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London Korean Film Festival 2018: The Poet and the Boy – Review

by Frankie Harlow

I will start this by saying that I am queer. It is not my defining feature and I am not the person to befriend if you are looking for someone to be your GBF but it is a part of who I am and how I view the world. I love seeing LGBT+ stories told in film and TV, as long as they avoid a list of tropes that I am slowly compiling but that is an article for another day.  I am also currently rather obsessed with Asian cinema. So when I heard that there was a film showing at the London Korean Film Festival that had a central gay story line, it was fair to say that I was mildly excited to see it.

The Poet and The Boy by Kim Yang-hee did not disappoint. It is a stunning piece of cinema that handled its subject matter with sensitivity and a lack of judgement on the actions of the protagonists.

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The story follows Hyeon Taekji, played beautifully by Yang Ik-june, a struggling poet living on Jeju island. He clearly has a great love of the natural beauty surrounding him and the shots that overlap the island scenery with his poetry are stunning. However, as he is told at the writers group that he attends, he hasn’t suffered in love and is lacking true depth to his writing. His marriage to his wife lacks passion on his part and she is slowly consumed by her desire to have a child. Much of the comedy in the beginning of the film comes from their relationship and the hurdles they encounter in the attempt to reproduce. One day to cheer him up, the wife buys him donuts from the new american style donut shop that has opened opposite them. He develops an addiction to them and spends all his time in the shop where he becomes enamoured of Seyeun, the younger man who works there. What follows is a beautiful examination of love and what we will do and sacrifice for those that we love.

The blossoming relationship between the two men is reflected in Taekji’s maturing poetry and the disintegration of his marriage. Jeon Hye-jin and Jung Ga-ram turn in amazing supporting roles as the wife and the boy, with the varying relationships between the three characters being played with great depth and honesty. It may not give you the hollywood ending that we sometimes crave in cinema as a release from the everyday but it retains an emotional honesty throughout that is refreshing in an age where you so often end up questioning why people do the things that they do.

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The performances of all three central characters are rounded and treated with affection and a lack of judgement from the director that allows you to build your own responses to them without being spoon fed them. The examination of love and how it changes you and makes you sacrifice yourself to support the other persons happiness is done with the care and sensitivity that it deserves. The use of poetry and the imagery of Jeju adds to the experience without being a distraction or crutch to the narrative.

As I said before, I went in wanting to love this movie. I left loving it and feeling more happy with the world than I had in awhile. I could not recommend this film enough and it has joined that list of films that I have that I demand other people watch, if only so that they can share my emotions.

Find out more about London Korean Film Festival 

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

Tully – Review

by Charlotte Harrison

J.M Barrie wrote that ‘All children, except one, grow up.’

The one exception he was describing was obviously Peter Pan, a child who chose to remain mischievous and free-spirited whilst the rest of us grow up. I’ve thought about that line a lot since watching Tully – did we chose to grow up? Were we forced to grow up? And what exactly does ‘grow up’ actually mean?

For one thing ‘grow up’ doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with ‘know what you’re doing’ or ‘have your shit together’. We’re gifted this label of ‘grown up’ and that’s it, isn’t it? We spend our childhoods waiting until we reach adulthood when it’s all sorted.

Do you remember the first time it hit you that, actually, not a single person knows what they are doing? Nobody has it together; we’re just very good at pretending. The actual moment you become a ‘grown up’ is when you realise that parents are actually ‘grown up’ children.

Now that’s a real mindbender of a revelation.

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That leads us rather nicely to Tully itself; a film which feels the most honest portrayal of motherhood that cinema has brought us in a long time. It’s characters feel very true-to-life, almost painfully so…

Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a mother of two, soon to be mother of three. Life is stressful enough and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) isn’t the most hands-on of dads. Worried that Marlo will fall into another bout of postpartum depression, her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) gifts her with the appointment of a night nanny. A night nanny takes over the household at night, looking after the new-born and helping out with the running of the house. It’s an extravagance that Marlo is hesitant to accept but greatly appreciates once she does so. Marlo quickly forms a unique and deep-bond with Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a young woman who is truly thoughtful and just a little bit odd…

The end result is a film that works very well, almost surprisingly so; it lingers after watching due to the heartfelt sweetness at its core. That’s because it feels so very true to life – they’re no delusions here about what motherhood can be like. It’s no-holes barred, often to an uncomfortable extent. Marlo isn’t a ‘grown-up’, she doesn’t really feel like one and feels completely inadequate at handling the life she has been given. She simply doesn’t feel good enough; a honest truth that feels truly refreshing to watch. How many other films reflect the imposter syndrome so many of us experience? How many other films actually make our imposter syndrome worse by showcasing an impossible reality that leads to our setting impossible expectations of ourselves?

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Theron is simply fantastic in the lead role, affecting and touching as a mother on the brink. She’s immensely believable and as deeply flawed as the rest of us throughout, at times truly heart-breaking to watch when we’re helplessly watching her unravel. She has our empathy from the outset; albeit to the extent that those uncertain about having children may feel slightly more resolute about that decision…

Davis as Tully is the film’s MVP in a role that could have been just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the hands of another actress. Tully is a charming and vivacious free spirit; more individual oddball than quirky. Her arrival shifts the film tonally from a good-but-not-quite-great drama into something sparky, magical and slightly transcendent. Her rapport with Theron is joyous to watch, less buddy-movie and more a profoundly moving bond of two women at very different points within their lives. Diablo Cody’s dialogue is crisp, moving and multi-layered. Even the most mundane seeming bits of throwaway lines have a lingering profundity. The exchanges between Marlo and Tully have a breezy believably yet prompt revelatory reflection about the identity, image and self-definition.

Being a ‘grown up’ may not be as simple, easy or stable as we thought it might be. But we don’t have to do it alone.

Tully is out on DVD & Blu-Ray 27th August 

Heathers – Lisanne Falk & Michael Lehmann Interview

To celebrate the re-release of Heathers, Christian Robshaw spoke with the director and one of the Heathers themselves. Read what they have to say about 30 years of this cult classic.

With the new Arrow Video 30th Anniversary rerelease of Heathers, what are your thoughts on the movie at 30?
Lisanne Falk: I’ve watched the movie at various points throughout the years, and at times I’ve felt that the fashion might have been dated or some things might not have worked as well today, but I rewatched it a couple of weeks ago ahead of all these interviews and I think I appreciated it more than I ever have – the beauty of the dialogue, the themes, the way the whole thing was put together.
Michael Lehmann: That’s good.
LF: Yeah.
ML: I’m really happy that people are still paying attention to the movie, I never would have expected that. It’s really fun just seeing that people still care to look at it. I’d always thought that it might hold up as one of those odd movies that you look at and say, wasn’t it fun that people dressed that way or talked that way, the way I’d look at Rebel Without a Cause or something like that. But the themes of the movie are still alive, and the arena of its discourse – high school – is still alive, and dark humour, if it holds up, is always fun to see. So I guess it holds up enough. I like to think that it does.

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Heathers has actually achieved something of a cult status. Is that something you ever imagined at the time?
LF: Well, you don’t set out to make a cult movie. A cult movie makes itself, right?

So why did it become a cult movie?
ML: Dan[iel Waters]’s script is pretty amazing, his use of language and, I think, his entire concept is worthy in itself of cult status. Nobody else has really written that way.
LF: I didn’t realise until later on that he really just invented that dialogue. That’s not 80s dialogue, which was like “Awesome!”, “That’s rad!”, that valley talk thing which would have dated the movie.
ML: Yeah, it is true that the language is fabricated, people never spoke that way. Part of what we worked on making the movie was to make it flow naturally.
LF: You mean I didn’t just know how to say it naturally?
ML: Oh, you did.
LF: Because I remember being so amazing that you didn’t even have to direct me!
ML: You were always perfect, yes.

It’s also quite a shocking film. It was shocking for its day, but how shocking do you think it is now?
ML: Well, this whole question of how the movie relates to teen violence is complicated. When Columbine happened, I immediately looked to see if there was any reason to believe that these people had ever watched Heathers, if it was a reference point for them at all. As far as I can tell, it was not on their radar. They were looking at Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries, is what they said at the time.
LF: Thank goodness.
ML: Right. I would never want to think that anybody would watch Heathers and be inspired to commit violence. And of course, I would say that the movie doesn’t endorse violence in high school at all. But there is a central character in there who looks to use violent means to get vengeance against the people that he thinks are bad, and that’s part of what happens with these things. So it is complicated.
LF: It’s a revenge fantasy, that’s what I think of it as anyway. You know, when you’re being bullied, in high school or at any point in your life, you have these fantasies that you might never vocalise. This is the vocalisation of the ultimate revenge fantasy, come to life. But it’s not reality.
ML: And our main character goes through a moral journey, where she identifies with this bad boy who takes her down a certain path until she says “Wait a minute, this isn’t right”. That’s not a very complicated moral journey, she should have known that that wasn’t the right thing to do from the start…
LF: Well, love is blind!
ML: …but it is a moral journey. So, it’s an interesting question, when people say, “Could you make the movie today?”, well, not exactly as it is, but, you know – Lisanne, you had a great answer for that.
LF: Well I said we wouldn’t remake it because it’s already been made! You’d have to come up with something new and more provocative.
People talk about Heathers as a film that couldn’t be made today, but with constant talk of a remake, plus the musical and the television series, Heathers actually has more cultural presence than ever.
ML: I think that’s partly because the behaviour that the movie depicts, and the issues that it addresses, haven’t gone away. The high school experience for kids has changed in many ways, but it’s also probably pretty much the same.
LF: Well I have a teenage daughter, and I’ve asked her and her friends how they view it. What they relate to the most is how it depicts the high school experience, the different cliques, the bullying and friendships and first loves, that’s what they seem to hang onto and find most engaging, not the suicides.

A few different endings to Heathers were talked about, what was that process like?
ML: Dan wrote an ending in the draft that we took to New World, in which they do blow up the high school, and it ended with prom in Heaven, where everybody is getting along because they were all in Heaven together. But the head of New World Pictures said, “I can’t support a movie in which people who are engaging in murder and faked suicides and then essentially kill themselves are in Heaven” – he felt that it would be irresponsible, were to inspire copycats or anything like that. He felt it was important that the movie reached a certain morally acceptable resolution. Dan and I were not so responsible.
LF: I would have thought, that if I’d seen that ending I would have just seen that as a beautiful visual, I wouldn’t have seen it as these people being dead or whatever else. I think it would have been interesting to me, but obviously the more literal, grown-up people have to take these things into account.
ML: Dan and I made that argument and many others to try to convince him, believe me.
LF: Well, if you don’t get the movie made then nobody will see it, so you do have to make those concessions.
ML: I like the ending that we have. I was relieved when we cut the movie together that it basically worked emotionally and was an acceptable ending. I never thought it was a copout but I don’t think it’s as good as what Dan originally wrote, and I think he feels the same way.

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When we were talking about the iconic fashions of the movie, I was wondering where that look came from.
ML: Rudy Dillon, who was the costume designer for the movie, created those costumes. Did you work really closely with Rudy, Lisanne?
LF: Yeah, we all went in and tried things on, and she had a bunch of clothes and ideas and sketches, from what I remember. It was an exaggerated version of what was the fashion at the time – shoulderpads were big, but ours were doubly big. And we had all those colours at various points of the film – shades of red, blue, green, yellow. That was something I thought was fun but that was all in the script.
ML: Yeah, that was all indicated in the script and was then elaborated on. Jon Hutman, who was the production designer, and Rudy Dillon who did the costumes, worked together really well in figuring out how to implement this colour-coding of the characters and make it work. But it is true that the kind of goofy 80s wardrobe – we knew we were making fun of it at the time. It’s funny now, because people look back and say, “Did people really dress like that?” Well, they did kind of – you know, those were off-the-shelf clothes, but they had been altered.

They are strangely timeless in a way that’s not true of Pretty in Pink or Ferris Bueller.
ML: It’s because we were going for a stylised look, we weren’t taking things that people wore and just having them wear it…
LF: You guys are brilliant. How’d you get so smart? How do you know all these things?

Heathers is showing at select cinemas now! 

The Darkest Minds – Review

by Alicia Lopez Rios 

Is the Young Adult genre losing steam? This definitely seems to be the way with the release of dystopian science fiction romp The Darkest Minds, which is out this Friday.

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The film, based on a book series by Alexandra Bracken and directed by Jennier Yuh Nelson, revolves around an inexplicable virus called IAAN that kills 98% of the children on Earth. Those who survive are gifted with amazing superpowers ranging from super-intelligence to mind control. They are ranked by how harmful they are, ascending from Green, Blue, Gold, Red, to the worst and most rare Orange and rounded up in labour camps. Ruby Daly is an Orange masquerading as a Green in a compound until she is forced to escape and go on the run with a bunch of misfits. However, there are many enemies on the way.

The premise with The Darkest Minds is ok, if albeit convoluted. However, despite a good start, the development of it was weak and lifeless. It left some questions that were just too big to ignore. Like why are some sub-sects of kids trained to kill others? How come there aren’t enough oranges and why don’t they manipulate everyone not to be killed? Why did the parents just let the government get away with taking their children away from them? And how much did Bradley Whitford get paid for his two-scene appearance?

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Amandla Stenberg was great in spite of the material she is given but she is never really given a chance to shine. The Darkest Minds had every chance to produce an endearing film with a strong independent female lead. However, Ruby spends a lot of her time awash with insecurity and self-doubt, seeking solutions and validation from the male characters around her. There’s a sequence involving a red dress that sluices her down to a love interest and is archetypical of these young adult dystopian films; a “rough” lead character is made pretty and the boys fawn over here.

The Darkest Minds feels like it is setting itself up for a sequel, finishing open and eager to continue the story. In much the same way a brand-new pilot, the film is hoping that so many people will like it enough for a series of movies set to entertain a particular set of audience members. Sadly, there just isn’t enough to warren two to three more movies. Which is a shame because Amandla Stenburg deserves better.

The Darkest Minds is out in cinemas 10th August! 

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