Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Life After Beth Review



Shaun of the Dead has a lot to answer for. Ten years ago, the guys behind Spaced invented a new genre hybrid that got everyone excited: the rom-zom-com. Since then, filmmakers with less brains and far less affection for the zombie genre, have attempted to make their own mash-ups of Romantic Comedies with Zombies. Most notable (and frustrating) was Warm Bodies that had Nicholas Hoult as a zombie who did thinking, as evidenced by his wry comedic voiceover.

Now comes Life After Beth, a film that features a zombie who looks like Aubrey Plaza, talks just fine and doesn’t even realise she is dead for much of the movie. Zach’s (Dane DeHaan) girlfriend Beth (Plaza) is out hiking alone when she is bitten supposedly by a snake. Zach bonds with Beth’s grief stricken parents until one day he realises they are avoiding him. Suspecting something is up, Zach peeks in the window’s of Beth’s home to find she is alive and well and being kept indoors by her protective parents. 


But despite appearances, Beth isn’t alive after all. She has returned from the grave and is actually slowly decomposing into the kind of zombie that genre fans know and love. Zach and Beth were having relationship problems before her apparent death but now their renewed love soon descends into a whole new level of complications as Beth begins to rot, both physically and mentally.

First up, zombies should never, ever talk. They shouldn’t think, have voiceovers relaying their thoughts, or have coherent chats with the living. They are dead. Brain dead pure and simple. Even when godfather of the zombie genre, George A. Romero started having one of his monsters utter the odd word in Day of the Dead, things took a turn for the decidedly less horrifying. Like Warm Bodies before it, Life After Beth then is far more for the rom-com crowd than for horror fans. It is not, as with Shaun of the Dead, a zombie movie that just had a boy and a girl with some comedic relationship troubles in it. Instead it is a romantic comedy where the girl happens to be slowly turning into a zombie. 


Everyone who has ever seen a zombie movie will know that people get bitten and then slowly or speedily die from the wound. They then return from death as zombies. So why does Beth rise from the grave like she never died and then slowly deteriorate into a zombie after her death? It’s like writer and director Jeff Baena either hasn’t seen a zombie movie or simply doesn’t care about the rules. However, those who after romantic comedy may not care either.

What is even more frustrating though is that Aubrey Plaza is easily the best thing in the film, especially when towards the end, she starts to go full zombie. Watching her staring, chewing, thrashing and stumbling is far more fun than anything in the majority of the rest of the film, so why it takes her so long to get this way is a mystery. The sight of her stumbling along with a cooker strapped to her back, smooth jazz playing from a stereo around her neck (don’t ask) is pretty much worth the price of admission alone. 


The rest of the film cannot hope to live up to Plaza’s performance in the final act. Despite the cast including Dane de Haan, John C. Reilly, Paul Reiser and Anna Kendrick, who is completely wasted in just a pair of pointless scenes, the story simply shuffles along with very few big laughs and certainly no real scares. Perhaps it has something mildly amusing to say about love and relationships as the young lovers’ passion turns to resentment, but mostly Life After Beth falls flat on its face. 

While it’s fun seeing Plaza fly into rages, her mood violently swinging as she decomposes, oddly for a film where a zombie spends the majority of the film seeming far too alive and well, Life After Beth is sadly lifeless.

See it: 

  • For Aubrey Plaza’s performance when she turns full zombie.
  • If you want to see what it’s like to have a girlfriend with really terrifying mood swings.

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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Paul Thomas Anderson Lightens Up with Inherent Vice Teaser Trailer

Was it really just me or was The Master a bit of a drag? Paul Thomas Anderson has had an incredible career as a director so far. First coming to my attention with Boogie Nights in 1997, he then baffled me with Magnolia, startled me with Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love and mesmerised me with There Will Be Blood.


But despite all the critical adoration heaped upon it, The Master left me cold and as far as I'm concerned, Boogie Nights is still by far Anderson's best film. It had a chaotic, cool vibe that was funny, poignant and had one of my favourite ever performances from the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Now Anderson seems to have settled on 'ex-rapper' Joaquin Phoenix as his go-to-guy of choice after working with him on The Master. Anderson has often talked about his love of comedy and his ambitions to make one, and Inherent Vice looks like it could get hysterical from the teaser trailer.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a shambling drug-fueled private detective who gets involved in a dangerous game of kidnapping among the incredibly wealthy, after his ex-girlfriend comes to him with the story. It's got a jam packed cast including Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson and Eric Roberts but best of all, it seems that Josh Brolin may actually be having fun in this movie. It's been a while. Here's the trailer:



Did it get you?

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Covering the London Film Festival: In Darkness We Fall Trailer and Review

I've been given the incredible privilege of covering the London Film Festival 2014 for Starburst Magazine. Even though the festival does not start until October 8th, there are many press screenings going on from now until then. I'll be going up to London to pick up my press badge today and then it's straight off for my first film of the festival: In Darkness We Fall.


This is a Spanish found footage horror set on the island of Formentera. Here is the synopsis:

On their second day on Formentera, five friends discover a hidden cave nestled into the side of a
cliff and decide to go in and explore it. Filled with excitement and adrenalin, the friends start
to make their way through the countless passageways that make up the cave. Before long,
they realise they are lost. They try for hours to find the way back to the surface, but to no
avail. They are trapped inside the cave’s huge labyrinth. Eventually they decide to spend the
night inside the cave and start searching again the next day, once they’ve had some rest.

But days go by and they are unable to find their way out. Panic is starting to set in. They have
no way of communicating with the outside world and no food or water. They’re not going to
last much longer if they don’t find the way out soon. Faced with what seems like impending
death, the friends are forced to take a drastic decision. As far as they´re concerned, there’s
only one way to survive…

Here is the trailer and here is my review of the film for Starburst Magazine:



What do you think?

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

International Fury Trailer Unleashes War as Hell

It's so long and tanks for all the action in the breathtaking latest international trailer for David Ayer's World War 2 film Fury. Closing the 2014 BFI London Film Festival and starring one of the most exciting casts of the year with Brad Pitt, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal all crammed in a tank together, Fury is definitely going to be a must see movie, even for those who can't stand Shia LaBeouf.

The official synopsis says it's 'April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.'


Director David Ayer may have slipped into silliness with his previous film Sabotage, but his best work includes End of Watch and the casting here suggests something very special. The new trailer is more focussed than any previous ones with showing the relationship between Pitt's team leader and new boy Logan Lerman as he struggles to fit into a close-knit group of surviving soldiers as they roll into Germany nearing the end of the war.

For me, Lerman is the unproven one out of this cast but I hope that this is the moment where he is going to shine, even with the impressive cast that surround him. Pitt is usually good, Pena is frequently excellent and I think we have still yet to see LaBoeuf's best. While Bernthal depends on a few too many recognisable mannerisms, he was also the best actor for a long time in The Walking Dead. Ayer did a fantastic job with End of Watch and from this trailer, Fury has all the hallmarks of being a great war movie. It certainly looks like an explosive way to close the BFI London Film Festival.

Watch the trailer:



What do you think?

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

5 MUST SEE films at the BFI London Film Festival 2014

Noooooo I haven't been given a massive sneak peek at all 248 films showing at the BFI London Film Festival 2014. However, I was lucky enough to cover the Cannes Film Festival this year for Tastic Film and that means that I have seen 8 of those 248 already before the LFF even kicks off on October 8th.

While I'm sure there will be many more must see films at the festival this year, I wanted to highlight my top 5 of those that I have already had the pleasure of seeing. In my opinion, these films are all pretty exceptional (especially the top 3), and are bound to get people talking.



5. The Salvation (Click here for my full review)

 Mads Mikkelsen leads an unapologetically violent western that tells a straightforward revenge story elevated by a mesmerising central performance.

In America, 1871, brothers and former Danish soldiers Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) await the arrival of a train carrying Jon’s wife and son from Denmark. The family have been separated for seven years while Jon and Peter have settled in the wild and lawless lands of late 19th century America. However, no sooner than his wife Marie and child arrive does Jon find trouble at the hands of a pair of men who take a fancy to Marie. Getting in the wrong coach leads to a tense and suddenly violent encounter that leaves Maria and the boy dead and Jon wanted by notorious gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Jon and his brother Peter must act alone if they are to survive and exact their revenge.

Mikkelsen delivers a typically excellent performance in the lead with some fine support from Mikael Persbrandt, Eva Green, Jonathan Pryce and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. While there are some attempts to make this slightly more arty than many genre outings, The Salvation is essentially just another chance to see one man bring some well-deserved justice to the old West.


4. Timbuktu (Click here for my full review)

Timbuktu is one of those films that sounds gruelling; hailing as it does from Africa and dealing with Islamic repression that is rife in Mali. However, in writer/director Abderrahmane Sissako’s hands, Timbuktu is much more than simply a painstaking portrait of tyranny and misery.

Religious fundamentalists now control the streets of Timbuktu, enforcing strict bans on football, music, women not wearing socks and gloves and dishing out severe punishments to those who dare defy them. Out in the nearby desert, Kidane lives quietly in the dunes with his beloved wife Satima and daughter Toya. While Kidane and his family live a peaceful and happy existence, the people in town are ruled over with an iron fist, stoned to death or flogged for defying the rule of the Islamic police and their improvised courts. Unfortunately, Kidane comes into conflict with another man which leads to him having to face the men who rule Timbuktu with no room for mercy.

Timbuktu is challenging and depressing but also surprisingly warm and even funny in places. Abderrahmane Sissako has created a thought provoking piece of cinema that may not make audiences into emotional wrecks but will certainly remain in the memory for some time.

  3. Foxcatcher (Click here for my full review)

It’s true what they say: money can’t buy you happiness or love, and it certainly cannot buy anyone talent. It is, as has so often been noted, the root of all evil and Steve Carrell’s miserable but wickedly wealthy wacko in Foxcatcher proves it perfectly.



Foxcatcher is the story of Olympic champion wrestlers, brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schulz (Mark Ruffalo). Mark is the younger brother who won a gold medal at the ‘84 Olympics while Dave is the smarter of the pair, a loving family man who coaches his brother with care and passion. The blue-collar brothers are an inseparable  team until the magnificently wealthy John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) sends an envoy out to collect Mark and fly him first class out to Du Pont’s beautiful Pennsylvania country house. Foxcatcher Farm is a mansion that would dazzle most but is particularly impressive to working class Mark, and a tour reveals the place is filled with race horses, trophies and Du Pont’s snooty mother (Vanessa Redgrave).

Carrell steals the film as a sad, pathetic, insecure little man who believes money can stop anyone saying no to him. For those who do not know the real story behind the film, try to avoid spoilers as the ending will likely be a huge shock. For everyone else, the real surprise here is Carrell whose performance as a man a million miles from normal will likely be a strong contender come award season. Catch it. 

  2. White God (Click here for my full review)

 It's the dawn of the planet of the dogs in this exceptional Hungarian film from director Kornel Mundruzco. Featuring a cast of hundreds of dogs and some striking imagery of them unleashed and taking to the city streets, it is a powerful, emotional and ultimately hilarious dog apocalypse.


When 13 year old Lili is forced by her father to get rid of her best friend and beloved mutt Hagen, it begins a story of horror and heartbreak for both the girl and her dog. Intercutting between the increasingly brutal treatment that Hagen finds himself at the hands of, and Lili's descent into teen rebellion as a response to the loss of her dog, White God is a harsh Homeward Bound where the doggy star will never be the same again by the end of the story. 

While Lili searches the streets for Hagen, the poor dog finds himself at the mercy of some savage characters and both Lili and Hagen find themselves exploited and desperate to escape their circumstances. White God then swerves violently into a wildly anarchic final act that is brutal, satisfying and absolutely hysterical in its level of horror.

Furiously entertaining with a perfect ending, White God is like 280 Dogs Later; an underdog story with some serious bite.

1. Wild Tales (Click here for my full review)

There is unlikely to be a funnier film at the BFI London Film Festival this year than the brilliantly bonkers and hysterically over the top anthology of short episodes that comprise director Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales. Never has watching a collection of diverse characters being pushed to their limits and spectacularly losing control been as much fun as it is in this violent but hilarious film from Argentina.

Choosing not to simply tell one story, writer/director Szifrón instead forces together disparate stories all linked by characters that are pushed to their limits and end up exploding, most often in magnificently brutal ways. First up in the pre-credits sequence, a model catches a flight only to realise that many of the passengers have something in common and they may not want to be on this plane after all. Then comes the tale of a waitress who is faced with a moral dilemma when a gangster who she has a score to settle with comes into her restaurant. The best of the short stories is next with the wonderfully violent encounter between a wealthy driver who overtakes and abuses a ‘redneck’ only to find himself stuck with a flat tyre further along the deserted road. Next up, a building demolition expert has a run in with the authorities over a parking ticket, a rich kid commits a hit and run to the horror of his family and finally a bride on her wedding day finds out that her new husband has been hiding a very big secret from her.

Szifrón has made an absolutely wild film from start to finish. The performances, the wildly varying music and score and the cinematography are all perfect and even the couple of stories that work less well, still have moments of genius. If there were awards for Best Fight or for Best Wedding, then this film would cream the competition. Wild Tales is one hell of a ride and a hilarious must-see.


Any of these take your fancy?

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Goodbye to Language (Adieu au Langage) Review



Perhaps Jean Luc Godard's latest experiment in cinema, image, ideas and technology is impossible to critique. It is a piece of art after all; open to wildly differing interpretations and not designed in any way to be an easy or identifiable experience for the audience. Bursting with ideas but difficult to enjoy, I found it insufferable even at 70 minutes.

There is no real narrative to speak of; a dog wanders and a man and woman meet and spout frequently nonsensical philosophical mumblings. Divided into two sections (that seem to constantly overlap), Goodbye to Language explores nature, the image as metaphor, and it’s all in some of the most headache inducing 3D you will ever see.

Narrative and character are not important however and though the dog, a mostly naked woman and a mostly shitting man recur throughout the film, we learn little of them. The man talks to the woman while on the toilet with the sound of him shitting being about as inviting as the nonsense he spouts from his mouth. The woman is naked which we are helpfully reminded is not an issue in nature as to dogs there is no such thing as the concept of nakedness. Similarly when the dog decides to roll around in what is possibly more shit, you can't help but feel that by watching the film, the audience is doing the same.


Godard experiments wildly with discontinuous editing, abrupt sounds and changes in volume which should be in some way exciting but here comes across as simply annoying. While I'm certain Godard isn't after approval, especially from those who like their cinema with a good story and interesting characters, it is still difficult to see the artistic merit in much of the film.

However, there are some moments that are briefly interesting. The 3D in particular is used in new and at times bravura ways. Godard would make James Cameron squirm in his seat with ugly compositions with objects placed frustratingly in the foreground and assaulting the eyes. Even more daring is the placing of two separate images placed over one another so that each image can only seen by closing one eye behind the 3D glasses.


No matter how odd this all seems, there is occasionally a point emerging. One shot has the subject caged by the image and there is a reference to kamera meaning prison in Russian. The voices in the story hold a disdain for the image and while it flits between philosophical essay, the world's worst home video and incomprehensible poem, Goodbye to Language warns that people will soon need an interpreter to understand what is coming out of their own mouths. Warning: if this film is anything to go by, then I already need an interpreter.

As the film loops, repeats and uses some of the same techniques over and over, many will likely be desperate to say Goodbye to Language, to Godard, to cinema and even to life itself. Its musings on God, animals, sex, death and ... um... whatever are rarely mind blowing and the technical experimentation on display is more ugly than exciting.

Call me a heathen, a philistine, or anything you like but as one 'character' declares near the end: 'I hate characters'. I could not agree less. Goodbye to Language is so frustrating, so difficult to just enjoy or engage with, that it very nearly makes me want to say goodbye to art, hello Michael Bay... almost.

Goodbye to Language is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2014 on Oct 13th at 6.30pm at the BFI IMAX. Tickets on sale from 18th September. 


More on the BFI London Film Festival 2014

More on the Cannes Film Festival 2014

Reviews of other films being screened at the festival:

White God

Timbuktu 

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) 

The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue) 

The Salvation 

Foxcatcher

Mr Turner

Foxcatcher Review



It’s true what they say: money can’t buy you happiness or love, and it certainly cannot buy anyone talent. It is, as has so often been noted, the root of all evil and Steve Carrell’s miserable but wickedly wealthy wacko in Foxcatcher proves it perfectly.

Foxcatcher is the story of Olympic champion wrestlers, brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schulz (Mark Ruffalo). Mark is the younger brother who won a gold medal at the ‘84 Olympics while Dave is the smarter of the pair, a loving family man who coaches his brother with care and passion. The blue-collar brothers are an inseparable  team until the magnificently wealthy John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) sends an envoy out to collect Mark and fly him first class out to Du Pont’s beautiful Pennsylvania country house. Foxcatcher Farm is a mansion that would dazzle most but is particularly impressive to working class Mark, and a tour reveals the place is filled with race horses, trophies and Du Pont’s snooty mother (Vanessa Redgrave).


Du Pont is a sickeningly rich, sad little spoiled man-child. Patriotic, lonely and demanding, he manages to charm Mark (mostly with offers of money) and lures him out to live and train in a beautiful training facility on the grounds. Du Pont’s mother does not approve of wrestling and though her son is desperate for her to acknowledge his passion, commitment and talent, it is clear Du Pont is simply throwing money around in order to fuel his own ego and pride. He funds the American national wrestling team in the run up to the ‘88 Seoul Olympics in the hope of some of that gold rubbing off on him in the eyes of his unimpressed mother, but also out of a strangely philanthropic sense of national pride.

Mark moves to Foxcatcher but his brother Dave resists because he is hesitant to shift his happy family around the country. While Mark is the gold medal winner, Dave is smarter, more capable and an essential part of Mark’s success. With Mark keen to step out from the shadow of his brother, and DuPont realising the importance of luring Dave, the three men are about to come into a tragic conflict.


Foxcatcher is a true life tragedy that gifts its central performers with real characters that are an actor’s dream. The central trio of Tatum, Ruffalo and Carrell are superb with the former funny man on particularly fine form and almost completely resisting the urge to turn Du Pont into a caricature. Carrell dials down anything that could make Du Pont too amusing, though there are a couple of awkward moments that raise a laugh (check out his brilliant nickname he asks to be called by Mark) and instead becomes a highly unsympathetic but sadly understandable monster that is the dark heart of the story. Carrell will get all the plaudits due to his impressive physical transformation that is completely lacking in vanity but Tatum and Ruffalo also deserve their fair share of praise. Ruffalo is typically good as the loving family man but both him and Tatum have an incredible physical presence in the film also. Their body language and movement is instantly distinctive but seems to come from a place of years of practice wrestling in the gym.

Director Bennett Miller follows Moneyball and Capote with another fascinating true story filled with attention grabbing performances. Like Moneyball, the idea of money not being necessary for great sporting achievement is revisited but instead of the charismatic Brad Pitt figure, Carrell steals the film as a sad, pathetic, insecure little man who believes money can stop anyone saying no to him.
For those who do not know the real story behind the film, try to avoid spoilers as the ending will likely be a huge shock. For everyone else, the real surprise here is Carrell whose performance as a man a million miles from normal will likely be a strong contender come award season. Catch it.

Foxcatcher is playing at the BFI London Film Festival at the following times:

Oct 16th 7.15pm Odeon Leicester Square
Oct 17th 12.00pm Odeon West End Screen 2

Tickets on sale from 18th September.

More on the BFI London Film Festival 2014

More on the Cannes Film Festival 2014

Reviews of other films being screened at the festival:

White God

Timbuktu 

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) 

The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue) 

The Salvation 

Goodbye to Language (Adieu au Langage)

Mr Turner