Monthly Archives: December 2013

Not So Secret Santa Review Swap – Lovely Molly

This post is part of the Not-So-Secret Santa Review Swap being held over at The Cinematic Katzenjammer, in which participants ‘gift’ a film for another blogger to watch and write about. You can check out the full list of entries here. Here’s my post on the film that was gifted to me, Lovely Molly.

I knew I’d end up with a horror film.

Lovely Molly is the story of Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and her new husband Tim (Johnny Lewis) who, following their wedding, move into Molly’s childhood home. However, painful memories soon surface for Molly and a powerful force soon envelopes her.

Now it’s not that I don’t like horror films (I love The Shining and Halloween), it’s just that they scare me. I know that’s the point but I’m not a massive fan of being scared. Even the worst horror films that most people sneer at will probably have me weeping like a small child.

However, the only thing that scared me about Lovely Molly was the streaming quality on my laptop.

That’s being slightly unfair. The first 20 minutes or so had me on edge a little, although that may well have been simply my expectation that I was going to be scared. After that, however, it did little to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

See, there’s a bit too much going on with Lovely Molly. It’s part home invasion, part slasher, part supernatural horror, part possession horror, part found footage; it just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There’s also some stuff about horses it seems. It does most of these parts admirably enough, but put them all together and it’s somewhat of a mess.

After that promising first act, the film just gets a little boring and I found myself really not caring what happened to Molly. As she seems to go more and more insane, she turns into more and more of a douchebag and I just wanted one of the other characters to do her in. Whether or not I was supposed to identify with her or not in some way I’m not sure.

There are also some of the most pointless sex scenes ever created in the history of film. As far as I was concerned, they served absolutely no purpose whatsoever. I have no problem with a bit of sexy time, but here it just stood out like a sore, naked thumb.

I did think that certain parts of the film worked quite well, however. The more supernatural side of things was probably the most successful, and the film’s climax was pretty interesting, taking a rather leftfield turn of events. However, in this film it seemed a little too leftfield and didn’t really fit well with that had gone before. Good climax but in the wrong film. It’s also one of those films that lets the audience decide how much is actually happening and how much is in Molly’s head. Sometimes that seems like a cop out but it works reasonably well here. The denouement, however, can be seen coming a country mile off and is massively cliched.

So, going into Lovely Molly I was a little wary that I’d need new pants but that was not to be. Not totally sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Lovely Molly isn’t a horrible film; it does flirt with some good ideas but just never really follows through with any of them.

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Film Review: The Act of Killing

In the 1960s, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military. Anyone siding with the government was branded a ‘communist’ and was killed. Anwar Congo was one of the men responsible for the killings and, along with some of his cohorts, re-enacts the killings as dramatic works of fiction

I don’t think it’s too much of a sweeping statement to say that everyone’s aware of the events of World War II and the Nazi’s genocide of the Jews. But I’d put a good deal of money on not many people knowing that virtually the same thing happened in Indonesia in the 1960s. I certainly didn’t.

There’s no two ways about it; The Act of Killing is an incredibly difficult watch. I can’t think of any other film that has literally left me open mouthed and dumbfounded at what I was watching, and much of that is because of the way director Joshua Oppenheimer (you can read an excellent interview with Oppenheimer here) has chosen to go about telling the story.

Getting Anwar Congo and his sycophantic sidekick Herman Koto to re-enact the killings on film and create dramatised versions of the events is a work of absolute genius and serves only to further highlight their atrocities. They create scenes covering various film genres including gangster films, westerns and musicals, each twisted and disturbing to watch as they laugh and joke their way around the subject. Oppenheimer doesn’t need an agenda here; just letting it play out as it does tells its own story.

The casual, almost banal, way they talk about the killings is really quite startling. They proudly hide nothing and openly discuss killing hundreds and thousands of people as if swatting a troublesome fly. For example, when watching one of the scenes back in which he demonstrates his favourite method of killing, Anwar becomes visibly uncomfortable. However, we soon learn that it’s because he realises he’s wearing the wrong kind of trousers on the film to those he wore in real life. That’s the level of casual sadism we’re dealing with, and that’s just one example of many.

There has been some criticism levelled at the documentary in that it doesn’t address the role the US played in the killings, effectively supporting what was happening at the time. However, Oppenheimer has simply chosen a different route to take with the film and that’s his prerogative. It would simply be impossible to cover this topic from every angle, and those wanting more details should take it upon themselves to do some research.

This is by no means a comprehensive account of the killings but is more than enough to provide a truly horrifying snapshot into events that have somehow gone largely unreported. The Act of Killing is eye-opening, shocking and most of all important.

Pros

  • Incredibly inventive way of telling the story
  • An important historical event gaining wider coverage
  • Illuminating interviews with the subjects

Cons

  • Some slight production value issues

5 pigeons

5/5 pigeons

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Why Gravity’s Brilliance is Depressing

Gravity is a fantastic film. Sure, it may have a few issues here and there but it’s an experience few other films can match. Visually it’s an absolute masterpiece and made me realise why I love the cinema so much. However, this also made me a little depressed.

After I watched Gravity, I realised that once it disappears from cinemas in the next month or so (it’ll have already disappeared in most other countries), it will likely never be experienced in quite the same way.

As we all know, some if not most films are better at the cinema, especially action films with big set pieces. They can still be immensely enjoyable at home on a smaller screen but nothing quite beats an enormous cinema screen with full surround sound. So much of Gravity is about becoming completely immersed in the experience and being in the cinema allows that. Put the film on a small screen and it will lose much of what makes it what it is. Sat in a dark cinema, you’re effectively there with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating miles above the Earth but sat at home with various other distractions, that level of immersion is a lot less likely.

In the future, cinemas may well dust it off and give it another run as part of a showcase or anniversary of something or other, but for the most part it will be relegated to DVD and Blu-ray viewings, and I suspect it simply won’t be anywhere near as good.

Of course this can be applied to pretty much every film, and there are many that I’ve watched at home and can only imagine how much better it would have been on the big screen. For example, I’m very jealous that I wasn’t able to see Kubrick’s 2001 or Ridley Scott’s Alien at the cinema; those are just two films that I imagine would be unbelievable when seen on a huge screen.

It just hit me with Gravity that much of what makes this film so great will soon be lost, and that’s a little sad.

Are there any films that you think really only work at the cinema or that you really wish you’d have the opportunity to watch when they first came out?

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Film Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Following the events of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdean (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are paraded round as celebrities by the powers that be in The Capitol. However, worried about her Katniss’ growing popularity amongst the repressed Districts, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) creates the Quarter Quell to mark the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, sending Katniss, Peeta and other previous winners back into the arena.

The second installment of a trilogy is often the darkest; just look at Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as examples. And it’s this way for a reason. We’re at the mid-way point in the story where the threat is usually at its highest and still a way off finding a resolution for the characters. This is where we’re at with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

The first Hunger Games film was a surprisingly adult affair considering its young adult demographic and featured a strong female lead, an attribute many considered an advantage over its Twilight peers. It was also a satirical look at today’s society, examining the class system and adding a modern twist to Orwell’s ‘big brother’ ideas.

Catching Fire is essentially split into two parts. The first focuses on Katniss coming to terms with the events of the first film and how she’s struggling to deal with having killed people and consequently being hailed as a celebrity because of it. This half may seem a little slow to those expecting the intensity to instantly match that of the first film, but it’s necessary to evaluate the past events as well as set up the second half of the film.

The second half plays out in a very similar fashion to the first film and, as such, feels a little repetitive at times. There are a few added elements and new characters but it does tread familiar ground perhaps too often. The film does also feel rather flabby with its two and a half hour runtime. There are a few scenes which probably could easily have stayed on the cutting room floor to make it a much tighter film which, considering the rather rushed denouement, is a little damaging to the pacing.

Now, onto the film’s tone and just how dark it is. The first film wasn’t exactly sweetness and light, particularly with its Battle Royale theme, but Catching Fire takes it to a new level. Here we have public executions and torture, as well as a really quite disturbing turn of events that isn’t dwelt upon too much but adds another dimension to the second half of the film. It’s a brave decision from director Francis Lawrence to run with a darker tone but the film benefits massively as a result.

Catching Fire’s cast have also developed along with the film. In the first film, it was Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch who really stood out but here pretty much everyone else has upped their game. Elizabeth Banks as Effie is a much more human character this time around, whilst Stanley Tucci as TV host Caesar Flickerman is fantastically creepy. However, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who really steps up to the plate. There was little wrong with her performance as Katniss Everdean last time around but she’s matured so much since then. She shows real conflict in her actions, perfectly portraying Katniss’s strength one minute and frailties the next.

Catching Fire has done exactly what it needed to do. It’s still true to the first in terms of style and message but has evolved the story and the main characters just the right amount. Splitting the final book, Mockingjay, into two films is a somewhat risky choice, but thanks to Catching Fire the franchise is doing nothing but growing in strength.

Pros

  • Great performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks
  • A real dark undertone to the film
  • An interesting comment on society
  • Fantastic costume design

Cons

  • Rushed denouement
  • Some characters feel underdeveloped
  • A little too long

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Blackfish

A documentary looking at the treatment of killer whales kept in captivity and used for entertainment, and how this can have disastrous consequences.

Even for the most ardent animal lover, it can be easy to get swept up in seeing animals such as killer whales perform backflips and carry humans around on their nose. Witnessing such massive and majestic creatures do such tricks is simply fascinating. However, when the show’s over and everyone’s gone home, the cold, harsh reality is that these creatures have been pulled out of their natural habitat, separated from their family and forced to live in cramped environments, and that’s what Blackfish wants everyone to know.

We hear from various ex-SeaWorld employees who have seen first-hand how these animals are treated and the effects captivity has on the killer whales. They talk fondly of their affection for the animals but have become horrified at the distress these animals are in. This distress sometimes manifests itself in not-as-rare-as-we’re-led-to-believe incidents in which trainers are killed or badly injured.

This is shocking enough, but what truly hits home is the mental anguish the whales are in. Not only do the whales attack each other after being cramped up for so long but their mental states also disintegrates. Seeing footage of a whale mourning the loss of her calf after they’re separated is genuinely heartbreaking and gets the message across far more effectively than the incidents with humans.

However, Blackfish does have one fundamental flaw, and that’s how one-sided it is. Whilst it’s fine enough for a documentary to push a message, it owes it those involved, as well as its audience, to offer some kind of counter-argument. In this case, we only really hear from those against using killer whales for entertainment. You may strongly agree with that view, but the opposition still have a view worth hearing. To give the filmmakers their due, they did ask SeaWorld for a comment but the invitation was declined at the time (although they have since responded). This isn’t the filmmakers’ fault but the documentary is poorer as a result.

Despite that, the facts are presented very well, and they simply cannot be argued against. It’s an incredibly powerful documentary that goes far beyond the what the public see when they pay their SeaWorld admission fee. If you think these shows look like good entertainment, Blackfish may well make you think twice.

4 pigeons4/5 pigeons

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