mother! (Cinema Review)

18 – 121mins – 2017


 

MATRIACHAL METAPHORICAL MADNESS

From the controversial Requiem for a Dream to the crucified Noah, via underappreciated The Fountain to Oscar-winner Black Swan, acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky certainly cannot be accused of ever holding back on his confrontational and surrealist visions. In his latest audience-dividing vision, striking psychological thriller mother!, he may well have crafted his boldest, bloodiest and most bonkers audio/visual art-piece to date – for better or worse!

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Rings (DVD Review)

15 – 102mins – 2017


 

COPY AND WASTE

Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of the Japanese supernatural horror classic Ringu (1998) kick-started a Western surge in popularity for “J-horror” and established lank-haired, TV-emerging Samara as an icon of the genre. That it has taken 12 years since 2005 follow-up The Ring Two to continue the Hollywood-ified franchise is surprising, particularly as interest seemed to remain at least temperate, but Rings’ disappointing box office gross is testament to the rule that no matter how long you take to “perfect” a sequel, sometimes they just aren’t required.

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Swiss Army Man (DVD Review)

15 – 97mins – 2016


 

WEEKEND AT MANNY’S

“You’re a miracle! Or I’m just hallucinating from starvation…?”

More popularly known as the film where Harry Potter plays a corpse for ninety minutes, co-writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s surreal indie comedy-drama is the epitome of a marmite movie. Appalled at its overt vulgarity and alienating premise, audience members walked out of its Sundance premiere last year, but beneath the farting corpse jokes, Swiss Army Man is also a haunting and experimental first-hand examination of a damaged soul and a troubled mind.

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The 9th Life of Louis Drax (DVD Review)

15 – 108mins – 2016


 

LOUIS IN BLUNDERLAND

Typically associated with the horror genre having created such prominent hits as Switchblade Romance, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha remakes, Mirrors and Horns over the past 14 years, French director Alexandre Aja – still only 38 years old! – branched out from his comfort zone with this surreal adaptation of Liz Jensen’s bizarre 2005 psychological mystery novel.

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Under Milk Wood (DVD Review)

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15 – 83mins – 2015


QUITE EARLY ONE MORNING

Dylan Thomas has described his own classic BBC radio play (later a theatrical production and 1972 Richard Burton-starring film) as “strangely simple and simply strange,” and no finer analysis can I make. Director Kevin Allen hoped his new filmic adaption would help bring this bizarre school-taught masterpiece to a new contemporary audience, but going in fresh I struggled greatly with this surreal and unorthodox kaleidoscope of ‘normal’ Welsh life.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Cinema Review)

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12A – 127mins – 2016 – 3D


IN THE LOOP

Ballerina, Storks, Trolls, Sing, and Moana. Four colourful, predominantly tuneful CG ‘toons which the marketing bods at Cineworld thought were perfectly suited to trail ahead of Tim Burton’s latest dark surrealist fantasy. Now, I appreciate that Miss Peregrine’s features children – even in its curiosity-piquing but less-than-punchy title – but this does not automatically a children’s film make!

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Tale of Tales (DVD Review)

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15 – 134mins – 2015


 
GRIMM KINGS

In the kingdom of Darkwood, the King of Longtrellis (Cedar Rapids‘ John C. Reilly) must slay a seabeast and feed its heart to his barren Queen (Salma Hayek) to guarantee her pregnancy. In the adjacent kingdom of Highmountain, the widowed sovereign (Toby Jones) must find a suitor for his highly-strung teenage daughter (Bebe Cave), whilst he secretly keeps a giant steak-fed flea as a pet. Won over by the singing voice of an aged crone (Hayley Carmichael), the randy King (Vincent Cassel) of the neighbouring kingdom of Stronghold is disgusted with his choice of partner – but can magic held transform her into the perfect royal bride (Stacy Martin)?

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Gothic (DVD Review)

18 – 87mins – 1986


 

CARNIVAL OF CHAOS

“As long as you are a guest in my house, you will play my games…”

Embellished with his signature idiosyncratic fusion of grotesque surrealism and indulgent eroticism, acclaimed-but-controversial visionary British director Ken Russell (Altered States) turns his fevered eye toward the fateful night in 1816 upon which young Romantic artists Shelley (Julian Sands), Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Miriam Cyr) and the doctor Polidori (Timothy Spall) gathered at the menagerie-esque madhouse of Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) to tell ghost stories – with the future Mrs. Shelley’s classic horror novel Frankenstein being the enduring outcome.

Enhanced by the eerie tones of a pheramin-lead score, and with thunder and lightening clashing outside, the dark and largely empty rooms of Byron’s uninviting Swiss sanctuary is chock-full of eccentric ambiguities and stock genre tropes – from cobwebs, rats, candles and ornamental skulls to bell jars, clockwork mannequins, suits of armour and all the ingredients to conduct a séance! Its an eclectic cluster which in the wrong hands could have appeared too busy, but Russell successfully manages to juggle all the elements into an elusive and evocative almost poetic fever dream.

The hired help merely roll their eyes at the surreal circus parading around them, but there is a frightening heightened intensity to even the artist’s frivolity, with their virtuous tempers giving way to an almost rabid frothing obscenity the longer the night goes on. There is a fine line between genius and madness and I do believe that Gothic sits pretty atop that very line!

Sex, drugs and creativity clash violently with perverse and wanton abandon in this trippy and stirring madhouse. “I never plan anything” Byron cries – and never a truer word spoken as Gothic is often maddeningly confusing (a severed pig’s head lies on a bedroom floor, a goblin-like creature watches the girls as they sleep fraught dreams, and just what was that alien-like head in the barn?!), but never anything less than gripping and evocative.

As the night races towards day, the imagery takes on even deeper metaphoric meaning, the fears and anxieties of the decadent author’s each contributing to the jigsaw-like monster they have created (“our creature”). The elements which run through Frankenstein are cleverly planted throughout this uneasy viewing experience which often leaves you – like the characters – feeling like you are “trapped like a dream in human form.” But unlike the characters we know we can escape simply by pressing “pause” – except we are so enraptured by the lavishly grotesque delights dancing before our eyes that we don’t want to.

Gothic [DVD]Indecent, erotic and eerily surreal, Ken Russell’s historically inaccurate Gothic won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those looking for an orgasmic sensory overload need look no further. Come the end credits you’ll be sweating, shivering – more than likely confounded – but ultimately satisfied by this lavish macabre mindfuck.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Alice Through the Looking Glass (Cinema Review)

PG – 113mins – 2016 – 3D


 

THE MATTER WITH THE HATTER

First announced four years ago, The Muppets resurrector James Bobin inherited the directorial top hat from Tim Burton (who stayed on in the capacity of producer) for this slow-tracked sequel to Disney’s 2010 live action Lewis Carroll remake.

“You’ve been gone too long, Alice.”

In the years following Alice’s (Crimson Peak’s Mia Wasikowska) slaying of the Jabberwocky and return to the sexist reality of 19th Century life, she has followed in her sea-fairing father’s footsteps as Captain of The Wonder. Upon debarking, Captain Kingsleigh is distraught to learn her father is dead and her spurned former fiancé, Hamish (Leo Bill), is now her boss, smarmily demanding she be demoted to clerk – no wonder our free-thinking heroine is desperate to escape once more to the dreamlike surrealism of Underland!

Stylistically in keeping with the colour-crowded, CG-heavy Alice in Wonderland, Looking Glass takes an “un-impossible” turn for the darker when the old gang of flamboyant friends tells Alice that the clown-faced Mad Hatter (Johnny Black Mass Depp) is dying of depression following the dim discovery that his estranged family of ginger hat-makers (headed by patriarch Rhys Ifans) have perished.

Desperate to put the colour back in his ghost-white cheeks, Alice tasks herself with entering the Grand Clock Tower and procuring the Chronosphere (think H.G. Well’s antique contraption mixed with General Grievous’ wheel bike) from Time (Grimsby’s Sacha Baron Cohen) himself, allowing her to journey back on the oceans of time to save the tragic Hightopp brood. But can you ever really change the past, or simply learn from it?

The grandiose time travel concept (Time is a he who has automaton Seconds for minions, who in times of need can club together into larger Minutes and giant Hours) is cleverly constructed, however no matter how poetic the plot or nifty the FX, I still don’t ever believe that the human actors are really anywhere but in front of a green screen – no matter how affected their accents or kooky their clothes.

Alice PosterDiverting from Carroll’s prose, Looking Glass successfully manages to pack more of an emotional wallop than its superficial predecessor thanks to an entangled backstory which reveals the reasons for the White (Anne Hathaway) and Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) sisterly squabbles – and the awkward medical justification for the latter’s inflated bonce. However, a lot of the surreal side characters feel like little more than frivolous window dressing in this “curiouser and curiouser” continuation which will put a Cheshire Cat-sized grin on the lips of those who loved Burton’s interpretation, but won’t convert any detractors.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Aaaaaaaah! (Blu-ray Review)

18 – 79mins – 2014


 

MONKEYING AROUND

With a title which handily doubles up as a review of the film, Aaaaaaaah! is the uncompromising brainchild of Sightseers star Steve Oram, who writes, directs and stars in this lo-fi quasi-horror satire on what would happen if man’s innate nature rose to the fore. The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, as well as a glut of other familiar faces, all pop up along the way to shed their dignity and go bananas in publicity-boosting roles.

Filmed in 2014 but only seeing release via the “Frightfest Presents” banner this past January, it’s not difficult to see why this brave/experimental cult status-destined statement on society struggled to find a distributor: even at a brisk 79 minutes it is a trying and perplexing watch.

Set in a surreal alternative universe (or it could be a post-apocalypse dystopia, this is never established) where humans have devolved to tree-humping, shit-slinging, ape-like savages, yet still wear clothes, drive cars, watch TV and live in houses, the film doesn’t take long to boggle your perception of reality, with alpha-male Smith (Oram) pissing on a wedding photo of his wife, before his beta, Keith (Fielding’s frequent collaborator Tom Meeten), obediently wipes his dick.

With dialogue completely replaced by primal grunts, we are forced to gawp in bewilderment at the often disgusting behaviour of these recognised faces, with Toyah Wilcox (seriously!) gamely dry-humping a cabinet, sticking her head in a microwave and being unceremoniously pelted with the dinner she has just made for her animalistic beau (Green Wing’s Julian Rhind-Tutt).

Violent, vulgar and often explicitly sexual (monkey’s masturbate a lot, see), this isn’t for the squeamish, easily offended or swiftly bored. Society is debased through acts of uncouth depravity (thieving, infidelity, abuse, gang war), but for all its perceived immorality, it’s all thoughtless and done without malice, simply to scoff, sleep, sex and survive – there are no ape expectations here.

With this outlandish scenario expanded beyond the everyday family dynamic to showcase examples of this society’s idea of sitcoms, cartoons, cookery shows (if you thought Nigella flaunted her cleavage, you ain’t seen nothing yet!) and video games, Aaaaaaaah! is a complete vision, but distractingly inconsistent. So mankind has evolved enough to make toilets and cutlery, yet people still shit on the kitchen floor and eat like savages? Likewise, how is it that cocaine exists as a recreational drug if people don’t know how to use it?

Props to Steve Oram for seeing his surreal concept through, it’s certainly a unique and unpredictable experience – not to mention a frightful prospect – and it marks him out as a filmmaker to look out for. However, as a piece of entertainment, his divisive debut feature is just too frustratingly uncanny to be devoured in one sitting – or maybe I’m just too much of a Neanderthal to appreciate it?

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars