Author: michaeljglass

Saw: Hyperlink Horror

Saw Poster

If you haven’t seen the Saw films yet… watch them or spoil them. Make your choice.

Following the by-then de rigueur twist finale of the fourth instalment of Lionsgate’s yearly and, it seemed, unending Saw series (2004-2010), in which sort-of-serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) puts people through life-or-death ‘games’, the cinema lights came up but my friends and I didn’t move from our seats. We were already discussing what we’d just seen. Saw IV‘s central twist was arguably the most remarkable the series had featured yet: while Saw II‘s two plots take place not at the same time, as the intercutting leads us to believe, but several hours apart, Saw IV ups the ante considerably by revealing that it had taken place simultaneously with Saw III – the brilliance of the twist’s execution sees Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), himself no doubt bedazzled by the series’ approach to plot structure, accidentally, and literally, walking in on Saw III‘s ending, seconds after it has taken place.

Because I’d done my homework and watched the previous three films in preparation, I had a better immediate grasp of what we’d witnessed than my friends did, and began to explain it as best I could as we slowly wandered out of the screen, but we’d barely made it to the corridor before my delineation of the plot attracted a small crowd of other moviegoers, and once I’d finished my piece, the floor opened, and an impromptu seminar began. Explaining the entire plot wasn’t as easy as explaining the twist, though, and our ensuing discussion incorporated the previous three films’ plot intricacies and particularly the backstory of Jigsaw, which was crucial to this latest film. I began to realise that this was part of the Saw experience itself: we’ve all had discussions about what a film’s message was, or what we thought of it, but our symposium was divorced from interpretation and analysis. We weren’t trying to work out what the film was communicating. We just wanted to know what the plot was.

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Inside Out

Inside Out Group

Released 2015. Directed by Pete Docter. Screenplay by Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Docter. Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Lewis Black, Kaitlyn Dias.

Significant spoilers follow, including many of the best jokes and the ending, so if you wish to avoid anger I recommend you see Inside Out before reading on. (I also talk about the end of Toy Story 3, but if you haven’t seen that then I assume you have never seen a film in your life.)

As a child, my favourite comic strip was The Numskulls. The idea that tiny maniacal homunculi populated and drove human bodies was captivating and wild, tweaked my interest in science, and made for thousands of great jokes. Now Pixar, the undisputed master of family-friendly cinema, has turned its attention to the same idea. Colour me excited.

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The 2014 List-O-Rama

Well folks, it’s been a year of seeing films, and a year of writing about them.

I didn’t see everything, and of everything I saw, I didn’t write about everything.

But don’t let’s stop that from having a fun time with a post that’s so simple to write it makes me feel guilty.

Here are my favourite ten films of 2014. And my least favourite five.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Exodus Head

Released 2014. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian. Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, María Valverde, Aaron Paul.

This piece talks almost as much about Noah as it does Exodus: Gods and Kings. So if you don’t want to know how two of the most famous stories in the world end, look away now.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a Biblical epic. It tells an epic story, it has an epic budget, an epic cast, and a director who knows his way around epics. But something told me it would be epically dull. The trailers bored me. Christian Bale, while a great actor, doesn’t grab me as a screen presence the way a star should. The glimpses of action in the trailers looked by-the-numbers, basted with tedious CGI. It looked like Kingdom of Heaven when it needed to be Gladiator.

I was epically wrong.

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Gone Girl

Gone Girl Amy Head

Released 2014. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by Gillian Flynn, adapted from her novel of the same name. Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry.

There’s no discussing Gone Girl without giving everything away from the first sentence, and this review leaves no plot point unexposed. Trust me, just see the film.

David Fincher is infamously exacting. While shooting Zodiac, his demand for precision and detail, expressed through shooting scenes upwards of 70 times before moving on, came under fire from some of his actors. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. His response was simple: “The first day of production in San Francisco we shot 56 takes of Mark and Jake – and it’s the 56th take that’s in the movie.” Fincher knows what he wants to achieve, and won’t leave until he has it. For the viewer, it’s reassuring. I feel confident that what I see in a Fincher film is exactly what is meant to be there. Everything is deliberate and necessary.

What this means it that there exists nobody better suited to direct Gone Girl, a crime drama that is about, above all else, image management. Nothing is left to chance. It feeds us information slowly and deliberately, making us suspicious of every gesture, every line of dialogue, every pause. Sets are somehow bare and devoid of action, yet we know that there’s detail and purpose in everything, because we know Fincher.

It’s what any good mystery ought to be, but Gone Girl goes further. It’s not just about a how a woman disappeared and who’s responsible. Solving the crime is just part of the story. Gone Girl is about how the story is told. The different versions different people see or are given. How and why we lie or deceive. What we want others to know and how we get inside their heads to construct narratives they’ll believe. How people change, what they hide from others, how it comes out, rapidly over days or gradually over years, and the difficulty in knowing someone, or even knowing how much you know about them. It’s about the importance and power of perception and representation.

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The Riot Club

Released 2014. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Screenplay by Laura Wade, adapted from her play, Posh. Starring Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Sam Reid.

Spoilers in the review, folks. Don’t fret, I’ll pay for the damage.

I once heard it said that all American stories are about race, while all British stories are about class. If there’s truth to that aphorism – and I think there is – then The Riot Club might be seen as an attempt to deliver the ne plus ultra of the British story. It articulates a hatred between quote-unquote “poor people” (also known as ‘the majority of the UK’) and the Bullingdon Club elite: the hatred of the poor coming from the characters; the hatred of the gentry coming from the film. It’s been an issue since long before I was born, but one which has experienced a surge in familiarity in the public consciousness since former Bullingdon Club member David Cameron took leadership of the Conservative Party. What’s different here is that it’s not dealt with as subtext or a secondary theme, as is typical. It’s actually quite remarkable and energising to see such a direct portrayal of a class distinction of which the entire country is aware and on which most people would surely declare an opinion, if not allegiance. The Riot Club attacks its theme from point-blank range…

… and yet it still manages to miss.

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The Inbetweeners 2

The Inbetweeners 2

Released 2014. Written and directed by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. Starring Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison.

When the highest praise I can think of for a film is, ‘Well, it was definitely a film, not just a big TV episode’, then we’re in trouble. The Inbetweeners 2 is the latest in the long line of British sitcoms to enjoy a movie spin-off (indeed, as the title indicates, this series has spawned two cinema excursions), and it’s to its credit that it shows slightly in excess of no directorial ambition whatsoever. But that’s about all the credit I can give it.

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Buster Keaton at Flatpack

Sherlock Jr 1080p

I’m ashamed to say that for a long time and despite countless opportunities, I haven’t done nearly enough to support Flatpack, Birmingham’s annual film festival whose reputation grows every single year. It generates tremendous excitement about and interest in the artform that means the most to me, in the city that means the most to me, but I let it roll on by without fanfare. It’s smartly programmed, creatively curated and enthusiastically promoted, and although the main event takes place throughout the city in March, it hosts events all year round – events such as the simple and fabulous double bill I took in on Saturday afternoon of Buster Keaton’s silent classics Sherlock, Jr. and Cops, with a live piano accompaniment from Cyrus Gabrysch.

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Boyhood

Boyhood 1

Released 2014. Written and directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke.

If you know anything about Boyhood before going in, you’ll know that it’s a hugely ambitious project that follows a boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), as he ages from six to eighteen years old, along with his mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and occasionally-present father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). It doesn’t switch out actors to depict the children ageing. Richard Linklater has been following them for twelve years, semi-improvising a narrative along the way. It’s a small, intimate film with little drive yet it requires three hours to tell its story. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and you absolutely need to see it.

Actually, you need to see it twice.

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