This week’s reviews: “Cake”, “Catch Me Daddy”, “Christmas in July”, “Coherence”, “Freaky Friday”, “Half Baked”, “Hello, I Must Be Going”, “It Follows” (pictured above), “Jerichow”, “The Mirror”, “Paradise” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
The average rating is 5.73/10. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
Let’s start with film of the week:
It Follows (out today) – 8.5/10
Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary
UK theatrical release: 27 February 2015
Teen horror It Follows – alternatively titled It Walks – isn’t a standard retro throwback or a document of murderous Twitter spambots. The coming-of-ager is a chilling visit to a dreamscape that exists in a timeless universe, somewhat parallel to our own, where adults are absent and empty spaces are filled with Disasterpiece’s emotional synths.
David Robert Mitchell’s second feature is a far more refined, genre take on The Myth of the American Sleepover. The ensemble is, as before, a group of young friends always thinking – but not so much talking – about sex and the adolescent pressures surrounding it. Lurking after 19-year-old Jay (scream queen Maika Monroe) is a central premise that’s introduced after a seemingly innocuous sexual encounter with some guy (Jake Weary) in the backseat of a car. Once the revved-up romance runs out of gas, she awakens, tied up to a chair, being informed of the worst game of tag since… well, I guess if you ever fell over and hurt yourself really painfully playing tag.
The indescribable “It” of It Follows is a sexually transmitted curse only seen by its victim. Taking the form of a zombified human, the monster can look like anything: an impossibly tall man who ducks his head to enter doors, an undead cheerleader urinating all over floor tiles, or, if it’s fucking with you, it’ll embody someone you love. (And that the thing, it’s trying to fuck with you.)
Jay learns that, regardless of where she is, the disease is walking towards her. It never sleeps, it can’t be knocked down, and it can be described by Chumbawumba’s ‘Tubthumping’. The only way to pass it on is sleep with someone else; whether you inform the other person of your ailment, is up to you. When that person dies, the disease is back for you.
It’s a metaphor, dummy. But for what exactly? The richness of Mitchell’s monster is that it represents everything from STDs, the loss of innocence, adolescent pressures, relationship paranoia, and the unwritten social contracts between two nervous teens who have no idea what they’re doing. It’s also none of that. There’s more nuance than the typical “sex = death” horror trope; the demon’s inexplicable nature makes it far more unsettling than, say, The Babadook.
Taking place in the autumnal poetry of empty Detroit suburbs, adults are mostly kept off-screen. Sexual pressures at that age are, after all, something no one wants to discuss with parents or teachers. Instead, Jay sweetly relies upon the empathy of her sister (Lili Sepe) and their close friends (Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zobatto); like all adolescent pains, no one can possibly know how she feels. Paul, who’s harboured a longstanding crush, looks on longingly with worry and the desire reserved for a friend’s older sister – as exhibited in The Myth of an American Sleepover. Even at the centre of supernatural panic, teenage urges can’t be avoided.
But to follow up on what everyone wants to know: yes, it’s scary. With 360 degree spins and the monster’s shape-shifting, immortal nature, Mitchell carves up visceral scares from figures popping out unexpectedly and invisibly from all angles, kicking down doors, and possessing the knack of timing their stroll to meet the victim after midnight. Most of all, the horror is driven by inevitability. Sure, it never walks like Olympic speed walkers or impatient Piccadilly Line commuters, but it’s always pacing towards you. And, against logic, you should walk towards it while it’s still out at cinemas.
It Follows is out in the UK on 27th February, and the US on 13th March.
Also out this week:
Catch Me Daddy (out today) – 7/10
Director: Daniel Wolfe
Writers: Daniel Wolfe, Matthew Wolfe
Starring: Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Conor McCarron, Gary Lewis
UK theatrical release: 27th February 2015
Out on Yorkshire’s wily windy moor, it’s sinister and chilly – so bring a coat and milkshake. Hiding out in a caravan is Laila (Jabeen), a British Pakistani girl who’s run away with her non-Pakistani boyfriend Aaron (McCarron), much to her father and brother’s fury. While premise of lovers on the run recalls the romanticism of Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde, its two stars aren’t criminals. Neither are they adults, given the childlike sheen to their relationship. “It’s crackling,” Aaron observes about a particularly fizzy milkshake. “That’s fucked up.”
The film’s geography sets up a modern western vibe, complete with the dangers of legging it from villains who ride cars instead of horses. On Laila’s trail are hitmen who, while not quite matching Fargo, carry their own darkly humorous temper tantrums. (One of them urinates on his hands without washing them. Nobody shook his hand at the premiere.) Short, meandering scenes establish the hired goons as believably ordinary people, which only makes them scarier. (Huh, this is starting to sound like my review of It Follows. They’re very different films.)
Daniel Wolfe sustains a Knife of the Boat tension right until an unforgettable – and possibly undeserved – final climax. Shot by Robbie Ryan on 35mm, the tension is practically visible in the mist and grotty details of fast food joints.
The cinematography is so startlingly effective in obscuring an easy way out for Laila, it also disguises some of the less original scenes – such as Laila’s confrontation with her brother – that feel more generic, than the rest of Wolfe brothers’ existential dread. The director established himself beforehand as a music director, and it shows in a few exhilarating moments when Laila dances to Patti Smith; she should be hearing the song in dodgy indie clubs with poorly dresses hipsters, rather than locked away in a caravan. It’s a sign of a first-time feature filmmaker who promises much more to come if he can tighten up the next script.
Catch Me Daddy is out in the UK on 27th February.
Cake (2015) – 4/10
Director: Daniel Barnz
Writer: Patrick Tobin
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Sam Worthington, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick
“This is important.”
The one where Rachel hallucinates about Anna Kendrick coming back from the dead to not do the ‘Cups’ song. Not only is Cake not The Night of Cups, it also isn’t the ultimate “serious” Jennifer Aniston movie it was hyped up to be after TIFF. Really, it should have forgone an Oscar campaign and premiered at Sundance. Beginning with a support group for grievers, Cake unites sad people to do sad people things. All that sets it apart are the fantasy scenes that were already laughably misjudged – and then a cake appears. Too much salt and self-pity in the mixture.
Christmas in July (1940) – 7.5/10
Director/Writer: Preston Sturges
Starring: Dick Powell, Ellen Drew
“No noose is good news.”
Before Catfish entered the universal lexicon, a crueller prank took place in Sturges’ fictional universe – a place where casual interactions burst with wit and subtle warmth. Jimmy (Powell) anxiously sits on a balcony with his two loved ones: girlfriend Betty (Drew) and a radio. The nerves are down to a $25,000 cash prize for whoever creates the best slogan for a new coffee product. (His entry is headscratchingly brilliant: “If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee – it’s the bunk.”
When co-workers fake a telegram leading to Jimmy falsely believing he’s won the jackpot, his spending spree – buying presents for friends – is what creates the image of Christmas shopping in July. At just over an hour, the relentless pace sets the couple up for a fall. Betty, in particular, is tragically optimistic in an “aw shucks” manner absent from those running the competition.
One can dream of happiness, as evident by Jimmy’s tiny figure in the office, which also predates the similar effect of The Apartment. Instead of clockwatching, here’s someone too positive about his future to be cynical – when perhaps being cynical is the only life advice anyone outside of a Preston Sturges film requires. You wouldn’t know a slogan if you slipped on one.
Coherence (2014) – 6/10
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Writers: James Ward Byrkit, Alex Manugian
Starring: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
“I’ll just go over and kill them. Half kidding.”
Byrkit’s Primer-ish sci-fi puzzle is a bit like Schodinger’s cat in that it can be thrilling and deathly dull at the same time. An intriguing premise carried off pretty well by a low-key ensemble – including the director of Seeking a Friend… – who stumble into different versions of themselves just down the road. Maybe it’s just a reminder that those weird people in the neighbourhood are just like us… but it’s probably safest to blame the comet for everything.
Freaky Friday (2003) – 3.5/10
Director: Mark Waters
Writers: Heather Hach, Leslie Dixon, Mary Rodgers (novel)
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Jamie Lee Curtis
“What is this? One of them thongs?”
Mildly watchable and mildly racist, this remake of Freaky Friday plods along like something destined to be viewed on a plane. It’s not the worst Disney snoozer by any stretch, but the teen band in the second scene could kill a canary.
Half Baked (1998) – 3/10
Director: Tamra Davis
Writers: Dave Chappelle, Neal Brennan
Starring: Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Díaz, Jim Breur
“We’re not drug dealers. We’re fundraisers.”
Hello I Must Be Going (2013) – 4/10
Director: Todd Louiso
Writer: Sarah Koskoff
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Abbott, Blythe Danner
“Well that’s not what love is, mum. It’s not a prize that you get for coming in the clown’s face at the circus.”
Todd Louiso’s hit (Love Liza) and miss (The Marc Pease Experience) ratio continues with an inert relationship drama. The middling performances and coherent script are literally products of a Sundance Festival scheme, and bear all the cliches. Nothing new.
The title itself comes from the protagonist finding comfort in a VHS of Duck Soup; the line is sung by Groucho Marx, but Hello I Must Be Going shares more resemblance with Zeppo.
Jerichow (2008) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Christian Petzold
Starring: Benno Fürmann, Nina Hoss
“You can’t love, if you don’t have money. That’s something I know.”
The instant attraction between Fürmann and Hoss is a reminder of Wolfsburg, in which both characters fall for each other for incidents revolving around car fatalities. Thomas (Fürmann) is the hired goon who risks all for a fling with his criminal boss’ wife, Laura (Hoss), in one of Petzold’s typically soapy plotlines. The love triangle is even accelerated by the boss in a wonderfully tense beach outing that takes less than a minute for a drunken soiree to turn into a life-or-death moral conundrum.
Jerichow is in many ways a genre exercise in doing a “Petzold” – the chilly drama even begins and ends in car crashes. But Petzold is such a master of the Hitchcockian anti-thriller, the twists hit you days after viewing. Laura’s confession about money comes out of nowhere with a powerful sting, unnerving Thomas with its brutal honesty. For all the violence on show – often to enforce payments – the laws of love are ruled by currency and a steady steering wheel.
The Mirror (1975) – 7.5/10
Original title: Zerkalo
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers: Andrei Tarkovsky, Aleksandr Misharin
Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Takovskaya
“The overwhelming joy is clouded by anticipation of awakening.”
Paradise (2013) – 3/10
Director/Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Julianna Hough, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer
“I’m on a sofa with a man and both my feet are off the floor. Yeah, it’s because my stupid body is failing me, but still – I’m a slut!”
Cody reverses her typical screenplay formule with a naive, overly cautious lead. The opportunely named Lamb (Hough) defies her strict Christian upbringing by flying to Las Vegas to discover the joys of thing like alcohol and being chatted up by shifty guys who look like Russell Brand. Conveniently, the real Brand is there to play William, a new friend who participates in wooden conversations that are ultimately for weak gags about following a bearded man upstairs who isn’t Jesus.
Also on hand is Loray (Spencer) who laments at being treated like a “magical negro”, before unnaturally offering a definition; at least Cody admits her own shortcomings. The lifeless, patronising story is brought down by amateurish direction that tones down any potential flair, and is evident that even motormouth Brand can’t be bothered to speak.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) – 2/10
Director/Writer: John Hughes
Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy
“By the way, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s an idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”
That quote, which could easily be a comment on one of these blog posts, comes from Martin trashing a bore who ruins his life. Despite Candy’s well-meaning nature and reason for sadness, his stream of pathetic anecdotes and lack of self-awareness is what the world doesn’t need. Note to self: delete blog.
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