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Movie Reviews

Maggie

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Henry Hobson

Stars: Abigail Breslin, Aiden Flowers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bryce Romero,Douglas M. Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Jodie Moore, Joley Richardson, Raeden Greer

Released: 24th July 2015 (UK)

At first glance it would seem Maggie is an attempt to cash in on the zombie craze that has been spearheaded by the likes of serious-minded interpretations such as The Walking Dead. That a small, independent way of going about this story would be an interesting, more dramatic choice that would allow a sliver of the story The Walking Dead is telling might be something fascinating, compelling even. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of the The Walking Dead, but I can see what attracts people to it. They can pick up on the large metaphors at play or simply delve into the action and brutality that is presented week after week. Either way, tough choices have to be made. Emotions overtake logic and the repercussions of ones inability to put a bullet in the head of a loved one even when they are at your throat trying to rip through it says something about our mentality, our humanity and ultimately about the love and connection we sometimes feel that outweighs our own existence. What is life worth if not filled with the people you love? It’s a valid question, a depressing thought, but these are the kinds of notions and ideas that the characters in Maggie must take into serious consideration. All of that said, one might be wondering what someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing in a movie like this. A zombie apocalypse film, sure, but a somber, meditative zombie apocalypse film where the focus is not on surviving, but more on the relationship between the father and daughter? Strange, right? With the father facing the inevitability of losing his little girl and that little girl coming to terms with her own death, Maggie isn’t necessarily what you’d expect. For these reasons along with the fact first-time feature director Henry Hobson has a clear vision of how to bring his story to life Maggie is something of an effective take on a genre that I presumed to be played out.

The film begins by dropping us into the middle of a disease-ravaged America. Fields of crops are on fire due to fear of the infection spreading and Wade (Schwarzenegger) has been searching for his titular daughter for two weeks. When he finally comes across her in a hospital he learns she has been bitten and that eventually she will make the turn into one of the cannibalistic zombies that have been seeping into society due to the aforementioned outbreak. Why Maggie (Abigail Breslin) was running isn’t made clear, but we assume it’s because she’d already taken the bite and fled to keep her family safe. The script adds more layers onto what could have possibly been the cause of her infection, but it doesn’t dwell on this as the important part. The focus of first time screenwriter John Scott’s script is the fact that Maggie’s father is going to remain by her side throughout her transformation. Wade brings his daughter back home to where his second wife, Caroline (Joely Richardson), and their two children are keeping on. Again, we don’t know what happened to Maggie’s mother, but we come to see what high regard her husband and daughter hold her in. Wade and Caroline ship off their two younger children to a relatives house in order to keep Maggie close and monitor her behavior. It is within this process and the complications that arise to threaten inherently meaningful relationships that make Maggie an interesting and rather intense watch despite Hobson keeping the tone delicate and the music extremely restrained. Never does the film feel manipulative, but more it puts you in a position of questioning, making you the viewer consider the tough choices the characters have to make.

We know where this is going, we know where it needs to go if it wants to remain credible, but that it gets us rooting for the inevitable not to happen means it’s doing something right. Maybe it’s because I recently became a father to a little girl myself that I can feel a kind of kinship to Schwarzenegger’s character here that causes me to feel (make-up?) a deeper connection than someone else might. Whether some of this was in my head or not though, Maggie is able to connect on a level that is present for a fair amount of people who I suspect might pick this out as something interesting to view. What is most impressive about the film as far as performances are concerned is that it actually requires the bulky Austrian to act and not simply serve as a piece of equipment that strolls around punching things. Complimenting this genuine performance from Schwarzenegger is Breslin as his daughter. There is the expected talk of appreciating the moment, the time that Wade has with his daughter without thinking about the inevitable, but it is impossible not to consider given the change could happen at any time. The film keeps reminding us that it takes six to eight weeks for the complete transformation to occur, but each case is different and as we progressively see changes not only in Maggie’s appearance, but in her mannerisms and her ability to control her urges we see the toll it is taking on her father. Maggie is asked to be the strong one despite the fact she’s physically deteriorating while her father, who we assume will hold strong, is being torn apart internally. These core performances convey the main ideas of the film beautifully which in turn make the movie all the more heartbreaking.

Complimenting the tone and performances even further are the photography by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (The Lincoln Lawyer, Battle Los Angeles) and the color palette that elicits the intended mood well. There is one specific shot later in the film of Breslin who, after having her first real lapse into what she will become, lays in a bathtub filled to the brim with water allowing the blood around her mouth to slowly wash away. It is the kind of shot that makes you sit up a little straighter and take notice of not just the story and the skill of pulling off the written word, but more the skill of executing images that really allow that written word to jump off the screen and make you feel the way those descriptions were intended to. The grays and light browns of the American Midwest are especially haunting. The way in which Hobson meditates on scenes of reflection between Wade and Maggie only to follow them up with a reminder of the progressing reality of the situation juxtaposes the emotions at play, making them as complicated for the audience as the characters experiencing them. All of this could very well be a terminal illness rather than the whole zombie bit, but somehow incorporating this genre element makes the film all the more fascinating and much less taboo than it would have been had Maggie been diagnosed with cancer. The disease, the outbreak-it’s as frustrating as cancer in that it doesn’t make sense and all feels pointless in the small moments where we’re forced to face that it kills without mercy, taking who it wants with no regard for age, race or gender. Despite its unrelenting somber tone and consistently bleak outlook I found Maggie to be something of an insightful tale about the lengths we go to for the ones we love. The ethereal aspect of spirituality that Richardson’s character brings to the proceedings give the film a slightly optimistic outlook while how deep the meaning of the relationship between Wade and Maggie runs is what holds the film steady. An unexpected, but riveting film that does all it sets out to do and does it well.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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Movie Reviews

Superfly ★★

Director X’s flashy remake of the Blaxploitation classic is a thunderingly dull experience

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Director: Director X
Stars:  Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams
Released: 14th September 2018 (UK)

Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, BlackKklansman – it’s proving an impressive year for top-tier studio-driven black cinema. The perfect year, as it happens, to release a remake of seventies Blaxploitation classic Super Fly. Or, at least, it would be, if the determining creative mantra behind this update weren’t presumably anything more than to make an episode of Power with all the stylistic glimmer of a P. Diddy video.

Superfly (neatly bringing the title right up to autocorrect standard by repositioning itself as a single word) sees Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson take on the iconic role of the hustling dealer trying to earn his way out of the game – albeit in a newly millennial take that supplants the character’s own drug use for what appear to be Sherlock-level powers of information gathering on anyone he might need to manipulate, charm, or blindside. He also sports the most incredible head of hair this side of Josh Brolin.

Alex Tse’s screenplay sees no gain in revisiting any of the subversive terrain that made Super Fly the enduring classic it became, his ambitions outright stopping at the point his writing could passably sell a made-for-cable urban crime series (such as – to pick a name out of a hat – Power?). Beyond that it falls to director Director X (of the Toronto Xs) and star Jackson to bring the proverbial funk, and – though X really knows how to sell a music video with all the tonal swagger of John Singleton’s Shaft remake (though, noticeably, none of its darkness or consideration) – Jackson simply isn’t a strong enough presence to sell the supposed gravitas of his lead. It’s a weakness no amount of style or gunfire can distract from, and it sinks Superfly dead.

There’s a top-shelf supporting cast in there, with the likes of Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, and Rick Ross turning up for their two cents and subsequently failing in tandem to elevate this dross to become anything close to worthy of standing in its own brand’s shadow. Expectedly enough, it sports a kickass hip-hop soundtrack – with rapper (and the film’s producer) Future offering up a bevy of atmospherically charging beats to ensure you’re at least bored to music, though there is something faintly amusing (outside of context) about hearing an entire cast prattle on about wanting to wipe out “the Snow Patrol”, like they’re working for the NME in 2005.

Twenty years from now, film historians will likely regard Superfly in the same manner as we currently regard Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho or Stallone’s 2000 remake of Get Carter – that it’s a pointless creation that completely missed the cultural point of its own iconic original – and they’ll be right to do so. Provided they remember that Superfly even existed in the first place – which they, and you, would be decidedly better off not.

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