Monthly Archives: February 2018

Blog Post: Writing While Sick

My plan was to do an introductory blog post before regular blogging, but some things got in the way. I’ll come back to that in the next few days. 

Today’s cool thing: Dear Mr Darcy

Book I’m Currently Reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche 

I felt it coming last night when I was watching Darkest Hour. Like a cat, it snuck up on me. A faint tickle in the back of my throat, a burning sensation behind my eyes, my nose dripping like a faucet. When I got home I hurried to devour all the usual home remedies. But there was no stopping it. This morning I woke up and resigned myself to the dreaded fact — I am sick.

Is there a more frustrating feeling? Not deathbed sick or hospitalisation sick, but the sick where your bones ache and your head too. Where every breath is like a razor blade in your throat. Like Christmas with extended family that you can’t stand, you forget how bad it is every time until it happens again. Yet when it comes, there’s little you can do but call in sick to work, plonk down on the couch with a box of tissues and your Netflix subscription and wait it out. Problem solved.

But what if you’re a writer who works from home? You don’t have any scaffolds to climb or iPhones to sell. All you have to do is sit in front of the computer and type. It’s across the room. You can drink tea at your desk. You have no excuse. If you don’t write you’re  procrastinating, and you’ll never finish your book and you know what, you’re probably just delusional in thinking you can be a successful writer anyway. And you’re fat.

That’s roughly the route along which my brain took me this morning. It’s so easy when you’re a kid — if you are sick your mum tells you to stay home, and if you’re not and want a day off, you rub your head along the carpet for a few seconds. Either way, the decision is made for you. With the decision entirely in my hands, I felt like Chidi in The Good Place. I couldn’t make a choice. So I grabbed my computer from my desk, jumped back into bed, and opened up my ‘Book Second Draft’ file.

It didn’t go well. Trying to think, to find ideas, was like trying to drag an Elephant from a tar pit with my bare hands. Impossible. I quickly realised that I couldn’t possibly work on anything new that would do anything but add more work for me later. So I edited the work that I had done yesterday. It was only a few word changes and some cuts, but it was something.

I wrote this blog post as a low-pressure way to keep the creative juices flowing. This and my small editing session were enough to stave off that neurotic beast that lives in every writer’s stomach for a day. Hopefully, I feel better tomorrow. For now, Netflix is calling my name.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Best Films of 2017

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People around the internet have enjoyed lamenting about how bad 2017 was. I’m not a fan of this kind of homogenisation of negativity. Besides, how much of ‘the bad’ affected them individually? I suspect very little. And none of it is relevant to the ‘best films of 2017’ list. These events are yet to reverberate into films that have been released. I’m sure in the next few years there will be an influx of movies about #metoo, the Trump administration, and probably an adaptation of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s courtship.

For now, 2017 has been a great year for movies and one that marks an exciting time in the industry. There’s never been a better time to be a talented filmmaker. With so many channels outside standard cinematic releases available, more and more small films are garnering critical and public attention — as recent as the release of The Cloverfield Particle on Netflix. These VOD releases could never replace the cinema for me, but they might come close if people don’t stop watching movies with their shoes off while balancing entire Mexican feasts in their laps.

Below is a list of what I think are the 15 best movies that were released in Australian cinemas in 2017.


1/ Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Nolan strapped IMAX cameras to aeroplanes. Aeroplanes! But technical feats matter little without an effective film. What other film can make you cry through sound alone? The MG42 tearing through British soldiers, the vicious howl of swooping Stukas, the silence of an army awaiting death. A film that simultaneously reminds you how unimaginably terrible war is while showing human resilience in the face of insurmountable odds.

2/ The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)

A near-perfect depiction of destitute children and their families living in cheap motels on the outskirts of Disneyland. Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinniate are stunning, while Willem Defoe gives his best performance in years. Baker must be regarded as one of the most important filmmakers in modern cinema — who else is shining such a bright light on America’s rotten core?

3/ Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Villeneuve not only continues the themes of the original film, he expands and reworks them to create something new. Rare in modern cinema, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that takes its time. Shots linger, the story unravels in a relaxed yet absorbing pace; like a dream you don’t want to wake up from. Beautiful, haunting, philosophically complex: one of the best sequels ever made.

4/ Good Time (Josh and Benny Safdie)

Dystopian in its depiction of New York, it’s a film that encompasses you fully in its grimy underworld. The pulsating synthetic score is like an adrenaline shot to the heart, and Robert Pattinson’s performance as the erratic, morally bankrupt Connie Nikos ensures that he, and the film with him, enter the pantheon of great “city” crime movies.

5/ Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas) 

A haunting film about the known and unknown, the earthly and the spectral. Kristen Stewart delivers her career-best performance as the personal shopper to a Parisian celebrity. In a world where horror films are built on jump-scares and loud bangs, Assayas gives a masterclass in the creation of suspense through atmosphere and insinuation. One text-messaging sequence is the best horror scene in recent memory.

6/Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau)

Deceptive marketing positioned this as a gruesome genre flick. Sure — there are bitten fingers and devoured flesh — but Ducournau’s debut is so much more. A coming-of-age parable about a student’s evolving cannibalism; a symbol of femininity, sisterhood and sexual awakening. Justine descends through pulsing raves, horrific hazings and even a Cronenbergian rash on her journey from innocent vegetarian to ravenous cannibal.

7/ Lady Macbeth (dir. William Oldroyd)

Women in the 19th-Century were glorified prisoners in their husband’s home. It does so for Katherine, who is sold to a loveless and cruel man. Both her husband and Oldroyd’s frame imprison her. Initial rebellion can be taken as the actions of a feminist heroine, but its soon apparent that her motivations are far more morally repugnant. Pugh’s menacing performance as Katherine is amongst the best of the year, in this macabre masterpiece.

8/ Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

Blending race-satire, psychological thriller and allegorical horror, Peele’s social critique will be looked back upon as revolutionary moment in cinema. While it can be visually bland, and the narrative takes some Evil Knievel-esque leaps of logic, any misgivings are overshadowed by its colossal importance. Worth viewing for ‘the keys’ and ‘the hypnosis’ sequences alone. Brewing a cup of tea will never be the same again.

9/ Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)

Two families live off the same land, their experiences connected, yet wildly different. Colour is the wide ravine that separates them. Mudbound is a rare film that surprises in its scope, distresses in its compassion, and haunts in its resonance. Teeming with gorgeous visuals and performances that hark back to cinematic epics of the past, it is a film that needs to be seen.

10/ The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray)

Discovery and mystery; ambition and sacrifice. Mesmeric and melancholic, Gray crafted a languorous epic that envelops you in its immense scope and refuses to release you for the duration of its lingering runtime. A perfect combination of an Indiana Jones adventure and the moral examination of Heart of Darkness, with spectacular performances from Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. Who knew Charlie Hunnam could act?

Honourable Mentions

Wind River, Mother!, The Disaster Artist, Gifted, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), The Big Sick.


Thanks for reading! Agree? Disagree? What were your favourite films of 2017? Let me know in the comments below, via email, or on twitter @jaydelwrites. 

‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ Review

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Amidst the colliding bodies and celebrity advertisements of the Super Bowl, Netflix released a teaser for the long rumoured third entry in the Cloverfield series. Not only was The Cloverfield Paradox being released straight onto the streaming giant — it would be available straight after the game. Praise at the ingenuity of the immediate release spread across the internet. It was cool and novel and could signal a major shift in the film industry. Then people watched it. And it swiftly became apparent that Julius Onah‘s The Cloverfield Paradox is an incoherent and derivative sci-fi B movie full of hollow characters that do dumb things to serve the needs of the script, which appears to have been taken from the recycling bin of a USC lecture hall.

To fix the energy crisis on Earth which is apparently, without access to wind, water or the sun, a team is sent to space to build a particle accelerator and save the planet. The Cloverfield International Space Station crew is made up of Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kiel (David Oyelewo), Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Volkov (Aksel Hennie), Monk (John Ortiz), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) and Tam (Ziyi Zhang). They have been in orbit for 679 days and time is running out, so they rush another attempt to complete “the Shepard” accelerator. In doing so they make the Earth “disappear”, supernatural things start to occur, and Elizabeth Debicki‘s Jensen turns up inside a wall in her best impression of the Basilisk from Harry Potter. While all this is happening, Hamilton’s husband, Michael (Roger Davies) sits at his computer in his well-lighted room trying to survive the energy crisis and hide from monsters.

You can almost see the wet glue where the Cloverfield brand has been pasted over the story. Donal Logue appears in close-up on a TV screen explaining “the Cloverfield paradox” that risks “shattering reality” and unleashing “monsters and demons”. Likewise, the Cloverfield name on the Space Station attempts a clumsy connection to previous films. And that’s simply what The Cloverfield Paradox is. A tenuous attempt to craft a bad sci-fi movie into a prequel that explains what happened before the events of the original Cloverfield. Just like 10 Cloverfield Lane (a much better film), the monsters and aliens feel like an afterthought added to a separate movie.

What results is a movie where scientists race around a ship explaining what they are doing, what they just did, and what they are about to do, while bad things happen. It has the feeling of a Black Mirror episode set on the ship of last years’ Life, without the efficient execution of either. Life worked because it was simple: there’s an alien trying to kill everyone and they need to stop its escape. The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t, because Onah moves from disaster to disaster with no motivation or explanation; there’s not even a villain to root against (or for), and the most gruesome accidents are shrugged off as inescapable consequences of the leap to a parallel dimension.

One example of this is when Mundy’s arm is engulfed by a bioorganic wall. It is torn off above the elbow, perfectly cauterized. Moments later his severed arm crawls down the corridor and the crew imprisons it. The independent arm then asks for a pen and writes down a vital message that propels the plot forward. All of this is shrugged off as a byproduct of that pesky “multiverse”. Ridiculous occurrences like this continue in various incarnations throughout the film. Viewers have no choice but to wait for characters to die off and hope for a convincing solution that never comes.

All of this may have somehow been salvaged with interesting characters. They’re not. Instead, they are imbued with about as much personality as a video game character from the ’90s; complete with character-defining accents and national flags sewn on their shoulders. It is a shame, because the cast — Ayelowo, Brühl, O’Dowd — are talented. But here, especially with the dialogue’s contrived exposition, they don’t have much to work with. Show me someone who could pull off saying, “Earth disappears, station does not feel the same, a woman appears in the wall, we’re definitely not in Kentucky anymore” without sounding like Tommy Wiseau. Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton is given the most to do and she tries valiantly as the only character with a remotely interesting arc. She is credited in three more films this year and I look forward to seeing more of her on the big screen.

The Cloverfield Paradoxs release was a refreshing idea. It got people thinking about new ways to deliver movie experiences and that can only be a good thing. The film itself is bad — nowhere near the quality of Cloverfield or 10 Cloverfield Lane. Were it released without its viral marketing and in its original title, The God Particle, it’s the kind of movie you and your partner resign yourselves to after scrolling through the app for half an hour. In other words, it’s just another bad Netflix movie.

‘Happy End’ Review

he10Imagine a mind map. You remember the kind. Scribbled in your exercise books with an over-sized subject surrounded by ideas you copied directly from a tattered old textbook. If one was to create a mind map on Michael Haneke (which I’m sure at least one film student has done), it would include terms like voyeurism, bourgeois family dysfunction, suppression of guilt, memory, and the wrath of the repressed. His latest offering, Happy End, is just that: a mind map of previously explored ideas scribbled in the notebook of an aging filmmaker that offers little new information, but distils the central ideas spread throughout his oeuvre.

The Laurents are a wealthy family living in a palatial estate in the French port city of Calais. Anne (Isabelle Huppert) has been put in charge of the family construction business due to her father, Georges’ (Jean-Louis Trintignant) decaying health. Anne has strained relationship with her adult son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), due to his drinking problem. Her surgeon brother, Thomas (Matthieu Kassovitz), also lives there with his new wife, but their life is interrupted when his daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin), is forced to live with them after her mother overdoses in suspicious circumstances.

On the surface, their lives are as polished as the cutlery around their dinner table. But each has their issues. An accident at the construction site due to Pierre’s incompetence results in the death of an employee, Georges desperately searches for someone to help end his life to avoid impending dementia, and Thomas is engaged in an affair with a cellist that we are privy to through a series of lewd messages over social media (one memorable message reads, “I want you to piss on my smiling face”). If it sounds like a soap opera it is, but one akin to the wicked parlour walls of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 more than an episode of Days of our Lives.

Events are shown through different points of view with Haneke’s trademark cold detachment. He is preoccupied with surveillance and social media, particularly how lives are mediated through screens where one only sees what they wish to. This is shown through surveillance footage of the construction accident, ominous videos taken from Elle’s phone (reminiscent of Benny’s Video), and the dull click of the keyboard while kinky social media messages fill the frame. Long-time cinematographer Christian Berger frames scenes from deliberate distance in static wide-shots that have you searching for the subject, paranoid that you may miss a singular, important moment. Like the opening shot of Anne and Georges Laurent’s home in Hidden (notice the identical names), these shots imbue mundane events with mesmeric control

Of course, these moments are nothing without actors, and the performances are great. It goes without saying that Huppert, Kassovitz and Trintignant are excellent, as is Toby Jones in a small role. But the star of the film is Fantine Harduin, who is dazzling as Eve. Early on we have her pinned as a teenage sociopath obsessed with death, but as the film proceeds, cracks appear in our preconceptions. My heart fluttered in one scene rife with implicit tension where Eve soothes her crying brother, yet, later in interactions with Georges, she resembles a quiet and scared little girl. Is she a malicious monster in sheep’s clothing? Or a confused and lonely sheep amongst wolves, worthy of our compassion? In true Haneke form, it is never clear. Franz Rogowski is also magnificent as Pierre, particularly during a drunken rendition of Sia’s Chandelier that makes Napoleon Dynamite look like Michael Jackson.

All of this takes place inside a bourgeois bubble that refuses to be popped. Refugees are shown in the background, roaming in packs, waiting in hope of crossing the Eurotunnel. In one sequence, Anne’s iPhone remains central in the frame as she drives past Sangatte refugee camp without a glance. In another, BBC footage of the refugee crisis is drowned out by family conversation. The family servants are a hardworking Moroccan couple, who are admonished and soothed with a box of chocolates when their daughter is bitten by the family dog. In hands other than Haneke’s these subtle moments could feel hastily-pencilled in, but one feels their presence on the edge of every frame; just out of sight. After all, it’s where these characters live.

That is, until its perfect ending. Haneke manages to bring together the myriad relationships and themes in a farcical and cringe-inducing finale at the white-washed wedding of Anne and Lawrence. There is no bloody demise or shocking act of violence like so many of his previous films, but what comes made those within the screening I attended gasp and giggle alike. And the final sequence is one that has lingered with me since and can be ranked amongst the best of his career. Haneke has been exploring these issues since The Seventh Continent, his debut in 1989 (look at the character names). While you may get more thematic depth from earlier films, here they are concentrated with unique poise and potency that only time and experience can provide. Study this mind map, there is lots to learn.


Happy End is distributed by Transmission Films in Australia and will be released in cinemas nationwide on February 8th. You can purchase tickets at Dendy Newtown, Palace Central and Hayden Orpheum, amongst other locations. Please comment below what you thought of the film, or let me know via twitter @jayd3l. Thanks for reading.

 

 

‘Good Time’ Review

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Certain cinematic landscapes stay with you long after viewing. Recently, the Cyberpunk wasteland of Blade Runner 2049 and Technicolor wonderland of La La Land. But there are none more evocative than the “city” movies of the ’70s, the grimy and corrupt streets of Gotham depicted in films like Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Lumet’s Serpico. With Good Time — Josh and Benny Safdie’s third co-directorial feature — they have given us a modern reimagining. Its New York setting is a nightmarish milieu where the incessant traffic deafens, buildings bleed neon, and streets are polluted with the kind of scum that would make Travis Bickle pull the tarp off his taxi and dust off the revolver.

In it, Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a petty criminal that has made it his mission to ‘rescue’ his mentally disabled brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) who was imprisoned after an ill-concocted bank heist. Here the movie begins proper and barely relents for its swift 101-minute runtime. Predictably, Connie’s rescue attempts are thwarted by chaos and misfortune as he scurries through Brooklyn’s Stygian streets over one frosty night. It is the ingenuity with which events proceed that are harder to predict. Pit stops in a desolate amusement park, a stranger’s apartment and moments of mistaken identity blend menace and farce on a gleaming knife-edge.

While there are moments of black humour, its impossible to mistake farce for funny. The film has you so deeply wrapped in its web of anxiety and paranoia that when something comical happens you can’t untangle yourself in time to utter more than a hollow bark. There is a trippy flashback sequence involving Buddy Duress’ Ray that would be hilarious were it not for the act of senseless violence that directly proceeds it. This endless sense of paranoia is courtesy of cinematographer Sean Price Williams‘ claustrophobic hand-held camera, which frames characters in intense close-ups under artificial lights, and Daniel Lopatin‘s throbbing synthetic score that owes much to Tangerine Dream‘s work on William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.

But in his career-best role, Robert Pattinson’s performance is with what makes Good Time so enthralling. His screen presence is intoxicating. Connie is as unsympathetic a protagonist as they come; an impulsive slimeball whose broken moral compass points somewhere between selfish and malicious. His powers of manipulation are evident early in the film when he demands that his girlfriend (played by Jennifer-Jason Leigh) pay for his brother’s bail bond — with her mother’s credit card. He is the type that digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble and then blames someone else for not bringing a ladder.

Pattinson is a bundle of nerves — glancing over his shoulder, around corners, out of windows. He’s rarely able to stay still. We never quite know what he will do next, and one supposes, neither does he. He’s not so much running from the police as he is his own series of stupid decisions, yet he manages to never outstay his welcome. Much of the performance comes down to the eyes, the way they burst from his gaunt face, and the edgy unpredictability of his body language which channels the enigmatic flair displayed by actors like De Niro and Pacino in their most lauded roles.

I saw Good Time on Netflix due to an odd Australian cinematic release. Its theatrical release must be gorgeous. At home on a Friday night, the Safdie brothers’ managed to tear me from my comfortable environment and drop me into an urban cesspool so tactile that I felt as tense as their protagonists. Those ’70s New York crime movies and their memorable anti-heroes remain in the public consciousness 40 years after their release because of vivid environments and compelling characters. In one of the best films of 2017, Connie Nikas joins their ranks.


You can watch Good Time now on Netflix.com and iTunes. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you thought of the film in the comment section below, or on twitter @jayd3l. 

 

Mute vs. Ant-Man: Which Trailer Had The Best Rudd?

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Yesterday, Marvel released a trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Netflix released theirs for Mute. One is the latest blockbuster entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the other, Netflix‘s latest foray into sci-fi. Both films share a special connection: Paul Rudd. As I watched the trailers back-to-back, I pondered which trailer has the best version of everyone’s favourite bumbling nice-guy. In the tradition of the great philosophers – Descartes, Seneca, Plato – I decided to investigate this quandary.

To do so, I had to set up some ground rules. The Rudds will be judged in four categories:

  1. Involvement
  2. Character
  3. Trailer quality
  4. Overall Rudd-ness

*A note on the Rudd Scale: Paul Rudd has a distinct personality. He’s usually the smart, quirky friend who throws out quips with laid-back ease and adorable charm. This is what we shall refer to as Full Rudd. Think of a film like Wanderlust as a touch point. Alternately, there have been films where he has been able to limit his Ruddness, like Gen-Y Cops, a Hong Kongese movie where he plays an FBI agent. This is Negative Rudd.*


Involvement:

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Ant-Man and his new sidekick, Wasp, who takes centre stage in the new trailer.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang. As the titular character of Ant-Man, his involvement is maximum. Yet the trailer centres around his new sidekick, Wasp, which is good for both women and wasp communities. The trailer opens with Lang’s voiceover and he participates in many scenes: inside a microscopic van, surveying Wasp, and riding on the back of a fly. At one point he swims through a germ-infested body and that is possibly the ultimate form of involvement.

In the Mute, Rudd is not the main character and doesn’t appear in the trailer until the 31-second mark. He sits alone at a bar staring into the distance, which suggests that he is unengaged in proceedings. Though, later he becomes involved in some sort of scheme involving misadventure and surgery. He leaves his daughter at home to do so, which shows admirable commitment. He seems sufficiently involved and pops up in diverse places — a bar, kitchen, a house brandishing a wooden ornament — which means that he holds an active role in proceedings.

Verdict: While Mute Rudd is undoubtedly involved, you cannot surpass Ant-Man Rudd, who is the titular character and thus extremely involved in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Character

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Ant-Man holds an advantage here, we’ve gotten to know him in a previous movie.

Ant-Man has an unfair advantage — we’ve seen him in the first film. He is an ex-con who had to forego his criminal ways to embrace the hero within and save the world. He’s a mischievous rascal with good intentions and better abs. We don’t learn much new information from the trailer, except that he shows envy towards Wasp’s wings, which is an undesirable character trait.

Rudd’s character in Mute is named Cactus Bill, possibly the greatest name of all time. He has a handlebar moustache, wears Hawaiian shirts, and runs some sort of underground medical centre. Cactus is a better dad than Ant-Man because he looks out for his daughter’s soda intake instead of whining to her about his job. It’s hinted that Cactus may be a bad guy but either way, he stands up to Alexander Skarsgård armed only with a tree branch, which shows bravery, a highly sought after character trait.

Verdict: In an upset, Mute Rudd wins the battle of character. Cactus Bill has the better name, shows bravery and that he’s a good father. Not even Ant-Man can shrink away from his superior character.

Trailer Quality

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The neo-cyberpunk world of Berlin in 2052 has lots of potential

Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s trailer is typical Marvel. Safe, fun, and aimed at the largest possible audience. No one expects a nuanced deconstruction of western democracy in a movie about a hero that controls ants, just as no one expects to be served a Merlot with a Big Mac. Interspersed between constant cuts-to-black, there are some memorable moments: Michael Douglas using a skyscraper as luggage (don’t think about it too hard), Wasp dancing along a knife’s blade, and the appearance of a villain that resembles a Hunter from Destiny. Its theme song is reminiscent of cartoons in the ’90s, and most refreshingly it bucks the trend of revealing the entire plot.

Mute introduces Berlin in 2052. Where people dress like characters from a Wes Anderson film and live in a cyberpunk metropolis. Events are intentionally unclear as it cuts between disparate locations and shows characters who talk in only the vaguest terms. It includes a villain named Duck Teddington played by Justin Theroux, who not only has an amazing name but also looks like one of Philip Jennings’ disguises in The Americans. We are left with a collage of distinct images  — from the haunted, mute Skarsgard to pole-dancing robots and blind gangsters with face-paint. The trailer hints at an interesting premise and leaves us with more questions than answers, which is a good thing.

Verdict: While the Ant-Man trailer looks good enough, the unknown potential of Duncan Jones’ Mute is too enticing. An interesting flop is better than a predictable success.

Overall Rudd-ness

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Cactus Bill as he confronts Leo. Note the Full Rudd facial hair and shirt.

The Ant-Man and the Wasp trailer is largely focused on the latter. However, we know from the first film that Scott Lang is Medium Rudd. His character is supposedly a rebel, but he doesn’t ever manage to shed that exoskeleton of loveable Ruddness. However, the trailer focuses on stern Rudd. It opens with a very superhero monologue about heroism and sacrifice and the few times he’s on screen he is mostly serious. A scene where he complains to Dr Pym about Wasp’s new suit gives a fleeting glimpse of his sarcasm and jealousy, two tent-poles of Full Rudd.

Exotic outfits and facial hair have always been markers of a Full Rudd performance. Anchorman, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later — now Mute. Cactus Bill also ensures his daughter has no soda, which shows maximum Rudd levels of care. But there is a flummoxing moment of Bipolar Rudd where Bill confronts Skarsgård’s Leo armed with a wooden log and delivers a threatening, witty remark. Forced to make a ruling, I contend that the threat is made in fear, and thus is markedly Pro Rudd behaviour. However, this is preceded by damning evidence of Negative Rudd conduct, when Duck says, “you need to maintain a sense of humour”. Full Rudd would never need to be reminded of this.

Verdict: Ant-Man and the Wasp depicts a stable Medium Rudd, while Mute fluctuates between extremes of non-Rudd and pro-Rudd behaviour. Ordinarily, this would tend to position Cactus Bill as a Medium Rudd performance. However, one must consider the flamboyant outfits and facial hair — two historical signposts of Full Rudd — and thus, must award Mute the victory.

Final Score: Mute 3 – 1 Ant-Man

That’s it! Mute takes out a close victory. Though, with over six-and-a-half million views (14x Mute), I don’t think Marvel will be losing any sleep over their loss in the Battle of the Rudds. It is our job to remember this momentous victory.


You can watch the trailer for Mute here and the trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp here. Mute releases on Netflix on February 23rd, and is directed by Duncan Jones. Ant-Man and the Wasp, directed by Peyton Reed, will be released in cinemas everywhere July 6th. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you thought in the comment section below, or on twitter @jayd3l. 

Desire, Fate and Murder in The Postman Always Rings Twice

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This morning I made a coffee and started reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Three cups later I had finished it.

What a debut!

For those unfamiliar, the story follows Frank, a handsome drifter who wanders into a roadside diner. You know the kind, “like a million others in California”. He just wants something to eat. Alongside his meal he gets a job offer from Nick, the jovial, naive and Greek (don’t forget that he’s Greek), owner. It’s a decent offer but Frank has other propositions. That is until he lays his eyes on Nick’s wife, Cora, whose lips stick out in a way that makes him “want to mash them for her”. He accepts the job and Cora begins to swoon. But the inconvenient husband stands in the way, to which there is one grim solution — death.

Cain tells the narrative in a confessional form that permeates suspense throughout, in a ‘will-they-do-it-and-get-away-with-it’ rather than a ‘whodunit’.

Published in 1934, The Postman Always Rings Twice is told from Frank’s perspective with all the prejudice and racial insensitivity of a working man in the post-depression USA. Where calling a white man a “Mex” is liable to earn you a swift punch and foreign characters are referred to exclusively by their nationalities.

Uncommon for the period are scenes that depict acts of sadomasochism, eroticism and brutal violence, laced throughout the book like skimpy lingerie on a femme fatale. These moments shocked me. It’s unsurprising that upon release, the book was banned in Boston and Canada.

Take, for example, the brutal image Frank is greeted by as he regains consciousness after a car crash.

“I began to moan from the awfulness of what I heard. It was like rain on a tin roof, but that it wasn’t. It was her blood, pouring down on the hood, where she went through the windshield.”

Or the sadomasochistic eroticism of Frank and Cora’s first sexual embrace.

“I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers. . . ‘Bite me! Bite me!’

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

These scenes are captured by Cain in concise, terse prose in a style shared by his contemporaries, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. All three have a unique penchant for painting scenes and capturing characters with sparse yet expressive language that writers have tried, with little success, to imitate since.

And characters are the pillars on which the novel stands. Cain’s flawed characters motivated by lust, greed and desire blow wind into the billowing sails of the story to propel it relentlessly forward.

Frank is an endearing scoundrel, a grifter who has been arrested in a dozen cities and is equally likely to get swindled as he is to do the swindling. He’s humorous and charming, a good guy with a habit of finding trouble. Someone I could imagine sharing a cold beer with on a hot summer afternoon. It is an ode to Cain’s characterisation that, while Frank constantly deceives and schemes, taunts and threatens, we can’t help but root for him.

“I’m talking about the road. It’s fun, Cora. And nobody knows it better than I do. I know every twist and turn it’s got. And I know how to work it, too. Isn’t that what we want? Just to be a pair of tramps, like we really are?”

Cora is an ex-beauty pageant winner from a small town who aimed for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood Boulevard but landed among the muddy coffee and runny eggs of an L.A. hash house. She escaped a life of destitution through marriage but ended up equally miserable. Her husband refers to her as “my little white dove”, and that’s what we come to see her as — a delicate bird confined by the marital cage, who craves freedom and passionate love.

“They gave me a test. It was all right in the face. But they talk, now. The pictures, I mean. And when I began to talk, up there on the screen, they knew me for what I was, and so did I. A cheap Des Moines trollop, that had as much chance in pictures as a monkey has. Not as much. A monkey, anyway, can make you laugh. All I did was make you sick.”

Frank loves Cora because she is a gorgeous, sullen, “hellcat” that is off-limits.

Cora loves Frank because he is handsome and mysterious and “not a little soft greasy guy with black kinky hair”.

The plot of the novel is driven by this desire for what they can’t have. If Frank and Cora kill Nick, they will be free to live together in perpetual happiness. They’re propelled into their murderous actions by lust and greed — and after one failed attempt, succeed.

Their wishes come true. And this is where the brilliance of the novel is revealed because the murder brings ramifications that reverberate through the character’s lives with the force of a gong on Chinese New Year.

They realise that there is no happily ever after. No fairytale ending. Life without the Greek isn’t the carefree picnic amongst rolling green meadows, with days spent making love and drinking and frolicking in the sun that they imagined. They have money and freedom and each other. All they desired. Yet they do nothing but bicker and fight and mistrust one another.

This is what Marvin Smith refers to as “the love rack”, and is one of the main themes of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

In ancient times a torture device was used to tie a victim by his hands and feet and pull their limbs simultaneously in two directions. The “love rack” replaces the physical ropes with the emotional bonds of love. The victim is pulled concurrently in two directions, wishing at once to cling to, and escape from, the object of his desire.

“The love rack” becomes the source of both pleasure and pain: the pleasure of being with the one you love and the pain the relationship brings.

Frank is immured by his physical lust to Cora, but at the same time, longs to be free of her.

Cora is confined by her physical lust for Frank but longs for the stability that Nick provided.

She voices her frustration after the Greek’s funeral, in a scene which epitomises the main theme of the novel — the cruel and inescapable fate that awaits those who commit heinous acts. Cora realises their relationship has rotted since the murder.

“look at us now. We were up on a mountain. We were up so high, Frank. We had it all, out there, that night. I didn’t know I could feel anything like that. And we kissed and sealed it so it would be there forever, no matter what happened. We had more than any two people in the world. And then we fell down. First you, then me. Yes, it makes it even. We’re down here together. But we’re not up high any more. Our beautiful mountain is gone.”

Frank doesn’t see the issue.

“We got away clean, and got $10,000 for doing the job. So God kissed us on the brow, did he? Then the devil went to bed with us, and believe you me, kid, he sleeps pretty good.”

The argument continues along those lines until they both concede and, in true noir style, find solace in bourbon. The scene ends with a notorious moment synonymous with the novel.

Frank pushes Cora onto the bed, slips off her blouse, and she says:

“Rip me, Frank. Rip me like you did that night.”

In this moment of twisted passion, we see a couple desperately grasping for the passion, love and emotion that swelled within them before killing Nick.

Cain, with trademark nonchalance, manages existential themes that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Shakespearean tragedy.

He manages to meditate on the disappointment that accompanies realised dreams, the disorder that comes through rapid change, and, most crucially, the cruel and inescapable consequences of fate on those who commit heinous actions.

All in just over 100 pages.

The inevitability of fate is alluded to by the book’s non-sequitur title. In the preface to Double Indemnity, Cain wrote that the title comes from a conversation he had with the screenwriter, Vincent Lawrence, who spoke about the anxiety he felt when waiting for a postman to bring news about a submitted transcript. He would know when the postman arrived because he always rang twice. Lawrence described being so anxious that he would retreat to the backyard to avoid his ring. The tactic failed. Even from the backyard, if he failed to hear the first ring, he always heard the second. Always.

This conversation birthed a title that became a perfect metaphor for Frank and Cora’s situation.

“The Postman” is God, or, Fate who “delivers” punishment to Frank and Cora. Both missed the first “ring” when they got away with the initial killing. However, the postman’s second ring is inescapable; Frank is wrongly convicted of Cora’s murder and sentenced to death. The motif of inescapable fate is also evident in the Greek’s initial escape from death, only to succumb to the second attempt on his life.

Upon its release, The Postman Always Rings Twice delivered a tragic, savage and steamy story to audiences around the world. With crime fiction’s sustained popularity eighty-three years on, I encourage you to step up and answer the ring of this masterpiece.

Take this as a ringing endorsement and don’t wait for a second — you may regret it.


How Jack Reacher and I Grew Apart

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The Authorial Voice Guessing Game

Clues are restricted purely to the prose, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary. Not content.

I write on a computer that’s not new, but not old either. Outside it’s not warm, not cold. Just right. Three little bears. My desk is on the sunny side of a dark room. Pens. Pencils. Paper. The kind you’ve seen a hundred times. Maybe more. I get up to make a coffee. I drink it. Then another. Then I do what I do. Write. I do it every day. I might know I’m going to write. Might not. I keep going. No matter where it goes, how it gets there. Rules are rules. They keep society moving like gas in a pickup.

The screen starts blank. I tap for a while and it fills with words. Sometimes slow. Sometimes fast. Maybe somewhere in between. I do it for as long as it takes. A lot of words, a lot of time. Not all good, not all bad. Simple maths. I’m done when I’m done. Never before. Afterwards, I do what I always do, except when I don’t. Exercise. Walk or run. One is just a quicker version of the other. Pick your poison. Thirty minutes, then forty, then sixty. When I’m done its late afternoon. Sky red as a sunburnt trucker.

The evening is the same routine as the morning but later in the day. Shower, dry, dress. Fresh pot of coffee. Cup poured. Book opened. I collapse on the couch. Big and lumpy, just like me. No more work, minimal movement. Rest and relaxation. I might listen to music, faint as a HB pencil. Maybe 4H. Sometime later my stomach barks at me. I feed it. Meat and veggies. Caveman style. Potatoes, beer if I’m feeling it. I usually am. Time ticks, tocks. I’m not in bed late, but not early either. Tomorrow will be the same, maybe. Might not be a tomorrow, because writing like this makes me want to kill myself.

Did you find that inane prologue a slog? Did anyone guess what authorial voice I emulated?

James D. Grant, aka. Lee Child.

One of my favourite childhood authors, who I have realised is a horrible, terrible, atrocious writer. Or at least masquerading as one.

He’s a Bestselling Author, You’re Nobody

fair statement. I am a lowly aspiring author in the process of writing my first novel, and would dream to have the kind of success that Lee Child has had. Over 20 books published, many of which were bestsellers. His novels have been adapted into films starring Tom Cruise, he has been widely emulated, and admitted to being able to “live like a king without making another buck ever”. All this success from writing macho wish-fulfilment stories featuring the ex-military policeman turned avenging nomad, Jack Reacher. Reacher is as intimidating to men as he is attractive to women, and is one of the most recognisable characters of 21st Century popular fiction.

Child knows what his audience wants and sticks to a meticulous formula. His novels begin with the reliability of a Swiss clock. Reacher rolls into a foreign town, witnesses wrongdoing, and sticks around to fix it. Along the way he is bound to win several fights where he is outnumbered, speak like he grew up inside an 80’s action movie, and have sex with at least one, sometimes two, colleagues.

Of course, genre fiction is built on formula, which I am not opposed to. That is not my issue with Child. Ian RankinMichael Connelly, and John Sandfordrank among some of my favourite contemporary authors in the genre, and are all formulaic to some extent. Procedure makes thrillers and crime fiction work. To put it in the simplest terms: there is a crime, it is investigated, and eventually solved. What separates one work from another is what happens in between the crime and the solving — endearing characters, enthralling plots and vivid atmosphere. Child is sufficient at all these. He has studied the genre and hits story beats with the precision of the sniper in “One Shot”.

What Child doesn’t have, or perhaps chooses not to show, is a writing style with any substance.


So? He’s Rich and Successful

He certainly is. And you’re right to ask the question. Upon the release of “The Midnight Line” last week, this cycle will have continued with major success and very little deviation through 22 books across 20 years. The new book is bound to be met with the usual reaction — a mix of critical dismissal and appraisal, and huge popularity.

Most of us would kill for Child’s success. I wouldn’t mind writing novels in one of my two Manhattan apartments or one of my two houses in St. Tropez. Who cares about critical opinions. He has a large group of diehard fans that rush out to purchase his books each year. He holds fiction masterclasses, and guest lectures where he gets paid exorbitant sums to teach budding writers. He’s not trying to be Hemingway or Orwell or Dostoevsky. He provides the equivalent of a popcorn movie — something quick, fun and light to distract you from the world for a few hours at a time. In his world the baddie is always caught, the pretty girl always courted.

The other half says that I wouldn’t want that at all. At least, not that way.

Easy to say when you have no money, no temptation to forgo artistic integrity for popular consumption. But I don’t believe Child ever had any artistic integrity or any artistic aspirations at all.

His story is well documented. Sacked from his job at Granada Television, Child found himself on the chopping block with a family to support. Instead of looking for a new job, he spent £4 on paper and pencils with the aspiration of writing a best-selling book in the world’s largest market: America. It is the stuff of fairy tales, right?. Look at the wording I used. He didn’t take the time off to continue his hobby of writing, nor just write a novel to get it published. He sat down at his desk with the direct aim of writing a best-selling book to the American market. Not writing a good book, a best-selling one. The two are not necessarily mutual.

He is quite upfront with the way he goes about his writing. Unlike Stephen King or Ian Rankin, who meander into their stories, letting the characters grab them by their collars and drag them through to the end, Child crafts his simple tales with the formulaic care of a scientist handling beakers filled with toxic chemicals. This applies to every aspect of his writing — from his public persona, pseudonym and of course, his wandering hero, Jack Reacher. When Child talks about writing he doesn’t wax poetic about the joy and fulfilment of the act, he speaks of it with the dry lifelessness of a lawyer explaining a piece of legislation. He sees it as a means to an end. One example of this is his chosen pen name. It was crafted because he studied lists of best-selling authors and found that authors with surnames that are short, snappy and appear early in the alphabet, sell better.

Another example is the commercial reasons behind Reacher’s heritage. To increase book sales in France, Child added the backstory of Reacher’s French mother. Smart. Also an example of the lengths he has taken to craft himself into a best-selling author, not necessarily a good one. For anyone thinking that the two are mutual, look at the American president. If Donald Trump’s election has taught us anything, is that the public doesn’t have a bloody clue about what’s good and bad.

My Fading Relationship with Reacher

Looking over at the bookshelf nestled in the corner of my workspace, I count 10 Lee Child novels. Half are the first few in the series, the other half more recent. I know, I know! What a hypocrite. How can I write a critique of the man and own so many of his books? I’ll explain.

When I was around nine years old dad decided it was time to introduce me to adult books. Lee Child was one of the first he introduced me to. I instantly fell in love with Reacher — he was colossal, tough and smart, with a tongue that struck like a snake and fists equally lethal. I didn’t just like him, I wanted to be him.

Then I grew up. Christmas always meant new books for me, and more often then not, a new Lee Child book would sit proudly atop the pile. Only, like Andy towards Woody and Buzz in Toy Story, I began to drift away from them. I was introduced to new authors: Koontz, King, Rankin, Connelly. As well as old ones: ShakespeareConan DoyleHemingway, Orwell. I still loved Reacher, but each adventure became harder to labour through. Eventually, I stopped.

No, that doesn’t make me better than adult readers who still enjoy the stories. It just means that with my evolving appreciation and experience with literature, his prose had become infantile and unreadable.

Until, a few days ago mum came home with the latest Reacher novel, “The Midnight Line” as a gift.

While I was touched by the gesture, my mind immediately flew to an excuse I could use to avoid reading it. I had nothing. Half-way through another book at the time, I was able to put off the inevitable for a few days. I finished that book last night, and thus, when I woke this morning, it was time to begin. I padded into the kitchen, made a coffee and sat down to reacquaint myself with my old friend Reacher. I tried to be open-minded and give it a chance.

I couldn’t.

Barely thirty pages in I had grown sick of his lazy descriptions, halting sentences and cheesy dialogue. I packed it back onto the shelf next to several other unread Child novels. Then I started to wonder — had Child once been good and progressively gotten lazier and lazier until we reached the point we are at now? I decided to browse through the Reacher books I had and inspect the quality of his prose.

I found that while his writing was never very good, it has certainly regressed over recent years. Some sentences made me laugh out loud with their ridiculous, juvenile language. It became a fun exercise. I leafed through Child’s novels and marked down some of the more bewildering phrases and sentences that made it to publication. There are many more examples, I couldn’t tolerate giving the pages more than a cursory glance. It is true that if one is nit-picking you could find poor sentences in most popular novels, but these are regular, common occurrences in the work of Child.

Any aspiring writer should take this as encouragement and motivation — if he can be a best-selling author, so can you.

A Horrible List of Horrible Sentences

  • “The old homestead was both old and a homestead” (The Midnight Line, p.163)
  • “It was about as distinctive as the most distinctive thing you could ever think of” (Killing Floor, p. 356)
  • “Maybe the hardest time to move unobserved through a city. Or, maybe the easiest.” (One Shot, p. 11)
  • “The plan was covered in the architects handwriting. Which looked like every other architect’s handwriting.” (Personal, p.289)
  • “Ten o’clock meant ten o’clock. Therefore exactly one hour before meant nine o’clock” (Personal, p.310)
  • “There were no people inside, as far as Reacher could see, which fact the back part of his brain seized upon” (Make Me, p. 187) Huh?
  • “It wasn’t a particularly big empty box. But it wasn’t small either” (A Wanted Man, p. 357)
  • “Don McQueen breathing slow, not quite asleep but not quite awake either” (A Wanted Man, p.68).

I found these by spending twenty minutes flicking through my collection. I can guarantee there are myriad better examples. Though, you can find them at your own leisure if you are so inclined. The above quotes are but a sketch of the complete image of what is so dull and infuriating about Child’s lackadaisical prose. But it teaches wannabe writers a valuable lesson — anything can be forgiven if you create a compelling character that people care about, you study your market and genre, and you provide somewhat original stories and settings.

My critique in mind, I do owe Child a massive thank you. His books encouraged my love of reading and helped pave the way for the further reading I have undertaken. He helped kickstart my love of reading. For that, no matter how asinine I now find his writing, I owe him eternal thanks.

Lee Child is not a great writer, but he never promised to be — he is, however, a best-selling one.


If you enjoyed my work, feel free to follow me on twitter @jayd3l, or email me at jackndelaney@gmail.com

Thanks for reading!

The 15 Most Historically Inaccurate Films Ever

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Nothing captivates a viewer quite like the prospect of a film “based on a true story.” Stories about real people, places and events tend to add an extra element of magic to a movie. Some directors seem to believe that their artistic license enables them to venture far beyond what could be reasonably defined as “historically accurate.” Audiences then proceed to consume these films under the incorrect assumption that these movies are completely true.

Characters are added and removed, romantic interests are created, moments are exaggerated — or fabricated entirely — and dates changes. Despite some truth bending and trickery, many of these films are widely beloved by fans, though they rarely prove to be very popular among historians.

Let’s take a look at the 15 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies.

15. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)

This Best Picture Oscar winner stars Joseph Fiennes as a young, broke Shakespeare with writer’s block who meets his dream girl and is thusly motivated to write one of his most famous plays. While the story is not one draped in historical accuracy, the background and setting draw the eye to inaccuracies that stand out. The characters drink out of modern beer glasses and the Queen attends a play publicly; any plays she would have seen would have been performed in her own court. Add to that the theatres would have been closed anyway in the dying days of the bubonic plague outbreak, and you’ve got yourself a fairly impossible scenario.

The film creates an alternate universe where Shakespeare’s inspiration for ‘Romeo and Juliet’ mirrors his own experience in forbidden love. Luckily, screenwriter Marc Norman never pretended the film was rooted in fact, but its liberal take on the life of the most famous writer in history undoubtedly mislead numerous viewers into thinking Shakespeare was essentially a run-of-the-mill starving artist at one stage, just like countless others.

14. JFK (1991)

Director Oliver Stone has an obvious love for making historical films, and this thriller tracks a New Orleans District Attorney (played by Kevin Costner) who uncovers that there’s more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story. The opening of the film is a montage of both archived and recreated footage, giving the audience the impression the movie will take more of a documentary approach. *Spoilers* It doesn’t. It convincingly merges truth and conspiracy, putting weight behind the popularisation of JFK conspiracies in the years since his assassination.

The conspiracy used in JFK was based on the 1967 spoof, The Case of Jim Garrison, which was revealed to be false in 1972. In the film, key witness Perry Russo is shown freely giving his testimony, though, in reality, he was drugged before his testimony. A vital scene in the movie is David Ferrie’s breakdown and confession, though that has been proven to be a figment of the director’s imagination; Ferrie has always maintained his innocence.

Stone’s thriller even managed to strongly imply that Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s successor in the White House, was a driving force behind the assassination, though very little evidence exists to support that claim.

13. GLADIATOR (2000)

Another Best Picture winner that was a bit light on the facts, Gladiator is an epic historical drama directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe as the fictional Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius. Maximus is betrayed and falls from General to slave, where he gains widespread respect fighting as a gladiator. While several historians were hired to consult on the film’s historical accuracy, it’s interesting to note that one left because of changes to the script.

Some of the characters directly around Maximus are real historical figures, though the facts have been blurred. In the film, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is killed by his son Commodus, though in reality, he died of chickenpox. Regarding Joaquin Phoenix’s snivelling, incestuous and creepy portrayal of Commodus, historical records indicate that he was nothing like this and that he was a well-liked ruler for over a decade. He did fight in show combat but was never murdered in the arena — in fact, he was strangled in the bath by his wrestling partner/lover Narcissus. We would have paid to see that spin-off movie.

12. U-571 (2000)

In this turn of the century war film, a German submarine is commandeered by disguised American submariners as they attempt to capture the Enigma cypher machine. U-571 is so inaccurate, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair labelled it “an affront to the real sailors.” The film is based on the real story of “Operation Primrose,” where the U-110 was captured, not the U-571. There were no Americans involved, as the operation was undertaken by the British before the U.S. had even entered the war.

Director Jonathan Mostow’s film gives the American squad credit for capturing the enigma machine and helping crack the encrypted Nazi messages. None of these Americans actually had anything to do with the codes being broken, it was a joint effort between Polish and British mathematicians in a far away office. An honourable mention goes to this movie for starring Jon Bon Jovi, who gets shot over the side and goes out in quite a “Blaze of Glory.”

11. APOCALYPTO (2006)

Set in the Mayan Kingdom in the face of its demise, the rulers insist the key to survival is to build more temples and offer human sacrifices. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), one of the young men captured for sacrifice, runs away to avoid his death. The use of the real ancient Mayan language throughout director Mel Gibson’s film gives the film a true sense of authenticity, one that isn’t mirrored by its historical accuracy.

The Mayans in the film were portrayed as radical savages, which was more akin to the Aztecs; the Mayans were a reasonably peaceful people. Mayans also rarely performed any human sacrifice. If they did, it was against treacherous elites, never commonfolk. Additionally, the movie ends with the arrival of the Spaniards, which didn’t happen in Mexico until around 400 years after the Mayan collapse.

10. 300 (2006)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice helmer Zack Snyder’s breakout hit, 300is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1998 comic series, which itself is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The battle is definitely one of the most one-sided efforts in recorded history, though not quite on the scale the film would lead you to believe. The 300 Spartans were unable to match their enemy and formed an alliance with other Greek city-states, pushing their ranks to around 7,000. And while their attire revealed chiselled abs that looked great on camera — and served as a source of inspiration for the Halloween costumes of fraternity brothers nationwide that year — the Spartans would have worn actual armour instead of the glorified loincloths featured in the film.

The Persian Empire was also represented inaccurately in the film. Xerxes certainly wasn’t a weird, bald giant with a deep voice and an effeminate appearance, and the Persian Empire actually prohibited slavery because of their Zoroastrian beliefs. In fact, the Spartans were one of the largest owners of slaves in Greece. Another odd inclusion is the Spartans teasing the Athenians for being “boy lovers,” when Spartans themselves weren’t all that shy about their Pederasty.

9. 10,000 BC (2008)

This Roland Emmerich directed prehistoric epic follows D’Leh, a young mammoth hunter, though his journey to ensure the safety of his tribe. This is far and away the worst film on this list, and one of the worst-ever efforts from the Independence Day: Resurgence helmer, though one that wouldn’t likely have been saved by a more accurate depiction of prehistoric life.

10,000 BC’s astounding choice to have woolly mammoths living in the desert was one thing, but then making them help create the pyramids was an extra level of madness. Nevermind the fact that the pyramids weren’t constructed until about 8,000 years later. The tools used by prehistoric man were also historically incorrect: the film is supposedly set in the Mesolithic age, and use of metal of any kind didn’t take place for at least another 6,000 years. Thankfully for moviegoers, Emmerich appears to return to his “blow everything up” roots this summer, and by the looks of things, he’s done a bang-up job.

8. MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006)

Sofia Coppola’s eye-catching depiction of France in the lead up to the French Revolution is a beautiful film. The vibrancy of both colour palette and costuming gave the movie a unique visual look, one that almost helped disguise the historical accuracy. The almost fantastical approach to the setting allowed Coppola to take (a bit too much) artistic liberty, resulting in the portrayal of France’s iconic Queen being more of a painting than a photograph.

Coppola’s visual style caused issues too. Clothes were dyed colours unavailable at the time, and even a pair of Converse shoes can be spotted under a dress. But the greatest liberties were taken in the storytelling department. In the film, Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste share a bed together, which they didn’t. Her seduction took a few months on screen. In real life, it was seven years. The main issue with the film is that there are no politics. It seems people don’t like her, but it’s not made clear why. All the time is tediously spent between shopping, eating, being fettered upon, and a sexual liaison with Count Axel Fersen — one which is historically disputed.

7. THE LAST SAMURAI (2003)

Tom Cruise stars as Nathan Algren, an American military advisor hired by the Japanese after being captured in battle. While Japan did hire foreign military advisors, they never once hired an American, as their advisors were mostly French. While one can forgive the change of origin for the military advisor, it is still doubtful a retired Civil War veteran could become a master samurai at all, let alone in such a short period of time. Many shots in the film see Algren helping teach the Japanese how to shoot muskets, when at that time most Japanese men were already adept at shooting repeating rifles.

Samurai fought in this period to stay atop the social classes, though in The Last Samurai they are portrayed as nobleman fighting for the greater cause. Ken Watanabe’s character is based on the real-life Saigo Takamori, who committed ritual suicide or “seppuku,” and did so in defeat, not while being shot at by Gatling gun fire.

While Cruise’s film is a highly entertaining effort, if you find yourself desiring a more accurate depiction of late 1800’s Japan, check out the 1980 miniseries, Shogun.

6. THE PATRIOT (2000)

This portrayal of the American Revolution follows Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson, in his second appearance on our list) as he leads the Colonial Militia after his son is murdered by a British officer. The film is more akin to American patriot propaganda, particularly in the unfair representation of the British Soldiers whose depiction is reminiscent of the Nazi’s in World War II. This is most prevalent in the scene where the soldiers burn the elderly, women and children to death inside a church. Jason Isaacs’ evil British colonel was based on the historical figure Col. Tarleton, and there is no evidence that he ever broke the rules of engagement, let alone by shooting a child in cold blood.

While Gibson’s character is a sympathetic father in The Patriot, it is historically recorded that the man on which his character was based, Francis “The Swamp Fox’ Marion, hunted Native Americans for sport and raped his female slaves. He also didn’t have his children until after the war — when he married his cousin. While watching this movie, definitely keep in mind that it’s almost entirely a work of fiction, albeit entertaining fiction. No fact typifies the inaccuracies in this movie quite like the final battle of Guilford Court House, where Martin defeats his nemesis. In reality, the Americans lost that skirmish.

5. ALEXANDER (2004)

This epic about Alexander the Great’s conquest of the world has been met with controversy since its release, including a threatened lawsuit against director Oliver Stone (another repeat offender on this list) and Warner Bros. for the film’s inaccurate portrayal of history. One of the lawyers involved in the case, Yannis Varnakos, said that “the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction.”

Critical scrutiny from historians comes from the fact that the movie is more of a reduction and compression of Alexander’s life events, rather than an accurate biopic of the man’s achievements. The filmmakers condense several of his key life events into smaller ones, and some of his actions are even attributed to different individuals from those in history. The majority of actions and milestones depicted did, in fact, occur, though in different times and locations. For example, three major battles, the Battle of the Granicus, the Battle of Issus and the Battle of Gaugamela, are all merged into one. It is immensely difficult to piece together the proceedings of Alexander’s life, due to the inconsistencies of his historical records — so much so that there have been 4 Director’s Cuts since the film’s release to try and fix this issue.

4. BRAVEHEART (1995)

Director/star Mel Gibson’s third appearance on this list, Braveheart follows William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who begins a revolt against King Edward I of England. The film dramatizes a lot, and the timeline is heavily altered, as real-life historical figures’ ages simply don’t line up. Historians have taken issue with the film’s battle scenes as well, as the film depicts armies haphazardly running into the enemy rather than actual tactical warfare. The famous kilts which make the Scottish stand out against their English opponents are also being worn about 300 years too early.

The biggest inaccuracy is Wallace’s romantic interest. In the film, Wallace seduces King Edward II’s Wife, Isabella of France, and the resulting child was Edward III. According to the history books, Isabella was just 3 years old at the battle of Falkirk, and Edward III wasn’t born until 7 years after Wallace’s death. Those timelines don’t really seem to add up. To add icing on the cake, remember the Battle of Sterling Bridge depicted in the film? It didn’t feature a bridge in real life.

3. ARGO (2012)

Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, the 2013 Best Picture and Screenplay-winning movie follows an undercover CIA agent masquerading as a Hollywood producer in order to rescue 6 Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in 1980. The offensive portrayal of Iranians as bearded fanatics was just the beginning — essentially none of the film’s most memorable moments ever happened.

A major point of contention in the film is the American government’s resistance to the film crew plan. This was never an issue; in fact, they chose the film crew option out of 3 options offered by the CIA right off the bat. Affleck’s version of events sees the crew almost get lynched by a group of Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar. In reality, this never happened, mainly because they were never there. Another conflict comes when their plane tickets are cancelled and later reconfirmed, where the real-world wife of the Canadian ambassador personally pre-purchased tickets.

Speaking of the Canadian influence, President Jimmy Carter acknowledged that “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the plan were Canadian.” New Zealand also helped, but the movie lays all the praise on the U.S. There was no interrogation, and definitely no last-second chase on the airport runway with crazy Iranians wielding automatic weapons. One of the actual diplomats noted that the CIA’s fake cover story was “never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant.” That doesn’t make for a very exciting movie though, does it?

2. PEARL HARBOR (2001)

Michael Bay’s 2001 retelling of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor doesn’t have much in common with reality, apart from the fact that Japan did, of course, bomb the United States in 1941. The movie follows fictional characters Danny and Rafe, who are stationed in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor during the attack, seeing them hop into planes to shoot down the enemy fighters. They live through the battle before being sent to bomb Tokyo.

Historians state that only a few Japanese fighters were ever shot down, while in the movie the number is well over 20. Also, fighter pilots would never have been sent to Tokyo to bomb targets. What’s more is that Rafe would never even have been allowed in the British squadron, as it was a violation of neutrality. The ultimate fictionalization comes when it is revealed that Rafe is not only a master aviator, but well-trained in the ancient art of Origami. An oddity, considering that Origami was only discovered by foreign troops after the war. These all pale in comparison to the moment when President Roosevelt stands up from his wheelchair to make a dramatic speech, of course.

1. POCAHONTAS (1995)

A Disney classic, Pocahontas tells the story of an English soldier and the daughter of an Algonquin chief as they become romantically involved when the English colonists invade Virginia in the 17th Century. These inaccuracies seem a bit strange when talking about a beloved children’s movie, but there are plenty of them to speak of. In the film, Pocahontas and John Smith are both adults, though history records that Pocahontas was roughly 10 years old at the time Smith arrived.

Moreover, Smith’s story of a child rescuing him from being killed by her tribe may not even be true, as evidence of the incident is scarce. What historians do know is that the romantic ending is starkly contrasted by the real life of Pocahontas, who was married off to another man, renamed Rebecca and converted to Christianity before dying at the ripe old age of 22. We’re not so sure that ending would have sat very well with the kids, though.

*originally published at ScreenRant.com*

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Forces Old Fans to Abandon Ship

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This contains spoilers, so please don’t read it unless you’ve watched the film.


You know what’s tiresome? Being disregarded as a “super geek” when you critique something from a property you love. It’s a discourse I’ve seen with worrying regularity on numerous forums and comment sections in the hours since watching Star Wars: The Last JediI’m sick of it and I’m sure you are too.

‘Critics’ and ‘reviewers’ are quick to expound, by using a litany of condescending synonyms, just how incorrect anyone who disagrees with them is. Geek. Nerd. Fanboy. It’s frustrating. Being a ‘fan’ is looked upon with the derision and disdain with which Darth Vader sees the ‘Rebel scum’. Although, if the original films were made today, Vader would more likely be force-choking on his own tears over blowing up Alderaan than tormenting rebellion soldiers.

But what would I know, I’m just a meagre *hushed whisper* fan.

And critics will say:

  • Let go of your prejudice, Rian Johnson is challenging what a Star Wars film is — don’t you get it?
  • Humour and jokes and gags, oh my! It doesn’t take itself too seriously, neither should you.
  • Abandoning previously established traits of beloved characters isn’t wrong, it’s maturing the series.
  • Rian Johnson and his band of merry Disney executives subverted fan theories and resolved elements from The Force Awakens in unexpected ways that provided thrilling twists.
  • Fans are holding on to the past. Disney is all about Tomorrowland, propelling relentlessly forward like Princess Leia flying through outer space in her best Mary Poppins impression.
  • Anyway, you don’t even dislike it, you just don’t understand it.

Themes and Politics, A Star Wars Story

Before I go any further, let’s first discard this pretentious myth of Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s depth, underlying themes and, the favourite buzzword of faceless avatars on Twitter, politics.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a mass-produced, popular film that is a part of the most popular franchise in history. It is the definition of mainstream. There are no gold medals for critics spouting that we don’t “get it”. Its themes, metaphors, and allegories are explored with the subtlety of Kylo Ren’s tantrums. I get it, I really do. I just don’t like it — and since when are films judged on what they’re trying to say, they’re judged on how well they bloody say it.

Force Awakens, Force Ashmakens

One of the early scenes sees the continuation of The Force Awakens’ fantastic final shot, where Rey travels to Ahch-To and offers exiled Jedi master Luke Skywalker his lightsaber. A relic of his past. And Obi-Wan’s. And Anakin’s. A grand moment that spouted two-years of rumour and fan theories — all discarded as Luke inspects the lightsaber for a few seconds, before casually tossing it over his shoulder. It felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Where’s Matt, the radar Technician? If you listen close enough you can hear the canned laughter.

The message is clear: toss away your preconceptions. Discard everything you thought you knew. This speeder is going in a new direction. Buckle up. I mean, why satisfy fans that have waited for a two-year payoff? Why not dispose of the entire climax of Episode VII with a lazy flick of the wrist.

Out with the old, in with the new

Luke Skywalker, one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history. A bastion of reckless optimism, the farm boy who rose to Jedi Knight and saved the galaxy, is now more Scrooge than Skywalker. He’s a curmudgeon who has lost all faith in the galaxy, in the Jedi, in himself. And lost his memory too.

He’s an old man in self-imposed exile, approached by a wannabe hero who pleads with him to join the rebellion against an evil empire led by Luke’s former pupil.

You would be forgiven for thinking that ol’ Lukey boy might notice some parallels between his current predicament and that of Obi-Wan thirty years earlier. You‘d be wrong. Maybe his time training with Yoda on Dagobah is fresher? Nope. Apparently Luke isn’t one to learn from the past. He’s too haunted by his failure that gave rise to Kylo Ren, and boy does he let you know it. Through at least three flashbacks, and a performance made up of brooding close-ups and whining — the later being the only trait remotely close to the Luke we all know and love.

Eventually, he relents. He will train Rey. We only see one such session, where he trains her in ‘reaching out’ with the force. It just so happens that she reaches out and latches on to the ‘Dark Side’ of the force. Luke’s only seen this happen once before. With Kylo Ren. He “wasn’t scared enough then”, and is now. Eery — and never again explored.

On the island is an ancient tree containing the biblical texts of the Jedi religion. Luke decides to destroy said tree and books. Giggling force ghost Yoda, who resembles the wise, deceptively senile muppet from The Empire Strikes Back, pops in to assist Luke via a strike of lightning. The tree goes up in flames. The archaic ways of the Jedi are destroyed. The way is paved for a new generation of the Jedi Order to be built. (Except its not, it’s later revealed that Rey had the books all along, which undermines the precious theme).

It is no mistake this destruction takes place in flames. Again, we see this theme of the passing of the torch. The old generation is burnt, and the new shall be forged from the ashes. Johnson uses Yoda to suit his agenda. If Luke burns down what remains of the Jedi religion, it is the action of a bitter old man, but Yoda is the wisest being in Star Wars. If he approves, then it must be right.

This is what Johnson sees himself as doing — burning what we know aboutStar Wars to the ground, in order to build it anew from the ashes. He sees fans as those who grip desperately to the old ways of the Jedi, and himself as the Yoda figure, who must destroy what we previously knew to allow something new to rise from the smouldering embers.

Unfortunately, it’s not a fierce, beautiful phoenix that rises from the smouldering flames; it’s a Porg. A walking plush toy mandated by the powers-that-be at Disney to hit sales targets and sell toys. Signifying a future of films cooked up with one eye on the camera, another on the boardroom. Films that are full of danger that, like a mirage, is never quite realised. Inhabited by cute and cuddly characters with a veneer of substance that shatters like Captain Phasma’s helmet at the slightest glancing blow.

A Failure of a Film About Failing Heroes

This movie is a movie about failure. Hopes are dashed, plans foiled, allies fail to answer the call and our heroes constantly disappoint. Poe’s hare-brained bombing run results in thousands of casualties. A side-quest involving Finn and newcomer Rose not only plays out like a filler episode of Star Wars Rebelsbut actively works against the overall plan of Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whose scheme is like if the English Army evacuating Dunkirk only returned to shore with a boatful of soldiers. Rey doesn’t turn Kylo to the light side. Snoke can’t control his pupil. Heck, even the rebellion gas tanks fail, in a plot point that makes one crave the comparatively enthralling taxation levies and Trade Federation blockade of the prequels. There’s no hope of the rebellion defeating the First Order in The Last Jedi — they’re doing all they can to get out alive.

Jacob Hall has an explanation, via SlashFilm:

Maybe it’s dangerous to worship our heroes to the point of idolatry, to convince ourselves that they can never do wrong, never make mistakes, and never let their hubris create monsters that threaten a new generation.

I agree. Blindly following heroes in the real world can be dangerous. Often you set yourself up for disappointment when it’s inevitably revealed that your favourite writer, actor, sports star or cosmologist isn’t perfect. They make mistakes. They’re human. But — is Star Wars, an epic fantasy space-opera full of silly creatures and Buddhist space samurai really the right vessel to explore that message? I don’t think so.

On Rian Johnson’s new Disneyland ride — oops I mean film — there is no room for heroes. Legends. Good vs. Evil. It’s a politically correct campus safe space where there is no ‘bad guy’. He’s just misunderstood. A place where there is a horrendous twenty-minute segway to a casino for a brisque critique of unregulated capitalism. A place full of creatures stolen from Pokemon concept art, of Marvel-esque one-liners and quips which break the modicum of tension built, where the protagonist is saved at the last second in the clutches of certain death. In other words — a Marvel movie with a Star Wars coat of paint.

There is a visually stunning moment where Laura Dern’s lavender-haired Admiral, the worst Star Wars character of all time, stays behind and sacrifices herself in a kamikaze hyper-speed jump into the First Order command ship. It was a moment that could have held real gravitas — wasn’t it that no one gives a shit about Admiral Holdo. Meanwhile, off-screen, goddamn Admiral Ackbar is killed with barely a cursory mention in a line of dialogue. If that doesn’t sum up the entire mindset of the film then I don’t know what does.

Playing with expectations? No, sabotaging them

The Last Jedi knows our expectations. It was made with full awareness of the questions circulating around the internet: Who are Rey’s parents? Who’s Snoke? Who the hell are the Knights of Ren? What will Luke do when he receives his lightsaber? Will he train Rey? Can Kylo be redeemed? And a trillion others. People who act like fandom invented these questions are ridiculous — ‘they’ JJ Abrams and co., set the expectations, then proceeded to shatter them.

Johnson had no responsibility to answer ALL these questions, but he did have to answer some, if not most. And of course, potential answers have been theorised and debated for two-years since the release of The Force Awakens — from Rey being a clone of Jar Jar Binks to Luke using his lightsaber as a flute. What no-one, no-one, expected, was for Rian Johnson to write down all the unresolved questions on a napkin, stand from his exclusive table in a Hollywood restaurant, walk to the toilet, napkin in hand, and proceed to wipe his arse with the question-covered napkin. But that’s what he did, and masqueraded the resolutions as ‘twists’It’s a tad easier to craft a twist when you know what everyone is waiting for and intentionally take a complete right turn.

Supreme Leader Joke

Supreme Leader Snoke is a somewhat Marvel-esque figure of ominous power, who rules with seemingly limitless power and is shrouded in mystery. Signs were promising early in The Last Jedi. He sat in his blood-red throne room straight out of Dario Argento’s wet dream, surrounded by guards in lobster-style armour inspired by The Imperial Guard. He’s powerful enough to force-drag General Hux from within a hologram, create a mental bridge between Kylo and Rey, and when his plan comes to fruition and Rey is brought to his chambers, control her with the flick of a decayed, sinewy finger.

But, as Luke Skywalker says early in the film, “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” One assumes that Snoke will be the big bad guy until the third film where he is eventually overthrown. Ol’ trickster Rian has other plans. Instead of executing Rey, Kylo uses the force to operate the lightsaber laying on the arm of Snoke’s chair and cuts him in half. Dun. Dun. Dun! Then proceeds the only real lightsaber battle of the film which plays out like a piece of fan fiction or a multiplayer match in Star Wars Battlefront II. Kylo and Rey fight side by side and slaughter Snoke’s guard, in an action-scene that would make the Arrow choreographers wince in dismay. Snoke becomes an insignificant, minor distraction. A joke.

Which ties into the theme of unceremonious failure. All-powerful Snoke is killed by his inconsistent, morally torn and endlessly angsty protege. Bla, bla, bla, death doesn’t care who you are, what your story is, it comes upon you with the same might whether you are a king or a pauper etc. Boring. How about this: They spent one-and-a-half films setting up an Emperor-like, omnipotent, supreme villain — who was killed with the ease of a protocol droid. Oh — except that would be harder — BB8 has proven to be the most overpowered character in Star Wars history.

A Rogue Squadron of Other Issues

In the interest of not overstaying my welcome, allow me to breeze over some other major issues.

  • a bumbling General Hux who goes from delivering one of the most menacing speeches of the series to being a bumbling buffoon and the victim of a ‘your mumma’ joke courtesy of Poe Dameron.
  • Finn facing certain death and a worthy sacrifice (one I was cheering for), only to be saved at the last moment. Then, in the most on-the-nose scene since Anakin and Padmé discussing sand, being kissed by his saviour.
  • Captain Phasma returning in an encore performance of equal parts disappointment and shiny armour. Oh, and she’s called “chrome dome” by Finn. Someone, please take the pen away from Mr Johnson.
  • Or what about DJ, the Lando stand-in, who chops and changes between being good and bad so many times that even Rian Johnson loses track. When an AT-ST shoots at a band of stormtroopers to save Finn, I was certain that it would be the stuttering Codebreaker back to save the day. But it’s BB8. Again. And you thought Rey was a Mary Sue.
  • And how could anyone ever forget the ultimate twist, from our Lord and Saviour Rian Johnson, when Princess Leia seems to be dead in space after being blown from the cockpit of her ship, before returning to life and flying back into the hold like a force-wielding Mary Poppins. It’s the most unintentionally funny scene in the history of cinema. It’s the moment in a normal movie where you walk out of the theatre. I can’t believe a group of people sat down to watch the dailies, and actually gave that the nod of approval. “Yep, you nailed that one out of the park, Rian.”
  • Or that the entire plot revolves around Admiral Holdo intentionally withholding her strategy from the rebellion. If she simply tells Poe her plan, not only is Finn’s quest obsolete, thousands of lives are saved.
  • An oddly inconsistent tone. Characters constantly face death and make inappropriate jokes which drain scenes of any tension. Not to mention the litany of nonsensical decisions characters make — mainly, why the hell does Luke invent the hardest possible way to fish???
  • It’s the longest Star Wars movie and doesn’t it feel like it. God. It makes attacks of the Clones feel like a YouTube short.
  • I can forgive Rey’s rapid rise to power in The Force Awakens. But in The Last Jedi, Rey wields both a lightsaber and the force with prowess that makes a joke of, y’know, the training and hard work required to be a Jedi. She continues to be a character of limitless power who can do no wrong.Did anyone else find it weird when she knocked that creatures wheelbarrow over, destroying his days work, and didn’t apologise?The climax of the film sees her displace a mountain of debris with the force to open an escape route for the rebellion — it took weeks, if not months of training with Yoda for Luke to be able to lift a rock.
  • The plot doesn’t advance. Characters and factions are the exact same place they were in after The Force Awakens, and the rebellion is somehow WORSE OFF after destroying Starkiller Base in the previous instalment.
  • Argh! And I almost forgot. That cringe-inducing Maz Kanata hologram, who apparently travels with a camera crew while she fights. And I’m fairly certain she doesn’t actually know Poe. Another integral character reduced to a cardboard cutout to deliver a quest and a quip — the Marvel formula.
  • I really like Adam Driver (watch Patterson), and try really hard to like Kylo Ren, but he feels like Peter Parker corrupted by the symbiote in Spiderman-3. A petulant, emo child who listens to Good Charlotte and Green Day on the Walkman his mum bought him.

If it’s so bad, what’s with the critical reception?

I… I… I don’t know. I really don’t think that Disney pays off critics, as people love to declare on social media. I do, however, believe that critics and reviewers being given early access to the film and being understandably excited to watch it plays a part. They attend a premiere full of realistic cosplay, surrounded by peers and stars and alcohol and with the knowledge of how exclusive the event is. Few would be able to resist the pomp and ceremony.

I just can’t see how plot holes, poor writing, and jokes more suited to the Big Bang Theory than Star Wars has largely avoided the critical gaze. Criticism is met with cries of misunderstanding and condescension. Rian Johnson is a decent filmmaker — Looper was okay, Brick less so — and I can’t imagine how difficult it is making a film with the scope of The Last Jedi. But it’s not my job, it’s his. And through egotism and, attempts to subvert expectations rather than entertain, he failed in every way to make a compelling Star Wars movie.

But what would I know, I’m just a meagre *hushed whisper* fan.

 

 

 

 

‘The Snowman’ Review

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Since Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue, crime and detective stories have remained a popular part of public culture. One can barely turn on a television and open (insert streaming service of choice here) without being inundated with programmes depicting flawed geniuses solving gruesome crimes in exotic locations. Undoubtedly due to the suitability of the genre to episodic television, cinematic depictions have been scarce of late. Enter The Snowman, which attempts to bring a chilling tale of Nordic noir to screen but manages only to be a slushy mess that resembles something squashed together by children.

Based on the bestselling novel by author Jo NesboThe Snowman sees Michael Fassbender play Harry Hole, a Norwegian detective in Oslo. There have been many boring and obvious jokes about the name. In Norway, it is pronounced ‘Hoh-leh’ and is apparently quite common. Though the film is thoroughly westernised: ‘Politi’ changed to police, newspapers written in English, characters who speak in British accents. Why not change his name to something less ridiculous? Let’s just call him Harry. Harry is a brilliant detective with a drinking problem and a tortured past. Although the viewer is subjected to plenty of drinking, no past, and certainly no brilliance. We are, however, told of his prowess. Star recruit and new partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) explains that she studied his cases “at the academy”. Katrine believes that she has found a prodigious serial killer that has gone unrecognised. One that strikes when the snow falls and leaves behind a twisted signature — a snowman. Coincidentally (the film is rife with convenient coincidences), after Bratt’s hypothesis Harry receives a personalized letter from the killer and the hunt begins.

Well, less of a hunt and more of an amble through a gallery of tropes and half-finished story threads that wrap up with the nuance of HSC student running out of time in an English exam. Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyLet the Right One In) wrote before the film’s release that up to 15% of the script was not shot, leaving the plot to be spliced together in the editing room. I doubt the missing percentage would fix the gaping holes in the script. That would be like filling a half-finished jigsaw puzzle with play dough and calling it a day. They couldn’t have been too short, several shots that appear in the trailer were omitted from the final product. What was shot, and released, includes an inconsequential subplot involving J.K. Simmon’s billionaire Arve Stop, a bid for the Winter Olympics and (possibly?) human trafficking, a muddling mess of interviews and the death of a character that is inexplicably ignored and never confirmed. Then there is Val Kilmer’s baffling appearance as detective Gert Rafto in a series of flashbacks. His scenes have been inexplicably dubbed and leave him looking like a failed ‘Lip Sync Battle’ contestant whose puffy face has been injected with bee venom.

It does have its moments. Sweeping shots of frosted roads snaking across frozen fjords build a chilly thriller atmosphere, a few well-executed jump scares and an effective scene involving coffee beans and melted snow hints at what could have been. Unfortunately, the snowmen of the central conceit are never given the right attention, and by the third hard cut from suburban street to a sludgy snowman, become more comedic than horrific. Good crime story resolutions come slowly into view like a boat on the horizon, with a sigh of contentment and a chuckle of inferiority from the audience as they realise the answer was right there the whole time. The Snowman has none of that. The payoff is ham-fisted and confusing. And when a completely mistimed hint at a sequel came, I couldn’t help but think: there snow way I’d watch that.

Wind As The Embodiment Of Evil In ‘The Exorcist’

The-Exorcist

Laced with brutal scenes and confronting obscenities, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist transcends the horror genre and is ‘one of the most celebrated horror films of all time’ (Jones 2012, p. 99). It has proven to be a film of thematic and critical duality, with underlying themes and ideas that deeply affected audiences at its release in 1973, and continue to do so 43 years later. Mise-­en­scène is an expression of such cinematic themes, which Rohdie (2006, p.5) defines as ‘rendering of emotion and expression by decor, performance, movements and gestures, settings and the use of the camera and lighting’. Filmmakers ‘carefully choreograph’ (Smith 200, p.123) what they want to appear in their films and mise­-en-­scène is a part of this choreography, assisting the director in shaping understanding of the film by using certain visual cues and symbolism. In The Exorcist, Friedkin uses wind as an invisible embodiment of the ‘demon or evil spirit’ (Medhurst 1978, p. 75) in the mise­en­-scène in order to represent the evil within Regan, and associate her with evil.

The director uses wind as a part of the films mise-­en-­scène to represent the demon which inhabits Regan. From the opening scene at the archaeological dig site, Friedkin creates an ‘eerie, chilling aura’ (Medhurst 1978, p.78) which indicates that the wind may be something more than it seems. If one looks outside the context of the film, it can be seen that the wind is intimately connected with the ancient statue Father Merrin looks upon at the films beginning. The wind carries the spirit of the god ‘Pazuzu, demon of the southwest wind’ (Blatty 1974, p.132). While the name is never mentioned within the film, interestingly through intertextuality one can see the intimate relationship between the demon and wind.

Hence, as Medhurst (1978, p.79) explains, it is a demonic or evil spirit that the wind depicts and which the audience tracks through the auteurs lense from the archaeological dig to Regan MacNeil’s bedroom. One can then come to the assumption that ‘if the wind is equal to an evil spirit, and the wind is linked with Regan, then Regan personifies an evil spirit’ (Medhurst 1978, p.80). From this point forward Regan embodies the spirit of evil which had earlier been associated with the wind. Nearing the film’s climax the mise­en­scène of Regan’s room suggests that Regan’s evil is at its most potent, as the cold draft is so severe during the exorcism that both Father Merrin and Damien are ‘bundled in coats and exhaling steam columns’ (Creed 1993, p.78).

Once the evil is passed on to Regan through the wind, it is of equal importance how the mise-­en-­scène portrays that evil, and how the evil is defined within the little girl. A key element of the representation is the performance by Linda Blair. Both Blair’s physical performance and the transformation of Regan’s appearance provide a series of ‘performance queues through which the narrative is articulated’ (Taylor 2007, p.15). Clover (1992, p.80) explores how her skin explodes with oozing blistery sores, she urinates on the carpet, spews green bile, bleeds from her genitals and she masturbates with a crucifix. What violates our expectations and terrifies audiences is that ‘these senseless acts come from a tender little girl’ (Saks 1974, p.86). The mise-­en-­scène of the movements and gestures performed by Blair intimately and confrontingly explore the evil’s corruption of Regan’s body.

The clearest confirmation of the demon’s embodiment as wind comes at the film’s climax. As Damien exclaims “take me, come into me!”, Friedkin cuts to the window showing the billowing wind entering precisely as the evil proceeds to transfer to Damien’s body, leading to his demise. In a direct Christian allegory, Karass ‘chooses death so that another might have life’ (Medhurst 1978, p.85). It is a common misconception that evil forces Karras out the window, though Blatty testifies that regardless of any unintended ambiguity, the finale is ‘a triumph for Karras’ (Elliot 1974, p.66). Thus, in perhaps the most overhanded example of the wind as evil in the mise-­en-­scène, Friedkin makes it apparent that the wind billowing through the window marks the transfer of evil between Regan to Damien. It’s important to note the mise­-en-­scène of Damien’s body as he lay dying. The air is still, not a hint of wind troubles the night as paramedics rush to his lifeless corpse.

In adapting William Peter Blatty’s original novel, Friedkin brought his auteurial eye to the project to create a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. Through his masterful use of mise-­en-­scène in particular, Friedkin helps shape the audience’s understanding of the film through almost imperceptible visual cues and symbolism. The mise­-en­-scène of the wind image as a literal and figurative spirit of evil associates Regan symbolically with the appearance of evil, and is an integral part of the film’s imagery. While the physical mise-­en­scène performed by Linda Blair ensures that the film terrifies and unnerves audiences with her physical manifestation of evil to this day.

 

References:

Blatty, W 1974, “There is a Goodness in The Exorcist,” America, 23 February, 132.

Clover, C 1992, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 76­82.

Creed, B 1993, The Monstrous­feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Routledge, Oxon, 70­79.

Elliott, O 1974, “The Exorcist Frenzy,”. Newsweek, 11 February, 60.

Jones, M 2012, “Shock horror: Genre, audience and the anatomy of fear,” Screen Education, №65, Autumn, 96­99

Medhurst, M 1978, “Image and ambiguity: A rhetorical approach to The Exorcist,” Southern Speech Communication Journal, Vol. 44, Iss. 1. 70­85.

Saks, M 1974, “The Exorcist Film Review,” Society, May 1974, Volume 11, Iss. 4, pp 86­87

Smith, G 2001, “It’s Just a Movie”: A Teaching Essay for Introductory Media Classes,” Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, Iss. 1, Fall, 127­134.

Taylor, A 2007, “Twilight of the Idols: Performance, Melodramatic Villainy and Sunset Boulevard,” Journal of Film & Video, Vol. 59, №2, Summer, 13­31.

Rohdie, S 2006, “Studies,” Screening the Past, Iss. 19, March, 4­10.

How ‘Cache’ Negotiates History, Race and Colonialism

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Austrian director Michael Haneke explains that his 2005 film Caché is “a tale of morality dealing with how one lives with guilt. Do I accept it? And if I don’t what do I do? And if I do, what do I do?”. Cache explores the disruption of Georges and Anne Laurent’s bourgeois life by mysterious videotapes, though it quickly becomes apparent that the story is an allegory addressing what historian Jean-­Luc Einaudi termed the ‘Battle of Paris,’ the police pogrom on 17 October 1961 of hundreds of Algerians participating in a peaceful demonstration in opposition to the French occupation of Algeria. Haneke uses this historical event that has been wiped from the French collective memory to frame his exploration of racism, violence and guilt in a postcolonial context from the point of view of the privileged white middle class. This essay argues that Haneke purposefully does not suggest solutions to the ingrained postcolonial guilt that France suffers from. Instead, he uses the character of Georges who incarnates postcolonial France to investigate the French colonial past and postcolonial future, to ask questions concerned with memory, forgetting, and dealing with trauma; on both a personal and national level.

Georges’ refusal to accept responsibility for his actions against Majid as a child acts as a parallel with current postcolonial France, who Ezra and Sillars explain is ‘neither wholly responsible for, nor wholly untainted by, past events’. The film establishes two central lies, perpetrated by George at the age of six: telling Majid that George’s father insisted that he behead the rooster (let us not forget that the rooster is the symbol of France), and telling his father that he’d seen Majid coughing up blood at night, a symptom of tuberculosis. These lies lead to Georges’s parents deciding not to adopt Majid, and he is sent away to an orphanage. These lies resurface when childlike drawings of these events are attached to the voyeuristic videotapes being sent to the home of Georges and Anne.

Wood argues that the lies of Georges have been transformed into an emblem of French colonial guilt, which ‘has turned from personal to symbolic.’ While to an extent she is correct, in no society can a six -year­-old be legally or ethically held responsible for his actions, and his motivation is clearly an ordinary if unsavoury childhood impulse. Surely France’s negligence of its past wrongdoings cannot be related to the plight of a six-­year-old child? A more accurate analysis is that it is not the fact that Georges lied as a child, it is his refusal as an adult to acknowledge the shattering effects of his earlier actions that is the true ‘crime’ committed.

In the film, Georges verbally announces ‘I refuse to have a bad conscience,’ an outright protest against accepting responsibility for his past actions. But his ultimate act of refusal happens in the final scenes. He retreats into his bedroom, taking two tablets (or cachets, a play on words with the film’s title), before closing his thick curtains to the outside world, and metaphorically, to the past.

Haneke uses Georges’s refusal to accept responsibility for past actions as a metaphor for France’s similar refusal in regards to the Algerian War. In December of 2005, French President Chirac rejected calls that he should apologise for acts of torture committed during the Algerian War of Independence. Human rights scholar Elazar Barkan explains that the recognition of historical injustices is crucial in establishing the first step to “validate… victims’ memory and identity,” in order to “transform the trauma of victimisation into a process of mourning and to allow for rebuilding.” The parallels between Georges and postcolonial France are uncanny. Georges clearly serves as an allegory for France’s post-colonial guilt, denial, and refusal to accept traumatic events in its past which restrict the ability to rebuild.

The aesthetic, stylistic and narrative components of Caché entice us to identify with Georges, and forces audiences to become complicit with the guilt and simultaneously see the error in his personal qualities. As a crime thriller, it encourages us to look for clues to discover who sent the tapes and from the first shot inside Anne and Georges’s home positions audiences with our ‘victim’ Georges. The sequence, filmed in a single take, lasts three minutes. The camera is mobile, but insists on sticking with Georges which aligns audiences with his actions and thoughts. The camera pans only when he moves across the kitchen, is static when he stands still, and follows closely behind his head and shoulders as he moves from dining room to kitchen. As Haneke’s camera puts importance on Georges over Anne and Pierrot, suspense is created. We become further embroiled in the detail of the family’s life, and in Georges’ involvement in the tapes. It soon becomes evident that Georges is not the innocent victim so often depicted within the genre.

As explored earlier, Georges is not a sympathetic character, though Caché ensures that we identify with him as the protagonist. Repeatedly, we are kept at a distance by the central character’s evasiveness, though there is the undeniable feeling of being drawn to him. This brings tension to the audience and adds to the film’s unsettling tone. Audiences have no choice but to witness and identify with George’s denial and refusal to feel guilty. Yet we can simultaneously see the error in these qualities and acknowledge our own complicity in the denial.

The aesthetic of the film also links contemporary racial tension and ideological tensions. This point is quite clearly conveyed when Georges runs into the black cyclist. His violently assertive and confrontational reaction to this minor incident alludes rather heavy-handedly to France’s modern treatment of different races. Georges is eager to pass the blame onto the black cyclist, and does not accept his part in the incident. Parallels to the grander themes of the story are clear.

Haneke explains that he uses this audience alignment to promote change audiences, as he emphasises the relationship between the repression of historical memory, and its relationship to the repression of personal memories. Georges is unable or unwilling to see himself in any role other than the victim, and this sentiment is paralleled when one sees Georges as an allegorical figure representing postcolonial France. We also see the racial and ideological tensions when Georges collides with the cyclist, and the scene where he ignores the global news. Positioning the audience with Georges simultaneously positions them with France, and as audiences become disconcerted and acknowledge complicity in both Georges and France’s racial xenophobia and denial of historical events, they can come to understand the implications of their own personal and cultural denial.

Caché reinforces the colonial ideals of what Celik calls ‘saving the natives,’ particularly during the traumatic scene of Majid’s suicide. Postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon recalls the trope of the untutored, suicidal and confused “native children” unable to prevent themselves from self-­harm. Fanon underscores the troublesome logic of the colonizer, who “imposes his power on the native through the claim that his absence rather than his presence will cause the native to revert back to beastiality.” From Fanon’s description and Majid’s suicide, it could be said that in killing Majid, Haneke implies that the effects of post-colonialism are similar to the effects of colonialism. Celik explains that ‘it is again the presence not the absence, of colonial conditions, of a colonial gaze, that leads to violence.” Therefore in the suicide scene, Georges’ very presence is the catalyst for violence, much like the colonial presence of France in Algeria.

Majid’s suicide, then, can be seen as a protest of the colonialist ideals in French society. Majid rebels against these ideals by slitting his throat in front of Georges, creating a physical wound that Georges is unable to ignore, deny or forget. There is no hiding from this wound like Georges hides from the psychological wounds of his past. This wound is also one that reaches out to the spectator. This is the single most shocking cinematic moment I have seen, and this Haneke’s intention. The director uses Majid’s suicide in such an explicit way as to force viewers to face their own buried past, as Georges must view his with Majid, and as France must view its own memories of 17 October 1961.

The scene is bloody and disturbing. As Georges leaves the static frame we, as the audience, are left to our own devices to register what has taken place. The symbol and visual imagery of blood splattered across the wall is the same that adorns the film’s poster, which evokes the bleeding nation. Haneke admits it symbolises the history of violence that has, until recently, been ‘repressed in the French collective conscious’. Though interestingly Paul Gilroy has issues with Majid’s suicide, seeing it as “an exclusively aesthetic event, devoid of all meaning apart from what it communicates about Georges.” I disagree.

Much like the hidden of the title is not the point of the film, the suicide is not about Georges, it is about the audience. Before slitting his throat, Majid says to Georges, ‘Je voulais que tu sois present’ (I wanted you to be present). Just as Majid wants Georges to be present, Haneke desires that the audience be present, and to a greater extent that society be present. He wants people to be affected by the horror of the act he represents. Caché demands that we become not just passive observers, but active participants. Haneke uses the suicide of Majid to force both Georges and the audience to bear witness to the effects of colonial and post-colonial society, to recognise and bear witness to cultural trauma in order to promote change.

This idea of change becomes prevalent as the credits roll. During the last scene, we see Pierrot and Majid’s sons, two characters that have no right knowing each other. They share a conversation on the school steps. Interpretations of this moment are boundless, with no concrete truth. ­ Did they create the tapes? Wood (2006, p.40) asks if this final revelation is a sign that Georges’ punishment has only just begun? Perhaps the question is ‘do you believe that change is possible?’ While Haneke is known for his pessimistic views of society, undoubtedly the scene can be read as hinting towards the possibility of collaboration and renewal in younger generations.Though my personal preference would be this optimistic view, it does not seem to fit in such a sombre film. While the subject evades one true answer, it is interesting to note that the meeting only takes place after Majid’s death. Does the past need to be buried to open the way to future? The film offers no easy resolutions and chooses to leave things in suspense. Possibly the importance of the ending isn’t in the answer. It stays unresolved, much like France’s postcolonial guilt.

In an interview with Cineaste, Haneke uses the extended metaphor of a ski jump to explain his films relationship with audiences.

“A film ought to be like a ski jump, but it is the viewer who must do the jumping. To enable the viewer to do so, the jump has to be constructed in a certain way that lets the viewer fly.”

This succinctly summarises the brilliance of Michael Haneke’s cinema and the brilliance of Caché. Audiences initially identify with the bourgeois couple Georges and Anne, though steadily begin to feel guilty at their alliance with this clearly immoral man and finally realisation dawns. Audiences recognise their moral duty that Georges neglects to accept.

In the same interview, Haneke explains that as an artist, the only thing you can do is thematize things, not suggest solutions. Perhaps frustratingly so for some, that is what Haneke achieves with Caché. While only mentioning the events of October 17, 1961, once, through the allegorical figure of Georges, Caché manages to investigate France’s colonial past and postcolonial future. The film is concerned with memory, forgetting, and dealing with trauma; on both a personal and national level. As much as Georges is an allegory for France, France is an allegory for all colonial countries. No viewer is free from the themes explored by Haneke. Caché succeeds in forcing audiences to bear witness to personal and cultural trauma. It reminds us that in order to stop the cycle of violence, racial disharmony, and guilt, we cannot close our curtains to the world like Georges. ­We must face our historical and personal trauma in order to begin the process of rebuilding.

References:

“Algeria: Chirac Rejects ‘Torture Apology,’” December 15, 2000.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1071504.stm

Celik, Ipek A. “”I Wanted You to Be Present”: Guilt and the History of Violence in Michael Haneke’s Caché.” Cinema Journal 50.1 (2010): 5-9­80.

Chow, Vance.”Trapped Beneath the Surface: ‘Hidden’.” Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine 149 (2006): 60-­63.

David Kaye, U.S. Department of State, Richard B. Bilder. “The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices. By Elazar Barkan.” American Journal of International Law 95 (2001): 744­-997.

Einaudi, Jean.­L. (1991) La Bataille de Paris  , 17 Octobre 1961, Seuil, Paris.

Ezra, Elizabeth, and Sillars, Jane. “ Hidden in plain sight: bringing terror home” (2007): Screen Vol. 48, P. 215­-221.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de le terre  , 1961), trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 211.

Gilroy, Paul. “Shooting Crabs in a Barrel.” Screen 48.2 (2007): 233-­35.

Haneke, Michael. (2003) ‘The world that is known: an interview with Michael Haneke,’ by Christopher Sharrett, Cineaste, V ol. 28, no. 3, pp. 28-­31.

Haneke, Michael. (2005) ‘Collective guilt and individual responsibility: an interview with Michael Haneke,’ by Portron, R., Cineaste  , vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 50-­51.

Hubner, Laura. “Tension, Transition and Tone in Michael Haneke’s Caché. “ Studies in European Cinema 9. (2012): 99­-108.

Mcfadden, Cybelle H. “Franco­-Algerian Transcultural Tension and National Allegories.” South Atlantic Review 74.2 (2009): 112-­28.

Price, Brian, and Rhodes, John David. On Michael Haneke / Edited by Brian Price and John David Rhodes. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2010.

Virtue, Nancy. E. “Memory, Trauma, and the French­Algerian War: Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005).” Modern & Contemporary France 19.3 (2011): 281­96.

Wood, Robin. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Robin Wood on Michael Haneke’s Cache.(FILM).” Art forum International 44.5 (2006): 35.

 

‘Bad Moms 2’ Review

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I attended the original Bad Moms with trepidation. The horrible trailer suggested a kind of female The Hangover film (written and directed by the same duo). I was pleased to discover that it wasn’t. Underneath its raunchy exterior, the film held a smart critique of modern motherhood, a solid emotional core and most importantly, was funny. Barely a year later the sequel is here. It is silly and sentimental, but A Bad Moms Christmas is a jolly good time.

This film follows the events of Bad Moms, which was about under-appreciated and over-burdened mums, Amy, Kiki and Carla (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn). Only this time it’s Christmas and the festive season is taking a toll. “Why do I have to get a present for Kent’s mum?” asks Kiki, “I don’t even like her”. Adding to their woes, their own terrifying mothers are visiting. Cue a series of vignettes introducing their caricatured parents.

Sandy is Kiki’s mum (played entertainingly by Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm) and is obsessed with her daughter. She can’t decide if she wants to be Kiki’s best friend, or be Kiki — she mimics her haircut and dress sense and wears pyjamas brandishing her portrait. Personal boundaries are a foreign concept to her. Oscar winner Susan Sarandon is shaky as Carla’s mum. She is a Rock ’n’ roll chick and career roadie with a bad habit of arriving unannounced and asking for money. Think Ricki and the Flash minus the flash. Her name is Isis, which she explains is “like the terrorist organization” in a gag with the subtlety of a hand grenade.

Enter Ruth, who is the antithesis of her unassuming daughter Amy and played in a show-stealing performance by Christine Baranski (The Good Wife). She is aristocratic and wealthy, meticulously groomed and diabolical, her standards are as high as her designer heels. She hands out verbal barbs with the same frequency and nonchalance she hands her grandchildren expensive gifts, “Here, have an iPhone”. Dissatisfied with being a mere guest, Ruth overthrows Amy’s plans. She has organised an elaborate Christmas party with Kenny G as the headliner, who is “cheaper than you might think”. I laughed out loud when Ruth dresses Amy in a Dickensian outfit and forces her to go carolling around the neighbourhood.

Baranski’s straight-faced delivery provides most of the laughs throughout the slightly long 1hr 44m running time. Ten minutes could have easily been cut by avoiding cliched montages in slow-motion showing just how wild the mums are. A few more could have been shredded by stopping when jokes don’t work. There’s a lazy trend in modern comedy of using ‘long jokes’, a technique popularized by Family Guy. You take a moderately funny joke and repeat it until it grows tiresome, then gets funny again. It’s like compressing coal until it turns into a diamond, though rarely bears the same result. A grotesque scene involving “balls, taint, and asshole” waxing is a case-study in how not to do this. Luckily, more often than not the gags hit their mark.

It is a testament to the commitment and congeniality of the actresses that A Bad Moms Christmas works at all. Attempting to unpack the jumbled mess of a plot is like untangling Christmas lights from a long-discarded box. Beneath the occasional vulgarity and sentimental, senseless story there are hints of what could have been had they spent six more months in pre-production. Regardless, what we got is fun fluff, a series of skits fueled by flawed relationships in a suburban neighbourhood. Something we have seen a thousand times, but it works. When a third instalment was teased in the final act I couldn’t help but think that I would happily sit down to watch Mom’s Mom is a Bad Mom or whatever inane title is chosen. I just hope it’s not so soon.

‘Moana’ Review

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“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess” mocks demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) when his companion Moana (played excellently by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) contends that she is actually a Chieftain’s daughter. This meta-textual point is emphasised by veteran directors John Musker and Ron Clements of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fame, who transform their virtuosity for hand-drawn animation to the arena of CG with ease and succeed in positioning Moana away from those sickly sweet (and usually white) princesses synonymous with the Disney marketing machine. This allows Moana to join aboard the new generation of Disney films in utilising the tools of its predecessors to sail towards new and exciting places.

As a child Moana (which means “deep ocean”) is marked by the ocean as special, its lapping waves invite her into its depths like an old friend, in one scene opening up around her to form a natural aquarium. This intimate bond with the ocean is challenged by her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), who insists that she stay within the confines of the reef which surrounds their picturesque island home of Motunui. When the island’s ecosystem begins to die, the task falls to Moana to venture out into the ocean’s vast blue depths in order to save their home. Inheriting the spirit of exploration from her ancestors, she sails into the unknown with vigour, some trepidation, and her dim-witted chicken, Heihei.

Motivated by her grandmother, the self-proclaimed village crazy lady, Moana’s mission is to persuade the demigod Maui to return the Heart of Te Fiti, a magical stone which he stole many years ago. Maui resembles a Samoan rugby player, his gigantic muscular frame covered in magical tattoos reminiscent of the vases in Hercules, and act as the physical manifestation of his conscious. It is ironic that Johnson’s career, forged on his physical appearance, hits its loftiest heights with his vocal performance as Maui. He clearly enjoys the role, his voice inflected with joy and self-deprecatory laughter which is no better identified than during the catchy and egocentric “You’re Welcome” (“there’s no need to pray, it’s okay, you’re welcome!”). The film is filled with other memorable musical moments including the affecting “I Am Moana”, the stirring “How Far I’ll Go”, and trippy “Shiny”, performed by Jemaine Clement as the blinged out hermit crab Tamatoa who wouldn’t look out of place in a rap entourage.

The adventures of Moana and Maui will be familiar to longtime Disney fans, though the execution ensures the formula stays fresh. They encounter miniature pirates which resemble Mad Max villains, traverse the vividly realised realm of monsters, and battle a fiery lava monster which laughs in the face of the rating board’s declaration that “some scenes may scare young children”. The duo’s companion along these trials is the ever-reliable and ever-present sea, reciprocating Moana’s love as it guides her across its shimmering surface. More refreshing than the ocean on a summer’s day is the character of Moana herself. Liberated from the unrealistic elfin body image of previous princesses, she is imbued with a healthily proportioned physique akin to the Hawaiian characters in Lilo & Stitch. It would be remiss to think the liberation only skin deep, she is a woman who inspires respect from her tribe and shows an affinity for ruling her homeland — she just has different dreams.

Moana is another addition to the modern renaissance of Disney films, a simple tale that is amplified by its cultural context, characters imbued with life by their voice actors, as well stunning animation and a brilliant soundtrack which will have you humming along for days. Much like the demigod, Maui crafted the islands, Disney have created a world which is a pleasure for us to venture into.

‘Creed’ Review

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The success of the Rocky franchise can be mainly attributed to the good ol’ underdog story. Though, winner of the best picture in 1976, the first instalment in the series was much more — a love story and an in-depth character study. In Creed, writer-director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) perfectly captures the more nuanced intricacies of the original Rocky opposed to the ridiculousness of later films (looking at you, Tommy Gun).

Creed sees Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) struggling without the guidance of his father Apollo. With the absence of his parents, much of Adonis’ childhood is spent between group homes and juvenile detention, where he constantly gets in fights. Adonis resents the father he never knew and hides his last name in an attempt to carve his own path. He wants to be a fighter and is naturally adept without any formal training. No one wants to train ‘silver spoon’. This leads to him recruiting the reclusive Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. Rocky feels indebted to his old friend Apollo, and reluctantly agrees.

Michael B. Jordan is excellent as he echoes the arrogance of his fast-talking father while showing self-doubt and emotional fragility. Stallone doesn’t just come back for the pay cheque either, he adds depth to Rocky formerly unseen. His portrayal is not only honest and understated, the indestructible Rocky is now fragile. He could easily have won Best Supporting Actor. Rocky and Adonis share great chemistry too, as Rocky acts as both trainer and father figure for Adonis. After the death of his wife and sometimes best-friend Pauli, and the absence of his son (who has always been the worst), Rocky finds comfort in having someone in his life again. Coogler allows plenty of quiet, restrained moments between the two which are as entertaining as the scenes in the ring. This is complemented by Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a budding musician and Adonis’ romantic interest. She does not feel inserted purely to serve the story; she has struggles of her own.

In Rocky, Philadelphia was as much of a character as the man himself. In Creed, Coogler uses the city again as a metaphor for the passing of the torch to Adonis, a new generation of fighter. Quads and dirt bikes wiz through suburban streets to a hip-hop heavy soundtrack boasting Tupac, Nas, Future, and Philly native Meek Mill. Tessa Thompson even worked with composer Ludwig Goransson on the trippy techno songs her character performs. This may sound out of place, but it never feels it. Both the soundtrack and the depiction of Philadelphia act to contrast the old Rocky with the new Creed.

It wouldn’t be Rocky without fight sequences and the film boasts some of the best in the series. The first fight sees a continuous shot track the fighters as they trade vicious blows. The camera dances between fighters, placing the audience firmly in the ring, ensuring they feel the connection of every punch. The final fight with antagonist ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Real life fighter, Tony Bellew) doesn’t disappoint either. On the press circui, Jordan spoke about taking real punches during filming, and the hits pay off. Coogler even adds a unique twist to the training montage synonymous with Rocky movies.

While the film stands on its own feet, longtime fans will still find many references to the Rocky lineage. These are best discovered in your own viewing, but as Michael B. Jordan said when talking to Bill Simmons “There are plenty of breadcrumbs for you”. Coogler hits the perfect spot in making a sequel or reboot; the original films are not essential viewing for newcomers, but there is plenty there for long time fans. Creed is a standout entry into the Rocky collection, and marks the start of a new franchise which is in extremely capable hands. While not sharing the name in the title there is no mistaking this is a Rocky film, and it not only lives up to the name, like Adonis, it stands valiantly on it’s own.

‘Prevenge’ Review

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Prevenge is a British horror-comedy about the pregnant Ruth (written, directed and starring Alice Lowe), who is goaded into a homicidal rampage by her unborn child. The idea was conceived during Lowe’s struggles finding work while pregnant, and the film acts as an outlet for her frustrations — while also showing her directorial skill in darkly comic, distinctly British fashion.

Brilliant execution and thematic layers breathe life into the ‘demonic spawn’ horror trope. Sharing similarities with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Lowe explores maternal stress, alienation and grief through a series of encounters with grotesque caricatures. A double-entendre spitting pet store owner (“That’s my fat snake. Do you want to touch it?”), a boorish DJ who lives with his mother, a cold human resources head who denies her employment, a fitness fanatic blonde. These oft-hilarious vignettes are laden with sexism and gender discrimination, and somewhat excuse Ruth’s murderous (p)revenge on these characters who may be culpable in her husband’s death.

A subtle performance by Lowe ensures that Prevenge doesn’t become a tasteless serial killer slasher film. Her wit is as sharp as her blade, her face a clean window to her emotions. In a split second, she turns from middle-class mum to marauding murderer. Cinematographer Ryan Addlestone emphasises Ruth’s loneliness; she watches a father push his child on a swing, suffers cramps as she walks alone at night, studies a photograph of her husband to the rhythmic bangs of the fornicating couple next door. But she’s not completely alone. The sadistic voice of her fetus is ever present and her maternity nurse reminds her “she’s got no control over her mind or body anymore”, so why not listen? With only the occasional falter, Lowe carries this through to full term.