|—||Whilst decoding her tweets in an interview with Glamour Magazine, everyone’s favourite young non-Jennifer Lawrence actress Anna Kendrick let slip that she’s a covert Redditor, and a regular visitor to the nudity-happy r/GoneWild subreddit. So now you know if you’ve ever submitted phots on there, it’s possible Anna Kendrick has seen your boobs/butt/genitals/untidy room. Knowing the internet as we do, that’s more of an encouragement than a deterrent…|
With Monty Python currently wrapping up their career with a month of live shows at London’s O2 Arena, it might just be time to put the group’s sole American member Terry Gilliam out to pasture as a film director too. His latest film and his first since 2009’s ill-fated The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorem is a sad grumpy shambles, a parody of the ideas and themes which built Gilliam’s reputation as a true auteur.
Set in the brightest digital dystopia you could think of, The Zero Theorem centres on agoraphobic office drone number-cruncher Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) tasked by his shadowy corporate overlords with coming up with the mathematical equation of “zero equals 100%”, whilst waiting on a mysterious phone call to explain the meaning of life. He’s surrounded by a cavalcade of obfuscating technology and consciously zany characters, from Melanie Thierry’s manic pixie cam-girl to David Thewlis’ jittery toupee-wearing supervisor and Tilda Swinton’s app-based shrink. But for an excellent-on-paper cast and potentially fertile ideas at play, The Zero Theorem ends up as a weak pastiche of a genre Gilliam helped to codify; a film created by old men worried about people’s use of technology and how they don’t understand it - Gilliam has even explained in an interview that the film acts as “a warning against the perils of a digitised existence” - the kind of worldview that Monty Python likely would’ve satirised were they in their youthful prime today.
There’s just so much weak symbolism and so many rote metaphors floating around in the film; “The Church of Batman The Redeemer”, haha yeah coz people “worship” pop culture and celebrity and stuff. A crucified Jesus statue, but with Jesus’ head replaced with a security camera. A all-powerful corporation called Mancom, which is repeated until it sounds suspiciously like “mankind” by the end of the film, and Qohen’s insistence on using “we” instead of “I” and correcting a colleague how persistently gets his name wrong. This is a film which is transparently about the meaninglessness of life and the lack of any higher power and how religion and belief is silly and atheism is clearly the only way to go and how big business is bad and… really the only way to convey the major thematic ideas of The Zero Theorem is with mouth farts. It’s just that lumpen and undercooked.
I was genuinely shocked to find its writer Pat Rushin is a creative writing professor because his script is a) duller that an Ikea instruction manual and b) crammed with ideas that should barely make it past a sixth-former’s rough story notes. It was, however, less of a shock to discover this was Rushin’s first ever screenplay, written in ten days with ”no idea what [he] was doing” and using “several screenwriting books and screenplays out from the UCF library, including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil”. There you go, kids; if you pen a sub-par script directly inspired by a director’s masterpiece, he’ll eventually direct the adaptation of what you’ve written. It boggles the mind how the likes of Waltz, Swinton and Thewlis - actors who’ve all been in classic films with top-tier screenplays - read this and didn’t immediately reject it. To their credit, they all do the best they can with what they’re given and are still immensely watchable.
To be fair, it’s hard to lay much blame at Gilliam’s door. His world-building is second to none, and whilst the future dystopia he creates isn’t entirely original, it does feel like a fully fleshed-out place from the cumulative fifteen minutes or so we see of what’s outside Qohen’s dilapidated church dwellings. A meld of the smokey industrial gloom of 1984 and the bright saccharine hedonism of The Hunger Games’ Capitol, with a dash of omnipresent advertising, news, and tech, this future doesn’t feel so outlandish as to be a clear departure from the world we live in now. It’s actually worryingly prescient. But the fact that a filmmaker of Gilliam’s talents couldn’t at least polish a turd of a script into something interesting, if not, thrilling, is a real disappointment.
Photo Credit: ©Marvel 2014
How do you solve a problem like Tom Cruise?
The guy is probably is one of the top five movie stars on the planet with a filmography that stretches back to 1981 and arguably one of the most successful box office draws ever. There are, however, two big sticking points for Cruise at this moment in time; firstly, he’s been on something of a dry run for the last few years, either since Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in 2011 or even further back since Mission: Impossible III in 2006, and secondly, we’ve seen him save the world time and time and time again to the point where seeing him as a cowardly novice really breaks the suspension of disbelief.
Both those points combine to leave Edge Of Tomorrow on shaky footing from the beginning, nevermind the derivative Groundhog Day/Quantum Leap/Source Code-esque time-loop plot. It comes as something of a surprise to find that it might be one of the better blockbusters of the summer. It’s also possibly the best video-game movie not based on a video game.
When William Cage (Cruise) - formerly a army PR talking head, hired to big up a failing war effort against the alien force devastating Europe - wakes up on the first day of his demotion down to active duty grunt, he’s basically at the start of his level; his first checkpoint. Eventually, a close encounter on a French beach with an monstrous alien attacker — a tough end-of-level boss — kills Cage and sends him back to the start of the game, forcing him to play the two days again. With each death, he has to learn from his mistakes and discover how to survive to reach the next ‘level’.
Despite being pieced together from those aforementioned time-loop-travel films and shows (as well as elements of Aliens, The Matrix and a pile of other sci-fi/action classics), and despite the repetition of the premise occasionally strangling its momentum, there’s a lot to like about Edge Of Tomorrow (that title - chosen over the source novel’s All You Need Is Kill - is not one of them). The action sequences are expertly shot by Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith director Doug Liman, in particular the first instance we see of the futurist Normandy landings, which probably stand as the best representation of D-Day on film, after Saving Private Ryan. The supporting cast is great too, with Brendan Gleeson and Noah Taylor continuing to be two of the finest character actors of the moment, and Bill Paxton providing a wonderful hardass of a sergeant. However the highest praise has to go Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, who can now walk into any high-profile action role she wishes after this. Blunt is truly remarkable, casting off any “English rose” tag which some may have placed on her and kicking ass like Ellen Ripley reborn. In fact, the film would’ve been infinitely improved by switching Cruise and Blunt’s roles around, especially since Blunt’s legendary war hero - alternately nicknamed The Angel of Verdun and Full Metal Bitch - is forced by plot contrivance to step aside midway through the film to let Cruise perform his usual running-based heroics.
There’s also a wonderful vein of comedy running throughout, a branch of what Tyler Durden termed “flashback humour” - expertly placed gags and Gilligan cuts help prevent things from slipping into too much of a grim lull, and laughs are certainly needed amongst the bloodshed and explosions - whilst the score and creature design are both far more interesting than any summer schedule-filler has any right to be
But in spite these elements worthy of praise, the core of Edge is far from sturdy. There are numerous plot holes, as is always the case when messing with time, which would take a lot more words than I’m willing to write to explain, and everything just kind of sputters and slows out around an hour in when Cage and Vrataski become isolated on an abandoned farm for the requisite sexual tension filler. Perhaps I was spoiled by Pacific Rim not cramming a giant square peg of romance into a triangular hole, but there’s really no need for that sort of thing just because you have a male and female lead in your movie. Yeah, it makes narrative sense for Cage to eventually develop feelings for Vrataski after spending what could be years for him in her company, but in the prime timeline, she’s known him for all of a week at the very most, which we’re pretty sure is the dictionary definition of far too long to be around any incarnation of Tom Cruise. There’s also an uncomfortable theme of “war is character building” running throughout, which kinda borders on offensive, depending on your sensibilities.
Perhaps despite its uneven structure and glaring weak points, Edge Of Tomorrow can find a prolonged second life as a slightly silly cult classic, in the vein of Independence Day or Starship Troopers (it certainly shares a lot of similarities with the latter, albeit without its biting and oft misunderstood satirical element). It’s certainly entertaining enough and has just about the right amount of brains. And if it doesn’t, hey, it can just die and come back and try again.
The Blair Witch Project will be the yardstick for the found footage film for probably all of eternity. The lo-fi, low budget horror was hardly the inventor or most pioneering of found footage films, but undoubtedly the most iconic and most successful, inspiring a decade and a half’s worth of similar shaky-cam scares. Its dual cameras and genuinely bone-chilling plot were truly the most effective tools in making it a cult classic horror and massively profitable film (it was budgeted to the tune of $750,000 and grossed over $248 million worldwide).
If you consider a horror film as a ninety minute joke or a series of jokes over an hour and a half, the punchline is part of the payoff of the film - it may not be worth telling the joke if you don’t get to the punchline. Some horror films suffer massively for this, losing so much steam in the third act that everything that came before is a distant memory by the time the film trundles to a halt. Blair Witch has, in my opinion, the finest plot punchline in any horror film, with the mythos of the Blair Witch brought crashing back to reality in a night-vision sequence in the abandoned house, peppered generously with screaming and shaky camera.
It’s a marvellously simple film in concept, both a mockumentary and a horror although the latter is in slightly more equal measure than the former, though the mockumentary elements are crucial to the film’s effectiveness and sense of mystery. The cast of essentially just three characters go around their local area asking about the town’s dark history - on their travels hearing stories of murdered children, witchcraft, and kidnapping. All of the stories are taken in a sort of detached urban myth state of mind and this is why Blair Witch is so effective. The scepticism of real world paranormal events coupled with the realism of the film’s plot makes the events in the forest that much scarier. Not many can doubt the vastness of the wilderness in which they’re lost, though when they are continually frustrated with their ability to navigate, and when one goes missing, weird stuff starts happening and the scepticism is gone.
The trio of characters could be any friend group, and as the cracks begin to show they deliver powerful performances of being lost and stuck in the woods, pretty much consigned to certain death.
For me, The Blair Witch Project is the scariest horror film I’ve ever seen -mostly because it steps out of horror tropes and jumps and instead unnerves the audience, feeding them a rich pallet of spooky information before taking that away and drip feeding tiny, creepy bits of plot until the final, and devastating punchline.
For those lucky enough to see Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore effort and decade-defining Pulp Fiction in cinemas back in 1994, it’s probably hard to believe that the flick is 20 years old this year. As I’m not much older than that, I first saw the film closer to 2004, or a couple of years after at the latest. Pulp astonished me when I first saw it. I was only beginning my, what continues to be, life-long education into the world of film, and having seen and heard about the film for what seemed like an eternity, I finally managed to catch it on TV late one night.
My 13 or 14 year old self surely didn’t appreciate the film on the same levels as I would later upon numerous rewatches, but there was still something about it that really hit home for me. It was pure cinema; a film grounded in gritty violence and believable dialogue, but still somehow so much larger than life, it could never really feel like anything other than a movie. And I guess that’s why I love it so much, still to this day. While I’m not quite the major QT fanboy I once was in the late 2000s, I will never not be an admirer and fan of his work. Pulp Fiction is Tarantino on the top of his game in both writing and directing, with an unprecedented script of wit and thrills comprised in an intertwining, non-chronological tale that would become known as the ultimate “cool” film.
In my journey to become educated in all things film, I have come to realise that there are certainly better writers of dialogue out there than Tarantino. Richard Linklater, for one, can pen a script chocked to the fullest with what seems like mundane chit-chat, but still feels incredibly engaging and there always seems to be something more meaningful beneath it all. Linklater surely puts a lot of his own personality and experiences into the dialogue he writes and it comes through with an emotional punch. That’s where QT’s writing style differs the most. His films are not as personal, not as emotional, not as meaningful on that level. But then again, he never pretends that they are. Pulp Fiction is the greatest example of this. It’s not easy to make an engaging film that relies so heavily on conversations about the likes of Big Macs and foot massages, but QT’s wit and pop culture references aplenty go down a real treat when delivered by such an inspired cast. He really must be credited for not only putting together such an incredible cast (including John Travolta, putting him back on the map, and Samuel L. Jackson in a role that would ultimately become his most well-known in a ridiculously extensive filmography), but for getting the best out of them too. Yes, it’s downright pretentious at times, but when the performances and the directing is this good, you can get away with it. Say what you will about Tarantino, but the man knows how to make a film. There are very few filmmakers out there who can stand toe to toe with him on the subject of film, and so being so up his own hole is almost warranted.
With no fancy special effects or CGI, visually the film holds up very well. Some of the references and the soundtrack could’ve been in danger of feeling outdated, but for the most part, they really don’t. The soundtrack in particular still remains on plenty of “best” lists, boasting a great array of classics and what would eventually be (because of the film) classics. There’s no question that Pulp Fiction is style over substance. Very few people will argue that there is more to it than that, but when it comes to stylish flicks, it’s up there with the most inspirational films of all-time. It’d be pointless for me to list out the films since that have been evidently inspired by Pulp, some of them so terribly obvious and some of them, less-so. QT himself will never live down the film in his own work, and is a real devil for essentially “plagiarising” his own work, if you want to call it that. There will almost always be comparisons made between Pulp Fiction and QT’s other films, and I suppose they are warranted. It’s his most iconic film, and the one that really gave him a place on the map. Some may well argue that it is this film that boosted his ego in a way that would prove negative in his future work, and perhaps that may be so, but there is no denying that Pulp Fiction is a genius at his all-time best. Avant-garde may be the incorrect word to use, especially for a film that in it’s own right inspired by countless other films, but it is certainly one of the most important and seminal indie films ever made. Pulp Fiction will undoubtedly remain a classic unto the ages.
A struggling stand-up comedian gets dumped, fired, and then, after a drunken one night stand, pregnant. Then she has an abortion on Valentine’s Day.
It’s incredibly difficult to describe the plot of Obvious Child in the context of how hilarious and sweet it is without sounding like a complete sociopath. But, in her first feature-length film, writer-director Gillian Robespierre manages to find the humanity in one of the most dire situations.
The struggling stand-up in question is Donna Stern, a 27 year old native Brooklynite played by comedian-actress-writer and former SNL cast member Jenny Slate in her first starring role. The story was developed as a short film in 2009 before evolving into the feature that premiered at Sundance this year. Slate’s resume has gained quite a bit of bulk in the five year interim, including roles on Parks & Rec, Bob’s Burgers and Kroll Show. As brilliant as Mona Lisa Saperstein, Tammy Larson and Liz B. are on those respective shows, it’s so much more rewarding to see Slate as a complex lead rather than just a wacky peripheral character.
Obvious Child features some of the most authentic, well-developed characters—particularly Donna—in recent rom-com history, maybe even since the standard-bearer Annie Hall. Slate discussed the representation of women in romantic comedies in an interview with The Dissolve, stating “They put a lot of funny women in [romantic comedies] that are not funny, and then say they’re funny because they’re ‘quirky’, because they fall down or their shirts are on inside out. If that’s the amount of flaw you are willing to accept in a woman, I don’t know, I just don’t like that”. Female characters in romantic comedies have generally been diluted to basic caricatures of “relatability” and are meant to be lovable for how klutzy or awkward or scatter-brained they are. But Donna’s flaws are not cute. She drunkenly calls her ex to warn him that his new girlfriend has HPV and that when she dies of ovarian cancer he’ll “be stuck with the bill”. In the grand comedic tradition, she’s closed off emotionally and uses her smartass sense of humor to deflect any uncomfortable situation. Donna is lovable in spite of these flaws—she may be a total fucking mess, but underneath her sloppy exterior it’s apparent that she has a good, clean heart.
This is thanks mostly to Slate’s hilarious performance, but also in part to her undeniable chemistry with seemingly everyone she works with. Donna’s vulnerability manifests through her reliance on her friends, Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) and Joey (Gabe Liedman, Slate’s real life comedy partner), and her complicated but ultimately loving relationship with her mother (Polly Draper). The three act as her main support network in her decision to get an abortion, a decision that required less deliberation on her part than it did comfort from her friends and family.
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about how Donna’s choice to get an abortion is handled; the film has been praised by pro-choice activists since the premiere of the original short, and now, with the feature’s wide release in North America, pro-lifers are finally catching up with their inevitable criticism. It’s easy to pigeonhole Obvious Child as an Abortion Movie—looking at movies like Knocked Up and Juno, it’s basically an unprecedented way of a character handling an unexpected pregnancy—but that almost cheapens how incredible it is as a whole. Donna’s story isn’t exceptional. In fact, it’s one that millions of women have lived. The story isn’t meant to shock anyone, but, instead, to normalize the situation and hopefully take a step toward removing the stigma that abortion carries. Politics aside, Slate and Robespierre have created possibly one of the most hilarious and human romantic comedies in history.
Trailer: The Zero Theorem: …this one is going to be a puzzler. In between rehearsals for Monty Python’s currently ongoing farewell shows, Terry Gilliam completed his “Orwellian triptych” of Brazil, Twelve Monkeys and now The Zero Theorem. Indiewire’s synopsis of the film is:
Having premiered at 70th Venice International Film Festival last year, the film is truly an ambitious effort but has so far received mixed reviews. Following eccentric super hacker Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), it takes on the existential quandaries of our condition. Waiting for a phone call to explain the meaning the life, Leth attempts to solve what is “unprovable” and overcome the overbearing fact that “everything adds up to nothing.” Having been personally delegated the task by the Management (Matt Damon), he is visited in his seclusion by a select group including the flirtatious Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), his unpredictable supervisor Job (David Thewlis), and would-be digital therapist Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton), that threaten to break his concentration.
Told you it’d be a puzzler. That cast seems splendid though; Waltz is always superb, as is Thewlis. Tilda Swinton looks to be continuing what is already a marvellous year of excellent roles and performances after Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive and The Grand Budapest Hotel, whilst it’ll be intriguing to see Matt Damon try his hand outside of his usual comfort zones. The Zero Theorem has already had its release in various countries across the world, including in the UK back in March (although, roughly zero people actually saw it), but is set for VOD on August 19th, and will be in American cinemas on September 19th.