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Lords of Chaos

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Black metal is one of the most puzzling and antisocial music genres to exist on the face of this planet. Seemingly designed to be as harsh, tuneless and borderline unlistenable as possible, it makes one wonder ‘who in the name of the Dark Lord Satan would create this screeching noise and why?’ Lords of Chaos does its best to answer that question, and manages to be pretty bloody entertaining along the way.

Lords of Chaos is the true(ish) story of Euronymous (Rory Culkin) a twitchy but ambitious young man who forms a band called Mayhem in Norway in the 1980s. The band soon garners a reputation for being the darkest of the dark, particularly after the original lead singer blows his head off with a shotgun; and Euro uses this notoriety to open his own record store and start his own music label. Enter Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen) a former Scorpions-loving poser now death-obsessed madman, who forms an uneasy and competitive friendship with Euronymous that begins with admiration, mutates into jealousy and ends in bloodshed. Plus a shitload of churches are going to get burned down before the credits roll on this bad boy.

Despite the grim subject matter, Lords of Chaos is actually quite fun for most of its runtime. Culkin’s wry, knowing voiceover gives some of the grimmer moments levity, and the interplay between the characters trying to outdo one another by being darker-than-thou is frequently hilarious. The self-proclaimed Black Circle are, essentially, a pack of cocky little pricks, but director Jonas Akerlund doesn’t attempt to lionise these long-haired doom groupies but rather lets their story play out with little judgement, just observation. Of course things do get quite nasty, particularly in the third act, which is to be expected. This isn’t a happy story and Euronymous warns us from the jump that “this will end badly.”

Performance-wise it’s pretty much a two-hander between Culkin and Cohen, both of whom manage to be at turns sympathetic and just plain pathetic. Sky Ferreira also shines as Ann-Marit, photographer and sometime groupie, giving empathy and depth to a role that could have played as thin and thankless in lesser hands.

Ultimately, Lords of Chaos is a bit of a niche proposition, taking a look into a world that most people neither know nor particularly care about. However, if you can get past that barrier to entry, there’s an intriguing and well observed exploration of a genre and subculture that is strangely insular and perversely fascinating. If that sounds like your jam then you and Lords of Chaos will get along like a church on fire.

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Stan & Ollie

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Laurel and Hardy were Hollywood comic stars – a double act – who started in the silent film era and were famous and popular throughout the 1930s. This might be an unnecessary little bio snapshot, but we have to think carefully about who would even know their names or their work today. Perhaps everyone would still know who Charlie Chaplin was, but is this still true of Buster Keaton? Or Harold Lloyd, or this pair? It was a very long time ago.

Present day funnymen Steve Coogan (The Trip, Philomena) and John C. Reilly play the comedians in this bittersweet drama based on a book about the era. Director Jon S Baird (who made Filth, which could hardly be more contrasting to this film), goes for gentle pacing and character study.

The film takes place mostly in the 1950s, decades after the comic pair’s heyday in Hollywood. Somewhat marooned by fashion, they are reduced to doing a nostalgia tour of Britain and Ireland. There, they are put into the tender clutches of empresario Bernard Delfont (a wonderfully oily-but-ruthless performance by Rufus Jones). The hotels he books them into are not exactly what they are used to but then they are not exactly packing the small regional theatres and, as he reminds them, their food doesn’t pay for itself. To add to all of this, their wives Lucille Hardy (the wonderful Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda) are coming over from America. Ida is Russian and no nonsense, Lucille worries about Oliver’s heart problems and the fact that the workaholic (and part alcoholic) Stan might drive him into an early grave. However, the heart of the film is the ‘love story’ between the two performers. They have their falling-outs, but really, they not only can’t work alone, they have this lifelong bromance that both cherish till the end.

The film recreates snatches of the perfect slapstick that made them so famous, but it only uses it by way of illustration. In fact, most of the film concerns their tribulations on tour and their arguments and reconciliations. It is all about the behind the scenes aspects of performers’ lives.

Perhaps it is wise not to try and make it a comedy in its own terms, but what we are left with is something that audiences might not expect or easily relate to. Though the emotional moments are touching and largely earned, the film feels – like the pair in later life – like a lot of talent in search of a still-appreciative audience. The love of the bygone era isn’t the only thing that drives it, but it probably wouldn’t work if you cannot access that sentiment, which kindles nostalgia in all of us.

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Brittany Runs a Marathon: Audience Favourite

Snapped up at Sundance by Amazon for a whopping $14million, the Paul Downs Colaizzo written and directed crowdpleasing comedy gives ubiquitous performer Jillian Bell a juicy lead role, charting the transformation of an overweight young woman into a marathon runner.
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Vox Lux

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The ‘Prelude’ – as it’s called onscreen – to this film is memorable and jarring, to put it mildly. It’s 1999, and fourteen-year-old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and her classmates have just assembled in their schoolroom for the first lesson of term when – SPOILER ALERT! – one of their number bursts in and proceeds to go on a shooting rampage. Celeste is shot, but survives, and goes on to write a song which catapults her to teen pop stardom.

The plot thickens considerably from there on in. We jump a few years from scene to scene, and over time Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) has become a musical megastar of an immeasurably more flamboyant and ‘decadent’ variety. She’s also a mother, and her daughter Albertine is played by – as you may have guessed – Raffey Cassidy. There are further tumultuous events, violent and otherwise, but it would be best to reveal no more.

There are a couple of flaws in this movie: the (grand) finale is cheesy and predictable, and Celeste’s sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) hardly seems to age a day. But it seems almost churlish to mention them in view of the film’s many strengths: the naturalistic acting, especially the virtuoso performance by an almost unrecognisable Portman (who actually both looks and sounds more like Fran Drescher)… the glorious thunderous soundtrack by Scott Walker… the droll and literate script, with its often savagely witty dialogue… the plethora of ideas… the moments of heart-stopping drama… the striking visual images…

Vox Lux somehow manages to be simultaneously moving, cynical and facetious. It’s definitely a must-see.

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Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Three generations of women convene at the lakeside residence of Rose Muller (Piper Laurie) to spend the weekend catching up. Rose’s daughter Patty (Brooke Adams), along with Patty’s daughter Allison (Emily Baldoni), both arrive to spend quality family time together. Allison is facing the breakdown of her marriage and her mother Patty attempts to hammer advice home. Fights escalate, long kept secrets and petty grudges come to the fore and across the weekend, the trio hammers out their issues.

The story then flashes back to 1960, to tell the story of a much younger Rose (Shannon Collis) and her torrid love affair with Louise Baxter (Emily Goss). Louise reinvigorated Rose and instilled her with a defiant sense of her own worth and of the possibilities that could await her as an independent woman in the world. This romantic relationship then informs events that unfold in the present day.

Director Melanie Mayron (an actor who started on Thirtysomething and is currently starring in TV’s Jane the Virgin) interprets the painfully rote script by Jan Miller Corran and Katherine Cortez in an utterly mechanical way. It’s a shame really, considering it was apparently inspired by a true story.

While the earnestness of the filmmakers’ intentions are front and center, it tips over into outright cringe-worthy cliché at many points. Structurally (and emotionally) it wants to be The Notebook meets Carol but it just feels bloodless and way too televisual in its pacing and cinematography.

Alternately, it can’t really succeed by leaning into any kind of Douglas Sirk-style melodrama because the dialogue is just so damn flat; it plays like a lifetime movie of the week in tone and feel. When a script is this leaden and by the numbers, a director’s vision could help, but little can be done to save it. The poor actors do their best (Days of Heaven & Invasion of the Body Snatchers star Brooke Adams clearly struggles with the clunkiest dialogue imaginable) but it’s ultimately just stilted and artificial.

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Cold Pursuit

Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

For a little over a decade, Liam Neeson has been enjoying a bombastic career rejuvenation thanks to a jump-starter performance in Pierre Morel’s Taken. However, his ubiquity has reached a memetic breaking point of late. Whether intentionally, like the Jimmy Kimmel mock trailer for Taken 4, or unintentionally, like with the actual Taken sequels, he’s become a walking self-parody. And with every year, there comes yet another action thriller where Neeson is called on to play the hero who gets dragged into events because a family member is in trouble.

Thankfully, with Cold Pursuit, that’s really where the similarities end as far as what audiences have come to expect from a modern Neeson flick.

Instead, we find the main man in more darkly comedic territory with the snow-capped, small town setting the stage for a violent turf war between drug lord Viking (Tom Bateman) and Native American kingpin White Bull (Tom Jackson). It hits a healthy midway point between the idiosyncratic quirkiness of a Coen Brothers effort like Fargo, and the cathartic blend of mirth and murder of Martin McDonagh with In Bruges or the more recent Three Billboards.

Cold Pursuit manages to hit drama, pitch-black comedy and hard-hitting action in all the right doses, allowing each element to breathe without negating the effects of the others. Neeson’s wheelhouse of gritty, low-flash action holds true here, as the fight scenes can get gory and brutal. But that never gets in the way of the bigger jokes, like Viking’s demand for loyalty that reaches legit self-parody at times or how, for once, Neeson isn’t playing someone with an actual past in gunplay. Potential nepotism and reading habits are about as close to the Taken character’s particular set of skills as it gets here, and yet he still sells it like a champion.

Now, this is one of those weird Americanised remakes where the director of the original, here being Hans Petter Moland, is retelling their own story. The main difference between the two, aside from shifting from Norway to the Northwestern United States, is the culture at the heart of the turf war. Neeson’s Nelson, who pushes literal snow for a living; Viking, who pushes figurative snow for a living; and White Bull, who is pained to see what has happened to the snow that his people used to call home. It touches on some Wind River-esque territory regarding Native/Caucasian relations in America, aided by a very McDonagh approach to racial tensions as comedy, and it adds a surprisingly clever layer that makes the blood-soaked goofiness on display feel like it has a greater purpose than just visceral reaction. The result is easily the best thing Liam Neeson has starred in since Taken, maybe even better.