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Reviews

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
(2009)

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs deliciously makes for a three-course animated meal.
Sitting. Thinking. Noting. Researching. Motivating. Reviewing! Lettuce take the thyme to digest the cheesy grate-ness that sub-lime-ly makes time fries at an up-beet pace. Tackling two relation-chip dynamics with clumsy scientist Flint Lockwood, an un-raisin-able son wanting to become an inventor and his less than grilled father who wants him to relish in assisting at the family tackle shop, with the other being two friendly loafers whom share the same loaf for celery-brating all things science. Leaving plenty of mushroom for Flint's latest invention, a diatonic super mutating dynamic food replicator, going bananas and dipping the townsfolk of Swallow Falls in a weathering pickle. "You have seen a meteor shower, but you have never seen a shower meatier than this", meteorologist Sam Sparks, and main love interest, reports as juicy hamburgers descend from the sky. Flint must savour the world before it's caked with viscous syrup. Bon appetite! Orange you glad corny food puns were used to desc-rye-be the feature's plot? It was hard wok!

Anyway, Lord and Miller's directorial debut, an adaptation of Barrett's children's book, is a colourfully inventive animation that balances its diet of fast-paced action, witty sight humour and heartfelt familial reconciliation. The screenplay on offer showcases the energetic buoyancy that cements Lord and Miller's talent as capable screenwriters. Not all the jokes land with grace. For example the constant inclusion of "Baby" Brent, the town's former mascot for sardines, was nothing more than dim-witted slapstick humour. Conversely, the characterisations and mannerisms of Lockwood, his sugar-addicted pet monkey Steve, Sparks, athletic officer Earl and the greedy mayor, all host a wide array of memorability to them. Whether it be participating in an ice cream snowball fight, literally obliterating all of the neighbours on a rampage, or Flint frustratingly trying to navigate his technophobic dad around a desktop to send a simple email with an attachment.

The vast majority of scenes, whilst moderately zestful as children slowly develop diabetes as they constantly digest jelly beans and chocolate cake, impact towards the central character development of Flint and the fractured relationship with his father. As unsuccessful as Flint's inventions are, he believes he owes it to his deceased mother to pursue his lifelong ambition, forever determined to become the best of the best. His fisherman father, concerned about change and the welfare of his son, never expresses his belief. Therefore, there's a communicative breakdown that is only emphasised by Earl's eternal love for his son Cal. Putting aside the gigantic steaks and mustard-covered hot dogs falling from the suspiciously ominous clouds above, this story is about familial appreciation. No matter the end result. Lord and Miller consistently revert to this central theme through several scenes of sincerity. The barrage of fishing puns to accentuate that malfunction in communication between them. Transforming a relatively inevitable conclusion into a transcendental explosion of love.

Spaghetti tornados launching meatballs and a colossal avalanche of leftovers could not replace that poignant sentiment. Naturally, the food meteorology acts as an exercise in creative animation, granting the feature a personality of its own. Its style incredibly digestible, yet pleasantly tasty to glance at. Whilst the character models were somewhat simplistic in comparison, the animation remained vividly colourful and fluid throughout, with plenty of attentive detail for the backdrops. Food is constantly raining down, subconsciously forcing viewers to examine the entire frame to see what tasty item has descended onto the town.

Voice acting was appetising, with Hader and Faris commanding the cast through precise dialogue execution. Faris especially, digesting a burger and exclaiming "I love it", challenging such method actors including Bale and Day-Lewis. In all seriousness, she was succulent. Mr. T shouting "Flint Lockwood" never fails to conjure smiles, as does Bratt's Guatemalan committed line "he is in...a food coma". Samberg was the rotten egg of the bunch, shouting the vast majority of his dialogue with no expression or range.

The anchoring father relationship powers the narrative, unfortunately Flint's love interest with Sam, more often than not, overwhelms the former bond with forced development that diminishes the fragility with his father. The jelly castle distraction being an acute example of this. Removing the adoration between them would've centralised Lord and Miller's direction with Flint's father, creating a banquet rather than a main course.

Still, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs digests its source material and spits out an inventive animation boasting with aesthetic originality and developed characters that will have you screaming for more ice cream. The chest hairs weren't always tingling, but the sumptuous aftertaste was worth it, leaving you hungry for more.

Despicable Me
(2010)

Despicable Me nefariously uncovers endearment amongst the loveless.
Villains, more often than not, are typically the most intriguing characters within a story. From super-powered megalomaniacs yearning to control the universe to fanatic psychotics keeping their idolised authors strapped to a bed. A well-executed villain's motive harmonises with the protagonists. Gru, a proud yet ageing villain, desires nothing more than to become the greatest super villain that had ever lived. His current nemesis, cookie-loving Vector, has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza, so to better him Gru decides to utilise a shrink ray to minimise the moon and steal it. The Bank of Evil, his rivals and his own neglectful mother would then appreciate him as the malignant villain he wishes to become.

Coffin and Renaud's family-friendly animation could easily have maintained this central plot thread to create nothing more than a goofy exercise in superfluous colour manipulation, particularly given Illumination's constant usage of vibrancy and fluidity. Instead, Paul and Daurio's screenplay introduces a plot device, well, three plot devices, that rapidly integrate with the central narrative to produce an entirely different direction. Margo, Edith and Agnes. Three orphaned girls that Gru agrees to adopt so that he can use their cookie-selling skills to infiltrate Vector's impregnable fortress and steal the shrink ray. This enables an abundance of character development for Gru, who gradually warms to the girls and confronts fathering duties. Children, once again, curing hearts enveloped my venomous poison, offering cuteness in all its fluffy unicorn wholesomeness. Despite Gru's abrupt character alterations when he takes the girls to an amusement park and suddenly realises he "will never let go of them", even though a second beforehand he was daydreaming about their abandonment, Despicable Me consistently remains solid throughout its heartfelt familial story that perpetuates the love adults have for their children.

The script supplies plenty of witty lines of dialogue that allows Carell's exaggerated voice to provide boundless amounts of laughter with younger audiences. And if his talent doesn't work, Gru's minions sure will. Yellow, babbling, Tic Tacs equipped with dungarees and goggles. Some might describe them as cancerous, given their nonsensical behaviour and fatigued saturation over the years, however they function best in this feature. More often than not, they remain integrated to the story and less of a side distraction to ensure laughs through derivative slapstick humour. Are they still annoying to the point of wanting to commit genocide? Oh, absolutely. But tolerable nonetheless. Segel supplies buoyant energy voicing Vector, with viral lines such as "curse you teeny tiny toilet", whilst equipped with clinically designed technology juxtaposing Gru's handmade approach. Brand as sidekick Dr. Nefario was forgettable to say the least, eclipsed by his co-stars.

Then comes the soundtrack, infamously associated with Pharrell Williams. Less annoying than his theme song in the sequel (I despise "Happy" with an almighty passion), the tracks he provides have a calmer tempo and suit the scenes they accompany, "Fun, Fun, Fun" in particular. Concluding on a dance-a-thon to a classic song, this time The Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing", is all too reminiscent to a far more superior animated feature 'Shrek 2'.

Alas, Despicable Me remains the best of the franchise and the best feature Illumination Entertainment have produced. So sweet and fluffy that one could "die". Regardless of the franchise motif minions (that spin-off was inevitable...) and the rushed character development, this family animation boasts colourful visuals and a heartfelt narrative that almost competes with Pixar's and DreamWorks' weaker features. Almost. Anyway, "IT'S SO FLUFFY!".

Jumanji: The Next Level
(2019)

Jumanji: The Next Level confidently advances onto the next stage whilst recycling the same gameplay mechanics.
Much like in a video game, a sequel retains the same core components that provides the intellectual property with unique qualities whilst implementing an aesthetic makeover to provide a new world to explore. Whether that be a graphical enhancement or a re-designed open playable world for the player to explore. The very definition of a role-playing game. 'Welcome to the Jungle', the first instalment of the rebooted franchise, asserted the base gameplay functions of uncovering the mystery of the world by linearly heading from point A to point B to point C etc. whilst employing character-based comedy to keep the adventure feeling fresh. Surprisingly self-aware and joyously buoyant throughout.

Kasdan's adventurous sequel follows the same rules as a video game continuation. It's bigger, it's better, and it's more of the same. Set three years after the now four best friends survived the first adventure, Spencer, consumed by his comparatively dull adolescence, returns to Jumanji where he felt he had substantial purpose as an individual. His friends, worried after not showing up to a friendly reunion, suddenly hear the beat of jungle drums, realising that Spencer has activated Jumanji once more. Only this time, "Fridge" and Martha are taken leaving Bethany in reality. Resulting in Spencer's grandfather and long-time business partner Milo being transported to the fictitious world instead as Dr. Bravestone and Finbar respectively. Naturally, the older generation attempting to understand the mechanics of a video game (NPCs, three lives, strengths and weaknesses etc.) creates an unadorned amount of comedy that equally diminishes the character of Roundhouse to nothing more than expositional tutorials.

Much of the laughter is expelled at the sights of Johnson and Hart mildly impersonating DeVito and Glover. Whilst the latter has the slow tempo down perfectly, the former is the least "The Rock" we've seen him as since, well, ever. Watching him attempt the New Jersey/New York accent was mildly hilarious to say the least. This sequel really revolves around these two characters, whom share a jaded past that seeks reconciliation. Unlike the "Jaguar's Eye", they are the true heart of Jumanji. Adequate development to make their differences affecting, without relinquishing much of the humour. Their new strengths and weaknesses, including communicating with animals and Bravestone acquiring just one weakness that was admittedly vastly underdeveloped, appropriately utilised to produce a change of pace when comparing to its predecessor. And, above all else, funnier than their initial appearance. Spencer controls a new avatar, played by the dominating Awkwafina, who really asserts her presence amongst the pre-existing avatars. Oberon, with Black on cruise control, mostly assists with the exposition while indicating his weakness to desert characteristics.

Speaking of arid horizons, the jungle has been substituted for the desolation of heat, a dense woodland environment and snow-capped mountain, as the team attempt to reclaim the "Falcon Jewel" from warlord Jurgen the Brutal in order to save Jumanji and return to reality. The same criticisms from the first film apply here. The narrative is ridiculously linear and mundanely straightforward that, half the time, the screenplay itself forgets what the main objective is. The feature works best when divulging in exciting character-based set pieces, to which Kasdan acknowledges this by throwing the core contents of the plot to the side for the vast majority of the adventure. It's the exact same premise, just a different location. Kasdan also moderately relies on humour setup in the previous entry, such as Roundhouse fighting villainous NPCs through the medium of rhythmic combat to the tune of "Baby I Love Your Way" (ooof such a tune!), which also heightens the sense of over-familiarity. Although, Hart shouting "No!" to cake ensured many howls! The villain, Jurgen, much like Professor Van Pelt (remember him? Me neither!) was instantly forgettable and provided minimal menace. The visual effects were noticeably digital, particularly the backdrops, however closeups of ostriches and mandrills certainly harnessed attentive detail.

One could argue that the digitised gimmicks and hokey plot conveniences are all part of the game world, and they would be correct. Kasdan once again provides fantastic family entertainment that relishes in bold characterised set pieces, albeit with another less than substantial plot. Employing the exact same formula that made its predecessor a financial success, with a few avatar changes here and there. Granting profitable amounts of replay value in the process.

Sparrows Can't Sing
(1963)

Sparrows Can't Sing chirps Cockney rhyming slangs without an unflappable story.
"'E didn't say, "Dear, you're divine". Nor did 'e say, "Darling, be mine". So why do I see in 'im everything. Well, sparrers, poor sparrers, pretty sparrers can't sing". Love is ever eternally complicated. A personable journey of adoration. Those externally looking at a relationship, judging on what has outwardly happened, including domestic violence, will criticise. Yet the two individuals comprising of the relationship realise the true potential and experience the abundance of feelings they have for one another. The same can be said for Cockney sailor Charlie, whom returns home to the East End of London after a long voyage, only to find his wife living with another man. His usual foul temper is tested as he attempts reconciliation with Maggie in order to pursue a new loving life with her.

Littlewood's adaptation of the '60 kitchen sink play relishes in representing Cockney life. From the community of Jewish tradesmen, spivs and youthful "tarts" to iconic establishments such as local pubs. All capitalising on Lewis' dialogue-intensive screenplay that blends Cockney rhyming slang ("dog and bone"), London Yiddish ("bubbe") and thieves' cant ("bowsing ken"). Streamlining a plot that originally revolved around improvisational techniques to produce the quaint comedy that plagued 60s productions. For those unaccustomed to such language, it is undoubtedly difficult to follow. An infamous challenge that made history by being the first English language film to be released with subtitles in the United States. Whilst the babble of slang is often incomprehensible, particularly the comedic moments, it provided authenticity to the cobbled streets of Limehouse. Accompanied by Littlewood's locational set pieces, Sparrows Can't Sing truly embodied East End life by sifting through each character to create a sense of community. A time when everyone would say "alrite mate?" to each other instead of shrouding themselves in ignorance. Arguably a happier time.

The problem with the constant shifting of character focus, is that there really is no direction from a cinematic perspective. The central story between Charlie and Maggie is so menial and derivative due to the avoidance of confrontation, that Littlewood spends most of the runtime exploring the East End by showcasing conversations from other individuals residing in various backgrounds. Fred, Bridgie and Charlie arguing amongst themselves in a family dispute. Nellie being enchanted by two blokes named Georgie and Chunky. Jack wandering around with his canary. Lewis himself portraying a prudish caretaker, and a plethora of other characters all yearn for the spotlight. When the feature decides to eventually realign its focus towards Maggie and Charlie, it's too little too late. Their character development was almost non-existent by the concluding argument, not to mention the definition of loyalty being a product of its time (no way would she go back to an abuser now...).

Windsor offers a sterling and commanding performance as the metaphorical sparrow whom cannot sing, nearly exerting her legendary giggle from the 'Carry On' franchise. Although, would've preferred a "Get outta ma pub!" attitude. Booth exudes devilish charm with unpredictability, similar to Del Boy in the popular sitcom 'Only Fools and Horses'. In fact, the supporting cast were well suited to the East End life with their poignantly exaggerated slangs.

However the insignificance of the central story, equipped with brashly edited quick cuts and false whimsicality, grounds this sparrow to a subterranean level of engagement. A watchable breezy adaptation that appreciates the setting more than the characters. Lewis' kitchen sink play functions better as a theatre production than it does a cinematic endeavour.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
(2019)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire paints a sumptuous masterpiece of scorching zealous romance.
Eurydice and Orpheus. Fateful love bounded by tragedy. Her solemn death inflicting immeasurable amounts of sorrowful melancholia upon Orpheus, harnessing melodious musicality to signify his eternal grief. Love overpowered. Orpheus confronts the God of the underworld, Hades, hypnotising all with his lyre. The God offered Eurydice's soul under one condition. To not stare upon her spirit until they reach the light once more. Orpheus' empyrean patience would be rewarded. Unable to hear her footsteps, Orpheus nervously persuaded himself that he was fooled by the Gods and begrudgingly rotates his visions unto her after losing his faith. Her ghostly form whisked back among the dead. Forever. Their love, however fleeting, blossoming from within. With only their physicality extinguished. A romance that was not meant to be.

The ancient legend corresponds to the artistic emancipation of Marianne, a young painter commissioned to produce a portrait of the equally youthful Héloïse whom is to be married off to a wealthy nobleman, with an illicit romantic affair igniting between their sumptuous female entities. Exoticism that expresses the forbidden humanity that was repressed within eighteenth century France whilst celebrating the female anatomy upon every soul-gazing stare. Marianne focussing on every precise characteristic that Héloïse elegantly discharges, painting the initial apathetic stance that shrouds her subject's opulent lifestyle. Her hands positioned with insurmountable grace, her indomitable complexions angled to perfection. The more Marianne confidently paints, the further her unflappable emotions progress. Offering supplementary ardour. Each passing day, as Marianne acts as Héloïse's walking companion after the apparent suicide of her sister, the two increasingly concatenate their infatuations. Each longing stare into each other's eyes, further alluring than the last, beckoning the compassionate lust that overwhelms. Their breathing simultaneously growing stronger, beseeching the infatuating oxygen that shrouds their authentic corsets.

"When you're observing me, who do you think I'm observing?", asks an apprehensive Héloïse as she comes to terms with her true feelings. With only days left before Marianne's contract ceases, the two flee to a desolate cave by the beach and subject themselves to a passionate kiss. A forbidden kiss that echoes throughout the cavern, with their hearts beating as one. "Your presence is made up of fleeting moments that may lack truth", Marianne declares. Saddened by the eventual disappearance of their lustful endeavours. "Not everything is fleeting. Some feelings are deep", Héloïse replies. Visions haunting Marianne of an ethereal version of her lover before dissipating into the darkness that engulfs her. A fleeting representation of Orpheus' fateful love, metaphorically symbolised in the inflorescence of youthful lust. An ember growing into a respiring flame, as it singes Héloïse's aquatic dress whilst bestowing an unflinching look upon Marianne. Get too close to the cinders, and one may burn their soul beyond repair. An option Marianne consumes as she "chooses the memory" of Héloïse whilst acknowledging her cataclysmic consequence.

Yet, much like with all fires, a beauty exudes from its ashes. Reborn into a rejuvenated benevolence. For the bond these women have fabricated can never be smothered, even if society prevents such romances from blossoming. Immortalising true feelings onto a canvas, with each stroke of oil paint surging with endearment. From the surreal titular masterpiece "Portrait de la jeune fills en feu" to a future portrait of Héloïse surreptitiously clinging onto a vivid memory. Art enshrines all with timelessness, serving as conduits for equality and vivacious memories. A simple rendition of Vivaldi's Presto ("Summer" composition) on a dainty harpsichord embeds itself into the soul, nestling amongst the serotonin. To hear the same piece again, this time as an orchestration, an emotional weight anchors the body. Subconsciously, memories of old come flowing back. Art, in all its forms, subjugating the human psyche. Harnessing the ability to relate dexterous artistry with emotional control.

Sciamma's historical drama is that representation. It subverts the artist-muse relationship, common in ancient legends such as the aforementioned tale that assimilates itself within Sciamma's flourishing screenplay, by reversing the perspective onto Eurydice's viewpoint. To see the subtle eroticism through the glistening eyes of the muse. To animate the urgency of female relationships, whether a mere bond or romantic interest, by excluding prolific male characters from the story entirely. Through sheer focus upon the female entirety, both mind and anatomy, Sciamma produces a tale of passion that radiates gravitas upon each line of dialogue, facial expression and inevitable conclusion. Marianne concedes to the realisation that their intimate solicitude can only exist in their memories, and it's through art that these memories are imprisoned. A form of self-communication. Sciamma, alongside Mathon's exquisitely sumptuous cinematography that paints every frame of film as if they were individual masterpieces, decoratively directs the love affair bounded by the art that surrounds it. Each stroke of Marianne's paint brush or fine line drawn from a stick of charcoal is intensively therapeutic and central to the romance. The exclusion of a traditional score, with only Vivaldi's strings and women chanting echoing the extremities of repression, allow the burdensome breathing to infiltrate the audience.

Haenel capitalising on the intensity of arduous respiration whenever her character, Héloïse, interacts with Marianne on a physical level. Her eyes moistened as her soft lips touches Marianne's. Merlant equaling Haenel's ferocity by presenting fragility, especially when running towards her stoic lover begging for forgiveness. The crashing waves of the sea acting as a symbolic backdrop for their turbulent bond. Sophisticated one-take sequences of dialogue exchanges with both Merlant and Haenel, rarely blinking, staring into each other's souls. Supplying incalculable amounts of chemistry. Yet, one scene had the ability to fully entrance, staring into the silenced void of the credits. Haenel's multi-faceted emotionally explorative climactic scene, as a flood of feelings pour into her heart when listening to Vivaldi's masterpiece. To confidently alter between sorrow, regret, happiness and sadness in the space of two minutes, was nothing short of perfection. Vivaldi's staccato notes exemplifying the relentless austerity of their relationship, whilst the calmer strings providing solace. In just a one-take zoom-in, Sciamma concludes her female love affair by, once again, linking to art.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is intimidating. Not for its stupendously celebratory subject matter or personable symbolism. It's intimidating because it is unequivocally perfect film-making. There is not a single frame out of place, nor a single word of dialogue. For years, one has persuaded others that the "perfect" film does not exist. Art cannot achieve perfection. Yet, Sciamma has somehow achieved the near impossible by delving deeper into the manifesto on the female gaze. Through the embellishment of queer cinema, the prosperity of female empowerment and contemporary astuteness of arthouse productions, she has painted a perfect masterpiece. Not only achieving the perfect score, but quite possibly the single greatest piece of cinema that has acquired zero flaws. Not one. It may just be the best film I've personally ever seen. Love is not scripted. It is an original work of art.

The Signal
(2014)

The Signal distorts its amplified paranoid frequency creating high-pitched sci-fi perplexities.
Choices of morality. The conflict between sound logical reasoning and overwhelming emotional burden. It is the fundamental laws of human nature to base decisions around both outputs, whether the resultant event is a success or failure. It defines who we are as an intelligent species with the capacity of emotional thought and subconscious. Remove that, and humanity is relinquished. Nic, Jonah and Haley, three MIT students on a road trip to California, seize the opportunity to track an infamous hacker down in the middle of Nevada (IP address bouncing through TCP based on ominous emails sent to Nic, which surprisingly is somewhat accurate...). They encounter an abandoned house and, after a bright white light shrouds their peripheral visions, Nic eventually wakes up in a clinically sterile underground research facility when he is then questioned about his encounter with "the signal".

Eubank's low-budget sci-fi thriller is undoubtedly ambitious in terms of scope. Much like his manipulation with the characters, the cerebral aesthetic of the story allows him to influence the audience's minds with plenty of narrative twists. Each twist circumnavigating the metaphorical nature of Eubank's screenplay, exploring the audacious conflict between logic and emotion. An effective divulgence that only comes into fruition due to the introductory, albeit surface-level, characterisation of the three main friends. Particularly Nic and Haley whom are in a strained relationship, with the former not wanting his disability to hold her back. A calculated decision that suppresses the emotional distress within, however the story's twisted events allow Nic to discover the immensity of one emotion. Love. Whilst this sentiment is superficial in terms of its developed manifestation throughout the feature, with their relationship rarely progressing from a few heartfelt stares, it does produce some required characterisation to accentuate "the signal".

Another distinctive quality Eubank possesses, is his visual style. With much attention driven towards gorgeous slow-motion frames of raging water torrenting down a jagged river and the eventual chaos as these friends attempt to escape the facility. Lanzenberg's cinematography is impeccable, flawless even.

The same cannot be said for the bulk of the story however. Initially, the search for the hacker was shrouded in realism and delicately focused on the friendships of the protagonists. Then the piercing light blinds them. Slowly but surely, the story concedes to enthusiastic sci-fi tropes that inject overpowering noise within its frequency modulation. Distorting the primary emotional focus with distractions that liken the plot to Plato's philosophical 'Allegory of the Cave' through the projection of false perceptions manufactured by another entity. The more the signal heightens its pitch, the louder its bombastic temperament becomes. Eubank's determination to remain mysterious until the very last scene, which undoubtedly forced many eye-rolling and face-palming opportunities, ultimately created dissatisfaction upon reliance of the absurd. The character depth dissipates and the narrative gradually incoherent, alongside inconsistent pacing. Thwaites, Cooke and Knapp, whilst functional, become lost in the midst of the mind-bending disarray. Failing to create empathy. Shaye's minuscule presence however was delightfully idiosyncratic.

For what it's worth, Eubank's The Signal is an admirable attempt at harmonising human emotions with logical thinking. Through the absurdities of sci-fi tropes, it hoped to convey human self-reflection. Instead, the exceedingly stylish visuals and eventual plot destination overwhelm the resonance of humanity, weakening the strength of this particular cinematic signal. Ambitious, yet flawed.

Sea Fever
(2019)

Sea Fever secretes a parasitically contagious premise but anchored by mismatched luminescence.
"Sea fever", or rather cabin fever, indicates an increase in distress after expending prolonged amounts of time in one claustrophobic or isolated location. A restless irritability that alters the mentality, producing lethargic and/or aggressive behaviour. For fishermen, whom of which typically travel in the confinements of a fishing trawler, conforming to a routinely shift of minimal required sleep during elongated journeys across ocean waters, they often exhibit uncharacteristic behaviours that progress into a level of madness. The skipper and his wife of the Niamh Cinn-Oir, a strict Irish Catholic couple shrouded by the superstitions of the seas, know of this "fever" all too well. So when the vessel traverses an exclusion zone, unbeknownst to the other crew members, and are latched on by an enormous bioluminescent organism that discharges microscopic larvae into the hull of the boat, the definitions between infection and hysteria become murkier than the depths of the Irish Sea.

Hardiman's sci-fi thriller, with hints of creature feature horror, finds itself acquiring an apt comparison to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Siobhan, the central scientist protagonist studying faunal behavioural correlations, consistently offering sound advice regarding quarantining the entire vessel in case the parasitical infection spreads onto mainland Ireland when and if they arrive back. Theorising the extent of the contamination and the devastation it could cause. These intense conversations, eventually leading to decisive ultimatums, inject a valuable amount of characterised development across all six crew members as well as a layer of morality (that certain real governments should've taken note of *hint* *hint*).

Spiralling from a mysterious first-half that Hardiman assuredly crafts by focusing on the hadopelagic entity of which its tendril-like tentacles offer an effective inevitability that the crew are plagued with sea sickness. Protruding viscous aquamarine slime, aiding the eventual gruesome nestling of the organism's larvae, exhibiting splendid underwater photography from O'Brien's saline cinematography. With hints of Scott's 'Alien', Carpenter's 'The Thing' and Cameron's 'The Abyss', Hardiman cherry picks the most stimulating aspects of each feature and moulds them into a well-acted, particularly Nielsen, Scott and Corfield, well-constructed and well-executed thriller.

However, therein lies the oscillating narrative issue. Hardiman's screenplay indecisively transitions between the aforementioned inspirations frequently, creating an apprehensive voyage in the process. Siobhan occasionally spouts monologues regarding environmentalism, teetering on metaphorical insights into climate change as they heat up the hadopelagic creature in an attempt to stun it, before advancing into the rules and regulations of epidemics. The strong preliminary creature feature aesthetic soon dissipates into a dithering scientific wave of scepticism, marred with convenient character actions such as Johnny nonchalantly placing his hand on moving rope to issue an open wound, essentially relinquishing the built-up tension by conforming to genre clichés.

Still, Sea Fever remains an ambitious voyage into the unknown, confidently inspired by genre pillars that preceded this trawler. While the engine propels the multi-layered narrative in cruise control, its infectious execution will force you to dive right in.

The Legend of Mor'du
(2012)

The Legend of Mor'du supplies one-dimensional grizzly lore through two-dimensional simplicity.
'Brave', one of Pixar's most underrated features, hosts a villainous prince consumed by greed whom is transformed into a monstrous bear by an eccentric witch, voiced enthusiastically by Walters. Mor'du garnered surface level characterisation in the animated film, merely supplying functional antagonism to a story that did not really require such menace. Consequently, this storyboard of what is clearly a deleted scene was projected to be its own companion piece to 'Brave', offering in-depth background to Mor'du himself. The problem being that Larsen's onslaught of originating information and simplistic illustrations forced this short to be forgettable as soon as the minimal credits rolled.

The witch retells the tale, commencing with three-dimensional CGI before withering to hand-drawn stills, with an abundance of energy. Four brothers, three of which equipped with mental "gifts" whilst the eventual Mor'du facilitating the only physical "gift" of strength, all wanting a piece of the kingdom. It then proceeds to imitate 'Brave's' narrative with the will-o'-the-wisps guiding the eldest son to the witch's cottage and, oh, turned into a great black bear. A foundational layer of repetitive storytelling with predictability applied on top. Regardless, the bulk of the short is the retelling of Mor'du's origins, and it's excessive information to say the least. Considering the promising start and final attempt at forced humour, one was hoping for originality.

Whilst the traditionally drawn darkly fantastical stills looked beautiful and exuded fluidity, they are unable to masquerade the overall uninspired "deleted scene" structure that made the previous short 'George and AJ' just as forgettable.

Lizzie
(2018)

Lizzie haphazardly swings its hatchet in a multitude of underdeveloped misdirections.
Lizzie Borden. Iconography for feminism. Tragedy for forbidden love. At thirty-two years of age, in the quaint town of Fall River, Massachusetts, she made national headlines one morning and has since become a cultural legend. Socially outcasted and domineered by the authoritative control of her father, she had lived a sheltered life filled with undeniable rage and detest for everyone. Purposefully ostracising herself day-by-day. Everyone except the newly recruited maid, Bridget Sullivan, whom she sympathised with and soon commenced an illicit romance under the subjugating nose of her father. The more the love affair blossomed, the greater the risk, and that increased threat led Lizzie to a slaughterous barbarity that cemented her in Massachusetts history.

Macneill's biographical thriller, for the most part, bestows an authentic accuracy upon its dramatisation by recreating variously described scenes and characterised personalities. The Borden's religious upbringing, Bridget's Irish immigration, Lizzie's roost of pigeons of which her father butchered them and Lizzie's maternal uncle John discussing potential property inheritance. Whilst the central lesbian love affair was speculative, it acts as the core catalyst within Kass' straightforward screenplay. Therefore, given artistic licence and ideational freedom, one would've expected this romance to have sumptuous development and beguilement. Regrettably, not the case.

Lizzie is unequivocally misdirected by Macneill, whom commences the feature with the pivotal scene of the entire ordeal before launching a linear flashback leading up to that precise moment. Already the excitement has been relinquished, with Macneill inserting a tedious layer of predictably that enables audiences to conscientiously guess how the film will play out. The extensive flashback then contains a multitude of embryonic sub-plots and character details, such as Lizzie's unexplained seizures, her father sexually assaulting Bridget, John's plan to acquire the will and testament, the prickly relationship with her step-mother whom acknowledges her husband's infidelity and, most importantly, the relationship with Bridget. Nearly every plot detail is scattershot, with the vast majority of dialogue whispered and/or mumbled making it almost impossible to fully comprehend one simple sentence. Did 1890s state law have a decibel restriction or something?

So, in spite of Sevigny's fairly competent albeit flat central performance, which strengthened the searing stoicism of her character, the onscreen chemistry with Stewart was non-existent. The fundamental affinity of Kass' narrative endeavour. The two barely registered an emotion other than disconsolation, participating in a viscerally awkward love-making scene in the barn which involved excitedly breathing into each other's mouths (that's how pregnancy works, right?). Frustrating, considering Stewart's committed performance and vulnerable portrayal of a woman unsure of her position in life. Equipped with a decent Irish accent as well.

During the third act, the flashback returns to the present time before developing another flashback that details the grisly morning of August 4, which again, renounced any and all captivation due to the existence of its aftermath within the viewer's mind. No level of deliberate eroticism would alter that engagement.

Lizzie, despite the exquisite corsets, Greenberg's cinematography and mildly enchanting performances, was too busy arbitrarily swinging an axe hoping to produce a wound of feminism, that it had disorientated its narrative entirely. Restraining itself to historical strands rather than instigating a progressive story.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
(2010)

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark paints a chillingly mythical portrait but commonly forgets to turn the lights off.
Lord Blackwood. Wildlife painter, doting father and sacrificial murderer. His son kidnapped by miniature entities residing in the darkened ash pit of the manor's basement, demanding for children's teeth. Blackwood fails by chiseling the teeth of his housekeeper instead, ultimately leading to his untimely demise. Months later, a fragmented family consisting of an architectural father, interior designing girlfriend and depressingly introverted daughter move into the manor to restore it. Young Sally yearning to move back in with her mother whilst Kim attempts to form a parental bond with her. Alex on the other hand only concerned about his career. With Sally's entrance awakening the mysterious creatures once more, she must confront her own fear and escape the manor before she herself is dragged into the depths of the ash pit. Locked away for eternity.

Nixey's nightmarish adaptation of the '73 TV film, rarely alters the original's plot. By only introducing the daughter and modifying the origins of the mischievous creatures, writer and producer Del Toro retains the core essence of Newland's instance, allowing attentive detail to be applied on other elements. The ornate production design, from the manor's gothic tapestries to the whimsical labyrinthian gardens, has Del Toro's fingerprints plagued throughout. The verminous design of the creatures, described to be folklorish tooth fairies, derived from writer Machen's work. A name Del Toro has mentioned before for his influence on 'Pan's Labyrinth' and 'Hellboy II'. With one eye close to the project, it's ultimately surprising why he decided to hire another individual to cover directing duties instead of himself, as the final product clearly exudes an imitation of his previous endeavours. The increasingly slow atmospheric tension as the camera swoops through the tenebrous corridors whilst sinister whispers echo across the manor. Beltrami's strengthened score granting the restored structure life.

Unfortunately, explicit modernisations within the story prevent the success of the inherent chills from creeping through. The inclusion of Sally, performed energetically by Madison whom practically held the feature together, applied an unoriginal gloss over the finished painting. A typical plot strand of adults not believing the child's imaginative stories revolving around mystical creatures, so they send them off to a therapist etc. before they realise they were telling the truth all along. It undoubtedly makes for a predictable plot, diminishing the majority of characterised development in the process. Much of the runtime is expended on Kim's natural motherly instinct wanting to bond with Sally, with Holmes delivering a decent performance. Sally's hostile confrontations with the creatures representing the catalyst for their growing relationship. The ending however seems somewhat mean-spirited when the central bond is shifted onto the father whom has not cared in the slightest. Almost seemed like a waste of time. Especially when they decide to stay the night after Alex and Kim realise Sally has been terrorised by these unknown entities (fantastic parenting...).

The creatures themselves succumb to overexposure, with their contorted bodies being fully introduced too early, lessening the second half's creep factor. And an expositional scene involving a librarian, attempting to tackle the similarities between Blackwood's unpublished artwork and Sally's tales, was derivatively redundant considering the introductory scene. Relinquishing the majority of the mystery.

Alas, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is a fine folklorish fairy tale that offers just enough atmospheric chills and technical astuteness to be classed as watchable. Regrettably the plot and its fundamentally detached scares were surprisingly ineffective, which unequivocally should've been better executed given Del Toro's involvement. You won't be afraid of the dark after watching this, that's for sure.

Nostalgia de la luz
(2010)

Nostalgia For The Light seamlessly connects the constellations of astronomy and the fossilisations of archeology with that of the tyrannical Pinochet dictatorship.
Past. Present. Future. Time is nothing more than a grain of sand basking in the expansivity of the Atacama desert. A multitude of particulates comprising the essence of universal history. Humanity, throughout centuries of beguiling empires and colossal civilisations, expends precious present time to research forgotten pasts in order to shape the future. To better society for the next generation. To evolve as an intellectual species. To live and learn. Astronomers magnify their tender visions towards the stars, attempting to acquire omniscient knowledge for the origins of life. Stars that, whilst illuminate the night sky with faint glimmers of freedom, have since perished. The light of a past life, gliding across space and time. Observatories prevailing the mountainous peaks of the Chilean deserts, never glancing down on the arid ground. Archeologists scavenge the vastness of perilous lands to uncover the remnants of primordial civilisations. Buried beneath the bustling metropolises that preside over the earthly layers of desolation. Scanning the facets of crimson rocks beneath the blistering sun of the Atacama desert for pre-Colombian scriptures, always searching beneath the scorched ground. Both professions delicately observing the past to answer questions that have remained undetermined.

Yet both ignore the significance of an "insignificant" massacre that is conveniently concealed by Chilean society. The Pinochet regime. A military dictatorship that detained and slaughtered thousands of Chileans, obscuring the remaining evidence by moulding mass graves in the midst of the wilderness. A particulate in history that the modern Chilean populous have audaciously decided to ignore. However, a selection of zealous women scout the Atacama landscape foraging for fragments of shattered bones, in the glimmering hope that the remnants of their beloved will be uncovered. The human tenacity tested. A near impossible task for peace and solace. Scouring the desertification of the past, to seek comfort for the future. Much like astronomers and archeologists, these women are on the same emphatic journey for answers. All delving into the past to establish a greater understanding.

Guzmán's cinematic diary, whilst tackling the sociopolitical ignorance of the Pinochet dictatorship, existentially challenges the national application of insufficient accountability through the metaphoric connectivity between the regime's outlook and astronomy. Two initially diverse subjects somehow manufacturing a multitude of succinct links that convey the ferocious human spirit. Transitioning between various professions, utilising articulate interviews and profound commentary, to devise various associations that elude to a thematic symbiotic relationship. The female individuals foraging the desert for splinters of calcium, in the form of bone fragments, whilst astronomers scan calcium levels within the remnants of stars. Guzmán visually comparing the two through the usage of still slides. Commencing with close-ups of asteroids and moons before metamorphosing the images to bone fragments, assimilating an indistinguishable identical form. Cinematic examples such as the aforementioned further enhance the interchangeable thematic quest, searching for fractured past life in the present.

Various connections may initially seem tenuous, especially when focusing on the survivors from the Chacabuco concentration camp, but that's where Guzmán's enlightening commentary comes into fruition. Describing Lawner's time at Chacabuco, whom was referred to as an "architect" for his acute ability in memorising the prison's infrastructure by systematically counting how many steps dictated each wall, may originally seem insubstantial. Until Guzmán concludes his interview with a scholarly comment regarding Lawner's wife. The couple are a metaphor for Chile. He remembers the past, she, whom is suffering with Alzheimer's disease, is forgetting.

Circling back to the primary purpose of Nostalgia For The Light. We should never forget, but instead remember. To educate ourselves into uncovering our own origins. Bolstered by provocative imagery, with much applause aimed towards Dijon's exquisite cinematography (except the commonly used stardust filter that cheapened the cinematic quality of the documentary), and poetic narrative flow, Guzmán relentlessly tackles the parallels time offers to humanity. Physically transporting us on a self-discovering journey across the cosmos and the sprawling ground beneath our ignorant feet. We expend substantial amounts of time surveying remnants of remnants in a bid to discover answers, yet those who do not are unable to understand their past. There is no beginning or future to them. Only existence as a shell. "Compared to the immensity of the cosmos, the problems of the Chilean people might seem insignificant. But if we laid them out on a table, they would be as vast as a galaxy".

Flowers in the Attic
(1987)

Flowers in the Attic dances around its murderous agenda without the gothic buds ever blossoming.
Incalculable amounts of money? Or doting motherhood? The fundamental ultimatum for any recent widower, lumbered with four beautifully blonde children, who seeks the extensive inheritance of their terminally ill yet abundantly wealthy father. "We will have more money than you could possibly dream of", she reassures her grieving offspring after the abrupt death of their father. Leading them to her idyllic childhood abode, as if a group of sheep lining up for slaughter. Their devout religious grandmother awaiting in the lavished corridors of the beguiling manor, guiding them to their designated imprisonment. "Your mother has come home after seventeen years to repent for her sins and for her crime", she exclaims, detailing the "unholy" marriage between their mother and father, whom is actually her uncle. And with the grandmother's last words, "and you, the children, are the Devil's spawn!", she swiftly locks the children in the attic. Patiently waiting for their mother's return, abiding by their grandmother's strict punishable rules, they soon begin to realise that she gradually abandons them for unlimited wealth and must discover a means of escape.

Bloom's adaptation of Andrews' popular novel of the same name illicitly exudes gothic aesthetics and a haunting score that are regrettably unable to masquerade the butchering of its source material. Originally a suspense thriller infamous for its explicit incestuous relationships and child abuse, Bloom, whom largely blamed producers and studio interference for cutting the suggestive elements (albeit retaining insinuations), removed the vast majority of metaphorical endeavours to settle for a straightforward flat narrative that lacked the required motivation from its characters. The sanctimonious virtuosity of the radically religious and their inner hyperbolic inhumanity.

Fletcher, whom consistently portrays a conniving antagonist with superb efficiency, is unforgivably under-utilised. Locking the children away, starving them, and occasionally checking up on them before smacking their life force or cutting their hair. The grandmother was the catalyst for the evil within the manor, yet Bloom randomly decided to shift the villainous focus to the mother, whom was admittedly a background presence in the novel. She still remains lurking in the corridors, rarely making an appearance to convey the children's eventual abandonment, but consequently the altered third act rarely made an impact due to her narrative absence. Her exaggerated inhumanity perpetuating the greed for wealth and luxury was, to say the least, less characterised than the dilapidated interior of the attic itself.

The children, with the two oldest notably played by an appropriately aged Swanson and the far too old Stuart Adams (looked like he could be married to the mother!), held much of the story together with some genuine onscreen chemistry. The acting ranged from maturing cheddar cheese to blatant mediocrity, however their relational strengths were in full bloom. Unfortunately, the unsubstantial plot progressed at a glacial pace, forcing their shenanigans to be nothing more than menial distractions. When the most "thrilling" scene revolves around crafting paper flowers to decorate the attic, you just know something is missing.

That's the inherent problem with Bloom's adaptation. It's missing the vital controversial components that shaped the novel's legacy. Whilst this adaptation is shrouded in a clumsy watchability factor, due to it being a viable product of its time, it confusingly avoids watering its incestuous seeds and therefore prevents its thrilling story from growing. Forgettable. Those cookies sure looked delicious though...

Regression
(2015)

Regression suppresses the psychological overburden of satanic panic for a hellishly pedestrian thriller.
The moral mayhem of satanic abuse hysteria plagued American media primarily in the 80s. County officers charging potentially innocent folk with child abuse claims, including ritualistic injuries. With many states cementing their faith as devout Catholics, the mere mention of Satan and his overwhelming power amongst people sent many into overdrive. Civilians petrified of the outside world in case they see "cult" members staring at them in hooded cloaks. The media's mass perpetuation enabled pedestrians to see what they wanted to see. To cause national panic. To issue a story that was a mere fabrication. Susceptible souls, such as the fictional detective Kenner, were caught in the midst of hysteria and hurtled down a route of satanism due to convincing proposed testimonies from apparent sexually abused girls, including Angela.

Amenábar's psychological thriller persuasively conveys the irrationality and frenzy of satanic abuse hysteria through the conviction of its central character, detective Kenner. A workaholic unable to disconnect his mentality from the case, as he investigates Angela's testimony, which rampantly gears his imagination up to maximum potential when he envisages ritualistic fornication and infant sacrifices. Amenábar exquisitely supplies atmospheric fear through grisly environmental shots, especially given the constant torrential rainfall in Minnesota, and acute focus on Kenner's psychological downfall. Thanks to an ever-dependable and committed central performance from Hawke whom, once again, goes one minuscule step further and essentially becomes the character. The minor details from the fatigued eyes to the drained expression illicit an effective portrayal. Its tepid horror is founded upon the visualised imaginations of its characters, with the curative procedure of recovered-memory therapy (RMT) enabling those moments at the hands of psychologist Professor Raines. A collection of unproven techniques that have patients staring into a metronome and attempt to recall the memories based on what the other individuals in the room are spouting out. Much likes its usage in the film, which is minimal to say the least, it proved ineffective and was a catalyst for the mass hysteria.

That's not Amenábar's main problem. The issue is that it's structured as a thriller, bearing in mind that hysteria is typically based on fabrications and is outlined in the introductory title cards. So with that enveloped into the viewers' minds, the "thrills" were inevitably inconsequential given the predictable nature of its plot points as a collective. Amenábar inserts a mystery element that teases the idea whether or not Angela's testimony was truth or deception. Organically, it was deemed pointless. A genre splice for the sake of enabling various jump scares and setting up a climactic confrontation that clearly irked many audience members. The mystery strand could've had some grounds for existence had Watson's acting been remotely resonant or expressive. She was monotonously unconvincing and that was a fundamental distraction (should've let Professor Lupin teach her some more Defence Against The Dark Arts!). Her over-acting was obnoxious and Angela's general motive was too menial given the severity of its evolution. Ultimately, the feature's conclusion with Angela's father deterred from the main purpose of illustrating satanic abuse hysteria and coincided with a faith-based resolution. Almost contradictory to a degree.

Still, this was panned by both audiences and critics upon its release. A statement that seems somewhat unfair. Whilst the contents of Amenábar's feature is inconsequential and underwhelming to say the least, he does conscientiously capture the contagious delirium of mass hysteria through technical brilliance, with the assistance of a sharp central performance from Hawke. Had he focussed on the widespread frenzy totally instead of the inferior victimised case, perhaps many would've been going crazy over this.

Catfight
(2016)

Catfight repetitively punches out middle class entitlement whilst leaving heavy-handed political bruises.
Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated and welcome to Catfight! In the red corner today, we have a self-entitled casual alcoholic who parasitically lives off of her husband's wealth whilst cynically crushing the aspirations of her son, Veronica! And in the blue corner, a lesbian skittish artist who paints dark apocalyptic visions yet unable to sell her visceral artwork which strains her relationship and leads her to verbally obliterating her assistant, Ashley! Who will emerge victorious after this violent three-round brawl of nihilistic self-pride and greed? Veronica? Ashley? Or perhaps the government? Let's find out, round one commences now!

Tukel's aggressive black comedy consumes the physicality of a fist fight and imposes an applicable sociopolitical subtextual layer. From a social perspective, these two women literally punch, kick and head butt the contemptuousness out of them, eventually decimating their lives in the process through the significance of a comatose state. Gradually, through the loss of their financial wellbeing, they begin to appreciate the familial and emotional tendencies that life offers, indicating that fortune and materialism obscured the elements that were truly important. Subtly depicted through the occasional emotional fragility that exudes from their soulless glares when reflecting on vital aspects that have now been relinquished, particularly Veronica when watching her son's video tapes. A gentle exposed weakness to their unlikeable personas.

Tukel however comfortably implements a political critique on the post-9/11 Middle Eastern war, emphasising the corrosive behaviour of middle-class society profiting off of the war. Veronica's husband implementing expensive defence systems and Ashley's sanguinary artwork rampantly becoming popular due to the visceral resemblance of the current brutality. Both exploiting the war on terror for financial stability. Tukel, whose screenplay explicitly references the '16 electoral candidates as deciduous trees and subsequently comments on their personalities (with Trump being "an idiot"), makes his political agenda obvious through not-so-subtle remarks. Whilst understandably agreeable, it does diminish the semi-satirical nature of his dialogue, which for the most part, was intelligently written.

Unfortunately these subtextual layers cannot masquerade the repetitive nature of Tukel's cartoonish plot, relying on a continuous "Family Guy" inspired punch up to traverse the eventual predictability. The first fist fight on the stairwell certainly exerted a violent presence, with the blatant theatrical punches and kicks garnering a level of sophisticated entertainment (ignoring the same "hit" sound effect for every altercation). When the second fight commences in the gallery, the inevitable predictability seeps into the cracks. Finally concluding of the elongated climactic brawl, which undoubtedly felt endless, and the humour behind these monotonously exaggerated punches had dissipated. It's a one-joke feature, that is copied and pasted three times.

Regardless of Oh and Heche's extraordinarily versatile performances, their characters were detached and enthusiastically unlikeable. Understandably, that's the film's purpose. However it indisputably produces a dense barrier around these individuals, consequently weakening the raw emotional elements. Aside from Veronica's son and Ashley's assistant to a degree, nearly every character was detestable. Silverstone as Ashley's lover, realising the manifestation of nightmarish parental preparation by remarking on Wi-Fi as a catalyst for mental deficiency, was unappealing. Veronica's husband was obnoxiously rude. As was the comatose doctor. As was the nurse. Whilst they all churn out fantastic performances, it overwhelmed the satire to an absurd magnitude.

Underneath the general hostility and hyperbolically mean-spirited characters though, Catfight does perform several narrative high-kicks that connect from a contextual perspective. Tukel's dark humour and the ever-changing central performances unquestionably supplies three rounds of swift entertainment, taking jabs at poisonous privilege. Unfortunately the repetitious structure and heavy-handed politics prevent Catfight from being a true knockout.

Hail Satan?
(2019)

Hail Satan fiendishly chronicles the establishment and growth of a contemporary ideology searching for national pluralism.
Who or what is Satan? Decades of media representation, including film, television and illustrations, perpetuate the "demonic prince of evil spirits" to be the villainous archetype within religious foundations, primarily denominations of Christianity. The antithesis of God's teachings. From a traditional perspective however, the etymology behind Satan derives from the Bible, the very passage of text that Christianity was founded upon. A fallen angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven, becoming an adversary in the process. An opposite. An entity that challenged God and his ideologies. Given the naivety and susceptibility of modern societies, the core original depiction of Satan's creation and dogma was, ironically, casted out and instead opted for the the crimson red horned demonic villain that epitomised the sins of humanity.

But forget about the religious pretext. God versus Satan? Let's ignore that. Many countries in the world are fortunate enough to have religious freedom. Pluralism. The ability to believe in a religion that does not conform to the national faith. Secularity. The United States believed its constitutional rights were founded upon Christian commandments, which is factually incorrect, and therefore the state has endorsed the privilege of the Christian right. Christian theocracy slowly relinquishing the power of democracy and transforming its freedom into the tyranny of totalitarianism. The Satanic Temple, the organisation that director Lane follows for her documentary, recognise this as a fundamental declination in societal power. Their primary motive is not to "rape and murder children" or "drink the fresh blood of humans", as the media might suggest. No. To follow modern Satanism is to preserve the separation of church and state. To embrace equality. To reassure freethinkers. What initially was conceived as a practical joke, harnessing the rebellious nature of its members to produce mischievous humour (such as enabling same-sex couples to kiss over the gravestone of the founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church), soon became a religious movement. A battle for social justice. Thousands joining a civic crusade, enclasping the iconography of Baphomet.

Given my personal preconceived notions regarding the codification of Satanism, which undoubtedly conformed to devout Christian society's general consensus, Lane's documentary unequivocally changed my perspective on, well, everything. Through an intelligently constructed narrative, that chronicles the conceptualisation and progression of such political activism, and humane method of granting her interviewees, members of the Temple, characterisation through light-hearted conversations, Lane successfully conveys their motives whilst challenging the current state. A broad documentary tackling the foundational roots of the American constitution, the widespread view of "Satanic panic" (laughably angering now considering the uncovering of Catholic priests molesting children), the arduous battle for pluralism against a theocratic state and the inner workings of the Temple itself.

The wide scope of related strands connecting the organisation to the viewer, is regrettably too extensive for such a short runtime. Some elements, notably the sociopolitical duels and the blatant propagandistic history behind the American constitution, were highly engaging due to the meticulous usage of consequential footage and proposed narrational social perturbation. Others, such as a Temple member inciting extremist behaviour to skew the organisation's non-violent methodologies and the declaration of the "Seven Satanic Tenets" (undoubtedly a superior modernisation of the Ten Commandments), were underdeveloped and diminished the longevity of the more captivating aspects. Lane incorporates a swift pace that moves every strand along briskly which, as mentioned above, is unable to substantiate the more menial interruptions.

Regardless, Lane has accomplished the near impossible. To pragmatically allow an organisation to promote egalitarianism, the jurisprudential concept of Disestablishmentarianism within the US and to invoke social justice. By giving co-founder Lucien Greaves (pseudonym for safety precautions) a platform, Lane has granted him and his benevolent organisation an opportunity for their articulate voices to be heard. Whilst the documentary itself may be uneven, the ideology remains intact. A freedom that, today, seems more apt than ever. And with that, there's only thing left to say. "Hail Satan!".

The Lighthouse
(2019)

The Lighthouse shines a mythologically surreal light of dread upon its sluggishly repetitious narrative.
"Should pale death with treble dread - Make the ocean caves our bed. God who hear'st the surges roll - Deign to save our supplicant soul". Nineteenth Century, New England. An isolated rock shrouded in flocks of seagulls. A towering lighthouse illuminating the blustery skies with its empowering glow, its bellowing horn echoing through the torrential rainfall. Waves crashing upon its jagged coastline. An elderly lighthouse keeper and his recent "wickie" recruit surmount the population of this desolated landmass. Two strapping male individuals on a power struggling journey for command and control. "HAAARK!", squawks keeper Wake amidst a drunken argument with his protegee Winslow. "Let Neptune strike ye dead Winslow! Bellow, bid our father the Sea King rise from the depths full fowl in his fury!", damning a gradually crazed Winslow to a superstitious death that sees "the souls of dead sailors to peck and claw and feed upon only to be lapped up and swallowed by the infinite waters of the Dread Emperor himself", after savaging a seagull, mythical for a soul of a lost sailor, during his morning duties. Invoking the ancient Promethean myth of Prometheus himself, creating humanity with clay. The prophetic ocean God who served Poseidon, Proteus, manifesting within Wake's condemnatory speeches. Man versus deity. The ultimate struggle for power. Winslow's increasingly maniacal stance, yearning to feast his eyes upon the light of the erect tower that Wake secludes from him, rampantly overwhelms with each night of alcoholic consumption. The mind melting to insanity amidst the claustrophobic extremity of desolation. Producing intimacy, jubilation and commination.

Eggers' surreal horror is a fierce contemporary mythological insight into homoeroticism. Exploring the idealisms of man, supplying toxic masculinity upon the poisoned water supply that drives Winslow to alcohol. Uncovering the complexities of human nature and sexuality through meticulously orchestrated conversations that fluctuate in enragement. "Boredom. Eviler than the devil. Makes men to villains". Indicative to the gradual embracing of immoral homosexuality, given the archaic century, that is bestowed upon these two individuals. Two morally ambiguous men, segregated from society, in constant contact with each other. Winslow especially, sexually repressed as he practices onanism with the visualisations of a siren conjured in his mind from an ornate sculpture. A duel for dominance, where one must accede to submission. Physically beating each other into capitulation, iconising foreplay.

The homoeroticism sprouting from Eggers' nautical screenplay of Gods and monsters, coincides with the power struggle that encapsulates these two men into primitive beings. Desiring control over one and other. The striking visceral imagery, particularly the composited shot of Wake and Winslow adapting Schneider's artwork 'Hypnosis', known for its queer interpretations, assisting in unearthing the mythic roots of the screenplay. From a psychological perspective, the subdued terror incites an Oedipal fixation from Winslow's viewpoint. Both fearing and worshipping Wake as, not just a deity figure, but a fathering dynamic. Consequently causing Winslow to rampantly act like a child during heated conversations, often resorting to physical altercations.

Fortunately, the sizeable performances from both Pattinson and Dafoe establish these thematic interpretations, in what are undoubtedly career-best roles. The hurricane force at which Dafoe exerts, is nothing short of behemothic power. A titan amongst men. From the nautical dialect to the ferocity of his line delivery. Simply unmatched. Pattinson nearly equaled his dominant ability, with only a wobbly accent and occasional mumble diluting the clarity of his dialogue. The eventual turning point and climactic distorted screams highlighting the subdued acting style that he has polished over the years, truly aiming for acclaim. Eggers' choice for a narrowed aspect ratio and orthochromatic aesthetic accentuates the photography of its time period, whilst symbolising the repressed nature of its characters. Equipped with meticulously implemented lighting and ornate production design, The Lighthouse truly was an exceptional masterclass is technical filmmaking.

Alas, the tidal voyage of this surreal psychological horror was too curvaceous for its own good. A problem was bound to arise, and so it did. Much like his narrative pacing in 'The VVitch', Eggers offers a sluggish motion to allow each detail to "strike ye down". Unfortunately, the repetitious structure of Winslow completing his laborious duties with limited escalation in dread for the first hour, exemplified the very issue at the core of his films. They're too slow, with limited development from a characterised and thematic perspective. The Promethean mythology, homoeroticism and dynamic power struggle were only established after Winslow inevitably bashed that one-eyed seagull in. The preceding first act provided insubstantial information other than the remoteness of the lighthouse and Winslow's recurring duties as a "wickie". Essentially withholding integral enlightenment until the halfway mark. As a consequence, Eggers was unable to produce the underlying vibe of dread that exquisitely powered the third act. Opting for a simple dramatic approach, albeit with minimised drama thanks to superfluous character development, rather than immediately entrancing with its eventual surrealistic integration. Undeniably sumptuous to glance at, but ultimately vacuous with its monotonous approach.

Much like my apprehension with 'The VVitch', a feature that personally felt disconnected upon first viewing, The Lighthouse will more than likely illuminate with future watches. A surreal voyage into the homoerotic interpretations of ancient mythology. The accentuation of differentiating dominance with submission. Eggers once again possesses exceptional talent to implement an exquisitely audacious horror, bolstered by two sterling performances, that regrettably takes too long to set sail for the powerfully inclined sea.

Before I Go to Sleep
(2014)

Before I Go To Sleep prevents narcolepsy yet succumbs to the forgettable deficiency of an amnesiac.
Domestic thrillers, much like memories, could last an eternity or a short-term duration amongst the saturation of its genre. Particular scenes, images or performances could always assist in refreshing one's mind, cementing an ornate memorability in the process. Much like Christine whom, after an anonymous brutal attack, suffers from amnesia to which her memories reset whenever she sleeps. Waking up everyday with a rebooted mind. She, with the assistance of a neuropsychologist, records footage of her previous day with a digital camera she hides from her husband so that, when she wakes up, she can acknowledge her current stance and previous life. Attempting to recall the attack, someone is secluding the truth from her as she swiftly learns to trust nobody, including a devoted husband and doctor.

Joffé's psychological mystery, based on Watson's novel of the same name, is a clinically serviceable thriller that regrettably succumbs to genre clichés. This is not the first thriller to confront amnesia, with Nolan's innovative 'Memento' raising the benchmark to stratospheric heights. However, whilst the aforementioned feature hosted a fragmented narrative structure, Joffé settled for a straightforward linear approach, certainly enhancing the accessibility of its mystery without the requirement of a notebook and/or advanced IQ brain. It enables the leading performances to control the story and, most importantly, keep viewers awake. Firth and Strong remain as dependable as ever, supplying meticulously engineered performances that insert doubt into the audience's assertions, the former especially exuding an impartial menace. Kidman, despite her occasional monotone facial reactions to certain scenarios, takes control of the plot and depicts a fragile yet determined woman whom has to battle her condition and the lies of individuals surrounding her.

The problem unfortunately is nestled within Joffé's screenplay. Aside from the few contradictory statements regarding Christine's diagnosis, and convenient moments of remembrance despite the fact she's been tainted with this deficit for various years, Joffé succumbs to the narrative trap of reinforcing a facade. The double bluff. He expends much of the runtime implementing a crazed diversion through the character of Christine, masquerading the obviously inevitable plot twist. The first two thirds, notwithstanding the fast pace and functional technical elements, revolved around Christine and the possibility that her fractured mind is forcing her to doubt herself and others. Offering the idea that she is mentally unstable and that everyone is telling the truth. The issue being that, considering its genre, we know that's not the case and so therefore that third act reveal loses all of its proposed impact due to dancing around of its revelatory nature. Consequently the climactic third is rushed, expositional and lacks any emotional significance.

This is the type of domestic thriller that would be more efficient as a limited television series. Its narrative substance is too menial and derivative for the restrictions of a feature film and is absent of cinematic edge. However, the final product is a serviceable mystery with three confidently dependable performances that manage to captivate for the most part. Although, rather ironically, you won't remember it the next day.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate
(2019)

The Haunting of Sharon Tate exploitatively genericises a gruesome tragedy for an abysmally immoral horror.
Nope. This review is finished. Not sure where to go from here in all honesty. There are bad horrors that exist in the planes of our reality. And then there are tasteless abominations that exploit a tragic event to conjure some cheap jump scares and woeful performances. Farrands' feature may just be the pinnacle of the latter category. The Manson Family murders of Tate and four other individuals have been thoroughly documented in film and TV, highlighting the tragic sensitivity of such a subject matter.

This horror based on the events of '69, merged fictional strands of premonitions and foreboding foreshadowing to offer a proposed existential reality that had Tate question her "fateful path with destiny". So not only were the gruesome murder re-enacted, with inconsequential jump scares, visualised blood and howling screams embedded for good measure, but Farrands' screenplay boasts the audacity to sensationalise the event and propose the concept that Tate succumbed to her premonitions as it was "her destiny". Nope! Nope nope nope! Someone hold my carton of zero sugar apple juice, need to get this off my chest!

Never mind the commencement of the film with an ostentatious quote from Allen Poe that seeks to outline the "dream within a dream" concept, and forget about the interweaving of archival footage of Tate herself (which has now tainted her filmography). The sheer insensitive approach and exploitative nature of the whole ordeal forces you to question the entire purpose of this horror. Yet fundamentally shroud its atrociousness with a lack of purpose. Why? Why did these grisly murders need to be replicated, fictionalised to a degree and seemingly hopeful? Is it rhetorical? A opportunistic window if Tate and her peers were actually able to overcome their murderers? The characters are naturally subconsciously distant from the viewers given everybody's knowledge of their tragic fates, therefore relinquishing all sense of fear. Granting Tate visions of her imminent death is an absolutely pointless gimmick that, again, relinquishes the impact of the inevitable murder. It just...it just...urgh. It doesn't matter. It seriously doesn't matter! Every scene leaves a horrible taste in one's mouth. As if licking the super salty sweat off of Lizzie McGuire's forehead. And speaking of dreadful characters, Hilary Duff portrays the titular victim. Duff is up the duff and (forgive me) her performance is guff. Not only does she not resemble Tate, but has the acting capabilities of a prosthetic baby bump. Who knows what that means!

Supporting cast members were weak. The script was beyond salvageable. Farrands' direction non-sensical. And, last but not least, that "surprise" ending forced me to face-palm my forehead so hard, it is now bruised. How. Frickin'. Stupid. So thanks Farrands. Thanks for exploiting a brutal murder and sensationalising it into a tasteless, insensitive and immoral disposable horror. Thanks for nearly inducing me into an early sleep. And thanks for bruising my face. Burn this film. Immediately.

Zombeavers
(2014)

Zombeavers was damned of any originality despite its gnawingly bovine title.
Zombie beavers. No, not slang for the female genitalia (although the film predictably makes a joke or two regarding that), but the large semi-aquatic rodent that yearns to build wooded dams during the innocence of night. Showered in toxic chemicals from an accidental spilling, these beavers suddenly become, well, not mutated by the hazardous particulates, but instead zombies. Manically gnawing their way through telephone wires to cease communicative abilities, wooded floorings of cabins and even limbs. Suffice to say, "zombeavers" are pesky rodents indeed. So when six unlikeable teenagers, comprising of three couples whom "bang" out their hardships (if you catch my driftwood...) stay at a lakeside cabin for the weekend, bloodshed is bound to occur from those nibbling critters.

Rubin's horror comedy, despite the obvious hairy nature of its title, is absent of ingenious originality, merely imitating several "mutated" creature features that preceded this viral film. 'Eight Legged Freaks', 'Black Sheep' and, rather reservedly, 'Birdemic: Shock and Terror'. Admittedly that last entry is an abomination that makes zombie beavers idyllic pets, yet it justifiably illustrates the commonality of such (un)natural horror films. Zombeavers seemingly focusses more on the sexual lust of its despicably unappealing characters than the zombified hand puppets themselves, continuously arguing over loss of phone signal instead of meeting their grisly demise. The Kaplans' script believes itself to be an intellectually self-aware parody, but ultimately comes across as conceited. Primarily opting for moans and screams of orgasms instead of horror. "Yeeting" beavers out of the porch window and shouting "they're rabid" doesn't exactly exude humour. Neither does throwing an adorable dog in the lake, offering it as a sacrifice to the beavers to provide distraction. Not cool.

The grade of practical effects were, to say the least, expected. Complacent hand puppets that emanate growls resembling the sound of Mr. Krabs' laugh from 'Spongebob Squarepants'. Y'know the one. "Ah-gah-gah-gah!". Sure, they're supposed to be funny, but an ounce of menace could've gone a long way in this snooze-fest. The acting was mediocre. Character deaths were uninspired, aside from the biting of a certain ding-a-ling. The introductory credit sequence was obnoxiously ostentatious. And the credit theme song tried to imitate 'The Blob'! How dare they! Oh, and in typically zombie-fashion, what happens when one zombie scratches or bites another creature? You guessed it. Zombie human-beaver hybrid. Incisors, possessed eyes and tail included. Heck, one of the girls was "dropping like it's hot" against a door to continuously bang the floor with her tail. Work those thighs, gurl! She got beavered!

Ahem. So, yeah. Zombeavers. Is it the new 'Sharknado'? Hopefully not. But atleast Rubin opted for practical effects over shoddy SyFy visuals. Shame that the originality of its title is the only element that boasts an inch of individualism. Everything else? Just not funny.

The Children's Hour
(1961)

The Children's Hour adorns the innocence of youth to manipulate the mature through increasingly captivating fabrications.
The Wright-Dobie School for Girls, a private school operated by mutual friends and former classmates Karen and Martha. A secluded establishment of education where youthful female individuals are raised to become proficiently independent women against the masculinity of 60s America. Elocution above all else. The limited teaching space and claustrophobic educational methods inciting wealthy families to send their spoiled conniving children to this particular abode. One such child is Mary, an overindulged bully whom supplies fabrications to wriggle her way out of trouble. After being uncovered, she is consequently punished through the removal of her privileges. Enraged, she rampantly returns home to her grandmother and eagerly twists a rumour that accuses school owners Karen and Martha as lesbian lovers, despite the former being engaged to a reputable obstetrician. The grandmother's lavished influence tarnishes the school's reputation, ultimately obliterating the lives of two innocent individuals whom have apparently participated in the ultimate sin of homosexuality.

Wyler's second dramatic adaptation of Hellman's '34 Broadway production, in which the slightest mention of homosexuality on stage was deemed illegal at the time, granted the director an opportunity to fully embellish the central fabricated love story. His first adaptation, '36's 'These Three', was forced to alter the lie to revolve around adultery instead of homosexuality, given the Hays Code would never permit lesbianism on screen. Fortunately the freedom of speech in art had been liberalised, allowing screenwriter Hayes to restore the original intent of the falsehood. Despite various scenes being cut, with Wyler concerned about the critical reaction, the bulk of the alleged homosexuality and the resulting societal abandonment were captured beautifully with adequate sensitivity regarding the subject matter. The primary focus of Hellman's story is the unlimited capabilities that children have over adults. Their divine irreproachable conduct transforming them as conduits for false allegations, with the tainted parents unable to withdraw their stance. One menial lie has the omnipotence to devastate others. Children are unable to see the repercussions of such actions, enlisting a sensitively dangerous aura. Hayes undoubtedly convinces, with Balkin's ostentatious exaggerative stares swiftly manipulating all those who stare back. Her virginal persona perfectly inducing agitation when predicting the inevitable consequences of her actions.

Yet beneath the manipulative fabrications is a tale that corresponds to societal segregation. The incredulity of homosexuality, despite being just allegations, and how devout Christian suburban communities are meteoric to neglect such sexual orientation. A perpetuation of reality. Hayes, boasting the plot with intoxicating dialogue exchanges that manifests power amongst the powerless, clearly understood this LGBT issue by offering a palpably emotional third act that attempts to allow assured heterosexuality to dissuade homosexual postulations. Yet, the alleged sexual orientation was never discussed amongst the cast and crew. Almost as forbidden in reality as it was theatrically, evidently a poignant significance in LGBT cinema.

The outstanding performances from both Hepburn and MacLaine bring forth substantial depth to the pivotal chemistry of the leading characters. The former sensitively projecting emotional fragility beneath her posture of elegance, but it's the latter's performance equaling that by vocally commanding every scene with the rich ferocity of a hurricane. What a performance! Incredible. The two complement each other extraordinarily, preventing this feature from falling into the realms of melodrama.

Wyler's direction significantly imitates a stage production, with actor and set positions resembling a clinical aesthetic. Such as MacLaine or Hepburn effortlessly turning away when their dialogue had been completed, or Planer's static cinematography encompassing all actors in the same frame without experimenting with motion. For that, it does lose a cinematic quality that would've enhanced the muted drama had it been less rehearsed and more personable. The courtroom scenario would also have been a substantial addition to the story, offering a required completeness.

The Children's Hour's technicalities may be somewhat stilted, however the societal issues beings raised, that of LGBT dissociation and the fostering of narcissism through youthful fabrications, create pivotal moments of drama that operate concurrently. Accompanied by outstandingly emotive performances and a screenplay that seamlessly connects these characters, Wyler's second adaptation provides much scintillating justice for the true nature of Hellman's source material. "We've cleaned your house".

Eshtebak
(2016)

Clash claustrophobically confines the convulsions of Egyptian revolution, yet unable to accelerate its policing vehicle.
The Egyptian coup d'état of '13 was one of the most significant religious political uprisings of modern history. The ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist and affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, was a result of hardened protests between pro-Morsi supporters and the Egyptian army, which also included oppositional demonstrators such as liberals, secularists and devout Christians. It was religious sociopolitical warfare. Egypt no longer an idyllic destination for mass tourism, but a battleground that transformed peaceful demonstrations into ideological clashes. Dozens were killed. With many perceiving Morsi's constitutional declarations as totalitarianism.

Diab's internationally co-produced dramatic endeavour condenses the root of terrorism and human condition into the metallic confinements of a police van, containing members of both supporting groups and other neutral individuals. A microcosm for the fight many civilians participated in, specifically the Egyptian revolution of '11, and its eventual fall. Set during the aftermath of Morsi's ousting, the societal unrest of Cairo resulted in casualties. Religiously and politically neutral souls were caught in a clash powered by such surges of indoctrination.

Diab, also presenting the depiction from a neutral standpoint, seeks to illustrate the escalation in chaos through supposed order. The sensitive subject of police brutality and its legality. The fluctuating resentment and theological understanding for both supporting groups, particularly when survival is at stake or abiding by muslim principles. The disturbing usage of violence to obtain peace. The claustrophobic environment of the policing vehicle, enhanced severely by Gabr's close and personal cinematography, ascertains the historic prevalence of these protests and the societal degradation that follows. Diab, whom never removes the camera from the confinements of the van, creates an explicitly visceral microcosm for revolution and its often questionable approach. Commencing and concluding his feature with cruel thrills that mourn the desolation for Cairo's civilisation. With the sole half-American character being the first detained individual, Diab also thematically incites the apparent exaggerated media representation from Western nations. Locking their fabrications with modern Egyptian society.

Regrettably, after a promising start, Diab stops accelerating the tension. The police van halts. Its prisoners sweltering in the humidity of urban Cairo, obtaining minimal characterisation and background politics. Despite the fluctuating argumentative behaviours of these individuals, Clash unfortunately felt restrained. Almost frightened to fully illustrate the disturbing cruelty of these mass clashes. The entirety of the second third was repetitious in structure, relying on brute characterisation that was not to be found for the vast majority of characters. Two friends arguing over one of their sisters. A homeless man reminiscing over his recently deceased dog. An actor/singer entertaining the detainees. These provide human distractions from the societal picture, harnessing a forced injection for the sake of emotive connectivity. Karim's feisty performance granted her much screen time, but coincidentally that could've been as a result of her being the sole female force of empowerment.

In spite of Diab's neutrality, the expositional background description of the current political climate regarding Morsi did not establish enough substance to generate motives for the two opposing groups. More often than not, characters were shrouded in vagueness. A consequence of this, is that none of them were actually investable. So when the inevitable supposedly heart-wrenching ending clash commences, the fates of these individuals felt inconsequential. Whilst that may portray an accurate reflection of modern Egypt, it doesn't necessarily create a fully enticing feature.

Clash is a politically-charged conceptual film. A deliberately original experience that captivated through its microcosmic portrait of a segregated Egypt. Unfortunately, Diab just didn't fully accelerate its triumphant portrayal to maximum velocity, often leaving its inconsistent pacing in neutral. Focusing on menial characterised arguments rather than the bigger picture.

Gisaengchung
(2019)

Parasite leeches onto societal dissociation to create a thrillingly hilarious satire on capitalism.
"Rich people are naive. No resentments. No creases on them.". "It all gets ironed out. Money is an iron. Those creases all get smoothed out by money.". The Kim family, residing in the secluded darkness of a semi-underground basement apartment, acquire limited income. Jaggedly folding pizza boxes for an independent takeaway chain, with the already low-paying income reduced as a consequence of poor workmanship. They, much like the bottom-feeders of South Korea's working class division, struggle to survive. Consuming rotting food. Hijacking neighbouring paid Wi-Fi services. Residing in potentially diseased sub-urban streets. Ultimately aspiring to achieve the lofty heights of upper-class formalities. Conceptualising the popularised term "Hell Joseon", a critique on the current socioeconomic declining trajectory of South Korea. As the Kims tucked into their minimised dinner, son Ki-woo's university friend gifts the family a scholar's rock. Traditionally granting the bearer a promise of wealth. Swiftly after, he offers a proposition to Ki-woo. To continue his vocation as an English tutor for the elegant daughter of a wealthy family, the Parks. Ki-woo ponders, fabricating a plan that would seize this opportunity for beneficial gain. A chance to relish in the opposing scale of unequalised capitalism. After a successful lesson, Ki-woo insists his awareness for an art therapy teacher at the behest of the gullible Choi Yeon-gyo for her son. Ki-woo, unbeknown to the Parks, invites his sister Ki-jung to provide these lessons. Gradually, the Kim family, one-by-one, assimilate themselves into the lives of the Park family, pretending to be unrelated. The poor draining the wealth and opportunism from the rich.

Before tackling this critically lauded feature, which has now grown to be one of the highest-rated productions of all-time in such an inconsequential amount of time, the black humour of director Joon-ho's filmography acted as preparation for what was to be expected. Providing critiques on sociopolitical endeavours that overburden an OECD nation. Predictably, yet efficiently, Joon-ho's darkly comedic satire on class conflict manages to succinctly tackle the enragement of allocated resources that supplies social inequality and wealth disparity through the microcosmic insight of two opposing families. Not just in prosperity or affluence, but in temperament. A reflection of late-stage capitalism where the enticingly inviting wealthy superfluously ignore the difficulties of life for the remaining population. Youth unemployment at the expense of extortionate higher education fees. Affordability for shelter and essential food items rapidly dissipating along with the lower class. The Kims perpetuate these foreboding crises, utilising fraudulent and forgery crimes to attain the standard of living that many aspire to achieve. Yet, beneath the sharply hilarious foundations of Joon-ho's screenplay, which confidently satirises the naivety and credulity of opulence whilst embedding thought-provoking themes of affirmative contemplation and economic disassociation, is a visceral vision of palpable colonialism.

The Parks original housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang imitating North Korea's dictatorial leader, whom openly yearns to invade South Korea, mimicking the voice and mannerisms of a propagandist news reporter. Before engaging in a fight with the Kims for social dominance, a microcosm for the poor fighting the poor. The Parks' son, Da-song, frolicking in the freshly sprinkled garden in an "Indian" outfit, memorialising colonial occupation. Whilst these are included as surface-level replications, the contextual substance beneath these depictions hark back to the economic order of capitalism. The poor decline, and the rich rise. The latter viewing the former as parasitical microbes feeding off of their principled success. Staircases acting as prominent motifs to accentuate economic disparity, with Kyung-pyo's clinically precise cinematography emphasising their thematic purpose through extensive shots from banished basements and luxurious lounges.

Coincidentally, Joon-ho intelligently avoids assigning protagonists, rather viewing the perspectives of both social classes as unethical divisions of society, with the "upstairs/downstairs" ideology implying this viewpoint. Each cast member supplying bountiful amounts of energy and deliverance in depicting the social divide. Kang-ho and Yeo-jeong especially, with their eccentric portrayals of two parents from each end of the divide. The onscreen chemistry between Woo-shik and So-dam also enhanced the close familial bonds within the Kim family, working as a crime syndicate rather than individuals.

Every technicality and thematic endeavour was on course for perfection. From Jae-il's orchestral score to Jin-mo's precise editing. All Joon-ho had to do, to truly finish with finesse, was solidify a resonant conclusion. For a moment, with Ki-taek rampantly abandoning Da-song's birthday party, he did. Fade to black. A statement on everything that was depicted previously was conceptualised in these final moments. Perfection! Alas, the feature resumed, and it kept going. The aftermath of the party, narration included, and the proceeding weeks unfortunately quelled the outstanding momentum that preceded the lavishly wrapped conclusion. In spite of the proposed incalculable unlikelihood of the climactic fantasy scenario, heavily inferring the inescapable boundaries of the proposed "coup de grace" for a particular individual, it was too immaculate. Heavy-handedly providing implications in a film that astoundingly dealt with nuanced subtextual thematic representations.

However, despite the agitated reservations for Joon-ho's embellished ending, Parasite is a dramatic journey that is boundless in scope. Seamlessly blending genres through prosperous performances and luxurious direction, Joon-ho fully realises the dual meaning behind the feature's title through sheer confidence. The poor infiltrating the wealthy, and the rich leeching off of the working-class' labour. Society is self-parasitical. No grand life plan will change that. "You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all".

The Look of Silence
(2014)

The Look of Silence magnifies the immorally glorified souls of those who slaughtered millions of innocent "communists".
"We'd drag them. Some of them screamed. 'Please, sir! Have mercy!' But we don't care. In fact, we beat him again to shut him up.". Two former death camp leaders proudly re-create the grisly scenes of the '65 purge of supposed "communists" under the instigation of the armed forces, which became widely known as the Indonesian Genocide. Documentarian Oppenheimer asks them an explicit question. "from here, can the prisoners see the blood?". "Yes, because the place was lit by torches.", they enthusiastically reply. "Because others went first. So he's given up hope. 'I'm about to die', he's thinking. 'I'd better accept it'", they describe the apparent thoughts of their victims before decapitating, mutilating and kicking their bodies into Snake River. "Feel free to take a photo!", passing a digital camera to Oppenheimer. They joyously pose atop the butchered souls of thousands, their blood stains infused with the earth they stand on. One of the killers hoists two fingers in the air, offering a peace sign, before proceeding with a thumbs up gesture.

Oppenheimer utilised this blood-curdling footage years later, by showing its profound horror to a middle-aged Indonesian man whose brother was an unfortunate victim of the national purge. Acknowledging the explicit nature of his country's past and yearning to learn more, he singlehandedly confronts the perpetrators who executed the killings with Oppenheimer documenting the anxiety-inducing conversations, under the pretence of an eye examination. Through the changing of lenses, this metaphorical dissimulation magnifies the retinas of "Adi's" brother's executors, allowing windows into their darkened souls to widen.

Predictably, much like with Oppenheimer's creatively profound companion piece 'The Act of Killing', these individuals expressed minimal remorse. Proud to serve their nation and glorify their political ideologies. However, the purpose of these bleak confrontations was not to agitate those that committed such atrocities, but to perpetuate a historic generational divide within Indonesia. The current generation educated with false truths to adhere to the current sociopolitical climate. "Communists gouged the eyes out of army generals", students are taught. Yet the truth couldn't be any further from that manipulative fabrication. Everyone seemingly forced into silence regarding the questioning of their own national history. Therefore, producing such an unflinching documentary that dares to question the morality and legitimacy behind one of the worst genocides in recent history, is of paramount importance. Not just to Indonesia, but every nation that endures tainted democracy. Inciting societies to educate themselves and not ignore the grave actions of their previous generation.

Oppenheimer challenges the boundaries of documentary filmmaking once again, crafting uncompromising perceptive enlightenment through one man. A man whom represented the nullified silence of those feared by their own government. A man whom fearlessly questioned the very individuals that shaped his current standard of living. Representing the suffering and fragility of an oppressed society. Understatedly profound, yet consistently unshakeable in nature. The inclusion of iridescent quietude, from expansive shots of village life to close-ups of metamorphosis, overemphasising the extinguished freedom of speech. Many of the confrontations delivering unwavering tyrannical sensibilities likening their ideologies to totalitarian repression, exhibiting minimal sorrow for the thousands they slaughtered. Conversations that rightly bury the words under the skin to those listening. Ranging from indirect threats such as "be careful, what you're doing may be deemed as communist behaviour" to Western influences including "America taught us how to hate communists". Undoubtedly disconcerting.

Reservations for the confrontation with "Adi's" uncle, whom was guarding "communists" before they were massacred, is the sole criticism this documentary obtains. Staged, exploitative and unnecessarily producing familial drama in a nation that is already fragmented and traumatised. Consequently Oppenheimer overstepped the line in that particular instance, despite "Adi's" insistence, creating an artificially uncomfortable atmosphere for the sake of drama.

However, whilst not creatively innovative as his former insight into the Indonesian Genocide, Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence unequivocally nullifies all emotive output, perhaps more so that his previous directorial efforts. It is unflinching. It is uncompromising. It is of paramount significance. We need boundary-testing documentaries like this to truly provide insight and to evoke human right activism. To microscopically magnify the actions of humanity's past and ensure they never happen again. "That's politics. Politics is the process of achieving your ideals", the former commander of civilian militia joyously states with a grimace. "In many ways...".

Circus of Books
(2019)

Circus of Books opens its store doors to moving LGBT culture, history and rights.
8230 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles. A bookstore aptly named "Book Circus" established its existence until '82 when the owner was experiencing financial difficulties. A entrepreneurial couple, Barry a former special effects engineer for Kubrick's masterpiece '2001: A Space Odyssey' and general inventor, and Karen a former journalist, seized the opportunity to expand their distribution rights for Flynt's 'Hustlers' by owning a shop. A magazine aimed towards capitalising on the adult entertainment industry. So, what did they stock in this store that they aptly renamed to "Circus of Books" that warranted a documentary? Well, hardcore gay pornography comprising of paperbacks (and barebacks *cough*), "used" DVDs and sexually explicit toys (hopefully not "used"...). But there are plenty of adult bookstores littered around the world, what makes this one so important? Well, imagine commencing your business venture in the 80s when the AIDS crisis occurred, Reagan's administration cracked down on materials of obscenity and religiously conservative communities ordered your store to close. All of this, in the heart of Los Angeles. The core of LGBT culture.

Rachel Mason's documentary, the daughter of store owners Barry and Karen, chronicles the history of "Circus of Books" whilst embedding tidbits of LGBT history throughout and how they affected the business. Essentially highlighting the cultural significance one book store has had on a city's subculture that manifested into a national widespread of love. The AIDS crisis regrettably inflicting its terminal afflictions upon employees, with both Barry and Karen melancholically reminiscing of their absence. The Reagan administration prosecuting the couple after an FBI sting operation that trapped them into transporting obscene material, challenging the First Amendment in the process. Culminating in a critique on the Internet era and how online gay pornography and cruising applications have since made reading materials obsolete, plummeting the shop's sales substantially.

Whilst these historical depictions were all too brief and shallow, despite their apparent inclusion to the store's significant legacy, the real bulk of the emotional connectivity that Rachel provides is through an earnest portrait of her parents. Her pertinacious devout Jewish mother coming to terms with her son's eventual coming out, notwithstanding the fact she owns a store primarily targeted towards the gay community. And her endearing father that has an incalculable amount of optimism and goodness within his heart. Both, deep down, were unfazed by the homosexuality that they gloriously brought to life. To them, it was just a business. And there is an honest endearment shrouding that notion that make them such wonderful human beings, with Rachel's focus being on their familial connections. To a point where their story often felt moving, more so due to my own sexuality.

As a documentary though, it's fairly predictable in terms of its structure. Interview with family members and past employees, including legendary drag queen Alaska, attempt to focus the attention on the shop itself. For the most part this is successful, until the third act which transitions into LGBT activism. No inherent issues, however Rachel broadens her scope to tackle everything LGBT history and culture has to offer, instead of narrowing the narrative down to a specific entity or event. Consequently, the documentary resembles a brief thin history lesson from the perspective of a controversial bookstore, as opposed to grasping the true significance this shop had on L.A. gay culture. Also her insincerity, obviously unintentional, peeped through when discussing adult actors whom had died from contracting AIDS. Her slouched body language and nonchalant interest irked me.

Still, if one can see pass the formulaic structure this documentary is built upon, then an emotionally involving offering will be showcased. Its strongest assets aimed towards its familial bonds, rather than tackling the modern history of LGBT. Plus, it's not everyday you see an old woman attempt to find a "non-penetrative white gay porno" in a stack of DVDs...

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
(2019)

Maleficent Mistress of Evil lethargically flies away to Pandora 2.0 tasking Aurora with the narrative heavy-lifting.
With the first feature tackling the events of the animated classic's plot from the perspective of the supposedly antagonistic Maleficent, one would've anticipated a closed ending so that Disney could move onto tarnishing their other intellectual properties. However, with so much dollar being made, an inevitably unnecessary sequel was bound to be commissioned. Enter "Mistress of Evil", a sub-title that applies to literally none of the characters whatsoever. After Aurora was crowned Queen of the Moors, the now re-casted Prince Phillip proposes to her and somehow invites her and Maleficent, without verbally communicating his desire to them, to an intimate dinner with his royal parents King John and Queen Ingrith. Maleficent begrudgingly attends only to be accused of witchcraft when King John mysteriously succumbs to the same curse that Aurora was plagued with years ago. The Queen rages war against all things fairy whilst an injured Maleficent is rescued by other Dark Feys, as her species plot a retaliation against the humans. Thus consequently bestowing a war across the kingdoms.

Rønning, responsible for the latest forced instalment of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise, unabashedly equips the same forced narrative pulling for this unnecessary sequel. The plot, stretched to nearly two hours, gradually subsides from weak character-driven fantasy to mighty generic world-building again, just to showcase the artificial digitised fauna and flora that Lickspittle (no, not my safe word...), a de-winged pixie forced to produce red powder through alchemy that disintegrates fairies, becomes fascinated with. Whilst the ambitious fantastical creations are admirable and aesthetically pleasing, it's shrouded in surface level purpose and distracts from the titular character. For example, a hedgehog-like creature named Pinto (who resembles Sonic pre-media-uprising-change) seemingly garners more screen time by being trapped in a glass bottle than Maleficent does in the film's entirety. Exaggeration? Maybe. But if the film is to be called "Maleficent", make her the central character.

She seems tertiary in this sequel, with Jolie taking a mighty leap to the backseat position, leaving the other actors to carry the narrative without her impressively physical stance. Her penetrating cheek bones and chic costume design still exude elegance and power, yet her emotionality towards specific scenes was lacklustre to say the least. Whilst Maleficent is flying around the set of 'Avatar 2' with a guided tour, Fanning steps up to the plate and gives a much improved performance as Aurora. No longer is she the flat one-dimensional princess that allows her limitless beauty to perform the communication, but now a stupendously independent queen whom singlehandedly saved this sequel from being catastrophic. Pfeiffer as the supposedly antagonistic queen (because the "Mistress of Evil" is now in full protagonist mode) was delicious with her sinister self-righteous line delivery. Her thirst for power truly came through her wobbly British accent, despite the fact her plan shouldn't have worked considering the spindle from the original film was not cursed but instead Aurora, which also conveniently offered the princess convenient explanations as to whom inflicted the curse upon King John even though the curse had quite clearly dissipated after the eye-rolling maternal "true love" kiss moment from its predecessor. Which in turn allowed her to convince Prince Phillip that his mother is a murderous psychopath and instead subconsciously seek peace with the neighbouring kingdom. But, semantics.

Anyway, all this talk of war between the Dark Fey and humans soon surmounts to a climactic third act that thoroughly wipes out half of the population. No kidding! Magical denizens are sprinkled with red crimson powder, returning them to their natural dead state. Dark Feys vaporise into nothingness when contacting the aforementioned powder. Humans tumbling to their deaths from lofty heights. Sacrifice, rebirth and peaceful happiness once again. But who cares? None of these characters had any substantial development or whimsical motivation, particularly the barrage of newly introduced individuals, consequently providing no allegiance to either the humans or Dark Feys. Just excessive visual splendour for that needless extravagant third act.

Arguably entertaining, but borderline redundant. The same can be applied to the entirety of this sequel. Not necessarily the worst creation in Disney's live-action library, with some improvements sprinkled throughout, but certainly one that really didn't need to exist. A far cry from 'Sleeping Beauty' that should've just been called "Aurora"...

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