I am an admitted sucker for genre films, especially science fiction and especially the sub-genre of a dystopia society. Never Let Me Go is introduced to the audience first by captions stated a revisionist society from from the mid-to-late 20th century onward where the age expectancy is over 100 years old thanks to medical and scientific breakthroughs.
We are then introduced to Kathy (a fantastic Carey Mulligan), the film’s narrator, a carer seeing somebody close to her go under the knife at a hospital. We find it quickly who these people are, why they are here, and what is the reason such a young, healthy looking person goes under the knife or has noticeable scars around their chests.
The docile structure of the world Kathy and her kind live in is told to them early on in flashbacks to Kathy’s old school, Hailsham. Kathy and her fellow students are clones with the purpose of providing the necessary organs for individuals in the outside world. We never see these receivers or the structure that dominates Kathy and her kind. We see the world and reflections from Kathy’s point of view. Alex Garland’s screenplay is not that far off from novel it was based on by Kazuo Ishiguro. The limitations and criticism of the script is how characters are underwritten, mainly because Kathy dominates our attention on both the pages and the screen. It may work better on book form, sure, but I find it refreshing that such a personal narrative is told so realistically on film.
Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo and many excellent music videos) also uses Garland’s screenplay and the source material to great effect. The cinematography is gorgeous and the use of autumn colors reflect the in-between of time of the seasons, life and death, showing these characters living on borrowed time. The clones have a certain purpose but not fully considered human, nonetheless, they are conveniently compartmentalized to fulfill consumers who are willing to play god because their society allows it to be so.
Never Let Me Go is a quietly devastating film because of the point-of-view of our narrator and lead character who has to remain strong in her position. She is the last to be on board believing the rumors of how to escape her position and when she and her childhood friends Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) lift up the curtain, they find out a lot about their old school Hailsham and what even the most benevolent corners of society view them as— and it is shameful.
Never Let Me Go is the most anti-genre pulling genre films of recent science fiction and that arguably makes it one of the best science fiction films to come out in the last decade. It is largely thanks to the point of view of the film’s storytelling that makes it unique. It is not the outsider, the every man, the Blade Runner, or the mad scientist but the creation we see on screen the whole time. We get the drafts of coldness from society (embodied by a marvelous Charlotte Rampling) in enough doses and our reminded that there can be no harrowing escape plan in bits and pieces. We see these clones from child in their formative years at Hailsham and look back and wonder, ‘How are they not human?’. It makes the film all the more devastating but does not scream it our repeat a common phrase. The audience is left agonizing from beginning to end. They see how dehumanizing and accepting a society can do to a living thing considered nothing more than a commodity.
The performances (except for Mr. Garfield who I think Richard Corliss of Time Magazine nailed as the being embodiment of Anthony Perkins minus a Psycho streak) hit all the right notes and the production values are top-notch. Why was this ignored by the Academy?
Directed by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson
One of the most overrated and misused descriptions of a movie is its originality. I heard that word with Inception (it is Solaris and Tarsem Singh with a bigger budget and bigger actors) and I even heard it associated with Super 8 (just because it is not adapted from a book, comic book, sequel, prequel, or trilogy). I have often made it a point to decry things as derivative but I actually quite like films that deliberately take it to homage in a clear and clever way a la Brian de Palma, Edgar Wright, and at times Quentin Tarantino. But finding an original film is the most needle in a haystack virtues of cinema culture. Yet here I find a truly remarkable film original.
Sound of Noise involves a group of anarchists who interrupt everyday life without warning in a Swedish city by taking unorthodox items and objects and even superstructures to make a musical movement (with some hilarious titles to boot). The movie is a follow-up to the short film subject called One Apartment and Six Drummers, with most of the original cast of that short subject film intact. Their work gets the attention of a literally tone-deaf Police Officer named Amadeus Warnebring who unsurprisingly and tragically did come from a musical family, with a brother symphony conductor.
The group is unknown with the exception of one member who gets identified. Movement by movement the group attacks the sacred cows of Swedish civic and fine art culture with hysterical reactions. The music is more than just Stomp: Swedish Style. It is fairly ingenious and remarkable what the filmmakers may have had to do to make it possible. Occasionally there is a New Wave music score and other times it feels like the group has even managed to high-jack the movie’s original score (though their real enemy is elevator music). Warnebring’s story takes interesting turns. Tone-deafness looks incredibly painful but his ties to the group and musicians show somebody who has tried to co-exist with something considered so frivolous and non-threatening that it comes to a head with a group whose who way of life is to make a statement and be quite threatening with out, albeit in a cavalier and casual way. While there is a resolution there is still an inkling that this merry group of anarchists are lying low with a sequel up their sleeves. Please, please, let this be the case!
Sound of Noise is probably my favorite movie I have seen this year next to Gore Verbinski’s Rango. It is surprisingly moving and beautiful in addition to be hilarious and fun. This actually did play at DC Filmfest earlier this April but sorry, no way was I gonna pay $20 bucks for this no matter how much I was going to love it (especially when I could get it off a website for free). I was surprised that it did not win awards from DC Filmfest, especially when it was far better and yes, original than the three films I did see (and one of those films did win the prize). Anyway, do yourself a favor and check this out.
Super 8 halfway through was a great movie and love letter to the genre. Not only in the movie’s subject matter but in understanding the child point of view and sense of wonder that seems to have disappeared from live-action movies. The mostly teenage cast was perfect and looked like real kids (I know that sounds odd but really, look at modern kid shows). Riley Griffiths and Joel Courtney were incredible finds in the role of Charles, the fanboy director, and Joe, our main character. Elle Fanning was the acting standout and as much as I am distant toward the JJ Abrams cult, the man knows how to write female characters. But alas, Abrams had the makings of a great film. He had it. Not sure what happened.
I can understand the movie’s secrecy but what I do not understand is the insistence of barely seeing the alien and no description beyond Ron Eldard barely have a coherent sentence for the description of what he saw. There’s little show and barely any tell and then BAM! We get our alien! Meh.
I think my issue is that there are no real villains or culpability for any characters that involve the alien creature aside from one character who goes pretty early and barely registered as sinister. Just a lot of helpless bystanders (some even get killed and eaten). Abrams is going for ignorance among those who know very little about the alien right down to those who got closest to him. I can understand that and the I can understand the nature of the alien but was that ending really it? I felt like Abrams tried to play the sentimentality card but I feel like when you portray a monster that way the ending should not look like that. It feels uneven and forced. The relationships on athe familial and personal level also get swept under the rug and at certain points, especially toward the end and showing up when it was convenient. I was watching and trying to figure out why one character felt so guilty or broken up and the other really did not.
Also forced seemed to be the era itself. Abrams’ knowledge of Ohio, 1979 (He grew up in New York and LA with parents in the entertainment industry) is basically a lot of open land and blue-collar looking people. Some of the references of time and place felt incredibly lazy and little researched from the soundtrack to inclusions of the then ‘modern technology’. There are genre films with smaller budgets that take place in the past that are understated yet are so embedded and atmospheric that it could be confused with a movie of that time- think Ti West’s House of the Devil and 1980s horror movies.
This movie did not so much feel like a wasteful exercise than a movie verging toward real understanding of what it was trying to do and got incredibly schizophrenic and lazy by the third act. The alien looked like a JJ Abrams alien. The lensflare over-saturated the celluloid, so again, typical JJ Abrams. Kyle Chandler felt wasted in his role as did Noah Emmerich and Dale Dickey (was that supposed to be a cameo?). This movie was, however, ruled by the kids. There is a short movie during the end of the credits that nearly makes up for the second-half of the film. For Super 8 so secretive of the alien creature, I felt let down in how it took in direction of the story and not just in the execution but because I enjoyed the camaraderie and discovery performances of the teenage ensemble so much.
Saying Bridesmaids is some thermometer for the future of female comedy is like saying Thor and The Green Lantern both have the weight of the world on their shoulders in being successful superhero franchise movies for the B-level superheroes over at Marvel and DC Comics. Sure, at the moment there is tons of pressure but in the next cycle of each one of those films’ genres, they will be merely a memory and people will move on into cornering the next trendsetting outliers of the movie market. But on to the actual film, Bridesmaids as a movie never considered itself an outlier for female comedy- it just happens to have some of the funniest women in the business with one of the sharper eyes of human comedy (Paul Feig of Freaks & Geeks) that has one of the feminine aspects of womanhood, a wedding ceremony, as the backdrop. Bridesmaids makes a farce of it, until Wilson Phillips shows up the wedding is a near afterthought, and it nearly steers clear of cliches. Nearly.
Bridesmaids is definitely aimed at females. That does not necessarily mean guys will be turned off by this. Some of the best bits and gags could have all been reversed gender-wise. Jon Hamm as the mimbo fuckbuddy to Kristin Wiig’s Annie could also have just been a sex-positive bordering on horndog careerwoman with dirty terrible bedside manner (I wonder if that is what Jennifer Aniston is going for in Horrible Bosses?). Sure, some of the content within those gags, the plane ride for example, features some woman-based anxieties but these characters have human flaws no different from their male counterparts in other Judd Apatow bro comedies. I think why Melissa McCarthy is getting so much praise and attention for her scene-stealing role is because she had gags that almost had nothing to do with gender. You could imagine dudes quoting her lines word for word because it was all fucking hilarious. She’s this film’s Zach Galfianakis minus a wolfpack and add a puppy patrol.
There has been criticism about the length and pace of gags. Personally, I think most of the gags work in a very organic and improvisational sense and I thought Feig captured those masterfully. I did think that Annie’s breakdown could have been dialed down and just lose the Clark Griswold element of 11 o’clock, bottled up madness. I also preferred if the ‘Annie has two terrible Limey roommates’ sub-plot had just been cut out and she pathetically moved back in with her mother (Jill Clayburgh’s last role and she is adorable) from the beginning of the movie. I love Matt Lucas but he and Rebel Wilson barely registered as human beings in this movie. Kristin Wiig’s Annie at times had flashes of her SNL characters and not always in a good way (though I thought her drunk on the airplane and car gags were great). Rose Byrne pretty much had to deal with a pretty thankless part and I am not even sure where her standing with Maya Rudolph’s Lillian is toward the end of the film.
But where Bridesmaids lacks in writing and one too many side characters it soars in the gags. It is not a landmark movie for women or women in comedy but really just a movie that has periods of total hysteria.
And since I know everybody want to know about this one scene: Call me a sadist but the food poisoning scene did not bother me. I never get sick from watching movies (except when it is Miike’s Audition). It was just a gag that had its place in the plot given that Annie’s whole role as Maid of Honor was going the way of a train crash.
X-Men is probably the one Marvel movie franchise that I could never give a rip about. What makes it great, its inclusiveness and diversity among a large ensemble, is often its downfall in trying to balance so many character developments and sub-plots with the central plot. X-Men: First Class plays pop history with its plot but it is actually pretty effective in a way that has a comic book sensibility from its 60s origins and taking the movie in the direction of a 1960s spy caper, which let’s face it were the superheroes of the day.
The script and choice of characters for the movie were largely confined to the Bryan Singer films (and sadly so was the marketing of the movie) but Matthew Vaughan and his group of writers (who have adapted Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass to the screen) prove to bring their own twist to the X-Men saga. Erik ‘Magneto’ Lensherr: Nazi Hunter? Genius!
James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto shine together as the two shades of Mutant supremacy. Fassbender’s role is definitely meatier and plays to his strengths as a multi-lingual actor (though his Irish brogue appears from time to time) but McAvoy makes the best out of his role as a somewhat wishy-washy, almost politician-like, Professor X who is uncomfortable with his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) aka Mystique showing her real self to the world. If Magneto is Anakin Skywalker, Professor X is Obi-Wan Kenobi (and oh, how the Star Wars parallels sent me into a loop).
The rest of the cast is solid with Kevin Bacon unexpectedly gleeful and enjoyable as the prime villain Sebastian Shaw. Jennifer Lawrence, who many thought was throwing away her post-Oscar nomination glow for a paycheck, is pretty awesome as Mystique, whose character is pretty well-layered, for lack of a better description, and engaging. Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy was pretty great considering his American accent could have swallowed him whole, though his screen-time in the Beast makeup was limited (and probably to his benefit). Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee was also engaging and added plenty of humor to an otherwise unknown X-Men character. And I know January Jones is getting ripped, from the blogosphere to Damon Lindelof on Twitter, but she was just unremarkable and consider I never felt any bond to the Emma Frost character, making her into Bond girl-adjacent felt reasonable with where the film was wanting to go with its audience.
X-Men serves in between the universe of a prequel and reboot. Thankfully Vaughn chose skilled actors to not feel it necessary to copy Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen (both of whom were woefully misused in the series, in my opinion). Some people who are angsty about the pop history of the Cuban Missile Crisis plot is ignoring a lot of what comics do (see Red Son by Mark Millar as a more recent interjection between history and pop culture) and even movies of the era.
My only major qualm would be for the era that saw the civil rights movement, and even the cast and writers admitted a parallel between the MLK-Malcolm X relationship and Professor X-Magneto, there seemed to just be a lot of white characters. Maybe Mystique’s whole sub-plot serves as the film’s own critique of what is desired for the female form. But since we are talking about some very minor X-Men characters featured in this film, why not include a person of color (who does not get killed)? I felt more of a LGBT correlation (the Bryan Singer touch) than racial equality, and for 1962 that is a bit inexcusable even if the creative team of this movie are mostly white Britons. But perhaps due to the cynical turn the film takes, where Magneto is proven right and does have the audience on his side, makes for a pre-Civil Rights Act America being invoked somewhat inappropriate.
My pettier qualms are for the movie being in 1962, the costumes and hairstyles felt more mid-60s British Mod. Then again, I have been spoiled by Mad Men to make that observation. Maybe the UK was just ahead of the US in the fashion department (I have to check those early Bond films to make sure).
Matthew Vaughn has proven through the independent route and now from major studio route that he can take create a fun world that feels straight from the comics and loves its material and the time and place of the material’s setting. This is definitely the best X-Men film (yet ironically will probably take in the least amount of box-office money domestically and internationally). Matthew Vaughn is one of the best mainstream directors of the genre film (who probably should have gotten phone calls to direct 007 a long time ago) and proves it again with a raw if almost on the cusp of greatness superhero movie that takes the less traveled roads to making a superhero film under the guise of a prequel.
Producer Val Lewton’s Magnum Opus of B-Movie Horror for RKO Studios. But don’t let the outrageous and admittedly silly set up of the plot fool you. It has a cult following for a reason and also is well-regarded for a reason. This movie’s atmosphere is stunning, especially for a film of such a modest budget. Jacques Tourneur, who would later direct Out of the Past, one of the best film noirs ever, has the film shot mostly in the shadows, an ode to noir and German expressionism.
Cat People deals with the transformation from a success career woman Irena (Simone Simon) into a creature due to her sexual attraction, her animal instincts, toward her husband Oliver (Kent Smith). So she remains chaste to avoid transforming into a creature which annoys her husband, despite knowing her ‘odd’ beliefs from the getgo, so he falls out of love with her and with his assistant Alice (Jane Randolph). And Irena is sent to therapy under a horndog psychiatrist who wants to bed Irena and pretty much purrs as much as she does when she becomes the damned cat.
Irena basically knows her husband is cheating on her and stalks and torments Alice in some pretty spectacular scenes of horror utilized by sound and lighting. The acting by Simone Simon is pretty sympathetic and mysterious to the main charater while Smith and Randolph carry the load of being unsympathetic and rather uncompelling (they get tormented with a nice little ‘curse’ in the sequel that felt like long awaited retribution) but Randolph shines as a proto-scream queen. But the real catch here is George Sanders’ brother Tom Conway as the sleazeball shrink, drunk with power over his patients, and a very thin mustache. He also does some convincing physical acting, albeit in shadows, that makes or breaks the film.
Yes, the film is silly but at least it is a breeze on run-time (73 minutes) and milks every second of it. I mentioned the sequel, Curse of the Cat People, it is decent but I miss the Tourneur touch of the first film, no offense to Robert Wise, in his first major movie production as director. This movie knows what it is and amplifies it with excellent atmosphere and suspense.
Directed by: Neil Marshall
This has been described as ‘The Evil Dead of Werewolf Movies’. I would not go that far and aside from the cabin in the woods element, that Marshall seemed quite aware of, they are apples and oranges. Does not mean there is not a lot of fun to be had watching Dog Soldiers.
There some pretty hilarious scenes involving gore and viscera that has a touch of Paul Verhoeven and Sam Raimi but this film is generally a closer to the Scott-Cameron Alien/Aliens movies (that were essentially cabin in the woods movies in space) with heavy artillery and splatter. There are quite a few harrowing instances of heroism but the last man standing, Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd), is certainly no Ellen Ripley, though definitely a gatekeeper who heard the ‘dog whistles’ (for lack of a better phrase) before anyone else.
It is a bit predictable but the movie is a throwback to cabin in the woods and monster films. Marshall has grown in portraying a sense of camaraderie and isolation among a group that he would bring in spectacular fashion with The Descent. Dog Soldiers is a bit unremarkable in comparison to The Descent but certainly not a film to ignore on his filmography.