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Pan

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PanDirector: Joe Wright

Stars: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried

Released: 9th October 2015 (UK)

Left on the doorstep of an orphanage not long after his birth, Peter (Levi Miller) is raised under the harsh care of nuns. Peter and his buddy Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) noticed some of their fellow orphans have disappeared recently. The nuns tell them the other boys have been adopted but Peter and Nibs don’t believe it. They hide one night after everyone has gone to bed to see what’s going on but don’t notice anything and decide to go to bed. Just after they lay down, men on ropes drop through the ceiling grab boys and pull them through the roof. Peter and Nibs are also grabbed by the men who are pirates in a flying ship. Nibs is able to escape but Peter is afraid of heights and won’t jump off the ship onto the roof. The ship has to evade British fighter planes as World War II is going on and eventually ends up in what looks like a giant hole in the ground. Peter learns he is in a place called Neverland and is a prisoner of a pirate named Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The hole is a mine where thousands of boys and men are digging for fairy dust, also called pixum. Peter talks with another miner named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) about what’s going on; but Hook doesn’t want to be anyone’s friend. Peter finds a piece of pixum that is immediately stolen by an adult. When a mine manager intervenes, Peter is accused of making a false accusation about the adult and is scheduled to be judged and punished. Blackbeard lets the crowd decide and they choose for Peter to die. Blackbeard pushes Peter off a plank and he falls hundreds of feet but stops just before hitting the ground and floats for a few seconds before landing. Blackbeard tells Peter about a Neverland legend of a boy that can fly and will lead a rebellion against him. Landing in prison, Peter is soon joined by Hook in the next cell. Hook has snuck in a blasting cap and breaks them both out of prison. Getting help from another mine
manager named Sam Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar), the three commandeer a ship and fly into the forest where they are found by the natives lead by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). Learning that Peter is possibly the fulfillment of the prophecy, Tiger Lily’s people agree to help Peter if he can prove he can fly in the next three days.

“Pan” is obviously the first film of a franchise. The story arc seems to be establishing the friendship between Peter and Hook in the first film that is strained in the second film and is completely shattered in the third when Hook loses his hand to the crocodile and blames Peter for it. It seems like an attempt to wring more money from a story that has been told in various ways since the debut of the J.M. Berrie play in 1904. Unless foreign markets fall in love with the movie the other two films won’t be made as “Pan” is tanking at the box office. Perhaps if they had made a better movie Warner Brothers wouldn’t be looking at taking a huge loss and there would be a couple more fantasy films on the horizon.

The creators of “Pan” make some odd choices in building the world of Neverland. First, while Hugh Jackman is working hard through lots of makeup and flowery dialog, he spends a great deal of time on screen accomplishing nothing. In his early appearances, Blackbeard is leading a giant singalong of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which is certainly weird enough considering the film is set in the early 1940’s, and giving a pep talk that is almost immediately contradicted by his actions, yet he seems to have the undying approval and support of everyone in the mine. Nothing in the early parts of the film set in Neverland makes a great deal of sense and it doesn’t get much better as the film goes along.

While the movie is visually stunning (even in the 2D version I saw) “Pan” stumbles anytime any character speaks. Garrett Hedlund’s James Hook sounds and looks much more like a cowboy than a future pirate. Rooney Mara was apparently told to play Tiger Lily as bland and vacant as possible. During her fighting scenes Mara appears to be on autopilot. Even young Levi Miller, who gives a perfectly fine performance, is hamstrung at times with odd emotional responses and a lack of clear direction of his character’s evolution.

“Pan” should have some big emotional moments as the core of the story is about an abandoned little boy searching a strange land for his long-missing mother. Instead of heart and feeling, “Pan” is stuffed full of special effects and big action set pieces designed to keep our attention away from the story’s shortcomings and attempt to dazzle the audience into forgiving all the scripts faults. It doesn’t work. There are at least two moments when I should have shed some tears for this poor little boy. Instead, I gotflying pirate ships, bouncing warriors, bony birds, huge crocodiles and massive crystal caves. All of these visual treats are appreciated but they should have been surrounded by a story that made me feel something…anything. Instead, all I felt when the credits started rolling was relief.

“Pan” is rated PG for language, fantasy action violence and some thematic material. There are numerous battle sequences and fights. Some characters are shown being shot and bursting in a cloud of brightly colored powder. The idea of parental abandonment and child abduction might trouble younger viewers. There is also a death that is handled in a fantasy setting that could be troubling as well. Language is very mild.

It could have kicked off a very lucrative film series; but “Pan” will likely go down as a giant money pit. If the studio had taken as much care with the script as they did with the visual effects, they might have succeeded in creating a film both beautiful to look at and meaningful to watch. As it is, they got it about half right. The script is such a mess it even contradicts itself involving a major portion of the plot. It boggles my mind that so many people can work so hard on a movie, all with the intension of creating something good, yet manage to screw it up so royally. While not a catastrophe on the scale of Fox Studio’s “Fantastic Four,” “Pan” is certainly an opportunity missed by a wide margin.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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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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