Belfast Film Festival 2016 review : Closet Monster (dir. Stephen Dunn)

locandina

 

Closet Monster is a coming of age tale, with a dash of body horror and a talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rosselini). That alone should give an indication of the originality of this film.

Oscar (Connor Jessup) is attempting to escape his dead beat town, discovering his sexuality and attempting to deal with the damage caused by the breakdown of his parent’s marriage. This Molotov cocktail of emotion and hormones is from the film’s early exchanges only set to end one way.

After witnessing a hate crime, at an early age, the struggle Oscar feels is partly brought on by his father who, although loving towards his son, advises him to get rid of his floppy long hair in case someone mistakes him as gay. The lasting impressions of this throw away comment and the event surrounding it have a profound and lasting effect on Oscar and the physical churning of his guts at various points provided a few interesting body horror moments that I was genuinely surprised and impressed by.

In his attempts to escape his town Oscar will also escape his father who as the film progresses becomes more monstrous is also an excellent depiction of families. The early moments of the film show a child in awe of his Dad but as he grows older Oscar is more aware of the flaws of his father.

Closet Monster is not a perfect film. The coming out of Oscar, while interesting, is never fully formed. The father son conflict we expect from this event never quite arrives. Plenty of build is given to allow this expected confrontation but it never quite lands bar a couple of brief encounters.

Aaron Abrahams in his role as Oscar’s father is clearly struggling with what he is learning about his son but this is never fully dealt with on screen. The monster we expect never fully arrives. Oscar sees himself as the monster of this piece and his internal wrestling is interesting to a point but it always felt as if he needed further antagonism from his father to fully flesh this out.

A great electronic soundtrack really helps to enhance party sequences and sexual encounters.

This voyage of discovery is interesting and impressive when compared to some of its cinematic kin. It is however not as fully formed and developed as it could be and this is what (for me) stops this film from being great.

The Jungle book, remakes and never forgetting the first time

baloo-and-mowgli

We had been queuing for what felt like hours to a  six year old.

We’d talked about taking me to the ‘pictures’ for a while and finally it was happening.

I held his hand so tight. I was buzzing with excitement.

I didn’t know what I was walking into. I didn’t know the impact it would have.

Doors opened, tickets were punched and the combined smell of fresh and old popcorn wafted past my nose. We sat down the lights dimmed and it started.

A young boy abandoned, raised by wolves, hunted by a tiger and told all about life’s necessities by a singing bear.

I came out enraptured by what I’d seen and asked him immediately when we could go again.

My Dad took me to my first film at the Strand cinema (now Arts Centre) in East Belfast back in the mid eighties and I’ve loved the cinema experience ever since. I hold that memory closely and dearly.*

This weekend sees the release of Jon Favereau’s interpretation of the Kipling/Disney classic and often remakes of films can be questioned by bloggers/critics like myself.

  • Why do we need this?
  • Why can’t Hollywood give us more original output?
  • A perfectly good jungle book already exists etc.

I’m not against remakes completely for one simple reason.

This weekend somewhere a six year old boy will hold his Dad’s hand and walk into his first cinema experience.

He won’t see the visible pencil lines of those animated Disney classics, just clear, polished, computer enhanced ingenuity.

He probably won’t have to queue outside for long. Online booking and other innovations have solved that ‘problem’.

All being well though he will see something amazing.

Something he remembers for a long time.

Something he falls in love with.

Something that makes him ask ‘when can we go again?’

 

*My Dad has since confessed that our cinema trips were a chance for him to spend time with me but also a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep following night shifts.

 

Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

my-big-fat-greek-wedding-2_banner

In 2002 my wife and I were dating and as was our weekly custom we would stock up on cinema snacks and head off into 90 mins of rom com. We saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding during this time and we laughed, several times in fact. Characters were enjoyable, the story worked (as well as any rom com story does), the outsider being rejected and then  welcomed into the bosom of the overbearing family was a story that had  heart and made us smile. It has continued to do when we catch the film on TV and has held its charm. So we sat down last night in our local cinema, popcorn in hand and looked forward to what we hope would be a happy reunion.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has none of the original’s quality.

The tag line on the poster tells you really all you need to know.

‘People change. Greeks don’t’ 

To be more accurate it should read

‘People change. Sadly this lot haven’t’

Everyone in this film is still stuck attempting the same gags from 14 years ago. No one in the entire family has moved on the only notable exception being that Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) now have a teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris). I felt a lot of sympathy for Paris as she looks at her family with great embarrassment, disdain and despair  as the audience do. This family that charmed and amused me are now in 2016 loud, boorish and irritating on a massive scale.

We get to experience another family wedding as it is revealed that Toula’s parents were never officially married and the only other plot of note is the whether or not Paris stays close to home or goes away for college. Other than that there are only half-hearted attempts at humour and every character looks wearied by this enforced reunion. I only laughed twice and for a film billed as a comedy this simply is not good enough.

I left the cinema pondering if my sense of humour has changed but if the original film still works  and garners laughter (certainly more than twice) then it can’t be me.

A poor story, insufficient laughter and the lack of necessity for this sequel (did anyone wonder what happened to these characters after the original?)  made this a rather pointless and wasted trip to the cinema.

Review: Zootropolis

zootropolis

Amidst the hype and publicity machine of Batman v Superman, Disney have been relatively gentile in their  publicity of new film Zootropolis (otherwise known as Zootopia in the States). Having seen a trailer prior to a screening of Kung Fu Panda 3, my 7 year old turned to me and declared ‘We HAVE to go and see that!’. How could I refuse??

Zootropolis os the story of Judy Hopps the first ever bunny police officer determined to change the world and make Zootropolis a better place. Zootroplois is a world in which all animal life has evolved to into a civilised society where prey and predator live harmoniously side by side. Hopps soon discovers not all is as it seems as some citizens have gone missing and returned to their ‘savage’ state. To solve the case Hopps must team up with the most unlikely of allies Nick Wilde the crafty fox.

I can’t begin to express how much joy Zootropolis gave me. This wonderful societal allegory made me smile from minute one and I’m still grinning ear to ear as I type. It is a timely film. In a world where hate and fear can be the dominating narrative, Zootropolis aims to be the cinematic antidote. Wonderfully poignant and with a great sense of humour the film never drops its pace, never loses its humour and stays on message throughout.

The film has within it plenty to enjoy for kids and adults alike, a Breaking Bad gag towards the end, lots of little incidental nods to other Disney films and so much going on in the background that repeated viewing may be essential.

The message of Zootropolis is not subtle but it is welcomed.Every animal plays their part and every animal’s skill is celebrated. Sloth’s processing vehicle licensing paperwork a particular highlight.

Hope remains that society will overcome stereotypes, judgemental attitudes and prejudice. Society can progress, move forward and evolve. Zootropolis may just be the blueprint we have been waiting for.

After the dirge and bleakness of Batman v Superman, Zootropolis was a great cinematic palette cleanser.

 

 

 

Review – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

batman-vs-superman-posters

I said in my last post that I was excited. I was ready for the ultimate showdown. I wanted man vs god. I wanted comic book excitement. I at the very least wanted to be entertained. What I got was one of the most frustrating cinema experiences I have had in a long time.

This is a mess, a film with an incoherent structure, plot, and in Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor one of the most irritating characters of recent times.

Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the man of steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.

Sounds like a simple enough plan for a film right?  Those who endured Man of Steel all reacted  in a similar way to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne (who is without question the most miserable Batman we have ever encountered). The reckless destruction of Metropolis did make us question what good Superman was doing and to be fair this was an interesting opening to the film. Almost as if director Zack Snyder wished to give us a cinematic right to reply for his previous endeavours. However once this slows down all plot, logic and reason disappear.

We are left with shots from CNN and the views of various media heads on who Superman is, what good he does or doesn’t do all while he’s off up a mountain with the spirit of his dead Dad for a reason I’m still not sure of!

Meanwhile Jesse Eisenberg is twitching  around like a philosophy student on a Red Bull high form an all night library session. Reciting to the viewer everything he’s ever learnt in class about the nature of God. Somehow he develops something close to a plot to make our two heroes fight each other for something.

There are inexplicable dream sequences, which may point to future film intentions. There is an erratic score. The 3D is headache inducing awful and unnecessary.   There is a good 30 minutes plus of CGI third act incoherent battling. Gal Gadot appears as Wonder Woman appears, which is refreshing, but at the same time not I’m not 100% sure why she was in Metropolis in the first place and she has very little to do or say really.

Ultimately this will film will make a bucket after bucket of cash. My keyboard bashing frustrations will not stop this juggernaut I realise that. My only hope is that a critical lambasting from all corners of the globe may make executives think twice about advancing with this DC universe too hastily.

Captain America – Civil War is next on the superhero cinematic production line and to be fair while Marvel movies can suffer from dullness at times but they at least make sense!

Superhero  fatigue is a reality now. Batman v Superman did absolutely nothing to change that.

 

*Thanks to MovieHouse for screening access

 

 

 

 

The Man of Steel, Easter & Destroying Structures

clarks-trip-to-church_137319-fli_1371488334

Tonight I’m off to a Batman v Superman preview screening. I’m a bit excited to be honest. While superhero fatigue is at an all time high for many, this film in particular has excited me. The man vs god angle depicted in the various trailers grabs my attention. Now I’m aware that trailers can lie but I’m intrigued by the premise.

Superman has always had a god like quality. In fact for much of Man of Steel director Zack Snyder does a not so subtle job of reinforcing this. For example in one sequence having a praying Clark Kent in front of a stained glass window where his and the pose of Jesus are practically identical. I liked this aspect of the film of course (that’s my gimmick here) but it could have been a lot more delicately done. Snyder though is not a director known for subtlety.

The films loses its way in the final third and becomes one big CGI brawl that goes on for FAR too long. At one point our hero saves some people from falling debris and they exclaim their gratitude. At the time I laughed as I thought, yes to be saved is great but your city has been destroyed so good look getting a pint of milk when this is all over.

However this perhaps the most Jesus like moment.

Saviour yes but also also the destroyer of structures around us.

Easter is days away. Holy week is at the mid point and as Christians we await Good Friday and the East Sunday celebrations that follow. I’ve wrestled with Easter this year. I’m uncomfortable with it.

I’ve come to the point where if I’m not prepared to fully get behind the Easter story there really is no point. To believe what I do and believe in the person of Christ means that the structures that contain the message need to fall.

One of the first things to go on Good Friday is the temple curtain. This barrier to the holy of holies, the area where God lived only accessible to temple priests  is gone. The reveal of nothing being behind there says a lot. The man made concept of where God abides is gone.

To fully believe in Easter. To fully believe in the person of Christ means not only believing in the one who saves it’s also about believing in the structure breaker.

Review :Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung-Fu-Panda-3-feat.jpg

A third instalment in the Kung Fu Panda series wasn’t exactly something I was highly anticipating this year. I enjoyed the original and I remember nothing of the second film (never a good sign). I  am therefore pleased to report that Kung Fu Panda 3 is a lot of high kicking family fun.

When Po’s long-lost panda father suddenly reappears, the reunited duo travels to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of hilarious new panda characters. But when the supernatural villain Kai begins to sweep across China defeating all the kung fu masters, Po must do the impossible-learn to train a village full of his fun-loving, clumsy brethren to become the ultimate band of Kung Fu Pandas.

Kung Fu Panda has always dealt with the discovery of self. This film is no different Po faces his past to reconcile the circumstances he faces in the present. The initial meeting between Po and his father is one of the stand out moments. Their bumbling nature and lack of smarts are hilarious as dumbstruck villagers look on.

A stellar voice cast are in top form and in particular J K Simmons as bad guy Kai has gone straight into my top 5 cinematic bad guys. This a bad guy who is a threat, who is an intimidating presence and still has some great comedy moments all of which are carried out perfectly.

Beautiful animation, plenty of laughs meant that both I and my daughter had a great time. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a perfect family popcorn guzzling day out at the cinema and sometimes that’s all you need.