The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK. Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK. Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
When you’re at a film festival, tough choices have to be made. Do I choose to spring for the more expensive full meal that I know my body would love but would drain the bank account too much, or do I choose to subside purely on McDonalds value meals for two full weeks consequently saving vital cash but going to bed every night feeling super hungry? Do I risk being able to have a proper toilet stop, or do I order my sphincter to stay clenched throughout the fortnight because every second is busy being used up by other far more important activities? But the most important choices are always schedule related: do I go and see this film, or do I try this film that’s on at the same time instead? One will always fall by the wayside, oftentimes a film that you’re really excited or interested in, and you’ll spend much of the rest of your time wondering, “What if?” particularly if the film you saw instead of it is a heaping helping of garbage.
Thursday morning had a lot of that. Do I get up super early for the press screening of Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest despite utterly despising her previous feature, The Riot Club – a film I named the worst of 2014 and was almost 10 seconds away from walking out of? Do I take a risk and see Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, finally getting a UK release over a year after it was dropped onto American shores, or Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, purely so I can finally understand what one of my film critic friends is on about when they constantly extol the virtues of Dolan? Or do I do none of the above, as that would mean missing out on the press screening of Makoto Shinaki’s Your Name (Grade: B), which had already totally sold out all three of its public screenings. If you actually paid attention to the teaser at the bottom of Day 8’s article, you’ll know that this choice was a very easy one for me.
Your Name follows Mitsuha (Mone Kamishriaishi), a Japanese high-school girl living in the rural town of Itomori, and she’s not happy with the state of her life. The town is so isolated that it lacks any excitement or even so much as a single café, and those total lack of prospects or friends or any particular reason for remaining there beyond carrying on a village tradition whose meaning has been lost to the winds of time is starting to get to her. After one particularly bad day, Mitsuha yells out her wish to be reincarnated in the next life as a handsome Tokyo boy, only to wake up the next morning to find her wish granted. Mitsuha has swapped into the body of Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a hyper-masculine high-school boy in Tokyo, and vice-versa, and this appears to happen randomly between the two several days a week. Much body-swap hilarity ensues, with Mitsuha both taking full advantage of and trying to improve Taki’s life, whilst Taki in Mitsuha’s body mostly obsesses over having boobs, until the two souls go trying to physically find each other. Then the laughter very quickly stops.
For its first half, Your Name was on the verge of being one of the very best films I had seen all festival. It’s both funny and affecting, utilising the body-swap mechanic to explore teenage dissatisfaction, gradual maturity, elements of gender dysphoria and especially gender performance to the rest of the world, and awakening sexuality, particularly when Mitsuha gets bummed about not being able to be in Taki’s body the day of the date she had arranged for him with his crush, Miki (Masami Nagasawa). The comedy is broad but impeccably timed, and its heart is always on its sleeve with a sincere earnestness to proceedings that’s infectious to watch. The animation really helps in this regard, adhering to your standard Shōjo designs but utilising a gorgeous colour palette and raw artistry to create a film that’s beautiful to look at even before it starts busting out money shots in its second half.
BUT, and there is a but… there’s a whopping great big twist here as to what exactly’s going on, one that shifts the entire film completely for its second half. Not just in tone, but in theme, switching to examining missed connections, relationships out of time, and our relationship with history. In a way, it changes the dynamic of the film more to something more in line with, coincidentally of all things, Denis Villenueve’s Arrival and especially Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There and, like with Marnie for me at least, it slowly begins to lose steam once its cards have finally been laid on the table and we see what game the film has been playing. I don’t mean that it suddenly goes down the toilet, it’s still genuinely affecting and its big scenes still hit their beats with precision. I mean that, like with Marnie’s eventual reveal, it turns the story into something more traditional and heteronormative than it appeared to be leading up to, and than I personally would have liked. For all of that fun body-swap build-up and fun cross-body bickering between Mitsuha and Taki to be revealed as needlessly complex groundwork for a star-crossed lovers romance – both literally and figuratively – with an ending stolen straight from The Butterfly Effect… it’s personally disappointing, especially since a romantic connection doesn’t gel with the prior set-up. Your Name is still a great watch, but it self-sabotages to avoid becoming an essential watch from the halfway point on.
You know what I haven’t experienced enough of during this festival? Divisive films. Not that I’ve done much talking to people, due to the crippling anxiety and social awkwardness and all, but those that I have talked to or overheard talking throughout the festival seem to mostly be in total agreement over what was good and what’s been crap. Even Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, a film practically scientifically-designed to divide and piss off as many people as is humanly possible, appears to have reached a consensus “that was actually really good and surprisingly tasteful” amongst the critical community. Nocturama (Grade: A (the joys of a rating system other than /10, I can feel more confident in giving outstanding films with minor flaws the highest possible score if they affect me that much)) was here to change all that, and about damn time too. I overheard, as I exited the film, everything from “that was 2 hours of my life that I’ll never get back” to “I really enjoyed it up until the ending” to “I didn’t get it” to “I have no idea what to think of it.” This one split the capacity screening I was in, and not unintentionally either. This is a harsh, angry, deliberately provocative film that could not give a f**k what you want it to be or do. It is often nasty, it is deliberately static, and it gives off the constant false impression that there is nothing going on here.
And I absolutely f**king loved it.
Nocturama, in both the most straightforward and accurate terms that I have managed to come up with, is Spring Breakers but for terrorism. Written and directed by Bertrand Bonello, the film follows a group of young French radicals as they plan and then execute multiple simultaneous terrorist attacks throughout city of Paris. Why? We don’t know and, more to the point, it seems that our cast don’t quite know why they are compelled to do so either. Some of them talk about starting a war, but they never seem to figure who they’re fighting a war against. They assassinate a banker, blow up two abandoned floors of a skyscraper office, set off four car bombs in a row in a random street, blow up part of a government building, and spontaneously combust a statue, but there’s a randomness and remove to their targets. If it’s a war against the status quo, then what exactly is the status quo they’re warring against? Why do they never talk about why they did what they did?
In truth, there doesn’t seem to be a reason, ideological or otherwise, to their actions or why they united together, and if there is, Nocturama says, that’s not the real point. More than anything, their actions appear to the result of youthful anger and arrogance, a deluded belief that “setting the city on fire” will somehow spark a giant revolution, mass panic in the streets, or at least something more than the government working together to bring a swift resolution to the crisis and general public indifference. Terrorism is practically a daily occurrence now, one that we experience vicariously when we turn on the news or have accepted the risk of happening to us when we choose to live in a populated area today. To believe that some kind of societal war can begin from one (notably diverse) group of disaffected young people pulling off one set of attacks, that one small group of radicals can somehow represent and spark a fire in those who would never dream of committing terrorism, is youthful naivety at best and massive egocentrism at worst.
The attacks are some of the tensest cinema I’ve seen all year, which is saying a lot because this has been a fantastic year for the mid-budget thriller, and they take up pretty much the whole first hour of the film. The timeline constantly cycles back and cuts between each of its cast as the specifics of their plan start coming together and, more importantly, each commits a tiny but ultimately significant mistake – forgetting to sign the back of a credit card despite repeated reminders to do so, accidental witnesses, becoming hit-and-run victims, exiting the scene of a crime with their gun still drawn when they go back into public. They may have been able to put their plan together and execute it, but they’re not infallible and, far more importantly than that, they’re all amateur mistakes that draw attention to how these are impulsive, reckless, and self-centred kids with no noble cause or grand reason for committing these acts.
From there, those that are left regroup and hole up in a high-end shopping mall for the night, planning to split up and get away the following morning once the heat dies down. Except that this plan failed to account for one thing: these are, for all intents and purposes, immature kids. They are given very simple strict instructions at the beginning of the night – don’t go outside, don’t go near the lighting aisle as that’s the only one with the security system still on, ditch all of your phones, and stay away from all windows – and every last one of them proceeds to break those rules almost immediately. Some experience severe crises of conscience, some succumb to paranoia, others are undone by their cigarette addictions, others still are too bored to care about their own safety, whilst the rest spend their time indulging in the rampant materialism that comes with the store. Sound systems blast out thumping hip-hop, everybody upgrades their clothes to something high-end and classy, one guy does laps of one floor with a go-kart and takes a bath made with buckets of tap water, and another serenades the group with a lip-synced performance of “My Way.”
It’s an absolutely scathing indictment of youthful egocentrism, where their every action acts as them bringing about their own downfall, potentially as a pathological act of self-sabotage – despite storing spare Semtex in case they get found out, nobody bothered to bring the charges or detonators required to use them. But unlike even Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which found an occasional sympathy or understanding in its various cast members, Bonello has absolutely no sympathy or patience for his cast – I hesitate to call them characters, as the film deliberately leaves all of its players thinly sketched, which will only further divide viewers. He directs at a remove, even when they’re constantly indulging themselves at the Mall; Blondie’s “Call Me” has never sounded more like a funeral march.
His ultimate judgement of his cast is ruthless and clinical, much like the Special Forces that eventually storm the Mall, and even that ending carries no catharsis or pleasure. There’s no sympathy for what happens to these people, but there’s no joy in seeing them get their comeuppance, either. Watching them be hunted like rats, powerless, terrified, out of plans and options as if they had any to begin with, as they are each taken down with horrifying precision, one bullet a time. It’s the biggest “f**k you” and most blatantly confrontational stance one can take with its audience, and it’s absolutely befitting Nocturama. I haven’t been this in love with a film that despises its audience and its entire cast this much since Only God Forgives. This is relentlessly tense and gripping viewing that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and refuses to release that hold until the credits have finished rolling. Aside from some clunky and unnecessary flashbacks during the attacks to the planning of said, this is an absolute masterpiece. More than any other film I’ve covered this festival, I cannot guarantee that you will react to Nocturama the same way I did, but I can guarantee you that it will provoke you, and that’s something that more cinema needs to try doing.
I turned up for my third, final, and press-ticket-approved film for the day, Two Lovers and a Bear (Grade: C), purely due to it starring Dane DeHaan and Tatiana Maslany. They also ended up being the only great parts of the film, disappointingly, although that goes a lot further than most redeeming factors in overlooking larger flaws. DeHaan and Maslany play Roman and Lucy, two lovers living in a remote frozen town, and both running from dark pasts involving their fathers that have left them damaged people. Lucy ends up getting accepted to study Biology down South, which would separate her from Roman, and after Roman has a suicidal sulk brought upon by said baggage and his rampant alcoholism – that’s not being facetious, either, Roman really does go through his entire character arc before the main plot kicks in – the pair decide to use their snowmobiles to drive down South together across the frozen and inhospitable wasteland that separates them from their destination.
Two Lovers and a Bear is weird, needlessly so. Ostensibly a drama, the film also has elements of comedy, philosophy, magical realism, and one long detour into attempted horror near the end once the pair stumbles upon an abandoned military outpost, and the tone is all over the place as a result. Lucy’s past trauma is personified by an actual ghost following her around everywhere, and it’s really serious and dark, but then it can be followed up by a scene where Roman talks to a bear heavily implied to be a God of some kind as it tries to drink his vodka, and the whole screen burst out laughing. In particular, whilst Lucy’s ghost at least makes a sort of sense, Roman’s ability to talk to bears doesn’t have much of a bearing on the film as a whole beyond adding needless quirk, with even what I think was supposed to be a poignant exchange at the conclusion still causing laughter because it’s so off-beat, even with a film that switches gears into being a horror for 5 minutes for absolutely no reason. Off-beat does not automatically equal good or even worthwhile, and writer-director Kim Nguyen fails to understand that.
Maslany and DeHaan go a very long way towards why Two Lovers and a Bear is at least watchable, if nothing else. Whilst they never manage to find the characters they’re supposed to be playing, too hobbled by a script uninterested in properly psychologically examining its two leads despite the set-up, they do get by through sheer blunt force of charisma and a sweet chemistry once Roman stops acting like a massive dick. For Maslany, it’s ultimately minor work given the continued existence of Orphan Black, but for DeHaan it’s work that’s long overdue given his constant unfortunate roles post-Chronicle. It’s just a shame that the film surrounding them isn’t focussed enough to back them up, particularly with an ending that’s supposed to be tragic but ends up having no impact due to arriving suddenly as a result of a montage and being proceeded by another bear conversation. Again, off-beat does not automatically equal good.
Day 10: Tom Ford finally returns to the world of filmmaking with Nocturnal Animals.
Life After Beth is weird and confused and, despite a game Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza, sadly not very good.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Life After Beth’s first mistake is showing us pretty much nothing prior to Beth’s death. There is a short little pair of shots of Beth (Aubrey Plaza) on the hike where she dies, but that’s it. So, straight off the bat, the film faces an uphill battle, as we are dropped into Zach’s (Dane DeHaan) grief with little context besides the fact that they were boyfriend and girlfriend. Emphasis on “were” as the two had broken up with each other in the week leading up to her death. It’s unclear as to whether this was Zach or Beth’s doing, as well, and at no point do we get an indication of their relationship prior to the events of the film outside of said break-up, and you can probably already tell the issue here.
In any case, about a week after her death, Beth rises from her grave and returns home to her alternately terrified and overjoyed parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), who keep her sheltered from the world and her condition sheltered from her for obvious reasons. Zach, however, still grieving majorly about the whole thing, manages to force his way in and is similarly alternately terrified and overjoyed about his girlfriend being resurrected, especially since the week between the two of them breaking up and her death is conveniently hazy for her. From there…
Well, here’s the film’s second mistake. The premise is thin, but you can stretch it out to a 90 minute film if you work hard enough on that one bit. Life After Beth, however, is like a magpie; it keeps getting distracted by different shiny objects and only really returns to that original idea, what should be the emotional centre of this whole crazy mess, when it looks back over at it and remembers how shiny it is. The film also wants you to invest in Zach’s cartoonishly uncaring and one-note family, to find Beth’s dad, Maury, overly sheltering and a threat to the couple’s happiness, to also root for Zach to drop Beth and get with a just-returned childhood friend, Erica (Anna Kendrick), and to be sufficiently intrigued and worried by the fact that Beth doesn’t seem to be the only one returning from the dead to not care when that subplot hijacks the majority of the film’s last half-hour.
It’s a very confused film, and writer/director Jeff Baena’s script and direction do little to paper up those cracks. There seems to be no real thematic through line, because the film keeps shifting focus and ideas every few minutes, so it has a slightly hypocritical bent to some parts of it – you gain no prizes for figuring out that Maury is both kinda right in sheltering Beth and that the film painting him as a villain for doing so, when the rather obsessive Zach wants her all for himself but is a hero for that, feels more than a bit selective in the morality sense. The film seems like it’s painting Beth’s return as a second chance for Zach, as some kind of chance to right some kind of wrong he committed the first time, but that feels weird seeing as we have no idea what he may or may not have done wrong the first time, and it all gets lost in the shuffle as the film goes on and becomes more and more overcrowded.
The theme problem then gets exacerbated by the poorly developed characters. Nobody here feels like a real believable person for various reasons. Either they awkwardly flip-flop based on what the current scene is telling them to be (Zach), or they’re still a draft or two away from doing or being what they keep being teased to be (Maury), or they’re so cartoonishly one-dimensional and try-too-hard-to-be-quirky as to be annoying instead of entertaining (Zach’s older brother Kyle, who is a paranoid, abusive, gun-nut security officer), or they’re pointless (Erica) or wasted (Beth’s mum, Geenie), or they’re Beth herself.
Beth isn’t really a character so much as just the thing whose existence the film revolves around. She doesn’t have any real consistency, flitting wildly between scenes, she doesn’t have much in the way of a personality, and that lack of pre-death time means there’s no baseline to measure the dead-alive Beth against. She’s a weird blank slate that gets re-arranged into whatever the film needs her to be at whatever time, and any impression she makes is down to the always likeable Aubrey Plaza instead of herself. And, yes, there is the weird uncomfortableness that stems from her becoming more zombie-like the angrier and, for lack of a better term, bitchier she gets.
Then there’s the issue that this comedy is lacking in laughs. It’s not completely without them, especially when it lets Aubrey Plaza go full-zombie near its end game, but it is weirdly lacking in actual jokes. The scenes where laughs are supposed to come kind of just ramble with no real construction until you eventually laugh at something, although I’ll be damned if I figured out what said laugh was supposed to be about 80% of the time. Otherwise, a lot of the film is played weirdly straight but also kinda isn’t? There are a lot of scenes that are supposed to be played for some kind of emotional resonance, but the film keeps undercutting them with its desire to be off-beat, and I found that rather distracting. It’s especially bad during what is supposed to be the film’s big emotional climax, where whatever power a scene lacking in pre-film context could have had is immediately set on fire by having a ridiculous piece of physical comedy occur seconds after its crescendo. It’s jarring, and not in a good way, the definite mark of a first-time director who hasn’t figured out how to juggle disparate tones yet.
None of this is to say that Life After Beth is without merit. After all, I laughed occasionally, I was never bored, and its cast is game. John C. Reilly is madly trying to fill in the blanks in his character, Molly Shannon is asked to Molly Shannon for 90-odd minutes and she’s more than happy to do that, Anna Kendrick literally walks into the film for about two or three scenes and is adorably charmingly amazing as per usual (yes, I have my biases, at least I admit them), whilst Aubrey Plaza is strangely withheld from large sections of the runtime but she attempts to make the most of them when she gets the chance, and I will cop to finding her full-zombie really funny. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, continues his post-Chronicle career path of wasting his considerable talents on films that don’t deserve them, managing to keep Zach a consistent and interesting character whilst the film is running and visibly straining to make the more dramatic scenes work.
Life After Beth, then, is a failure, but it is an interesting failure. It’s the kind of failure where one can see where the potential for a very good and maybe even great film is located, but can also see it, in real time no less, squander said potential due to a bunch of mistakes that could have easily been sorted out. It all comes back to that script, which is at least five-or-so drafts away from tapping that potential but, as is, is an unfocussed and rather unfinished mess. There’s a really talented cast desperately trying to raise the material on display, but they just end up being wasted. I was never bored, I was even fitfully entertained, but I was severely disappointed and ultimately unfulfilled.
By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
Over the years at FrightFest I’ve always looked out for the comedies which play the festival. The very first film I saw was Black Sheep, a New Zealand horror comedy about zombified sheep hell bent on eating people. Watching it with that audience, it was hilarious, laughter is infectious at the festival and I got swept along with it. I’ve since revisited the film and it’s just isn’t that funny, or as funny as I remember it that night.
So, what did this year’s festival have in store for me? Well Dead Snow 2, Zombeavers, WolfCop and Life after Beth were the four I had planned to see. However, Dead Snow 2 was playing the horror main screen while WolfCop was in the discovery screen. A bad clash to say the least! The only way around this problem was to buy a ticket for the earlier screening of Dead Snow in the Arrow screen. Next, I just had to make sure I got myself a Discovery ticket for WolfCop, else I’d be watching Dead Snow 2 again or going to the Phoenix for a drink; I got a ticket.
Opening night and Zombeavers gets the midnight slot, playing to an almost full house; a few always disappear to the Phoenix or need to get the last tube or bus home, but this is an impressive turnout.
Zombeavers, very much like Black Sheep, plays on the animals of choice, becoming infected by some man made toxic waste – isn’t that nearly always the case? This bright green goo, having an adverse effect on the local beaver colony, makes flesh and bone much more appetising than gnawing on a lump of wood now. Introduce the food, a group of attractive college girls (of course) staying at a relative’s cabin by the lake. One’s trying to get over her cheating boyfriend, the others are there to keep her company. Obviously the boyfriends turn up at some point, just to add to the expected body count and group tension; the cheating boyfriend, who hates who and the one who would ditch the others in a beaver attack to save themselves. The typical old couple living next door, a hunter who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him and of course don’t forget the dog; there is always a dog. Actually the hunter and the dog gag are a couple of the best things in the whole thing.
Jordan Rubin, directing his first feature, doesn’t do anything wrong really, it’s just by-the-numbers. He plays on all the same beats every other crazy, zombified animal vs humans film has used before. The cast are all relatively unknown (well, unknown to me) although I did recognise Rex Lin (CSI Miami) as the hunter and as I said before, he’s the best thing in it. Using animatronics, which on the whole are very good, gave the film some old school charm and definitely beats a colony of psychotic CGI beaver’s any day.
Now, I don’t mind these films on the whole, but the visual gags have nearly all been covered now. It needs strong writing and decent acting to make it stand out from all the other crazy killer animal films already out there. While there are some funny moments, they are mostly visual as the script and the acting were rather flat. It just didn’t stand out from the crowd in the end, which was a shame because I really wanted to like this film.
Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead was one of my most anticipated films at this year’s festival. Twitter was full of positive comments before FrightFest and being a big fan of the original I was extremely excited to see this.
Martin’s nightmare continues; he thinks he’s survived, that he’s escaped the Nazi zombies with only losing his arm (a small price to pay after the carnage he’s witnessed). But, it’s not over, not yet. He still has one gold coin and Herzog wants it back. In the fight for the coin, Herzog loses his arm but recovers the gold. Martin awakes next day in hospital with a new arm… Herzog’s arm! Found in the car, the doctors assumed it was his and attached it instead. Meanwhile, Herzog has remembered his original mission and now he’s going to complete it; plus he as a new arm, Martin’s arm. The local police are on Martin’s case as well and they plan to catch him before the big city cops arrive on the scene and get the glory. Martin knows Herzog’s plan through the arm’s connection to its former host. Armed with his new zombie arm and the zombie squad from America, he sets out to defeat Herzog and his army of zombies.
Tommy Wirkola returns to his original Dead Snow and continues the story from literally the last frame of the first film. He takes everything he did in the first and makes it bigger and better in every way possible. Escaping the confines of the snow bound cabin, Wirkola really lets loose with the scope of the sequel. Now his zombie army are taking down towns and slaying everybody that gets in their way. It’s bolder in content, with more gore, blood and some “really did they just do that” moments that I just couldn’t stop laughing at. From start to finish I laughed and so did the Arrow screen. The FrightFest crowd I saw it with were laughing, cheering and clapping. Horror comedy at its best!
Vegar Hoel returns as Martin and carries the film easily, he is simply brilliant. Orjan Gamst is great back in the role of Herzog. While Daniel, Monica and Blake are played by Martin Starr (Adventureland), Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Hass (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and form the Zombie Squad. Stig Frode Henriksen is Glenn the tour guide who has some great lines and Derek Mears as Stavarin, the action police officer who knows nothing, and Amrita Acharia as Reidun, the cop that does know everything. They are all great characters and drive the story along backed by the strong script, super visuals and a great sense of fun.
For once my expectations were rewarded. Here was a sequel which was better in every way than its predecessor. My comedy of the festival without doubt and my second favourite film all weekend.
WolfCop was another film with a big social media following. How could this fail to be entertaining and, more than that, funny? I mean he’s a werewolf and a cop, the jokes should write themselves.
Lou Garou is a local police officer with a drink problem, a major drink problem usually resulting in a complete blackout of the previous night’s events. Yet his problems are about to get a whole lot worse, a lot bloodier and hairier than he could ever imagine. Cursed, he now becomes a werewolf, blacking out after each transformation. Lou’s memory is fuzzy and he blames the drink. Yet as the vicious attacks continue and the bodies mount up, all the clues point towards Lou being the culprit. With the help of his friend, Willie, he sets out to solve the case, but Tina, another police officer, is already one step ahead. She confronts Lou, but there are darker forces at work and Lou soon realises that he’s going to need the wolf to solve this case and beat the evil in his town.
Leo Fafard as Lou gives a solid performance as the “I couldn’t give a shit” drunken cop, and his transformation into a person who could give a shit is well handled. Amy Matysio is the standout cop, Tina, and she gives a good performance, if a little underused. The rest of the cast are all fine; Jonathen Cherry as Willie has the majority of the best lines throughout the film. The direction by Lowell Dean (13 Eerie) is solid, though it’s the writing which I felt was the weakest aspect of the film. It’s not bad and does have its moments, it just seemed a little flat. The action is very well handled and the werewolf attacks were gory and extremely bloody. The look of the werewolf was along the lines of The Wolfman, allowing him to wear the cop uniform and obviously be able to talk and of course have sex! One of the funnier scenes (or not, depending on your taste). Of course, being a wolf, he needs a car to reflect his ferocious animal nature; time to pimp the police car.
I really wanted to like WolfCop, I had bent over backwards to see it. I did like quite a bit of it really, but I just couldn’t figure out its tone and I’m still struggling to find it now. Either it was a little more serious than I expected or I just didn’t find it that funny, I’m not sure which. Alhough I remember some laughter, it wasn’t in the same league as Dead Snow 2, which I think that was what I was expecting. Yet, while not finding it that funny, it’s still a solid b-movie and worth having a look at. You may just find it a lot funnier than I did.
Life After Beth wasn’t a film I had noticed on my first look through Saturday’s schedule. With no competition in the Discovery screen, it picked itself and I left it at that.
Zach is missing his recently deceased girlfriend, Beth. He’s even taken to playing chess with her dad, Maury, and wearing Beth’s scarf in the middle of summer. Then one day, he thinks he sees Beth. He’s convinced it’s her and tries to prove he’s not seeing things. Beth is alive! Well, sort of. Her parents are keeping her housebound, but Zach wants to see her, rekindle their relationship and go hiking. But she’s turning more zombie every day and soon she wants to start eating people, even Zach.
Zach, played by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Parks & Recreation) as Beth are both superb. There is a strong connection between them which comes through in their performance and the writing which takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. From the quite depressing lows to the extremely funny highs, it’s a great ride and one I was sorry to see end. The rest of the cast are all extremely good as well; Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly as Beth’s parents; Paul Riser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s parents; and a great performance from Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s older brother Kyle.
Life After Beth is written by Jeff Baena – it is also his directional debut and it’s a pretty impressive one at that. Some of the visual gags are superb and extremely funny, especially one particular scene with a cooker which was hilarious.
Boasting a strong cast, backed with a great script, this was a joy to watch and ranked third in my best of FrightFest list, behind Dead Snow 2 and The House At The End Of Time. I do believe it is scheduled for a cinema release soon. It’s one I would recommend seeing wholeheartedly. I’ll be going back to see it!
You can check out what else Mike has seen at this year’s FrightFest here, including Truth or Dare, The Guest and more!
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Did you see The Amazing Spider-Man from 2012? Congratulations, you don’t need to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2! You know, the lazier of us film critics like to snarkily dismiss sequels with the phrase “more of the same” as if that is inherently a bad thing. Sometimes it’s very much a good thing, something that works happily repeating its formula in a “if it ain’t broke” manner. Sometimes, though, it is a bad thing, the observation that the sequel hasn’t learnt from the previous film’s failings and the growing loss of patience on the reviewer’s behalf. This film is one of that kind. The second one. I am not kidding, this film makes the exact same mistakes as the first one did with the exact same potential of a great movie permanently bubbling underneath the near-endless mess of bad ideas or poor executions or bad ideas with poor executions.
Ladies, gentlemen and others, this was maddening to sit through. In fact, in lieu of a traditional review, I am going to dedicate my time and your time to a couple of case study examples as to how this film fails, in order to fully impress upon you, the reader, the way in which The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spends upwards of two hours taking a giant extended piss on its potential. No, there will be no spoilers, nothing more than the trailers have shown off, but I feel that this is a far more productive usage of our time. This film and its predecessor will be used by future, more intelligent generations who are less distracted by flashy and actually rather OK, all things considered, filmmaking as the basis of an entire class in film school on what not to do. I’m just getting in on the ground floor.
First, let’s talk about the Tragic Villain plotline. This is something that both this film and the original use as the basis for their villains, in an attempt to give them depth and something to do besides instructing the audience to comically boo their every appearance like we’re at a panto. I am all for this, it adds a nice measure of moral ambiguity to proceedings and a level of depth and maturity to the superhero medium in general; not every villain is evil for the sake of being evil, after all. The problem is not the fact that the franchise has used this idea for every single one of its villains so far and, in ASM2’s case, twice in one movie with Max Dillon a.k.a. Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). You can find enough spins on that formula. The problem is that the films never ever follow through with it.
The reason why The Dark Knight gets this right whilst The Amazing Spider-Man series doesn’t boils down simply to the fact that the former commits to the tragedy inherent to the plotline. In fact, sod it, this paragraph is going to spoil The Dark Knight. So, if you haven’t seen it and still want to, just jump on down to the next paragraph, you shouldn’t be missing too much if you do so (and if I’m doing my job right). See, Harvey Dent’s slide into the man known as Two-Face works because his motives remain understandable and relatable. He still has the same goal, to clean up the streets of Gotham and wipe out corruption in the GCPD, but his methods are now harsher. The point is that he has snapped mentally and now no longer cares about working within the law to get his goals. He’s not evil for the sake of evil, he’s just had his hope crushed and now he’s willing to do anything to reach his otherwise noble end goals and it’s the way the film commits to that falling that the plotline works.
Contrast this with Max Dillon. When he starts the film, he is a weak loner. He has an important job at Oscorp but he is constantly pushed around and harassed and put-upon by the world because he basically lets it. He has no backbone, no social skills and no life outside of his work and this makes him miserable, even emotionally disturbed. He just wants someone to notice him. Then, out of the blue, Spider-Man saves him from an oncoming truck and gives him the usual Spider-Man speech of “you are a somebody because you’re somebody to me”. This gives Max a reason to live and a reason for us to care about him, even if he becomes hopelessly obsessed with the man. It’s what’s supposed to make his fall into the electro-chamber sad and painful because it’s the world’s fault, not his. It’s why the public triggering of his powers is supposed to carry real emotional resonance as he finally gets the attention he craves from the public at large and his obsession, Spider-Man.
Pity the film is only an hour in by this point. So, because the film is only an hour in, the emotional arc of Max is very quickly wrapped up and the tragic side of his schtick is almost immediately dropped in favour of “I will do evil things because I am evil”. This would have been majorly disappointing… had the film actually handled any of this well to begin with, because they play pre-accident Max for laughs. Jamie Foxx pitches his pre-accident performance to absurd wet-doormat extremes and his every scene is backed by bouncy silly music so you know that you’re supposed to find events on screen funny instead of saddening. It undercuts the emotional groundwork and comes off as mean-spirited, overall.
In fact, before I move on, I want the name of whoever decided on the music that should back Electro’s action sequences and I want to make sure they never work in this field again. Why? Because his theme is dubstep. Nearly every shot of electricity is accompanied by dubstep wubs that are severely out of place with the rest of the film’s score. But that’s not why I am calling attention to this. No, there’s also the fact that his music contains whispers buried in the background. Whispers that go something like “Hate… destruction… kill… I hate him…. I hate him…” This kind of crap might have been cool to a teenager in 2001, but to me in 2014 it’s the equivalent of backing his action scenes with “Batman’s Untitled Self Portrait” from The Lego Movie. It’s embarrassing is what it is.
Harry Osborn gets a better treatment on the whole Tragic Villain angle but the film falls down by again just not committing to keeping his goals sympathetic and relatable to the end. Him and Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, still deserving of so much better) used to be childhood friends (because everybody is connected to everyone for cheap and easy drama in amateurishly written scripts). He’s dying of the same disease that’s killing his father and, therefore, desperate for a cure. His cure may involve Spider-Man and, when things don’t go his way, he goes a bit off the deep end. That last part would be fine… except that it involves him turning straight crazy evil so that we can have a two-part action finale.
The failure of the Tragic Villain plotlines, the same reason it failed in the first film with Curt Connors and his sudden obsession with creating an army of lizard men, is twofold. The first is the lack of faith from the screenplay that the audience will be completely behind and invested in the proceedings if they don’t know who to cheer and root for. And since Peter is still kind of a huge boring dick in this one (more on that in a bit), the film cops out on its moral ambiguity and emotionally heavy stakes by reverting to “these bad guys are evil because they’re eeevilll!!” which squanders the depth previously built up and the groundwork laid beforehand. The second is the fact that this is just a bad screenplay, in general, with both villains’ switches to straight-up evil-doing boiling down to the switch on the back of a Krusty doll. I guess you could salvage such a behavioural switch but it requires far better writing and handling than what’s on display here. It’s amateur work.
Now let’s move onto the issue of serialisation. Do you want to know why the Marvel Cinematic Universe get away with doing things the way they do? It’s because when their films end, they feel like they’ve ended. They’ve told a complete story, all of the plot threads are wrapped up and the character arcs are completed. They may leave an uncertain future or a sequel tease but they can do that because it doesn’t feel like story is being held back for future instalments. I could hop off after pretty much any of MCU entries with the sense of completion. That is why Iron Man is allowed to end the way it did, that is why The Avengers was allowed to end the way it did, that is why Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are allowed to end the way they do. Some had some plot threads hanging, others blatant sequel teases but all felt complete because everything important is wrapped up and all character arcs have concluded.
Much like its predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does not do that. In fact, despite running over two hours and even having a clear stopping point ten minutes before the end (even if, yes, it still would have failed to wrap up several big plot threads and character arcs so I would still be having this rant anyway), it actually has the gall to not have an ending. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 stops. It just stops. At roughly two hours and nine minutes it goes “OK, that’s all the time we have! Come on back in two years and we’ll pick this up again!” So, no, the conspiracy stuff with Peter’s dad Richard Parker (Campbell Scott who plays the role like a gruff William Shatner and is awful here) again does not get a payoff, Peter still doesn’t seem to learn anything from the events of the film (and the incredibly rushed final five minutes do not serve to fix this problem) and Harry Osborn remains a threat who even starts up his latest scheme as the film wraps up (and, no, not in the sense of “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!”).
There’s no resolution here. I don’t feel like I’ve been told a full story. I feel like I’ve been told half of a story, at best. There’s no payoff. Just a whole bunch of clumsily handled foreshadowing and set-up work for the endless sequel parade to possibly payoff down the line in the future maybe who knows? The Man In The Shadows from the mid-credits stinger of the first film makes a reappearance at the end because reasons, Harry’s assistant is called Felicia (as in Felicia Hardy because that’s just how subtle this film is in regards to going “THIS CHARACTER WILL DO SOMETHING IN A FUTURE INSTALMENT”) but she doesn’t do anything and, surprise sur-f*cking-prise, there’s a conspiracy at Oscorp that is left totally unresolved at the end because of-f*cking-course it is. The point of a film ending is that it is supposed to have told all of the story it needed and wanted to tell but such a thing is clearly not the case for ASM2.
Speaking of, Peter Parker is a boring dick. Andrew Garfield is trying so very, very hard to make this character work (he has a lot of natural, easy-going charisma and he is great at the better parts of Spidey’s mid-combat snark) but his character spends most of the film in the background and, when he does actually get to wrestle control of his own film back to him, he’s actively dislikeable. He’s a dick to everybody almost all the time, primarily because his character arc is almost permanently stuck on the cusp of the transitional period from “dickwad hero” to “noble figure for hope and justice” and he doesn’t actually start that transitional phase and learning lessons until ten minutes before the end of the GODS. DAMN. MOVIE.
And the stuff with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone, deserves better). Oh, Maker, how I hate all of the material with him and Gwen Stacey. It’s predicated around the fact that Peter loves Gwen but the promise he made to her dying father to stay away from her is causing him to feel guilty about that love. Good, fine, you can do stuff with this. You can do good, non-crappy stuff with this. Except this manifests as Peter being a dick to her at all times but his love for her leads to him stalking her (again), putting her in danger (again) and begging her to give up her own wants so that they can be together happily (again). Hell, a better movie would make parallels between his obsession with Gwen and Electro’s with Spider-Man, but that movie wouldn’t allow a big loud action sequence with a hint of tragedy, apparently, so it’s nowhere to be found and their romance is played as true love that’s futile to deny. Credit to Stone and Garfield, they have excellent chemistry, but the material is awful.
Those are just a few of the major problems with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that were also present in the original (well, admittedly, the original at least had the decency to attempt to come up with an ending). I’d go on for more, but I’m running out of time here and I need to wrap up. This a bad film. It is a bad, bad film. But it is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars and we are going to be up to our eyeballs in sequels for however long the shared-universe superhero bubble manages to avoid bursting. And it will do so because it is not a badly made film. The surface level sheen is great. The performances are mostly great (Dane DeHaan still makes time to put in excellent work even as he seems to be voluntarily flushing his career down the toilet between this and Metallica: Through The Never), the film is nice and pacey which at least didn’t make me feel like I had been dragged through a sloggy bog watching the damn thing (*coughcoughDivergentcough*), the effects are great and the fluidity of them fits the hyper-reality of the film’s universe, and action scenes are shot like every action scene in every Western action movie ever (shakily, busily, nearly incoherently at points) but may at least seem exciting to less jaded viewers.
More importantly, there is still the spark of a great movie and a great franchise in here. No matter how badly the series so far has tried to snuff them out, there are still nuggets of potential littering The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This could be a fantastic superhero movie in a fantastic superhero franchise but it, like its predecessor, keeps making all the wrong moves at the worst times and in the crappiest possible manner whilst, all the while, never openly sucking. This is not an outwardly and plainly bad movie; its badness simmers underneath beneath a protective sheen of great performances and well-made filmmaking, but still ruining everything. It’s why I cannot tear this film to shreds. I should do, it is terrible, but that potential is still there and I am adamant that if people who actually knew what they were doing were given creative control, this series would learn from its mistakes and subsequently realise that potential.
Consider this a staying of execution, then. I am prepared to give The Amazing Spider-Man franchise one more chance to realise that potential and learn from its mistakes. If I come back here in two years’ time to find a sequel that again wastes that potential and makes the same mistakes, I will consider this series officially devoid of all hope and the resulting review will be merciless. In the meantime and nevertheless, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a bad film. You should not go and see it.
Callum Petch run on the track like Jesse Owens, broke the record flowing without any knowing. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!