Rooney Mara: Pie Eater is one of the year's best films

No, you were supposed to put the sheet on the floor. There's dirt all over the place now. Idiot. - Casey Affleck in A Ghost Story

No, you were supposed to put the sheet on the floor. There's dirt all over the place now. Idiot. - Casey Affleck in A Ghost Story

After the Malickian gentleness of his debut Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and the Disney team up, mature family adventure Pete’s Dragon, David Lowry continues his run of delivering an intensely personal view of an oft-used genre with the profound, ceaselessly melancholy A Ghost Story.

 

Most known on the internet for being the film where Casey Affleck wears a kid’s Halloween costume, or the film where Rooney Mara eats an entire pie (though it looks more like a chocolatey pudding to me), the actual product is a film which seeks to show us that what matters is what you do within the confines of your own lifetime, that it is not your legacy which is important but what you do for your loved ones and yourself in the here and now. It’s not an especially new message but it is one which is presented in unflinching, frank and disturbing ways where your sense of time is questioned often, the helpless circling the drain of existence constantly biting at our protagonist’s heels.

 

The use of Affleck’s bed sheeted character may well be partly to attract attention for the film but it is quite surprising how much you barely notice him at points. It is a stark look but he almost becomes part of the furniture of the house. The framing often has him to the side but you concentrate on what is going on “in the moment”, be it Mara’s pie eating (I genuinely didn’t notice him for a good few minutes here), a family around their Christmas tree or a house party where what is surely going to be 2017’s best monologue is performed. It is not to say that Affleck is bad, you feel the weight of his silent emotion throughout, a physical performance from him (or his stand-in) which adds what is needed.

 

It is Interstellar by way of The Tree of Life with the odd horror film moment added as is likely expected. It never feels derivative however, it is a brave, uncompromising and daring film which has visuals which will remain with you after along with a pitch perfect ending which leaves you with a question you don’t mind being answered. If you give it time, which 2 walkouts in my screening suggest not all will, you will be rewarded with one of the year’s best films.

 

Oh and there’s a SOLID Production Company credit at the end. Bravo.

Should you watch trailers?

It seems as if a requisite part of being a film fan in today's world is that you obsess over trailers. Teasers for teaser trailers, sites getting mileage out of trailer analysis, breaking down 2 minutes of marketing for clues to stuff you shouldn't care as much about as you probably do but most importantly the formation of opinions for expectations of films based on how a marketing department has tried to sell a film are all common afflictions. 

That last one is something which in the last few weeks has really struck a chord in me. Three recent films have had me thinking about how much I wish the trailers didn't exist at all. For that purpose I won't be linking to them here but I'll damn well talk about them.

1. Baby Driver

I saw two trailers for Baby Driver, the original trailer towards the start of the year and the online only "TeKILLYah" trailer. Both of which seemed to advertise two different films. It is a rather obvious point of fact that trailers shown in cinemas usually try to appeal to as many people within that audience as possible, with this showing in the first trailer, a rather bland affair which has the occasional shot of records but is memorable only really for the halloween mask section at the end, a scene which in the film is one of the only moments of comedy in the entire runtime. This trailer depicts a rather tired narrative which say what you want about Baby Driver, that film has.

The "TeKILLYah" trailer is something different, a piece which shows off the style of the film and feels of a piece to what Wright was aiming for conceptually, however in doing so it promises a film which is frankly more satisfying than the end product was. I know I'm in a minority in not feeling like I'd die to defend Baby Driver as many seem to but I wish I hadn't seen either trailer going in. The style would have been more of a surprise and perhaps the issues I had with the film wouldn't have been as much on the forefront of my mind.

2. It Comes At Night

The only piece of marketing I had seen for It Comes At Night going in was the wonderfully evocative teaser poster:

 

I mean, look at that thing. It's great.

Going into the film, I knew its cast and a brief outline, an experience I usually only have at festival screenings or on occasion when I look at a screener for something. After seeing the film and reading up on reaction, it became obvious that the trailer had promised something different, on watching it I tried to put myself in the headspace of someone who had wanted to see the full thing with that in mind and while I'm sure I'd have still liked it, I wonder how much the sheer disconnect between trailer and final product would have clouded my judgement.

It is obvious why the folks at distributor A24 had done what they did with the trailer, it promises a much more visceral, potentially bloody experience than the intangible, very hard to advertise dread which the world of the film envelopes you in. It is a trailer which will get horror hounds in but the muted audience reaction, the film getting a rather terrible D in Cinemascore, a US based organisation which polls cinema audiences to aid in explaining the box office performance of films, seems to have a direct connection with the expectation caused by the trailer.

3. War for The Planet of the Apes

At time of writing we haven't recorded our review on the show as of yet but if you follow me on social media, you'll know I adored this film. What made this surprising personally was that for the last few months I've repeated that I've been concerned about that film based on the trailers released for it.

It looked grim, depressing and frankly just not all that fun for what should be a summer blockbuster. It is grim and depressing in parts but it's also thrilling and strangely beautiful in its depiction of a world gone to shit but with green shoots appearing in the form of the Apes' society.

The opening weekend in the US was behind the previous film by a fair margin and the box office analysis over at Deadline this weekend by Anthony D'Alessandro had this to say:

"In regards to why War was slower out of the gate, it could be argued the original trailers stalled moviegoers. Did they distinguish War enough from Dawn? You could say that War looked quite similar with its doom and gloom and angry monkeys. Director Matt Reevesshowed off a trio of clips to the press at a Fox reel day last December and billed the film as an homage to modern westerns and Apocalypse Now. It’s debatable whether that cinematic sensibility was sold."

I don't think that's even a debate. The trailers didn't show off those homages at all, it just looked like a bad time. I'm glad the film wasn't but with marketing that didn't seem particularly thrilling, it seems like Fox have maybe even harmed themselves financially. It feels like a film which could have legs, though it's a busy box office,  I wish I didn't see the trailers, it made me doubt a film I shouldn't have.

This past weekend saw the first teaser for Ava Duvernay's A Wrinkle In Time, one which with her being billed as "Visionary" had me rolling my eyes (not because of her, because of its overuse in marketing) and showcased a film which looks all over the place. But should I think that? Of course not, but a trailer tells its own story, even if its one the film doesn't follow up on. Maybe I should let the film tell me what it's about, not 2 minutes of cut together footage. A trailer will make you have an assumption however and therein lies the question, do you watch a trailer for an idea of whether you're interested in a film or let the film make your decision for you?

Review: John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick was a lovely surprise a couple years back, a film which arrived in the UK with a good bit of hype behind it from a US release months before but pretty much justified this. A wonderful juxtaposition of pared down exploitation film, the usual "they killed my ... now I'm gonna kill them all" fare with a potentially dense inner mythology about both the title character and the world he lives in, one where a hotel for assassins runs by a code which makes them be friendly within its walls no matter the devastation wrought outside. It was a breath of fresh air which reintroduced Keanu Reeves as a genuinely impressive physical actor, a man whose talents befit one decades younger than him. So then, the almost inevitable sequel arrives but thankfully it builds on the success of the first and fully embraces a world I'd be happy to see more of.

Continuing the original's trick of combining that small personal story with a larger canvas, this opens things out but feels almost as vital as the first film despite a runtime around 20 minutes longer. Yes, there are a couple of montage sequences which somewhat belabour the "John Wick's coming to fuck you all up" point but even this self-indulgence adds to the insane legend built around this man.

Wick himself is a fascinating character, a man who seems to hate pretty much everything he's doing while doing it oh so very well. People are stabbed, shot and hit with cars aplenty but never once does Wick seem to want to do any of it even if deep down an unwanted primal pleasure is had. There is an efficiency to both his action and his language which makes all the seemingly hyperbolic statements others give about him feel entirely correct. Reeves smashes it throughout, finding a role which combines his action smarts with his increasing age without feeling at all like the "Geriaction" fare of latter period Schwarzengger, Stallone or Willis.

The world here is also wonderful, the Continental of the first film having branches elsewhere in the world, and run by Franco fucking Nero no less with further detail given regarding how Contracts are set up provoking some almost surreal cognitive dissonance with early 1900's dressed telephone operators with arm tattoos using old school technology to communicate around the world. The world of John Wick feels like one left of centre of the real world, one you really wouldn't mind visiting as long as you're not being targeted.

The fact it's been a few paragraphs in at this point and the action has barely been spoken of gives some indication to how the film is overall so impressive but in fairness, the action here is crunchy, nasty and carnally satisfying in the best way. With the wide angle, energetic but not ADD camerawork of the first continuing, along with the intense sound design which makes a gun shot appear like a canon blast, the action here is played on a larger scale but has the intimacy of the first film which makes it feel all the more painful. Seeing this in Cineworld's frankly abusive 4DX moving seat mode would be genuinely pant shiningly terrifying.

So there we go, John Wick Chapter 2. A wholly satisfying sequel which for some slight lulls really goes for the jugular throughout. I await a third with baited breath.

A Monster Calls is a staggering tale of dealing with grief and how to process it

A Monster Calls sees J.A. Bayona make a leap from a highly intriguing European voice on the margins of the directing elite to a man who can rub shoulders with the best filmmakers working today. It is an extraordinary film which sees him perfect the combination of wonderful visuals and deeply emotive work which went a little sideways on his last project The Impossible, a film which wrung the emotion a little too nakedly for my taste.

In theory, A Monster Calls could go wrong very easily with a very Pan’s Labyrinth feel to the set up of a boy interacting with a “is he friend/foe?” creature who needs to teach the adolescent some home truths in a fantastical way. The key here is that as with Pan’s what that is turns out to be a complex and altogether far more human idea than you may expect, a look at grief in one of its mostharrowing forms. To say more than that would be to spoil things however.

Unlike a film like Gus Van Sant’s grief porn disaster The Sea of Trees, this doesn’t seek to turn death into a plot twist, instead we focus on a young boy who is unable to process his emotions and how this in turn affects his relationships with those around him, be it absentee father, cold grandmother or psychologically devilish bully. Lewis Macdougall is frankly extraordinary as Conor, a performance which is all the more upsetting for just how good he is in the lead role, at times some of his reactions caused laughter in my audience however I feel this is more a result of the open wounds of the film’s core making people feel uncomfortable. By the final act however you could hear a pin drop.

Even elements which don’t quite feel right early on add up by the end. Sigourney Weaver feels stilted with an English accent which feels calculated to seem a little off, our view of her being coloured further after already not being in great shape thanks to her early interactions with Conor, however by the end it all makes sense. Felicity Jones doesn’t get much to do however a scene towards the end palpably works thanks to her strength as a performer and Liam Neeson plays into the ambiguity of the Monster perfectly.

Bayona marshalls all this together with great skill with the film also taking in a focus on watercolour art which leads to some stunning sequences as visuals and storytelling come together with synchronicity which rarely works as well here.

A Monster Calls is an insanely human film and may be too much for some. It is an extraordinary piece of work which I very much hope is not drowned out in the Awards Season avalanche of “worthy” fare. It’s one of the best films of the year and one which will remain with me for a good deal of time to come.

Jingle All The Way may be medically unsafe viewing for a parent

There have been many films which have put me on edge on my lifetime. Notable examples would be The Hunt, a brilliant film I will never watch again, Audition and specifically the tortoise sequence in Cannibal Holocaust. It's a surprise then that a relatively innocuous Christmas entry has left me feeling like I've instantly got high blood pressure: Brian Levant's infamous Jingle All The Way.

Hear me out.

I have a daughter who turns 3 three days after Christmas. The past couple of Christmas seasons have been stressful but that hasn't been down to present buying. When they're young kids are really easy to buy for at Christmas. Is it bright, can it teach them something and can they not choke on it? Tick all those boxes and you've got my cash. Jingle All The Way is a chilling vision of my future. It's a Capitalist Christmas Carol except with the Ghost Of Schwarzenegger Past telling Phil Hartman not to eat all his cookies.

You've obviously seen Jingle All The Way so I won't bore you with the plot but there's an insane kind of genius within the film where I get more and more tense on this occasion as Schwarazenegger is perpetually stopped from buying his son the Turbo Man toy. Every time the Austrian Oak trips over something, the foley sound makes it sound like a giant statesman like tree collapsing, the sequence involving him battling a bunch off dodgy Santas may take place in reality or it may be a fever dream after he's accused of being a paedophile in a "comedy" scene you'd never get these days.

His quest to try and make amends for being a shitty dad is also escalated by the sheer annoyance of Jake Lloyd playing his son, a child who only seems to warm to his dad when the promise of a toy is made. Other than that, Lloyd may as well call him a cunt and spit on him. I PRAY my daughter doesn't turn out like that little bastard does in this film. How is he satisfied in the end? His dad is the REAL Turbo Man, he doesn't need a toy, now he has a father who will bend to his every whim just to get a forced smile out of the future Hitler he sees before him.

This is a horror film, a chilling vision of where no one cares about you, where shop staff openly mock and where you run into the same policeman multiple times. You may call it Kafkaesque. I wouldn't but you could.

It's on Netflix in the UK now but if you're a parent to a young child, beware. You'll become like Sam Neil in the cinema In The Mouth Of Madness. No one wants that.

2016 made me realise I still like horror movies

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For long term listeners of the podcast, it will be well known that I am a right miserable bastard when it comes to the state of modern horror. With the likes of The Babadook and It Follows being released to great acclaim and then disappointing, and FrightFest continuing to peddle films which somehow seem to get distribution despite many being cynical experiments in just making a horror because it will sell in supermarkets, hello current Worst of 2016 film for me The Unfolding, it’s fair to say that my love for the genre has been a question personally for the last few years. 2016 then has been a lovely surprise with a fair few horrors really pushing the boat out and ensuring that maybe, just maybe, it can rise from the dead.

The delightful thing is that this has come from both the mainstream and indie spaces. The Conjuring 2 managed to build on the scares of the first entry to become that rarest of things in this day and age, the epic blockbuster horror. At well over 2 long, a transatlantic plot which despite the home based nature of the supernatural happenings and an almost action-movie climax, James Wan took the chance to tell his story on a big canvas and it worked very well.

On the smaller side of the Studio picture, The Shallows also provided the equal pleasures of Blake Lively in a bikini and a stripped to the core exercise in sustained dread and tension, the film telling its story in a way which was pretty much the diametric opposite of the aforementioned Conjuring sequel but equally successful in its own way.

David Sandberg’s Lights Out saw James Wan bring another promising director to the fore, with a brilliant premise for a horror monster being used for some solid woman and child in peril adventure and Mike Flanagan brought us two successful, but very different numbers, with home invasion Netflix Original Hush and the superior Ouija: Origin of Evil, a film which very much ignored a little loved original and essentially did its own thing with the occasional shot of a Ouija board too give it its name.

What end of 2016 horror article wouldn't talk about The Witch too? Robert Eggers' stunning writer-director effort managed to chill my bloody bones in the cinema and it lost little of its effect on the small screen. Anya Taylor-Joy's instant star-making turn is both upsetting and also strangely liberating to watch with an ending which makes you question genuinely whether its happy or wholly apocalyptic. 

For me, one of the best horror pieces of the year was a film which in no way seems to have been categorised as such, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, a distressing and disturbing picture which also happens to contain one of the single best jump scares I have ever seen, one which also feels informed by the story telling, not just one for the sake of getting a few elevated heart rates going.

I’d also point to the yet to find a UK distributor Brit flick The Ghoul. Executive produced by Ben Wheatley, writer-director. Gareth Tunley mix of police procedural, psychological horror and reality distorting twists took its low budget and created a world where once the direction is set, the almost claustrophobic feel is rather hard to shake off. I imagine it’ll get a VoD release at some point in 2017 and its worth the less than 90 minutes of your time.

South Korea also came roaring back which was personally delightful. The genre world cinema explosion of the late 90’s and 00’s has very much mellowed over the last few years however two films have made an impression. While I have not managed to see Train To Busan yet, The Wailing feels just like one of those long, tone shifting pictures of 10-15 years ago but makes full use of a decent budget to craft some genuinely horrific sights in amongst its bizarre mix of slapstick and straight up upsetting material.

I am very much aiming not to be negative in this piece so I won’t go through the low lights, the Dude & A Monkey 2016 Year In Review show in mid-January will no doubt be full of talk of these, but suffice it to say, 2016 feels like a year I started to get my love for the genre back, one which showed that with real care, skill and crucially, respect for its audience without feeling the need to pander, horror can still create some of the most memorable stuff you’ll see in cinema.

If there’s anything you feel like I’ve missed out on, let me know. dudeandamonkey@gmail.com or tweet me @ianloring

Nocturnal Animals is the most surprising horror film of the year.

Going to a 10pm showing of a film on your lonesome, aside from two drunk gentlemen who fall asleep a few rows behind you but mainly keep the snoring to a minimum) is something I don't do often. Attending the cinema on a weekend evening is a troublesome thought for those who want to go to the cinema in peace and after a day of looking after a 2-year old, it's fair to say I was rather tired also. With this slightly off-centre mood for going to the cinema maybe slightly affecting this (though Marc agrees with the following sentiments as shown on our latest podcast here), it is rather stunning to say that not only is Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals one of the best films of the year, I feel it also ranks up there with some of the best horror of recent times also.

Why is this a surprise? Tom Ford. Insanely successful fashion designer and fragrance maker already, he had to add being a bloody brilliant filmmaker with 2009's A Single Man, a film which Colin Firth deserved an Oscar for far more than The King's Speech, which he was successful with the following year. A Single Man is heartbreaking, gorgeous and all-round magnificent but there is nary a hint of horror to it. While filmmakers can jump around genres with aplomb, to make the jump that Ford does from A Single Man to Nocturnal Animals, and it be only his second feature, to me is staggering.

A Single Man created its own world, full of immaculate looking people and colours ranging from drab to effervescent dependent on the situation, and Nocturnal Animals does the same but here you have something entirely different. While there are fantastically tailored and beautiful people all over the place during the "real world" sections, they are cold, detached and at arm's length. Amy Adams' costuming and the production design of her home enforce the feeling that she is trapped in a gilded cage, one which we come to learn is very much of her own making and may even be a form of self-abuse to attempt to atone for sins of the past. There is an isolation here which is palpable though the story she reads through the film starts to infect this, one startling moment provoking perhaps the best jump scare seen in years but also one which says something about her character; when's the last time you could say you saw a character driven jump scare?

This is all juxtaposed against a setting which is just as harrowing though in fairness more direct in its viscera. The world of "Nocturnal Animals" the story within the film, is filled with threat, something which starts early and doesn't let up. The extraordinary sequence which gets the meat of the film's narrative going is a masterclass in tension and surely could not fail to be affecting to anyone with a family. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has likely never been better as the sociopathic menace who has an intelligence which is betrayed by his almost goofy exterior, whatever part of Gylenhall's Tom he inhabits is no place you ever want to visit. Ford's ratcheting of the tension here is a hell of a thing, you're never entirely sure of what the motivations are and when it ends there's a sense of anarchy to the whole thing, a complete absence of reason which lets you know that pretty much anything could happen in this world. Even the hard living, dedicated cop who every now and then brings in some comic relief is played by Michael Shannon, a man who you don't think of when you think of Mr Chuckles. This is all within the mind's eye of Amy Adams' Susan of course so we have an unreliable visual narrator of sorts, indeed its interesting that the facsimile of Adam's character within the story is played not by Amy Adams but Isla Fisher, but who is to say how much of this is the story "on the page" and how much is within her character? How much of the story within the film is intended as horror really? That question itself makes matters all the more unsettling.

Nocturnal Animals is an extraordinary film which pretty much demands to be seen but even if you're of a more genre than arthouse bent, you need to get it to the top of your Watchlist this week.

Swallowing Apple's Juicy Extras

Long time listeners to the show/readers of my Twitter stream will know of my long running indecision with regards to how I collect films. After years of being a hardcore physical media evangelist my feelings started to change and were centred around a particular moment. Last year my father died and in cleaning out his place, strewn full of papers unneeded for years and a great deal of alcohol (a contributing factor in his death which has also had an effect on my relationship with booze in the year or so after thus far), there were dozens of DVDs, some on shelves, some uncared for and forgotten under his sofa. All this stuff, all this waste, most of it now filling up decomposing bin bags or being recycled into something else entirely, it had me thinking. Do I need this stuff? Why do I cling onto it so much?

For a great long time, it was the quality of the presentation, something Ultra HD Blu-Ray certainly does better than any streaming format does now, and the presence of Extras. With Sony's decision not to put an Ultra HD Blu-Ray player in the forthcoming PS4 Pro, I believe we have reached a turning of the tide, one where adoption of the format will not be wide enough to convince studios to continue to release physical product, indeed Disney's continued absence from the format is telling. This is a company who revels in the marketing of physical media and make a great deal of money out of it, but it appears Ultra HD won't offer this revenue stream.

After this, Extras were my primary concern but then the mind starts to wander again. When is the last time I watched all the extras on a disc? Probably my uni days over a decade ago, yet this just increases the value added proposition of physical media. However, this is changing and in terms of wanting to have your film collection be 1's and 0's electronically transported to you at any time of day, there has never been a better time. At least if you like your Apple products. Google has made some affectations with this though thus far the only real benefit of any extras on their service has been the Star Wars films.

Extras began appearing on iTunes a few years ago and some even courted controversy, for instance the "Visual Commentary" available on the Star Trek Into Darkness iTunes edition did not appear on the initial  Blu-Ray release, but generally they weren't the equal of the Blu-Ray set. In fairness, many iTunes titles still aren't, however with the ability to add extras in, something many studios have done, the aforementioned Star Wars collection added commentaries and Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo added documentary material after the initial release for example, you have a collection which will likely only expand. Yes, things can be removed also but what would be the business sense there? iTunes Extras are obviously being watched, otherwise why bother, but there's also a sense that from a value perspective not creates greater parity. 

One key example, the one which caused this piece actually, was the recent addition of the "Black & Chrome" edition of Mad Max: Fury Road to the initial iTunes release. On physical media, you'll have to buy a new release but not so here, it's just added. This makes the Extras package on the iTunes release BETTER than the Blu-Ray. Yes, the bitrate isn't as high and no, you don't get lossless audio but as someone with a 50 inch TV and at this point no surround sound, it has become a question of priorities. Do I want a collection of what will one day be worthless plastic cases and discs or do I want an accessible selection of films which lets face it, won't be disappearing any time soon, which also come with healthy extras. Here's another question. Seven has been £3.99 on iTunes of late. It now has what seems to be all the extras on the Blu, including FOUR commentaries. It's £6 for the Blu in a 5 for £30 in HMV at the moment. I'd go for the iTunes version.

What say you?