The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things ★★★★★

‘It will take more sons. More daughters. I want to save them. I want to save your son.’

BOOT THE reboots. The Duffer Brothers have effortlessly created a programme that perfectly frames a golden era of television and music, evoking senses of wonder and nostalgia in every viewer.

Described as a love letter to beloved sci-fi’s such as ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stranger Things is a new show that provides a refreshing break from the stream of modern reboots of past classics that we have so often seen in recent times. It is a show that sends us back to a time of 80s childhood – nostalgic for some viewers and eye opening for others. From the opening credits to the phenomenal soundtrack, this show is an opportunity for any person not lucky enough to have experienced the 80s to get a taste for it.

Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, we are introduced to four inquisitive (nerdy) boys and instantly the adult viewer is thrown back into their past. The boys’ prevailing, innocent imagination unintentionally merges into reality as one of them, 12 year old Will, on his way home from a marathon board game of Dungeons and Dragons, takes a detour past a government lab, is chased by a monstrous silhouette and disappears.

The scene is set in the first 8 minutes of this hit-show. His mother (Winona Ryder) refuses to believe that all is as it seems and is willfully haunted by Will. His friends embark on their own investigation, eventually running into yet another misfit, the supernatural Eleven (Millie Brown) who has escaped from the mysterious lab. The dishevelled but brilliant chief of police, Hopper (David Harbour), conducts his own official (leading to unofficial) investigation, haunted but driven by his past to find Will and reunite him with his family and friends. All the while, a monster stalks the woods, observing, stealing and feasting on Hawkins’ residents.

A simple storyline on the surface is entirely satisfying as the series progresses. The Duffer Brothers check every single box when creating a television show that catches a viewer, hook, line and sinker. It contains the perfect balance of humour, melancholy and outright terror, all combining to include the viewer in solving the puzzle of the show.

Winona Ryder makes a terrific return to the screen as the concerned yet fortuitous mother, determined to recover her son. Her natural progression through the emotions of a mother who has lost her child are astoundingly believable, making it impossible to not share in the grief she feels.

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Michael Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) leads the group of 12 year olds in their search for their friend. The groups endearing approach to the investigation is what drives the nostalgia on screen, encouraging the viewers of the 80s to remember their childhood of riding around on choppers chasing make-belief investigations – only this time, the investigation is very real. Eleven (Millie Brown) delivers a performance as powerful as her telekinetic abilities, conveying such complex and intense emotions whilst scarcely speaking.

The show is made ever more nostalgic through the Duffer Brother’s evident and genuine longiness to credit their inspirations for their show. Recurring references to Stephen King and Steven Spielberg’s ET, Indiana Jones, and even Jaws are a constant reminder of the tone and feel that the Duffer Brothers seek to instill. It is a family-friendly, emotional television series that maintains a prolonged sense of suspense through a tightly written script and powerful scenes eventually leaving you fighting to hold back the tears.

Finally, from Moby to Joy Division, New Order to Toto, The Clash to Foreigner, Stranger Things is a show that is hinged on the incredible soundtrack. The Austin synth band S U R V I V E developed the creepy yet nostalgic score that has grabbed global attention, and the music that permeates throughout the show is being held as some of the best music in television to emerge since Twin Peaks.

Stranger Things is a triumphant success, putting on screen an original show that perfectly captures the retro feel of the eighties family-sci-fi and horror genre which has been lost somewhat in contemporary television and film. Stranger Things absorbs you and doesn’t let you out until all eight episodes of the season are watched. It has everything a television show should have and has set a precedent for all future reboots and throwbacks – Twin Peaks remake, take note.

The Duffer Brothers have truly established themselves, their show and their cast. We can’t wait for season 2.

Adam McKay unveils Oscar-tipped ‘The Big Short’ trailer

‘There’s some shady stuff going down.’

The director of films such as Anchorman and Step Brothers has turned his eye to finance, Wall Street and the housing crash of 2008. 

Watching this trailer posits the questions ‘what’s the difference between this and Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street?’ From the trailer alone, the two films look like they have been shot in the same way with the same comedic breaks, financial dramas, and the apparent glamorisation of bankers and strippers.

But, when you look at the writer and cast of McKay’s new film the glass shatters and its Oscar-winning potential presents itself. Written by Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Blind Side, Ryan Gosling marks his return to film following his directional debut Lost River, Brad Pitt stars alongside him joined by Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei. Every single one of these actors have either won an oscar or been nominated.

The Big Short has a US release date of 11 December and is bound to be nominated at the next Academy Awards.

Check out the trailer below:

George Miller’s Mad Max ★★★★★

‘Hope is a mistake. If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane.’

George Miller delivers a non-stop, spectacular action film transforming the wastelands of a commonly depicted post-apocalyptic world into an ironically colourful, intensely imaginative, V8 ‘valhalla’.

The low-budget franchise that made Miller’s name has well and truly been refueled and throttled forwards to brilliant results. Although this is a 120 minute car chase, literally becoming a non-stop action thrill ride, the film does address a wider audience than meathead, action junkies.

Portraying insanity on screen can be hit or miss – it is extremely easy to overkill the portrayal of insanity by being ridiculous. Some might say that a giant, high-speed car that functions as a moving bugle with both drummers and a mutant wielding an electric guitar-come-flamethrower occupying that vehicle is overdoing the ‘insane’. However, after the initial laughs in the cinema following the first sightings of this seemingly pointless guitarist, this feature of Immortan Joe’s army fuels and effectively enhances the insanity inherent in this film. It is also drives home Miller’s attempt to return us to our primal state in the wake of the apocalypse, bringing back the traditional methods of warfare (with slight vehicular modifications).

From the opening sequence, the speed of each shot intensifies the chaos and enhances the rush imparted from Max (Tom Hardy) to the audience as he attempts to escape the dictator, Immortan Joe, and his army of ‘Warrior Boys’. Max’s voice in this opening sequence is lost, and the audience is given access to the ghostly thoughts and voices that haunt Max. Coupled with the edited increase in speed during this foot chase, the audience is tactfully set with enough adrenaline to see out the 120 minutes; any longer would act as a definite disservice to Miller’s masterpiece.

Once Furiosa (Charlize Theron) hits the road in her war rig with the stolen ‘wives’, she is under hot pursuit by Immortan Joe, his sickly warrior boys and Max, acting as a blood donor to one of the warrior boys Nux (Nicholas Hoult). The speed of each shot maintains, and there is evidently less editing to artificially increase the speed due to the real cars used when filming. The continuous drumming of the V8 bugle becomes a medium to both incite insanity and war, and gradually it becomes synonymous with a heartbeat, racing to the pace of the film.

Hidden in all the explosions, sandstorms and fist-fights are serious messages, emphasising a common theme seen across TV and film recently –  the strength of women. Charlize Theron’s ‘Furiosa’ is a woman empowered by her desires of redemption and revenge; the ‘wives’ are fearless in the face of their kidnapper; and even the elderly women are seen blowing holes in warrior boys with sawn-off shotguns. Although the film occasionally confuses the moral seesaw of gender discussions, it is a film undeniably intent on giving women an equal sense of power to men.

Despite the post-apocalyptic film not being an original concept – a wasteland, a return to the primitive, and a constant fight for control of resources – Miller’s return to Mad Max beautifies this apocalypse, with colourful flares, vibrant explosions and vehicles so imaginative that they make us long for a “Top Gear – Mad Max Special” to be released.

Through all the carnage, the audience is left both with both a pounding headache and a burning desire to see a sequel of some form. The ability to keep a 120 minute car chase as interesting, emotive and crazy as Miller has achieved in this film is one that deserves applause. Mad Max is a film where the acting can be overlooked, leaving the visuals and general aesthetics of the film in the driving seat – and they deliver spectacularly.

 

 

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper ★★★

‘I just want to get the bad guys, but if i can’t see them I can’t shoot them.’

BRADLEY COOPER delivers a spectacular performance in this suspenseful contemporary account of war; however, it is difficult to assimilate this film in a black and white sort of way – good or bad. Ironically, that is how Eastwood presents war – good guys and bad guys with nothing in the middle. A simplistic, blindly patriotic interpretation of an extremely complicated subject matter combined with a gross alteration of the truth, this film undoes its achievements in terms of cinematic spectacle through the annoying yet inevitable presence of political and moral concerns.

Much akin to the famous ‘shutting your butt down’ interview with Quentin Tarantino, to what extent is a director held accountable for the possible political and moral implications their film has in the real world? With movies such as The Interview causing worldwide uproar and panic, Quentin Tarantino and all other directors must surely understand the empowered position they hold in delivering messages through their art form. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has invited a whole host of questions regarding the position and the responsibilities of a director in the wider society.

Ultimately, American Sniper delivers a message that the patriotic American is good, and the hateful, evil Muslim is bad. It is a film that instills hatred, propagates the US army, and hails a former navy SEAL as a hero due to his hatred being so strong that he supposedly killed more than 255 people during his career. In his book, Chris Kyle, the protagonist of the film, described killing as ‘fun’, and something that he really enjoyed. He also did not hold back from expressing his severe hatred of Iraqis, calling them ‘savages’. Of course, the film wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle was like the real man; in fact, it is almost futile to mention that this film is based on a true story as the film is so far removed from the truth. For this reason, although some impact might be lost, thinking the film as entirely a work of fiction might allow a cinema goer to enjoy the film more, without any moral and political crises.

American Sniper opens with a tense moral dilemma, which most of us have already seen in the heart pounding trailer. Shoot the kid or not. I am pretty sure that every time that trailer has been played, an overwhelming silence fills the room, as each person listens intently to the heartbeat, the heavy breathing and the few words spoken over comms. That feeling of suspense is present throughout American Sniper, heightened by a tremendous performance by Bradley Cooper. Although it is hard to ignore the political sentiments and moral ambiguities in the film, Eastwood really does bring the horrors of war home. It is an exploration of Chris Kyle’s extremely troubled mind and how to deal with it, veterans being a topic of expertise for Eastwood as seen in Flags of our Fathers. Eastwood documents Kyle’s life from wanting to be a cowboy, to witnessing 9/11 on television, to joining the SEALS and becoming ‘The Legend’.

This film oozes patriotism; it might as well just be a 2 hour show of bugles sounding against an American flag which is swaying in the wind in slow motion. Nominated for 6 oscars, including best picture, this film is far more controversial, provocative and egotistic than Fox News…in fact, Fox News probably have this film listed as one of their favourites.

Taken as a stand alone movie, without politics, American Sniper is a decent, edge of the seat war film (that still blows smoke up the arse of the US). Take the film within its political context and it is a misguided form of propaganda to further create a dichotomy between east and west, and which, intentionally or otherwise, will instill more hate and racism in our own countries. In fact, this hate and racism has already erupted in response to this film.

An exciting, suspenseful war movie whilst watching that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth upon reflection.

 

David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ ★★★★★

‘I picture opening her skull, unspool­ing her brain and sifting through it’

DAVID FINCHER delivers yet another meticulously crafted, thrilling film that satisfies all of the sadistic whims of a thrill seeking, twist loving, modern audience.

Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, this isn’t just another ‘wife goes missing husband gets accused’ type of film. Although the latter is the lead line that the production company has run with, Gone Girl cannot just be categorised into such a simple plot line. It is complex, it is shocking, it is utterly brilliant.

Fincher presents the modern marriage in a bleak and terrifying way. Marriage is seen as an inevitable, ironic and gradual breakdown, both mentally and physically. The opening line to the film perfectly captures the rocky marital life that Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are to have – the severe breakdown of communication between the couple prompts the extremely vivid and incriminating opening line spoken by Affleck: “I picture opening her skull, unspool­ing her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy?” Suspect number one is instantly established. But David Fincher would never choose to do an adaptation of a book if there weren’t twists and turns in it.

Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac, even The Social Network have all established Fincher and his style of film; Gone Girl satisfies this criteria, and exceeds it. Fincher doesn’t force the film’s suspense upon the audience, but lets it occur as naturally as possible. A surreal problem is presented in a very real way as each scene leaves the audience feeling extremely unnerved, tense, stressed yet left completely buzzing for more. This is achieved through Fincher’s clever cuts at climactic points, as the long droning music gets louder and louder in a tense scene and then suddenly stops.

The film addresses many topical concerns of a modern audience in a typically Fincher style – great suspense framed within melancholic, dark and mysterious scenes. Media, politics, the justice system and marriage all seem to take precedence over the actual problem – a missing person’s case and a possible murder case. Tyler Perry as a successful lawyer protecting a presumed guilty husband is something that the world has seen time and time again – guilty men getting off lightly through a powerful, persuasive lawyer. Missi Pyle plays a provocative, assumptuous, factually manipulative reporter – extremely topical in the trending videos of certain US news channels. However, Rosamund Pike steals the show in her portrayal of an alluring yet critically flawed wife. We see her mostly in flashbacks, showing her character, Amy’s, marriage to Ben Affleck’s character, Nick. As the flashbacks progress, so too does her character, as Rosamund Pike transforms from attractive and seemingly perfect, to a completely imperfect and fearful wife.

The film subverts the commonly held view that sexual violence and manipulation only occurs to women. However, the overarching theme that permeates throughout the film is not man versus woman, nor is it to legitimise the concerns of those against marriage; instead the film poses the terrifying question: how well do we truly know our loved ones?

What starts as a relatively standard storyline is transformed into a cinematic, edge-of-the-seat epic as with all films that David Fincher has directed. A comparable film could be seen to be Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, however, Fincher’s film is far too complex and unique to have a true comparison. The best advice we can give is to urge people to see this movie – it is the epitome of a mysterious, dramatic film, directed by the don of thrillers.

Disclaimer: newly engaged/wed couples might want to think twice about watching this film…David Fincher himself even noted how the film will “break up millions of marriages”.

 

 

David Michôd’s The Rover ★★★★

‘Australia. Ten years after the collapse.’

BROODY, MYSTERIOUS, DETACHED AND TORTURED, Guy Pearce steals the show, battling nature, humanity…and even a dwarf in David Michôd’s successful post-apocalyptic film, The Rover.

Australia is transformed into a resource rich third world country that illustrates the very real problem of the widening inequality gap prevalent in our society today. In this way, Michôd’s terrifyingly accessible film creates a blurred line between fiction and documentary – a docu-fictionary film, visualising the outcome of contemporary society’s inaction to some of our biggest problems: global warming, inequality and the slow breakdown of social order. Opening the film with “Australia. Ten years after the collapse”, Michôd presents a world fallen apart (although it is unspecified as to whether this is a global collapse, or just the collapse of one nation). Regardless, The Rover maintains a melancholic tone throughout all aspects of the film, from the plot to the characters to the drained landscape.

After an unseen violent altercation between a group of so-called criminals, branded villains for the rest of the film, and the so-called local authorities (also branded villains in the film), Robert Pattinson’s character, Reynolds, is abandoned by his brother and the other criminals with a bullet in his gut. Destruction continues in the opening sequence in a nonchalant kind of way, normalising violence and disorder in this wasteland; Guy Pearce is slumped over a bar by a window as the bandits’ car crashes across the view. Undisturbed to the outside wreckage, Pearce’s clear withdrawal from humanity creates an ironically funny scene, but one that causes concern when you realise what you are laughing at…a world that lacks the ability to actually care. Pearce hears a smash, drags his weathered and tormented body outside and witnesses his car being stolen. So begins the film, and the depressingly simple yet excellently executed plot of a man trying to reclaim his car in a post-apocalyptic society. The story is the gradually unfolding relationship between Erik and Reynolds to the point where you can almost categorise it as friendship – the simplicity of the plot is poignantly countered by the complexity of this relationship.

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Michôd’s film owes much of its success to the acting masterclass provided by both Pearce and Pattinson. The vulnerability of Pattinson compared to the violent cynicism of Pearce expertly compliment one another, creating a dichotomous relationship similar to that of Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men. Pattinson is a product of the “collapse” who has been protected all of his life, hence his moving innocent portrayal. In contrast, Pearce pines for a lost world, where he reveals to a member of the authority that the breakdown of social order caused the breakdown humanity – a beautiful take on the root cause of Michôd’s physically and economically degraded country. Pearce’s character carries a weight of sin around with him: his neck hangs, his shoulders hunched and his body holds decades worth of tension – Pearce creates a character who is the definition weathered as he begrudgingly lives in an uninhabitable world.

The lack of dialogue, the 10 minute long takes and the ominous droning drag of the soundtrack vividly convey the oppressive heat of the landscape. Humanity is drying out, desperate under the intense sun. Michôd creates highly suspenseful scenes whilst maintaining a realistic sense of lethargy emphasising the sweltering heat. The lack of dialogue adds to the mysticism and monstrosity of Pearce’s character who has become accustomed to the heat and violence of the country. He is reduced to an animalistic state, constantly empathising with dogs over humans, as he wanders the desert heading towards nowhere.

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Michôd’s film is a successful vision of an attainable yet undesirable future. Although some of the scenes do drag on, the acting commands the undivided attention of the audience. Both Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson steal the show with their brilliant, gritty, Blakean performances in which innocence is corrupted or guided by experience in order to begrudgingly survive in a decaying country. Whether it is corruption or guidance is left to the audience.

neighbourhood noise are extremely excited for Michôd’s next feature – it has a lot to live up to.