DramaFilmReviews

American Animals (2018, UK / USA) Review

American Animals (2018, UK / USA)

At the outset of American Animals the words “This is not based on a true story,” appear onscreen, then three of those words disappear leaving the statement – “This is a true story.” Although American Animals is a heist film at its core, British documentarian Bart Layton, in an impressive feature debut, relies closely on a factual account of real events which took place in 2004. Intercut with the dramatization of the robbery played by actors, are interviews with the actual men who committed the crimes. This makes for an interesting and unusual combination of documentary and dramatic fiction.

“The perfect heist is a work of fiction.”

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Heathers (1988, USA)

Heathers (1988)

As a British kid who had little interest in American High School movies, I was shown the original 1988 film Heathers by an American friend and was much surprised and amused by the sly subversiveness of its pitch-black satire. It offered the conventional ‘Mean Girls’ social dynamics, but offset that with extremes of murder and suicide.

Made a decade before the tragic shootings at Columbine high school, Heathers is a film that appears more controversial now than it was at the time that it was made.

“Best friends, social trends and occasional murder.”

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I Kill Giants (2017, Belgium / UK / USA)

I Kill Giants (2017, Belgium / UK / USA)

Created by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants was first launched as a limited comic book series from Image Comics in 2008, and compiled into a graphic novel in 2009. Now a full-length feature film from director Anders Walter, I Kill Giants tells the story of pubescent girl Barbara Thorson who spends much of her time focused on the task of luring, trapping and killing the giants that she believes threaten her small coastal town. I Kill Giants does offer a family, fantasy adventure that is brave enough to deal with some distinctly adult themes.

“I find giants, I hunt giants. I kill giants.”

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Mary Shelley (2017, UK / Luxembourg / USA)

Mary Shelley (2017)

In 1818 Mary Shelley produced one of the most influential texts in literature: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Her novel attracted a huge degree of critical attention and gained increasing cultural importance, so much so that the circumstances of its composition has achieved a kind of mythic status. One might expect that the film would indicate how Mary was shaped by the many losses, difficulties, and disappointments of her life, but instead filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour tends to revel in the love story, the costumes and the poetic flights.

“Her greatest love inspired her darkest creation.”

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Hereditary (2018, USA)

Hereditary (2018)

There isn’t much I haven’t already seen when it comes to horror films. I’ve been watching them ever since I was old enough to get away with it, or even before (on one occasion I got in to see The Exorcist while underage because I was accompanied by a priest!). I’ve seen all the regular horror tropes play out in scores of films, with varying degrees of success.

Although the overriding premise of Ari Aster’s first feature, Hereditary, isn’t a particularly original one, the unfolding and execution of that premise is exceptional.

“Every family tree hides a secret.”

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The Vault (2017, USA)

The Vault (2017)

Writer/director Dan Bush says of his film, The Vault, that his vision was to make a movie where ‘Heist meets horror’. He couches this ambition in a story dealing with sibling loyalty and conflict.

When Michael Dillon gets into trouble with a vicious gangster, he has to come up with a great deal of money very quickly in order to save his life. His two estranged sisters, Leah an ex-con, and Vee who has spent time in the military, come up with a plan to recruit some heavies who will help them rob a nearby bank.

“No one is safe.”

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Baby Driver (2017, UK / USA)

Baby Driver (2017)

It’s becoming easy to recognise a film by Edgar Wright – there are trademark aspects: a sense of wit, sharp editing, and a rousing soundtrack. Baby Driver, Wright’s first-ever solo screenplay, offers a premise that is a cinematic convention, but told in a wholly energising and original way. The action-movie potential of the virtuoso driver is hardly a new concept. It’s a proposition that has had its twists and turns, from Walter Hill’s The Driver, The French Connection, Bullitt and Ronin right through to Ryan Gosling’s nameless specialist in Refn’s Drive.

“All you need is one killer track.”

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Ghost Stories (2017, UK)

Ghost Stories (2017)

It’s a while since we’ve seen a cinematic anthology of horror tales, but Ghost Stories revives that tradition with a trio of supernatural stories in the style of English portmanteau movies of the 1960s and the Ealing classic Dead of Night. The film’s writer-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have adapted Ghost Stories from their successful stage show. (Nyman is an actor, writer and magician who has devised productions for Derren Brown; Jeremy Dyson is actor, writer and co-creator of The League of Gentlemen) Their film offers a tribute to an array of old-school horror tropes.

“We have to be very careful what we choose to believe.”

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You Were Never Really Here (2017, UK / France / USA)

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

In You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay explores the themes of abuse, violence, trauma and the corruption inherent in the powerful elite. She has re-fashioned the narrative and plot without diminishing its brutal impact, and elevated what might have been a conventional revenge flick by sheer filmmaking skill. The action of the film accelerates and ultimately concludes without necessarily developing in the conventional way. In You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay has managed to translate her singular vision into a complex, but compelling, feature film.

“I want you to hurt them.”

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Mom and Dad (2017, USA)

Mom and Dad (2017)

“We love you more than anything in the world, but sometimes…” Mom and Dad is the new feature written and directed by Brian Taylor. It proves to be a kinetic, pitch-black horror-comedy – a gleefully wicked story propelled by some crazed characters.

The story develops at a ripping pace and director Taylor and the principal players appear to have a lot of fun with the disturbing premise and the savage lunacy. Despite their violent inclinations, we never really doubt that these parents still love their kids in some bizarrely distorted way.

“Sometimes, they just want to kill you.”

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The Shape of Water (2017, USA)

The Shape of Water (2017, USA)

Gaining accolades at film festivals around the world, The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro’s latest feature, is part tribute, part pastiche, of the post-war monster movie. In his recent talk at the London Film Festival, Mr. del Toro affirmed: “Monsters are evangelical creatures for me. When I was a kid, monsters made me feel that I could fit somewhere, even if it was…an imaginary place where the grotesque and the abnormal were celebrated and accepted.”

“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”

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Death Note (2017, USA)

Death Note (2017)

Based on the Manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note is a huge franchise in Japan. The Netflix remake rather misses the entire message of the original Death Note – which is that power corrupts. It barely touches on the themes that gave the original depth and intrigue and lacks its tension-building storytelling, which left the viewer wondering where the latest development might lead, and who would win. It’s the version for people who can’t cope with subtitles.

“Every human spends the last moments of his life in the shadow of a death god.”

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