Shin Godzilla (2016)

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This is why it’s imperative to never expose your rubber duckie to radiation.

The mere fact that a movie about a massive monster wreaking mayhem upon a major metropolis begins with roughly half an hour of solemn and serious politicians blathering slightly too quickly in a series of utterly forgettable conference rooms should seem like a bleak sign. Even considering how many movies in the Godzilla series focus heavily on a human story almost to the exclusion of kaiju action, none have been quite so fascinated with the minutiae of governmental process. But this political thriller is less C-SPAN than Armando Iannucci, blending the anti-nuclear message of the 1954 Godzilla with a dry satire of the current state of Japanese politics, particularly their response to crisis. The main character is not a stalwart soldier or brilliant scientist, but a bureaucrat responsible for coordinating the reaction to a natural disaster, albeit one involving a gigantic and rubbery sea creature that spews fire and radiation. Caught between the indecision of his superiors and the call for a scorched earth response by the US-led UN, young prime ministerial aide Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) must find a way to defeat this monster with the help of a team of scientific rejects and crackpots. Continue reading “Shin Godzilla (2016)”

Colossal (2016)

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Where’s the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!

Some genre mash-ups seem effortless. Space is an environment perfectly unsuitable to human life and probably full of things that want to eat, brainwash or melt us, hence the ease of sci-fi/horror. A world steeped in testosterone, where every problem can be solved by the conscientious application of automatic weapons is inherently ridiculous, making action/comedy a no-brainer. A dramedy about a person dealing with addiction and failure is, surprisingly, not an apparently natural complement to an effects-heavy, destruction laden kaiju flick. Colossal is one of the most original films to come along in a while, at least partially because it has some of the trappings of a science fiction movie without really being sci-fi. The giant monster stuff is symbolic and mostly background to the real drama, though still contains roughly as much kaiju action as 2014’s Godzilla. Continue reading “Colossal (2016)”

Dundead 2017 Day Four

Dundead 2017

Given the dramatically divergent reactions elicited by The Shining, that film will be discussed at a later date in two posts, a case for the defence, and a likely scathing case for the prosecution. 

It’s strange to imagine that arguably the very best movies based on Stephen King’s work do not strictly fit into the horror genre at all, especially given his reputation as an author. The Shawshank Redemption is still the highest user-rated film on IMDb’s Top 100, and while it certainly isn’t the best film ever made, it’s not an immediately absurd choice for the accolade. (Incidentally, The Green Mile is ranked at no. 36, far above the first King-horror The Shining at no. 60, which debatably has more to do with Stanley Kubrick than King himself.) A little further down the list at a respectable no. 192 is Stand By Me, based on King’s 1982 novella The Body. Set in 1959, four friends make a pilgrimage to see a real dead body, and discover some important things about themselves and each other. While not at all a horror movie – being a major outlier at Dundead by featuring only one corpse – there are heavy and frightening aspects to the story beyond its mouldering cadaver. There fears here are of a more mundane sort, whether they are personal, existential or physical.  Continue reading “Dundead 2017 Day Four”

Dundead 2017 Day Three

Dundead 2017

Written with the insightful input of fellow Dundead 2017 survivor, Claire Grey.

If Salem’s Lot suffered from a glaring lack of Stephen King’s influence, Firestarter contains a veritable smorgasbord. King is fond of writing supernaturally-gifted children, particularly when they wreak terrible vengeance upon those foolish enough to anger someone with magical powers. 9-year-old Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore) follows in the fine tradition of Carrie White as a girl who can cause incredible destruction with a mere thought, though she is considerably more innocent and less bitter in spite of her tragic past. After the murder of her mother, she and her father Andy (David Keith) are pursued and eventually captured by a shady government organisation controlled by Martin Sheen’s Captain Hollister, who hopes to turn the little girl into a living weapon. Continue reading “Dundead 2017 Day Three”

Dundead 2017 Day Two

Dundead 2017

Written with the insightful input of fellow Dundead 2017 survivor, Claire Grey.

Egomaniac, of all of the new films screening at Dundead 2017, was the one that I was anticipating most eagerly. Horror and comedy make very comfortable bedfellows, perhaps because both rely upon some kind of transgression to elicit an emotional response from their audience, whether terrified screams or gales of laughter. Both genres catch us in a visceral way and, in the case of horror, sometimes sufficient brutality can be so absurd as to be paradoxically hilarious. A quote, from Mel Brooks’ The 2,000 Year Old Man, illustrates this perfectly: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Egomaniac takes a recognisable situation for many creative types and ratchets it up to a ridiculous extreme. When horror filmmaker Catherine (Nic Lamont) attempts to get her pet project, a romantic comedy set during a zombie apocalypse, off the ground, the incredible condescension and asinine meddling she encounters drive her to full-blown psychosis. She murders every one of her collaborators and films her sanguine breakdown as her latest masterpiece.  Continue reading “Dundead 2017 Day Two”

Dundead 2017 Day One

Dundead 2017

After a creditable slightly-above-average placing in the annual Dundead Film Quiz (team name: The Dank Tower), the festival began in earnest with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy, a tale of family strife, satanic possession, and sick guitar riffs. Strange things begin to happen when the Hellmans, dad Jesse (Ethan Embry), mum Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco), move into their new dream home. Jesse, an artist, is beset by an irresistible urge to paint grotesque images, and his obsession starts to take a dire effect on the family. When the house’s previous occupant Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a strangely innocent man tortured by sinister, whispering voices, begins to take a special interest in Zooey, the rifts in the family threaten to become truly lethal.  Continue reading “Dundead 2017 Day One”

Prevenge (2016)

Despite sounding like the subtitle of a gritty sequel to Minority ReportPrevenge is an old-fashioned tale of serial killing, with a twist; the killer is seven months pregnant, and spurred on by the ethereal voice of her unborn infant. Written by, starring and directed by the actually-considerably-pregnant Alice Lowe, the film plays with the classic homicidal revenge story by casting an ordinarily sympathetic kind of character as the killer, and by refraining from a standard of that kind of narrative: there is no clear inciting incident placed at the film’s beginning in order to get the audience onside for all of the rampant blood-letting. Rather the background information is filled in gradually, and then not made completely apparent, by means of ambiguous flashbacks and several narrators of questionable reliability. These choices of structure and characterisation combine to create a horror movie with a difference, one that challenges the viewers’ assumptions as much as it makes them laugh.

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Silence (2016)

Silence, based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, is the latest of the meditations on religion and the nature of belief that Martin Scorsese likes to put out every decade or two. Two Jesuit priests, Andrew Garfield’s Sebastiao Rodrigues and Adam Driver’s Francisco Garupe, travel to isolationist Japan in search of their mentor, whom they fear has ‘gone native’, and committed the cardinal sin of apostasy. They find a conspicuously mixed welcome. While the simple country folk are overjoyed to have new padres to conduct their clandestine rites, the ruling class are carrying out a brutal suppression of Christianity, with alien priests fetching a particularly lucrative bounty. The film confronts the ethics of missionary work, especially in the face of state opposition, and the morality of personal integrity versus public suffering and, naturally, offers no easy answers.

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La La Land (2016) & Whiplash (2014)

La La Land has a narrow path to walk in order to succeed. The lavish Hollywood musical seems to flourish in the presumed ‘simpler times’ of the past, before irony, cynicism and disillusionment were invented in the mid-1960s. Realism is anathema to a world in which groups of people burst spontaneously into elaborate, choreographed song-and-dance routines. Despite this, director Damien Chazelle has been largely successful. While the balance between music and narrative is lost for some time in the third act, it returns in spectacular fashion in the closing scenes. The final show-stopper is a gorgeous punch to the heart, an emotional climax earned by the affection that the film has built over the journey of the two romantic leads.

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