Wednesday, 30 September 2015

7 Minutes – Taranti-No

There are shades of knock-off Tarantino to Jay Martin’s (storyboard artist by trade, but writer-director here) heist thriller, 7 Minutes.

The film crashes to life as three masked gunmen burst into a small town bank. However, we don’t get to spend all that long with the larcenists before we’re sent back in time to meet ex-high school quarterback and father-to-be Sam (played by Luke Mitchell, whom you may recognise from his starring role in the CW’s The Tomorrow People and a supporting role in season two of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The movie continues in this fashion. We learn about the men behind the masks and their ‘in and out in seven minutes’ plan, before being thrown back into the next thirty seconds of the robbery.

It’s a solid concept – opening with the crime and then using flashbacks to see how it came about – and there’s lots of room for character work in amongst the action. So, it’s a shame that none of these characters have the charm or style of Tarantino’s greatest ‘heroes’.

What we’re left with is an overly generic ‘good man forced into a life of crime’ narrative. But, at least Mitchell makes for a watchable lead. He’s the standout performer here and comes out mostly unscathed in his battle against the rather clunky dialogue.

It’s not that 7 Minutes is especially bad, it’s just that it’s pretty nondescript and overly reliant on crime movie clichés. The non-linearity is actually handled quite well, with Martin always ensuring that we remain on the pulse of the unfolding drama. The twists may not pack much of a punch due to our lack of engagement, but they’re intelligently planted and revealed.

It would be wrong, however, to brush over some underlying moral issues. Firstly, we have some mean-spirited violence from our leads, especially against the civilians caught up in the robbery. Secondly, and more specifically, there’s an uncomfortable misogynistic seam that lingers throughout the film. On the most basic level, there’s a severe lack of female characters, even in secondary roles. But, more troubling is the treatment of Sam’s girlfriend, Kate (Leven Rambin). She’s introduced as a kind, loving partner who’s left oblivious to Sam’s criminality, and then finds herself treated rather horribly (admittedly by some rather horrible people) in the build-up to the finale, leaving her objectified and used.

Add that to the flashy way in which the violence is shot (slow motion, extreme rack focus and low angles etc.) and the whole thing strays awfully close to glorification. Martin and his talented cinematographer, Noah Rosenthal, are far better off when they’re left to focus on the rich scenery, and the pair do craft an attractive frame and make good use of some neat camera tricks.

There’s talk of how the west was won and other aspirational American dream lines, but none of the grander themes really ring all that true. Likewise, any plays towards social realism, via talk of family life and other personal struggles, never offer any real insight.

The action finale punches above the film’s low budget and the props and extras are the real deal. But nothing in 7 Minutes feels especially distinctive, and the glorification of violence and the misogynistic tendencies are disappointing.


7 Minutes is out now on UK VOD services!

Screener and images provided by Alarm Pictures. Thank you!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Coming Soon – Werewolf western 'Blood Moon' to be released in the UK on 5th October

When two Colorado outlaws hold up a stagecoach, the 
passengers – amongst them the mysterious gunslinger 
Calhoun (Shaun Dooley) – pray they’ll survive the ordeal 
and escape. But they soon realise the real danger is lurking 
outside – a beast known to the Native Americans as the 
skin walker”, which only appears on the night of a 
blood red moon to feast on human flesh... 

Helmed by veteran TV and film director Jeremy Wooding (Peep Show and 2002's Bollywood Queen) and from a screenplay by Alan Wightman, Blood Moon sees the horror and western genres collide for a howling good time!

The film features a talented British cast including Shaun Dooley (The Woman in Black), George Blagden (Les Miserables), Anna Skellern (The Descent: Part Two) and Ian Whyte (Prometheus), and is being released in the UK by StudioCanal on 5th October, having already reached the US via Uncork'd Entertainment.

Prepare yourself for a fright with creature design and SFX by Dan Martin, whose myriad of credits  include working with Ben Wheatley on Sightseers, A Field in England and the upcoming High-Rise, as well helping to transform Benicio Del Toro into The Wolfman in the 2010 film.

Since it's debut at FrightFest 2014, the film has played at numerous festivals including Cannes last year. While on it's travels, it also picked up the Best Director award at the Bram Stoker Whitby Film Festival and the Best Film Audience Award at the Ravenna Nigthmare Film Festival, in Italy.

Another claim to fame is the fact that Blood Moon is only the third western ever to be filmed in the UK, after Carry On Cowboy in 1966 and Edgar Wright's 1995 debut feature A Fistful of Fingers. It also has the honour of being the first western ever to have shot on location in Kent.

Alongside the home entertainment release, the film will also be touring the UK for a series of one-off screenings and Q&As with members of the cast and crew. The confirmed dates are as follows: 

28/09  London (The Genesis Cinema)
02/10 – Northampton (Errol Flynn Cinema)
04/10 – Wareham, Dorset (The Rex Cinema)
06/10 – Maidstone, Kent (Maidstone Film Society at the Hazlitt Theatre)
23/10 – Monmouth, Wales (The Savoy Cinema) 
03/11 – Rochester, Kent (Rochester Film Society) 

Special features on the DVD include 'Creature Feature', 'From Kent to Colorado' and 'The Gore'.

Check out the trailer for the film below and keep up to date with all the latest Blood Moon news on the film's website and Facebook page:

I'll be seeing the movie at the launch screening this coming Monday  thanks to the film's executive producer, Mark Melvin  so expect my full review of the film next week. I can't wait to see it!

In the US? Have you seen the film yet? Do let me know if you have!

Blood Moon is out in the UK on DVD and Digital HD from Monday 5th October.

Amazon pre-order

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Catch Me Daddy Review – An Eye for an Eye

Catch Me Daddy sees Sameena Jabeen Ahmed’s Laila on the run, pursued by her brother and a gang of bounty hunters who have been given the job of bringing her back home. Understandably, a lot of attention has been drawn to the Western-sounding premise, but there’s a whole lot more to the film than that and, in a way, the narrative is the least interesting aspect of this impressive British indie movie.

It is often said that eyes are the window to the soul and, whatever you think of the surrounding movie, Daniel Wolfe’s debut feature will leave you believing just that.

Led by Ahmed’s quietly effective performance, we follow the unfolding drama via her eyes; from their natural strangely mesmeric misty green, to a sleepy haze, to bloodshot and terrified. And all this from a first-time actor . . .

The great eye-work doesn’t stop there. Gary Lewis’ baby blues hide an intense pain tragically, and belie any assumptions of his muscle-for-hire cocaine addict character. This extends to some powerful images of birds of prey staring down the lens, as if the camera’s a lowly mouse caught in it’s stupefying stare.

This moment – and Wolfe’s eye for arresting imagery, as a whole – really shines and harks back to his background directing music videos. He draws so much meaning from the silences (see the dialogue-free teaser trailer) and one glorious dance sequence mid-way through would make a terrific music video in it’s own right. But, with that being the high point, we get the feeling that Wolfe feels most at home in the short-form image-heavy music videos in which he made his name.

Wolfe made the now-rare choice to shoot on 35mm film (as opposed to digital), and the results are gorgeous. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is truly exceptional and he draws a real beauty out of the moonlit moors and city lights. His exquisite framing also accentuates the cast’s set of fascinating, but rarely stereotypically attractive, faces.

In the same way, Wolfe’s very much at ease with the film’s British-ness. The locales and the accents ring true and he is refreshingly unobtrusive when it comes to the temptation to tamper and sanitise. It’s a film totally unashamed of its lack of glamour, and that’s something to be admired.

The work from composers Daniel Thomas Freeman and Matthew Wolfe (as Matthew Watson) also veers away from any genre, or even cinematic, traditions and instead focuses on the use of ambient sounds to create a jarring soundscape. One particular gunshot reverberates through the theatre and the score mirrors the shocking bursts of violence perfectly.

However, the impact of the violence does deteriorate as the film nears its somewhat weak conclusion. Wolfe shares a writing credit with his brother, Matthew, and their plotting loses its potency in later scenes. An avoidance of consequence towards the finale sits uncomfortably against the naturalism of so much of the film. Without wanting to spoil anything, the death and destruction seems a tad too much, as does Ahmed’s descent into child-like wailing.

Wolfe and Ahmed are certainly ones to watch, despite some missteps from the both of them in the final act. But it would be a downright lie to say Catch Me Daddy isn’t a highly-charged, and often immensely powerful, debut from a very talented creative team, dominated by some terrific visuals and a set of quietly effective performances.


This review was originally written for Close-Up Film.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Visit Review – Final Act Flop

The Visit is a strange, strange film.

The much talked about possible ‘return to form’ for the once unstoppable M. Night Shyamalan; a director who had a run of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs at the turn of the century, but whose recent filmography includes such stinkers as The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. So, where exactly does The Visit sit on that vast spectrum?

Funnily enough, I’d put the opening hour towards the top, and the final half hour somewhere near the bottom.

The Visit follows Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), two siblings whose mother (Kathryn Hahn) left home at nineteen and therefore the children have never met her parents. So, when said grandparents invite the two youngsters over for a week of family bonding, the suspicions start to kick in.

Well, for the audience, they do. But, Becca and Tyler happily waltz off to Pennsylvania and are left to deal with their elders’ increasingly bizarre behaviour.

It’s a strong set-up and paves the way for a slowly unfolding mystery as to what exactly is going on with these septuagenarians. And, for an hour or so, the film delivers on that promise.

Becca’s a budding filmmaker and we see all of the action through her cameras. She makes for an engaging protagonist and Shyamalan gives her a tongue-in-cheek cineliteracy, which makes for some welcome self-reflexive jokes about his recent output. Not to be outdone, her freestyle rapper brother provides broader comic relief and Oxenbould pulls it off with aplomb.

The fact the first hour works so well is due, in a large part, to DeJonge and Oxenbould’s naturalistic and supremely confident performances. As the days tick by and their grandparents’ behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, it’s the two young stars that really sell the creepiness of the situation.

Maryse Alberti (cinematographer) also shoots the frosty locales really breathtakingly, at times, capturing capillary branches silhouetted against fiery sunsets. Also striking are the blood red time-of-day titles Shyamalan emblazons on the screen, especially when set against the stillness of the surrounding scenery.

The strong sense of mystery in the early scenes sees Shyamalan deftly toying with subgenres – are we talking monsters? Aliens? Possession? He makes regular allusions to Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and left me wishing my Grimmian expertise extended beyond Hansel and Gretel. I got the feeling that a more enlightened viewer would have uncovered a far deeper web of nods and references. And they may have taken a whole lot more from the revelations of the ludicrous finale.

In the final half hour, the creepiness just becomes flat out bizarre, and that’s when the movie loses it’s footing. What was once chilling becomes camp, and the mysterious mundane. The finely woven tension is stretched just that bit too far and the tightrope collapses under the weight. From that point onwards, scenes that would have been tense just ten minutes prior, fall flat on their face.

And, while you get the feeling that Shyamalan is still chuckling to himself happily, I was left stony-faced and dissatisfied. The Visit is a case of a strong build-up that grinds to a halt thanks to a fumbled finale.


The Visit is out now on DVD/VOD in the UK.

Monday, 14 September 2015

American Ultra – Beautifully Twisted

Re-teaming Adventureland’s dynamic duo of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, American Ultra sees the pair playing Mike and Phoebe, stoner lovers who are left dumbfounded when Mike suddenly develops ass-kicking spy skills to brutally dispatch of two car thieves. The pair are then sent on the run, all the while trying to get their heads around Mike’s newfound abilities.

Eisenberg and Stewart make for a charmingly unconventional couple. The one-two of their performances and Max Landis’ writing (him of Chronicle fame and scribe of the upcoming Victor Frankenstein) makes for a killer combo. Landis writes their relationship beautifully, giving us a privileged insight into their sparkling connection. The time we spend with Mike and Phoebe in the opening half hour cements our affection for them. So, when the guns start firing (and they do), we are left firmly rooting for the lovable stoners caught in the crossfire.

By the time the blood starts flying, it becomes apparent just how important that early character work is. Landis gives us just enough downtime in the first act to earn our attention and, more importantly, our care. Had the film’s foundations not sat so firmly with me, I feel that the latter stage carnage would have toppled the whole movie.

Nima Nourizadeh (Project X), directing here, pulls no punches with the (American) ultra violence, but the elaborate blood spurts force home the over-the-top nature of the action sequences. Whereas the similarly cartoonish unexpected-action-heroes vehicle, Red, skimped on the splatter, American Ultra embraces it wholeheartedly.

That does result in some pretty relentless genre-hopping, and we’re left with a movie that never quite settles on a defined demographic. The left-field romance plays to the Adventureland crowd, whereas the exaggerated action scenes seem to appeal to a wildly different moviegoer. But, how refreshing it is to see a movie that doesn’t feel like it was made by committee. There are a handful of distinct voices at play here; Landis with his high concepts and his character work, Nourizadeh with his hallucinatory visuals and his vibrant colour palette, and Eisenberg and Stewart with their nuanced and naturalistic chemistry. And that cocktail makes for a pretty thrilling 90-minutes.

I would argue that the (many) independent production companies at play here would have covered their backs somewhat by dropping the $28m budget. But, it takes balls to go all out with an ‘original’ concept that never sits comfortably in any generic box.

American Ultra has all the makings of a cult graphic novel whose splash pages have bled onto the big screen. It’s big, bold, unashamedly weird, visually inventive, disarmingly sweet and (with the lacklustre box office) a pretty exclusive club. Suffice to say, I had a blast!


American Ultra is out on DVD in the UK from 4th January.