Forgetting July (2017) Film Review

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We’ve spent the Autumn months with filmmaker Chad Ritchie in his previous movies, Project October and Fields of November, and now he is ushering us into a new season with Forgetting July, his latest film. I have been eagerly anticipating new work from Ritchie after connecting with and truly loving his previous work, and so I jumped at the chance to see an early screening of this.

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Written by Ritchie and co-writer Haley Garrison, the film opens without concern for traditional openings and we quickly fall into the dialogue driven world of the characters with the titular July, an aspiring model, played with confidence and energy by Isabel Magowan, right in the centre.

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July, fresh off a photoshoot and with a lot obviously on her mind, runs in to an old friend, Alex, played wonderfully by Alexis Barron-Archer, who she hasn’t seen in some time. Alex also seems distracted and somewhat drowned in the noise of the city and the even noisier chaos of her own thoughts. Asking July to go with her to a country house for the weekend, the two young women retreat from the city in order to talk in the peace of the countryside.

There is a real juxtaposition between locales. We witness conversations in the city, with the buses hissing, crowds marching to wherever and the engines growling, and then we find ourselves witnessing conversations in lush green fields and along rivers, scenes that feel much calmer. The calm is mirrored in the way the characters are able to unload their thoughts and talk deeper about their lives. There are also scenes in which the two women sit together beside a campfire. These seem to offer the most personal of revelations, and definitely the darkest. The performances from Magowan and Barron-Archer in these scenes are spectacular and really left me feeling a range of emotions. The locations are really something, and become a character unto themselves as we watch our characters’ stories unfold.

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An aspect of Chad Ritchie’s direction that I was drawn to in his previous works is here also. The way he frames his shots and gives a feeling of being a fly on a wall in many scenes makes things feel much more genuine. There is a freedom to the performances that likely comes from Ritchie’s fondness for improvisation in his scenes, and the actors really seem to shine because of that. The lack of shackles really adds to the film, and convinces us as viewers that these two women know each other and really care about what the other has to say. There are so many moments in this film in which we follow the characters as they talk to each other about their lives, their dreams, their regrets and desires, and it feels like we’re walking beside real people as they contemplate life and unload their feelings. It’s as fresh and invigorating here as it was when I first watched Fields of November and Project October.

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At its core, Forgetting July is a story of finding yourself at a time when things feel overwhelming. It’s a story of friendship and coming to terms with where life has lead. It’s extraordinary, it bats away cliches and refuses to take routes that we’ve seen so many times before. It’s original and beautiful with performances that command attention and a style that is minimalist in the best way. There isn’t wasted movement or moments that feel pointless here, and the world that the characters inhabit, as well as the personalities of the characters themselves, feel real, lived-in and authentic.

As the film ended I was left open-mouthed by what I’d seen here. There are joyous moments to be found among the fields and concrete of Forgetting July, but there is also plenty of darkness too. The brilliant writing, exceptional performances and excellent direction create something truly special. I don’t want to give anything away, but I urge you to seek out a way to watch this film. I was left wanting more because of how much I enjoyed it, but at the same time I felt it was just right in length and ended in the most breathtaking way. A glimpse at life through grey lenses, Forgetting July is, quite frankly, unforgettable.

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Hey reader!

Thanks for stopping by The Cinephiliacs, we do appreciate you readership. We’ve been slacking in the last few months here for various personal reasons but the intent is here to write more again. Hopefully we will have more reviews and articles coming soon, so stick around and check back for some new content.

Thanks for the support.

Chris (Editor-in-chief)

The Cinephiliacs Team Recommends Some Halloween Flicks!

Happy Halloween ghouls and boils. Hope you have a spooktacular time today, whatever it is you’re doing. We, here at The Cinephiliacs, will be watching some of our favourite Halloweenie films. A year ago the team picked our fave Halloween movies and talked about them, this year however we will merely be recommending a movie that we watch at this time of year. We did our favourites, but this article will look into a handful of other flicks that we also like to throw on while the ghosts and goblins are out in high numbers knocking for treats. So, here goes…

Chris Cummings;

Recommendation: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

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I adore Autumn. October is the time when the weather loses its humidity, the trees change to a beautiful deep orange and Halloween is just around the corner. It is at this time of year where I tend to watch more horror movies or films that are set during the specific season, but this isn’t a column to recommend a horror film, and so I wanted to highlight a film that really encapsulates Halloween for me. There are a few flicks I always visit during Halloween time. Satan’s Little Helper is a little known slasher film that really captures the fun and freaky feeling. Trick ‘r Treat does the same and is a great modern anthology with wonderful Halloweenie imagery. These two horror films are great ones to watch but there is another film, or television special, that truly brings that Fall atmosphere and that childhood cute spookiness, and that’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.

I’m a big Charlie Brown fan and the Christmas special is an annual tradition in our home during the festive season, but for the season of “good chill” the pumpkin episode is just perfect. They don’t make animation like this anymore. The writing is exquisite, the way the characters are drawn is classical and the overall “feel” is just spot-on. It’s a timeless tale and even as an adult I find it so charming and brilliant. I think, though, that the reason I, a thirty-something, can still go back and watch Charlie Brown animations over and over again is because of the attitude, the wonderfully morose tone and the intelligent writing. I never fail to laugh while simultaneously feeling the “warm fuzzies”. Truly one for the whole family, this is essential viewing for Halloween.

bookmousenook;

Recommendation: Hocus Pocus

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Live-action Disney with witches? Count me in. I’m a Disney fan, a lifelong one like so many people, and Hocus Pocus is a favourite of mine to watch at Halloween. During myself and Chris’ honeymoon at Walt Disney World we got to see the live Hocus Pocus stage show on Halloween night during “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party” so this film has a soft spot in more ways than one for me.

It’s super entertaining, it is acted brilliantly (especially by Bette Midler) and has gone on to be a huge favourite at this time of year. I don’t tend to watch much horror so I love when there are movies like this that offer that feeling of Halloween without scaring the pants off you. Brilliant!

Jill Kessler;

Recommendation: Let the Right One In

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This year, my pick for must watch Halloween viewing is the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One in. Every year this film tops my choices for must watch in October, along with a previous year’s pick, The Changeling.

I have a weakness for Scandinavian and Nordic films in general due to the masterful atmosphere and cinematography that is a hallmark of many offerings. After seeing Lars Von Triers The Kingdom in 1994, I made a mental note to see as many dark, brooding dramas and horrors that Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland produce.

Let the Right one In is directed by Tomas Alfredson and based on the book of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It tells the story of Oskar, who is a bullied, quiet child who lives with his mother in an apartment complex. He meets Eli, also 12 when she and her guardian move to the same complex. Eli spies on Oskar while he is role playing how he might stand up to his school tormentors. They become acquainted but Eli warns Oskar that they can never be friends, but gives no explanation why. Strange crimes, murders and disappearances are happening in the quaint, snow covered town and Oskar is admonished to go no further than the apartment complex’s courtyard. There he bonds with Eli and she encourages him to stand up for himself and they begin to communicate nightly via Morse Code through their apartment walls. Oskar is so starved for affection and belonging that he pays no attention to some bizarre things that Eli does, such as bearing the piles of snow in bare feet, scaling walls and the low grumbling and growling sounds that surround her.

The look of this film is magnificent. It captures the isolation that winter and snow can cause perfectly. The adolescent children are all very believable and relatable, even the jerky ones when you see the impetus for their bullying. The soundscape of crunching snow, dripping blood and screams set the tension and draws the viewer in immediately. Among the horror, the budding friendship and love that Oskar and Eli have shines. The actor who plays Oskar, Kare Hedebrant portrays the anguish and triumphs of adolescence masterfully. I don’t want to divulge much more about the plot, suffice it to say that if you are looking for something beyond slashers and things that go bump in the night movies, give Let the Right One in a try. It is among the horror films that I must watch at least once a year and in my top 10 of all time.

Will Tingle;

Recommendation: Bride of Frankenstein

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Last time we did this I recommended the superb Trick ‘r Treat as your “main event” Halloween movie, but I also pointed out that you just weren’t doing the season properly if you didn’t set eyes on at least one Boris Karloff movie at some point in October; and there’s none finer than Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

My favourite of all of the classic Universal Monsters cannon, Bride is where director James Whale (who also directed 1931’s Frankenstein) really hit his stride, and set the tone that would continue through the shared universe inhabited by Universal’s three biggest Monsters throughout the 30s and 40s.

The tone is perfect for Halloween, being whimsical and (by today’s standards, at least) non-threatening; perfect for adults and (supervised) youngsters alike, and the story has enough thrills, laughs, and even pathos, to entertain all but the most cynical.

It’s not for nothing that both Karloff’s green skinned flat-headed Monster, and Elsa Lanchester’s portrayal of The Bride, with her huge beehive haircut with its distinctive white streak, have become icons of the season!

Mondo Squallido;

Recommendation: The Horror Network: Volume 1

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When I was younger, Halloween was a serious thing for me, in the funnest possible sense. Costume sorted weeks in advance, sweets bought for the now rare sight of Trick or Treaters pretty much a last minute thing and the wonderfully bleak and nippy Autumnal mid-evening weather with the smell of mischief and stale fireworks in the air… All dem feels coming to me as I write this. For me, Halloween was more about the fun than getting genuinely scared. After knocking on people’s houses for the evening with friends, I would return home and share my sweets with my parents (genius move on their part!) and watch whatever films my mum had bought from the Music Zone (you UK folk remember that place?) bargain VHS bin. Fun romps like The Willies, Lady in White and House instantly spring to mind. We weren’t allowed to have so much as a cigarette lit in the back garden thanks to the lovely folk at the council so instead of telling stories round a campfire, the anthology films would come out. Such great memories…

Cut to now and this jaded cinephile may not celebrate Halloween like he used to, but in recent years has come to enjoy the full day. However, now I find myself swapping sweets for a big bag of crisps or pumpkin soup and replacing horror themed punch for a good old fashioned bottle of beer – or two. That being said, my viewing habits stay the same. It’s retro children’s cartoons and Halloween specials in the daytime and an anthology film fest in the evening. Of course, staples like The Willies and Creepshow will always get a spin, but this year I will be much more looking forward to revisiting a more contemporary anthology film; The Horror Network: Volume 1 from 2013. It’s low-budget and not exactly for children (especially the messed up short, Merry Little Christmas), but it still transports me back to being in the living room, sat in my (probably) awful costume and chomping on pure sugar with family and friends. There’s something for everyone with this anthology film, so even though I’ve pretty much sabotaged this post by being more sentimental, you should definitely track down the Wild Eye Releasing DVD. Now if you excuse me, I have a cheap supermarket costume to buy and maybe a pack of eggs!

Project October Review

Director: Chad Ritchie
Writer: Chad Ritchie, Justin Carlino
Cast: Brooke Svanes, Matt Hartley, Mia Topalian, Tiffany Anderjaska

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I have reviewed Chad Ritchie’s 2010 film Fields of November on this very site a while back and my first ever interview on The Cinephiliacs was with the New York film-maker too, so I am rather familiar with the man himself and much of his work, so I was eager to check out the film he made in 2012 called Project October.

Before ever seeing it, I had heard that the film would be nothing like Fields of November which is an incredibly moving and wonderfully constructed film that I really connected with and loved, and before getting to the main portion of this review I can confirm that yes, Project October really is its own unique beast, unlike anything I’ve personally seen before.

Produced independently, Ritchie co-writes here along with Justin Carlino. The eye for detail and for keeping the camera on the expressions of his cast is something I had noted about Ritchie’s other film, and it is to be found here too. We witness the emotions, reactions and suffering of the characters and it feels much more real than in other films that deal with related concepts or are of similar genres. A lot can be said for the allowance for actors to collaborate with their director and have something of a freedom in which to ad-lib and express what their character is feeling. Project October really emphasises this to me, and it was one of the lasting impressions I had from the film after my first viewing and my few viewings of the film since. The performers bring about an authenticity to the screen and in doing so add to the feeling that we’re watching something genuine and unsettling unfold.

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The plot here is a mysterious one and surrounds a found video tape. The tape in question is what we, the unsuspecting viewer (or voyeur) watch and on which we witness the curious story unfold. Rachel buys a video camera and we soon find out from watching her that she is a woman who is suffering from great internal psychological issues. We witness her as she is battling with herself and her inner compulsions, and we watch her personal conversations with her friend Lily. Obviously distressed and unable to put things into order and perspective, Rachel decides to get rid of the camera and so she tosses it. The next thing we see is the camera being found and taken by someone outside her apartment and the tone of the whole film changes as we find ourselves observing disturbing and violent sequences as the dark tale unfolds. To say much more about the plot and the turns it takes would be an injustice to a potential viewer yet to see it. The sixty minutes of film are best seen when you are unaware with what is going on and where the road is going to take you, and so I want to be as vague as possible with my synopsis here.

The cast do an excellent job and obviously care about bringing their characters to the screen in the most authentic way possible. Brooke Svanes as Rachel really nails the tortured and conflicted traits that make her character what it is, and I thought she was fantastic here. Likewise, Matt Hartley at Lucas creeps into shot and manages to appear both charming and corrupt, bringing an uneasy darkness to the film that pushes it to the outer edge of the horror genre, while also planting it firmly in psychotic sexual thriller and human drama. It slides in and around numerous avenues and areas of cinema and does so in ways you don’t really notice at first. You just experience something that is cerebral and engaging, offering long shots of dialogue and character development amidst a “what will happen next” atmosphere and scenes of shocking violence.

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Project October was shot in sequence which I find truly fascinating. It’s got so many experimental elements going on that make it really interesting and provide a glimpse at another side of independent filmmaking. I really do like this film a great deal. It is a 60 minute insight into the demented underbelly of human nature, and the constant feel of impending catastrophe brings a tension that can be very hard to accomplish. I remember that feeling when I first watched the film where I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next and the unpredictability lent itself to the underground feel of the film, something I got a bit kick out of. It is a movie as unique as it is intriguing and brings something provocative and fresh to the table. I recommend heading to Amazon and making it a priority to see this, I am pretty confident that you will encounter a film unlike anything you’ve before seen.

Project October is available to watch on VOD on Amazon US, right now.

Into the Forest (2015) Review

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Director: Patricia Rozema

Writer: Patricia Rozema (based on a novel by Jean Hegland)

Cast: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Callum Keith Rennie, Michael Eklund

I have been a fan of Ellen Page for some time. I loved her work in films like Juno, The East, Hard Candy, Super and, in a more well-known role, as Kitty Pride in a few of the X-Men movies. She is an actress whose mere name on a film is enough for me to watch, and that’s what drew me in to Into the Forest, which I hadn’t heard much about at all upon seeing it.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park), who also writes here, Into the Forest tells the story of two sisters, Eva and Nell. They are spending some time with their father in an isolated home in the woods and as they are staying there, Eva practicing dance and Nell studying for an exam, the power goes out and they find themselves stranded. It isn’t long before Eva and Nell must fend for themselves and attempt to understand what has happened to the world.

I count myself as a lover of post-apocalyptic stories, be it a novel or a film, and so I was immediately intrigued here and the rural setting and low-key vibe was up my alley. The slow pace continues right through the movie and while some might not like the lack of action I find that it often results in more relatable goings-on and brings about a feeling of discomfort due to realism. It is easier to place yourself into a situation in which there aren’t too many fantasy ideas going on, and while I love horror, sci-fi and fantasy, I do like when an end-of-the-world tale can take this kind of approach. There is a place for all kinds of styles, so I was ready for a drama based around a sci-fi concept. Done well, that can be captivating and brilliant.

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The location is really nice, and the cast do a very nice job and providing a feeling of closeness while also showing elements of fear and sadness as things happen. Wood and Page initially don’t seem to have the chemistry of sisters but that improves in time and the lack of chemistry could be partly because of the characters themselves and the things they are going through emotionally. The scenes in which we see the two of them react to what is happening and try to figure out what to do next are fine, and build the characters quite well. There is a turn that the story takes about an hour in that cause things to go off-track and take a disturbing turn. Many films in which we follow the human responses to the world ending mention certain things, behaviours and reactions that aren’t necessarily shown but instead hinted at. Here, though, we witness a scene, though not graphic particularly, that is still very uncomfortable. I won’t go further into it, but I found the scene hard going and pretty unneeded. I think the message of what happened could have been more creatively implied. The decisions of Eva and Nell up until that point had been normal and not exactly wrong, but in an unpredictable world where things are breaking down, I don’t think the best course of action is to wander around alone.

The first half of this film is a calmer but interesting take on two sisters dealing with a possible catastrophe. I personally quite enjoyed that part of it, though from my reading of many people’s opinions on the film since I watched it I can see that I am perhaps in a minority. I didn’t exactly like where the movie went though, and the road it took was one that wasn’t really handled in the correct way. The sisters make decisions that are peculiar and dense. We don’t get answers here either, which I can accept sometimes, but here it felt like there were many instances where we should have been given some sort of idea of why the power outage occurred, or why the girls were making the decisions they were making beyond random knee-jerk reactions. There’s also a scene in here that vegans will really not like.

A film of two halves, it feels to me like a clash of ideas, though I don’t think it is. I just didn’t enjoy the road it took as it proceeded. Page, Wood and the remainder of the cast are very good though, so that’s something. It’s a confused film, and one I think could have been much better. I don’t know anything about the novel, so I am unsure, to be honest, if it is loyal to that material, but either way I think this is a sure-fire decision-splitter. Some will perhaps enjoy this, but many won’t. I am somewhere in the middle.

2.5 out of 5

The Boy (2016) Review

Director: William Brent Bell

Writer: Stacey Menear

Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle

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I count myself as a bit of a lover of killer/supernaturally possessed toy and doll horror films. Dolls, Puppet Master, Childs Play and Demonic Toys to name a few, I find the sub-genre to be silly, over-the-top and incredibly fun. It is quite cool to see them make a return to mainstream horror with the likes of Annabelle (which I never actually saw but heard quite negative things about) and this, The Boy.

Directed by William Brent Bell (Stay Alive, The Devil Inside) and written by Stacey Menear (Mixtape), The Boy tells the haunting tale of an American woman named Greta (Cohan) who begins a new job as a nanny in a small English village. She enters the large old house in which her new role awaits and finds a nice older couple, Mr and Mrs Heelshire (Norton and Hardcastle). They discuss Greta’s role and then introduce her to their child to whom she will be caregiver. Brahms, the boy Greta has been hired to look after, isn’t exactly what she expected though. He isn’t human, he is a young boy in the form of a rather haunting looking doll. The old couple treat Brahms like a real living child, speaking to him, interacting with him, teaching, feeding and kissing him, and putting him to bed. Initially Greta thinks them a quirky family who have undergone some sort of trauma and agrees to the new strange job, but things become more and more unusual as Greta finds that the doll seems to be more alive than she thought. Noises in the house, footsteps, music and doors creaking begin and Greta must decide the best thing to do in the situation she finds herself in.

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I enjoyed some of what this movie had to offer. The location of an old creepy house in an English village is regularly used and that’s because it is often very effective. It is pretty effective here too. Cohan, who some will know from The Walking Dead, is a strong lead and her performance carries much of the film. Her reactions to the absurdity of the situation and the intensifying fear she is feeling is done well and is likely the strongest element of the whole movie. The Boy doll himself, Brahms, is well designed and has that antique creepiness that has become commonplace when people use dolls in horror movies. The sound design is also decent and helps to create the atmosphere which is genuinely eerie at times.

It isn’t all good though. There are twists in the story which caused my enjoyment to slip, and the story relied too much on the simple matter of a “creepy doll” and not enough on a potentially complex reason behind Mr and Mrs Heelshire and their reasons for doing what they do. It felt to me like there were some missed opportunities here, for sure. The inclusion of a side-story in which Greta is being stalked and sought-out by her abusive ex felt tacked on and limp too, a rather unnessesary element which was used purely as a “reason” for Greta to be taking the job. It wasn’t used well.

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I thought that this was a very entertaining horror film. The slow burn of the storytelling and the way Bell up’s the tension as we question what is going on and why helps add a quality to the film that stops it from falling flat. It has a good dark atmosphere and a solid lead performance, the location and doll are executed nicely, and aside from the issues I had with it, I found it to be an interesting and fairly effective horror movie. Sure, more could have been done with it and there was a major twist that left me hoping for more, but it is still worth a watch.

3 out of 5

The Road: A Film & Book Review

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I was flicking around the great wide world of the Internet on the 2nd of October, a mere few days ago, and read a statistic that on that very day ten years prior The Road by Cormac McCarthy was first published. Going on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007, The Road has become a modern classic and a masterpiece of fiction. Ten years on from its release and the novel seems like it’s been around for much longer. Oh, it is also one of my very favourite books.

Cormac McCarthy took his wonderfully dark southern voice as a writer and told a story unlike anything else he’s written. The Road is a post-apocalyptic story set in a world ravaged and burned, destroyed and broken. An unnamed catastrophe has pushed our planet to almost extinction and we spend the pages of the book with a father and his young son as they traverse the landscape together. They look for food and try to avoid groups of cannibals or killers. It is a story of loss and hopelessness but also of loyalty, love and human strength. It manages to be poignant and heartbreaking and borders on lines of horror and adventure with a backdrop of a simplistic bond between a man and his child.

I first read The Road in only a few hours and remember being heavily moved by what I’d experienced. The prose of McCarthy, the pure nature of the tale and way it was woven, as well as the beauty in which it begins and ends is just part of why this book has been acclaimed so highly since its release a decade ago. I have revisited the book since my first time and still find it captivating and brilliant.

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In 2009 John Hillcoat directed an adaptation of The Road, with a screenplay penned by Joe Penhall. I was initially concerned about the film and if it would provide the darkness and the truly bleak atmosphere of the novel but once I’d seen it I was pleased to accept that my concerns were unnecessary. Starring Viggo Mortensen as Man and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Boy, the film is visually stunning and haunting and does an incredible job at capturing the imagery of McCarthy’s work. The lack of conversation between Man and Boy in the novel is brought into the film also, which I was happy to see. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee sparingly speak and use their abilities to express themselves without verbal interaction to tell their stories. They bring the love from the book onto the screen and allow us to lose ourselves in the story.

I am a fan of the movie, and while I don’t hold it in the same high regard as the novel, I still place it as one of my favourites. It is, in many ways, a depressive and harrowing story and so the film itself, like the book, isn’t exactly uplifting or hopeful much of the time, but a story should not always provide a feeling of happiness and joy but also of sadness, of heartbreak and awe. I think it is important to be moved by storytelling in various ways. It is as human as anything to experience both negative and positive emotions, and I love that there are authors and filmmakers willing to show the darkness at times.

If you’re yet to read the book or watch the film, I urge you to do so. If you are a fan of the genre or merely looking for a story that is truly as classic of modern times, then look no further.

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Imperium (2016) Review

Director: Daniel Ragussis

Writer: Daniel Ragussis (Based on a story by Michael German)

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell

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Daniel Radcliffe is an actor who doesn’t do things by halves. He has played a boy wizard that the world is familiar with. He’s played a guy with horns sprouting from his forehead. He recently played a corpse in Swiss Army Man, and here, in Imperium, he plays an FBI agent who goes undercover as a white supremacist.

Directed and written by Daniel Ragussis (Haber) and based on a true account from Michael German, Imperium follows an FBI agent who is given a proposal to go undercover with a white supremacist group. His job is to infiltrate the group and learn more about a potential nuclear attack. Introducing himself to the group, Nate Foster (Radcliffe), finds himself in a dangerous world in which saying the wrong thing could have devastating consequences. Nate meets more and more people in the new community that he is part of, and as his superiors begin to doubt his abilities, things begin to heat up and the danger of being found out heightens.

Imperium is half thriller and half drama and deals with a story that is apparently a true account. It’s obvious, like in many of these instances, that much of what is seen here isn’t exactly factual and merely based on events that occurred, and while there is plenty here to be interested in, there is just not enough going on. There are moments here where things begin to get tense and the world that Nate finds himself in appears like it could get very worrisome, but the action and powerful consequences just don’t really occur. I found myself waiting for some scenes to really heat up the film and take it from being a dialogue-heavy drama to an edge-of-seat thriller, but that didn’t exactly happen.

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Radcliffe, as Nate, does a fine job. He’s an accomplished actor and he did what he could with the material he had, but there was just not enough going on to elevate that performance, or the film for that matter, to another level. There are films that deal with this kind of subject that are heart-thumping and extreme like American History X, but sadly this falls short and becomes just an okay and middle of the road film that suffers from a lack of intensity. Radcliffe is good, and his co-star Toni Collette does a great job playing Nate’s superior, but it is just a bit too limp.

It does nothing in a way that seems special, be it the sound, the cinematography or the writing, but the acting is far and away the redeeming quality of Imperium. See it for the performances and to see Radcliffe test himself further as an actor.

2.75 out of 5

Swiss Army Man (2016) Review

Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Writers: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

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Kwan and Scheinert write and direct was is one of the most unusual films I’ve seen in a while, Swiss Army Man. A small cast (most of the movie is Dano and Radcliffe) taking an absurdist concept and playing with it in the strangest ways possible. The plot see’s Hank (Dano), a suicidal man deserted on some kind of island, about to hang himself as he grunts a few attempts at poignancy. He suddenly spots a flatulent corpse washed up at the side of the water and it isn’t long before Hank, distracted from his attempt to take his own life, is riding the dead body like a jet-ski across the ocean waves. The weirdness has begun. The story follows Hank and the dead body, who eventually reveals himself through throaty mumbling as Manny, as they discuss life and what it means to be human. Hank teaches Manny, who has no recollection of his old life, about love and sex and food, about taking a bus and dancing and singing. We also find that Manny isn’t just a corpse, he also has “special abilities” so to speak. Providing water from his drooping open mouth, chopping wood with his stiff limbs and shooting animals as Hank uses him as a gun and loads his mouth with household items. Yeah… It’s not something you’ll have seen before. It’s equal parts buddy-comedy and bizarre-drama. It’s better if you just see it, because to go into the plot and tell you exactly what “it’s about” is a strange one.

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There are lots of farts in this movie. Lots of moments where you wonder if the writers will “go there” and when they do it feels good. Radcliffe himself has highlighted people’s opinions of the film being “Terrence Malick meets the Farrelly Brothers” and I can see why. It has moments of gross-out humour mixed in with pure weirdness. It manages, though, to have genuine heart too. I went, at times, from raising my eyebrows and shaking my head at the juvenile and ridiculous imagery I was seeing, to listening intently to the dialogue and seeing deeper meaning behind what was going on. It is a smart film, while being completely dumb at the same time. That isn’t easy, but Kwan, Scheinert and the small and excellent cast do a wonderful job at succeeding.

Dano is great as Hank. I am a Paul Dano fan anyway, I think he is a fantastic actor. He does a top notch job here, showing joy, fear, depression and awe as he explores life with a corpse that is capable of doing some very unusual things. Radcliffe is also very enjoyable to watch. His physical comedy is great and Manny, a mostly floppy (though at times stiff) dead guy, is given real “life”, pardon the pun, by Radcliffe’s naive and likeable performance. The two of them have a chemistry and manage to bring genuine soul to a friendship that should be way too preposterous to accept.

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I really enjoyed this film. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I can see this movie really dividing audiences in much the same way as the 2014 Lenny Abrahamson flick Frank. Some will love it, and some will think it just too ludicrous. Luckily, I enjoy my ludicrousness and even more so with a nice big dollop of intelligence. The two writer-directors deserve a lot of credit for really taking it to heights of completely bat-shit insane. Sometimes you come across a film that is all about a peculiar idea but just doesn’t take it far enough. This, thankfully, isn’t one of them. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, it’s remarkably acted and the cinematography and creativity on show is fantastic. Not for everyone, but certainly for me. Recommended.

5 out of 5

Goosebumps (2015) Review

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Goosebumps became popular a little late in the day for me. I missed the whole thing really, and while I knew about the books, I was older by that point and reading other things. I was, however, familiar with R.L. Stine and had read some of the books he wrote in the 1990’s for the Point Horror series of titles in which various authors penned short novels and novellas in the horror genre tamed down for a younger audience. I really enjoyed the Point Horror books I read back then, and would have likely enjoyed the Goosebumps books had I been into them at the right time.

I remember, as a kid in the 80’s and early 90’s, there being lots of horror themed books, movies and television shows made specifically for younger viewers. It was a time where networks and publishers seemed more open to scary stories aimed at children, and I was a huge fan of it all. It perhaps lead to my long-standing admiration for the horror genre.

Goosebumps, the popular Stine book series, was given a television series too. I didn’t watch that, either. I guess I’m not exactly the person that the film was aimed at, then, but the trailer looked like a lot of fun and so I decided to check the film out when it hit Blu-Ray and DVD.

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Directed by Rob Letterman, a man used to the family film genre after working on animated film Monsters vs. Aliens and the Jack Black fairytale flick Gulliver’s Travels. Based on Stine’s book series, stories by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and a screenplay penned by Darren Lemke (Turbo). The film tells the story of teen Zach (Dylan Minnette) who is new in town and finds himself living next door to the mysterious and somewhat creepy author R.L. Stine (Jack Black). When Stine’s books are opened and the characters they contain accidentally let loose upon the town, it is up to Zach and Stine’s daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush), to try to stop things from going from bad to much worse.

It’s an adventure story and it reminded me a lot of the family adventures of the 90’s such as Jumanji, and I imagine has many similarities to the television show. I didn’t feel like my lack of familiarity with Goosebumps caused me to feel confused. The story is one we’ve heard before in many ways and it is a nice little introduction to Goosebumps while also providing nods and references for the existing fanbase. It’s good fun, basically, and I liked the old-school race-against-time adventure feel to it all. The cast do a fine job and Black is decent as Stine. Jack Black is an actor who, to me, is always just Jack Black under another name. I never lose myself in his performances, and here it is no different. It’s okay though, Goosebumps isn’t a film that attempts to be deep or complex and it is aimed at a young audience that can just sit back and enjoy some quality entertainment. That’s what this movie is. Unapologetic popcorn entertainment for the whole family, and it does what it sets out to do very well.

As someone who this film is obviously not aimed to please, I enjoyed this flick. I could see it being the first in a series, for sure.

3.5 out of 5