Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2016)

What's it about? A jobbing punk band accept a gig at a remote venue playing to a mostly neo-Nazi audience. Things get bad when they inadvertently witness a crime and end up barricaded in a room backstage whilst the thugs outside, marshalled by their menacing leader (Patrick Stewart), lay siege.

Is it any good? Starts off slowly as a kind of indie, mumblecore road movie, but soon switches genres to claustrophobic thriller as the bodies mount up. As with his previous film, the impressive Blue Ruin, Saulnier proves adept at showing just how nasty and brutal violence can be, with several cover-your-eyes moments of bloodshed here. It's tense stuff, with a palpable sense of the danger and pain that the protagonists are going through. All of which takes place against a dirty green-brown set design which heightens the sense of place and grimness - a perfect setting for a bloody Punk vs Nazi smackdown. But if all that sounds too intense, rest assured there's a health streak of black humour running through it to offset all the white supremacy.

Anything else I should know? It's likely to become a cult favourite, not least because it's one of the last films to star Anton Yelchin, who tragically died in a freak accident earlier this year. Best known from his role as Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek films, he had started to build up an impressive CV of work in smaller films, such as his affecting turn in the underseen romantic drama Like Crazy, which I've reviewed here. Speaking of Star Trek, Jean-Luc Picard fans might relish the chance to see Patrick Stewart play against type as the villain - he talks here about what attracted him to the role.

What does the Fonz think? A-O-KKK!

Hail, Caesar! (Coen Bros, 2016)

What's it about? Set in 50s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a studio 'fixer', helping things run smoothly by managing various studio problems, such as unplanned pregnancies, disgruntled directors, Commie sympathizers and, most pressingly, the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), star of the big-budget swords-and-sandals epic 'Hail, Caesar!'.

Is it any good? That depends. If you know a bit about 50s Hollywood and the various inspirations for the characters and plot, you'll appreciate it as truly a film well made, one which is slyly celebrating or perhaps ridiculing Hollywood (or both). There are handsomely staged homages to scenes from films such as Quo Vadis, Anchors Aweigh and Million Dollar Mermaid among others, with the likes of Scarlett Johnasson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton playing thinly-veiled caricatures of real life people like Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. On the other hand, if you don't carry that background knowledge, this isn't likely to hold the attention, being little more than a loosely connected series of sketches, few of which are particularly funny or dramatic. Why bother recreating scenes from those films if there's no point? Why not just watch the originals? Thus, it's another typical love-it-or-hate-it offering from the Coens. Personally, I didn't feel like paying tribute.

Anything else I should know? Well presumably you'll want to find out a bit more about those real life inspirations which are frankly far more entertaining than the film. Eddie Mannix was indeed a real studio fixer for MGM and his remarkable antics, which range from blackmail to arranging marriages to covering up murder, are recorded in the book The Fixers by EJ Fleming, although some have questioned the veracity of the book's 'facts'. For instance, the light-hearted treatment of one character's pregnancy and staged adoption has a darker background, seemingly based on starlet Loretta Young who fell pregnant following a alleged date-rape by Clark Gable. For more scurrilous stuff like that, websites here and here give a good breakdown of the fact-vs-fiction.

What does the Fonz think? Ho-hum, Caesar.

Euro 2016 Catch Up

A slow month for film viewing, as Euro 2016 distracted me with a feast of free-flowing football! Well, football anyway. Being immobilised in front of the TV for extended periods of time did give me a chance to catch up on some stuff I'd recorded of the tellybox. Stuff like...

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979) has a big cult reputation, based in part on the violence which greeted its original release when rival gang members clashed at screenings of the movie, which of course only served to raise its profile and notoriety, even if critics were rather sniffy about it. In its simple story of a gang surviving the mean streets of New York as they make their way back to the safety of their home turf, it appealed to young people because it didn't depict the gang culture as a social problem to be solved, but as a way of life to be survived. Curiously though, despite the gritty realism of the action (shot on the mean streets of 70s NY ghettos, with real gang members as extras), there's a heavy fantasy element in the stylistic flourishes of the rival gangs, which lends it a comic-book dystopian tone. Nowadays, it comes across a little dated, despite its obvious merits. Personally, I could dig the choreography and soundtrack and some of the natty gang outfits, but the stilted dialogue and minimal story was all Greek to me. (Come out to play if you get that joke).

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1963) is a solid, but somewhat pedestrian adaptation which lacks the subtleties of John le Carre's fiendishly plotted and bleakly brilliant novel. However, it's still a handsomely shot, intriguing espionage thriller and Richard Burton is perfectly cast as the world-weary Alec Leamas, especially when he spits out a vicious speech near the end about the true nature of spies. James Bond, this ain't. So it's worth a watch, but given the recent success of le Carre's The Night Manager on TV, perhaps we're due for a remake to sit alongside Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Dead of Night (Various, 1945) is a patchy, slightly dated anthology of spooky stories. They're all watchable enough, but the one about the possessed ventriloquist doll (directed by Alberto Calvacanti) is a classic and still unsettling enough to make you drop your 'gottle of geer'.

The Passenger (Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1975), in which a disillusioned journalist (Jack Nicholson) adopts a dead man's identity whilst working in Chad, only to find out the dead man was a gun-runner, is the sort of  film that was clearly made to have academic theses written about it, so let's have a go at an academic summary:

Abstract: Yes, it is a bit.
Introduction: Interesting set-up.
Methods: Slow reveals, low-key acting, some nifty perspective shifts.
Results: Existential drama with political undertones.
Conclusion: It was okay

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014) is a decidedly odd affair, a leisurely depiction of a sadomasochistic affair between two lesbian entomologists, shot in the manner of a 70s European soft porn movie ( I'm told). And it's certainly a striking looking film to look at, beautifully photographed and framed as it sets about fashioning its decadent melodrama. But the blackly comic screenplay, which veers from discussions about roleplay, sex and the lives of butterflies, is just a bit too strange to be wholly successful. Still, it is more tender and seductive than you might expect from a lesbian S&M flick which features someone forcibly urinating in their partner's mouth. It's another film likely to feature in future academic theses so, to get you started, a list of the films that inspired Strickland can be found here.

Perhaps fitting we should finish with some lepidoptery, given the Biblical plague of moths that blighted the Euro 2016 final. Indeed, one moth lived out the dreams of many women by sitting on Cristiano Ronaldo's face, a scene captured in a camera shot so sensuous and touching, Peter Strickland is considering including it in the Director's Cut of The Duke of Burgundy. Because it's a moth and Ronaldo's strip is burgundy, see?  That's segue gold right there, folks.

The Yellow Sea (Na Hong-jin, 2011)

*Watched as part of the Asia-thon 2016 Film Project*

What's it about? A debt-ridden taxi-driver (Ha Jung-woo) in the desolate Chinese province of Yanji agrees to carry out a contract killing in South Korea, where he also hopes to track down his estranged wife.

Violent? Well, maybe a bit.
Is it any good? *crosses Yanji of list of Places to Visit* 
Well, I'm not entirely sure about all of the plot developments but a whole lot of people sure did get horribly stabbed to death. Knives, axes, screwdrivers all employed with reckless abandon - haven't these Eastern gangsters ever heard of guns? In fact, the only thing more reckless is the wild flurry of story exposition which becomes somewhat confusing after a more intimate, slow-burn start. But it was late, I was tired and maybe I was distracted by ALL THE STABBING AND BLOOD!! It's still a pretty compelling thriller, though, with some good action sequences and a suitably grimy colour palette which creates an impressive, claustrophobic sense of urban desolation.  

I don't trust you. What do others think? A good reception, especially from those bored with 'safe' American-style thrillers, although many admitted to finding the story confusing. Luckily for you, I've found a reasonably succinct summary of the story in the comment section of this review for the film from contributor Ty Kampen. If only I had such passionate, knowledgeable contributors to my blog....sob!

Anything else I should know? The Asia-thon 2016 Film Project is my New Year's resolution to watch more films from the Far East, a project which is both laudable and insufferably pretentious. A full list of films viewed can be found here.

What does the Fonz think? Stab-tastic.

Politics. Twas Ever Thus.

As the fallout from the Brexit decision continues to rock the political, social and financial world, it is perhaps an opportune moment to revisit the sobering final scene of Michael Ritchie's The Candidate, made over 40 years ago, which I reviewed in full here.
Note the chaos, the media influence, the wavy blonde hair and the desperate 'What do we do now?' uncertainty. Sound familiar?

'What do we do now?'