Saturday, 30 July 2016

Prehistoric Women

Title:  Prehistoric Women
Director: Michael Carreras
Released: 1967
Starring: Michael Latimer, Robert Raglan, Edina Ronay, Martine Beswick

Plot: When jungle guide David (Latimer) is captured by a tribe of natives who plan to sacrifice him to their white rhino god, only to soon find himself sent back in time a prehistoric age and caught between two warring tribes.

Review: One of the more overlooked films which made up Hammer Horror’s brief jaunt into caveman movies with this film originally intended to be the A-picture on a double bill with “The Old Dark House” only for studio head (and the director’s father) James Carreras to view it as being below Hammer’s standards and instead used the film as the support feature for a double with “The Devil Rides Out”. This of course should hardly have surprised any involved in the production seeing how it reused a lot of the sets and costumes from “One Million Years B.C.” while being shot quickly over four weeks.

A disposable bit of titillating fluff at best, this film lacks from the start any of the charms of Hammer’s other “cave girl” movies such as “One Million Years B.C.” or “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” which the release of this film was sandwiched between. At the same time Michael Latimer bland lead lacks any of the Doug McClure charm whose own caveman battling antics in “At The Earth’s Core” or “Land That Time Forgot” this film could be mistaken for attempting to imitate only fall largely flat for the most part.

The plot once we get into the prehistoric world despite a strong setup however soon descends into a blondes versus brunettes storyline as our warring tribes of fur bikini clad ladies face off in this timeline were the brunettes have enslaved the blondes while being led by their beautiful Queen Kari (Beswick) who has enlisted the help of a rival tribe known as “The Devils” who favour wearing papier-mâché animal skull masks and what appears to be half a gorilla costume. Kari offering her slaves to “The Devils” as brides / sacrifices in return for their continued protection.  This ceremony in particular is fantastic to watch as outside of yet more obvious titillation the selected girl is then forced to sit on top of the stuffed rhino which is being worshiped by the tribe in a perhaps unintentionally funny sequence.

Unsurprisingly David is soon picked for mating by Queen Kari only to eventually spurn her efforts when he discovers how cruel her regime is. The other men in the film meanwhile are kept confirmed to the mines and its unclear if Kari’s tribe actually have any male members seeing how like their blonde counterparts they are made up entirely of attractive model types with director Carreras clearly looking to tap into that same market that had been so thrilled by Raquel Welch’s definitive fur bikini antics in “One Million Years B.C.”.

Martine Beswick is probably one of the more memorable aspects of the film as we makes up for her less than believable whip skills with a smouldering shark like beauty, making it more of a shame she doesn’t have a better leading man to play off against. Edina Ronay meanwhile is a likeable enough love interest who performance rests more on how good she looks than her performance which is only just alittle more animated than Latimer while also having the advantage of playing a cave girl so she doesn’t have to emote much.

It should be noted that anyone expecting some papier-mâché / stop motion dinosaur fun will find themselves sadly disappointed as the budget here clearly only stretched to one leopard and a stuffed rhino on casters which is essentially wheeled in the general direction of the cast.  The real action coming at the finale as the recently liberated male slaves uprise and battle the devils in the very obvious soundstage jungle in a fight which it’s hard to actually tell if they are winning or not. Still we get a few creative kills including a girl fight which ends with one of them being pushed into a spit aswell as a fun goring by a rhino.

While this might not be the most painful of viewings it’s disposable at best and all the more surprising that it came from Hammer, even if they were essentially just cashing in on an accidental trend here this is no doubt the sort of film that the teenage me would have loved. Yes there are moments of fun randomness throughout its just you can find the same things elsewhere and no doubt done better.

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


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


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.
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