Sunday, 22 January 2017


Title: eXistenZ
Director: David Cronenberg
Released: 1999
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu, Kris Lemche, Vik Sahay

Plot: Allegra Gellar (Leigh) is one of the best game designers in the world working toward the launch of her new virtual reality game eXistenZ, but when she is attacked by a crazed assassin she is forced to go on the run with marketing trainee Ted (Law). Fearing that her game might have been damaged in the attack she talks Ted into playing the game with her only to soon find the real and virtual world becoming all the more blended the more they play.

Review: What is it about Cronenbergs career that no one else seems to talk about the films which fall between his remake of “The Fly” and “A History of Violence”? Its not that these films are any less interesting or enjoyable than the films which he made either side of this period some of these films arguably better than the ones which came before or after them and yet with the exception of “Crash” whose controversial release marks it out much like “Naked Lunch” which had the benefit of being linked to William Burroughs cult novel this remains a seemingly forgotten period for Cronenberg which only now seems to be getting the appreciation it deserves with “Dead Ringers” as I write this quickly coming into vogue at present with cult cinema fans. This film however I would cite as the most bizarrely over looked of these films a feeling I’ve had about the film since I first saw it where it left me bewildered that it wasn’t being more talked about, while its release in 1999 over provides further evidence of it still being the best movie year.

Working from the his first original script since “Videodrome” here the focus hasn’t changed as the focus is once more on societies relationship with technology this time moving the focus from television to video games while also working in his still popular themes of disease, mutation and Infection as like with “Videodrome” he leads us down another twisted rabbit hole. At the same time while the basis for this world might be in Video Games and perhaps to an extent virtual reality, its a world still very much seen through Cronenberg’s eye which see’s players connecting themselves to fleshy game pods via umbilical like cords which connect to the base of their spines. Once in the video game world of the game its almost impossible to tell what’s reality with the exception of characters appearing to be stuck on a loop if the player doesn’t present them with the right line of dialogue for them to respond to. This is of course the trap that Cronenberg sell us as things get only the more progressively weirder as the film continues with Allegra and Ted at one point working in a slaughterhouse style manufacture line where the game pods are seemingly being constructed out of various animal organs.

Compared to some of his other films the mutation aspect is pretty light here with the standout moment coming when the leftovers of “The Special” at a Chinese restaurant turn themselves into a bio-mechanical pistol complete with teeth bullets. The scene played out with much mechanical ease by Jude Law as he unwittingly pieces the weapon together his body working independently from his mind. True this might be lighter than James Woods pushing a video cassette into the video player formed in his chest but what we get here is none the less effective with some memorable imagery featured throughout.

Even when in the supposed real world there is always something to hold the audiences attention with Cronenberg not needing to go into a virtual world before he is introducing some of the more weird and memorable aspects of the film as seen with a would be assassin trying to kill Allegra using a bio-mechanical gun in a scene inspired by the Fatwa being declared on author Salman Rushdie after he released “The Satanic Verses”. Frustratingly its never made overly clear what about Allegra’s game is cause for such protest let alone an attempted assassination attempt and to this extent it really only serves as a catalyst for the main story than being fleshed out as much as I would have liked, more so when the film comes full circle by its finale.

For the most part the film is carried by both Leigh and Law as they try to make sense of what is happening around them encountering a number of colourful and interesting characters along their journey from Willem Dafoe’s mechanic Gas who also has a sideline in bio-ports through to the Bio-pod surgeon and Allegra’s mentor Kiri (Holm) who operates out of a disused ski lodge continuing the theme of things turning up in surprisingly places which features throughout the film. Each of these encounters proving memorable in their own ways with Cronenberg not wasting time on filler here while the ongoing mystery is only added to further by another of classic score by long term collaborator Howard Shore.

Thanks to some misguiding advertisements on the films release selling the film as more of an action film it has for some reason left the film one of the more sadly overlooked entries on Cronenberg’s resume and while it might not be one from his golden period this is still him working at his most creative and inventive best

Saturday, 14 January 2017

She's Gotta Have It

Title: She’s Gotta Have It
Director: Spike Lee
Released: 1986
Starring: Tracy Camilla Johns, Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell

Plot: Nola Darling is simultaneously dating three different men at the same time and while they all know about each other, they all want her to commit to them solely only Nola doesn’t want to be “owned” by any one partner.

Review: Despite being one of the key directors of the early independent cinema scene with Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” and this film could certainly be linked as kickstaring the Independent cinema scene. Spike Lee has always been a director whose work I’ve seen very little of, they why of this situation could be narrowed down down to a handful of reasons while Lee has continued to be as talked about for his comments on various aspects of society including an ongoing dispute with Quentin Tarantino as his films. However putting that aside and focusing solely on his work as a director he still remains a highly acclaimed director, especially for his early films and for this reason I felt it was time that I dealt with this missing section of my film studies more

The first full length feature film to be directed by lee three years after his debut “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads”. Here Lee shuns the typical potrayal of young black men as pimps and gangsters but believable everyday people with Nola’s lovers each being created to represent a different aspect and social level of society. It’s a world that he introduces via a series of photographs showcasing the local colour as we see pictures of residents, buildings and graffiti before we are introduced to Nola.

With this film the camera not serves to observe the interactions of the small group of characters but also serves as an almost confessional device for the characters as they frequently break the forth wall to give their side of the story which inturn equally serves to perfectly encapsulate each of the character personalities. Nola is unquestionably the strongest of these voices as a fiercely independent young woman who sees no issues of having multiple lovers especially when each of her three lovers gives her something different that she wants. At the same time Lee is refuses to have Nola portrayed as being a slut even driving home the point when Nola is sent by the dominating Greer to a doctor after he accuses her of being a nymphomaniac only to be reassured by the doctor that there is rightfully nothing wrong with her behaviour.

Nola’s lovers as I mentioned already are certainly a mixed bunch as we have the polite gentleman Jamie (Hicks), the self-obsessed and dominating model Greer (Terrell) and the motor mouthed street punk Mars (Lee). Each lover is introduced talking to the camera about how they feel about Nola and what they get from their relationship with her. While at first it might seem like they don’t know about each other as the film goes on it becomes much clearer that they are actually aware of the other men and there a strange fascination to be found in how she dates each of them as she fools around with Mars laughing and joking while dressing up for expensive diners with Greer.

Each of the guys is memorable in their own way with Jamie coming across as educated only wanting to make Nola happy, even if its at the cost of pushing his more traditional world view. Greer meanwhile is his polar opposite as he is a self centred and sees Nola as his property and who through her association with him makes her better. That being said he is a flawed character himself as seen during his sex scene with Nola which is teased out by him slowly and maticulously removing and folding each piece of clothing while she waits in bed, watching him and slowly losing her patience.

Mars is arguably the most memorable of the trio while also played by Spike Lee himself seemingly channelling Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav is everybit the oddball from the moment his is introduced charging at the camera on his bicycle before unleashing his motormouth style of dialogue on the audience. His character would following the release of the film go on to be a pop culture icon for a short period as Lee carried him across to a series Nike Air Jordan commercials he would direct and appear in with Michael Jordan in turn cementing his pop culture status.

Shot in black and white reminiscent of both “Clerks” and “Slacker” this film equally plays similar to those film in that this is a film driven by its dialogue and its characters interactions shooting on small sets as well as on streets and more keyly the park of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Despite this Lee truly crafts a full world for his characters to inhabit despite his limitations. At the same time he constantly mixes things up just when we think we have things worked out as seen by the film suddenly switching to glorious technicolor for the dance sequence or randomly cutting away to a montage of young black men sharing their best pick up lines in a scene which is as humorous as it is cringe worthy especially when you have one of these guys thinking that lines such as “Baby, you’re so fine, I’d drink a tub of your bath water.” as a flattering pick up line.

A film which is as equally driven by its humorous elements as its character interactions, while even now it still remains a relevant film and a strong start to Lee’s lengthy career as a director, leaving me keen to see what else I’ve been missing in his filmography.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Released: 2015
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton, Massam Holden

Plot: Greg (Mann) is a high-schooler who along with his best friend Earl (Cyler) share a love of cinema which they celebrate through their movie parodies. Things change for him though when he is forced to befriend Rachel (Cooke) a classmate and former childhood friend who has recently diagnosed with leukemia.

Review: What happened to the American indie? Once a sub-genre which showed such promise and originality only to disappear almost as quickly as it exploded into the movie watching conscious. Perhaps it could be traced to the rise of Mumblecore which saw film student hipsters believing that every thought which tumbled out of their heads and should be preserved on screen as what could be mistaken as a pretentious attempt to clone “Clerks” or “Slacker”. Whatever it was it was with the one two punch of this film and “Dope” I was honestly left feeling as the credits rolled on this film that perhaps we are starting to see the genre rise once more.

Of course I missed this film during its original release no doubt thanks to overwelming presence of the more minor sick teen girl film “Fault In Thier Stars” and meaning that I am of course only now catching it now following a recommendation from both Jess (French Toast Sunday) and Kim (Tranquil Dreams / Game Warp) that I should watch it.

Right from the start its established that Greg is something of an outsider as he refers to best friend Earl as being his “co-worker” and even though he still views other people at his school of being more of an outsider than himself such as the white wannabe rapper Ill Phil (Holden) as he is happy just doing his own thing than joining one of the social cliques. This outsider feeling is equally carried across in his love for classic cinema which refreshingly isn’t some “Dawson's Creek” style trope where they spend the film over analysing cinema for deeper meanings but instead just for the sheer enjoyment of these films after being introduced to them as kids by Greg’s father (Offerman) and more importantly the ability to parody them.

These parody films are shot in a style reminiscent of “Be Kind Rewind” as they rework the titles to fit in with their unique reinterpretation for these films, in turn giving us such wonderful random hints of these films they are making from the brief clips we see from the likes of “A Sockwork Orange” (A Clockwork Orange) and “2.48pm Cowboy” (Midnight Cowboy) with no genre or director seemingly safe from their satirical eye as we see Greg imitating Herzog in “Burden of Dreams” or as they rename it “Burden of Screams”. These moments providing a fun sub-plot throughout the film while nicely setting up the finale.

While the main meat of the film unsurprisingly is in the relationship between Greg and Rachel this is not a love story in any shape or form, but instead refreshing about the friendship they share and how she shapes his outlook forcing him to deal once more with the world around him, rather than shutting it out as he currently has been doing when we first meet Greg as he believes that it will save him having to deal with it. The pair despite their initial reservations at essentially being forced to hang out together soon fading as they discover that this might have more in common than they first thought.

Because of the platonic nature of their relationship we never have this fear that she will be what breaks up the Greg and Earl’s friendship as she instead becomes this hip edition to their group as she handles her hair loss by donning a bubblegum pink wig. Credit going to Cooke who actually shaved her head for the role and even though we can see she is getting sicker as the film goes on, we still have a contradictory narration from Greg who assures she is going to live, which of course does little to stop us still being put through the wringer towards the end of this film. Gomez-Rejon showing a quirky confidence behind the camera which makes it only the more surprising that coming off “American Horror Story” that he’d been hiding this almost Wes Anderson style world view and which is certainly present here, while still retaining enough of his own originality to not make it seem like a clone of Anderson’s style.

The young cast are all equally fantastic with Mann convincingly able to pull of the narration which is so essentially the backbone to the film. At the same time the supporting cast as equally strong with Rachel’s mother (Shannon) choosing to handle her daughter’s illness through the bottom of a bottle, while Greg’s own home life is none the less fractured with his oddball psychiatrist father working through more than a few problems of his own, while the almost monologue style of speech he uses makes the casting of Nick Offermann only the more perfect.

A film which truly reminds me of the golden period of the American Indie scene (99-04) as here we get a story and plotting which actually feels fresh and original and most importantly free from being burred under an avalance of Smaltz that it might have been as a mainstream feature. Hopfully this is a sign of things to come as I for one certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more films like this than another “Hannah Climbs the Stairs.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Green Room

Title: Green Room
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Released: 2015
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Plot: The Ain’t Rights are a struggling Punk band travelling through the Pacific Northwest, though when a gig falls through they are offered a gig playing at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar deep in the Oregon woods. However when their bass player Pat (Yelchin) accidently witnesses a murder in one of the back rooms, the band find themselves confined to the club’s green room while their captives plot to make them disappear.

Review: Patrick Stewart has an approach when it comes to reading potential scripts, were if a script fails to hold his interest after the first couple of pages he will read it on his computer. However if it does grab him he will print it out and read it in his armchair as he revealed in an interview for the film. However after reading the script he found himself so shook up by what he had read he locked up his house, set the security alarm and poured himself a large scotch. Having seen the film its certainly easy to say why as this might be possibly one of the most tense movies I have seen in a very long time and seeing how this is the kind of film best watched blind I will now urge you to stop reading here and come back once you’ve seen it or risk spoilers which potentially lie ahead.

I don’t think that anyone who saw Director Jeremy Saulnier’s black comedy debut “Murder Party” could have predicted the path his career has taken and despite releasing the critically acclaimed “Blue Ruin” before this film it was instead the prospect of seeing Patrick Stewart playing a neo-Nazi which initially attracted me to this film but despite several of my fellow bloggers recommending this film I don’t think I was expecting to get a film as good as we get here.

Introduced to our group of slumming punk rockers who are now at the point where they have to sleep in their van and siphon gas to make it to their next gig, often playing in front of miniscule crowds as seen by the spontaneous gig they are forced to hold in a backwood diner in front of a crowd totalling ten people, two of which are just trying to have their breakfast. Needless to say they jump at the chance of playing a proper gig despite their initial reservations of playing a skinhead bar. Its during their opening rendition of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck off” that you’d expect to be the catalyst for the band getting in trouble but instead they manage to win over their hosts and are pretty much out the door when they of course stumble across the murder thanks to a forgotten mobile phone that their issues really start.

Its a real mixed cast of known and unknown actors assembled here though somehow this doesn’t show in the film as every member of the cast really brings something to the film, with Alia Shawkat here continuing her assention as an indie starlet making me want to draw comparisons to the career path of Joseph Gordon Levitt as I can’t help but feel in the coming years that she is going to be an actress we are all going to be wanting to talk about as only further reinforced by her supporting role here as guitarist Sam.

What only further helps the film is Saulnier’s seeming refusal to abide to the usual sterotypes and conventions when crafting his characters here as while the band might be punkers there’s not a mohawk or leather jacket to be found. Equally with the neo-Nazi’s they are from the the dumb racist nuckle draggers that we have come to expect from these kinds of characters instead they are shown as being organised with the so-called true believers being identified by their red laces who are more than willing to do anything to protect their group.

Seeing how Patrick Stewart was my main draw to the film, the performance he gives here is well beyond anything I expected as here he plays the Skinhead leader Darcy. A truly monsterous creation who hides a ruthlessly cold and calculating side under his soft spoken front which plays perfectly when he’s initially introduced with this air of mystery to him and shown seemingly willing to negotiate with the band to try and resolve the situation only to reveal his true intentions when he has the advantage. There is of course a real thrill in seeing a classically trained actor like Stewart playing such a villainous role as he snarl derogatory remarks while constantly holding command over his loyal followers without once raising his voice or losing his cool over the quickly escalating situation.

The real shocking aspect of the film is in the violence which is often without warning and frequently bloody as we get to see Yelchin’s arm slashed to spaghetti by unseen attackers leaving him to tape up his arm with duct tape. We also get a torso opened up by a box cutter, numerous stabbing and dog attacks aswell as a number of other gory highlights. At the same time it should be noted that while the violence is frequently bloody and explict, it is never without justification or senseless as Saulnier carefully plots out each moment of violence to maximum effect as especially seen by the number of cast members who are suddenly killed off with zero warning about their impending demise.

The real strength of the film here is how Saulnier has managed to craft a film with genuine tension, while its locations being largely to the club and its exterior only adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere which refused to ease up over the brief runtime, avoiding moments of comedy or even the prospect of rescue for the band as he remains stubbornly fixed on making the viewer watch the band try and escape from this situation they find themselves in.

Sadly hampered by a limited release in theatres this film much like his other two films looks set to be one which audiences will discover through word of mouth promotion or scrolling through Netflix who thankfully have recently added it to their catalogue and meaning that us folks in the UK finally have something worth watching on there. Unquestionably though this is a film which lives up to its hype and more making this a title unquestionably worth hunting down, while of course leaving us eager to see what he does next.

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