SPOOKY SUNDAY!!!

BEFORE I WAKE (2016)

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Directed, co-written and edited by contemporary genre maestro Mike Flanagan, Before I Wake eclectically combines fairy tale fantasy, domestic drama and the supernatural to tell the tale of a troubled boy who possesses the mysterious ability to make his dreams and nightmares become reality.

In comparison to Flanagan’s other work, Before I Wake looks and feels decidedly clunkier and crude, and the adult performances from Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane are markedly slack. The plot is also in danger of veering into overly-sentimental territory, leading to a few glaring plot holes in the surprisingly downbeat final act. That being said, Flanagan’s handling of the material and the way in which he seamlessly weaves the fantastical into what is essentially a dark, tangibly contemplative family tale first-and-foremost is particularly fascinating to watch. The film’s Boogeyman in the form of the skeletal ‘Canker Man’, a misunderstood amalgamation of the darker sides of the young boy’s psyche, makes for an unsettling sight, too.

Films that explore and exploit broad childhood confusion, phobias and traumas about the dark, bedtime, bad dreams, basement chores and the inevitable loss of loved ones and the acceptance of such things are a dime a dozen, but it’s really refreshing to find one made with a parent’s curiosity and concern for a child’s point-of-view. Before I Wake is an intimate, slightly saccharine blend of gloomy nightmares and deceptive brightness, and whilst it’s certainly flawed, there are elements within the framework that really work.

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BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH (2018)

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Interactive movies – or ‘puppet master flicks’ as I like to call them – are nothing new to this industry. Perhaps the most well-known example out there is Dragon’s Lair (1983), an animated feature from Don Bluth that possesses different outcomes and branching narrative pathways and segments that are all at the disposal of the one wielding the remote controller. Such technology has perhaps seen its best use within the world of video games, such as the old-school text-based games such as Melbourne House’s The Hobbit (1982) for the ZX Spectrum, Laserdisc and CD-ROM titles – a strong favourite of mine being Night Trap (1967) – and even more recent outings like the products from the now defunct Telltale and Until Dawn (2015) for the PS4.

However, within the realm of cinema, the earliest example to my knowledge was a Czechoslovakian experimental movie titled Kinoautomat (1967), a black-comedy that remains something of a crude oddity by today’s standards, and then there’s Late Shift (2016) an interactive movie that boasted slick production values and surprisingly strong thematic subtext. But, much like Smell-O-Vision or 3D, the thought of such an ambitious but flawed piece of gadgetry catching on seemed far-fetched. That is until Netflix and Charlie Brooker came along.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an admirable tech-demo and it’s definitely the smoothest, most seamless ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ flick I’ve encountered in my tenure as a cinematic connoisseur, and it certainly succeeds in taking the whole idea to new heights and it does flow nicely. However, at the end of the day it still can’t quite escape the confines of being a gimmick, and once removed what we’re left with is a pretty average episode for a TV show that is anything but average. That being said, pitting the superficial factor aside, a lot of creative care and meticulous planning clearly went into this production and the script does possess that familiar and frenetic Twilight Zone (1959-1964) vibe and the cerebral paranoia that fans of the show have grown to love, echoing the seminal works of Lewis Carroll, as well as a lineup of strong performances – most notably in the form of yet another impressive supporting turn by Will Poulter. 

In short, what we have here is something divisive. As a standalone Black Mirror outing it’s mediocre at best but as a special concept feature it works fine and it definitely makes for an interesting, intimate, and incredibly immersive piece of viewing.

RETURNING TO THERAPY

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Going back to getting help was an undesirable but necessary one for me. These past few months have been particularly grim and it’s not been fair on anyone – especially those around me.

Given my condition, it’s difficult for me to see from other people’s perspective, which is why I often fall into the trap of appearing snobbish, slightly aloof or even callous – this is not my intention. I’ve hurt some people I hold dear and who I’m eternally grateful for but I didn’t always show it – in fact, I’m not sure if I ever showed it. To those people, I can only say I’m sorry. Pretty anarchic choice of words, admittedly, but they’re the only ones I can use. Hopefully, I’m not beyond forgiveness.

My state of mind is currently fractured, like Humpty Dumpty. However, unlike all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, I’m optimistic that the pieces can be put back together again. For the foreseeable future I’ll be attending therapy sessions (two very different types of therapy, too) every couple of days, and one hopes to keep you updated with my progress.

I know what makes me happy and I know what I can do. I only ask for your support in return. I’m not perfect and I make no claims to be, but I am determined to make things better and heal old wounds.

THE YEAR THAT WAS… 2018
(Pt. III)

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5) COLD WAR (Drama)

A superbly photographed and passionately acted love story.

Cold War Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/21/3865/

4) MANDY (Horror)

This bold, bloody tale about cult leaders and a demon biker gang is easily 2018’s most daring and divisive film and, as such, is probably the one that’ll probably prove to be the most controversial entry on this list.

Mandy, much like Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is a movie that you’re either onboard with from the get-go and one in which you instantly appreciate its many quirks and idiosyncrasies or, conversely, you dismiss it and discard it as little more than a nasty piece of exploitation. I, for one, am firmly in the former camp; this is one of the most bizarre balls-to-the-wall genre mashup movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.

It’s unapologetic embracing of gory, kitsch horror and operatically excessive acting from Nic Cage make it instantly indelible. Mandy is the dictionary definition of a contemporary cult movie – granted, maybe it tries to hard to reach such a status, but I fell for it, hook-line and sinker.

Mandy Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/2644/

3) SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (Animation)

When it came to the department of animation, 2018 proved to be somewhat lacklustre – Peter Rabbit is a strong contender for the most annoying movie in Christendom while Illumination continued their cancerous spread on the medium by force feeding us yet another adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, a film that did little to soften my solemn heart. Granted, there were some highlights such as the beguiling Isle of Dogs from everyone’s favourite corduroy wearing hipster Wes Anderson and, of course, Pixar churned out two respectable outputs in the form Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Incredibles II, the latter being the long-awaited sequel which, though entertaining, certainly doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor not to mention some of its other contemporaries like Up (2009) or Toy Story 3 (2010).

Thankfully, the one notable shining light amongst this cull came in the unlikely form of yet another familiar superhero property, that of course being Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a film that accomplished the rare feat of not only meeting people’s expectations and intrigue, but gleefully exceeded them. This latest incarnation of everyone’s favourite arachnid themed crime-fighter is not only the best animated offering of the year as well as the best superhero movie of the year, it’s probably one of the best the decades has to offer, ranking up the with the likes of the aforementioned Toy Story 3, as well as Your Name (2016) and Loving Vincent (2017).

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/3442/

2) LEAVE NO TRACE (Drama)

Debra Granik’s drama about a veteran father suffering from PTSD and his daughter living a life of solitude in the middle of a large park in Portland, Oregon, until a mistake swiftly derails their lifestyle isn’t exactly what you’d call mainstream friendly – but don’t let that moniker hinder your perception of this film. What we have here is a tangible, believable and minimalist movie about outsiders that echoes Captain Fantastic (2016) and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The relationship between the parent and the offspring is brilliantly drawn, with Ben Forster as the masonic and sympathetic father delivering yet another great performance to add to his CV, while the palpable overtones of subdued sadness, lack of dialogue and reliance on compelling visuals, subtle expressions and gestures to drive the narrative is done in sublime fashion. It’s a fulfilling film that, from beginning to end, never steps out of line. A masterfully minimalistic film if ever there was one.

1) ROMA (Drama)

Simply beautiful.

Roma Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/3478/

THE YEAR THAT WAS… 2018
(Pt. II)

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10) A QUIET PLACE (Horror)

A mainstay genre of popular cinema, horror films are much like darts – they’re the easiest type of film to make but the hardest to master. Every year, our theatres are swarmed with a plethora of lurid titles – some are good, most of them are bad while only a select few can be considered legitimately great, and this year was no exception. For every decent offering like Ghost Stories or Halloween, we had stuff like The Nun, Winchester, Truth or Dare and Slender Man to upset the balance. But then there’s A Quiet Place by the debuting John Krasinski, a film which – along with Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) – proves that high-calibre horror is far from dead.

This suspenseful tale about a family desperately trying to survive in silence amidst a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by monsters who hunt using their hypersensitive senses is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a film that, right from the offset, demands your unbridled attention and in return it offers you a tantalisingly tense thrill-ride that’s unrelenting in its fear factor but never loses sight of the emotional core.

A Quiet Place Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/1088/?fbclid=IwAR1Hq7JaYWURSkEwEaHKqm_EpJiFiVe1jr3qTUZ8aBUX_VNCtMW185s6Tus

9) SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Comedy)

This absurdist sci-fi/comedy fable from politically motivated rapper Boots Riley is a future cult-classic for sure.

Echoing the works of Terry Gilliam and Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man (1973), Sorry to Bother You is a timely tale that’s sharp in its satire and displays plenty of visual flair. An impressive debut, for sure.

Sorry to Bother You Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/3424/

8) THE FAVOURITE (Comedy)

Boasting a sterling trio of actresses giving career-high performances, a sensational script that’s full of bite and a gluttony of luxe visuals, The Favourite is an immensely accessible and amusing period piece.

The Favourite Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/29/4040/

7) THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (Documentary)

Technically stunning and thematically harrowing, They Shall Not Grow Old from Peter Jackson is a fine, fitting tribute.

They Shall Not Grow Old Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/11/11/2755/

6) THE GUILTY (Mystery)

A tightly paced and tautly plotted Nordic thriller that lacks any sense of grandiose pomp and circumstance and is all the better for it.

The Guilty Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/2376/

THE YEAR THAT WAS… 2018

(Pt. I)

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18) AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Fantasy)

A bombastic blockbuster in every sense of the word and a rousing pop culture event.

Avengers: Infinity War Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/10/27/2395/?fbclid=IwAR1UPqJ4MvsOqhmSnoF3Dtjn7Oo6wyKJo4kRmWD3l88Bdj9ZIP3Y0_xLe7I

17) ISLE OF DOGS (Animation)

Full of wonderfully sly, deadpan humour and a sombre soundtrack, this quirky throwback to the glory days of Rankin-Bass is pure Wes Anderson.

Isle of Dogs Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/08/16/975/?fbclid=IwAR3v84DNHEG-0nbENN7LGTDvG9kPjUym5kWlnCjhb_HL-VEleN6yVtFhI9c

16) DISOBEDIENCE (Drama)

A well-acted and well-told indie romance. Granted, it’ll probably be forgotten this time next year, but for now it’s a solid product.

Disobedience Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/3334/?fbclid=IwAR3nRojgC4YKOAbW41lRtFBj5p0v8gVKCnEz1X4uZbWogl1oifqFU1V6Kos

15) FIRST MAN (Drama)

It’s definitely Oscar bait, but this riveting biopic once again showcases what a versatile talent its director is.

First Man Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/10/12/2052/?fbclid=IwAR1fx-3EzNF0qPBixeknSQVYDvUlCcRlUmcocpuEWv6wk0zYs0rbq7h9JQw

14) JOURNEY’S END (War)

It’s no Apocalypse Now (1979), but it’s an effectively minimalistic war movie that’s impeccably cast and reverent to the source material.

Journey’s End Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/08/22/1243/?fbclid=IwAR2MN-4_d4WjGx4OBIVgdbrfxLaooxZtuppBp-TfUC_yGkgNQ33LJsIZ4rk

13) BLACK PANTHER (Fantasy)

It’s not the revolutionary motion picture that some will have you believe (hell, I don’t even think it’s the best MCU movie, let alone the best superhero flick) but it is, nonetheless, the best piece of escapist fantasy released all year.

Black Panther Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/2229/?fbclid=IwAR0_1OWc3SYzxtDqcjmWevOmptnur8smH041lbQ9auaN0I2YB2NR-BBdWqs

12) A STAR IS BORN (Drama)

Anchored by an impressive directing debut from Bradley Cooper as well as an emotionally raw lineup of performances, this harrowing tearjerker will no doubt be a favourite for many.

A Star is Born Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/1900/?fbclid=IwAR1qeEaMB0SiYj0UHj_bImEkbD8Guhr-NzWRT89vjsfVzrvxQwEcIa0DTQ8

11) MARY POPPINS RETURNS (Musical)

Is this as good as the original? Good lord no! Is it heavily flawed? Absolutely. Is it a corporate endeavour that never truly justifies its existence? Mostly, yes.

But, in saying all that, the film is so unapologetic in its sheer volume of joy, glee and twee nostalgia that, however shallow it may be, it leaves me feeling uplifted. There’s plenty of other movies I’ve seen this year that I consider to be superior to this one (obviously, given that it’s at number 11), but none of them left me with a jovial, innocent smile on my face like this one did.

It’s easy to see why critics and cynics would find this movie a cold and cloy experience – and I speak from experience, as someone who was never swept away by the undeniable (and bemusing) popularity of The Greatest Showman (2017) – but as family oriented fantasies go, Mary Poppins Returns is a strong crowdpleaser.

Mary Poppins Returns Review: https://thevelvetcinephile.wordpress.com/2018/12/21/3835/?fbclid=IwAR0L0BtVcNSxRKKBI_dVZYjzBv4TMPLPNURt-2LW9bSFG6P9_fIuyloiGBo

SPOOKY SUNDAY!!!

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

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Released a decade after George A. Romero revolutionised the horror genre with his groundbreaking indie hit Night of the Living Dead (1968), some see this astoundingly violent flick as a slick and savage satirical attack on American consumerism and shallow materialistic values. Others merely see it as the greatest zombie yarn of all time, as the reawakened dead resume their cannibalistic stalking of the living.

Grim, gruesome and utterly gruelling, Romero’s relentless seminal story about the “American Dream” turning into a terrifying, delirious nightmare is a brilliant blend of black comedy and brutal, if harrowing, carnage.

Where Night of the Living Dead was a straight up horror tale (with some minor social commentary buried beneath the ever-present threat of the shambling horde of undead), Dawn offers something a bit more intriguing and intelligent. In layman terms, it’s one of the best zombie movies ever made – probably the best. Its suspenseful content is enough to satisfy even the most demanding of fanatics, and the film’s inspired use of familiar locations like a huge shopping mall to further its Bosch-like vision of a society consumed by its own appetites is a truly sophisticated touch.

FINAL JUDGMENT: 9/10 Jeff Goldblums