Satanic (2016)


**This review has spoilers. But that shouldn’t really matter because if you value your time, I highly recommend you don’t even bother watching the film anyway.

Sometimes I ignore my better judgement and watch a movie that I suspect will be awful, in the vague hope that perhaps I’m wrong. But in the case of Satanic, a “horror” film – and I use that term loosely – that I found on Netflix, the scariest part about the movie was the fact that there are enough people out there with terrible judgement to grant the film five stars.

Satanic is so bad, in so many ways; I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe with the eyeball gouging-ly awful characters, who seem to have no redeeming qualities at all between the four of them, and who seem to do nothing but be douchebags, and scream a lot. Or perhaps I could start with the sub par plot, which is full of holes and lack of research, and has about as much imagination as a rock. Or hell, why not start with the ending, which is so nonsensical and limp that I still can’t believe I actually made it through to the finale without turning it off.

Basically, the movie tells the story of four college friends who go to L.A en route to Coachella, to check out some well known true crime locations. They think they’re all hardcore and, like most ignorant young people, think that Satanism is all about ritual sacrifice and wearing black. Long, dull story short; they pick a fight with a dude who runs a cult supply shop, follow him to his place, essentially walk in on what looks like a bunch of guys in robes about to sacrifice a girl. That same girl then turns out to be a whole lot crazier and fucked up than she looks, and then they all die by way of some invisible, malicious force, supposedly meant to be the devil or something I guess.

The whole film just falls flat. There are no scares, no substance and no surprise. The acting is bad, the writing is worse, and the effects are…lame. And don’t even get me started on the cliches and complete lack of subtlety. Honestly, there was nothing about this movie that I liked. If you’re looking for a good way to spend your time, I’m sure pulling out your fingernails one by one would be less painful than suffering though this film.

God Help the Girl (2014)

Netflix scored another win the other night. Scrolling through aimlessly, as I do, and in the independent films section I found God Help the Girl. It is a British musical drama written and directed by none other than Stuart Murdoch, the man behind indie band, Belle and Sebastian. Starring the ever lovely Emily Browning, Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, and Hannah Murray (Skins and Game of Thrones), it is a sweet film, both lighthearted and serious, and full of the chill indie tunes one can expect from Murdoch.

Emily Browning plays Eve, a young woman struggling with an eating disorder, who dreams of being a musician. Whilst in hospital, she starts writing music as a way to help her deal with her emotional and mental problems, eventually finishing a tape which she sends into a radio station. Following a breakout from the hospital one night to go see a band, she meets James (Alexander); a lifeguard and musician. The two develop a friendship and, along with James’ guitar student, Cassie (Murray), they start a band.

There is nothing particularly complex about the plot; just three young adults bonding over music and the simple thrills of being young. It’s about friendship, and ambition, and the role music plays in people’s lives. The cast is small, but the music itself acts almost like another character; nudging the plot forward and conveying everything Murdoch wants to say, in verse. Which makes sense, given what he does for a living!

It was well acted, each of the characters lovable in their own way, and each with their own set of problems they have to deal with. The movie made me long for the ability to play one (or all) of my various instruments. Vaguely reminiscent of films like Song One, Begin Again, and Rudderless (three music based films you need to go out and watch right now), it was just a nice, simple film with a great soundtrack. Plus, if you’re into that kind of thing (which I am) the costumes are to die for. If you like Belle and Sebastian, and bands of that ilk, – or even if you just like quirky independent films – I recommend giving God Help the Girl a look.

Logan (2017)

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While I was on holidays, I went to see Logan. I had the entire cinema to myself (woot!) and settled in for Hugh Jackman’s final performance as everyone’s favourite anti-hero, Wolverine. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Set some years into the (near) future, mutants are near extinct. Logan is driving a limo to earn money, and caring for an ageing Charles. But things take a turn with the unexpected arrival of Laura (played by Dafne Keen), a young girl with Wolverine’s same adamantium claws and healing abilities. Initially Logan wants nothing to do with her, but soon finds himself thrust into the unwanted role of her protector, whilst being hunted by mercenaries who want Laura for their own purposes. However, this isn’t just another hero film. Unlike the previous films set in the X-Men universe, Logan is less about hero vs villain (though there is that, of course), and more a kind of raw, serious insight into one of the series’ most popular characters. I think this is evident straight away in the title – and with the Wolverine moniker dropped almost entirely throughout the film. But right from the opening scene, in which an aged Logan takes on a gang of thugs in a violent and bloody showdown, it is clear to the viewer that this is going to be a completely different X-Men experience.

Honestly, with the absence of almost any of the other mutants we’ve become so familiar with, it’s difficult to really see Logan as part of the same franchise. And it is somewhat confusing as to when, and in which timeline this film falls. Any of you familiar with the comics, and previous films will know that this whole timeline issue is convoluted and complicated. But Hugh Jackman attempted to shed some light on this new, dystopian reality prior to the film’s release, being quoted as saying “Not only is [Logan] different in terms of timeline and tone, it’s a slightly different universe. It’s actually a different paradigm and that will become clear … It’s a stand alone movie in many ways. It’s not really beholden to timelines and storylines in the other movies.” In this regard, I think it’s almost easier to consider this film as a singular, one off movie, rather than a follow up to any of the previous films.

Aside from being a much more sombre affair than anything preceding it, this film tackles some serious themes too; perhaps most notably, the inevitability of time, and death. And not just superhero death, where someone comes to save the day and everything is alright. We’re talking the very real passing of time, and the effects it has. Both Charles and Logan have aged, and previous events hinted at throughout the film have left them both weary and, in many ways, broken. These are the characters we know, but they are different, changed in irreparable ways. There are underlying tones of regret throughout the film, as well as a kind of quiet sorrow, which both Jackman and Stewart convey effortlessly. And it was affecting, in ways I wasn’t expecting. This film is like watching a loved one slowly die, and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop or slow it.

But don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a tear jerker or sorrow fest – far from it. With its initial R rating, Logan uses, to great effect, some serious comic book violence. It is brutal, and in some cases filmed in slow motion (which is always awesome, let’s face it), and exactly the kind of thing fans have been waiting to see from Wolverine. Plus, there is curse words aplenty, and though a seemingly small thing, it gives a kind of realness to the film. Makes the whole thing a bit more gritty. Even Laura’s character adds to this; she is a child, yes, but there is a seriousness to her, a kind of fierceness that almost makes you forget that she isn’t another adult.

I think there could be no more fitting end to Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine than this movie. It was everything he had ever wanted to do with the character, and everything we had been hoping to see. Poignant, violent, visceral, and utterly brilliant. What are you still reading for? Go and see it for yourself.

Split (2016)

Kevin has 23 distinct personalities. The 24th is about to be unleashed…

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I’ve never really been the biggest fan of M. Night Shyamalan. I’ve seen enough of his films to know that I can expect very little substance to come from his direction. But when I saw the trailer for Split, I have to admit that I was intrigued. So the other night, I decided to give one of my least favourite directors one more shot.

As the tagline reads, Kevin is a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, who has 23 different, distinct personalities. The basic premise of this film is that one of his personalities, Dennis, kidnaps three young girls. They wake in a room, drugged and groggy, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and in the following scenes, the audience can be forgiven for assuming the kidnapped teens are there for the sexual gratification of their captor. But Dennis’ motive is altogether different, and here the film hints for the first time at the pending arrival of a 24th personality, chillingly referred to as “The Beast”.

This film had the potential to be a real disaster. And according to quite a few reviews I’ve read since watching the film, it was. Shyamalan has caused something of an internet uproar with his portrayal of an already disputable, though legitimate and recognised mental illness. Along with other films such as Secret Window, and even Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Split‘s portrayal of Kevin’s other personalities (or at least the ones we see) is, for the most part, largely negative. This had led certain reviewers to boycott the film, citing that it only adds to the stigma surrounding mental illness, and gives D.I.D a bad name.

Despite the backlash, which falls mostly on Shyamalan himself, one has to give credit to the actors. Anya Taylor-Joy, who made her acting debut in the critically acclaimed 2016 film, The Witch, plays Casey; a quiet, intelligent young woman who seems to have a better understanding of her situation than her two classmates. James McAvoy plays Kevin, though most of the screen time is taken up not by Kevin himself but rather by three particular personalities; the sinister Dennis, commanding Patricia, and nine year old Hedwig. Each personality has their own…well, personality, and each plays a vital role in the preparation for the Beast’s arrival.

Aside from the three main personalities we encounter over the course of the film, we meet Barry; a gregarious fashion enthusiast, and very briefly touch on two or three others but aside from that, the other personalities mentioned in the tagline are barely even spoken about. I confess, I was a little disappointed in that regard, expecting to have more focus on them as well. But in hindsight, I think it was perhaps the best course of action, as any further character involvement and development would have clogged up the plot too much, and made everything far more complicated than it needed to be.

As with other films involving a character with D.I.D, Split indicates that the personalities manifested as the result of Kevin’s own childhood trauma. But this movie plays heavily on the underlying notion that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, and certainly the 24th personality is meant to indicate that. Casey’s character furthers this notion, as we learn more about her as the film progresses.

I think as a whole, and particularly in comparison to some of Shyamalan’s other cinematic failures, this film didn’t do too badly. As I have come to expect, it had his trademark ode to the bizarre but in this case, I think it seemed to work, at least inasmuch as it furthered the plot enough to reach a conclusion. The main protagonist is clever, cunning where she needs to be, and tougher than she looks, and I think that was definitely a selling point for me with this film. The damsel in distress trope is overused, so I was pleased to see it tossed out the window for this movie.

I think this is a film where it’s best to avoid the reviews until you’ve seen it. There seems to be an equal number of haters as there are fans. But as M. Night Shyamalan films go, it was definitely not shit.

Green Room (2016)

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I haven’t watched a lot of movies lately, at least not any that I haven’t already seen. So last night, I went straight to the horror section on Netflix and came across Green Room.  My best friend brought it to my attention a few months ago, and after reading a review for it yesterday, when it came up on Netflix, I decided it was a good time to check it out.

Green Room tells of punk band, The Ain’t Rights, performing their songs and struggling to get by. Following a disastrous gig that they don’t get paid for, they take the advice of local radio host, and book a show at an out of the way bar, run by neo-Nazis. What starts as just another gig for the band quickly turns to disaster after Pat (played by Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to retrieve a phone, and unwittingly walks in on a murder scene.

From there, it turns into a fight for survival; band members pitted against violent neo-Nazis, led by the quietly insidious Darcy (played by Patrick Stewart). One of the things I really loved about this film is how real it is.There are no malevolent spirits or hideous beasts; there is just man, and a self serving agenda. For the band, their motivation is to break free of their green room confines and make it safely out of their nightmare. For Darcy and his men, it is simply about silencing the witnesses. They handle their planned violence like a business deal, with the kind of cold resolve that is part of what makes Darcy such a powerful antagonist.

Jeremy Saulnier, who both wrote and directed this film, has a clear grasp of what it takes to have an effect on his audience. In just 95 minutes, he presents a simple and effective plot that propels itself forward smoothly, aided by the raw performances by the cast, and the darkness that the film is steeped in. Green Room is edgy, confronting and totally believable, and definitely worth the watch.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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It’s rare that I see a movie that I know absolutely nothing about, but tonight I did. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sci-fi and a psychological thriller all rolled into one, and it keeps the audience on their toes from start to finish. Hailed as being a ‘spiritual successor’ to the 2008 film, Cloverfield, this film had me enthralled from the get go.

We begin with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wakes after a car accident to find herself chained up in a cement room. Enter Howard, (John Goodman), who says there has been an ‘attack’, and that he saved her life by bringing her into his bunker. She naturally assumes her captor is either lying or crazy but after a couple of failed, albeit creative, escape attempts, she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), Howard’s gregarious neighbour, and fellow survivor of the supposed attack, who confirms the story. With nothing else to do but wait out the assumed apocalypse in the cleverly decked out bunker, the three settle into a relatively comfortable living arrangement, but not all is as it seems.

Having no prior knowledge of this film or its franchise, I didn’t know what to expect. Much like the protagonist, just when I thought I had it figured out, something would happen to throw me off. It was superbly acted, and the small cast did great things with their respective characters. Particular kudos goes to John Goodman for his thoroughly chilling portrayal of a doomsday prepper that perhaps enjoys the bunker life just a little too much.

While there are many out there who found the ending to be pointless or not in keeping with the rest of the film, I have to disagree. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, except to say that it is an ingenious way to meld a typical thriller into a sci-fi, and create a seamless link to this film’s predecessor.

If you’re looking for a film that is in equal parts intriguing and entertaining, with an unnerving antagonist, a creatively kickass female lead and some awesome alien action, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the movie for you.

Paper Towns Review

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I have been slack this year. I have only read ten books, and aside from Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, I haven’t read s single one that I actually liked. Just a couple of days ago, I finished reading Paper Towns, by John Green, and I have to say I was rather unimpressed with it. Having read Looking for Alaska not that long ago, I was dismayed to find a slightly more boring version of the same story. Boy loves purposely enigmatic girl, love is unrequited, something happens to the girl that requires the boy to solve some mystery about her, and they don’t end up together. That’s literally it.

I went to see the film adaptation of Paper Towns last night, as part of a charity event raising awareness for mitochondrial disease. After reading the book, (which I hadn’t finished at the time I purchased the ticket) I was less than enthused about the prospect of sitting through the film, but there was pizza and I’m not one to turn down pizza. So I went, and decided to give the film the benefit of the doubt. As it turned out, I liked the film a little more than the book, but it’s still not one I’ll be in any hurry to watch again.

The story revolves around Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen (played by Nat Wolff, an actor you might recognise from yet another John Green adaptation, The Fault in our Stars), a young man on the cusp of adulthood, who has a nearly life long obsession with the stereotypical girl next door, Margo Roth Spiegelman (played by Cara Delevingne). There were a lot of parallels between this, and John Green’s other works. Margo, like the title character in Looking for Alaska, is essentially nothing more than a spoiled child who revels in her own mystery. Q, like Miles, is the under appreciated, decidedly convenient, sort-of-but-not-really friend smitten with the girl. Both stories are told from the male perspective, and neither one is particularly entertaining.

Margo is difficult to like. She finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend, and yeah, that would suck. But she goes on a huge revenge mission and then leaves Q to deal with the aftermath. Her actions are petty, and only result in making her look more like the child she is so desperate to prove that she’s not. She forces Q into helping her, because she thinks it’s her job to make him more bold, more like the kind of person she would like. I feel like it’s a pretty negative message to be sending people this story is aimed at; do things you’re not necessarily comfortable with, to please people that are only going to use you up and leave. Nice one, John.

The film adaptation of Paper Towns was differed from the book, in that it actually had more of a focus on the friendship between Q and his best friends, Ben and Radar. Though Q’s obsession with the ultimately unlikeable Margo is obviously a major focal point of the film, and I still found myself wanting to slap him upside the head, Ben and Radar (played by Austin Abrams and Justice Smith respectively) are fun enough that they almost single handedly (double handedly?) carry the entire film. Of particular note is the scene in which a drunken Ben, to alleviate his own fear of being in a creepy building, sings the Pokemon song aloud, until the three friends are belting it out together.

Margo’s portrayal in the film is admittedly more likeable than in the book. In the book, when they finally catch up to her at the end, she is rude, nasty and unappreciative. In the film, she at least deigns to apologise to Q for sending him on what was essentially a wild goose chase. But still, I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters in the book/film, and couldn’t understand Q’s infatuation with Margo.

Out of five, the film gets a 2.5 and the book, only a 2. That extra .5 for the film comes entirely from the fact that the plot was fast tracked and the message was more about friendship. If you’re a John Green fan, by all means go to see it, but otherwise I’m not sure I’d bother.