Review: After Death

Director: Gez Medinger, Robin Schmidt
Screenplay: Andrew Ellard
Starring: Miranda Raison, Sam Keeley, Daniella Kertesz, Elarica Gallacher, Lorna Nickson Brown
Country: UK
Running Time: 97 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 18


October is upon us, which can mean only one thing to film bloggers. A month full of horror movies! My month probably won’t be ‘full’ of horror as I’m going to be hitting my usual mix of classic and cult titles from the glut of screeners I’ve greedily requested. However, for my first review of the month I thought I’d better join the early halloween celebrations my fellow writers revel in.

On October 19th, Icon Film Distribution and FrightFest, the UK’s leading genre film festival, team up to launch FrightFest Presents, an all-new expert driven social community-building label ready to deliver true shocks and scares straight into your home just in time for Halloween and beyond. FrightFest Presents will bring you the most unsettling feature films from the festival; a series of movies that wowed and earned critical acclaim, hand-picked by FrightFest directors Alan Jones and Paul McEvoy. Blueprint: Review plan to review the first six films being released on the label, starting with this, After Death

After Death (sometimes titled AfterDeath) sees five young adults wake up on a beach at night next to a small cabin. They soon realise they are actually dead after all being killed in a nightclub disaster. They’re now being held in purgatory or possibly even hell itself as it certainly isn’t heaven. They are regularly harassed by some sort of demon made of smoke and the harsh light of a neighbouring lighthouse triggers disturbing visions and pain in the entrapped group. Robyn (Miranda Raison), the last of the group to arrive, is convinced she can escape and get back to the world of the living so she tries to get to the bottom of what sins could have caused the five to be destined to hell and whether they can harness Onie’s (Daniella Kertesz) ability to randomly disappear. This investigation causes rifts amongst the group though, particularly with regards the one man, Seb (Sam Keeley), who is revealed to be a violent sexual predator.

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TIFF 2015 Review: Mississippi Grind

Regular collaborators Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar & It’s Kind of a Funny Story) team up once again as both writers and directors of this road movie. Mississippi Grind sees hard-up gambling addict Gerry (Ben Mendelson) befriend the charismatic poker player Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). Gerry thinks Curtis brings him luck and wants him to help build the collateral to get in on a high end poker game. So they travel across the south of the USA from casino to casino in an effort to take Gerry out of the rut he’s forever stuck in.

The first half of this is excellent. I’m a big fan of Half Nelson and a lot of the magic of that is here. As a believable and at times heartbreaking character study, the film is particularly strong, with regards to the Gerry character more so than Curtis. Ben Mendelson is incredibly good as the troubled gambler who doesn’t know when to quit. It’s a subtly powerful and controlled performance that should gain a lot of attention come awards season. If it doesn’t I’ll be very disappointed. Ryan Reynolds is very good too, but his character isn’t as well written. His motivations aren’t clear and his character has less of an arc through the film, making him feel like little more than an enigma even though his story takes up a large proportion of the running time.

This is one of the reasons why, for me, the film loses steam as it goes on. A lot of the turns that the plot takes didn’t make sense and I didn’t find the finale particularly satisfying either. So what begins as an understated yet strikingly good look at gambling addiction turns into a bit of a damp squib by the end. That may be a bit harsh though. The film is still certainly worth watching. It does a great job of capturing the mood and feel of the lonely world of the gambler and the look of that area of America. Mendelson’s stunning performance alone makes it a film to recommend, even if it doesn’t come together as a satisfying whole.

DVD Review: Bait

Director: Dominic Brunt
Screenplay: Paul Roundell
Starring: Victoria Smurfit, Joanne Mitchell, Jonathan Slinger, Adam Fogerty
Country: UK
Running Time: 82 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘ve never been hugely into horror movies. I wasn’t allowed to watch many when I was a kid and have always been a bit of a wuss when it comes to really nasty violence so have many notable gaps in my horror film experience. When I met fellow Blueprint: Review writers Justin Richards and Andrew Skeates though and we began our regular movie nights (which turned into the Weekends of Trash), my eyes were opened to a host of spooky, disturbing and down right nasty delights. Since then I’ve grown fonder of the genre, although I still rarely rush to the cinema to see the latest frighteners and my DVD/Blu-Ray collection is sparse on the horror front too.

Up until about 2 years ago, I had a fantastic way of keeping on top of the genre’s offerings; horror festivals. Each year I would try to get to at least one of them, be it Dead by Dawn in Edinburgh, Celluloid Screams in Sheffield or Justin’s own festival, Phantasmagoria. These hand picked selections weren’t always 100% to my tastes (horror is very subjective after all), but I discovered dozens of favourites. Unfortunately, after my daughter was born two years ago, I’ve struggled to find the time and money to make it to film festivals, so once again I’ve fallen behind the pack.

One of my last festival experiences was Celluloid Screams in 2012. A film that impressed me there was Before Dawn. Directed by Dominic Brunt, who’s best known in the UK as a regular actor in the soap opera Emmerdale, the film gave the zombie genre a relationship drama spin. It wasn’t perfect, but showed a lot of potential. So when I heard Brunt was releasing his follow up, Bait (a.k.a. The Taking), I was very excited. It has screened at a few festivals over the last year, but of course this didn’t help me in my current predicament. Luckily Metrodome must have been taking notice as they picked the title up for a UK release and offered me a copy to review.

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DVD Review: Prince Avalanche

Director: David Gordon Green
Screenplay: David Gordon Green
Based on a Film by: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: 15


David Gordon Green has had an unusual career. He made a name for himself in 2000 with his debut feature, George Washington. This was a small indie drama with no name actors which picked up a lot of acclaim and he followed this up with a handful of other fairly low key independent features which also got fairly well received by critics and festivals. However, in 2008 he made a surprising diversion into broad stoner comedy territory with Pineapple Express starring Seth Rogen, James Franco and Green’s old college friend Danny McBride. The success of this prompted another couple of low-brow excursions in Your Highness and The Sitter. These weren’t anywhere near as successful though and I think a lot of fans of Green’s early work thought his career was stumbling down a weed-hazed spiral (there are fans of these later films though it must be said).

However, word of Green’s next film, Prince Avalanche, suggested a U-turn back to his indie drama roots, albeit with hints of his ‘second phase’ as a comedy writer/director due to its star Paul Rudd being part of the Judd Apatow stable. Prince Avalanche sees Rudd play Alvin, a man that has taken on a job painting lines on the long remote country roads cutting through the forests of Texas in 1988, a year after fires ripped through the state. Joining him for the summer is his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Emile Hirsch). The two have vastly different personalities. Alvin is a self-confessed outdoorsman who strives to “reap the rewards of solitude” whereas Lance is a horny youngster who has no interest in sleeping under the stars and counts the hours until the weekend comes around when he can try to get some action with the local ‘talent’. Of course they clash during their summer together and cracks start to appear in Alvin’s facade of satisfaction and superiority as we learn his relationship with his girlfriend is crumbling.

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Blu-Ray Review: Computer Chess

Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski
Starring: Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary
Producers: Houston King, Alex Lipschultz
Country: USA
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: 15


The ‘mumblecore’ genre appeared around the turn of the 21st century. It was coined to describe the work of writers and directors such as the Duplass brothers and Joe Swanberg who make lo-fi American indie films. In essence, a mumblecore film is, to quote the fountain of all lazily acquired ‘knowledge’ Wikipedia, “characterized by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focused on naturalistic dialog”. To me, this style could be attributed to a number of films produced since the 60’s (or even John Cassavetes’ Shadows back in 1959), yet it seems curiously attached to this more recent collection of independent films. I guess another characteristic which unites them over some of the earlier films would be their tendency to focus on the slackers and other more subdued outcasts from society.

Andrew Bujalski is thought to have brought us the first ‘true’ mumblecore film with Funny Ha Ha back in 2002 and after 11 years of quietly acclaimed low-key releases he’s made it onto Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label with his latest film Computer Chess. The prestigious home entertainment distributor doesn’t often add new releases to their roster, but now and again they’ll pick out something they feel deserves their world renowned spit and polish treatment.

Computer Chess is an unusual, mildly comic look at the world of computer chess programming back in the early 1980’s. Set during an annual competition to find a program that can beat a human chess master, the film drifts among the contenders as they struggle to victory in a low rate hotel they share with a touchy feely ‘encounters’ group. The film focusses largely on Bishton (Patrick Riester), a young programmer whose system is glitchy, seemingly wanting to commit chess suicide, and Papageorge (Myles Paige) a less talented but outspoken entrant who’s having problems with his room booking at the hotel.

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DVD Review: What Maisie Knew

Director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Screenplay: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright
Based on a Novel by: Henry James
Starring: Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan, Joanna Vanderham
Country: USA
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 15


What Maisie Knew takes the 1897 novel of the same name by Henry James and relocates it to New York in the present day. Rock star Susanna (Julianne Moore) and art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan) get divorced and fight over custody of their daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) whilst using her as a tool to get back at each other. Maisie’s au-pair (also Beale’s new wife) Margo (Joanna Vanderham) alongside Susanna’s new husband Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) end up caught in the battle and seem to be the only two that actually care about the wellbeing of the 6 year old girl at the centre of it all.

What was probably quite a scandalous story back in its day is rather commonplace now. What sets it apart however is the fact that the film (and possibly the source material) tells and shows everything from Maisie’s perspective. Any details of the divorce and the custody battle are only shown in flashes that Maisie herself hears. The camera generally stays on her or at her level/perspective too creating a film that is all about Maisie and the effects her parents’ pettiness and selfishness is having on her.

This approach would never work without a strong child actor in the title role and they knocked it out of the park with this one. It may be the sign of excellent direction more than talent at such a tender age, but Onata Aprile gives a superb performance as Maisie. Subtle and natural, she’s totally believable as a child thrown between two bitter parents. She balances the forced maturity that can occur in these situations with the innocence expected from her age which makes her rough treatment all the more heartbreaking.

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Trailer: Francis Ha

Noah Baumbach appears to have made a Hal Hartley movie, judging by the below trailer for Francis Ha; in black and white, no less. Our own Mike Rot absolutely adored the film, and one Ms. Gerwig’s performance, at last years edition of TIFF where it was one of those films that carried a buzzy vibe amongst those who caught it there. Judge, dance, playfight for yourselves.

Frances lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has, but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness. FRANCES HA is a modern comic fable in which Noah Baumbach explores New York, friendship, class, ambition, failure, and redemption.

Blu-Ray Review: A Woman Under the Influence

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenplay: John Cassavetes
Starring: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper, Lady Rowlands
Producer: Sam Shaw
Country: USA
Running Time: 147 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 15

A kind of godfather of American independent cinema, John Cassavetes helped Stateside filmmakers break away from Hollywood and the big studios. Although he acted in a few big budget productions himself, winning acclaim for his role in The Dirty Dozen, these were only ever paychecks to bankroll his next directorial passion project. His films pioneered a raw, grittily realistic style that used elements of improvisation (although surprisingly his films are generally tightly scripted) to let his actors portray often broken and unlikeable characters. Being frequently quite long and dialogue-driven with little humour or excitement, Cassavetes’ films are hard to warm to, but his skill and importance to American filmmakers still today is undeniable.

The BFI are currently re-releasing a number of Cassavetes-directed titles on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their John Cassavetes Collection. The latest film to receive the high-definition treatment is probably his most well known and successful, A Woman Under the Influence. I took a look at the new disc, marking my second viewing of the film.

A Woman Under the Influence portrays the mental breakdown of Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and the resulting breakdown of her marriage with Nick (Peter Falk). Realising she is overly ‘nervous’ and that others view her as ‘peculiar’, Mabel tries her best to keep everyone happy and remain a good mother to her three children, but Nick’s temper and his mother’s distrust and hatred of her make it difficult for Mabel to stay mentally balanced. Nick loves his wife, but he is frustrated and frightened by her condition and doesn’t know how to deal with her ‘episodes’, so frequently blasts into fits of rage or tries to mask problems by inviting people around for parties, which only make Mabel more anxious. She eventually gets committed and Nick has to look after the children until her return. When Mabel does come back she seems to be a changed woman, but Nick’s poor handling of the situation brings everything back to the surface.

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DVD Review: New British Cinema Quarterly Annual Vol. 2

New British Cinema Quarterly is an initiative led by Soda Pictures with 15 partner cinemas across the UK. Every three months, Soda tour a new British independent film around cinemas in the UK with members of the crew in attendance, allowing the talented people behind the films a chance to interact with their audience as well as giving these exciting low budget titles a chance to be seen on the big screen.

The ‘Annual’ is Soda’s yearly compilation of the four films that were toured in the previous year, accompanied by a 20 page magazine which looks back at the the state of British cinema over the period as well as providing a place for the filmmakers to describe their experience of touring the films.

Below are my brief thoughts on the four films included in the set and an overview of the package as a whole.

Honeymooner

Director: Col Spector
Screenplay: Col Spector
Starring: Gerard Kearns, Daisy Haggard, Chris Coghill, Al Weaver
Running Time: 74 min
Year: 2010
BBFC Certificate: 15


Things got off to a shaky start with Honeymooner (I’m reviewing these in the order in which I watched them) which is a lightly comic romantic drama from second time director Col Spector.

The film’s protagonist is Fran (Gerard Kearns), a 29 year old whose fiancee leaves him shortly before their intended wedding. The timespan we follow is the fortnight he should have spent on his honeymoon. Taking anti-depressants and mooching around London with little hope for his future, his two best friends try to get him back on the saddle. So we watch as Fran stumbles from one bad date to another failed chat-up line. Ultimately though, cracks start to appear in his friends’ relationships and the tables start to turn.

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Survey: Bobcat Goldthwait

Although I should have brought this up on the Netflix segment for recent episode of the Cinecast, alas, I did not notice it until late last night: Bobcat Goldthwait‘s 1991 directorial debut, Shakes the Clown, popped up on the Canadian version of the streaming site this week. Goldthwait, as an onscreen performer peaked somewhere in the mid 1980s – most people probably know him as the weird, dirty (literally, not figuratively) Cop from the Police Academy sequels, but the cool kids probably fondly remember One Crazy Summer. he more or less disappeared after Shakes failed to take off beyond a weird cult curio. For about a decade he was MIA before returning as a director in the early 2000s for cable TV programs (Crank Yankers, Chapelle’s Show, The Man Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live) and eventually moving into smart, subversive indie features. With the quite fun, and rather timely, debut of the writer/director/comedian’s latest film, God Bless America (Kurt’s Review) and the fondness for his rather auteur-ish three-word-title laden C.V. (Windy City Heat, Sleeping Dogs Lie, World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America.) Regular listeners of the Cinecast, know that Matt Gamble raves about World’s Greatest Dad often, and at length.

Want an overview? Lots video clippings are tucked under the seat.
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Meek’s Cutoff Trailer

The team that brought you Wendy & Lucy are back to entrance you with another, albeit historical, take on the dire Oregon experience. Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson and Paul Dano saddle up with writer/director Kelly Reichardt for the art film western, Meek’s Cutoff. I had the opportunity to catch the film at last years Toronto International Film Festival and it handily made my end of the year top ten list.

The year is 1845 and Stephen Meek is a for-hire guide leading a handful of immigrant families across the Oregon Trail in search of the American dream. As hours turn into days since their last discovery of fresh water, mutinous thoughts and paranoid rumors abound among the families over the ability and motivations of their delegated leader. Part suspense story, part historical drama, part meditation on the frailty of life, Meek’s Cutoff is a mesmerizing feat that, while deliberately paced, is continually engrossing to watch. My TIFF review can be read here.

The trailer is tucked under the seat.
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