Wednesday, 30 October 2019

THE BEACH BUM review

Now in cinemas is Harmony Korine's follow up to Spring Breakers, the Matthew McConaughey starring stoner comedy, The Beach Bum.



McConaughey stars as Moon Dog, a one time respected writer who know lives his days in Florida with wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) and hanging out with his best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg). When events take a tragic turn, Moondog hits the road looking for inspiration for his next novel, meeting up with friends and like minded miscreants along the way.

McConaughey is no stranger to playing people under the influence of drugs. Never mind the naked bongo playing of his personal life that became the talk of the tabloids, he played one of the all time classic stoner characters as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. That character was a cool guy who found common ground with those a few years younger than him through recreational drug use, exuding that natural McConaughey charm with his now ubiquitous catchphrase "alright, alright, alright". Here McConaughey plays Moondog, a character that can only be seen as a de-evolution of Wooderson, waxing lyrical and pontificating like James Franco's Alien in Spring Breakers. That's fine, and Wooderson is a hard act to top, but whereas that character seemed wholly believable, Moondog can only exist in this bizarre world that Korine has created, full of obnoxious, entitled people with no regard for how their choices are effecting those around them. As an uncredited Jonah Hill states, "d'ya know what I like most about being rich? You can be horrible to people and they just have to take it".

Korine has clear designs for The Beach Bum to be some sort of stoner odyssey as Moondog wanders around with his typewriter hoping to find stories to include in his next book like some sort of whacked out Kerouac, and so McConaughey has many short, sweet and seemingly improvised interactions with a variety of larger than life characters played by a roster of famous faces with mixed comedic results. Martin Lawrence's Captain Wack struggles to land the (admittedly wayward) tone of the film, resulting in a ship's captain who doesn't know the difference between a shark and a dolphin, whereas Zack Efron's stripey bearded, Christian rock loving arsonist Flicker leaves an impression as unforgettable as his fashion choices. The most memorable of the supporting cast is Lingerie, a ladies loving rapper and stoner played by Snoop Dogg. Yes, I know he's hardly stretching himself with this role, but he's a welcome grounded presence among some of the more ridiculous posturing in the film.

Shot fast and loose by Benoit Debie, Korine's (and Gasper Noe's) regular cinematographer; it's a vibrant, colourful, almost psychedelic film that never looks less than beautiful. It's perhaps a credit to McConaughey that he feels comfortable enough in his career to start making bold choices again, and although Moondog shows some sort of direction in life and depth towards the finale with his credo that "this life gig's a rodeo, and I'm going to suck the nectar out of it and fuck it raw dog until the wheels come off", most of his actions in the course of the film make him appear to be a largely unlikeable clown with a complete disregard for anyone else. It never appears that Korine wants us to dislike his fantastical characters, that I would worry aren't too much of an exaggeration of people he's encountered in his own life. One thing's for certain; by the end of the film you'll be sick of hearing people say the name Moondog.

The main fault with The Beach Bum is that it aims to be an aspirational, if juvenile, experience, but instead comes over like a fever dream of relentless misogyny, debauchery and abuse of privilege that even the cast of Jackass would say had gone a bit overboard. The party soon turns into one you wouldn't want to see through to the end, even if Moondog has promised you some of his best drugs once the sun has set. Fans of Korine's previous film may find moments to savour amongst all the madness, but on the McConaughey scale, this one is just "alright".

Verdict
2/5

Friday, 25 October 2019

A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND review

Grieving over the unexplained murder of her husband, Sarah (Sarah Bolger) continues to raise her children in a rough neighbourhood whilst forever under the judgemental eye of the locals. When small time thief Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her house and uses it as a place to store the drugs he's selling, Sarah is forced to defend her family in an extreme way. One of the hits of this year's Frightfest, Abnor Pastoll's A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is out now.


Sarah is a typical mum, trying to stop her kids from eating the sweets as they go around the supermarket and taking apart her kids toys to get batteries for her vibrator, just for a moment of relief from the pressures she's under. Her son Ben hasn't spoken since witnessing the murder of his father, with rumours around the community that it was drug related something Sarah is eager to quash. Her problems only worsen when after stealing a stash of drugs from the boot of some local dealers' car, hoodlum Tito decides to prey upon this vulnerable woman and use her house as a base for his nightly drug dealing operation. Sarah hopes Tito might be able to offer some information about her husband's death, but when the situation becomes too dangerous, she takes drastic steps to ensure the safety of her children.

The closing night film at this year's Frightfest, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is categorically not a horror film in the traditional sense, but is a thriller that pushes the boundaries of what an audience might be able to handle. Once Tito descends upon Sarah's world it's edge of your seat stuff that will probably have you sitting on the seat in front by the end of the film, although there's also plenty to make you look away due to its stomach churning moments of graphic detail.

As the young mother at the centre of the film pushed to do unimaginable things to protect her family, Sarah Bolger is fantastic throughout. Able to express so much frustration about her life with just a look, it's one of the performances of the year, and when pushed to extreme lengths and revealing unexpectedly dark depths, Sarah remains an empathetic and engaging character. Edward Hogg's local gang boss on the hunt for Tito is a little bit larger than life, but the threat he offers is still shockingly believable.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a dark, disturbing and pleasantly grisly thriller with an astonishing lead performance from Sarah Bolger, a definite star in the making. Well worth seeking out, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find will chill you down to the bone and then keep on going.

Verdict
4/5





Wednesday, 23 October 2019

NOCTURNAL - London Film Festival review

 
One of two films at the festival that starred Cosmo Jarvis, Nocturnal follows Pete (Jarvis) as he forms a close bond with school girl Laurie (Lauren Coe). But what are Pete's motivations behind his obsession with her? A labourer and all-round handyman at the school where Laurie goes, Pete starts to watch her beyond the fence of the running track where she trains. As the new girl at the school with few friends, Laurie latches onto the attention being paid to her by this older man, befriending him and agreeing to meet up with him after school for drinking late into the night.

I'll preface this review with a warning that potential spoilers may follow about the plot of the film. I say 'potential spoilers' as I'm not sure whether the big reveal of the film is meant to be a mystery to the audience at all, because to me it was blindingly obvious from the moment Pete set eyes on Laurie that he's the father that wanted nothing to do with her when Laurie's mother (Sadie Frost) fell pregnant. It's something that isn't "revealed" until then end of the second act, but every preceding scene between Pete and Laurie is spring-loaded like a jack in a box with Pete desperate to tell her the truth but without the emotional maturity to do so.

I would say that despite this frustrating element of the film there's still plenty to recommend, chiefly the performances of the two leads. As a show of acting skill, both Jarvis and Coe should be commended for delivering compelling performances that are better than the material they're working with. With this and Calm with Horses, Cosmo Jarvis is carving out a niche as a loveable lunkhead with questionable decision making abilities. He's fantastic in the film, as is his co-star Lauren Coe, but it's a shame the film is plagued with logic issues that render some of the more dramatic scenes a bit laughable. The film builds and builds towards the reveal you know is coming, but boy, the way Pete reveals his big secret to Laurie is staggeringly thoughtless, even for a character who's unable to articulate his feelings.

Worth seeking out for the performances, Nocturnal has all the hallmarks of a gritty relationship drama and is attractively shot for the most part (don't film your characters in front of a huge window and not expect the camera crew to be visible), but has flaws in its believability and execution that are hard to ignore.

Verdict
2.5/5

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA - London Film Festival review

One of the weirdest films shown as part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Johannes Nyholm's Koko-Di Koko-Da sees married couple Elin & Tobias (Ylva Gallon & Leif Edlund Johannson) embark on a camping holiday in order to salvage their relationship after a tragic loss that has affected them both deeply. But when a trio of murderous oddballs appear from the woods, Elin & Tobias find themselves trapped in a bizarre recurring nightmare from which there appears to be no escape.


During one night of camping in a wooded area just off the main road, Elif wakes in the night in desperate need of a pee. When her husband Tobias rejects her idea of peeing under the tent flooring, she ventures into the trees and encounters a trio of psychopaths merrily sauntering by, singing "Koko-Di, Koko-Da" over and over again. Elif and her husband are both attacked and killed, but the film then returns Groundhog Day style to the moment Elif wakes Tobias needing a pee, with Tobias assuming what he's just experienced to be a dream.

It may share a basic plot function with Groundhog Day, but this is a very different animal, offering a very real and poignant study of grief and marital breakdown and very little in the way of joy. There's plenty to dissect about what it all means and what the three characters represent (a large mute man dressed like a lumberjack and carrying a dead dog, a lank haired woman with pigtails and lead by Peter Belli's jolly little man who resembles Lyle Lanley from The Simpsons), but at times there's an overwhelming feeling that Koko-Di Koko-Da is being weird for weird's sake.

I couldn't tell you how many times the film cycles through the same scenario with very little learned from the previous go around, which does test your resolve to see the film reach something akin to a logical climax. To be fair, there are occasional breaks away from the repetitive nature of the story with some kabuki theatre segments that are undeniably gorgeous to look at, and the final act does offers a jarring conclusion that will make you think back over everything you've just seen. There is an issue with the focus of the film which, although the story is spurred on by the shared trauma this couple has and always returns to the same jumping off point of the wife needing to take a leak, the film is solely told from the point of view of the husband. It's a cyclical film so it's more of a case of a minor grievance being amplified due to repetition, but on one of the goes around could they have not given the wife a bit more agency on what is going on?

At times a frustrating watch due to being SO F**KING WEIRD that may make you wonder if the experience is worthwhile, but like the infectious little nursery rhyme ear worm the characters sing as they appear out of the woods, the surreal scenario of Koko-Di Koko-Da will by cycling through your brain for a long while after the film ends.

Verdict
3/5

GOOD POSTURE review

The feature directorial debut of Dolly Wells sees an aimless young woman, Lilian (Grace Van Patten), move in with some of her father's friends after a break up. The home of famous author Julia Price (Emily Mortimer), Lillian forms a combative bond with her reclusive benefactor via notes left in her journal that leads her to think Julia might be the perfect subject for a documentary.


Formerly a regular face on British TV screens in the like of The Mighty Boosh, Peep Show and The IT Crowd, not forgetting big screen appearances in the Bridget Jones series, Dolly Wells is perhaps best known for the TV series she co-created and starred in with her long time best friend Emily Mortimer, Doll & Em. Here she takes on the role of writer/director to tell the story of Grace Van Patten's Lilian, enlisting Emily Mortimer as a famously reclusive novelist forced to house this young woman in search of a direction in life.

Grace Van Patten has slowly been building a career as an in demand indie darling, appearing in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories, Adam Leon's Tramps, and from earlier this year, David Robert Mitchell's Under The Silver Lake. Here she's front and centre, appearing in nearly every frame of the film as a spirited Lilian, unsure of what direction to take and waiting to start looking for a new apartment with her father, currently in France with his new girlfriend. There's a risk that some of Lilian's social flaws that lead to the break up of her relationship with Nate (Gary Richardson), like always forgetting to take a towel for after a shower and using other people's toothbrushes, could have been presented as cutesy manic pixie dream girl foibles to be cherished and adored, but the other characters around her, namely Mortimer's Julia and Timm Sharp's dog walker, George, can barely tolerate her presence at the start of the film. Julia even dubs her "the entitled oaf", a title Lilian is keen to prove Julia wrong about.

Good Posture is one of those delightful little indies that makes you realise how inherently cinematic New York is. Filmed in and around the Bed Stuy neighbourhood Dolly Wells now calls home, there's lingering, static shots of the beautiful houses with the steps leading up to the front doors and tracking shots of the local streets and their inhabitants, staring back at the ethereal spectator of the camera. If Lilian isn't in a situation you would want to experience, at least hers is a world you would like to visit.

Having said that, a lot of the action takes place within the four walls and garden of Julia Price's house, with the majority of Julia and Lilian's interactions delivered via snippy notes they leave for each other in Lilian's journal as they argue over dinner (helpfully narrated for us). Mortimer's Julia is an ever present character, but she doesn't actually appear in the film very much, leaving Julia Price to be something of an enigmatic figure mostly hidden behind a closed door, right up until the end of the film. This is partly offset by a device the film has of having real life well known authors such as Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis waxing lyrical about their love for (the fictional) Julia Price's work. It's a little jarring at first, but once it's apparent this is footage collected by Lilian and her cameraman Sol (a hilariously on form John Early) for their unauthorised documentary, it makes a lot more narrative sense.

Owing a debt to some of the big hitters of the independent movie scene like Noah Baumbach and Daryl Wein, it's at times a little rough around the edges in its presentation but thanks to its witty, engaging script and hugely likeable cast, Good Posture is able to stand up straight and hold its head up high as a delightfully charming little indie. Expect great things from Wells and Van Patten in the future.

Verdict
4/5

Sunday, 20 October 2019

LITTLE MONSTERS - London Film Festival review

Dave (Alexander England) is a failed musical and man-child struggling to deal with the end of his relationship and forced to move in with his sister and her young son, Felix. Helping out to earn his keep, when Dave takes Felix to school he becomes enamoured with his teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o), offering to help out on the school trip to a local farm. Unfortunately, this wildlife park is situated next to an American army research base, and a zombie virus is infecting the soldiers. Teaming up with Miss Caroline to protect the children, they face off against an ever-growing zombie horde and the tantrums of a diva-ish children's TV personality, Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad).


Little Monsters sets out its stall early, with Alexander England's Dave dressing his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) as Darth Vader in an attempt to woo back his ex by proposing to her. But when they walk in on her having sex with another man, Dave doesn't even consider how inappropriate the situation is for a young boy to be in, leaving Felix standing there for an extraordinary long time in front of two naked people. It's this kind of joyously uncomfortable situation the film thrives on, putting children in front of adults struggling to deal with grown up problems, using foul language to express themselves.

The action begins proper when Dave arrives at Pleasant Valley Farm for what should be an enjoyable, educational day out with his nephew and his classmates, but what Dave hopes will be a chance for him to woo the caring Miss Caroline by showing her how great he is with the kids. Except he isn't. Also competing for Miss Caroline's affection is Josh Gad's Teddy McGiggles; a man dressed in a green polka dot suit with a sock puppet for a sidekick, who it's clear is using his fame and popularity with the kids to bed as many mothers as possible. Gad is having an absolute ball playing against his family friendly persona, and when the shit hits the fan and his life is under threat, there's an undeniable joy in seeing the voice of Olaf from Frozen shout obscenities in front of little children. Juvenile? Maybe. Fucking funny? Yes.

England, who resembles a Chris Hemsworth stunt double in the vein of Ben Stiller's Tom Crooze, is  a funny, likeable lead, despite his character's arrested development rendering him somewhat of a doofus. Still, the indisputable shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong'o, as a positive bundle of energy forced to deal with the idiotic man-children around her whilst caring for her brood of school children, and that's before the zombie outbreak occurs. When the zombies do attack, she's forced to think on her feet, leading a conga line through a field of zombies to help up in what best represents a safe house for them, the nearby souvenir shop.

Although the basic survival set up may be nothing new with the film owing a clear debt to everything from Return of the Living Dead to Shaun of the Dead, it's the likeable cast and uniquely Australian comic sensibility that sets it apart. One of the comic highlights of the London Film Festival, Little Monsters is a gory, delightfully funny and surprisingly sweet zombie film with great turns from Gad, England and Nyong'o. Seek it out when it hits cinemas in a few weeks time, as this might be your new favourite zombie comedy.

Verdict
4/5

THE EL DUCE TAPES - London Film Festival review

From hours of VHS footage filmed by a friend, The El Duce Tapes follows the lead singer/drummer of hardcore band The Mentors, El Duce, known for his shocking on-stage persona where he wore a black executioners hood, and as the poster boy for the sub genre of music he dubbed "rape rock". Spliced together with vintage recordings of other examples of early 1990s debauchery (Roseanne singing the Stars and Stripes at a ball game, Milli Vanilli, and appearances by a hooded El Duce on the Jerry Springer show), this shock doc tries to uncover more about the man underneath the mask.

Early on the film shows us how El Duce, AKA Eldon Hoke,  was able to provoke the audience with raucous appearances on talk shows like Hot Seat with Wally George and Jerry Springer, where, on an episode about the effect his music might have on young minds, he tells the rape victim on stage with him that she "look(s) kinda familiar". After this shocking introduction to the persona of El Duce, directors Rodney Ascher (Room 237) and David Lawrence (also serving as editor) use the assembled footage recorded by Ryan Sexton (in the early 90s an up and coming actor and fan of El Duce's band) to soften our view of El Duce. Described by his The Mentors bandmate as a comedian, Eldon, via on camera interviews recorded by Sexton, is clearly a troubled soul battling a serious drink problem, but not quite the monstrous, misogynistic provocateur his on stage alter ego would suggest.

Although the film may successfully show Eldon to be more than an obnoxious caricature designed for shock value, it also shows the increasingly blurred line between the monster and its creator, as Eldon is confronted by Sexton to justify his band's misogynistic and anti-gay lyrics (the doc helpfully displays the lyrics on screen for songs such as 'Suck, Fuck, Cook and Clean") and conflict on whether or not to play at a concert promoting the white power movement, something Eldon states on camera he does not believe in.

There's a sense that although Eldon knows his songs are hurtful to some, his desire to entertain and provoke a reaction, for want of a better word, trumps that. El Duce may only be a familiar figure to fans of 90s hardcore music and his outrage-baiting act well worn territory by now (at one point he states he should become America's first dictator and build a wall at the Mexican border), but it's surprising to find out how far his influence and infamy reaches, not least towards the end of this film when we discover El Duce's involvement in one of the most talked about conspiracy theories in rock and an appearance in a certain documentary by Nick Broomfield.

Presented in an attractively lo-fi way with on screen fonts ripped straight from a VHS tape, it's almost like this doc is designed to be one of the videos El Duce appeared in during the 90s; mail ordered from an ad in the back of a music mag, to be passed around between friends and put on at parties to shock and disgust people. Directors Asher and Lawrence give shock rock the shock doc treatment and do ultimately paint El Duce as a tragic figure, but a compelling one to uncover.

Verdict
3/5



Friday, 18 October 2019

HARPOON review

When three friends take a boat trip to celebrate one of their birthdays, things take a drastic turn when rivalries and long held resentments soon rise to the surface and they have to find a way to work together in order to survive. One of the surprise hits of this year's Frightfest, Rob Grant's Harpoon has now premiered on the Arrow Video Channel.



The tone of the film is set out early on, thanks to the irreverent voice-over provided by Fleabag and Stranger Things actor Brett Gelman. Although this has obvious elements of horror throughout, the story is told in a comic fashion (as can be seen in the trailer above), with its set up and limited locale milked for all its worth. At the top of the film we meet Jonah (Turbo Boy's Munro Chambers), his best friend Richard ( Christopher Gray) and his girlfriend and object of Jonah's affection, Sasha (Emily Tyra). After Jonah and Sasha purchase Richard a harpoon for his birthday, all three of them head out to sea on Richie's pleasure boat "The Naughty Buoy" to test it out, only for secrets to rock the boat and have all three passengers fending off verbal and physical attacks from the other two.

Made with no major stars and on a minuscule budget, although it's a shame this slice of nautical nastiness won't get a proper theatrical run, it's something of a 'get' for Arrow to release on their platform as there's plenty in Harpoon that should see it sail into the minds of genre fans. Gender and class politics, unrequited love, the drinking of seagull blood and the nastiest looking arm injury this side of Green Room; it's all here. There's also plenty of double-crossing to keep you guessing and, despite the cast being likeable and watchable enough, there's enough flaws evident in their characters that should any of them not survive the ordeal, there's a feeling that they probably deserved it.

In its pared back, adrift in the Atlantic, close quarters setting Harpoon provides a thoroughly effective and claustrophobic little thriller, and something different to the danger coming from the water as you might expect. In fact, the only jaws you'll see here will be the audience's hitting the deck as we reach the gory, shocking finale. Prepare to feel a little queasy.

Verdict
4/5

HARPOON will be available on the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL (and also Amazon Prime and Apple TV) from 18th October

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

DEERSKIN - London Film Festival review

Part of the Cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Quentin Dupieux's latest film sees Jean Dujardin's Georges become obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket, posing as a filmmaker and turning to crime in order to complete his outfit.



Dupieux, also known as Mr Oizo to fans of 90s Levi's ads, returns to behind the camera with this pairing with The Artist's Jean Dujardin to tell the story of a man who, following his separation from his wife, becomes obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket. While staying in a small French village Georges meets Denise (Adele Haenel), a bartender and aspiring film editor. Together they collaborate on Georges video diary that shows him forcing strangers to give up their outerwear so that his deerskin jacket is the only jacket left in existence, with Georges turning to murder to make sure the job is done.

Dujardin is fantastic as the pompous, preening Georges, forever enthusiastic about adding another deerskin piece to his outfit and looking ever more laughable along the way. The jacket in itself is a horrible looking garment, even if it does have all of its tassels intact. But Georges's cocksure belief that he's standing out from the crowd as a new fashion icon is never undersold by Dujardin, delivering a great comic performance that's tapping into the rich vein of ridiculousness that exists in fashion for men of a certain age, always ripe for parody. Admittedly, dressing head to toe in deerskin isn't a fashion choice you often see, but is it really so different than wearing a James May-esque bold print shirt?

There was perhaps an expectation that Dujardin would make a leap to Hollywood films after his, some would say, surprising Best Actor Oscar win for The Artist, but as fans of his work in the OSS 117 series will attest, he's completely at home and in his element here in this smaller, bizarre film that plays up to his charming doofus-like strengths. Dujardin plays Georges with so much un-earned confidence in himself, portraying such a clueless, self-important lunatic who's so sure that everyone is jealous of his jacket, or as Georges would put it, his "killer style".

Fans of Dupieux's previous work, in particular his sentient killer tyre film Rubber, will know what sort of humour to expect from him. This is a dark, often ghoulish comedy that revels in its unpredictability and shock value, generating lots of laughs from the sheer boldness of its character choices. As Georges falls deeper and deeper under the spell of the jacket which may slowly be exerting some sort of psychic power over him (or it may all be a figment of his imagination), with murder seeming to be the only logical next step, the weapon Georges crafts from a ceiling fan is disturbingly efficient in its creation and delivery.

There's a lot in Dupieux's work that goes far beyond the surface thrills, and Deerskin is no different. Not only is the dynamic between Dujardin's deluded killer and the much younger Denise mocking that stereotype of a man who has hit a certain age and then found himself a younger woman, the choice of Dupieux to have Georges wait outside a cinema to kill off its patrons as they leave is a comic assault on his audience, saying that if you think you're going to be safe and free from his pervasive ideas when you leave the cinema, think again.

A delightful new addition to the "killer clothing" sub-genre, Deerskin is In Fabric for men in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Less off the rack as it is off the wall, it's an absolute gem of a film.

Verdict
4/5