Free E-Book! Mythaxis Magazine!

From Sunday the 26th until Thursday the 30th of July, MYTHAXIS MAGAZINE is FREE on Amazon.

Here is the link. Save it for Sunday, when your copy will be FREE!

This is the review magazine containing some great stuff, icluding my review of the film ‘1917’!

Totally free of charge in the electronic format. Nothing better than FREE, surely!

Please make a note to get your FREE copy, tell all your family and friends, and please share on any social network you use.

My name is on the cover, so it has to be worth getting a copy just for that. 🙂

AND IT’S FREE!

Film Review: ‘1917’

‘1917’ (2019)
***No spoilers***

It is not often that I get to see a current film that has just been released in the cinema. But I thought this WW1 epic from Sam Mendes warranted a trip into town to see it on the big screen.

Sadly, my local 3-screen cinema decided to show the film in Screen 3, the smallest one they have. I complained to the ticket lady, saying it should be on Screen One, with has a conventional big-screen experience. She advised me that they were still showing ‘Frozen 2’ on that screen, as ‘It is more popular than war films’.

I suppose that’s what I get for living in Norfolk!

‘1917’ is a war film, set during the latter half of WW1. It has attracted much critical acclaim, and hundreds of positive reviews. I have seen it described as ‘The best war film ever made’, and also ‘A Masterpiece’. For me, it was neither of those. But it is still an excellent film, and well-worth seeing.

The main reason I say that is because the film is shot in an unusual way, and also contains some powerful imagery that will stay in your mind. For those of us used to seeing WW1 films that show huge sweeping frontal attacks, or the effect of shelling on terrified combatants, Mendes offers something different.

Two junior-ranking soldiers are tasked with an incredibly difficult mission. They must get through the abandoned enemy trenches, and past a town still occupied by the Germans. Near that town is a wood, where a British regiment is waiting to attack. That attack must be cancelled, as they are walking into a trap, and will be massacred. There is a reason why one of the soldiers has been chosen. His older brother is serving with the doomed regiment, and that will give him the incentive to get the job done.

From that point on, we follow the journey of the two young men. We do this in a way that makes us feel we are there. The camera is close in on the leads. Face to face, just behind them, or off to the side. It really does feel at times as if you are a ‘third soldier’, as you experience everything in what feels like real time, in one take.

It wasn’t filmed in one take, or in real time, but seamless editing and great camera angles provide that impression for 90% of the film. One of my old friends suggested that this made it feel like a video game. I know what he means. If you have ever played a ‘first-person shooter’ game, it might feel like that. But it wasn’t so for me, and I just felt that it immersed the viewer in the action in a good way.

Concentrating first on the positives, I have to say that historical authenticity was very good indeed. Equipment, uniforms, weapons, all seemed accurate. The reconstruction of the trenches was superbly done, especially the way the film showed how much better the Germans were at constructing more solid and safer trench systems on their side of the line. Special effects are few, but well-done where they are used. Rotting corpses in shell-craters, the decaying carcasses of dead horses, and the tangled mess of the barbed wire. All totally convincing.

The star of the film is the landscape. The war-torn countryside of France, the blackened tree stumps, the desolation of the mud-filled No-Man’s Land, contrasted by the green and pleasnt fields beyond the area being fought over. Definitely the best I have ever seen on screen. A ruined French town, illuminated at night by flares that float slowly to the ground. A burning building making a sound like rushing water. All superb. This film is a treat for the eyes, and a directorial triumph.

Full marks for the casting too. The young male leads are played by George McKay and the fresh-faced Dean-Charles Chapman. McKay is particularly good, and obviously has a great future. Then there are the ‘big names’. Well-known British actors who are more than happy to have just a few minutes on screen. Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Richard Maddern, and many more. Each one makes the very best of their short scene, and leaves their own mark on the film overall.

So, on to what I was less impressed by.

Despite some wonderful, often eye-popping visuals, and a soundtrack that suited the film perfectly, I just didn’t believe the story. The whole concept of the plot felt contrived, and the fact that one of the soldiers is hoping to save his own brother felt unnecessarily sentimental to me. And that aspect was overplayed throughout, in my opinion. It felt as if Mendes had decided we needed something extra to make us interested in the film, and for us to be suitably invested in the characters. Well, I didn’t. It would have worked for me without that rather obvious sentimentality.

But that’s all. Just that one gripe.

This is a great film in most respects, with a dynamic cast all delivering, and the ‘one-take feel’ alone makes it worth watching.

If you are interested in films about WW1, I will add some links at the end.
Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for ‘1917’.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058263/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050825/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0020629/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regeneration_(1997_film)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1418646/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022787/

Just been watching…(56)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

***No plot spoilers***

As some of you may recall, I wasn’t going to watch this film. The original ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) has been my favourite film since I saw it at the age of 30, and it is still number one in my current top ten of all time. When I heard that there was to be a sequel, I groaned at the thought, quite frankly. I set in my mind that I was going to be an ‘original version snob’, and just refuse to watch it. I read many reviews, and all but one were glowingly positive. I had nothing against Denis Villeneuve or Ryan Gosling, you understand; but come on, this was ‘Blade Runner’ they were taking on.

But then my stepson came to stay with us for a while, and he bought the film on DVD. He has never seen the original, and despite my almost hysterical appeal for him to watch that one first, he asked me to watch the sequel with him on Sunday. As the opening credits rolled, I confess I felt uneasy…

I am not going into much detail about the plot, as it would be hard to avoid spoilers by doing so. The story takes up thirty years after the end of the first film. Gosling is a Blade Runner, doing the same thing as his predecessors, retiring renegade ‘Replicants’ (humanoid artificial beings) by tracking them down and killing them. He is also a replicant, and is called K, to denote his non-human status. The powerful Tyrell corporation that made these replicants has been replaced by the even more powerful (and suitably futuristic) Wallace Corporation, headed up by the mysterious blind genius, Wallace, played by Jared Leto.

K is given the task of killing someone, and in doing so uncovers a secret that has been closely guarded for thirty years. (Or since the end of the first film) Wallace also wants to find the evidence K is searching for, and as he gets ever closer to the truth, K is pressured by Wallace’s replicant aides, as well as his employer, the Los Angeles Police Department, with his situation rapidly becoming perilous.

So, being fair, non-judgmental, and trying to forget that the original is my number one film, here is what I think about the sequel.

1) Remember, this is a sequel. And it does follow on from events. Unlike some reviewers, I DO NOT agree that this should be viewed as a stand-alone film. WATCH THE 1982 FILM FIRST. You will be glad you did.
2) That original is referenced. The origami animals, the flying cars, the South Asian culture, they are all there. Harrison Ford appears in this film playing the same character, Deckard, thirty years older. They show small clips from the original, and some sound recordings too. Still want to see this first? Why?
3) In this new film, some of the special effects are simply outstanding, reflecting the advances in technology during thirty years. There are sequences where K’s holographic virtual girlfriend interacts with him, and a prostitute. They are just tremendous, like watching the best-ever magic trick.
4) Even on my rather tired six-year old TV, with no extra speakers, the soundtrack is actually thrilling to listen to.
5) Gosling is solid in the lead, but plays being a replicant no differently to his role in ‘Drive’. So similar in fact, I kept expecting a car chase.
6) The best bits are when the older film is referenced, though Harrison Ford still just looks tired and fed up during his sequence, much as he played it in 1982. Maybe he thought Deckard would still feel like that, I don’t know.
7) Futuristic Los Angeles looks much the same as it did in the 1982 film; but believe me, the original caught that mood so well, this one feels like it’s just a pale imitation. However, the dystopian vision of a deserted Las Vegas and its dilapidated casinos is beautifully done.
8) This film completely lost (presumably deliberately) that ‘film noir’ essence of Scott’s vision, and replaced it with the feel of a science-fiction epic. By doing so it lost the heart, and feels cold and calculated to watch.
9) It is far too slow. I am all for a deliberate and skillful ‘slow burn’ but this even slows down at the end. Come on, Denis, I could feel my eyelids drooping, and it was only late afternoon. And it is far too long. It could have lost a full thirty minutes, and we would have been none the wiser.
10) It isn’t exciting, and it isn’t witty. The original film had plenty of both, but this one tries for a sombre and serious look at the ethics of using replicants, and ends up a lot like ‘I Robot’, but with no robots. And no wisecracks from Will Smith.

It’s a good film. But not a very good film. And definitely not a great film, oh no. It has some good parts, that’s undeniable, but they do not add up to anything close to the stellar ‘Blade Runner’. Before you rush to tell me I am wrong, watch the original first. And if you have done that, and still think this one is better, then be warned that we are obviously not on the same wavelength and are never going to agree. Not about this film anyway.
Here’s a trailer.

Film review: L. A. Takedown

L. A. Takedown (1989)

Have you ever seen Michael Mann’s film ‘Heat’ (1995)?
This crime blockbuster was released to great acclaim, starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, and many more. The exciting set pieces, meticulous background detail, and a sharp script packed with memorable quotes made this into one of the big successes of the 90s. Since then, it has been regularly shown on TV, and continues to have a loyal following, as well as an instant appeal to new viewers.

But it is a remake, something you may not be aware of.

Not only is it a remake, it is a scene-by-scene retelling of a previous film that was released in 1989, originally as a TV series pilot, and later reworked into a complete film. Also written and directed by the same Michael Mann, but without the benefit of the huge star cast, packed with household names. It was also made with a much lower budget, limited expectations, and in many regions, it got a straight-to-video release only.

That’s a great shame, because it is just as good as ‘Heat’, if not better. For me, it is a superior film, for many reasons. It has a less-glossy, grittier feel. The stars are not that well-known, (at least in the UK) so it is easier to get involved in the characters, without always thinking of their previous roles. It feels more realistic, both in location, and the way the plot unfolds. It also loses some of the padding, making it a sharper and more engaging watch.

Some character names were changed in ‘Heat’, but Mann retained the name of the tough cop, Vincent Hannah, with the actor Scott Plank playing the part in the original. The part of the criminal mastermind played by De Niro in ‘Heat’ is taken by Alex McArthur, vaguely familiar from a few roles I had seen him in before. He runs with this lead role very well, imbuing his scenes with a real sense of determination and menace, despite being considerably younger than De Niro. Scott Plank carries off the sharp-suited detective with aplomb, without the need to show the world-weary obsession injected by Pacino in the later film.

I urge you to try to watch this, and to see how Mann polished the original into the well-known blockbuster that followed, with the help of a massive budget. Something totally unnecessary, in my humble opinion.

This might just be the best modern crime thriller you have never seen.

Just been watching…(33)

High Rise (2015)

***Contains spoilers***

I was looking forward to this film. Directed by Ben Wheatley, it was to be the next in a row of successes for him, I was sure. I had greatly enjoyed the sinister ‘Kill List’, and delighted at the black comedy of ‘Sightseers’. This was British film-making too, with natural locations, and a very English feel. I looked at the pedigree of ‘High Rise’. From a novel by J.G. Ballard (‘Empire of The Sun’, and ‘Crash’) and boasting a great cast of British actors, including flavour of the month, Tom Hiddleston, as well as Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, and Bill Paterson.

The story is about a high-rise development, a vision of the architect, Anthony Royal. (Irons) He lives in the luxurious top-floor penthouse, which includes a rooftop garden, and even a horse for his wife (Hawes) to ride. The good-looking Doctor Laing (Hiddleston) arrives to take up residence there, and he is soon noticed by some of the attractive ladies resident in the tower. It becomes apparent that social status and wealth is represented by the floor that the person lives on. Those on the lower floors are mostly middle-class, and also mostly insufferable too. The higher the floor, the more privilged the resident, right up to Royal’s penthouse. This high rise is complete with everything necessary to establish a contained community. It has its own supermarket, swimming pool, and gymnasium. Other than when they go to work, the residents have no need to ever leave.

But Royal’s vision is flawed. There are problems with the power supply, resulting in frequent power blackouts, and lift failures. Rubbish remains uncollected, food spoils in the supermarket, and the inhabitants of the block have to resort to using candles and torches, as well as having to constantly walk up and down stairs to their apartments.

We have the usual scenarios of troubled families and individuals. Royal’s wife is neglected and unhappy, Hiddleston’s doctor is troubled by loss, and struggling at work. Many of the women are unusually promiscuous, and even Royal is finding it hard to cope with the increasing deterioration of his project. As conditions become increasingly worse, the residents revert to type. The rich tenants on the upper floors hold a series of increasingly debauched parties, eventually resembling some kind of alcohol-fuelled Roman orgy. There are attacks on some people, women are raped, and this group begins to take over most of the building, banning the poorer residents from parts of it, including the swimming pool.

The lower classes on the floors below eventually revolt, led by film-maker Richard Wilder, (Luke Evans) a man who resents those on the upper floors for their comfortable lifestyle. There is looting in the supermarket, as well as more violence doled out, as they take their revenge. There are no winners though, and we are left watching the surviving residents descend into madness.

I haven’t read the book, but I presume that this tower block, and the lives of its residents, is supposed to represent the failure of organised society. The book was set in the 1970s, and Wheatley stays true to this, with contemporary cars, clothing, hairstyles, and attitudes too. For me, that was one of the most irritating aspects. It would have been far more effective to update the time period, and to set it in the 21st century. Perhaps because they are playing in a period piece, many of the otherwise excellent actors revert to type too, with some wooden acting worthy of puppets, and delivery of their lines as if they are in some kind of spoof.

Much of the nudity, and occasional graphic sex, seems gratuitous to me. The same could be said for the violence, though that is no worse than you might see on TV. Most of the cast members are wasted playing caricature roles, and other than Irons and Hiddleston, none are really given enough screen time to display their talents. The flaws in the story are obvious of course, so presumably intentional. Why does nobody just leave the block and go to the local shops when the food spoils in their supermarket? Why are the police never called to investigate the violent attacks? Why doesn’t anyone think to inform the electricity company that they have no power? Of course, if all that had happened, there would be no drama, and no story.

We are led to conclude that the building itself has taken control of its residents, altering their personalities, and returning them to savagery. The building represents society, and the way it stopped caring about the poor and the weak. I didn’t buy into that, but as I said, I haven’t read the book. What I saw was an often clumsy delivery, embarrassing acting at times, and some nasty and unnecessary sex acts and violence. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, and it failed to entertain me. But don’t take my word for it. Many critics raved about this film, and continue to do so.

For further reading, check out this excellent article from Nandia Foteini Vlachou. She sums up this film in a very academic and interesting way. Here is a link.

“Architectures of Control”: Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise (2015)

Just been watching…(8)

The Babadook (2014)

*****Contains spoilers*****

I had read some very good reviews of this film, and it had received much critical acclaim, including praise when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. I don’t mind a bit of psychological horror now and again, also Australian cinema often guarantees a good pedigree, and actors that are not too familiar. I went ahead and added it to my birthday list, and was pleased to receive it as a gift on the 16th. With nothing much on TV late last night, I settled down to watch it.

Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the film features a strong female lead in the presence of Essie Davis, who appeared in some of ‘The Matrix’ films, as well as in ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring.’ She plays the troubled mum, Amelia, whose husband died in a car crash as he was taking her to hospital to give birth to her son, Samuel. Once a writer, she now has to work in a care home to support the family, as well as having to deal with her strange six-year old son, and his unusual behaviour. Sam is hard to like, difficult at school, obsessed by monsters, and rarely sleeps. He is played by the young actor, Noah Wiseman, a boy gifted with an unusual appearance who some may remember from ‘The Gift’. (2013)

Reviews of this film often describe it as ‘slow-burning.’ That is accurate indeed, as the scene-setting drags on, showing us the difficult relationships between mother and son, mother and her sister, and son and other children. We also get a glimpse of Amelia at work, and her kindness to her elderly neighbour.
There are plenty of standard devices to be expected from a film of this type, and The Babadook doesn’t let us down. They have a small cute dog, the house is old and rather sprawling, and of course has a large basement too. This basement is where the dead husband’s effects are stored, and is out of bounds to young Sam.

Much of the introduction centres on Sam’s obsession with monsters, and how he makes strange devices to fight them with. He has a catapult that he wears on his back, and a mini-crossbow too. At night, he waits up for the monsters, refusing to sleep, and often ending up in his mother’s bed, making it hard for her to rest too. His issues cross over into his life at school, where he has no friends, and exhibits behavioural problems. One night, Amelia is trying to settle her son to sleep, and he chooses a book from the shelf, for her to read him a bedtime story. The title of the book is (you guessed it…) ‘The Babadook.’ This is pronounced ‘Baa-Baa Dook – as in book, which I found strange, as I had been thinking ‘Babba-Duke.’ But that might just be me.

The book is unfamiliar to Amelia, and as soon as she opens it, the strange rhymes and dark imagery inside make her realise that she has never seen it before. It contains pop-up pictures of a monster, and warnings about how nobody should let in the Babdook, or they will wish that they were dead. She closes the book, but the damage is done, and Sam is obsessed with the story, and convinced that the monster will get in, and destroy them both. At this point, I could continue with a conventional review. I could talk about the spiral into madness experienced by both Sam and Amelia, how the boy has to be taken out of school, and Amelia cannot sleep and is unable to work properly.

But I won’t do that, because like me, you are still waiting for the scary bits, that psychological horror you have been promised. It would be a long wait, believe me. When The Babadook finally appears, it is not that scary, unfortunately. At least if you have ever seen a genuinely scary film, or a really creepy psychological horror, you are very unlikely to be scared, or even feel a little jumpy. Despite the best efforts from the small cast, the big reveal is just not terrifying enough to justify either the concept, or the lengthy build-up. As well as that, Noah Wiseman does such a good job of making Sam unlikable, that I didn’t really care what happened to him, and Essie Davis spends so long in a dream-like state, that when her character turns nasty, she just seems like a normal angry mum.

Just to put the tin hat on it, (as we say over here) we are left with a silly ending that makes the whole thing feel like a comedy instead. A film that looks good, promises much, yet sadly delivers little. Let me know what you think, if you have seen it. Here’s a clip.

(This is a link to a review on Curnblog.com. James really loved this film.)

The Babadook: The Finest Australian Horror Film Ever Made?