Review- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Review- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Why is it that when I see that Film 4 funded a film that its going to look like its been made for TV and lacking in scope or depth?

This film could have been a massive example of social justice warrior filmmaking (damn those white men in power!) But instead there are so many twists and turns that characters who were earlier stereotyped as either ‘goodies’ (the strong woman, anyone of colour, the white man labelled a ‘faggot’, the midget…) or baddies (white men with power to abuse, of course) are in fact shown to be three dimensional and fully nuanced. Everyone is capable of good and evil. Yes, even white men can be good! Its a miracle. I hope Oprah has seen this movie.

Sometimes the film’s comedical stance works wonders, sometimes it feels awkward seeing as the film is about makes the rape and murder of a young woman.

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The lead character of Mildred is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in a long time and is played to perfection. In fact there are great performances all round. Woody Harrelson is fast building a filmography that would be the envy of any actor.

But the film doesn’t knit together quite right. And sometimes its ‘politiks’ feel so holier than thou that I wanted to vomit. Mildred only looks happy when embracing her black co-worker. Virtue, anyone?

On the plus side, its photographed beautifully with Ebbing looking absolutely gorgeous.

So, not a masterpiece. But with enough redeeming qualities to ensure you’re not looking at your watch.

3 out of 5

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Another Reason to Hate Millennials- The Room (2003)

Another Reason to Hate Millennials- The Room (2003)

My local cinema, The Hyde Park Picturehouse here in Leeds regularly shows cult films. I was looking forward to seeing The Room as it had regularly played at a lot of the cult film cinemas like The Prince Charles Cinema and so I thought it must be some kind of newly discovered classic.

The screening I went to was almost sold out. I noticed that the rest of the audience were at least 20 years younger than me. Millennials. Not a good sign. I wondered if they could stay off social media on their mobile phones for the duration of the movie. Or if the concession stand would double up as a safe space for the evening.

And then it started.

Lets get the film’s plot out of the way first. Man is engaged to woman. Woman finds man boring and sleeps with his best friend. Fiancee confides to her mother that she doesn’t want to marry man. Woman tells friends that hubby-to-be got drunk and beat her. This continues until the end of the film where at the man’s birthday party he finds out about the affair and later blows his brains out.

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The Room is a movie that shouldn’t be getting any attention of ANY kind. It makes your average straight to video film feel inspired. Is it a cult because of the depths the film plummets in terms of acting? Is it the wafer-thin plot that is almost non-existant? The cheap production standards? No- The Room doesn’t deserve any attention because its what a cult film should never be. Its boring.

Anyway- back to the cinema that I’m watching the movie in. The audience then starts to indulge in something that I think should be heavily penalised in a cinema. I feel like gagging just typing these two words- audience participation. This is the reason why I don’t go to see one of my favourite films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show when its showing on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong- I love the fact that a heterosexual man finds a legitimate reason to wear suspenders and heels in public rather than just in private. But when assholes in the audience start shouting lines at the screen and stand up to do dance moves so you can’t even see the friggin’ film then I start to get all punchy.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show- one of the best films ever made. Do I wanna see fans try to outperform Tim Curry? No.

And this is what happened with The Room- attention whore audience members trying to outdo each other by shouting out lines, laughing at moments that weren’t funny either intentionally or unintentionally (not that you could tell a lot of the time as you couldn’t hear over the noise being made) and throwing plastic spoons at the screen (just don’t ask). It was all so contrived- ‘I read on Facebook that you do that kind of thing at this movie!’ Then in that case have a screening for your friends in your halls of residence TV room. Imagine the poor cinema usher having to pick up all of the plastic spoons that some privileged student arsewipes threw at the screen- and all in the name of mediocre cinema supported by those trying to be ‘ironic’ *gag*.

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My favourite scene from ‘The Room’- the end is in sight.

I have no problem with audience participation for some cult movies- as long as the cinema warns people beforehand that this is going to happen. This could be a trigger warning for non-millennials and people who just actually want to sit through the movie and be able to fucking hear it.

I think there should also be some screenings of films that have a tradition of ghastly audience participation where this kind of behaviour isn’t permitted. These screenings should be clearly advertised in advance. Cinema ushers should patrol the aisles with electric cattle prods or tasers so that one whiff of a plastic spoon and the perpetrator could be zapped and then ejected (into the care of the local police who would charge them with disorderly conduct no less).

Going to see a film doesn’t always have to be a case of buy your ticket, buy your snacks, find a seat, watch the film. It can also be a feat of showmanship where the fun isn’t confined to what goes on just on the screen. Think of William Castle and the genius gimmicks he used to to elevate an already brilliant film into a unique experience. John Waters was a Castle fan and used a gimmick himself- the Odorama card for his masterpiece Polyester. A number would appear on the screen in a certain scene and you’d scratch off the number on the Odorama scratch n sniff card you got when buying your ticket. Number 2 was exactly that- shit! This kind of showmanship was inspired, in most cases wasn’t done to detract from a dud of a film and the director was still calling the shots rather than some douchbag audience members trying to steal the limelight.

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‘Emergo’: A skeleton that flies above the audience unexpectedly during House on Haunted Hill (1959)

But whilst I love cult cinema and midnight movies, many of the legitimate examples of this genre have a quality in common that The Room will never possess- in many cases they’re brilliant movies that really are worthy of adoration by those touched by their genius.

The people who go to screenings of The Room and profess to be fans of the film are adherers to the adage that some films are ‘so bad they’re good’. I’ve written about that HERE. Why celebrate bad cinema? A cult film should be so good, its brilliant and so you feel the need to tell all and sundry about why thats so.

A couple of years ago the same cinema showed Pink Flamingos. The audience were the same as any other going to see a cult film at The Hyde Park Picturehouse- keen cineasts who know about the film being shown, fans of the film already but also that strong minority (usually students) who have heard about Pink Flamingos being a ‘cult’ film so it must be ‘really bad, right?!’ I’m a huge John Waters fan and was ready to stab anyone who dared to laugh at the film instead of with it. And you know what? There was not one titter, guffaw or groan at the film’s expense from the peanut gallery. The audience was united in being won over by this cinematice masterpiece. They laughed at all the right places and gagged at the appropriate scenes of filth too. The power of Pink Flamingos- it was shocking in the 70s and if anything, in these times of the youngsters of today being offended by everything and being of an ultra-sensitive disposition, its even more shocking. But its also riproariously funny- a quality which has converted even the most staunch cinema snob to Waters’ genius. ‘Jesus! That was actually brilliant!’ said one student to her friend on leaving the screening. Praise indeed.

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Pink Flamingos. Still the cult movie motherlode.

Please don’t resurrect any old piece of mediocre crap resplendent with bad acting and no plot and elevate it to cult status. Theres enough beige fare in popular culture as it is.

If you’re a fan of The Room you need to see more cult films- and good ones. If you’re a fan and go to screenings, throw plastic spoons at the screen, shout ‘Meanwhile, in San Francisco’ and try to dazzle fellow audience members with your wit, you’re a fucking tool.

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The Room- 1 star out of 5- because its something any film should never be- fucking boring.

No Homo: John McTiernan’s Predator (1987)

No Homo: <em>John McTiernan’s Predator</em> (1987)

I had the honour and privilege to be able to see Predator (1987) in 4K and on the big screen the other day. It felt like visiting an old friend.

Predator belongs in Arnie’s Imperial Phase which for my money runs from the Conan films up until Red Heat. At this time he was making action movies that defined the genre, pushed its boundaries but fully exploited their future status on the medium of video- in other words they were violent and gory as hell.

Predator works on so many different levels.

The film is the perfect example of a comic book come to life on celluloid. The film possesses the kind of exaggeration and imagination that normally couldn’t satisfactorily be translated to film. Predator shows that these forays into the surreal and its larger than life action sequences can be successfully conveyed. All of the characters could equally be seen in comic book panels as much as they could be on film. The film is so gung-ho that it feels like a war comic crossed with a shoot em up video game at times.

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The Predator’s thermal vision that the audience is privy to is also a comic book device.

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Another sequence that is reminiscent of a comic book is when Dillon’s arm is cut off but continues to fire a gun.

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Also, just as action and horror movies were massively successful on video in its infancy  and its growth as a medium, Predator combines elements of both genres and turns them up to 11. The sequence involving Dillon’s arm is a great example of a sequence that appeals to both action and horror fans.

In fact the film is extremely subversive as it starts as a jungle commando action vehicle but then suddenly changes direction. This could have failed to work and come across as forced and completely contrived if handled in the wrong way. But instead it works brilliantly.

The horror and more specifically the slasher conventions within Predator show that the film wasn’t just appealing to the fans of action movies. The Predator’s handiwork is shown as the jungle crew discover the skinned bodies of others hanging upside down. The crew soon find themselves to be the quarry rather than the hunters in the same way that a group of teenagers would be in a stalk n slash movie. They are easy meat.

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The film also contains the same kind of kills found in a slasher movie with skulls, intestines and exploding heads all featuring.

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Another slasher staple that features in Predator is the unmasking of the killer which of course prompts Dutch to exclaim ‘You are one ugly motherfucker!’ The unmasking sequence is especially a staple of the Friday 13th films in which Jason Voorhees is regularly unmasked to reveal his true face.

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A mug you wouldn’t chug- the unmasking of the predator

Predator also goes the extra mile when it comes to its action genre ingredients. There are guns and muscles aplenty. But where Predator tries to excel when it deals with these components, in doing so it instantly becomes very very homoerotic.

There must have been something distinctly gay in the air in some Hollywood quarters in 1986/7 as two other unintentionally/intentionally homoerotic films were also made around the same time- Top Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

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The homoeroticism of Top Gun (1986) and
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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1986)

In fact, Predator is so proudly masculine, homoerotic and therefore camp that to take any of these variants further would topple the film headlong into the genre of gay pornography.

It doesn’t take a lot for the ultra masculine to turn ultra homoerotic and camp. Let me illustrate- think of a clockface as representing all of the different variants of masculinity- 1 represents the camp, effete and effeminate (two examples are Quentin Crisp and Julian Clary) and 12 represents the ultra masculine, musclebound and testosterone soaked (Arnie, your average MMA fighter, the larger WWE wrestlers). There isn’t that much of a distance from 1 to 12 on the clockface is there? Also, just because a man might be camp or effeminate doesn’t mean that he isn’t without balls of steel. Do you think it was easy for Julian Clary and Quentin Crisp to be openly gay and effeminate when they first came to light in the public gaze? No- it took guts and moral fortitude. They are far from being submissive sissies. There are paradoxes at the more extreme positions on the clock.

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Whilst number 12 on the clockface is seen as the most masculine its also, paradoxically very camp and homoerotic also. The male who wishes to assert his masculinity more potently will build up his physique and muscles. To display this ‘uber masculinity’ he will expose his body more thus paradoxically instantly appeal to the some members of the same sex. He wants to accentuate his masculinity and has at the same time become more camp, desirable and homoerotic because of this.

This heady brew of the masculine and homoerotic is first seen in the film when Dutch comes across his old friend Dillon again. A handshake turns into an epic display of biceps and a very manly (and very camp) arm-wrestle. You could be forgiven that this is in fact some kind of 1980’s gay porno movie.

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The camera seems to relish and luxuriate upon the male cast in the film. There are many shots of gleaming muscles, sometimes clutching huge guns. Predator is a glistening, sweaty jerk-off fest for the gay gaze.

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The bead of sweat rolling down the ample chest of the character of Billy is one such example of this. The same character later on in the film decides to ‘take it like a man’ by slitting open his well built chest to prompt the predator out of hiding so that they can go one on one. Its a startling display of machismo that is instantly appealing to the action fan and those who are sexually aroused by such testosterone fuelled exhibitionism. ‘Taking it like a man’ means something very different in gay circles. The pitcher becomes receiver. He decides to ‘receive’ the alien.

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Within the film there is also the spectacle of the slow striptease of Dutch. Throughout the course of the film Arnold appears in varying degrees of undress and displays more flesh and more muscle. There is also an unbelievable shot when the crew arrive in the jungle. Dutch crawls through undergrowth with the camera just above his body as he does this, resplendent with an amazing shot of his arse. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of the film’s lead character? The camera realises this for the spectator.

Arnold’s striptease cumulates with his character covered in mud (!) with a lit torch in one hand and giving a manly bellow to the heavens to alert the alien that he is ready for battle. Man vs alien- and no ugly extra-terrestrial is going to kick Arnie’s alpha-male butt. Whilst this scene is intended not only to signify the potency of the masculinity on display its also the ultimate in homoeroticism and camp iconography- a distillation of the whole film in one sequence.

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Theres also the bromance/relationship between Mac and Blain. After Blain is killed there is a palpable longing on the part of Mac which suggests that he misses him for being more than just a fellow soldier. This pining between two male characters is reminiscent of Peter being distraught by the passing of Roger in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Or the ending of Brokeback Mountain. Yes, nothing gay here.

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Male longing- Brokeback Mountain

In fact Blain recalls the ‘macho man’ archetype in the same way that The Village People’s leather-clad biker does- moustache, sexually potent (Blaine describes himself as a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’), whilst looking down on others who aren’t as masculine. Blaine refers to those people as ‘slack jawed faggots’ the way a leather fan might look down on the camper constituents of his community. Also, notice the use of the word ‘faggots’- Blaine doth protest too much. Or hes just trying to deflect from the obvious conclusions.

With the character of Blaine there also the issue of guns, the size of those guns and the ‘gun as phallus/symbol of manhood’ baggage that is imbued with such imagery. Just as Blaine has stated that he is a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ he qualifies this with the gun he carries- a huge gun that can fire countless bullets at once and has a barrel that rotates as its doing this. Blaine calls the gun ‘Old Painless’ and at one point says that its time to bring it out of its bag. This recalls the way a man might say its time to ‘unleash the beast’. Never has a gun represented a penis so obviously.

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Blain and his impressive weapon

Also within the film there seems to be a celebration of gun size as an extension of manhood for each character. There are many shots of gleaming muscles and equally huge guns held proudly by each character. Theres also the incredible scene in which the muscled components of the crew fire their guns into the jungle when they happen to see the alien. The scene goes on for way too long, prompting the audience to question why this is. A joyous piece of action genre abandon? A display of unabashed masculinity? Or the film’s equivalent of a circle jerk? This scene is as close as the film can come to each character having his cock out to show who really is King Dong.

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The Predator circle jerk

In fact the film early on introduces a female character into the proceedings to seemingly try to stop the film being a solely male musclefest. Shes also introduced to make the film homosocial- a female distraction from the otherwise all male action and to show that, ”y’know, we’re not actually faggots or nuthin’ ”.

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Predator’s all male cast. Nothing gay here.

Anna Gonsalves however isn’t the kind of weak and spineless female character who requires a man to save her from any encroaching danger. She is resourceful and an equal. She spends her formative scenes trying to escape from the crew but then is seen as someone more than willing to pitch in to save herself and the lives of the others in the crew from the predator. She is self-sufficent and with this all male crew, thats pretty much for the best. Saving women would take away from their self-love and exhibitionism.

Ultimately what was Predator’s demographic and who it was made for- the laydeez? Of course not. It was made for male action and horror fans. This vehicle of muscles and macho posturing with the odd splatter scene was made for men. It makes the film even gayer/homoerotic.

Even the behind the scenes stills from Predator were homoerotic. Hers a picture of Arnie holding a huge snake.

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But whilst most of society was a homophobic cesspit when Predator was released the world seems to have changed since. Homophobia is thankfully being seen as unjust, outdated and as never being valid in the first place. Arnie is now a successful Republican politician. Whilst everyone was celebrating the amendment that allowed Gay Marriage in America people on Facebook were changing their profile pictures so that they had a rainbow flag filter. Arnie did the same. Most welcomed this. However some old school action fans did not. Arnie’s comeback was epic.

Things really were changing. Just as Arnie was finally embracing gay marriage and equality, was it possible that he knew that Predator was in fact a homoerotic musclefest all along? It would be great if someone from the Predator crew came forward to say that that this was actually the intention. Just imagine the uproar!

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

There was a long standing tradition for Turkish remakes of huge Hollywood blockbusters. These remakes have miniscule budgets and are made quickly so that they can be released soon after the original.

The Exorcist was remade in Turkey for a tiny proportion of the original’s budget. This means that we get hilarious special effects, truly garish decors and the worst hairstyles ever committed to celluloid.

 

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But whilst we know what we’re getting this film is a true cult movie through and through. It might be cheap and tacky but its also what a lot of more expensive films struggle to be- utterly charming, engaging and a pleasure to watch.

Let me leave you with a question- would you rather watch a film like this or a Hollywood studio multiplex movie that has a budget of millions but also has characters you couldn’t care less about, an uninspired plot and CGI that makes the film look more like a computer game?

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I hope these Turkish remakes get restored and released on Blu ray. I’d buy them.

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- It Follows (2014)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- It Follows (2014)

A young girl has sex with her boyfriend only to be informed that hes passed on a curse to her. From now on she will be followed by a supernatural entity. If the entity reaches her it will kill her. Only she will be able to see it. The only way to get rid of the curse is to have sex with someone else and pass it on.

Any modern horror film that isn’t a remake or reboot is a bonus. This film’s premise is innovative and imaginative.

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But I just didn’t connect with any character or care what happened to them. The film feels like a series of teenage dramatics that become tiresome after a while.

The film also feels like some update on the after school special which tackles an issue of the day. Don’t screw around or THIS will happen to you! Give me Jason Voorhees as the punisher of the teenagers who are doing the do before marriage anyday.

But, as I said before, at least this was an original idea- a rarity in the horror genre these days.

2 out of 5

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- The Lift (1983)

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- The Lift (1983)

I remember this film being on the shelves of all of the local video stores I used to pore over the contents of in the 80s. Amazing cover artwork and a great premise (lifts have always freaked me out) and yet I never got round to renting this movie. Years later I watched it whilst living in Sydney, Australia.

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A lift is trying to kill people. Its up to a lift repairman and his journalist friend to investigate and put an end to this dastardly contraption.

This is a Dutch film and contains more than meets the eye. Its very tongue in cheek and humourous in places. In fact its a delicate line for filmmakers to tread when making a horror film both funny and scary- and it succeeds brilliantly.

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Theres also very perceptive observations of Dutch society at this time and the divide between the haves and have nots. Also, theres a subplot in which the wife of the leading male character has been spending so much time with his female journalist friend that she leaves him. This is no mere farfetched and kitsch possession B-movie.

For horror fans this film delivers the goods. The kills are innovative, nasty and in some cases, funny.

Worth checking out. And coming out on Blu ray via Blue Underground this month.

3 out of 5.

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Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Three schoolteachers stop at a garage on their way to a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium. Their car isn’t running properly and so they need to look at it and maybe try to fix it. But thats not their biggest obstacle- they come face to face with Charlie Tibbs and his girlfriend- a couple of killers who are accused of murders in Arizona and are on the run. Charlie has a gun and insists that they work on the car so that he can get away in it.

This film is like a play that has been filmed- there is primarily one main setting (the film reminded me of Cujo in that respect). But this doesn’t mean that the film is static and boring. The one setting is used innovatively and this means that the film is directed with verve. There is also a sense of ‘us versus them’ with the schoolteachers in their Sunday best (shirts, ties or a nice conservative dress) whilst Tibbs is looking every part the juvenile delinquent in his denims and sporting a greasy quiff. Tibbs is obviously based on real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather.

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This film is brilliant- will the teachers get away, when and how? The film ramps up the tension and suspense and never lags- theres no scenes that feel unnecessary. The film is also very extreme for its time. It was even rejected by the BBFC when it was submitted for classification in 1964.

Arch Hall Jr in the lead gives an extraordinary performance as Tibbs- the Sadist in the title. His face and facial expressions are almost other-worldly and supernatural as is his portrayal. Quite extraordinary.

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Watch out for the poignant scene in which the schoolteachers hear on the radio the baseball game they should be at instead of fighting for their lives.

Theres also some innovative direction within the film- it almost feels like Tibbs’ gun in the first half of the film is an actual character.

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I didn’t know about this film until recently. I’m glad I do now. Why isn’t this more widely available on DVD and Blu ray?

Apparently this film is a favourite of director Joe Dante’s- a seal of approval anyone would be proud of.

4 out of 5

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