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Declaring Interstellar as Nolan’s most ambitious work to date seems a little preposterous to me when you take into account this is the same dude who rattled minds with Inception and orchestrated cinematic poetry with The Prestige. Sure, Interstellar has a scientific focus on space, gravity, wormholes, etc, but to me ambition can only be fulfilled if it runs parallel with intelligence and precision, which is something Interstellar isn’t exactly drowning in.

I can, in a way, understand the concept of someone finding Interstellar compelling, but I just found it far too convenient in how sequences flow and the rhythm too inconsistent for any sustained tension to overwhelm me. Nolan directs with such a baffling style here, rarely allowing for his film to breath as he seems far too romanticised with the idea of sentimentality, which frequently derails anything he’s trying to build. I can’t deny the scene of Cooper watching backing over those video messages didn’t hit me, but seriously some of the stuff in this film baffled me beyond belief.

Not baffling the way a complex space narrative should be, but rather because of its incompetence. Nolan is seemingly striving for too much. Occasionally he hits it and I can’t ignore how impressive the visuals are and the power of Zimmer’s score, but most of what is deemed as drama here fell flat for me and match that with a final act with more ridiculous connotations than I can remember and you’ve got one of the most frustrating, absurdly acclaimed Blockbusters in years.

52/100

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I’ve heard it said before that war movies are easy to make once you’ve got the setting fixed and a narrative secured, but to me that’s a ridiculous statement considering the genre has less than a dozen entries I feel were worthy of my time. Many are masterpieces actually, some are thrill rides, others are complete generic nonsense.

Fortunately for Fury, it’s as close to the first category as anything I’ve seen this century thus far. Seriously, I expected to enjoy this, but probably in just an entertaining, explosive, potentially forgettable manner, but there’s such a distinction to Ayer’s film here my optimism couldn’t predict. The film opens with the cold cinematography so crucial to war cinema, immediately portraying the punishment of war on not only the dead, but those who battle through it. Ayer is challenging something extraordinary here, manifesting in his own way this element of war: it’s bad, it hurts, it’s not pretty. He’s not particularly subtle with it early on as we witness Pitt’s authority testing his sanity – he’s on the verge of tears initially – and a parted comrade who won’t be physically let go by his team, but perhaps what Ayer is explaining needs to be prominent; it can’t be held back or drawn in.

Not only does the pain of war effect these experienced men, he focuses a lot of Fury on analysing the growth of Logan Lerman’s young typist turned unexpected soldier. To me, one of the scariest things war can portray is the innocence of youth losing that conscience. Ayer knows this and battles with the theme all throughout, documenting the growth of a kid who can’t even stomach the presence of blood initially to a soldier who earns the nickname “machine” in its final stages. Lerman handles the difficulty of his character expertly, showing maturity beyond his years. It’s an immaculate performance, one which rivals Pitt’s precision work here.

He’s an actor growing better with age, turning in performance after performance of immense accuracy whereby I’m struggling to pick out a specific one as his crowning work. Fury might not topple The Assassination of Jesse James or Fight Club, but it’s yet another example of the vast acting talents of someone who is so much more than his celebrity status might have you perceive. He personifies such brutality in his performance, channeling the suffering of war and playing off the support from LaBeouf, Bernthal and Pena astutely.

86/100

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The greatest horror is not what we see, but rather what we don’t. With The Babadook, first time director Jennifer Kent has took this approach and created something with such a distinguished atmosphere. Honestly, apart from last year’s The Conjuring I’m struggling to find another horror which utilises tension as well as Kent does here.

She manifests a ruthlessness in her approach, never surrounding to the cliches – loud bangs, crashing doors – of the genre and working The Babadook as something of a gothic fairytale, incorporating the significance of old-fashioned horror to her advantage to provide something with a unique, attitude that still manages to feel like something which wouldn’t look out of place with a release date many decades earlier. Kent’s psychological reliance here cannot be understated as it provides a dimension to the horror we witness, taking your simple monster tale all the way to the crippling insanity of the final act.

Essie Davis, as the main protagonist, is represented of this psychological approach. She delivers a performance with enough emotion and drama and develops it into something so brutal where much of her presence felt reminiscent of Mia Farrow’s pain in Rosemary’s Baby and Jack Nicholson’s insanity during The Shining. Those are two very bold statements – two of the finest horrors of all-time – but I really feel Davis’ work here is one of the most fleshed out performances you’ll find in contemporary horror cinema.

The patience which this film relies on may feel too strained for some, particularly in the early stages, but I found the terror of waiting for something horrific to happen to be more scary than when the Babadook’s physical presence shows itself to us. A special mention has to go out to not only the editing, but the sound design here which is crazy. The Babadook deserves its acclaim.

84/100

 

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My first viewing was inevitably strange, but this second experience was something else entirely. Martyrs, to some, may be representative of what is wrong with the horror genre today – it’s understandable, unfortunately – but to others, like me, Pascal Laugier’s transformative masterclass is something to behold in all its bloodthirsty brutality and shaming disinterest in the expectations of its viewers. It’s an extraordinary work because of that; Laugier’s film challenges the gruesome structure of the horror, frequently manifesting itself as evil personified with sequences flowing with the most bizarre of ways.

It’s in that which I love this movie. It’s revolting throughout, deranged in how it portrays the sadism on screen and yet it remains a fascinating gorefest from the shocking first act right the way to a final act which is too messed up to even begin to put into words. Those final sequences will be too much for some and labels of “torture porn” are inevitable, but the force of this film is strong enough and those themes are too infused with intelligence and complexities for Martyrs to be simply labelled as an overly violent modern horror. It might actually be a masterpiece.

86/100

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My first taste of the London Film Festival this year and an excellent way to start with one of the more unpredictable genre-binding studies I’ve witnessed in a long time. Prior to my viewing my knowledge only extended to it containing dark themes and a quite extraordinary review suggesting the influence ranges from the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft to Richard Linklater’s romantic Before Sunrise. That is a comparison worthy of anyone’s intention, and whilst both those assessments hold weight and the interpretation is clear to witness within Spring, there’s such a bold originality to this film-making which can inadvertently remove any comparisons to Lovecraftian horror.

This isn’t just me thinking this; it’s the directors themselves who were asked about it post-film in a Q&A where they said they knew of Lovecraft, but weren’t familiar enough with his work for Spring to simply be classed as something of that form. It’s very interesting to note how Before Sunrise is indebted, however. Moments throughout Spring, the conversations in particular, are shot with the same intimacy now recognised as a Linklater trait, the camera frequently sweeping and following the film’s lovers as they bond further whilst the mystery of the horror begins to unravel and eventually comes to a very precise finale.

Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson have created something here which could be easily mistaken for taking those two “inspirations” too far by some, but when you really analyse everything contained within this work you begin to appreciate the brilliance deep inside of it. Genre is not something which can be simply classified here, many elements scream horror at their audience but the main narrative is so reliant on romance and an occasional brand of comedy for horror to be the case here. I won’t say anymore, but this is a work which I grew fonder of it as it progressed and I’m now fascinated to see where these two directors go next.

84/100

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7 years ago David Fincher released his crowning work in the shape of the unsettling, flawless masterpiece Zodiac. As far as I’m concerned the director will never work above that level – one of the finest thrillers ever created – but with Gone Girl the director has managed to craft a film with such a distinguished, spellbinding atmosphere which leaks throughout its titanic 150 minutes. Fincher’s setting here is sourced from one of the finest novels I’ve read, and honestly there is a not a more precise American director who could’ve handled the complexities of Gillian Flynn’s challenging mystery thriller better than Fincher has.

The novel is a layered work, detailing the very suspicious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a wife (Amy Dunne) whose marriage to her husband (Nick Dunne) has become stale and uncomfortable. Flynn’s novel using detailed entries from the mind of both to describe the intimacies of their relationship and the mental state of each as the trouble escalates throughout. Using a structure such as that in a novel requires talent, but managing to sustain the distinct personality in a adaptation is the main element I feared would derail a film.

Fincher likely recognised the difficulty of this and so the Gillian Flynn composed the screenplay herself, but she works this important element very intelligent. Amy’s entries appear entirely throughout, being utilised to describe the initial suspicion raised by her disappearance and eventually what becomes of the mystery, but it’s the minimal use of narration from Nick’s side which is important. As the narrative initially exists on his side it’s not possible to provide the thoughts of the character through narration without becoming overbearing – or irritating – and so we have to rely on the intensity of Ben Affleck’s work to deliver the emotion required for that exclusion not to feel insubstantial to what Gone Girl is trying to achieve.

In truth, my read of Flynn’s novel just a year ago didn’t suspend my disbelief at the brutality of events we witness and every dramatic sequence provided a unique, masterful course of displaying astonishment. Pike’s performance here as the conniving, deadly Amy is fierce and is undoubtedly her career-defining work thus far. Gone Girl is tense, precise cinema and a worthy adaptation of one of my favourite novels.

86/100

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Here’s an analysis I did for class on how space is illustrated and how the characters are marginalised by the portrayal of power (authority) throughout:

La Haine’s illustrative force is represented by the way director Mathieu Kassovitz structures his film as a study of the shambles of society, utilising his characters as figures of free speech and independence only allows him to drive home his intention even further. Kassovitz brings with his film a shuddering nervousness, constantly alluding to images of a greater future without all the torment of riots and public perceptions of figures unaccustomed to it. Intertitles are consistently utilised throughout to startle the viewer and give the film a deft and realistic tone, its primary purpose is to give the viewer a state of engulfment within the atrocities of the riots and to feel as if every second counts. The ticking sound heard behind the dark texted screen is unavoidable. Here at ’12:43’, such an early moment in time before everything comes crashing down, the force of it still feels irrepressible and its use is as essential as the spacious isolation of the figures La Haine focuses on.

The opening shot of the sequence is perhaps the film’s most precise use of space as we are shown Vinz, Hubert and Said situated in what appears to be a children’s play park just outside a block of flats in the rundown suburbs of Paris. It provides a heavy dose of the isolation of these characters; they are threatened and clouded out of society, deemed to be lesser, negative representations of the country’s troubles. Shown here they display little hope of positivity, perhaps condemned to the position of disappointment. Vinz, if you look hard enough, appears to be praying (his lips move ever so suddenly, he doesn’t shift) or contemplating something. His mind is as frequented by the illusions of power as the others, but his body language displays something outside of Hubert and Said’s own feelings.

Even if you ignore the connotations of the shot providing suggestions on the topic of isolation there is plenty to be analysed and interpreted by way of the margins of power and how they are adhered by the actions of Vinz and his two friends. As I suggested earlier they feel engulfed by the social traumas raised from the riots and thus feel powerless to break free of the stereotypical presumptions others will have of them. They will be immortalised as thugs and part of the problem, people classifying them as this because of the raw, essentially tasteless slant news coverage will have over them and others in similar circumstances. This is of course noticeable by the unnecessary actions of the television camera crew who arrive, presume the boy’s involvement and subsequently use footage of Vinz’ annoyance with them as part of a negative news report, which is made plainly obvious by the use of the recording shown to the viewer on screen.

Vinz and his friends’ disturbance with the labelling is an objective instrument to the way La Haine analyses the irrational attitudes of others and the constant surveillance over them. Hubert, one of the two friends, makes a noteworthy statement when he addresses the reporter with “This isn’t Thoiry” in reference to “a drive-in safari park”. Hubert considers the surveillance as more than observation, he considers the suspicions to be a part of the unjust conclusions others will come to. It’s a simplistic technique utilised by Kassovitz, but it reinforces the boys’ frustration with identity and the power weighing against them to do anything about it.

Compounded by the powerlessness of how they are manifested by others it’s pivotal to acknowledge the different ethnicities of the three – Vinz is Jewish; Hubert is African-French; and Said presumably originates from Algeria or Morocco – and how they are subjected to scrutiny and negativity throughout, the aforementioned encounter with the news team the principal example.

What we see of their attitudes and the perceptions from others is an essential element of the film, but it’s important to notice the differences in their behaviour when they are isolated in the ravaged suburbs and their philosophy in the (apparently) more civilised surroundings of inner Paris. They feel threatened in the suburbs, but their frustrations remain elevated as they change location. We witness Vinz’ ambitions of destruction after the savageness of the riots has gotten to him as he is seen imagining shooting a police officer in explosive style and we observe a more physical interrogation of the boys in the latter sequence of the film, both of which truly bring home the film’s substantial focus on themes regarding the weight of power and the capability for Vinz and his friends to control it.

Their existence is monitored and degraded throughout La Haine, but the marginalization displayed in this particular sequence is essential to understanding the authority held over them. We witness them minding their own business and keeping to themselves before they feel intimidated by the television crew. This forces them to act out of character and rupture their public appearance, enabling all the stereotypical views to appear true to see for all those around. It’s essential to the film’s impressionistic approach of handling the themes of identity and overbearing power, relating to the fact they are vulnerable and powerless to change their image on the news even despite their motivation to avoid and break away from it.

Even outside of this sequence the intimidating presence and lack of power is displayed by another friend of the boys. They enter his cluttered apartment which is surrounded by the mise-en-scene of boxes and frantic, unorganised mess. They discover him distressed and frustrated by the riots. He is fatigued and can’t get to work as his car has been set on fire and destroyed – this is shown by a shot we see of the characters looking out of the window at the charcoaled vehicle with youths continuously kicking it – and through his emotions he realises he’s powerless to do anything about it. The relatively lazy approach by the police is to border the proximity surrounding it, but the lack of tape and the easiness at which several youths manage to break through and destroy the vehicle even further only solidifies the powerless positions of Vinz and his friends even further and their inability to break away from the tragedies of the riots and the subsequent breakdown of control in the underprivileged suburbs of Paris.

However, there are other elements to be noted in the apartment such as the placement of the Bob Marley poster which displays a connotation reflecting the man’s hope for freedom and individual control over power – something which Marley became iconic for in his 70’s heyday – but most prominent in the sequence is the t-shirt he is wearing with the provocative words “Elvis Shot JFK”. Both of these examples, if anything, are proof of the film’s prevalent message regarding the control of power and how it is represented in the declining suburbs of Vinz’ Paris.

As the film progresses and we see their dissatisfaction with the aforementioned treatment from authoritative figures grow the breakdown of the characters becomes more evident. They are finished with the disrespect and persecution – both physically and verbally – pointed their way, which leads to the film’s inevitable conclusion and their expected fall under the ruling of the controlled Paris they live in. Ultimately La Haine’s depiction of power and control is sophistically orchestrated, leading its focal characters into an underworld of society’s own doing. The power has a firm grasp on them and they cannot escape, they are vulnerable and susceptible to the jurisdiction reigning over Paris.

85/100