Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Zootropolis Review

Zootropolis is going up against Metropolis this weekend. Are these bunnies nuts or what? Despite a name change from the American title Zootopia, the film has already racked up huge dollar at the box office elsewhere ($200 million in the US alone), so maybe Batman V Superman V Zootropolis isn't such a bad idea after all. It might be going up against DC's finest, but it's got the Easter holidays on the way to keep kiddies entertained. Here's a snippet of my review:

It's a brave move to make a kids film where there is a montage of the do-gooder main character dishing out 200 parking tickets. Zootropolis could have done without this scene, but impressively it manages to make its leading bunny likeable, no matter how many other Zootropolis-dwelling animals’ days she ruins by slapping them with a fine. 
Judy Hops (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the bunny tasked with parking duty, after she works her fluffy little tail off to get out of her small town, get herself through police academy and finally live her dream of tackling crime in the big city of Zootropolis. Judy is a dreamer, determined to leave her carrot-farming folks behind and be the first ever bunny police officer. But life in the city isn't quite how Judy imagined it would be, and she is forced to team up with streetwise hustler fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), to unravel the mystery of some missing mammals.

Here's the trailer:

Monday, 21 March 2016

Disorder Review

To critics at Cannes that were growing weary of long-winded art films that move at a snail’s pace, Disorder may have felt like a bit of a breath of fresh air. Throbbing with an electronic beat from the start, and not getting too bogged down by exploring it’s hero’s post-traumatic stress disorder, Alice Winocour’s film is a simple thriller that mounts the tension from its opening scenes and keeps audiences gripped throughout. It’s unlikely to win any awards, but it’s a welcome chance to get comfortable on the edge of your seat for just over an hour and a half. 

Matthias Schoenaerts plays Vincent, a soldier who returns from Afghanistan to be medically assessed due to his nosebleeds, hallucinations and other symptoms of acute anxiety. Taking a security job at wealthy Lebanese businessman Whalid’s mansion, Vincent soon finds himself becoming embroiled in the lives of his client’s family. Knowing Vincent won’t be going back to fight again, his friend Denis offers him the seemingly simple task of looking after Whalid’s wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) and son Ali, while the businessman takes a potentially dangerous trip. Becoming alerted to some dodgy dealings before Whalid leaves, Vincent’s already burgeoning anxiety turns to full blown paranoia as he strives to protect the family from a potentially dangerous threat.

It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you and so it goes for Vincent as he finds himself putting his temper and flair for violence to good use during Disorder. It’s a slow build up, and Winocour is keen to make viewer’s doubt Vincent’s mind state in the first half of the film. Is he imagining threats around every corner, or is he just highly attuned to sense danger after his time serving in Afghanistan. While this is all explored rather pointedly in the early scenes with Vincent necking an assortment of pills and suffering from a range of noticeable tics, it takes a back seat as the action amps up for a home invasion set piece at the film’s climax. Once it becomes clear that Vincent has every right to be on edge, Disorder strays into formulaic thriller territory but still throbs with energy.

Before this, we have to make do with Vincent and Jessie playing family as Vincent discovers his heart is intact, even if his mind is a little fractured. While taking care of Jessie and Ali, Vincent starts to take the absent father’s role and the hint of a romance starts to develop between the couple. Schoenaerts is cementing his reputation as another heartthrob with real talent behind his chiselled features and impressive physical presence. While the chaste romance is kept just barely simmering, it is the earlier moments where Vincent shows signs of trauma that allow Schoenaerts to really impress. He’s a credible romantic lead, but when he springs into action, he is impossible to take your eyes off.

Meanwhile Kruger gets the most minimal role imaginable, trapped in an extremely tired and typical worrying wife role and given little to do except look pretty. It’s a shame as Vincent comes across as a fairly complex character but Kruger is under served here by the writers. That said, she is certainly eye catching and while strutting around the beautiful mansion she lives in, she does a convincing job of fitting into her lush surroundings as the gorgeous trophy wife. 

While the screenplay is nothing too original, the film looks and sounds excellent. The production design manages to make the mansion where most of the film is set both claustrophobic and wonderfully lavish. More importantly the score from French techno artist Gesaffelstein is inventive, energetic and perfectly captures the overactive and disturbed mind of Vincent. Aided immeasurably by its sound design, Disorder pulsates in order to get the blood pumping.

Those wishing to see Schoenaerts juggle machismo and sensitivity will enjoy the star’s performance here. As far as story, Hollywood has done this kind of thing a thousand times before and often better. However, while the writing may be nothing hugely special, as a director, Alice Winocour will probably be heading to Hollywood soon with a calling card as effectively entertaining as this. 

Watch the trailer:

Friday, 18 March 2016

Drowning Pool - Bodies Music Video Analysis

I'm teaching music video again at the moment, and I thought I'd throw up (literally) a quick music video analysis to give my students an idea of what I'm after from them. They've got to analyse five different videos in terms of the style, conventions and techniques used. Here's my example for them, but before you read it, please give the video a watch!

Drowning Pool’s music video for their song Bodies is a great example of a video that is in a similar style to many other hard rock / metal music videos. It shares many of the conventions and techniques used in other music videos of songs within the same music genre. The video mixes ‘as-live’ elements of Drowning Pool performing in a few different locations (but without an audience) and elements of a narrative style music video. The main ‘as-live’ performance parts of the video feature the band playing in a large dark warehouse and also in what looks like a very small room in a hospital. This latter location ties in with the narrative of the music video which features a male patient in what can be assumed to be a psychiatric hospital being taunted by the lead singer of Drowning Pool who is singing to him. The video ends with the members of Drowning Pool appearing to help the man leave the hospital, but actually they take him back to his room, where the patient is already sitting. Is he mad? Why are there two of the patient? Is this a dream? As with many music video narratives, it’s quite ambiguous.

The song is clearly about having a very disturbed mind state. The repetition of ‘Nothing wrong with me’ and ‘Something’s got to give’ suggest this is a song about feeling angry, particularly if you feel trapped by society, and unable to express how you really feel and who you really are. The lyrics have been interpreted by the music video creators as being about a man who is literally trapped in an institution and is perhaps struggling to come to terms with his demons or his past. Perhaps the repetition of ‘Let the bodies hit the floor’ is a reference to the past of this patient, when he went on some kind of murderous rampage. In this sense, the video consolidates the song’s meaning because both the song and video seem to be about a disturbed man. There are possible vague allusions to a film like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which is also set in an asylum, but no clear references. Similarly, there are no direct links to other artists, but the appearance of Drowning Pool in terms of their hair, tattoos, performance style and dress sense reminds of similar bands such as Korn, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit.

In terms of techniques, lip sync is used frequently in the video. It opens with the lead singer whispering ‘let the bodies hit the floor’ into the ear of the patient, combining both performance and narrative in the very first shot. We also see the drummer lip synch some backing vocals and the patient from the narrative lip synch the line ‘nothing wrong with me’ repeatedly. There is also cutting to the beat frequently. From the opening lines of the song, the video cuts between every repetition of ‘Let the bodies hit the floor’. There are many other points in the video where it cuts on the drum beat or the strike of a guitar chord. There are multi-image moments because Drowning Pool often appear to be performing on the TV screen that the patient is watching in the hospital. There is a strobing lighting effect used at some points when the band are performing in the darkened warehouse and a fish-eye lens is used on some shots, particularly when the band are performing in the small hospital room. The strobe makes the editing and performance even more hectic and the fish eye lens emphasises how small and claustrophobic the room is, particularly for a full band to perform in. There are a lot of close-ups, particularly on the lead singer and the patient in the narrative. The video is full of conventional camera movements and angles; tracking around the drummer while playing, low angles of the guitarists, wide shots of the whole band and quick cuts between all of these.  

I think it's a cool, if pretty conventional video, particularly for the editing and use of both performance and narrative elements.   

Ben Wheatley's High-Rise Review, starring Tom Hiddleston

Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England... It's fair to say that Ben Wheatley has had a pretty interesting career so far. His latest High-Rise is out in UK cinemas on Friday and here's a snippet of my review from the London Film Festival:

While lesser filmmakers get their heads down and sprint into the mainstream after even the most offbeat of beginnings, Ben Wheatley appears determined to keep himself steadfast on the outskirts of conventional filmmaking. High-Rise may feature his starriest cast yet with a so-hot-right-now Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller, but this is definitely no cautious step towards blockbuster boredom. Wheatley follows up the dazzlingly weird and wonderfully experimental A Field in England with something higher budget but equally perplexing, adapting J. G. Ballard's ‘70s novel.

Opting to keep the ‘70s setting of the book, High-Rise offers an oddly nightmarish vision of what a near-future building would look like as conceived in the ‘70s. It’s the future as seen from the past, and at the same time an apparition of a future that has already passed. The residents of a brand new tower block descend into a mad orgy of sex and violence as the different floors of the building turn to tribalism and savagery. Isolated by their own free will from the outside world, petty grievances over usage of the building’s swimming pool and waste chutes become amplified as the high-rise structure begins to disintegrate and the formerly ‘civilised’ society inside collapses.

Sound like your cup of tea? Check out the rest of my High-Rise review at Starburst Magazine now.

Watch the trailer below:

More reviews from the London Film Festival 2015

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Witch Review

What is it with witches? Almost 20 years ago The Blair Witch Project sent horror fans and the mainstream into a frenzy, and now comes The Witch to terrify cinema-goers all over again. The title of this film has been trending on my Twitter feed on and off for months now. 

This witch may not be from Blair, and she's definitely not part of any project, but she is as scary as Angelica Huston in The Witches. Yes I said it. 

I saw The Witch at the London Film Festival which I attended for Starburst Magazine. Here's a snippet of my review:

"What went we out into this wilderness to find", says patriarch Will at the beginning of Robert Eggers' spine-chilling debut feature The Witch. Anyone still smarting almost 20 years later over the complete lack of any witch sightings in The Blair Witch Project can rest assured that The Witch is not nearly as coy about revealing its scary woman in the woods. It may be a slow burner, but it builds to a crescendo that might very well give many horror fans a little too much full frontal witchery at the expense of some far more interesting earlier ambiguity.

A strict Christian family are banished from their plantation in 17th century New England; William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickie), their four children and brand new baby boy. Settling on the edge of a dark forest, their crops will not grow and hunting in the woods results in no meat. Then, baby Sam mysteriously disappears without a trace while under the watch of oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Despair and desperation soon take hold of the family, leading to paranoia and a further descent into pious babbling. Eggers makes it clear that there is something wicked in the woods, but The Witch explores how innocent the family are themselves.

Here's the trailer:

More from the London Film Festival 2015