Monthly Archives: June 2015

American Sniper

 American-Sniper-Movie-PosterSharp Shooting?

‘There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.’

There has been much controversy surrounding Clint Eastwood’s latest film, American Sniper based on both its depiction of the central character, Chris Kyle and the innocents caught in the cross fire of bullets and politics. Many arguments have been forged around the film based on its apparent nationalist leanings, all of which are embedded in many US war films leading to propagandist views. Is American Sniper a patriotic, often one-sided view? Absolutely – the clue is in the title. Is American Sniper ground breaking cinema? No – nor does it try to be anything else. What it does do is attempt to deliver how one man becomes a killer and in his own warped perception, a ‘sheep dog’ who protects the flock only to leave what is most important behind as he sheds all humanity in order to pull the trigger.

It is interesting to note that Steven Spielberg was originally set to direct and had plans to expand on the Iraqi sniper and in equal measure show a point of view that would help humanise the other side. Aside from this being a less marketable offering, it is Eastwood’s fearless trademark approach of stripped down efficiency to his direction that also makes it such a different film. It is more than clear that, although it is briefly touched upon in a scene that lasts no more than a minute with the opposing sniper’s wife and child watching him pick up his rifle; Eastwood’s story was to focus primarily on Kyle and the impact of his killer instinct on not just himself but also his own wife and children. It is here that both Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, considering the sensitive nature of the story, deliver more than earnest performances – Miller in particular who is beginning to show a deft in her acting that is marking somewhat of a recent revival of her career.

Unfortunately it is the nature of film to manipulate and sacrifice most truth for cinematic effect yet, after the shit storm has settled; there needs to be a degree of responsibility in the messages it conveys. Most see this film as what it is and find it difficult to see past how one of the most respected and revered filmmakers has the only balls in Hollywood to deliver a film that doesn’t just provoke but aims for the kill. Only Clint could do this and for that alone there is a degree of respect in the film’s execution rather than that of Kyle’s own actions. Yet, in order to do that, there is the difficult decision of removing oneself from the original material and, in the wake of recent incidences at home and abroad that involves the potent image of the gun it begs another debate whether anyone should be watching such films at all.

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Shelf Bite: The Guest

The_Guest_Main_One_Sheet.jpg_cmykBe careful who you let in

‘I’m afraid I haven’t been fully honest with you…’

If you’re an appreciator of the current trend in retro thrillers kick started by Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive then The Guest is another welcome addition to the sub genre. Much like Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, the Director’s latest effort is a film that mixes sinister undertones, blistering action, thrill of the hunt and a dose of horror akin to the best of John Carpenter. There is even the menace of James Cameron’s original Terminator programmed with enough charm and finesse to give Jason Bourne a run for his money. With a solid soundtrack that sets the perfect tone Wingard keeps the delirium flying while he throws one or two red herrings into the mix. The Guest doesn’t set any new precedence’s but delivers a lethal punch and old school affair that elevates Dan Stevens’ central performance well beyond Downton Abbey’s tweed stereotypes.

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Jaws 40th

-font-b-Jaws-b-font-font-b-JAWS-b-font-Movie-Cloth-SIlk-font-bIt’s not about the Shark

‘Here’s to swimmin‘ with bow legged women!’

In a proverbial sense of the word, Jaws is very much about a shark. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece in Hitchcockian suspense is a piece of celluloid that, not only kicked off the summer blockbuster but also continued to terrify, traumatise and help to signify an entire generation. The bold four letters and iconic image of the poster alone conjures an immediate, almost primordial reaction and has enabled the iconography of such a film to transcend age, language and cultural background to build on its lauded, legendary universal appeal. And, let’s not forget John Williams’ iconic soundtrack; the shark’s signature akin to Prokofiev’s wolf – a deep, instinctive sound that plods and thumps along until it reaches its frenzy; conditioning the audience all the more.

Yet, Jaws isn’t really about a shark at all and the basis of this can be seen in Peter Benchley’s original novel. In his attempt to paint more soap operatic elements, Benchley peppered his plot with a rather cheap attempt to emulate a slice of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather as Mayor Larry Vaughn’s mafia connections are exposed amongst shady political undertones and conflict of class. The result tends to deliver some uncomfortable racial tension and misogynistic undertones – the later of which culminates in an unforgettable moment where Lorraine Brody’s affair with Hooper resembles something closer to J.G. Ballard’s Crash. For all it’s pulpy foibles, Benchley made every effort to craft his work into a piece of literature that had much more going on ‘beneath the surface’ as many of the characters were, seemingly, caught in the jaws of their own flaws; eaten away from inside rather than devoured so figuratively by a lone predator. The shark is therefore background noise and in stripping away these elements, screenwriter, Carl Gottlieb helped to refine a story that was built around three very distinct male characters and, most importantly; witnessing what happens when a Great White shark terrorizes a small community.

With the shark centre stage to the story, Spielberg very much set out to make a film about a shark by dropping the broader sweeps and literary vices that could have sunk the whole film. Yet, it wasn’t his original intention to be so sparing with the shark’s screen time and, due to the unreliable nature of the animatronics and brutal nature of the sea, Spielberg was forced to be creative with the camera. Saving the film through a more submersed and therefore psychological experience of treading water, the final result took on the uncomfortable feeling of being placed within the belly of the beast as the camera becomes more than our eyes and aids in the horrific moments during the first act where the shark attacks.

As Chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) tackles his fear of the water. We all pretty much experience what he is going through; a man who has brought his family to a small island, trapped and left to flounder somewhat as he attempts to persuade the local Mayor to close the beaches. Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), the smart, Oceanographer highlights further how dangerous it is through his knowledge of the Great White; while shark fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw) scratches his nails down the chalkboard and introduces himself in legendary fashion. As the second act of the film unfolds the story becomes more of an adventure tale of three men on a boat, boasting scars while Shaw, in all his method, delivers the unforgettable Indianapolis speech that grips you as much as the shark takes hold of its victims.

Spielberg always intended Jaws to be about a shark and would never argue otherwise. But as any classic film gains weight and veritable credence it is only by dissecting the very nature of the animal within to understand fully what else it may represent. It is through analysis that separates the average cinema goer to the cineliterate – those who wish to be merely entertained other than those who seek more of a reward. Of course, Jaws is hardly Eisenstein, but without a doubt just as important in what it achieved – a film that was set up to fail at each hurdle; over schedule, over budget – an ambitious effort that forced a revolutionary young film maker to bend the rules and think very much on his feet whenever he was able to reach dry land.

When I was a kid, it was always about the shark. I can recall the first time it was on television – one of three traumatising incidences in film at a young age; this one up there with my hero, Lee Majors being eaten alive by Piranha in Killer Fish. This was another aquatic incident involving creatures of the deep that not only cemented my life-long obsession in film but also an interest in sharks, so much so I was labelled ‘Shark boy’ at school. My thirst for writing resulted in a highly pretentious rip-off at the age of eleven in my attempt to write a novel called, (wince) There’s Blood in the Water – ironically not that far off what the original novel, Jaws was going to be called. There lies the genius, you see – where writing is, more than often, about the distillation of the material where the story holds the depth; the title has to summarise what the story is about. The title ‘Jaws’ is suggestive (jaws of what?) it doesn’t tell you anything unless you understand its context, which is often one of the golden rules you learn within the craft to elevate your work beyond naivety and emulating your favourite stories. Because this story is so universal and embedded within popular culture it can be very difficult to separate one’s self from the concept, which proves its power all the more.

Jaws is many things – a thriller, a horror an adventure tale, a masterclass in screenwriting, direction, editing, set design, production, acting and marketing that helped Hollywood keep its head well above the waterline. Jaws was a phenomenon that paved the way to a galaxy far, far away…showing that even a fake looking shark has more legs than any CGI monster.

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Spring_poster_goldposter_com_2-400x592Love is a Monster

‘I don’t think you’re ready for where this is going.’

Often, amongst the subpar horror fair of late, there are the hidden artefacts you stumble across that dare to deliver something different. As part of the current renaissance in intelligent, independent horror films that have the unhinged freedom to explore more metaphysical concepts there are the hidden gems built on the germ of an idea – the less tangible…the less obvious. Often deemed to have smaller audiences, the likes of Honeymoon and The Babadook have, at their core, something deeply personal shrouded in expressionistic brushstrokes that help to convey more thought provoking ideas. Although The Babadook descended into more of a cliché, Honeymoon managed to retain its serious, speculative approach and it is the same conviction that makes Spring one of the strongest horror films of 2015. It’s a sad state of affairs that such a masterpiece has zero marketing and is only released in the UK on DVD at the bargain bin price of £4.99.

With its more obvious tropes nested in the masterful tales of H.P. Lovecraft, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s second feature reminds us how a heady mix of romance can work wonders. Traditionally, these genres are not as removed from one another as we may think and have more than been taken advantage of in these Twihard years. Yet Spring manages to deliver a fresh and often beguiling approach with its meandering nature and stunning scenery swaying close to Richard Linklater’s conversational piece, Before Sunrise and therefore attempts to avoid the imagery we are all too familiar with.

After his mother passes away, a young bartender by the name of Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is left alone and angry with regret. When he prevents his friend from a potential glassing, a bar brawl ensues which results in the loss of his job. Before long his life is threatened by the hapless thug and the authorities begin their search. With nothing left to keep him rooted, Evan sets off for a random destination and ends up in Italy where he briefly meets up with a couple of cockney backpackers, secures a part time job and, amongst the wine and sunshine, meets the beautiful and alluring Louise (Nadia Hilker). As they begin to spend time with one another, it is soon clear that she hides a dark and terrifying secret that literally evolves throughout the course of the film.

Comparisons to Upstream Colour can also be noted; yet where Shane Carruth’s film deals with many ambiguous themes in a more speculative light, the visual language is just as arresting. Throughout the labyrinthine streets and swell of the sea, Benson and Moorhead take their time to explore character, which enables the viewer to accept the grotesque transformations Louise undertakes. In the moments the creature is seen it is disquieting, unsettling, shocking and disturbing – each transformation exploring the familiar while still retaining a fresh direction that helps to elevate its more primordial nature.

While Evan’s character deals with his estrangement from his homeland, it is during a key scene that reminds us of his unbridled love – in that no matter what happens to those closest to you, love knows no bounds; both emotionally and physically. In the opening moments of the film we understand Evan’s grief and relationship with his mother before he is cast adrift. As much as Louise is a myth, Evan is the truth behind how simple one man’s love can be.

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