval and darker? than it was. As another observation in regards to differences to the book, It’s also noted the gay sex scene following a subsequent execution by fire on a griddle was an addition by Pasolini, not in the book (supposedly reflective of his own personal life and scandals). Overall I found the film aesthetically did not live up to my expectations (we argued if the stylistic elements of this adaptation were an anachronism), but it was certainly an interesting and memorable take on a good book.

Overall rating: 7/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Crispin Glover's Big Slide Show + Everything is Fine Review

On Sunday 4th of May at the Picturehouse in Liverpool, I finally got to meet one of my long time role models and inspirations, Crispin Hellion Glover (starring in Rubin & Ed, Willard, the new remake of Alice in Wonderland, Charlie's Angels etc.). The evening consisted of a screening of Everything is Fine, a run through of Crispin’s Big Slide Show plus a Q&A session and book signing. The whole event lasted in total, about four hours.

The Big Slide Show was a medley of most of Crispin’s written works. It was very disjointed, surrealistic, and seesawing between hysterical and unsettling. I found sections of Oak Mot to be quite unnerving, particularly with the section emphasising on the characters' hands. Crispin's delivery of the slide show I have to commend as it moved everyone to laughter on several occasions, and produced quite a range of emotions. Concrete Inspection was very funny, as was It's an Egg Farm. Another part I found to be excellently delivered was the book (sadly I can't remember the name) regarding a protagonist going to be tried at court after feeding a young boy to a snake.

Crispin’s stories seem to be derived from pre existing novels/instruction manuals. He looks to have blocked out sections of writing to deconstruct/create something entirely new, and drawn over macabre illustrations throughout blocks of text. Someone in the audience made a comparative to Winnie the Pooh with Oak Mot, but I’ve yet to see what the similarities are yet.

Everything is Fine wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, and was far more pornographically explicit than Crispin’s other works that I’ve seen. In hindsight, I think I would have much preferred seeing What is it? given it seemed to have far more focus on artistic elements, as opposed to extensive gratuitous shots of female anatomy. I’m sure there’s some sort of legal implication with showing direct penetration in film? Anyway, in short Everything Is Fine was quite uncomfortable viewing and probably wasn’t the most suitable or relevant way to address society’s lack of questioning in terms of what is taboo, and how it should make us feel.

The Q&A session was helpful in terms of answering my only lingering question, why subtitles weren’t used despite the protagonist being difficult to understand. That was primarily as it would detract away from the notion of the film being a fantasy, and Paul's desire to be easily understood. Crispin went into a lot of dialogue about the background of the film, about the actor Steve who played the protagonist Paul and how he had died shortly after completion of filming. In terms of the film, I personally didn’t really take much from it other than thinking it could have been more substantial story wise. The film, however, was written by Steve, and was in essence a fantasy of his. So I don't particularly attribute this work to Crispin's own personal creativity, or in a negative way. Although it does reflect his more unusual interests blending both controversial imagery and mental/physical disabilities.

I did manage to ask Crispin about who his inspirations were when he was playing the character Rubin Farr. Which, I seem to remember him focusing on the actual look of Rubin which he conceptualised himself, and it sounded to be for another project at the same time he was doing Back to the Future - but it never panned out? And it then became the character of Rubin Farr. However, since I didn’t take down notes I can’t give a solid statement about this.

Crispin himself was disarmingly calm and friendly in person, seemed very interested in his fans which I really admire, and it was amazing to meet him. Despite the feature film not really appealing to my… constitution, I remain a big fan of his writings, aesthetics and art, and his quirkier (non pornographic) films. I managed to buy Oak Mot and got it signed, so I will get around to reviewing that individually at some point.

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.