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Small Town Crime

Small Town Crime is a comfortable thriller that doesn't lack too much in any single area, but that overall, never pushes the boat out of the harbour
Small Town Crime tells the story of an alcoholic ex-cop who finds a young woman's body and commits himself to finding her killer.

It's not the most original premise, and neither is the plot, character development, or execution. And that's the first impression I got from this movie: that it didn't stray an inch from its genre's conventions. This doesn't necessarily connote a bad movie. Netflix's Stranger Things and Paco Plaza's Veronica are perfect examples of this. Unfortunately, Small Town Crime doesn't do the same for the hard-boiled crime genre.

It's an enjoyable experience, only one that you'll forget instantly. It's a popcorn flick, but not one with the eye-candy spectacle that accompanies a blockbuster budget. The plot develops in interesting, occasionally unpredictable ways. But rather than being edge-of-your-seat tension, you'll best enjoy this movie slumped back in an armchair. The acting was also good, but, don't expect it to win any awards. The the writing also holds any potential for relatable performances, particularly John Hawkes'. His unfulfilled potential and backstory cried out for more attention. Essentially, the movie presents a largely paint-by-numbers plot, which sadly forces characterisation into the backseat.

The second and third acts also rush through the plot, a little too unfocused. The script demanded a re-write if it hoped to deliver anything spectacular.

The Shape of Water

Sensational director Guillermo del Toro is back to his roots with The Shape of Water. And it's making a serious splash
Sensational director Guillermo del Toro is back to his roots with The Shape of Water. And it's making a serious splash.

The Shape of Water takes audiences back to the fairy-tale style of earlier movies. The story explores the relationship between mute cleaner Elsa and the creature at the government facility where she works. The premise and plot are a little bizarre, but comfortably so. The plot seems interwoven around some deeper message, as is the case with most of his movies. But there is no explicit social commentary. It is the audience's job to fill that gap.

The cold war backdrops The Shape of Water, but it never delves too deep into the background conflict. The cold war element of the movie serves more as a cinematic backdrop than a scathing social commentary, like in Pan's Labyrinth.

Del Toro uses a generous amount of tropes, especially regarding Michael Shannon's classic bad- guy role. But with the lighter tone, the movie is freer to explore other themes: love, unity, oneness. Or rather, we are freer to explore the themes within the film.

The Shape of Water is at heart a love story, although it feels abstracted enough as to be universally symbolic.

Neither the creature or Elsa can speak, and it is through this commonality that they transcend differences of species. And symbolically, other boundaries like race, class, gender, and sexuality. But it's difficult to entirely indulge in the symbolism when the couple grows more intimate with each other. Things get a little strange then, but it's all light-hearted.

The creature design was also the best we've seen yet from del Toro. He has always favoured physical costume design over post-production. The amphibian man is no different. He looks all the more real for his physical design. This feels homelier amidst the huge shift towards digital effects in modern cinema. There is still some digital effects, but they aren't noticeable. The amphibian man is of course played by long-time collaborator, Doug Jones, who plays nearly all of del Toro's monsters. His acting is impeccable, as is lead actress Sally Hawkins's.

The relationships between other characters is excellently written and performed. The one-sided dialogue between Elsa and every other character is surprisingly evocative. This puts all the more emphasis on Elsa and the amphibian man's relationship.

The colour scheme of the movie really sets it out visually. The vast majority of the sets are coloured entirely in varying shades of blue and green: a kind of teal. This reflects the coldness of the outside world, the coldness of water, and also the historical context.


In Veronica, Paco Plaza has another excellent contemporary horror movie under his belt: a reminder that great movies come from outside of Hollywood, too.
Paco Plaza took the horror genre by storm with the Rec. series (remade in English as Quarantine) and he's back to do it all over again with Veronica.

The plot is fairly generic for horror, and is based on a true story, which means nothing to anyone except the marketing team. But Veronica's success lies not in its originality but in its masterful execution. Foreign movies often miss out on the blockbuster budgets that their American counterparts are privileged with. But the producers have spared no expense with Veronica.

It's rare that movies are named after their protagonists. It would be easy to draw comparisons with Stephen King's Carrie, but there is a clear reason. Veronica is not a lens through which the story is viewed. She is the movie: her past, her fears, and her insecurities. The narrative delves deep into her character, not separately from the horror but within it. Another easy comparison to draw is with The Babadook. Veronica is not as focused, but it explores death in a more introspective way than most. Combined with more focalised cinematography, the central characterisation is second-to- none.

Characterisation aside, Veronica is still a horror movie, and it rarely strays from its genre conventions, which is fine. Originality isn't always good. There are excellent movies such as this, which excellently execute the tried and tested genre conventions. It's a clear trend, though so many ignore it, that deep, resonant narrative make more successful movies. This year's IT (see our review here) is a perfect example of this, breaking box office records.

Veronica nails the narrative expectations of modern horror.

At its core, Veronica is a story about a teenage girl who has lost her father. And with her mother working overtime, she struggles with the weight of the family on her own shoulders. The manifestations of horror within the movie emanate from this same source, which is what IT does. And which works incredibly well. Characterisation and terror inform each other. We relate to Veronica all the more for the horror she experiences. And conversely, the horror becomes more terrifying itself because we care about Veronica and understand her.

Veronica is the most cinematic horror movie to come from outside Hollywood.

The horror is in your face. Vivid and loud. Not only is the sound design incredible, but the music boasts an original mix of conventional eerie scoring and synthesised 80s soundtracks. The acting and writing are flawless. It's a thrilling, euphoric, and cathartic ride. The only thing I didn't care for was the whole 'true story' element. In particular, the movie already had a great ending, which was succeeded by another scene, which served only to emphasise the 'true story' aspect of the movie.

Review from Student Pages: https://www.studentpages.biz/veronica-review/

I Am Not a Witch

Overall, I am Not a Witch is a clever, funny, and provocative film which will linger with you long after its credits roll
I am Not a Witch is a hilarious and harrowing tale from one of the finest new voices.

I am Not a Witch is the debut film from Zambian-born director Rungano Nyoni. It tells the story of a young girl, Shula, accused of witchcraft after a trivial mishap. The phenomenon in Zambia relates not to a cackling Shakespearean witch, but a relatively innocuous kind. These witches change the weather, read minds, and would fly away if untethered. Purportedly. It is a ludicrous social construction used by selfish men to oppress women. Although the subject matter is alarming, the narrative mostly filters through the comedy of its absurdity. The humour is at times reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen's movies or Monty Python. It's probably the grandiose confidence of foolish characters. There is a moment where the whole judicial system is reduced to Shula's guess.

But a deeper meaning flutters behind the comedy, like the platform behind a racing train. Seen only in the flashes of space between the carriages. This movie certainly has a dark side. And the unexpected appearance of the cold reality almost grated against the lighthearted side. The dark truth appears every now and then like a needle scratched off a record. This is by no means a bad thing. It makes the glimpses of truth all the more impactful after you inevitably lose yourself in the comedy again. The reality behind the movie is no more forgiving once the credits roll, because it ends on one final needle scratch, and leaves you to digest the movie, and its relation to our modern world. There are obvious parallels between the African political system, or lack thereof, and the Trump Administration and post-truth media.

The deep truth underlying this movie needs to be heard.

The cinematography of I am Not a Witch is also excellent. The shots are very minimalist, giving a sense of realism and intimacy with the narrative, and there are dashes of creative flair, with lingering shots during the realist scenes.

Review from Student Pages: https://www.studentpages.biz/i-am-not-witch-review/

The Cured

The Cured is a tense, clever movie that asks a lot of questions about humanity. Not one you'll want to miss, if you're at all a fan of zombie movies, especially with an edge
A zombie movie like you've never seen before

The premise for The Cured is a post-apocalyptic world, in which seventy-five percent of an infected population are 'cured'. They return to their past selves, save for a little PTSD and social oppression. And herein lies the primary conflict of the movie. The subjugated cured rise up to take back power against an oppressive and unjust society. But the powers that be will do everything they can to stifle the tension.

The premise is an exciting and original hook, and after it reels you in, The Cured delivers in every way. An excellent social commentary-meets-horror-movie, it's a welcome breath of fresh air in a saturated genre.

The movie is set in Ireland. It stars local talent Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, and Stuart Graham, alongside Ellen Page. The acting is honest and engaging throughout from all of the main cast. Ellen Page is as good as you'd expect, following her trajectory from adolescent to maturer roles. I liked how she kept her native accent, rather than forcing an Irish one. Weaker accents hold back great performances, and Ellen Page's was unfettered.

The movie clearly doesn't have the budget of big blockbuster horror movies like World War Z. But this works in The Cured's favour. The narrative scale of the movie is limited. It explores a small group of characters, so we have more intimate time with the main cast. We are free to delve into their psyches and explore the human condition, instead of marvelling at an exciting but ultimately insubstantial all-out zombie spectacle. And despite its smaller budget, the production value holds up surprisingly well. With creative use of cinematography, the zombie scenes still pack a punch and their design renders them as terrifying as in big blockbuster movies.

Overall, The Cured is a tense, clever movie that asks a lot of questions about humanity. I wouldn't hold it in quite the esteem of 28 Days Later, but if you're at all a fan of zombie movies, especially with an edge, you'll want to catch this one.

Quality Time

Quality Time's title does not lie. It's a feel-good movie, which will leave a confused smile on your face when the credits roll
When you consider the quintessential film festival flick, Quality Time probably comprises all of your expectations.

The term experimental is an understatement, but would also suggest amateurism, which Quality Time certainly isn't. From its cinematography to its structure and semblance of narrative, Quality Time is probably unlike anything you've ever seen. I'm hesitant to call this a movie, but the feature- length experience shatters every expectation you have for films. Amidst the fragments, Quality Time offers new perspectives, which, although not particularly profound in themselves, linger with you nonetheless.

The film is split into five sections, each more absurd than the last. The first part presents only a blob on-screen to represent a person. This expands and contracts in sync with its voice. English subtitles also emanate from the blob to tell a bizarre story about him eating milk and ham at family gatherings: an ongoing joke. Clearly the writers chose to lead with the most abstract story, but don't expect the others to make any more sense.

The second, my personal favorite, is largely shot top-down, and whose spoken dialogue is replaced with text. This strips back all the natural reference points for relating to characters, and the colder trickle of personality leaves you unconsciously filling in the gaps. At one point during this segment, I convinced myself that the narrative was leading to a grand reveal or plot twist, but this suggestion was only ever that.

The remaining sections use more conventional cinematography, though with use of extreme close- ups, and occasional compositional flare. Whereas the first two sections made a point of distancing us from the characters, the remaining three take us uncomfortably close, and makes the equally absurd subject matters of each all the more entertaining.

Don't expect some poignant message from this movie.

It's absurd for absurdity's sake.

It starts to draw you in and force you to ask questions, before revealing that there is no answer. The movie's final joke, perhaps, is that there is no punchline, yet it serves as something of a canvas for you to project your own ponderings. It doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a feel-good movie, and although you won't understand why, you'll be smiling when the credits roll.

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