Can you believe we are halfway through the year already? I can’t, but well, we are! So it’s the time again to list my favourites so far. The images link through to my reviews if applicable so click away to find out which they’re included!
10. Lost River
9. The Overnight
8. It Follows
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. 45 Years
4. Ex Machina
3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
1. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
One of the many challenges in modern filmmaking is to achieve originality, perhaps even more so in the horror genre which has its own array of cliché and trademarks. ‘It Follows’, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, is an indie chiller that plays up to expectations and subverts them, carrying on the recent up shift in modern suspense films. The plot centres around a sexually transmitted curse which is passed on to lead character Jay (Maika Monroe) in the backseat of her new boyfriend’s car. Faced with the terror of being stalked by creepy entities who take form in all shapes and sizes, she is told to quickly sleep with someone else to ‘pass it on’. Will this rid her of the horrific plague or will she be followed forever, always looking over her shoulder? This intriguing premise plays out with style, creative flair and a thrilling synth-heavy soundtrack, bringing eighties-like scares into the present day.
Quite often with stories of this ilk, Jay and her close-knit group of friends would be picked off one by one by whatever ghastly ghoul is on their tracks but the development of the narrative here isn’t driven by a death count. Instead, the characters strategise over how to overcome Jay’s threatening problem through reasonably intelligent discussion, the script flowing well and creating a believable back-story between the clan through in-jokes and anecdotes. There are still jump scenes that we’ve come to accept, Mitchell exercising a true knack for building suspense, and of course there are moments of sheer stupidity from potential victims as at one point Jay thinks it’d be a great idea to cycle alone to the local swing park in the middle of the night. Despite losing its way a little in the final third, struggling to come up with a satisfying conclusion and treading slightly into repetitive street, the high points will continue to haunt.
Maika Monroe came to the attention of cinema-goers with her appearance last year in genre-crossing horror-thriller The Guest, a film not dissimilar to It Follows in its visual style and score choices. Her acting carries an fascinating vulnerability which obviously works well in these sort of parts yet she has the strength and screen presence of a powerful female lead. Solid support comes from Keir Gilchrist and Daniel Zovatto in their roles as boys who want to assist Jay with her issue, openly willing to selflessly take one for the team and have her pass ‘it’ onto them. This makes for an interesting little lust triangle sideline with a twist but thankfully doesn’t deflect too much from the core concept.
‘It Follows’ might not be unique in its classic ‘pass it on’ storytelling device but the way in which the film is profoundly executed makes it one of the best modern horrors I’ve seen in years. It successfully avoids the formulaic pitfalls and has the added advantage of a brilliant central character in Jay, played superbly by Monroe. She’s young, on trend and instantly relatable to my generation at least which makes her creepy visions all the more terrifying. Maika Monroe is fast becoming my new movie crush and I could watch her running away from evil spirits all day long. If she is to become the face of modern horror, I am more than happy to go along for the ride.
After seeing the trailer for German film ‘Vincent Wants to Sea’ in 2010, Los Angeles-based writer and director Gren Wells was instantly inspired to do a US remake, and her version, titled ‘The Road Within’, screens at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. The indie drama explores how young adults manage their mental health disorders, and stars Robert Sheehan as Tourette’s sufferer Vincent who is sent to a behavioural facility following the death of his mother. Whilst trying to settle in, he meets OCD patient Alex (Dev Patel) and anorexic Marie (Zoë Kravitz), and they bond over the constant day-to-day struggles they encounter. When the three mixed-up teens embark on an ad hoc escapee adventure together, their road trip heads in the direction of self-discovery and living life to the fullest, in spite of their problems.
What do you get if you take someone with Tourette’s, an OCD sufferer and an anorexic and put them on a road trip together? You get new film, ‘The Road Within’, written and directed by Gren Wells. Taking on the complex roles of Vincent, Alex and Marie are Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Zoë Kravitz, and Gren Wells has kindly agreed to discuss the project, exclusively with Cinema Perspective. This is what she had to say…
‘The Road Within’ is a remake of German movie ‘Vincent Wants To Sea’. What was it about the original that compelled you into writing and directing an American version?
I saw the trailer for the original film on some random German trailer website – and I thought if they could put that much heart and humor into 2 minutes, then the movie had to be amazing. Shortly after I optioned it, the movie won the German Oscar for Best Film and Best Actor – so luckily I was right! At that point, the movie hadn’t been seen by many people outside of Germany but what struck me is how universal the message is. The movie is about young adults dealing with specific mental disorders (Tourette Syndrome, OCD and Anorexia) – but at its core, it’s about feeling different. And everyone can relate to that because we’re all different in some way. We’re all weirdos. That’s why Breakfast Club is such a classic – because everyone feels like an outsider at some point in their lives.
Did you face any cultural challenges in your reimagining of the project?
Not really because it’s a coming of age story about real people. Not real in the sense that it’s based on a true story – but real because people are dealing with these issues all over the world. Mental health awareness is a huge mandate of mine. It makes no sense to me that physical pain doesn’t have a stigma – but mental does. And that’s what people are relating to. We’ve now shown this film all over the world and audiences are all laughing, clapping and crying at the same moments because, though our exteriors might look different, the human spirit remains the same.
You’ve brought out three superb performances in Sheehan, Kravitz and Patel. What were they like to work with and can you tell us about the preparation for their roles, both mentally and physically?
Thank you! We had such a great time making this film. We felt an incredible responsibility to portray the disorders with authenticity and dignity. These issues are usually portrayed as the butt of a joke and I don’t think anyone has to right to laugh at someone else’s pain. But there’s a big difference between laughing at someone – and laughing with them. Laughter, by its very nature, is a release. It’s taking a breath. And it’s incredibly important to allow an audience to breath during a tense scene. My favorite films are ones in which you laugh and cry (James L. Brooks, Mike Nichols and John Hughes were masters of this) – so we all went into this knowing that it was going to be a delicate balance of pain and humor.
With Robert Sheehan, I knew the moment I met him that he was Vincent. He has such an amazing heightened energy – and Tourette’s is nothing if not high energy. [Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder in which the sufferer has involuntary physical and guttural tics. Only about 10% of TS sufferers also have Coprolalia, which is where they curse and say inappropriate things.]
I knew Robert’s previous work so I knew he was extraordinarily talented – but the work he does in this film proves that he is one of the top young actors working today. He was fully committed to the role (we rehearsed for 6 months prior to shooting) and he never wavered. I moved him in with Jaxon Kramer, a young man with Tourette Syndrome so he could get the physical mannerisms right. And after a week or so, Jaxon and I said, ‘Great! Now forget everything you just learned.’ Because tics are specific to each person. So he had to find movements that worked for his body. And even though Robert’s tics were too big at that point, I never once told him to tone it down because I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious – and I knew he’d eventually find the right balance. And boy did he! Seriously, he’s just tremendous.
With Dev Patel, I needed someone who could portray the arrogance and intense loneliness of Alex. Again, I was looking for a specific energy – more frantic than Vincent’s – because the OCD sufferers I interviewed all had it. Dev was initially scared of the role and turned it down but I hounded his manager until she finally sat us down together. And I convinced him that I would be there every step of the way – that I would not let him fail. It’s an incredibly brave performance because, on the page, Alex is unlikeable. He yells, he screams, he connives – but Dev has such a beautiful vulnerability behind his eyes that you can’t help but love Alex. We rehearsed for 3 months, figuring out the right obsessions, rituals and triggers for Alex. I think Dev absolutely nailed it and gives his best performance to date.
With Zoë Kravitz, I knew she was perfect for the role of Marie because she’s dangerous, sexy and unpredictable. The thing about Anorexia is that it makes you incredibly secretive and manipulative. I was Anorexic / Bulimic from age 15 – 21 and I remember putting on this really brave face – but inside I was terrified. So I needed someone who could pull off both sides of the coin. Plus, because an intense physical transformation would be necessary (Zoe eventually lost 20 pounds for the role), I needed someone who was strong enough emotionally to not fall victim to the disorder. Zoe had dealt with her own eating disorder issues in high school – but she spoke about it with such strength that I knew she could handle it. [Plus, I was watching her like a hawk.]
We hired her a dietician and a trainer and we went and spoke with numerous young women who were currently in the throes of the disorder. It was heartbreaking to see these women suffering – and just like in the film, you want to say, ‘Eat something!’ But it’s not that easy. Anorexia is a disease of the mind. So we were very careful to not glamorize this disorder – but we did need to show the reality of it. And the reality is that Anorexia has the highest death rate of all of the psychological disorders. Zoe knew this and felt it was imperative to bring this topic into the limelight.
And then with Kyra Sedgwick and Robert Patrick, I was just lucky that they said yes! Seriously, they’re both such pro’s and I feel honored to have worked with them.
Q. What has your experience been like in bringing the film across the pond to the UK, and to the Edinburgh International Film Festival?
Well, we haven’t shown the film yet but it’s incredibly flattering to have our UK premiere here! The Edinburgh Film Festival has such a renowned history for programming interesting, thought-provoking and challenging films, so I can’t wait to see how audiences respond!
Q. What’s next for you as a writer or director? Do you have any new films in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
I actually just signed on to direct my next film! It’s about a female Marine who gets both legs shot off in Afghanistan and ends up having to go back to the place she was running from to begin with… her home town and her family. So it’s a beautiful father / daughter reconciliation story, set against the backdrop veteran’s affairs. I can’t wait!!!!
British actress Sarah Solemani is best known for her roles in BBC comedy programmes ‘Him & Her’ and ‘Bad Education’, and this year she appears at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in ‘Hector’ alongside Peter Mullan and Keith Allen. Directed by Jake Gavin, the film provides insight into the UK’s homeless community, and tells the story of Hector (Mullan) who tracks down his family after years on the streets. I have been fortunate enough to discuss the film with Sarah, and this is what she had to say…
Hector is a beautiful film that boasts the established talent of the brilliant Peter Mullan. What was he like on set and to work with in the tender scenes you have together?
‘Thanks Garry! Peter Mullan is an actor’s actor. That is, amongst actors, he is considered the best. Best talent, best showbiz stories, best banter etc. Actors want to work with him because they know they’ll learn from him, and that they’ll get a training of sorts. He didn’t disappoint. On set he was relaxed and gentle, and when we weren’t filming we would be smoking in his room talking about Marxism and global politics – a fascination we both share.’
The thought-provoking film is effective in showing both the kindness and cruelty shown towards the homeless community in Britain. How do you feel about how homeless people are perceived in the UK and have your views changed at all following your role?
‘I don’t think my views have changed because I’ve always been aware of how fragile certain people are and how easy it is to slip through the net. I suppose the film serves as a reminder that the homeless aren’t just addicts trying to make you feel guilty to fund their habits, which sometimes gets caught in our heads. They often have heartbreaking, eye-popping, epic stories behind them, and could even be considered Job-like heroes if you think about what they’ve been through and survived. Perhaps because we physically look down on them, on the pavements or shop doorways there is a sense of them being lower, amongst the dirt and the stench, but what the film does in putting a homeless person as the protagonist is elevate them to a different status which I think is missing from common consciousness.’
When Hector is at his lowest, the introduction of your character Sara is a breath of fresh air to him, and to the film. What was the process like in bringing light to what at that point was a dark part of the film?
‘I didn’t really approach it in terms of light and dark, though I’m glad that is what was perceived. I met people who worked in the social system; support workers, social workers, volunteers etc. and tried to get under their skin a bit. What struck me was the hours a lot of these people work; the pressures, the low pay, the levels of paper work so there was a ‘busyness’ to her that helped me avoid sentimentality. A practicality – she wants to help Hector because that’s her job and there’s a process. Rather than do a Mother Theresa number I wanted her to always be on the move, rushing about from one person to the other so that when she does take a breath for Hector, we realise there is a special bond there.’
I have read that a Bad Education film is in the works. Can you tell us a little about that?
‘I could but I might not live to see another day! Ok, don’t tell anyone but it’s all shot, it’s fantastically funny and it should be out very very soon…’
Finally, I am a huge fan of Him & Her and thought you were excellent in it. Are there any plans to do another series or can we expect to see a big screen outing for Steve & Becky? If there was to be a film version, what would be your dream plot?
‘Thank you! I’d love to do the film. Becky announced her pregnancy in the last ep of the last series so I’d love to see how they’d cope with another little addition to their slobby family!’
At the best of times, the filmmaking partnership of Judd Apatow school of stoner comedy graduates Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg isn’t to everyone’s taste. Their latest collaboration though, due to its controversial storyline, has caused a stir like no other leading to distribution complications with Sony Pictures Entertainment and the much publicised talk of nuclear threat against America. Whilst Rogen’s writing and directing bond with Goldberg continues off-screen, his bromance with James Franco grows on it, and the two play the leading roles of TV producer Aaron Rapaport and talk show host Dave Skylark respectively. When their show Skylark Tonight is lambasted for being cheap and only interested in throwaway celebrity culture, they set their target on a more serious news-piece to silence the critics and before long, an opportunity presents itself for Dave to interview supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un. CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) then intervenes, giving instructions to ‘take him out’.
An uneasy mix of politics and toilet humour, the style and the substance of the narrative couldn’t be further apart. The comedy often works but apart from the opening segment involving an excellent Eminem cameo, the strength is contained within the little gags and quippy one-liners rather than the more over-the-top setpieces. As crazy as this sounds, the plot actually gets more ludicrous as it develops, the two friends splitting off into their separate paths as Dave bonds with Kim Jong Un over their mutual love of Katy Perry while Aaron enjoys a lustful pathway with Kim’s regimented propagandist Sook Yung Park. Performance wise, I’ve seen Rogen and Franco on better form and though some of the dialogue is lazily written, it’s fun to see them bounce off one another. Lizzy Caplan brings her Masters of Sex sauciness to the table effectively, tossing herself into a minefield of innuendo. Credit should also go to Randall Park who takes the part of Kim Jong Un. His turn is brave despite essentially being a caricature and figure of ridicule.
For the film that could’ve started World War III, or so Sony would like us to believe, it is largely anti-climactic. More silly than side-splitting though it does have the odd moments of hilarity as well as surprisingly stunning cinematography when the story moves into Asian territory. Perhaps the ambitious premise is a step too far for the masters of juvenile joviality as it just wasn’t funny enough. Their next team project is a 3D animated comedy called ingeniously titled Sausage Party, which from the sounds of it will be much better suited to their line of work. ‘The Interview’ isn’t in the same league as Pineapple Express or the apocalyptic hit This is the End, but for avid fans of this knob-joke laden brand of cinema, it is worth downloading to watch in the comfort of your own home, or wait until it’s on Netflix.
The initial bewilderment around how to say the title of Argentinean filmmaker Lisandro Alonso’s latest film is little compared to the confusing elements featured throughout it. ‘Jauja’ (pronounced how-ha) is a Danish-language quasi-western in which father general Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) treks through fantastical desert landscapes in search of his fifteen-year-old daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger), after she wanders off with a local soldier. It has impressed in its extensive trail across the festival circuit, from Cannes to this year’s Glasgow Film Festival and is an example of unbridled cinematic escapism, where one man journeys into a mythical unknown shrouded in surreal symbolism.
Narratively, the project has been compared to John Ford’s epic tale The Searchers where John Wayne’s character seeks out his missing niece, but where the camera work there was expansive and unrestricted by boundaries, the framing here is neat and compact, filmed unusually at a 4:3 aspect ratio. Because of this experimental artistic approach, the scenes are picturesque and the tight use of depth and mise-en-scene is fascinating, and at times masterful. However, in contrast to the distance travelled by Gunnar, the storytelling is mostly static, not moving very far or very fast as the running time wears on. The lack of plot development and minimalistic dialogue eventually frustrates and chooses to puzzle its audience at every turn rather than offer any sense of clarity. A second viewing would maybe help solve the sequence of visual riddles it poses.
Viggo Mortensen, best known for his heroic portrayal of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings film series, must have been an absolute shoe-in to take the leading role given his unique multilingual talents, having childhood roots in the filmmaker’s homeland of Argentina as well as his Scandinavian heritage. It’s a rare Danish speaking part for Mortensen though and also unheard of for writer-director Alonso to work with a well established acting name. The nuanced central performance is key to the film’s enjoyment as we bear witness to a range of fatherly emotions when his vast search descends into sheer peculiarity. His star quality gives the film the boost it requires to carry it through the painfully slow stages, and just about makes the lengthy expedition worthwhile.