Teen Titans Go! To The Movies – Review

by Charlotte Harrison

I didn’t think I’d enjoy it quite as much as I did. Based on the promo materials and the trailer, I thought I’d be going to see something fun, albeit light-weighted and unsubstantial. However, whilst the film is light-hearted it doesn’t float away as it’s so well made. It’s clear that the folks behind it know their stuff when it comes to comic books and know exactly how to make the source material target this audience.

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It seems like every superhero is getting their own movie these days – except for the Teen Titans. Superman (Nicholas Cage) tells them it’s because they don’t take crime-fighting, or themselves, seriously. A run-in with Balloon Man (Greg Davies) that descends into a musical montage doesn’t exactly help their case… Robin (Scott Menville), the leader of the Titans, takes this particularly badly and endeavours to make their Tinsel Town dreams a reality by harassing producer Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell). When she points out that they’ll never be able to have their own movie if they don’t have a nemesis, they decide Slade (Will Arnett) is the man for the job. But, when things go awry, their friendship and the very core of their team is tested to its very limits.

Comic book fans loved both Deadpool films as they replicated the source material’s fourth wall breaks, had a script that was jam-backed full of meta and self-reflective jokes and wasn’t afraid to take it’s self seriously. In those regards, Deadpool along with its sequel and Teen Titians Go! To The Movies have a lot in common. The main difference is the tone, whereas the former alienates some audience members who feel it is arrogant & smug to the point of frustration, that isn’t the case with the latter. Whilst TTGTM is knowing, poking fun at superhero movies that are currently omnipresent at multiplexes, it does so in a way that can only be viewed as through a perspective that is loving and endearing. Examples of this include Slade discovering ‘the perfect plot device’, the three part gag involving upcoming Batman-related cinema releases, a recurring Stan Lee appearance and the best ‘Martha’ gag that has ever existed. Those are only a few of many, many more.

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When the film is funny, it is very funny indeed. And that’s very often indeed. Although the story itself is thin, the components that make it are far more substantial, yet effortless and surprisingly memorable. There’s also a fair few songs in there – ‘Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life’ sung by Michael Bolton as a tiger is my personal favourite – that could easily see some nods during awards season. They’re that well-conceived and constructed.

An extra layer for the comic book nerds amongst the audience are the references that will please massively. Part of the fun is seeing how many familiar/unfamiliar (depending on your viewpoint!) faces you can spot in crowd scenes. Swamp Thing, Jonah Hex and Deadman, Blue Beetle were my personal highlights.

TTGTM is an example of a perfect cinema outing for families this summer. It’s bright, colourful and fun for the kids. The adults in the audience will find the same jokes funny, but will also have an extra layer of appreciation for certain elements. Deadpan, kitsch and surprisingly intelligent fun served with a lovely message about learning to always be yourself, no matter what. Plus ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha makes an appearance – who doesn’t love that song…?

Teen Titans Go!… To The Movies is out 3rd August 

Sicilian Ghost Story – Review

by Ren Zelen 

In Sicilian Ghost Story – their follow-up to 2013’s prize-winner Salvo – co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza evocatively interweave the richness of a dark fairy tale with the brutal reality of a true event – the abduction of a child. The film is based on the kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo in 1993. He was held prisoner by the Sicilian Mafia for 779 days in the hope of silencing his informant father.

The fictional element comes in the form of the character of Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), who feels the powerful stirrings of ‘first love’ for her classmate Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez). She follows him into the woods outside their village and secretly observes him transfixed by a butterfly that has landed on his hand, while a playful ferret nuzzles at her heels.

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The woods are mysterious and magical it seems, but not entirely safe – Luna disturbs a ferocious Rottweiler who, maddened by bloodlust from a rabbit he has been gnawing upon, menaces her until Giuseppe distracts the beast by throwing down his rucksack, allowing the pair to run away to safety together.

Luna’s Swiss mother Saveria (Sabine Timoteo) knows her daughter has a crush on Giuseppe and disapproves of it, possibly because his father was an erstwhile member of the Mafia gang that runs the town, or possibly because his father has now turned police informant.

Saveria (whose name sounds all too similar to ‘severe’) is styled like a Wicked Stepmother with her black hair parted in the middle and pulled back, her cold eyes, and her voice, which is soft yet menacing. Luna has a better relationship with her father who is more easy-going and indulgent – a constant source of exasperation to her mother.

When Giuseppe vanishes, Luna searches frantically for answers, but is confronted by secrecy or indifference. The code of fear and silence is so strong, even among those not involved with the Mafia, that everyone turns a blind eye to Giuseppe’s disappearance except for Luna, who refuses to give up her desperate search.

She alone rebels against the villagers’ complicity and refuses to accept their passivity at Giuseppe’s disappearance. After weeks without any news from police or family, she and best friend Loredana (Corinne Musallari) hand out provocative flyers which say – “Giuseppe has disappeared, and what are you doing about it?”

Giuseppe has been kidnapped by ruthless Mafia heavies disguised as policemen. Under the pretext of seeing his father, they bring him to an isolated and abandoned house where he’s kept chained to the wall. His Mafia captors hold him as collateral in order to stop his father talking to the authorities.

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The young actress Julia Jedlikowska gives Luna such an ardour and urgency, that we are carried along with the sweetness of the affection between the two protagonists (in the movie they’re 13 and 14) and fear for their safety, with good reason.
The two seem to share an undefinable link manifested through fairy tale symbols — a forest, a cave, various animals, a lake. Both escape into dreams to find each other, and in this fantasy existence a mysterious connection is formed.
As Giuseppe’s imprisonment drags on and his situation becomes more dangerous, Luna’s desperation to find him leads her to descend into a dark dream world which has the lake as its secret entrance. Fantasy and reality merge as Luna’s obsession grows ever stronger.

While the fairy tale elements of the film are obvious, there are also echoes of the myth of Persephone, whose mother Demeter wandered in desperate search for her kidnapped daughter. In fact, the town where the film was shot, Troina, is not far from Lake Pergusa, where Hades supposedly abducted Persephone and through whose waters he dragged her down to the underworld. Unsurprisingly, underwater shots figure throughout the movie, along with the autumnal forest.
Animals also play a part in Sicilian Ghost Story, particularly a small owl which first appears in Luna’s cave-like basement. The owl is associated with Hades. Ovid’s description of it is as a ‘sad omen to mankind’. Here it is indeed a witness and herald to tragedy.

Although directors Grassadonia and Piazza eschew magical kingdoms populated by mythical creatures, comparisons with other films, particularly those of Guillermo del Toro, may be made. Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth combined fairy tales with the reality of Spanish fascism. Sicilian Ghost Story revolves around the stranglehold that the Mafia have on the people of Sicily.

Grassadonia and Piazza prefer to ground their evocation of fairy tale in actual countryside. Nino (Andrea Falzone), one of Luna’s friends, remarks that Sicily was once the playground of the gods, but that perhaps the island should be now be destroyed and left for the animals. What is implied, is that what was once a paradise is now populated by living ghosts, people who have been so corrupted that they can allow themselves to be haunted by inhuman acts perpetrated under their very noses.
The contrast between the dreamy existence of the two young lovers, and the horrific reality of their predicament, adds disturbingly to the understanding of what was a real kidnapping. Sicilian Ghost Story doesn’t simply tell the tale of love, violence, grief and loss, but is also a critique of a society which allows brutal acts of inhumanity and injustice to go ignored and unpunished.

Sicilian Ghost Story is out 3rd August 

The Escape – Film Review

Over the course of two decades of film and television work, writer-director Dominic Savage has perfected a form of improvised cinema. It begins with an idea in which the actors work with the director in exploring the options. Savage’s collaboration with Gemma Arterton, who has three careers in Hollywood (Clash of the Titans, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), Britain (Quantum of Solace, Made in Dagenham, Their Finest) and France (Gemma Bovery, Orpheline, The History of Love), has yielded a three-quarter gem, The Escape. Arterton excels as a young mother, Tara, whose life at home with her breadwinner husband, Mark (Dominic Cooper) stifles her.

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Savage really makes you feel how Tara is trapped in the routine of her life: sex on demand, feeding the two children, doing the school and nursery runs and being there for her man. She is under-nourished: culturally, socially and emotionally. On a trip to London, she picks up an art book and becomes obsessed with a tapestry and yearns to take an art class. Mark can’t take it in because their life is it. He has a good job, they have a nice house – sorted. Tara’s ache drives her to the escape of the title.

The Escape feels like two movies and Arterton gives two performances. The first is utterly sympathetic, the second a bit of a cliché. During ‘the escape’, Tara becomes a different person and has a form of adventure, though I can tell you that having recently wandered the streets all night in the city where the last quarter of the film is set, you don’t get befriended by a rich person who takes you home because they see your sadness – not unless it’s transactional. You usually get asked for a cigarette.

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The final quarter of The Escape is forgivable because the rest of the film is so good. The scene at a barbecue, or getting the children to eat, or seeing toys everywhere – parents can relate. At one point Tara screams at her young child for touching her art book and although her anger is disproportionate, we see and understand its roots.

Like any good director, Savage does not try to solve the social problem that he depicts. He – and Arterton – are honest about it. Tara doesn’t have friendships that sustain her, people to whom she can turn, though Savage might have included a scene or two to explain this. Savage understands that people whose lives turn into obligations need a release valve to appreciate who they are and to find a form of fulfillment, but it should not be at a cost.

The Escape is out 3rd August! 

Apostasy – Review

by Charlotte Harrison

A personal film is a powerful film. That’s the case for Apostasy, the debut feature from director Daniel Kokotajilo. He was raised as a Jehvoah’s Witness, attending his last meeting during his early twenties; the Christian sect is the focus of his film, albeit on a micro scale. It focuses on a family of three – a mother, Ivanna, (Siobhan Finneran) and her daughters, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson ) and Alex (Molly Wright). When Alex commits a religious transgression her family are forced to shun them, leading each to reflect on the nature and meaning of God’s love.

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The film has an overarching sense of restrained devastation and stifled frustration as it explores the true testing of faith. When Luisa is ostracised from their community, Ivanna and Alex are closely monitored to ensure they are following suit and doing the ‘right thing’. The ‘right thing’ in this case, according to the leaders of their religious sect, is to cease all contact with her. When Luisa is present they must not speak to her, they must not look at her even, to ensure they do not follow her on the wrong path. What is truly requires is the removal not of love, but of affection. Ivanna is not allowed to attend or assists her daughter, even when she is needed the most. Alex, who has looked up to her strong and confident older sister all of her life, must cut her out completely. No matter how much it hurts as the choice, in their eyes, is a simple one; embrace now and no immortal life, shun now and have forever.

The impact of this is enhanced, dramatically, by the fact that Alex always felt that her sister was the only person who truly understood her. Alex was born with a potentially fatal condition that affects her blood; when she was born the hospital gave her a blood transfusion to save her life – against the wishes of her mother and community. Due to their teachings it has always made her feel other, tainted, different and judged. Even though she and her mother have done everything to ensure that she will never again be treated against their will, it is something she fears greatly. An exceptionally timely plot point considering the August release of ‘The Children Act’ (starring Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci) about a high court Judge preceding over a case involving a teenager being forced to have a blood transfusion.

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With Apostasy the choices the characters make are presented in an almost neutral, matter of fact, way. They, their faith and their decisions, are presented in a factual, black and white, clear-cut manner. There are no judgements upon them, it is left to the audience to judge and/or accept them. We bear witness to how their community functions within the larger community, how ostracised they are, how planned everything is and how everything has its corresponding piece of guidance. The film’s lens is respectful of this. It’s not satire, judgemental or critical. It’s the presentation of a world most of us know little about, told by someone who knows it incredibly well. As a result it’s critical to the point of scathing, but without telling us how to think and how to feel.
This is reinforced by the exceptional trio of lead performances. Finneran is the standout. She is simply incredible as the matriarch – restrained, forceful and stoic. She follows though what she is told with a degree of acceptance that seems practically cruel and cold-hearted. Yet there’s so much depth to her performance that those small crisis of faith, never a monumental or melodramatic one, seem fully understandable and all the more devastating.
The world of Apostasy is colourless and drab, suffocating and devastating, mesmerising and chilling. One of the best British films we’ve had in years.


Apostasy is out in cinemas now!

A Teachable Moment – Short Film Review

Occasionally, your darling precious children will go down the wrong route. Not saying they will, but certainly the allure of being totally and completely naughty could set them off on a horrible path that would see them as degenerates; low-lives behind bars that have smashed all their prospects like the window of the car they’ve just stolen. At some point, a crook will be found in the road, leading your sweetness and light into become, well, a crook.

Oh poor little Henry or Henrietta.

So how do you steer those sticky, loud, and garish angels away from a life of excess, sin, and all the nasty bits in between.)

That’s the plot in Jason Jeffrey’s darkly comic movie A Teachable Moments

The film revolves around a criminal who is shot whilst committing a robbery. Though he makes it some way in his getaway car, he inevitably becomes to week to carry on, collapsing in a heap by the side of the road. When a woman and her young son pull up, he thinks his luck is turned around – that is until she uses his predicament to show her wayward son that crime doesn’t pay.

The short black comedy is a brilliant bite of satire and wit as a man fights for his life against a woman’s nagging parent routine. The delivery is ridiculously good by performances such as dominant Grace Glowicki and the bewildered (and, bleeding from his gut,) Ash Catherwood. Of course, there is the brooding Ethan Tavares who sighs and huffs in the background as a petulant child despite the, you know, gooey bits oozing out of our thieve. It comes together in a wonderful way, centered on the bemusing premise, followed by the accurate dialogue.

A Teachable Moment is a great eight minute film that certainly serves as a wonderful remind of the potholes one could make on the road to ruin. Perhaps to be shown in schools? Perhaps not but it is definitely a movie to make you chuckle.

My Friend Dahmer – Review

When it comes to serial killers, we tend to romanticize them in the sense that we see them as monsters: Detached from our own humanity and society, so we can feel better about ourselves. It’s shocking to discover these people lived normal lives and had normal relationships. Because knowing there could be a killer in your midst is terrifying.

This is looked at in Marc Meyer’s My Friend Dahmer.

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My Friend Dahmer is based on a book by Derf Backderf. It details the teenage life of Jeffery Dahmer, long before he became one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Set in the seventies, it follows Dahmer in rural Ohio. Dealing with the unhappy marriage of his parents at home, Jeffrey spends most of his time collecting dead animals and dissolving them in his shed. He also has an uneasy obsession with a jogger who runs by his home every day. A relative unknown at school, Jeffrey starts to act out, imitating spasms and making loud noises to perturb his class mates whilst also attracting a group of boys eager for him to continue…

The central and titular character is performed by the young Ross Lynch. Much has been made of Lynch’s Disney background. True, the star has been made through many outrageous original movies and certainly him being cast against type here was a bold move. Yet it is a move that has worked because of this contrast. Lynch inhabits Dahmer brilliantly well. Understanding the thought processes that keeps him disconnected from his blossoming sexuality, and his utmost eagerness to fit in, Ross finds a really hard understanding with the real-life character that is often missed in  movies of this nature.

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Alex Wolff is magnetic as John “Derf” Backderf. As a willing participant of Jeffrey’s antics (and self-professed number one of his Fan Club,) Derf encourages the attention-seeking behaviour only to, naturally, tire of it. Wolff plays this intimately and intricately, showing a very usual dissipitation of interest. This, however, causes a slight hollow anguish for the audience. The further they use and then dispose of Jefffery, the further this pushes Dahmer to become more eccentric and seek further validation. As Derf and the group finally fall out of sync with Dahmer, the movie turns and becomes this study of loneliness in Jeffery, highlighting his frustrating with falling out of favour with society so early on in his life. As Derf encounters Dahmer one last time in a dark chance meeting, Wolff conveys the fright and worry as well as unquestionable remorse.

What My Friend Dahmer does is ground the titular serial killer in an eerie realness.  The empathy delivered here is outstanding. By no means does the movie try to belittle or forgive Dahmer, but it does try to make sense of him in a grounded way. As aforementioned at the beginning, we as a society like to make supernatural beasts out of murderers to distance ourselves away from their nature. But by humanizing the killer and taking away the monster credentials, Meyer’s crafts a pitying, sympathetic piece that ultimately becomes more chilling in its truthfulness.

My Friend Dahmer is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!