Thursday, November 24, 2016

5 things to love about Green Room (2015)

What’s it about:
A small time punk band called the Ain’t Rights are touring the US playing crappy bars and it’s not going well. They are flat broke and, desperate for a payday, they agree to play a neo-Nazi club in the middle of the woods. Though the concert goes okay afterwards one of them goes back to the green room to get their phone and they witness the aftermath of a murder. The band lock themselves in the room while the neo Nazis (led by Patrick Stewart) try to lure them out so they can kill them.

5 things to love:
1. How good is the premise for this movie? Neo-Nazis scare the hell out of me. For the first two thirds the film is super tense and unpredictable. The idea of a left leaning punk band playing a right wing punk club is highly believable. There’s a great irony that the band are in-your-face on stage but frightened and weak later on.

2. Like Blue Ruin, the film doesn’t make either the heroes or the villains superhuman. They both screw up, they are both weak, they are both resourceful. A lot of people call Green Room a "horror movie" but I think that does it a disservice. The director’s goal isn’t to take you on a rollercoaster, it’s setting up a scenario and watch it play out as messily and realistically as possible.

3. Anton Yelchin gives a great performance as Pat, the bassist. Such a shame he died just after the film was released. It’s easy to hype up an actor’s performance when they die but I genuinely think this particular role plays to all his strengths as an actor.

4. Again, the cinematography is great. There’s a sickly, oppressive green filter throughout the film which really sets the tone.

5. Having pretty much only known Patrick Stewart from Star Trek and X-Men I had reservations about his ability to play a neo-Nazi leader but he’s actually pretty good and disappears into the role. I won’t say it’s a stunning performance but it works. He’s actually most intimidating when you just hear his voice talking to the band from outside the door.

1 thing it didn’t need:
For me, the film went downhill a little in the last third. There’s a part in the film about halfway through where Anton Yelchin starts giving a speech but gets cut off by one of his friends. I was really glad because “the rallying speech” is such a movie cliché – one of the characters even says “Is that a pep talk?”. I was really hoping he wouldn’t finish it but towards the end of the film he does. I was a little disappointed about that.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

5 things to love about Blue Ruin (2013)

What’s it about:
Macon Blair plays Dwight, a man so emotional crippled by deaths of his parents he has been living out of his car by the beach for years. When he learns that his parents’ killer Wade Cleland is being released from jail he decided to take the law into his own hands and kill him. However, Dwight is way, way out of his depth and cannot quite understand the circle of violence he’s started.

5 things to love:
1. The film has a refreshingly un-macho atmosphere considering it sort of belongs in the vigilante/thriller territory. Dwight isn’t Charles Bronson. He’s just an ordinary guy who reacts, screws up and gets hurt just as anyone would. It makes the whole movie a really tense experience because his character is so fragile and unskilled. He’s expertly played by Macon Blair.*

2. The other great performance is Devin Ratray (Buzz from Home Alone!) who plays Dwight gun-toting childhood friend. He’s perfectly cast and does a great job with just a handful of scenes. The quiet, low-key way he helps out Dwight is really touching – not because they seem like great friends, but because he just seems to want to do anything to feel alive.

3. Although the film is very downbeat it’s peppered with moments of dark comedy. For instance, Dwight confesses to his sister in a roadside diner that he’s just murdered someone and gets interrupted by a guy on the opposite table who asks him to pass the ketchup. It’s the kind of humour that accentuates the mundanity of murder.

4. The film’s best sequence is the sparse, wordless opening 20 minutes where we follow Dwight around his ‘normal’ routine – eating out of dumpsters, selling cans, breaking into houses to have a bath etc. The film similarly concludes on a wordless series of sequences where Dwight sits around a house waiting for his enemies to come to him. It gives the film a nice symmetry.

5. The film has great washed out, blue cinematography throughout which really sets the tone, highlighting the cold, uncaring world the characters inhabit.

1 thing it didn’t need:
Honestly, it was really hard to find fault with this one. I guess, the only point I can think of (and it is nit-picking) is that the film didn’t quite have enough plot for 90 minutes and either needed something more or 10 minutes less.
* Don’t think about how much he looks like Joe Lo Truglio from Brooklyn Nine Nine or it may ruin the film. Luckily I didn’t realise until after.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

5 things to love about Leif Jonker’s Darkness (1993)

What’s it about:
A young man called Toby joins forces with a group of teenagers after they return from a concert to discover their parents have been murdered by a group of roaming vampires who are travelling from town to town. They set out to track the vampires down and destroy them once and for all. The whole thing is shot on Super 8 over the course of 2 and half years and had a budget of $5000.

5 things to love:
1. The gore is the main reason to watch this film. It isn’t perfect (at times it’s obvious they haven’t mixed the fake blood right and it looks too pink and watery) but they really go for it in terms of quantity. The interesting idea with the vampires in this film is that they attack in groups and don’t bite necks, they tear into victims and let blood spray everywhere. The film also ends in a spectacular climax where a huge group of vampires get caught in the sunlight causing them to melt and explode.

2. The opening of the film is probably the best scene of the whole film. It’s a great set up for a film. A guy covered in blood runs into a gas station and starts raving about vampires to all the patrons inside. It’s tense, mysterious, fast-paced and is a fantastic opening.

3. The movie has a lot of low budget ingenuity. I was genuinely impressed that, given the miniscule budget, they had a lot of outdoor scenes and a lengthy sequence involving a guy wielding a chainsaw.

4. The film has a really good pace and gets pretty intense in places. As I said, the budget is tiny but there’s some well-directed sequences of people getting chased through the streets at night by vampires.

5. In terms of innovative ways of killing vampires I’ve never seen anything as genius as the scene where Toby leads a group of vampires through a river and then turns around and blesses the water!

1 thing it didn’t need:
Constant metal score. Just my personal taste. I get that horror and metal seem to go hand in hand but it hurt the atmosphere this film was trying to build up.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review of John Carpenter Live at the Troxy, London – 31st October 2016

I’m a huge John Carpenter fan. I’ve got a books, CDs, posters and DVD collection of every film he’s ever been involved with from Dark Star to The Ward with everything – and I mean everything – he’s even tangentially been involved in (Vampires: Los Muertos (urgh), Black Moon Rising (okay), El Diablo (still need to see)). 

I was a little hesitant when it was announced a few years back that Carpenter was going to release new music but thankfully when I got round to listening to them I thought Lost Themes 1 & 2 were both very good synth albums whose only problem was that there wasn't a kickass movie to accompany them and firmly place the songs in your brain.

When I found out he was touring to the UK playing the themes from his films and recent albums Lost Themes 1 & 2, I knew I had to get tickets. After all, he was playing on October 31st and what better way to spend Halloween than listening to the director of Halloween playing the theme from Halloween. With it being Oct 31st the venue suggested fancy dress so I decided to go as a combination of three Kurt Russell characters – Jack Burton, Snake Plissken and RJ Macready (see photo – I’m on the right).

The venue was the Troxy in London – a large old fashioned theatre with a seated upper circle and standing room on the ground floor. Me and my friend Mitch got there around 8 but still managed to get comfortably close to the front. There were a few good cosplay entries from people that put in more time and effort than me – a few Jack Burtons (easy – just need the vest), a couple of Michael Myers, a handful of Snake Plisskens, and some guys wearing full on They Live masks (true dedication given the hot and sweaty atmosphere in the venue).
Around 8.30 the band came on. John dressed completely black, thick framed glasses, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He seemed in very high spirits, bopping over to his keyboard in the centre of the stage. Throughout the show he'd continue bopping along in the same 'don't give a shit' attitude of his anti-authoritian characters. As to be expected he was a man of few words, never saying more than a one brief sentence to introduce each song, but he seemed very comfortable and happy to be on stage. 

The band consisted of 3 guitarists, 1 drummer, John on keyboard and his son Cody on dual keyboard to the side. They kicked off with the theme from Escape from New York which I loved – it’s my favourite track he’s ever done – but I was a bit disappointed that he’d began with his high point rather than built up to it. Still the rest of the concert was good and the band flitted back and forth between film themes and Lost Themes.
The backdrop to the stage was a huge white screen which projected clips from the films he was playing. It was a good idea and the crowd lapped it up. There were whoops and hollers when certain people and scenes showed up. The first shot of Kurt Russell as Snake got a cheer which was to be expected but so did the first shot of Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog which I thought was a little odd but nice. The whole band put on sunglasses for the theme to They Live which was a fun touch and got a laugh from the audience.

Obviously with Carpenter being accompanied by a full rock band the movie themes were a little rockier and edgier than the original versions but I was happy with their fidelity.

The only thing I wished he had played but didn't was the song 'Big Trouble in Little China' – that would have brought the house down – but I guess he considers it a Coup De Villes song maybe. It seemed a much more obvious choice for an encore than Christine.
The tracks from Lost Themes slotted in fairly well. Unfortunately they didn’t have any clips to play for them which slightly diminished the theatricality when they played them (could they not have used clips from the music videos they did?). I think 'Night' was the only one that struggled to work because it’s such a minimalist song and basically the band sat back while lead guitarist Daniel Davies had to solo the whole song. 4 minutes is an awful long time for anyone (other than Pete Townshend) to do a guitar solo. 

Still all in all, it was a great show and I’m glad I went. If nothing else I'll never forget looking over the crowd when 'Halloween' was playing and seeing Michael Myers nodding along to it. It was like a surreal meta moment worthy of In the Mouth of MadnessI have a feeling Carpenter may have found a second career and I’m willing to bet he’ll come round again when Lost Themes III comes out.
Set list:
1. Escape From New York: Main Title
2. Assault on Precinct 13: Main Title
3. Vortex (from Lost Themes)
4. Mystery (from Lost Themes)
5. The Fog: Main Title Theme
6. They Live: Coming to L.A.
7. The Thing: Main Theme – Desolation (Ennio Morricone cover)
8. Distant Dream (from Lost Themes II)
9. Big Trouble in Little China: Pork Chop Express
10. Wraith (from Lost Themes)
11. Night (from Lost Themes)
12. Halloween Theme – Main Title
13. In the Mouth of Madness: In the Mouth of Madness
14. Prince of Darkness: Darkness Begins
15. Virtual Survivor (from Lost Themes II)
16. Purgatory (from Lost Themes)
17. Christine: Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)