Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Black Sheep



Title:  Black Sheep
Director: Jonathan King
Released: 2006
Starring: Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright, Oliver Driver

Plot: Henry (Meister) has an overwhelming fear of sheep thanks to a childhood pranks played by his older brother Angus (Feeney). Now returning to his family farm with the intention of selling his share, he is soon forced to confront his fears when his brother’s secret experiments on the sheep causes them to turn into vicious killers.


Review: Greeted with some excitement on its initial release as it drew favourable comparisions to the early work of fellow New Zealand gorefather Peter Jackson much less the fact it was a film about killer sheep something which like Wales there’s certainly an abundance of making them essentially the perfect creature of terror for this debut feature.

Establishing its comedic tone early on this mixture of comedy and splatter is unquestionably the right way to go for a film with this daft a premise with director Jonathan King filling the film with numerous outlandish or cartoonish characters including a group of morally devoid scientists and Henry’s cad of an older brother who in the fifteen years since Henry was left traumatised by him hasn’t exactly gotten any better and possibly worse the intervening years which have passed.  Henry meanwhile is a neurotic mess, completely overwhelmed by his fears so that even the mere sight of sheep can throw him in a blind panic.

Once more though it’s the fault of the environmental activists that this chaos gets unleashed as like “28 Days Later” eco warriors Grant (Driver) and Experience (Mason) trigger the outbreak of killer sheep when they steal one of the mutated lambs which soon infecting the rest of the local sheep population. Worse still when said lamb bites Grant he runs off into the woods only to return as a mutant man-sheep reminisant of the monster from “Godmonster of the Indian Flats”

Surprisingly though for a film with such an outlandish plot this film is something of a slow burn with the sheep related antics while frequently inventive are keep as a lurking threat until really the final quarter when the film really becomes something special with King raining down gore and splatter with the same kind of grotesque inventiveness that Peter Jackson wowed us with early in his career with the likes of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” (or “Dead Alive” for you folks in the states). This however is not to say the film is a bore until then as the film frequently finds inventive situations for King to put the group in such as a sheep randomly appearing in a land rover the group are trying to escape in while in motion and which also shows us how well a sheep can drive a car.

Our main group consisting of Henry, Experience and Henry’s best friend and farm hand Tucker (Davis) are all likeable to be around as they try to make their way through the mutant sheep hordes while King avoids any kind of romantic connection between the group instead keeping them as a group thrown together and now trying to just make it through the chaos that is escalating around them. The only downside being Mrs. Mac (Levestam) who is such a fun character it’s frustrating that she only really comes into play towards the end of the film when we get to see her elderly badass side leaving you want so much more than we ultimately get.   

The creature effects though are unquestionably the star of the show here with special effects all being done by Weta Workshops who memorably worked on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and its certainly an advantage to see practical effects being used over CGI even for the larger mutant creatures such as the Were-Sheep version of Grant which took four people to operate. While certainly far from the easiest way to shoot the film it more than pays off in the presence that the film has compared to so many other creature features being churned by the likes of the Syfi channel and their seemingly never ending steam of shark movies that they seem to put out on a weekly basis.

Still as mentioned before the real standout moments of the film come in the final quarter as a presentation is turned into a blood drenched massacre, including one victim trying to fight a mutant sheep with his own recently chewed off leg. We also get to see one of the sheep monsters being run into by a runaway plane as King really shows his creativity in his splatter. At the same time the gore here is very much on the cartoonish and OTT side of things rather than anything coming to grotesque realism perfectly suiting the tone of the film. The end finale coming close to rivalling the carnage of “Braindead” even if no one is welding a petrol mower.

A fun little creature feature and one which certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, while at the same time not constantly winking to the audience like so many similar films such as those churned out by “The Asylum” only making this so much more of a welcome rarity.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Ghostheads



Title:  Ghostheads
Director: Brendan Mertens
Released: 2016

Plot: Documentary exploring the fandom of “Ghostbusters” who refer to themselves as “Ghostheads” while dressing up as Ghostbuster team members.


Review: As of late two topics seemingly have been firm favourites with documentary film makers. The first being the “unmaking of a movie” as seen with the likes of “Jodorowsky'sDune” or “Lost Soul the Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau”. The other subject being “Fanbases” a subject which a quick scan of Netflix will reveal a healthy collection of these films opening up a whole world of fanbases for things you never knew had such a following such as “Bronies” (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) or “Star Woids” (Star Wars) with the quality of said films with their easy to make format varying greatly for such as anyone whose seen the abysmal “Jedi Junkies” will no doubt attest to especially when it seemed like more of a showcase for Star Wars fan films than the fans themselves.

Needless to say the timing for this film couldn’t really be better what with the recent release of the “Ghostbusters” reboot (of sorts) whose gender swap format has been greeted with much venom by certain groups who believe that their beloved original trilogy (the video game being Aykroyd’s attempt to give the world his long mooted “Ghostbusters Go To Hell”) be somehow tainted by this latest film despite its existing very much as its own entity. Still for those twelve fans outside of my local cinema its been quite amazing to see people still so passionate about these films, much less the fact he found another eleven people to protest with him.

The debut film for director Brendan Mertens, its an impressive list of interview subjects which he has assembled for this film with key players such as Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman and Ernie Hudson all weighing in with their thoughts on the original films while Paul Feig is on hand to solely represent the new film. The main focus here though is on the various chapters of “Ghostheads”, fans who while they might dress up as Ghostbusters making their own jumpsuits and Proton packs, they still use their own names rather than cosplaying as a favourite character from the films.

Sadly the depth of his fans barely scrapes the surface of this sub-culture as we meet members from only a handful of these chapters who while they are unquestionably fans don’t exactly provide anything different between their testimonies outside of the customisations they’ve made to their own Ghostbuster equipment or pieces in their collection. Only occasionally amongst these sections spent with the Ghostheads represented here do we get something particularly interesting such as the girl who beat Alcoholism by watching Ghostbusters 1 + 2 back to back each day and whose excitement at being proposed to by fake trailer for the new film is touching to watch.

Due to keeping the focus solely on the Ghostheads the documentary feels like it limits itself compared to similar Fandom documentaries with the subjects being interviewed often feeling like they are just recycling the same stories of childhood nostalgia and viewings shared with loved family members.  The required convention gathering scenes for these documentaries feeling like missed opportunities as we stay with the same subjects who don’t really interact with any other members of the fandom outside of friendly greetings. This of course feels like a wasted opportunity to branch out from his chosen subjects and potentially find out what it is about these films which has keep them still so relevant and beloved all these year later, a question which still feels  very much unanswered by the end of the film.

Sure this documentary has its share of moments which will raise a smile or two as it taps into your own fanboy side, but I can’t help but feel that this would have been more effective as a DVD extra than attempted to be launched as its own film, especially when it doesn’t dig deep enough into the fandom to be effective. Instead what we get is more of an introduction to this lesser known fandom while perhaps at the same time leaving you wanting to don your own photon pack and hunt down a local Ghostheads chapter. At the least now we can say we know what Ray Parker Jr. has as his ringtone.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey



Title: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
Director: Constance A. Marks
Released: 2012

Plot: Documentary about Kevin Clash the man best known as being the puppeteer behind Elmo, following him from his early years as an aspiring puppeteer from Baltimore, to eventually meeting legendry puppet maker Kermit Love and Muppets creator Jim Henson and finally in what would possibly be the most significant moment of his career, finding a way to bring Elmo to life.


Review: Recently my son William has become obsessed with Elmo causing him to try and hug the TV when he is on, which ironically it was also this same time that they decided to not show any more episodes of  “Elmo’s World”, leaving me stuck with the same two episodes I had taped for him on the SKY+ box now on seemingly constant repeat.

Still the appeal of the fuzzy red monster is a powerful thing, as a few years back there were riots and people queuing outside of toy stores all trying get their hands on a “tickle me Elmo”, while “Sesame Street” also failed to get picked up by nearly every Network until one Network head caught her Granddaughter trying to hug Elmo through the TV screen though perhaps even she wouldn’t predict what a monster hit the show would go on to become.  So perhaps it was the desire to try and figure out the appeal of Elmo, especially when the Muppets universe is filled with so many memorable and colourful characters, what is it that makes him so special, all answers I was hoping to find with this documentary.

Kevin Clash might not be aswell known as some of the puppeteers, especially when it comes to the Jim Henderson Workshop which includes such legends as Frank Oz, Bill Barretta and Carroll Spinney amongst it’s ranks, yet he is arguably just as important, especially seeing how he is the creative force behind Sesame St working as producer, director aswell being the head trainer for other puppeteers, let alone the man responsible for one the biggest cash cows of the Muppet franchise, while perhaps at the same time  sacrificing other parts of his life for his love of puppets and it’s his story the documentary sets out to tell.

For someone who has achieved so much Kevin Clash comes across surprisingly humble especially considering how much he has achieved throughout his career, yet he still comes across like a guy who still can’t believe that he is getting to do the job he does, while at the same time clearly having a passion for his art, which this documentary frequently shows it is a lot more than funny voices and exaggerated movements, as he is  shown demonstrating a fierce attention to even the most minute of details somthing especially seen during his training session held with the French cast of Sesame Street, while later scenes show that he is equally passionate with training the next generation of puppeteers when he takes a break from his busy schedule to meet with a young puppeteer.
Starting with Clash as a young boy, being inspired by the puppets he saw on TV, to the point were he ransacked his parents closest for a fur coat which would soon become his first creation, with his talent soon landing his parts on “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Great Space Coaster” while gaining a mentor in Kermit Love.

Luckily for director Constance Marks, Clashes life it would seem has been extensively documented on film so rather than the usual collection of snapshots of her subject’s early years, we get to bare witness to Clash learning his craft and seeing the development as the years pass, with a video camera seemingly always on hand for all of his key moments from performing for the kids his mother looked after with only a bed sheet hung over a washing line as backdrop to his first meeting with Kermit Love, while the extensive amount of footage here frequently provides a deeper insight into the backstage workings of not only the making of Sesame St but also the Muppet movies aswell, with Clash unknown to myself before watching this documentary has worked on nearly all of them with cult classic “The Dark Crystal” getting particular focus as a missed opportunity which Clash elaborates on his regret at missing due to his filming commitments on “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Great Space Coaster” both of which would ironically be axed shortly after and his excitement at getting a second shot at working with Jim Henderson on the equally cult “Labyrinth”.

Narration of Clash’s story is given to Whoopi Goldberg though apart from appearing throughout the early scenes, this commentary mysterious disappears until almost the end, making me wonder why they even bothered to include it in the first place, especially when Clash seems more than happy to tell his own story. Meanwhile the soundtrack feels frequently to be trying to retch the emotion from the audience, giving things at time a real false sense of sentimentality, while director Marks is happy to cut out parts of Clash’s life such as his ex-wife who only gets mention in passing by Clash, with her focus seemingly more on his journey as a puppeteer than anything resembling a full picture of his life.

While Clash might be the star of the show, his story is frequently focused on how it intertwines with the lives of the most famous puppeteers with Jim Henderson, Frank Oz and Kermit Love’s stories frequently appearing alongside Clash’s and how they worked to further what the Muppets had established while how Clash came to become Elmo’s sole puppeteer seems almost accidental, seeing how it was only after one frustrated puppeteer challenged him to make the puppet’s character work, that the Elmo we now love was born, with rare stock footage showing the caveman Esq. persona had before, showing just how one lucky break can really change a persons fortunes.

Obviously recorded prior to Clash's legal issues and eventual retirement from playing the character, the documentary really focuses on him during the height of his career and while for latecomers to the film it might seem incomplete as a result of this, it does however still provide a full portrait of the man behind the puppet which honestly is what most will watch this one far, rather than his personal life.

The problem that this documentary suffers from though is that Clash is not the most interesting of documentary subjects, with Marks seemingly being so determined to cut around any darker parts of Clash’s life outside of the sudden death of Jim Henderson, you can’t help but feel that the documentary would have worked better had it focused on Henderson’s Workshop as a whole rather than focusing on just one puppeteer, even though he undeniably an important and highly talented member of the company, but as a documentary subject it would have worked as an hour long special, but as a feature it feels far too ponderous in places, even though it does provide at times a fascinating insight into what it takes to truly be a master puppeteer, aswell as going some way to explain the world’s obsession with an adorable furry red monster named Elmo.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Dark Age



Title: Dark Age
Director: Arch Nicholson
Released: 1987
Starring: John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Burnham Burnham, David Gulpilil, Ray Meagher, Jeff Ashby, Paul Bertram, Ron Blanchard, Gerry Duggan, Ken Radley

Plot: When a giant crocodile starts feeding on the local population, park ranger Steve (Jarratt) must work with a pair of Aborigine guides Oondabund (Burnham) and Adjaral (Gulphilil) to track down the beast.


Review: Probably one of the more elusive films I have track down as of late, having first caught by interest when it was featured on the essential Ozploitation documentary “Not Quite Hollywood” which served to provide a shopping list of titles as it did expose the until then little recognised sub-genre of cult cinema. Of course its nothing compared to its native Austrailia which didn’t get to see the film untill 14 years after its release thanks to Avco Embassy who held the Australian distribution rights going bust and even then it was down to Quentin Tarantino once again doing his part for film preservation held a screening of the film in 2011.

Entering into the film I was pretty much expecting another fun crocodile movie in the vein of “Lake Placid” or “Alligator” but what I got here was something actually a little different as what starts off essentially as a scene by scene remake of “Jaws” only to then goes off in a completely different direction for its final twenty minutes as director Arch Nicholson throws us an ecological curveball. Infact its rather uncanny when the film is examined closer just how much it matches up as John Jarratt’s park ranger is essentially a transposed Sheriff Brody while Hooper is represented for the most part by Aborigine elder Oondabund who sees the croc as being the mythic croc “Numunwari” and as part of his peoples beliefs belives that the creature has to be saved rather than destroyed which is exactly what local hunter / poacher Jackson and his band of lowlifes have planned.

Jackson here essentially fills the Quint role as the blue collar thug who cares only about making his living hunting the local crocodile population while also to blame for the monster croc showing up in the first place when him and his buddies piss it off during a failed hunting expedition. Outside of the fact that him and his gang are constantly drinking, to the point where there is no scenes in this film where one of these isn’t at any time seen holding a beer, he also becomes obsessed with an Captain Ahab style desire for hunting “Numunwari” after it chews him arm off following his misguided attempt to kill the creature with an axe and while standing precariously in a boat no less and which ends pretty much how you’d expect. But for that one moment it looks pretty badass if still totally ridiculous at the same time.

John Jarratt now no doubt best known for his turn as the psycho Mick Taylor in the “Wolf Creek” films here is almost unrecognisable as he plays the dashing Shrieff Brody esq lead here who constantly tries to walk the tightrope between his loyalty to his boss who is concerned it will affect tourist developments while equally noteworthy for being played by legendry soap actor Ray Meagher from “Home and Away” and keeping the local Aborigine popularity happy. At the same time he also has to deal with his feeling for his ex Cathy who he is forced to work alongside and inevitably they get back together with Nicholson randomly deciding that their sex scene should be dumped in the middle of a chase scene as one moment we get an old man being chased by some local thugs and the next we have the argument foreplay between Cathy and Steve which soon leads to a gratuitous sex scene before we are then flung back into the chase. It’s almost as if Nicolson suddenly remembered that he hadn’t finished the scene and randomly tossed its conclusion in not knowing any other way to work it in and no doubt hoping that we were all too distracted by Nikki Coghill’s boobs to really care. The same could be also said for the final act car chase which not only sees Oondabund sitting on the front bonnet of a speeding truck like a old man hood ornament but him also being launched through the air when said truck crashes with him still on the bonnet in a scene which I had to rewatch a few times as I couldn’t figure out if it was the actor or a dummy being launched through the air. Still this being an Ozploitation movie it would be kind of disappointing if we did get random nudity and car chases being the backbone of the genre that they are.

The final act on a whole though is pretty random seeing how we essentially have a great ending only for the film to carry on for another twenty minutes which I would argue should have been cut had this extra time not contained so many great moments which loosely justify its inclusion here. At the same time I like the idea of the group trying to save the croc and relocate it rather than being another film in which they have to kill the monster animal with Nicolson including arguments for the crocodile following its nature than any kind of desire to hunt people.

When it comes to the crocodile while its always great to see a practical effect, even if it is a rubbery looking croc, let alone one which moves oh so slowly, making it all the more surprisingly that it can catch anyone had it not been for its ability to randomly pop out from any body of water it chooses including one memorable moment where it’s supposed to be tied to the front of the boat only to suddenly appear at the back of the boat. Nicolson even gives us his version of the beach attack from “Jaws” in probably one of the better known scenes from the film and also one of the most violent scene as the croc chomps down on a small child in a scene which is actually surprisingly shocking to watch. While the attack scenes are certainly a lot better than anything we’ve seen from recent croc attack movies with their heavy use of CGI and sudden cuts, it’s still a pretty gore light film outside of some bubbling red water and the occasional lost limb but still satisfying to watch none the less.

Despite his background mainly being in TV Nicholson here crafts a film which is strangely intriguing as I’m sure there is a great film which could be if you can cut through the frequently plodding plotting and rubbery looking croc. While it might equally be as noteworthy as other films in this category it’s still miles ahead of more recent efforts.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Clueless



Title:  Clueless
Director: Amy Heckerling
Released: 1995
Starring: Alica Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan, Justin Walker

Plot: Cher (Silverstone) is a wealthy, popular and superficial high-school student in Beverly Hills who along with her best friend Dionne hold court over the school. However when she discovers a new found happiness in doing good deeds for others, she decides to take the unhip new girl Tai (Murphy) under her wing.


Review: Another modernised reworking of a classic piece of fiction an honour while largely reserved for Shakespeare plays has also worked memorably for other classics as memorably seen with “Les Liaison Dangereuses” which became the wonderful “Cruel Intentions”. Here though it’s the turn of Jane Austen’s  18th century matchmaker “Emma” which director Amy Heckerling used as the basis for her script when Paramount asked her to write a film for teenagers and having read it as a teenager decided to create this modernised version of the classic novel.

While on the surface it might seem like any other disposable teen comedy of the 90’s there is something about this film which has meant that fifteen+ years later I still find myself as obsessed with it as I was back when I first saw it in the late 90’s and writing that now, boy does that make me feel old. Still while the fashions, soundtrack selection and pretty much every aspect of this film might reek of the era there is something still kind of timeless about this film as it’s world of wealthy high school students in Beverly Hills often feels like it’s part of its own fantastical little world than any kind of representation of a realistic high school. So hence students are shown constantly talking on brick sized mobile phones or bandaged from whatever plastic surgery they’ve just undergone, while teachers make minimal efforts to try and teach them while clearly knowing that their money will carry them much further than their education.

Despite her status as Queen Bee, Cher is surprisingly not the bitch you’d expect her to be as she bumbles her way through life with a generally good natured attitude. At the same time while she clearly sees certain student groups as being below her own, she just lets them be rather than launching any kind of spiteful attack on them, clearly believing that everyone has their place and that’s usually beneath her own group. In a way its only further reinforced by her bringing Tai into her social group and giving her a makeover as part of her efforts to mould her in her own image rather than just accept her for her skater / grunge styling.

The plot itself is pretty lightweight but boosted by natural comedy and the situations which Cher finds herself being drawn into as she plays matchmaker and embarks on her on quest to find the right guy which includes a failed hook up with the too hip for school Christian whose lack of interest in her is implied (but never confirmed) is down to him being gay in a surprisingly forward thinking moment especially for a film from this period.  On the whole its quick pacing means that it never overstays its welcome even though Cher and Dionne valley girl slack heavy dialogue could ohh so easily have made this a grating experience and the end while once in play is predictable it never feels like the film is trying to force anything.

True the film is unquestionably 90’s in its styling and appearance, which perhaps for myself growing up in the 90’s means that it carries for myself a lot of nostalgic gloss, especially from having watched and enjoyed it back then, so its comforting to see it surprisingly as one of the few films which still stands up and one which has arguable got better as its original audience return to it as older viewers uncovering the wealth of subtle jokes which are weaved into the film. It’s only the more of a shame that this would be the high water mark for director Heckerling’s career which also included the equally legendry 80’s school flick “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” with her follow up and possible attempt to direct a defining high school comedy in every decade falling flat with 2000’s “Loser” which in many ways felt like an attempt to cash in on the success of “American Pie” which is arguably the closest challenger to “Clueless” even if it lacked the subtlety of Heckerling’s film.

At the same time one of the main strength’s here is in its casting with perhaps none of the cast outside of Alicia Silverstone being especially well known and making it all the more amusing to see how many first appearances which can be clocked here with perhaps only Greg Araki’s “Nowhere” coming this close to its soothslayer esq casting. Silverstone owns the part of Cher, while Stacey Dash provides the perfect support for her to bounce dialogue off making sader that she never really had another role which came close to matching this one though she would be one of the few members of the cast who reprised their role for the spin off TV Series.  The most sad of all is off course Britney Murphy who whenever I see her especially in iconic roles like this and “Sin City” it just makes me wish that I had appreciated her all the more when she was alive as her performance here really hinted at some of the untapped potential she ultimately never got to show off outside of a few sporadic roles.

While this certainly might not be the deepest of films, especially as it wears its materialism proudly on its sleeve, this Beverly Hills high school fantasy has enough heart to carry it though and more than enough laughs to make it easy to understand why its become such a cult film all these years later.  

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Young Adult



Title: Young Adult
Director: Jason Reitman
Released: 2011
Starring: Charlie Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser

Plot: Mavis Gary (Theron) a former high school “It Girl”, now a divorced ghost writer for the “Waverly Prep” series of young adult books of which she is now currently struggling to finish the last book of the series.  However upon receiving an e-mail containing pictures of her now married high school boyfriend Buddy (Wilson), she see’s it as a sign that they should be together once more and returns to her hometown intent on winning him back.


Review: Since appearing seemingly from nowhere to claim an Oscar with her screenplay for “Juno”, Diablo Cody has been considered by some to be the female Orson Wells, who like Cody exploded onto the movie scene, only to never match the same heights as his early years, something which seems to be happening to Cody from the release of “Juno” follow up “Jennifer’s Body” her first attempt at a horror script  and a film which suffered largely due to it’s questionable casting choices, aswell as the fact that it seemingly couldn’t decide if it was going to be another smart ass comedy like her debut or an actual horror film, especially when it was largely more titillating than terrifying. Still It seemed like Cody had hit her peak with her debut, with only a gradual downward spiral ahead of her aswell as possibly hocking sherry if she is to truly follow the career trajectory of Orson Wells. Now reuniting with director Jason Reitman, Team Juno return to bring another dark humoured look at the suburbs

Jason Reitman has to certainly be the least recognised director currently working today, especially when you consider that his last three films “Thank You For Smoking”, “Juno” and “Up In The Air” have all been so far fantastic and currently it would seem that he is the only director who can truly capture the spirit of Cody’s writing, with this latest film feeling like a return to familiar territory for the duo to the point were this could very much be set in the same world if not the same town as “Juno” and I frequently half expected to see either Juno or Paulie Bleeker show up in the background as a result of this.

Mavis thankfully though is not another smart assed character, as Cody has toned down the quotable nature of her dialogue to instead craft a truly hideous woman driven by her own personal let alone morally questionable quest to reunite with her ex boyfriend. Viewing her high school days with rose tinted nostalgia, she still hangs onto Buddy’s Letterman jacket, while obsessively playing the same song from an old mixtap he gave her. The key thing about here through is that Mavis only cares about Mavis, something especially clear in the fact that she perceives the fact that Buddy is now married, as nothing but a minor inconvenience and a prison in which he is secretly asking to rescued from, by mailing her pictures of his new born daughter. Still this desire to hook up with Buddy again, it would seem less based on a “Fatal Attraction” esc obsession and ultimately more about trying to reconnect with her high school glory days, especially with her life currently having ground to a disappointing halt and a daily spiral of drinking and writers block.

However upon returning to her hometown she is more than a little disappointed, to find that her legacy was perhaps not as memorable as she had first thought, while also  finding an unwitting accomplice in one of her former classmates “Hate Crime” Matt (Oswalt), whom was left walking with a crutch following a high school beating by jocks who had wrongly accused him of being gay. Matt however it would seem is the one person not afraid of telling Mavis the truth, even if she still ignores him and does what she wants’ anyway, together they slowly form an unusual bond.
Charlie Theron is on great form here as Mavis, something which only makes for a suitable reminder as to how she won her Oscar for “Monster”, especially when this is the first film since that win to show that Theron is more than a pretty face and capable of actually pulling off a great performance with the right director, which she would seemingly have with Reitman, for  as Mavis she is highly believable, a former prom queen for whom the harsh realities of real life have finally caught up, especially when she is embodiment of so many similar minded girls that I went to school with, many of which seemingly under the same delusions as Mavis and while Mavis might not perhaps be at the same delusional levels as seen in “Fatal Attraction”, she still does come pretty close, as she obsessively phones Buddy to arrange catch up’s, while working under the false pretence of being in town for a property developer conference. Despite this Buddy is shown to be frequently naïve to Mavis’s true intentions, even when she is flirtly knocking back shots with him at a gig being held by the band for whom Buddy’s wife Beth (Reaser) drums for.

The biggest revelation here though is the performance by Oswalt, which not only taps into his natural comedy talent, but also helps him showcase a much more serious side to his acting ability, as a man who refuses to quit, even when he was left with a more permanent reminder of high school than most bullying targets, yet whom is also yet to escape his small town roots in what is a refreshing change from the usual bulled kid come good plotline we’ve come to expect, for he was a loser in school and even now as a grown up little seems to have changed. Still after seemingly a lifetime playing the comedic punch line, it’s great to see Oswalt finally getting to tackle a more challenging role, let alone having a great on screen chemistry with Theron as especially highlighted in their scenes together, which are by far the strongest.

While it might not be the most developed of plot lines, it is still much a more familiar territory for Cody as a writer, even if she has now flipped the perspective to an older character who can’t let go of her teenage years, especially with Cody seemingly being so keen to write from a prospective of youth, rather than impending middle age. What is also interesting is the vain of dark humour which she has worked into the screenplay, a departure from the pop culture and one liner driven humour of both “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body”. However such darkly tinged humour is always a tricky act to pull off and while perhaps not as dark as the likes of Todd “Welcome to the Dollhouse” Solondz, it’s still a fine line that the film walks, with Mavis and her actions frequently providing selfish let alone morally questionable, it certainly makes her a hard character to like and no doubt the reason that this film has split audience down the middle, while some random guy at the screening I was at actually threw his arms up halfway through and walk out, while muttering “fuck this shit” to himself, only furthered to highlight this point, with Cody’s seeming refusal to provide any form of comeuppance outside of turning the events of the film into some kind of weird life lesson, no doubt only adding further fuel to the fire.

“Young Adult” might not be the return Oscar winning form for Cody that her fan base might have hoped for, but it is certainly a huge step up from “Jennifer’s body”, while also continuing a great run of films for Reitman, which doesn’t seem to be stopping just yet, even if this isn’t one of his strongest to date, it still bare all the character driven hallmarks which we have come to expect from his work, which might further explain the sudden leap in quality of storytelling on offer here, but still it is far from the least enjoyable cinema going experience this year, even if half the audience leaving was a little distracting, it is still a quirky and morally ambiguous film, which thankfully refuses to give into traditional film conventions and only comes off the better for it.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

New Queer Cinema / LGBT Cinema - An Introduction


So what is "New Queer Cinema"? Simply put it's a genre coined by the academic  B. Ruby Rich in an issue of “Sight & Sound Magazine in 1992 as a way to encapsulate the rise in “queer-themed independent filmmaking” of the early 90’s and can be seen as an umbrella term for LGBT film making from 1990 to present.
To best explain the history of this era of LGBT cinema it no doubt best to look at LGBT cinema as a whole especially as LGBT cinema has unquestionably existed before the rise of this definition with film scholars citing both “The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and “Lot in Sodom” amongst the earliest examples though the LGBT film making in this period was largely a closeted affair with films often being made to masquerade as hetrosexual fare for the mass-market while throwing in the occastional subtle wink to its true audience. Openly gay or lesbian characters meanwhile were used mainly as punchlines or characters destined for a tragic demise which would essentially continue to 1969 though examples can be found throughout the postwar American avant-garde cinema with directors such as Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos and the unquestionably most well-known Andy Warhol. At the same time European arthouse cinema was being populated by the likes of Jean Genet’s “Un Chant D’Amour which would prove to be a major influence for New Queer Cinema’s pioneer Todd Haynes whose “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” and more key “Poison” which would be responsible for essentially kick-starting the sub-genre.

The Stonewall Riots of June 27, 1969 not only provided the catalyst for the LGBT civil rights movement but also LGBT cinema aswell with a large number of film festivals dedicated to Gay and Lesbian cinema being established for films which were either largely experimental or documentary based such as Milton Miron’s “Tricia’s Wedding. At the same time European cinema continued to provide its own unique brand of film making such as Ron Peck’s “Night Hawks” and Stephen Frear’s double header of “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Prick Up Your Ears brought forth a new era of frankness while addressing the climate of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain of the late 80’s.
Unsurprisingly “New Queer Cinema” would be born out of the rise of the same independent film making scene which via Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape” had  started to see films from this scene starting to gain attention from the studios while for the film makers despite working with much smaller budgets than their studio counterparts found a freedom to express and create the films they wanted, making it the perfect breeding ground for the movement to take root with 1991 and 1992 being the key years in which LGBT film making really began to get noticed despite the likes of Gus Van Sant’s “Mala Noche” and Bill Sherwood’s “Parting Glances”. Sherwood’s film being especially notworthy for not only featuring the acting debut of Steve Buscemi as Nick a gay man living with aids in New York while being cared for by his ex-lover. The film sadly would be Sherwood’s only film due to losing his own battle with the disease but should be also noted as being one of the first to deal with the realities of aids in the face of the hysteria of the newspaper headlines and government propaganda.
Despite these films certainly making inroads in the mid 80’s thanks to their success with critics though were hampered by limited releases. They should however still be considered as being as important to the movement even if it wouldn’t be for another four years that the movement would really find its feet.  Amongst the first films to be cited under this new definition by Rich were “Poison” Todd Haynes which would win the 1991 Sundance festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Film followed by Tom Kalin’s “Swoon” and cinematic agitator Greg Araki’s “The Living End” all showcasing an exciting new and fresh voice for LGBT cinema.
The films which formed this new era of LGBT cinema were unapologetic in their approach to the portrayal of the LGBT lifestyle assuming that they their audience were members of this community and hence there was no need to “explain” either homosexuality or lesbianism to their audience. At the same time they cared little aswell for presenting the politically correct image of the community with the likes of “Poison” featuring pretty graphic depiction of sexual relationships between prision imates while Greg Araki reworked the chase movie to feature two young and HIV-positive men. These directors aiming not to push the sexuality of its characters but essentially demand that LGBT culture be acknowledged despite society at this period of time being keen to largely repress let alone acknowledge the community.
These films would open a gateway for not only similar films but also bringing forth a new openness which saw films such as Kimberly Peirce’s “Boys Don’t Cry” and Jamie Babbit’s “But I’m a Cheerleader” being produced which would likely not have happened had it not been for the success of their New Queer Cinema forefathers. By 2001 the Sundance Film Festival again would serve as marking the next evolution for the genre with the musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” wining the “Audience Award for Best Film” and the mainstream sucesss of “Brokeback Mountain” marking the genres merge with mainstream film making that we continue to see today with the likes of “Behind the Candelabra” and “Blue is the Warmest Colour” making it all those early films of this movement all the more relevant.

Starting Point – Five LGBT Cinema Essentials

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story – Todd Haynes debut short film based on the final seventeen years of Karen Carpenter’s life with all the parts played by Dolls which Haynes modified to tell her story, including whittling the arms and face of the Karen doll to show her anorexia.

Banned due to a copyright lawsuit filed by Karen’s brother, the film still turns up on VHS as well as youtube leading to it regularly being named amongst the top 50 cult movies of all time.

C.R.A.Z.Y. – The legend goes that nearly everyone in Quebeck- a population of around five million – has seen this film and its easy to understand why as Jean-Marc Vallee crafts an entertaining and occastionally tale which is as much about family disfunction and the things which tie them together as it is about sexual awakening. Something which perhaps has put more people off seeing this sadly much overlooked film.

Paris Is Burning – Often referred to as being one of the most important documentaries in Queer cinema history as director Jennie Livingston chronicles the ball culture of New York City, where contestants are required to give catwalk style walks while being judged on their dancing and outfits. The documentary also explores many of the contestants deal with issues such as racism, homophobia, AIDS and poverty, making it an important snapshot of the period.



Nowhere – One of the more accessible films from Greg Araki but still retaining all his usual oversexed randomness as it follows a group of LA teens over the course of a frenzied 24 hour. A day made up of a volatile cocktail of sex, drugs, suicide, bizarre deaths and alien abduction
The final film in his “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” which includes “Totally Fucked Up” and “The Doom Generation”, a trilogy based on shared themes rather than reoccurring characters, while this film also boasts one of the most impressive before they were famous casts since “Clueless”.

Fox and His Friends aka Right Fist of Freedom – written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder who also stars as the titular Fox a working class gay man who falls for the older and wealthier Max who initially wants nothing to do with Fox until he wins the lottery. However it soon becomes clear that Max does not share Fox’s feelings as he plots to swindle him out of his newly gained fortune.
Fassbinder is unquestionably a key source of inspiration for many directors who contributed to the New Queer Cinema movement while equally been an important figure in New German Cinema aswell.  Here he goes against the film making norms by portraying his gay characters as being normal rather than being a problem while showcasing that his letcherous homosexuals were really no different than any other films lecherous hetrosexuals.

Authors Note: Originally posted as part of The LAMB "Cult Chops" feature
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