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10 Cloverfield Lane

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Cloverfield was an appealing, albeit slightly forgettable, found footage monster romp from 2008. Directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams, it showcased Reeves’ talent for staging elaborate but coherent set pieces, and Abrams’ love of mystery box filmmaking and keeping audiences guessing.

10 Cloverfield Lane, on the other hand, is a small scale, mostly single-location thriller set in a doomsday bunker, produced, again, by J.J. Abrams, and directed by first timer, Dan Trachtenberg. So what’s the connection between the two films? Is this a sequel or a prequel or another story set in the same universe? Quite honestly, it’s probably better if we don’t tell you the answer to that question, as 10 Cloverfield Lane’s best moments have nothing to do with Cloverfield.

The elegant, almost Hitchcockian, premise has Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) waking up after a bad car accident in a small underground bunker. She’s occupying the space with her apparent jailer, Howard (John Goodman), and pleasant-seeming young man, Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.). Howard tells her that the world above has been rendered uninhabitable by an “attack” from forces unknown. Emmet confirms this, but Michelle is unsure what has truly happened and who to believe.

The next ninety or so minutes showcase mounting tension, solid character moments, and a pleasingly pacey story that belies the lack of location changes. All three actors are on the top of their respective games, with Goodman providing a particularly effective turn as the paranoid but fascinating Howard, and Winstead proving that she has genuine acting chops. The story culminates in what is an almost perfect ending…but then it keeps going. It’s like watching a wonderful Twilight Zone episode with a staggering conclusion dribble on for another interminable ten minutes of schlock. It’s a pity that such an unexpectedly effective thriller is so profoundly undone by a tonally disparate denouement. If, however, you can forgive its dud final note, there’s a lot of fun to be had with 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Dan Trachtenberg is clearly a director to watch, especially if given a project that isn’t part of a pre-existing property.

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Grimsby

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This isn’t one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s more ambitious projects, but it is one of his (intermittently) funniest. There’s very little political satire or iconoclasm, though, to be fair, the opportunity for that diminished once he became a known public figure with Borat and Bruno, and thus incapable of such effective disguise.

In Grimsby, Baron Cohen plays Carl “Nobby” Butcher, a father of nine, a chronic boozer, and a somehow quite likeable football hooligan. Nobby lives in the godforsaken northern fishing town of Grimsby (“Twin City To Chernobyl”), and has not seen his beloved younger brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), for 28 years. Sebastian, for his part, has become a ruthlessly efficient assassin in MI6’s Black Ops division, and the scene that first shows him in full James Bond mode is a manic exercise in visual excess and breathless pace. Events conspire, largely through a horrific debacle at a London charity summit, to reunite the two siblings and place them in various very dangerous situations.

The action (and there’s rather a lot of it, courtesy of genre specialist, Louis Leterrier, who has helmed the likes of The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, Clash Of The Titans, and Now You See Me) unfolds not only in England, but also in South Africa and Chile. The slapstick elements are predictably tedious, but some of the sick jokes are funny…and surely few jokes could “out-sick” the likes of, “I’m gettin’ stiffer than a pedo at Legoland.” AIDS and blocked toilets are grist for the comic mill here too, and on a more subtle but equally contentious level, so are working class stereotypes. Grimsby is a lot of fun in its determinedly tasteless way. And it’s safe to say that you’ll never forget what will no doubt be referred to from now on as The Elephant Scene…as much as you might wish to.

 

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Steve Jobs

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Among the recent films centred on Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs is the best. Penned superbly by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball), and directed with flair and ingenuity by Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs humanises and presents rather ambivalently the personal and professional life of Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in three tightly wound acts, set at product launches in 1984, 1988, and 1998.

The three theatrical “backstage” acts heighten the sense of emotion in the film. Sorkin has written a clever biographical character study that feels urgent, without skimming on details. This is delivered via Sorkin’s trademark dialogue. Like Jobs’ tumultuous career, conversations change direction and tone just as quickly, as a friendly exchange can spiral into bitterness and hate. The best exchanges come between Jobs and former Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), as their relationship skirts between father figure, business advisor, and vicious adversary.

Boyle’s direction is solid, keeping what is essentially a three-act play lively with visuals and tracking shots. As an added touch, DOP, Alwin H. Kuchler (Sunshine), films each period in different film stock (16mm, 35mm, and digital) to exemplify the advancement of Apple’s technology throughout the period. While this can add to the self-aggrandising of the product, Sorkin digs deeper into what made Jobs loved and hated by so many. Surprisingly, the emotional pull of the film lies in Jobs’ relationships with the central females in his life – his faithful head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman (a wonderful Kate Winslet), his one-time partner and mother of his child, Chrisann (Katherine Waterson), and his daughter (played by a different actress in each period). With a tremendous cast, a great script, and solid direction, Steve Jobs carefully balances capitalistic exaltation with Jobs’ more humanised flaws, brought to the screen in equal parts dazzle and heartbreak.

 

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The Hateful Eight

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The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film and second western after the gleefully bombastic, Django Unchained. Despite occupying the same genre, The Hateful Eight couldn’t be more tonally or visually different than the 2012 hit. As the title suggests, Hateful doesn’t feature a cast of loveable rogues and it’s as dark and unrelenting as anything Tarantino has directed before.

The story has bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) transporting criminal, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock to hang. Along the way John picks up Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and soon-to-be Sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). This unlikely band are soon forced off the road by a raging blizzard and they take cover in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a small business run from a wood cabin. Inside they meet Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).

The Hateful Eight then spends most of its 167 minute runtime in said cabin, as characters reveal their pasts and true intentions through banter, monologues and telling reactions. It’s staged almost like a play, and the sense of mounting tension is genuinely gripping. The pace is deliberate, some might say slow, but it’s a testament to the director’s faith in his story and it’s faith well-placed. The third act of the movie features some of the most shocking, graphic violence on screen in recent memory. Set against the backdrop of the howling blizzard outside and Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, the tone is bleak indeed. Sure there are some laughs, big ones in fact, but it’s pitch black gallows humour that underlines rather than lightens the savagery on display.

Performance wise Kurt Russell is his most delightfully John Wayne-ish since John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China and Samuel L. Jackson delivers yet another stunning turn. However the two big surprise performances come from Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who both do the best work of their already impressive careers.

The Hateful Eight isn’t a pleasant film, but it’s a brutally engaging one, the confident character work juxtaposes with the shocking bloodshed (and seriously, you haven’t seen a cabin this blood-soaked outside of an Evil Dead film) and racial subtext to create something quite unique and memorable. It certainly won’t be a film for everyone, but for those who can handle the brutality and nihilism, there’s a lot to love about The Hateful Eight.

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Cemetery of Splendour

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Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first feature since his Palme d’Or winning, Uncle Boonmee Who Can’t Recall His Past Lives (2010), finds the director returning to his roots in what is his most personal, and narratively linear film to date. Cemetery of Splendour centres on Jen (Jenjira Pongpas), a middle-aged housewife and volunteer at a makeshift hospital situated in a disused school, which Jen attended as a child. Jen watches over and cares for Itt (Banlop Lomnoi) a handsome soldier plagued with a mysterious sleeping sickness. Through a young medium, Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), Jen communicates with Itt, drawing a connection between the soldier’s condition and the spiritual site that lies under the hospital.

At once similar, yet strikingly different to Weerasethakul’s previous films, Cemetery of Splendour is that rare treat – a playful mix of history, politics, memory and dream, interwoven into a humorous synthesis of wakefulness and reverie, switching imperceptivity between the two. Imagery and dialogue move between the ancient and the mundane as Weerasethakul never loses his sense of humour. Although the film will be brandished in the ‘slow-cinema’ tradition, Cemetery never feels like a slog as it washes quietly over you, instantly engaging and thoroughly captivating.

Shot in the director’s hometown using many of the locals, Cemetery explores the rapidly changing social landscape, marked primarily by a strong military presence and encroaching globalisation. Weerasethakul explores these themes using memory – its function and how it’s shaped by experience. Utilising the eye of DOP Diego Garcia, Cemetery is filled with ever-shifting light, both natural and artificial. The neon light therapy used in the hospital extends to the dreams of soldiers. Natural landscapes shift in a similar manner as Jen and Itt shift spatially and temporally in their thoughts.

Both a film of resistance and an openly escapist experience, Cemetery of Splendour envelops you in immediate reverie, pulling you in with its quiet rhythms and cadences, be that of the omnipresent background hum of crickets, or the serene and tender exchanges between Jen and Itt. Weerasethakul’s incandescent heartbeat latches onto you like the childhood spirits he seeks out in the film, leaving you with a childlike sense of joy.

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