Monday, 19 December 2016

How I Learned to Love The Exorcist TV Series


*Danger, Will Robinson! This blog post contains spoilers!*

When announced that The Exorcist (1973) was to receive the television network treatment, I thought the property was going to finally receive the last rites, never mind the Roman Rituals. William Friedkin’s New Hollywood masterpiece is one of those movies that changed my life. The Exorcist is at once utterly absurd and yet deeply - and profoundly - terrifying, to me. I'm not even religious. At Cannes this year, I was sat in the front row of Friedkin's career talk in the Salle Bunuel. After he’d finished speaking, I made a beeline, thanked him for the movie and its positive - if haunting - impact upon my life. We shook hands. I haven't washed it since....

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review: What's in the Darkness



Wang Yinchun’s coming-of-age drama is set in a provincial Chinese town in the year 1991. The historical setting and its political backdrop – post-Tiananmen Square, rise of the private sector, the growth of a market economy – allowed the director to cleverly align China’s socio-economic transformation with a young girl betwixt the twilight of childhood and becoming a teenager.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Review: The Wailing


Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing (2016) hits such a spectacular home run the ball will never be recovered from its landing spot. Not only is the film a compellingly told tale of suspense and terror, The Wailing is crafted with such precision and sense of timing, there is little hesitation in crying ‘masterpiece!’ without being shamefaced about it or deep down wondering if a hyperbole-induced crime against film criticism and all good sense has been committed.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) Review


Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is a remake in no threat of replacing the original in the hearts of millions. Call it fate, call it bad luck, call it remake karma. But we must tread with caution, for such an opinion must be qualified through a very specific context and nuance. Set against the 1984 picture’s treatment of ghosts and scares, Ivan Reitman’s wins hands down. It isn’t even a contest. Yet Feig, to be fair, isn’t much interested in copying the original wholesale, in terms of its plot or eerie atmosphere. But there is equally nothing in its place that sticks in the mind. Only Wiig’s campfire-like ghost story of a childhood haunting comes close to replicating the occasional chills which made the first one a brilliant mix of humour and creeping fear. Remember how unsettling scenes were? The library ghost hushing the lads before transforming into a monster, or the demonic realm in the fridge, or the montage with the spooky synth pop song, I Believe It's Magic, as supernatural phantasms spring forth from the Ghostbusters' traps and take over Manhattan? In the 2016 reboot there is nothing like that all. Nor is there an iconic line, or truly memorable sequence or stand-out scene. The overall effect is too cartoon-like and NYC is depicted as a bland cityscape devoid of, well, spirit. It would be fair to say Feig doesn’t have a particularly strong visual imagination as a filmmaker. He's a superb comedy writer, mind. What he's turned in is an affectionate CG extravaganza love letter/tribute with lots of colourful ghosts and creatures which, while look impressive in that latest-CG-effects kind of way, had to resort to resurrecting Slimer and Mr. Stay Puft in order to be anything like memorable. 

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is worried about her academic post at Columbia University. When it’s pointed out a book she co-authored years ago with her best friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), is available on Amazon, it becomes a source of great embarrassment. For the tome posits ghosts are real in this world. Fired from her post – the board found out about it – she goes off to have a showdown with Yates, but ends up joining forces with her and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Before you can say ‘Gozer the Destructor’ they’re on the path to busting ghosts for a living and annoying New York's mayor (Andy Garcia).



‘Ain’t no bitches be huntin’ no ghosts’. Such disgusting misogynistic fanboy ranting online – that’s actually a quote taken from the internet in the film – has left Ghostbusters 2016 lumbered with a loud demographic of nostalgic idiots judging Feig’s movie before they’d even seen it. Well, they were never going to like it anyway, but that doesn’t mean, either, the film should be wrapped in cotton wool and held to be beyond criticism. Neither should anybody stick their fingers in their ears and yell 'It's brilliant!' over and over, just to counter the fools. Because, well, that's equally foolish. They’re clearly wrong to disprove of something they’ve never seen, especially when it's based around a reaction to the gender of the new characters. Ghostbusters 2016 won’t ruin your childhood if you see it and in fact there are plenty of things to enjoy (mostly the comedy). But it cannot escape the attention that there’s definitely things wrong with the film. The editing, especially, is disjointed, some scenes feel rushed and it smacks of a director trying to please everybody at once (most of all the studio). Structurally, it's not so good. 

Where the film wins big is in the casting, a smart and occasionally crude sense of humour and the positive portrayal of women which feels honest. Ghostbusters 2016 is incredibly funny and offers belly laughs and chuckles all the way home. Feig and co-writer Katie Dipold were always going to slam dunk it, in that respect. It's also a different type of humour than in Reitman's Ackroyd and Ramis scripted original. (That's another 3 points in its favour.)

While Erin objectifies and drools over dopey receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth, who is excellent), the group's love lives are ignored completely. They don’t need blokes, they’ve got each other and their battles with ghosts to be getting on with. What once was deemed a necessity – a female must have a boyfriend/male love interest because, you know, Mr. and Mrs. Prejudiced out there might think she's a lesbian or something – is today not remotely a concern. That is forward-thinking and most welcome. Feig isn’t interested in writing characters who are lonely because they don’t have boyfriends or husbands. Friendship is far more important in his world (it's been a consistent theme since 1999's Freaks and Geeks). That is something, coincidentally, 2016 Ghostbusters has in common with 1984 Ghostbusters. Only the genders have flipped. They also get to kick-ass in what are fairly rote action scenes. Holtzmann’s solo bit of ghost-buttkicking – with her proton pistols – is pretty neat, and it’s cheering to see ladies getting to do what some male actors assume to be a birth-right (being the screen hero and saving the mothereffing day). All of this is commendable.


Feig has also solved the Zedmore issue. Ernie Hudson is nobody’s favourite Ghostbuster and his inclusion in the two 1980s movies felt like cheap tokenism rather than a character who needed to be there. Even his cameo at the end of the 2016 film isn’t much cop (he also said mean things about the remake when it was first announced. To be fair, he did change his tune on that). Lesley Jones’s brassy, loveable Patty is an integral part of the team and her charismatic performance ensures she doesn't get pushed to the back of the gang. As an amateur historian who could walk the streets of Manhattan blindfolded and still give you an informative tour, she’s got knowledge and expertise which the other team – a bunch of science eggheads – lack completely.

Another SNL alumnus plucked for a co-starring role is Kate McKinnon. 'Holtz' merges aspects of Venkman (the cool one) with Spengler (the odd one). McKinnon’s kooky charm and general awesomeness means that even when some of her babbling shtick falls flat, she hits as many comic beats as not. McKinnon is going to be star, it's clear. 

Ghostbusters’ merits do shine bright, but there is a distinct lack of creativity and invention elsewhere which hinders it from being on par with the original’s concept and strengths as a movie. That said, Jones, McCarthy, McKinnon and Wiig are worthy successors to the old gang. Pete Venkman, you have to admit, was a bit of a creep around women. Maybe that's why many Ghostbuster-bros and haters are so obnoxious and weird? Always make sure your movie heroes are worthy of worship. 

Ghostbusters is on release from 11th July

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Green Inferno Interview with Eli Roth and Lorenza Izzo


Eli Roth's return to filmmaking after a break of seven years endured a bumpy road to release. The Green Inferno was announced for 2014, but then held up due to a distribution snafu. Since that time, Roth made and released another film (last year's Knock Knock). The Green Inferno played a few festivals but the wait was long for fans of the American goreteur. After a release in the USA last autumn, it finally hit UK screens, VOD and Blu-ray this very month.

I sat down for a chat with Roth and Lorenza Izzo in the summer of 2014, at the Soho Hotel. We spoke for 30 minutes about his gory ode to Italian cannibal flicks and this is the edited transcript.