Month: January 2016

Diablo Review

images.jpgDiablo is the weakest in the recent wave of Westerns. Last year produced two impressive entries to the genre – the playful but dark Slow West and the surprisingly old school and tense The Salvation. This year has already given us the critically acclaimed Bone Tomahawk (which I have not seen yet), the strange but interesting Mojave, Quentin Tarantino’s splattery ode to the oater The Hateful Eight and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s gruelling epic The Revenant. Perhaps these fine films lingering in my mind are why I’m being so harsh on Diablo but the film provides very little, aside from some ace snowy cinematography, to impress – especially in the wake of the genre’s resurgence.

The film revolves around Jackson (Scott Eastwood), an ex-soldier in the Civil War. As the movie opens, his home is torched and his wife is kidnapped by a band of Mexicans. He journeys to Mexico in the hope of rescuing her but on the way he crosses paths with Ezra (Walton Goggins), a menacing figure with devilish qualities. While Jackson attempts to find his wife, he and Ezra become entangled in a strange game of cat and mouse.

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Walton Goggins as Ezra

If Scott Eastwood’s name made you think “Eastwood?”, it’s because he is the son of Clint, the living embodiment of the Western architype – the man with no name, the high plains drifter. Although Scott looks the part, he possesses very little of his father’s natural charisma. He seems to have been cast based on his father’s reputation alone, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if his faux-enigmatic stares didn’t look so stilted and if his few lines of dialogue weren’t delivered so awkwardly. There’s no sense within him of an inner darkness, which is a major problem as a late in the game twist depends entirely upon a fury the actor can’t muster. Perhaps it’s not the young Eastwood’s fault. The dialogue provided by writer/director Lawrence Boeck and his co-writer Carlos De Los Rios (most famous for delivering SyFy channel dreck like The Da Vinci Treasure) is stiff and boring. Eastwood is surrounded by fine actors like Goggins (who is brilliant in The Hateful Eight) and veteran Danny Glover, however they are only given brief moments to shine with the former stealing every scene in which he appears. The beautiful cinematography by frequent John Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundle and the eighty minute running time ensure that the film is rarely a chore to watch but it’s a shame that these elements could not be found in a better film.

Verdict: 2/4

Despite fine supporting work and terrific background visuals, Diablo is constantly undercut by both a wooden script and central performance. Perhaps Western completists may find enjoyment in seeing a young Eastwood in cowboy gear but for everyone else, Diablo is a disappointment.

American Horror Story: Hotel Review

tumblr_ntsucg4z6g1qdme9vo1_1280.pngAmerican Horror Story, FX’s horror anthology created by Ryan Murphy, has had a rocky history. It’s opening season Murder House was a darkly funny and terrifying mood piece which favoured thrills over plot (it didn’t make much sense), paying homage most heavily to horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. The show reached its highpoint with its second season Asylum, a sophomore effort which dropped the comedy for a far darker tone. Although Asylum featured aliens, a killer Santa, Anne Frank, Nazi experimental doctors and many serial killers – all plot lines merged excellently and were well resolved leading to AHS’ most coherent season. Things then took a nose dive into mediocrity with third and fourth entries Coven and Freak Show – seasons which boasted cool premises on paper but in execution were muddled messes consisting of meandering plotlines, uninvolving protagonists and shock moments without reason. The show forgot it was meant to be a horror, adopting a lighter tone – where the humour appeared to have more in common with Ryan Murphy’s previous work Glee.

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Denis O’Hare as Liz Taylor

I am glad to report that AHS’ fifth effort Hotel is a return to form for the anthology. It’s predominately set in the Cortez – a hotel built in 1922 by the wealthy but notorious serial killer James Patrick March (Evan Peters, imagine Patrick Bateman crossed with Jay Gatsby). After his death, the hotel was handed to his wife The Countess (Lady Gaga), a never aging vampire who manipulates multiple lovers, Donovan (Matt Bomer), Tristian (Finn Wittrock), Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) and Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett), as well as her staff, Donovan’s mother Iris (Kathy Bates) and Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare), for her own pleasure and gain. As well as this, policeman John Lowe (Wes Bentley in full on brooding mode) is on the hunt for a serial killer dubbed “The Ten Commandments Killer”. His investigation causes him to check in to the Cortez – where the murderer may be residing.

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Evan Peters as Mr. March

One of the great elements of Hotel is the show’s reembrace of its darker tone. From the opening episode “Checking In”, one can see there is a darkness this season that has not been present since Asylum, “our victim’s eyeballs are in the ashtray”, a cop tells our protagonist early on. By the end of episode two “Chutes and Ladders”, recurring director Bradley Buecker delivers a heavily stylised black and white sequence which is by far the most horrifying AHS has been since Dr. Arden’s body mutilating experiments three seasons ago. There is still humour present but it’s more grim and tongue-in-cheek. This is most evident during the scenes featuring March – such as his annual Halloween reunion of the serial killers he mentored in fourth episode “Devil’s Night”, Zodiac (in a mask because no one knew his identity), as well as Aileen Wuornos and John Wayne Gacy (returning guests Lily Rabe and John Carroll Lynch) just to name a few.

While Ryan Murphy is never subtle about what films he is paying homage to, whether it be The Craft with Coven or Freaks with Freak Show, this season has been his most interesting blend of influences yet. Its main story draws most obviously upon the quintessential horrors Seven (a killer using Christian teachings to target people, protagonist with troubled home life) and The Shining (ghosts roaming the halls of a hotel unable to leave, long bar scenes, creepy children). However under the surface there’s much more there. The plot, which spans 100 years – featuring vampires and ghosts that never age, enables Murphy to exhibit his trademark bombastic flair for over-stylised imagery in a way which suits the story. Cortez is a place out of time, inhabited by people trapped in the period in which they turned or died. It makes sense that March dresses like a character in a Fitzgerald novel or why Sarah Paulson’s junkie character Sally’s fashion sense is 90’s grunge and why 70’s Blaxploitation star Romona Royale possesses the same clothes and talks in the same way as Pam Grier.

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Even Ramona Royale’s film posters reinforce family bonds

While American Horror Story has always been about style over substance, there are moments this season that tug on the heartstrings. The pervading theme of Hotel is family – the bonds between The Countess and her deformed child, Ramona and her father suffering from Alzheimer’s, John Lowe and his son Holden (not his daughter who is bizarrely side-lined), as well Will Drake and his son, are what drive the plot. However, the two performers that manage to make such an outlandish show feel personal and relatable are Kathy Bates and Denis O’Hare. Bates, after playing characters in previous seasons that were underdeveloped, is finally given a role worthy of her immense talent in Iris. In the opening episodes, the moments Iris spends with her former junkie son Donovan are emotionally affecting. Donovan harbours resentment for Iris, blaming his addiction on a poor upbringing, and rebels against her at every turn. However, as the show continues, Iris blossoms into a character determined to embrace life in one of the most enjoyable arcs in recent memory. The same goes for Denis O’Hare who manages to take his cross-dressing character Liz, who with a lesser actor would have either been played for laughs or far too serious, and makes her feel human and three-dimensional. The fact that the scene in which Liz reunites with her long lost son is one of the most memorable, in a season featuring enough blood to fill an elevator lift, is a triumph.

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Finn Wittrock and Lady Gaga

The one thing that’s been consistent throughout all of AHS is the performances and Hotel is no exception. Lady Gaga is an inspired piece of casting. Not only does her real life unique and eccentric brand of fashion and style fit perfectly with Ryan Murphy’s aesthetic, casting her as this strange but seductive and enigmatic monster makes sense as that’s her public persona. Murphy doesn’t have to do much to portray The Countess in such a way because the audience brings their own pre-existing view of Gaga to the part. That’s not to say that Gaga is devoid of acting talent. She impresses as both the cruel ice-queen and the young woman in flashbacks pre-vampirism full of hope. As her lover in the past and her lover in the present, Finn Wittrock shines in a dual performance as spoilt model Tristian and as classic Hollywood actor Rudoph Valentino. As Tristian, he and Denis O’Hare manage to make an under-developed romance between their two characters feel touching and moving.

There are flaws within the show. The mid-season reveal of the Ten Commandments Killer is an extreme disappointment and plotlines such as Sally’s past remain strangely underdeveloped. While there are moments of terror scattered throughout the show, they are few and far between – Murphy seems more occupied with entertaining audiences rather than truly scaring them. However, these are minor complaints in a season which thoroughly entertained for twelve episodes and always managed to be either funny, emotional or horrifying. If Ryan Murphy could do all these things at the same time, he’d have the perfect show.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Though still not as horrifying as can be, Hotel is a return to form for American Horror Story, featuring some of the show’s best episodes to date in “Devil’s Night”,  Nosferatu homage “Flicker” and “She Gets Revenge”. For fans of AHS’ darker seasons, it’s an entertaining and stylish voyage into the macabre.

Mozart in the Jungle Season 2 Review

61x-NWI0kQL._SX940_.jpgGloria: If you want to help, don’t call our corporate donors ‘evil bloodsuckers’ in the New York times.

Rodrigo: No! No! No! That was taken completely out of context because what I said is ‘Even though they are evil corporate bloodsuckers…they’re nice’.

Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, based on oboist Blair Tindall’s memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs & Classical Music, in its second season has blossomed into an exceptionally whimsical and warm program. Despite averaging 24 minutes per episode length, it always manages to feel like an independent film (with its gorgeous New York setting), it provides a wide but also in depth view of classical music, as well as, perhaps most importantly, being laugh-out loud funny. The show focuses on two characters in particular, oboist and newest member of the New York Symphony, Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), as well as the brilliant but unconventional new maestro to the orchestra, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal). However, there is also Thomas (Malcolm McDowell), the former maestro who is desperately trying to compose his own symphony, Hailey’s roommate Lizzie (Hannah Dunne) and her romantic relationship to music-based podcaster (co-creator and director of one episode Jason Schwartzman), and the various members of the orchestra, fronted by cellist Cynthia (Saffron Burrows), negotiating for better working conditions against the symphony’s board leader Gloria (Bernadette Peters). Although that sounds like an overabundance of plot (and there are other minor threads), Mozart in the Jungle deftly combines all these elements in a bouncy and vibrant way, linking everything together by one thing – a shared love of music.

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Gael Garcia Bernal as Rodrigo

The show feels more confident in its second season. For example, Hailey’s romance to dancer Alex (Peter Vack) was the most underwhelming aspect of the first season so in its sophomore effort, Alex is essentially written out of the show. Instead more development is given to the previously minor characters in the orchestra, such as Mark Blum’s Union Bob – who still manages with limited screen time to be both memorable and three-dimensional. The direction is more ambitious too – the highlights being Roman Coppola’s, although slightly romanticised, wonderfully scenic voyage into Mexican culture in the fifth episode “Regresso Del Rey”, and Jason Schwartzman’s terrific use of montage during Gloria’s sensual open-mic night performance in fourth episode “Touché Maestro, Touché”. In terms of the acting, Bernal (primarily known for his dramatic work in The Motorcycle Diaries and Y Mama Tu Tambien) is an engagingly comic and loveable lead (even the way he says Hailey Rutledge – stressing every syllable, “hi lie root el edge” warrants his Golden Globe nomination). Lola Kirke, who impressed in the similarly independent spirited Mistress America in 2015, is also charming as the audience’s way into the specialist world of classical music.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Light and frothy but also stylish and intelligent, Mozart in the Jungle is a tremendously easy watch – positing great characters, fun performances and a fine story.

Things to be Excited for in 2016 (Part 2)

The Bad Batch – Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour

Plot: The film is a dystopian love story set in a Texas wasteland revolving around a group of cannibals. Amirpour states that the drama stems from one cannibal (Jason Momoa) who breaks the rule “don’t play with your food”.

Why you should be excited: The Bad Batch is Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour first English language film following her enormously successful A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. While her debut was described by many as a “vampire spaghetti Western”, The Bad Batch from the press notes appears to continue Amirpour’s trend of blending unique styles. In an interview with The Film Society of Lincoln Centre, she described the film as “Mad Max meets Gummo”, while in other interviews she has dubbed it “Road Warrior meets Pretty in Pink” and “El Topo meets Dirty Dancing”. Apparently the soundtrack is part techno, part Western and part 90’s pop and with the strange cast, including Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, perhaps Amirpour will deliver a truly new and strange take on the apocalypse.

The-Neon-Demon-700x906.jpegThe Neon Demon – Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Plot: A horror in which Jesse (Elle Fanning), an aspiring model, moves to Los Angeles, where her vitality and youth are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means to get what she has.

Why you should be excited: Nicolas Winding Refn’s returning to the L.A. setting of 2011’s Drive which brought him critical acclaim. With the title The Neon Demon, one can expect the same directorial flair as before – the bold splashes of colour and light which can be found throughout Refn’s oeuvre whether it be Only God Forgives, Bronson or Fear X. The story line is evocative and perhaps will mask a smart social satire on beauty and fame, hence the Los Angeles setting. Refn hasn’t tackled a straight-forward horror before so fans of his will be curious to witness his take on the genre.

Love – Created by Judd Apatow

Plot: Exact plot details are unknown at this point but Apatow promises this new Netflix show will be a “down-to-earth” look at dating” exploring male and female perspectives on romantic relationships through the characters of Mickey (Gillian Jacobs, Community) and Gus (writer Paul Rust).

Why you should be excited: After some disappointingly self-indulgent work, Judd Apatow returned to form in 2015 with Trainwreck. Love sounds like the director’s attempt at returning to the subject matter of his best films The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up – films which are perhaps overly puerile but do illicit laughter and are strangely emotionally affecting. Gillian Jacobs is a likeable leading lady while comedian Paul Rust is similar to Apatow’s previously unconventional leads (he was the first to cast household names Steve Carrell and Seth Rogen in main roles). The Love creator’s previous forays into television have been successful (executive producer on HBO’s Girls and NBC’s Freaks and Geeks) and Netflix appear to have faith in his new property, already giving it a two season order. Netflix have impressed many with their comedy of late (Master of None, Wet Hot American Summer prequel) and Love looks like no exception.

the-get-down-netflix.jpgThe Get Down – Created by Baz Luhrmann/Shawn Ryan

Plot: A musical drama revolving around a rag tag group of teenagers running wild in the streets of the Bronx in the late 1970’s.

Why you should be excited: Created by Baz Luhrmann (director of Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby), as well as veteran TV producer Shawn Ryan (The Shield), The Get Down promises to possess some of the epic scope of Luhrmann’s best work. Netflix describe the show as “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco”, which sounds right up the filmmaker’s alley. It also features in a lead role Shameik Moore, who gave such a charismatic central performance in the recent musically-tinged Dope. While season two of Empire may be somewhat of a dud, The Get Down may be just the thing to fill the void.

 

the-young-pope-first-official-photo-copyright-sky-hbo-wildside-2015.jpgThe Young Pope – Created by Paolo Sorrentino

Plot: Again exact plot details are unknown. However, according to reports the HBO show centres upon Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law), the newly elected Pope struggling with his new responsibilities.

Why you should be excited: HBO have rarely put a foot wrong in terms of what they produce recently. The show has a dynamite international cast consisting of Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), James Cromwell (AHS: Asylum), Cecile de France (Hereafter) and Ludivine Sagnier (The Devil’s Double). Academy-Award winner Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, The Great Beauty) is directing all eight episodes. Sorrentino’s scripts are witty and dark while his ace cinematographer Luca Bigazzi ensures that everything is exquisitely presented. Considering the topic matter, as well as those involved, expect style, humour and pointed satire.

 

download.jpgVinyl – Created by Terence Winter

Plot: 70’s New York music executive Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) hustles to make a career out of the city’s diverse music scene.

Why you should be excited: From the pen of Terence Winter (executive producer of The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, as well as writer of The Wolf of Wall Street), expect bacchanalian levels of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. Like Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorsese is on board to direct the pilot and remain on as a creative consultant. Bobby Cannavale won a Best Supporting Emmy for his work as hot-headed Sicilian gangster Gyp Rosetti in Winter’s previous show, so it will be great to see him front and centre. Supporting cast is fine too with Andrew Dice Clay (Entourage, Blue Jasmine), Max Casella (Inside Llewyn Davis), Juno Temple (Killer Joe), Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) rounding out the principal cast. Trailer below looks electrifying while showcasing the show’s gorgeous period detail.

 

 

Things to be Excited for in 2016 (Part 1)

Now that 2016 is upon us, I thought what better a time to discuss this year’s upcoming releases. These are the films and TV shows I feel warrant some attention by movie-goers. Instead of selecting films like Deadpool, Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad and Star Trek Beyond, I decided to turn my attention on more under-the-radar or more original properties.

Hail_Caesar_Official_Teaser_Poster_JPosters-457x666.jpgHail, Caesar! – Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen

Plot: Set in the 1950’s, Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) struggles to keep the studio’s stars in line. When the lead of the studio’s new epic, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped by a mysterious group dubbing themselves “The Future”, Mannix recruits his clients played by Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johannsson to help locate the missing star.

Why you should be excited? – The trailer feels like a return to the Coen Brothers’ more playful sensibilities following the darker films of A Serious Man, True Grit and Inside Llewyn Davis. It combines the eccentric sense of humour of The Big Lebowski or Burn after Reading with the beautiful period detail of The Hudsucker Proxy. The cast is also star-studded, with Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand rounding out the principal cast. Clooney’s previous collaborations with the Coen Brothers, dubbed the “trilogy of idiots” by Clooney himself – O Brother, Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty and Burn after Reading, have all been entertaining and Josh Brolin proved himself a worthy comic actor in the recent Inherent Vice. Hail, Caesar! also reteams the filmmaking duo with world-class cinematographer Roger Deakins. All these factors indicate that audiences should be in for an offbeat and visually gorgeous treat on the film’s March 4th release date.

download.jpgThe Nice Guys – Dir. Shane Black

Plot: Set in 1970’s Los Angeles, this comic noir revolves around the odd couple bromance between down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). The two are hired by a worker for the Department of Justice (Kim Basinger) to find the woman’s missing daughter Amelia (Margaret Qualley, The Leftovers). During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power.

Why you should be excited? – Aside from the L.A Confidential repairing of Crowe and Basinger, the main draw to this film is director Shane Black. Black is the ultimate comedy-action writer as evident by his witty, pithy and punchy scripts for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, as well as his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer, The Nice Guys from its trailer appears to have a surprisingly winning buddy duo in Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. One tends to forget that Gosling is a skilled comedic actor as evident by Crazy Stupid Love and Lars and the Real Girl and Crowe at his best as a hang-dog likeability, so it will be exciting to see sparks fly between the two.

download (1).jpgMidnight Special – Dir. Jeff Nichols

Plot: A sci-fi chase film, Roy (Michael Shannon, Man of Steel) and his friends played by Kirsten Dunst (Fargo Season 2) and Joel Edgerton (The Gift) are forced to go on the run to protect Roy’s eight-year old son, Alton, who possesses special powers. Alton is being hunted down by a Government task force fronted by Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), as well as an extreme religious sect led by Sam Shepard (Cold in July).

Why you should be excited: Jeff Nichols has established himself with previous work Take Shelter and Mud as a major talent. His films have a distinct human edge and reality to them so it will be interesting to see him take on a sci-fi story. Although Take Shelter had fantastical elements, from its trailer Midnight Special feels like a more confident embrace of the genre. The film’s trailer is enigmatic but one can certainly see the inspiration Nichols is drawing upon (he cited John Carpenter’s Starman as a major influence on the look of the film). The film’s cast is nice composite of actors who often appear in major films but in a minor roles. It’s always good to see actors who steal scenes given a vehicle of their own. Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard have both collaborated with the director successfully before while Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton have been at the top of their game recently. Adam Driver impressed audiences worldwide with his portrayal of Star Wars villain Kylo Ren so it will be interesting to see what type of antagonist he plays within the film.

 

126dab2316cdc1c6535a911d6c6fb089.jpgHigh Rise – Dir. Ben Wheatley 

Plot: A dystopian thriller based upon J.G Ballard’s novel, in 1975 London, Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) becomes seduced by lifestyle in the high-rise, a community cut off from the rest of society in their luxury tower block. Taking up residence on the twenty-fifth floor, Laing discovers a world of complex loyalties causing a dangerous social situation to develop whereby the high-rise eventually fragments into violent tribes.

Why you should be excited: The previous cinematic adaptation of J.G Ballard’s work Crash was a disturbing and provocative piece of work and one can expect no less from High Rise being directed by Wheatley. Ben Wheatley’s films are unsettling, violent and disturbing as evident by Kill List and A Field in England, as well as satirical and comedic like Sightseers. He seems the perfect fit for the material. He has the ability to blend Ballard’s social commentary with the gory violence Ballard describes in the novel. The cast is great with Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, as well as newcomer Stacy Martin, in her first major role since Nymphomaniac, all making appearances. The trailer below is smart and menacing, with lead actor Tom Hiddleston describing the wonder of the high-rise to the viewer.

download (2).jpgTriple 9 – Dir. John Hillcoat

Plot: A team of dirty cops – Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Anthony Mackie (Pain & Gain), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) – are blackmailed by the Russian Mob fronted by Kate Winslet’s Irene. They are forced into committing a heist, however in order to do so they need a distraction. They decide that half the group will kill young police officer Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) and while every policeman in the city is dispatched to Allen’s aide, the rest of the group will pull off the job.

Why you should be excited: The film’s premise is intriguing as it combines the heist genre with a cop thriller. Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of the few actors who could evoke sympathy for what appears from the plot description and the trailer to be a rather unlikeable lead character. Woody Harrleson and Kate Winslet look like they will add some fun and over-the-top support to the proceedings. Australian director John Hillcoat’s previous films The Proposition, The Road and Lawless all possess an authentic grittiness. While this trait previously was deployed in period pieces and apocalyptic dramas, it will be a refreshing to see him tackle a more modern crime thriller.