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SXSW Review: Game of Death

Game of Death

Seven teenagers find a seemingly ordinary day of coasting through adolescence changed by the discovery of a board game, the eponymous Game of Death. The rules are simple…kill or be killed. When this rule is ignored, the grizzly reality behind the game is revealed, and with their own lives on the line, will they play along and kill to survive?

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REVIEW: The Chamber

The Chamber3

Directed by first-time feature director Ben Parker, The Chamber follows three members of a Special Ops team and the pilot of a submersible craft who become trapped underwater during a secret recovery mission. What ensues is equally a battle of wits and determination as it is a classic fight for survival, but The Chamber is never quite as exciting or claustrophobic as its concept would suggest. Nonetheless, as an easy-to-watch thriller, The Chamber delivers enough thrills and edge-of-your-seat action to ensure you make it to its nail-biting end.

The Chamber is only 86 minutes long, but when almost 80 of those are spent in a claustrophobic submersible, you really begin to feel those minutes as they slowly tick by. And it’s not always a good thing. It’s great to feel the same suspense, paranoia and stress as the trapped characters, but it is the characters themselves that will truly begin to grate on your nerves. Edwards AKA Red (Charlotte Salt) who is the leader of the Special Ops team, is particularly aggravating. Her take-no-shit attitude would have been commendable if her accent wasn’t so terrible. You don’t have to know that Salt was born in Newcastle to sniff out her poor attempt at being American, but it sure does help.

The Chamber4Red is the leader of the Special Ops team and spends the majority of the film barking orders or back-chatting poor Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), the pilot. Writing a strong female character in your film is wonderful, but there is a difference between a woman who is strong-willed, smart and courageous and, simply, a bitch. Within the first 10 minutes I was eager for her to die or, at least, be taken down a peg or 20, but no such luck. She’s a woman after all and, of course, no real danger will come to her. Red becomes a character desperately thrown in to appeal to the feminist audience; a beacon for equality that shines no brighter than a flickering candle. Sure, she has a snappy temper, but she’ll need more than that if she is to be the Ripley of this submersible ship.

Aside from the annoyance caused by the film’s sole female character, the rest of The Chamber isn’t too bad. It’s certainly not perfect and there are a lot of moments that drag when we’re left to watch the crew fight like cats and dogs, but when The Chamber is at its best, it’s a gripping and unpredictable ride where the end is never quite certain. When you make it past the dwindling beginning to the ferocious finale you’ll appreciate the shift in pace, thanking the slower opening for shining a light on the film’s most exhilarating moments. The film improves as it goes on as the characters are at their wit’s end, truly struggling to survive as the submersible slowly fills with water after getting damaged. It is then that the tension effortlessly rises as we know it is only a matter of time before they drown. It’s a simple and sure way to ensure suspense, but it’s an effective one.

Parker manages to use the small space exceedingly well by shooting scenes up-close and personal, showing the characters’ confinement in simple shots that barely fit everyone in the frame. It’s a believably tiny space and when coupled with the film’s few heart-racing scenes, it’s impossible not to commend The Chamber‘s execution of top-notch action. Even if they are far and few between. Coupled with one character’s dwindling sanity and a few make-or-break moments, The Chamber‘s final half an hour is its strongest. There’s nothing truly memorable to ensure you’re thinking about this Chamber long after the credits role, but there are a couple of surprises in this solid, well-directed story of survival.

Despite never offering as much excitement as it could have, The Chamber makes ample use of its claustrophobic setting to deliver a short – but not always sweet – thrilling underwater adventure.

The Chamber will be released in cinemas on 10th March 2017, and on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download on 20th March 2017.

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Review: WE GO ON is a Truly Human and Poignant Parable

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Do you remember what it was like to be child? The days going by with nothing but time, support and no fears. It is pleasant when you close your eyes and remember as well as create scenarios that reflect innocence that you have experienced. It’s a powerful set of moments that make you feel warm, confident and free from anything that may hurt you. In the same breath, it is the same memories and feelings that can cultivate fear, anxiety and angst with everything in the world around you. This is one of the prime themes for the film We Go On from filmmakers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton.

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DVD

REVIEW: Vengeance: A Love Story

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Despite its by-the-numbers title, Vengeance: A Love Story doesn’t have much vengeance in it. Actually, come to think of it, it doesn’t have much love either. And the story is pure melodrama, sketched from paper-thin characters and well-worn genre tropes.

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REVIEW: The LEGO Batman Movie

Lego Batman Review

Batman has been through the ringer. He has had a countless amount of conceptions from the weird and the whacky to the brooding and emotional; bad films to great films; awful films to genius films. Batman has had some black days and sometimes, really dark grey days.

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Reviews

REVIEW: Blind Sun

Blind Sun review

In the climate of the United States right now, many fear for the future one way or another. The world is ever changing whether you support, revolt, enjoy the spoils or face the effects of a world slowly falling to seed under the control of those who have no care for anyone but themselves.

This perspective is the foundation for filmmaker Joyce A. Nashawati and her latest film Blind Sun. Taking us on the journey of a mysterious man named Ashraf Idriss (Ziad Bakri) who has spent his last years going from country to country house sitting for those of the upper class. As he travels from Paris to Greece, he moves through a long and dark tunnel entering a world that seems to be brighter, hotter and in a state of unrest. He is stopped by a police officer who searches his car and seizes his visa and papers. Ashraf feels a panic and loss of his identity as he heads for his next assignment. As Ashraf makes his way to the isolated house owned by a rich man and his upper class family, the viewer sees that they have everything in excess including a pool, ample water supply, a garden, among other things, and are kept safely behind barbed wired walls.

Ashraf takes on the responsibility of protecting the property and home while the family goes away on vacation. Over the weeks to follow (I think, but it seems almost timeless in the way the story flows), Ashraf is beginning to break down overall as pressure, guilt, lack of water and more are wearing him down. With each day that goes by, his mind is fracturing as he sees things that might not really be there … or perhaps they are. He neglects the family cat, himself and the property. He blacks out from the heat and lack of water. The glass house of luxury is slowly becoming a mausoleum on the hill above the town which is suffering from the water shortage, drought, an uprising and police oppression. In the end, will Ashraf face the mounting pressure of so much falling in on him or will he understand a higher purpose and meaning to the events that are unfolding and flowing around him?

blind-sunBlind Sun can be interpreted in so many different ways by so many different people. For me, on multiple viewings, it became a love and hate experience with the film earning my complete respect in the end. Blind Sun is so intelligent and symbolic which, for me, especially during the first screening, gave me the sensation I was not catching on to the many messages, symbolism, sophistication and complexity that Nashawati builds through the running time.

Nashawati packs many themes into the films narrative including religion, history, psychology, society and more. For every viewer, I believe there will be a different set of interruptions for the variety of story points. The idea of revolution. The connection of biblical worship and religion. The journey of Ashraf from the fire and heat to baptism. The symbolism of the community, property, the water, the snake, the stars, the illusions and more. At some points, it seemed very complex and very layered; almost too smart in my opinion. At times, it is confusing and off balance but I do believe that this overwhelming feeling connects you to the performance.

However, the film is quite an achievement. The visual presentation is a canvas for the beauty of storytelling to unfold on. Incredible use of locations. The use of light, color and shadow. The power of score and sound production. The camera framing and movement all tell stories in their own way.

It starts off for me with the locations. The texture, lines and colors are stunning and the way that the camera embraces them is a journey for the eyes. The symbolism of the glass house and his fragile state are paired so well. Each segment of the house going deeper into his psyche as well as the growing deterioration of the property and growing emptiness of the pool say so much without a word. The visual waves of heat and the focus on the effects of all those who deal with the heat wave reinforces the power that this has from the drops of sweat to the tanning of skin.

The cinema scope reflecting the variety of roads that Ashraf travels down gives length and distance to the overall journey he is put through. The wide shots of the surrounding deserts and the particularly cramped framing of the town where we find those fighting for water versus Ashraf who becomes a voyeur. Again, the glass house which symbolises many different themes and can be taken so many ways. Temptation, gluttony, The Garden of Eden, excess, guilt, worship and at the core Ashraf’s spider webbing mind.  Each location that Nashawati presents, such as the set design, lighting and placement add the growing dread and visual look of something truly powerful and symbiotic.

That visual presentation is also created by simple manipulations of shadow and light throughout the film. The paranoia building and the reactions of Ashraf. A color palate that goes from very cool and safe with the water to browns to reds that feel like a burning hell surrounding Ashraf. The tricks of Ashraf’s mind like shadows behind curtains, blobs against walls or moving in the frame are tools to show the mental breakdown. The oversaturation of light that floods the frame to the point that you are adjusting and struggling like Ashraf. The POV through Ashraf’s eyes of the sun and brightness, at times over exposed, other times like an evil eye.

This goes hand in hand with Bakri’s performance. The change in personality and condition from day to night. Is he truly seeing someone after him? Is someone in the house with him? Is he doing all of this damage and blacking out? The mounting guilt, isolation in luxury, excess and expectations. This is created and cultivated with incredible lighting, movement of shadow and reflection, especially from the water. The glass house which is flooded with light as a beacon of entitlement and a shrine like feel.

This is blended effectively with the sound design and foley. The slow build of the soundscape that goes along with his mental breakdown. Motor bike sounds in the distance. Steps, breaking of glass, the cat’s meow, the water running, the wind and more versus the sounds of night like the smooth breeze, softness, jazz, touching of skin, water moving and more. This is always a very clever way to build layers onto a character that is performed with method but elevated with the talents around them. The score has an edge that gets in your head and lingers. Giving it a 1970’s feel, the score and soundtrack create the inner sound of Ashraf’s mind and the world crumbling around him. You have a range of sound from echoes, to strings, moans and tormenting beats. That is contrasted with honey dripped jazz vocals that transition into the intense beats that dictates mood, emotion, conflict, instability and events mounting.

Overall Blind Sun is a statement at the core. It talks about a future that may be closer then we think. It talks about trust in those around us and survival. It shows the reactions of those on the different levels of society and how they react to reality. It is a powerful film that is part mystery, part 1970’s stylized drama and of course a very intelligent horror film with many underlying messages. After I watched Blind Sun, I thought of films like Haute Tension, The Strangers, Dark Water, The Citadel and Last Shift for a variety of effective scares, themes, visual design, dread and tension. Blind Sun has all of these elements but stands on its own strong. It may be confusing at times and very detailed, but it is worth watching at least twice to experience it and then to find the details that makes it such a strong film. Test yourself. Fall into Ashraf’s madness as a voyeur and try not to lose your mind in the Blind Sun.

 

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Cinema

REVIEW: Loving

loving-e

Jeff Nichols’ latest film, Loving, tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose marriage leads the powers that be in their home state of Virginia to banish them from their home. Desperate to return, their desire to be free to love would be heard and ultimately, change American law forever.

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Cinema

REVIEW: La La Land

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La La Land follows the story of two hopefuls drifting through Los Angeles on the flight of their dreams alone: Mia is an aspiring actress desperate to be given the chance to prove her talent rather than vicariously connect through that world in her role as the barista of the studio lot’s coffee shop; Sebastian is a musician almost obsessively besotted with Jazz as an art form, and hopes to one day own his own Jazz club where he can let the improvisational joy of Jazz flourish. The two are seemingly drawn by the hands of fate to one another, romance blooms … but the paths of love and creative fulfilment prove to be a twisted road, and the journey they take will test the beliefs they hold dearest within their hearts.

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REVIEW: Monster Trucks

Monster Trucks

I’m going to hold my hands up high and declare that I didn’t hate Monster Trucks. Did I love it? Of course not. There’s very little to love in this familiar moral tale that warns of the dangers of oil drilling and damaging the environment, while promoting the importance of following your dreams and fighting for good. Stamping on the big guy. Proving the small man can win, etc.

The story follows Tripp (Lucas Till) who works at a garage building a monster truck made from scrap metal. He lives in a down-beaten, dull town and yearns for bigger things, hoping that his truck will lead him on the road to better things and a freedom he is yet to find. An accident at an oil drilling site offers him the opportunity when a tentacled monster is unleashed from the ground; with a love for speed, the monster jumps in to Tripp’s truck and puts the pedal to the metal, taking Tripp and his lady friend Meredith (Jane Levy) on one hell of an adventure.

Monster Trucks was not made for critics or for audiences over the age of twelve, so it’s no surprise to see that this film is probably not going to appeal to 99% of the people reading this review. However, below the surface of its need for speed and general sense of “wahoooo!”, Monster Trucks has a solid – albeit familiar – message about the environment which is relevant, even if it’s not particularly earth-shattering. Remembering that this film is targeted at kids and early teens, it will do no harm for them to be reminded of the importance of saving animals (or tentacled car-loving monsters), returning them to their habitat and learning that going against the grain can sometimes be a good thing.

Tripp’s characterisation, again, is not the most refreshing and there are around 1.25 million films that follow various characters wishing for more than life has dished them. Nonetheless, it is a feeling that many will associate with and, once again, especially those young teenagers that the film is targeting. Remembering that school is not everything – although, very important – and that you can educate yourself in the wide world, too, will appeal to those that feel out-of-place in the education system. And, what’s wrong with that? Tripp skimps out of school – to the annoyance of Meredith who is keen to excel in a project they’ve been teamed up on – but, he goes on to achieve different greatness by following his dreams and committing to something outside of school.

Yes, the film is that cheesy. It’s all about the greater good and never backing down, making sure you listen to your heart and never give up, etc. The script is bursting with lines that’ll have you cringing; especially from Tripp’s almost nemesis Sheriff Rick (Barry Pepper) who loves to tell Tripp how rubbish a human he is. Alas, all this negativity feeds Tripp’s desire to leave the town, encouraging us to never let the dickheads (excuse my French) get us down.

As to be expected, there’s a whole heap of exciting action sequences in there, too. They are ridiculous. Almost Fast and Furious 7 levels of ridiculous, but they’re also a ridiculous amount of fun. Who doesn’t want to see a monster-driven truck jump off a 1000ft (estimate) cliff? Exactly, you all know you do. The CGI isn’t even that bad and despite the film’s bizarre similarities to the Sharktopus films (particularly the one with the Pteracuda), the special effects are not B-movie level.

All in all, this isn’t going to be an Oscar-nominated cult classic that will go down in history as a genre-bending masterpiece, but, I didn’t fall asleep when I watched it and I only sighed a couple of times. Kids will find it fun and parents will probably want to sob into their popcorn, but it’s really not that bad. Average, but not terrible, Monster Trucks is an unforgettable ride packed with familiar moral lessons and a heart that is undoubtedly in the right place.

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SiREN Review

siren-1

SiREN grows upon the mythology created in a segment in anthology film, V/H/S. The segment plays well at the beginning of the feature film and creates a deep mythology already and eludes to it as little as possible in its brief running-time. This time, director Gregg Bishop has a full feature-length to play with in his mythology, reinventing the world and bringing new characters with a similar dynamic to the segment itself. Amateur Night, the title of the segment, had promise for an expansion it seemed. Sadly, the feature film proves otherwise with all of the exhilaration and interest of the succinct short, evaporating as it lingers along.

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