The Hate U Give – Review

In a marketing move that went awry, the American police shooting drama, The Hate U Give inspired mass walkouts at ‘Cineworld Unlimited’ Surprise Preview screenings across the UK on 8 October. The last Cineworld Unlimited screening was The Incredibles 2 so audiences were primed for a tentpole release. Fearing it might be the new Hallowe’en movie anxious parents contacted Cineworld sites to ask whether their children might be turned away. There was also some consternation that customers weren’t given complimentary candy, dished out at previous surprise screenings. What the heck, indeed!

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Adapted from Angie Thomas’ novel by the late Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Under the Tuscan Sun) and directed by George Tillman, Jr (The Longest Ride, Men of Honour), the film tells the story of African American teenager, Starr (Amandla Stenberg), who grows up in two worlds. Whilst she lives in the deprived neighbourhood of Garden Heights, where her father runs a store, she is educated at a school notable for the rarity of students of colour. Daddy (Russell Hornsby) drills his children to behave appropriately when stopped by a police officer – something they are taught to expect. However, whilst she is being driven home from a party by an old friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), Starr is unable to stop him from being shot. In the aftermath of the outrage (this is not a tragedy, rather an ongoing injustice) Starr struggles to articulate an appropriate response.

In the film’s best scene, Starr visits her police officer uncle, Carlos (Common) and they discuss why officers respond the way they do. White motorists are given the benefit of the doubt; black motorists are not. The scene works exceptionally well because it admits that this attitude is held by both black and white officers alike, but is rooted in bias about social background; whether the motorist is likely to own a vehicle, have committed infractions of some sort or carry a gun.

In many of the other scenes, this bias is presented as a white institutional problem. Yet the drama plays out against a criminal backdrop: Khalil worked for a local drug dealer, King (a nuance-free performance by Anthony Mackie) to pay for his grandmother’s medical treatment. The police officer’s suspicion therefore has some merit, though not his trigger finger.

Far from being an articulate film that decries racism, The Hate U Give is deeply confused. Starr’s parents consciously address environmental determinism rather than attempt to reform the neighbourhood from the inside. Although her father runs his own business, his ambitions are economically limited. He had turned away from a life of crime to be a good father, albeit in a drill sergeant mode, but is content for his children to live in a white world.

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The film creaks with a lack of authenticity, notably in Starr’s romance with Chris (K J Apa) a white student at her school, who is something of an embarrassment – a class clown who is singularly unfunny. Chris exists in a vacuum. We don’t meet his parents or his other friends; he is there as light relief – or should I say white relief. Starr’s relationship with two white girls in her class, one of whom takes part in a protest against police brutality to avoid a chemistry test, is somewhat more believable, but the film makes the mistake of presenting teenagers as finished articles, and not capable of change.

The lack of authenticity extends to a funeral reception that Starr attends for Khalil, where the family members aren’t so much traumatised as under-directed. The film builds to a scene of rioting that also seems under-populated.

The worst thing about The Hate U Give is that it presents Starr’s acknowledgement of outrage as triumphant when in reality nothing has changed. The way to address a culture of fear is to debunk it, which is why a number of first time African-American writer-directors, like Jordan Peele and Boots Riley have turned to black comedy rather than social realism. The Hate U Give feels like a throwback that could have been made five years ago. President Trump’s war on his predecessor’s legacy demands a more considered response.

The Hate U Give is out in cinemas now! 

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn – Review

Jim Hosking, though only really creating two films, has one of the most unique voices in cinema. The filmmaker, who crafted the insanely brilliant movie The Greasy Strangler, has a brilliant and vivid imagination. The British director is daring to push the boundaries of dark comedy, digging under the skin in a squeamishly succulent way.

His follow up to The Greasy Strangler is the wonderfully bizarre and greatly realised An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. 

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Lulu Danger is in a rut. Her own husband, Shane, has fired her and she spends most of her time wondering what could’ve been. Home alone, Lulu finds an advert for an old flame and he is performing near her. Pushed by the hi-jinks of Shane, Lulu decides to kidnap a hapless hit-man named Colin and run off to a hotel with bundles of cash in order to see the titular Beverly Luff Linn. But will he be happy to see her? And are there other forces keeping them apart?

There’s a continuation of The Greasy Strangler humour as your enter the world of Beverly Luff Linn. A lot of this relies on the delivery on the dialogue, which is a brilliant combination of deadpan and hysterical. The stilted flow of weird phrasing, awkwardly placed pauses, and moments of pure lunacy come from passionate players. Highlights include Craig Robinson, who’s dialogue mostly consists of grunting (and, well, farting,) and Emile Hirsch overtly expression-filled Shane Danger. There is a whole collection of actors that greatly populate this film with their distinctive performances.

Jermaine Clement is well versed in this kind of humour. Similarly to his character in Eagle vs Shark, Clement’s simple yet well-meaning Colin is terrific has he tries to woo Lulu after falling in love with her. He’s great to watch alongside Aubrey Plaza and their verbal ping-pong match and chemistry (certainly carried over from their indelible pairing in Legion,) are insatiable to watch.

Which brings us to Plaza herself. As the lead Lulu, Plaza is simply superb. She is able to take you from lofty aloofness to intense emotion in seconds. There are always sparks lighting behind her eyes as the turbulent emotions rage inside Lulu. Plaza is able to bring Hoskings brand and then some, adding yet another memorable character to her impressive back catalogue.

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The eighties feel of the film gives the film a lush and great aesthetic. The  hues of pink against the stodge of brown create this glorious period look that fleshes out the characters and also makes it striking to look at.

I feel remiss in saying that this film will polarise people butin many ways, that’s true. Hosking’s writing and his direction is bristling for some, enjoyable for many. And whilst I don’t think everyone will come out of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn satisfied and hungry for more, those who click into Hosking’s eschewed and devilishly delightful darkness will have a delicious time. Unpacking his particular breed of nastiness and mirth, Jim Hosking’s work here is a fun ride.

You must see it immediately. Immediately. Immediately. Immediately. Immediately.

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is out in cinemas 26th October! 

An Ode to Tony Todd’s Candyman

Urban legends are myths, started by creatives and told huddled around campfires. They were spread at sleepovers, whispered in classrooms and eventually made it to the adult pub scene which would alert filmmakers to sit back and say, “hang on, we’ve struck gold here.” Ever since, those campfire stories have clung to our minds and horror have delectably dug into our psyches to devour our fears. When I was younger, and even now, one of those stories that’ll tickle and chill me to my bones is the tale of Candyman. I remember the pure fear trickling down (my leg) and the hiding behind the sofa thanks to this gruesome tale. And still now it is a bitter wasp to swallow.

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Played allusively by Tony Todd in Bernard Rose’s 1991 horror flick, Candyman is based on folklore that if you say his name five times into a mirror, he’ll appear with his bloody hook and slice you a bigger belly button. When Helen Lutz investigates this seemingly innocuous myth for her thesis and as she explores the derelict apartment blocks of several murders, she finds that not only is the legend true but he has been waiting for her for some time. As she battles against this frightful ghoul, she must defend her own sanity and life as well as the life of all that she loves.

Tony Todd’s Candyman is the main focus here. The calmly roaring vocalisation of the deeply disturbing villain is unnerving. His poetic speeches areas taunts at Helen and more of a seductive power play. The ferociousness of his tongue is exquisite and that’s what makes it so intensely alarming. Combined with his towering stature and shadowy presence, Todd’s performance will fill you with dread, brimming as he menacingly appears. The delicate was of the destruction that he weaves is incomparable, and only does the charisma of Lecter match the viciousness of Todd’s gruelling Candyman, slathered in blood and wasps. Shoving lines such as “Be My Victim” into his silvery tongue is undeniably scary.

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And the story allows the sadistic poetic nature of Candyman to play with our psyche. Candyman isn’t just an apparition that cuts and slices, he appears to Helen and aims to seduce her into a grizzly death. And he’ll do so by driving her to madness and framing her for the murders, it is intellectually stunning and different. What’s more terrifying than this though is that a majority of his killings throughout the film are done during the night? This murderous spectre makes sure that the deaths are spectacles because he wants the parish to live trembling in his legend.

There is a palpable unnerving sense of realism throughout this movie helped along by the undeniably frightful score. A critically acclaimed horror film is few and far nowadays but when your terribly scary monster bewitched critics and audiences alike with it’s modern gothic poetry. Todd exudes horror and fear yet charm and delicacy making him a unforgettable and unmatchable villain. Candyman is the stalker of thoughts, illusions in the shadows and the fine line between fact and fiction. Much like Robert Englund’s Krueger, I doubt there could ever be a Candyman quite like Todd. Will you dare say his name five times in the mirror?

No I didn’t think so.

Candyman is out on limited edition DVD & Blu-ray now.

Halloween – Review

by Stuart O’Connor

Imagine, if you will, that at the end of the original  Halloween, Michael Myers was captured and incarcerated for the rest of his unnatural life. And imagine further that Laurie Strode never fully recovered from the psychological trauma that resulted from Myers’ attempt to kill her, and she spent the next 40 years of her life preparing for his eventual return to finish the job. And then, one night, return he does.

That is the premise of this spanking-new Halloween from Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind horror hits such as Get Out, Insidious, The Purge, Split, Upgrade, Sinister and The Gift. It’s directed by David Gordon Green and written by Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride. And these guys sure do know their Halloween mythology – which is why they have pretty much discarded it all and gone back to square one by making this a direct sequel to the 1978 classic.

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It’s a clever conceit that works very well. Gone is the revisioning of 1981’s Halloween II that made Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) a long-lost sister of Michael’s. That little plot twist has always bothered me – it never made any sort of sense – so I for one am glad to see it gone. Adding that backstory to explain why The Shape was so hellbent on slaughtering Laurie was a big mistake – Halloween worked so well because The Shape was nothing more than an inexplicable and unstoppable force of evil. We never knew WHY Myers stalked and slashed, which made him all the more frightening. Giving him a reason (albeit a form of sibling rivalry) really softened the horror. Michael is a monster, and there really is no need to explain the behaviour of a monster.

Halloween has often been imitated – mostly by its own increasingly dire sequels – but never bettered. However, now we have a film that comes pretty close to living up to the smarts and the terror of the original. In a nice modern touch, this new Halloween opens with a pair of true-crime podcasters visiting Michael at the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium in the hope of getting an interview with the infamous serial killer. Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) – Dr Loomis has long been dead – tells them that Michael can speak, but he chooses not to. In an attempt to get him talking, they show Michael the mask he wore on that fateful night, and mention sole survivor Laurie. Bad move. The next day, as Michael is being transported from the sanitarium to a new maximum security prison, Michael escapes and heads back to Haddonfield, Illinois, to finish what he started 40 years earlier.

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Plot-wise, Halloween is not terribly original – there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before – but thanks to a sharp script and a genuine love for the source material, the filmmakers manage to craft an atmospheric and genuinely scary horror movie. It helps that John Carpenter is on board as an executive producer, as well as crafting the film’s score (with the help of son Cody) and reprising that classic theme music. Also on the perfect-casting front is the return of Nick Castle to play Myers, aka The Shape. You may recall that Castle played the psycho killer in Carpenters original film, so it’s a lovely piece of continuity to have him reprise the character 40 years later.

But the most perfect piece of continuity is to have Curtis back as final girl Laurie Strode. And the fact that this is a direct sequel to the first film, ignoring everything that has come since (including those two awful Rob Zombie reboots) gives her the perfect clean slate to play with. And play with it she does. For a start, Laurie has an almost identical hairstyle to the one she wore in 1978 (although here it’s greyer). Curtis plays Laurie as a woman with post-traumatic stress, who has spent the past 40 years preparing for Michael’s return; in many ways, she is reminiscent of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. This obsession has caused her estrangement from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but Laurie has managed to form a closer bond with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). And it’s no spoiler to say that it’s obvious from early on that these three woman will come together to take on Michael Myers in the climax.

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There are plenty of other nods to the original film – this sequel does offer up a lot of fan service, for which it has been unfairly criticised. Because, if you think about it, why would someone who is NOT a fan of the Halloween films go to see a new Halloween film? And with the filmmakers themselves clearly massive Halloween fans, there is plenty here to keep the most ardent and eagle-eyed fans on their toes – such as a scene with Allyson and a couple of her high school friends walking down a Haddonfield street that is remarkably similar to a scene in the first film. Or the original Haddonfield house popping up in a most unexpected way.
The most pleasant surprise of all is that this Halloween is genuinely scary. Yes, it does opt for a lot more gore with the kills than Carpenter’s original did – modern audiences have coem to expect as much – but it does manage to ramp up the tension throughout, with Green knowing just how much to show (or, as the case may be, not show). There’s plenty of humour too, as you’d expect with McBride on script duties, but that in no way detracts from the terror. What really helps drive the film is the well-written and well-rounded characters, from the three leads through to other inhabitants of Haddonfield. The filmmakers take the time to develop the characters as real people with real lives, which makes you care all the more as Michael bumps them off; poorly-drawn characters have been the downfall of many b-horror films, but on that front, Halloween doesn’t let us down.

It’s safe to say that this really is the Halloween we’ve been wanting for 40 years, and it’s been well worth the wait.

Halloween is out in cinemas now

Chained for Life – BFI London Film Festival 2018 Review

The film industry has a had a long history of using and abusing anyone different. Whether it’s is casting non-disabled actors in dramatic roles about being inhibited by their disability or simply making them the villains of the piece. From Todd Browning’s Freaks to even latest musical escapade The Greatest Showman, those who are different have been exploited on the big screen.

Aaron Schimberg’s feature Chained for Life looks at the impact of this particular cinematic prejudice.

In a similar way that Nat Taylor’s Birth of a Nation reclaimed it’s titled, Schimberg’s film is called Chained for Life; the titled based on 1952 exploitation film about conjoined twins. This black comedy is a cutting look at the cinema industry and how they use disabled actors. The plot revolves around Mabel, a young actress who is starring a blind woman getting treatment in a hospital populated by those with disfigurement. Playing opposite Rosenthal, an actor with facial tumours, Mabel finds herself exposed to the exploitative way in which disabled actors are portrayed on the big screen.

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Schimberg’s film is a brilliant satire on the film industry. The somewhat pretention such as a “fake” German actor. The fuss and boredom from filming long days. The “artistry” mixed with the “ego.” It’s all there in the opening sequences of the film. When the disabled actors arrive, the film finds itself feasting upon false pity (and very real misplaced ones too.) Without outward and over the top bullying, the film hones in on micro-aggressions and horrific understated bullying that is just as affecting. Through the eyes of Mabel, we not only see the normalcy of living with disability, but also learn the way people’s words and acts can be affecting.

The biggest problem with Chained for Life is that as the film goes on, it gradually starts to use it’s bite. A fantastical sequence on a character’s dream lacks steam for it to make an impact and the finale doesn’t pack the same impact as the following first hour.  There’s a lot of material here but it isn’t utilised completely over a the runtime and loses it’s way towards the end.

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That being said, when Chained for Life does work, it works fantastically. Helped along by some impressive acting by Under the Skin’s Adam Pearson’s and Teeth’s Jessica Weixler. The pair forge a great friendship on the screen that hones in the main message of the film. It’s with this chemistry that the film becomes an enjoyable exploration of how representation – the right representation – matters to everyone. If we have to understand that through the eyes of a blonde-haired, wide-eyed actress than so be it but Schimberg those wield his message with a sensitivity and snark that makes this an interesting film.

Chained for Life has it’s UK premiere as part of the BFI London Film Festival. 

The Happy Prince – Review

Whilst we still have large leaps to make in LGBT rights, there was a time in our own country where homosexuality was an crime. Many men were persecuted for their sexuality and sent away to prison as though it were immoral. Last year The Queen pardoned a lot of these “crimes” yet it doesn’t seem enough. Good men committed suicide or were persecuted for no reason at all, and we must do more to make it right.

One of those men was famed writer, Oscar Wilde.

In a movie about his later life, Rupert Everett takes charge as director, writer and lead, in Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince . The film revolves around acclaimed author Wilde, during a tempestuous time of his life. After being imprisioned for two years, for falling in love with another man, Wilde is exiled to the South of France where he is kept on a small budget by his estranged wife. Having been abandoned by most of his peers since his arrest, Wilde lives day by day begging for alcohol and affection. He is not completely alone, as his literary agent Robbie Ross and old friend Reggie Turner try to keep him from spiralling out of control. Battered by a turning public and longing after his love Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the author finds himself walking a dark and mysterious past.

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Everett’s work is a lush and complex portrait of an author condemned for merely loving someone. This lucid film works as a dream and skims through Wilde’s imagination and memories. Bringing in the bright sunlight, Everett romps around France and Italy, with a keenness to capture the beauty of it all. With high poignancy, the actor turned director accomplishes a brilliant study of fame fallen apart and a desperate artist clinging to the prettiness of the world around him. Moments ebb with pain, delusion, and honesty in a wonderfully impressive film.

The triple threat of actor, director and writer works well enough here to produce a good standard of biopic filmmaking. Everett is able to command great highs and even graver lows, as someone who is forced into this isolation, stripped of the lavish and decadent world that he had gotten used too. In the dying days of Wilde, Everett plays a morose poet clinging onto the stars he gleams at from the gutter below. It’s an accomplished performance and truly one of Everett’s best. That being said, I’d rather wish he hadn’t. The garish make-up that adds pounds to Everett makes his character look puppet-y, like a melted wax model of an haggard Wilde. Though he plays each role well (director, writer and actor) he should have at least let one go, in order for the rest to work. And what he should’ve let go is playing Wilde. With a fat-suit and grimace, it’s hard to see anything but plastic jowls and stuffed trousers. It feels as though Everett – so eager and keen to get this story told – would’ve worked best guiding another actor to brilliance. It keeps The Happy Prince a couple of steps behind.

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There’s enough in Oscar’s story to keep you invested. There’s also great turns by an unrecognisable Colin Morgan as Wilde’s fervent fop Bosie and an endearing performance by Edwin Thomas as the steadfast Robbie Ross. It never makes for truly remarkable filmmaking and is somewhat safe in it’s portrayal, Everett has done enough in his directorial debut.

The Happy Prince is out in cinemas now!