Tag Archive: genre


Under the Shadow.

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Under the Shadow is an internationally co-produced (UK/ Jordan/ Qatar) horror film that has been selected as the British entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards. Set in 1980s war-torn Tehran during the Iran-Iraq conflict, it follows levelheaded mother Shideh and daughter Dorsa as they become increasingly unsettled not only by the continuous air strikes on their city, but an apparent supernatural evil that resides in their apartment block…

The backdrop of Islamic culture immediately brings a fresh perspective to the film – as we’re so conditioned in the West to consider anything ‘supernatural’ to basically mean ‘demons and shit’. Here we see the Islamic equivalent, with Shideh and Dorsa haunted not by a demon, but by entities known as ‘Djinn’, who are said to “travel on the wind” and, while inhabiting an unseen realm, are capable of physical interaction.

Or not, as the case may be… Under the Shadow does not entirely reveal its hand in this respect. You’ll be left wondering (at least initially) whether anything supernatural is really going on, or whether it might in fact simply be a psychological trick; the result of a large amount of stress from the harsh war environment in which Shideh and her daughter are living.

This kind of ambiguity is present in a lot of my favourite horror films – the best ones from the past few years; The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch all shared the quality of not holding your hand to explain what exactly is going on. It helps the film ooze intelligence, leaving it to the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks, and it’s a quality worth treasuring.

Cheap jump scares are thankfully kept to a minimum (save for one scene in which its use is forgivable). Instead, the reliance is on slow-building atmosphere. While it may take longer than some viewers would like for the payoff to kick in as the film sets the scene and builds its characters, once it starts to arrive, the movie quickly gathers pace towards a nerve-wracking finale.

Straight up, this is one of the best films of the year – at least the smartest, something I can imagine informing the field of film study in years to come – and another home run for the horror genre. If you have the slightest interest in good storytelling, horror in particular, you absolutely owe it to yourself to watch Under the Shadow.

10 / 10

Here’s what I have planned for this blog in the near future, in case anyone thought I’d given up on it.

Video games: my ’20 Years of PlayStation’ series is still ongoing. Next on my to-do list are two of the greatest horror video games of all time, and two of my favourite games in general: the original Silent Hill (1999) and its 2001 sequel. I figured it would be fitting to get both of these out – or at least one – by the end of the month, as we are in ‘Halloween’ month after all.

Speaking of which, around Halloween time last year, while I was making the case for why the horror genre is not only great but essential, I promised another film essay, focusing on The Babadook. Granted, I kind of slipped on this one, though it’s always been on the backburner, and hopefully I will also have it out by the end of October. Believe me, I’ve thought so much about this film – my top film of 2014 – that it won’t be too difficult getting a detailed analysis down in coherent words and clicking publish. I had in fact already started working on it around this time last year.

Looking back in my ‘film essay’ category I see that I haven’t in fact published one here since last July, which really is too long, especially considering I was going along at a pace of around one per month up until then. There are two others I have planned immediately following the next: Nightcrawler and Ex Machina, arguably two of the most overlooked films of the past couple of years, and certainly two of my absolute favourites, so I want to do them some justice.

Originally I had planned my ’20 Years of PlayStation’ series to, like my plan for film essays, proceed along at a pace of around one per month. Obviously that hasn’t happened for various reasons – not that I’ve just been sitting around, rather I’ve had other things to focus on in the time being – so what I’m going to do with that is, at the very least, get out the two Silent Hill articles (because honestly writing about either of those is an almost limitless joy), then write up something about Final Fantasy VIII (1999), my favourite childhood game and one belonging to a series that frequently splits even its own fans. I’ll be making my case for why VIII, rather than its predecessor, was the peak of the series overall.

After those, I’ll assess whether it’s worth continuing ‘20 Years of PlayStation’ at all. In reality it will probably end with the year 2016 (as we will then technically be into 21 years and so on), and I’ll instead focus on more modern stuff again.

I’ve also been working on an article focusing on the issue of performance enhancing drugs in sport, after a year in which we’ve seen a few high profile cases of doping offences and accusations. That one doesn’t entirely follow the politically correct narrative – I think along the lines of allowing some PED’s to be used in a controlled manner, rather than banning everything outright – but I’m writing it mainly to shed some light on the stuff that people tend to overlook when it comes to ‘cheating’ (the blanket term for any offence) in sport.

Otherwise, there are four other prominent ideas for articles that I want to finish and publish here by the end of the year. Those are, first: a piece tackling the issue of review ethics and people who deride critics for any reason, from simply being a butt-hurt fan to those who accuse us of just being ‘haters’ who don’t know how to enjoy stuff.

I have a strong belief when it comes to critique; that it should not tell you what to think about a film, video game, or whatever the product/ service may be, but rather it should help you develop how you think about them. Reviews above all should inform the consumer – they’re not about telling people what they should or shouldn’t enjoy as if there’s some objective standard. Something I love may be something you hate, because everyone has different tastes; but the detail I give about that thing should be enough to tell you how you’re going to feel about it, independent of my own opinion.

Linked to this but worthy of its own article, I’m going to go into the impact that films, video games and books have each had on me personally in terms of my own development. Certain aspects of modern society actively discourage critical thinking and open-mindedness – in fact, I think it’s always been like this, but today’s culture of political correctness means we hear things like “you can’t say that” more than ever, especially on social media (my advice: whatever kind of person you are, it’s healthy to have less of that in your life).

That’s why I think this is important. Art is vital for helping people think outside the confines of the masses; it’s why I value artistic integrity and freedom of expression so highly. Many people who have a single-minded approach to issues in life, on the other hand, don’t. I heard a statement recently that stuck with me: an open mind is a learning mind. Rarely has a truer statement been made throughout history.

My final two planned articles for the year have been an even longer time coming. They are: my Best Films of 2014, and Best Films of 2015.

Now, obviously I understand that most people who like to do this sort of thing prefer to do an ‘end of year’ list and leave it at that. It’s like a nice way to wrap up the year in film, but for me none of those lists are definitive. Not that I’m saying mine would be, though here’s the thing; I consider a film that comes out in 2014, regardless of where it first comes out, to be a 2014 film.

For example, a film released in the UK in, say, early 2015, yet features heavily in awards season, is undoubtedly a 2014 film (Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, for instance) – because the Academy Awards reward the best films of the previous year. Said film will have been out in the US a few months before, but many of us living elsewhere would not have had a chance to see it yet, and it is therefore, by default, left off the list.

From my perspective, then, to make a list at the end of a calendar year would feel a little silly, bordering on dishonest, as the best films released in the UK that year would only represent around half – if that – of the year’s best films overall. I like world cinema; films from Europe, Asia, or elsewhere. And usually it takes a year or so to catch up on films from those places as their releases gradually filter out across other regions. I prefer to include those in my lists, as I want the list to be as definitive and conclusive as possible.

The other thing to note is my dislike of limiting said lists to a ‘top ten’, again usually done for efficiency (I understand; critics are busy, and wrapping up a compact top ten list at the end of the year is simpler than the method I’m currently advocating). The ‘best’ films of a year may not be limited to just ten – or perhaps in an extremely dry year, there wouldn’t even be ten worthy of inclusion.

Now, most critics actually agree with this to an extent; hence why they do some ‘honourable mentions’ that don’t quite make the top ten. For me that’s curious (why name-drop if you’re not going to detail your reasons?) but again I sort of understand why one would – it saves time, and essentially a ‘top 10’ is more marketable than, say, a ‘top 13’. I have more flexibility in my personal schedule and don’t see why I would restrict myself in that way when I’m not required to.

So basically, my lists will feature the best films of each year, whether it’s 10, 12 or 15 movies long. The 2014 list is almost ready to go and realistically I hope to have that one posted here by the start of next month. 2015, hopefully by the end of the year, and as for my 2016 list, well, I’m thinking Summer 2017 at the earliest. The good thing is, as I’m about to hit another film festival – my second such event of the year – I’ll have a decent head start on a lot of the biggest films to feature in awards season coming up. I’ll probably be writing an article around Oscar time too that will give large hints as to the films I found most impressive over the past year.

One final thing… I plan to do brief film previews (yes I am capable of writing shorter pieces!) every Friday. This will give me an opportunity to look forward to some new movies that catch my eye – that won’t necessarily get the mainstream marketing treatment – and share it with you guys. I’m frequently finding new stuff to get excited about so there’ll be no shortage of things to write about here, and I figure it might be useful to have a category for which posts are regular and somewhat set in stone going forward. That way, one could turn up here every weekend and know they’re at least getting something new, even if I haven’t otherwise written anything of great existential meaning.

Speaking of existential meaning, I’m off to prepare for one of the best times of the year: London Film Festival.

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I’ll say it right now; there is an intriguing battle shaping up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards next year.

On one hand, the favourite (quite clearly, for a reason I’ll go on to detail); Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, a musical about classical Hollywood and the kind of artistic work that the Academy usually goes for. On the other, an underdog, but almost certainly the film to win if Chazelle’s effort misses out: Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. Yes, that it shares its name with a certain other movie released in 1915 is intentional, as is the poignant choice to make it almost exactly 100 years after its namesake dominated headlines as the first mainstream American feature length film.

Now, anyone who follows the Academy Awards will know that this decision can be as much about politics as it is about finding the best film of the year. And anyone who paid attention to the controversy surrounding last year’s ceremony will also know that the issue of race has been a prevalent one for the Academy of late. In fact, it seems 2016 in general has been a year in which the issue of race has prominently reared its head, with cases of unbridled racism, perhaps naively thought conquered, regularly hitting headlines in the US and – to a lesser extent but let’s not deny the unfortunate side effects of ‘Brexit’ – in the UK as well.

So I think the Academy is set to find themselves in a rather awkward spot come January/ February time. Whichever of the above two contenders wins the top prize is likely to affect the narrative surrounding the decision, and that narrative is likely, once again, to be about race.

I said La La Land was the clear favourite. That is because I honestly believe it’s the one the Academy will choose if they are to choose honestly. Without asking themselves which one they ‘should’ choose. But there is a chance, with the racial undertones of the past year, that they will opt for Birth of a Nation, and for many people it would feel like a victory in more ways than one.

I’m of course saying this without having seen either of these films. They will both be screening at the BFI London Film Festival, which begins this evening with another racially charged movie: A United Kingdom, a British film directed by Amma Asante. When I first heard this film would open the festival, I immediately thought of how the UK had been split by Brexit in the Summer – and the title of the movie took on an almost ironic tone, as if it was pointing out to all of us that our United Kingdom was not, in fact, living up to its name in 2016.

A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike (both of whom I’m sure will feature once again in the acting categories at the Oscars – Oyelowo may well get his win this year) tells the story of the real-life romance between Seretse Khama, first president of Botswana, and Ruth Williams, a woman he met while touring in Britain and took back with him to Botswana as his bride. As one might imagine, it proved rather controversial on both sides, and with the racial tensions of today, this film may therefore be another dark horse to look out for in February.

Those are the main headliners of the festival, but not necessarily the films I am most looking forward to. From what I’ve read, heard and seen, this year’s lineup is incredibly strong, and there are quite a few on my list to check out in the coming days.

This includes new films from some of my favourite modern directors; Francois Ozon (with Frantz, a monochrome WW1-era romance), Korean director Park Chan-wook (most famous among Western audiences for 2003’s Oldboy) with new movie The Handmaiden, and Denis Villeneuve (whose next project is the Blade Runner sequel) with sci-fi Arrival starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.

My most anticipated, though, is the new film from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who is making his return to the J-horror genre for the first time since 2001’s Pulse, with Creepy. Admittedly an uninspired title at first glance, and last year’s festival wasn’t exactly kind with its promised return to this genre (Hideo Nakata’s Ghost Theater was rather laughably bad and a far cry from his vintage work), but I still have high hopes for Kurosawa’s return. Pulse remains one of my all-time favourite horror movies and his films outside the genre have been almost as impressive.

Other films that have made my watch list include: Queen of Katwe, a biographical film about a Ugandan woman – Phiona Mutesi – who proves to be a chess prodigy and competes at the world championships; Graduation, for which Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu shared the Best Director award at Cannes; and Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart, the director of which (Olivier Assayas) shared that Best Director prize at Cannes with Mungiu. Also a few highly rated Australian films, including hard-hitting documentary Chasing Asylum (about Australia’s harsh immigration policies) and Goldstone, sequel to 2013’s underrated Western Mystery Road.

There are more, many more of course, but I’m going to leave the rest for the imagination right now. Hopefully I’ve adequately whetted your appetite for the festival. I’m pretty hyped about what awaits, a little tired already thinking how busy it’s going to be, and looking forward to the inevitable surprises beyond what I’ve highlighted here.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be a memorable festival, and an interesting few months leading up to the Academy Awards next February. Enjoy the ride!

Tale of Tales.

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Technically Tale of Tales is over a year old – it was first screened in competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes last May. But this Italian-French-British co-production only recently arrived on UK shores, and it’s set to be one of the most eccentric films released here this year.

Tale of Tales is Italian director Matteo Garrone’s first English-language film (something to bear in mind for those of you who can’t stand anything with subtitles); a horror fantasy featuring three interwoven stories described as ‘adult fairy tales’ – and trust me, these fairy tales certainly aren’t for children. While I found it relatively light on the ‘horror’ side (bear in mind, I’m accustomed to some pretty hardcore stuff), there is still enough sex, violence, adult themes and a genuinely unsettling tone in places to put off those who prefer a more PG experience.

The rest of you are likely to lap this up, providing fantasy is a genre you have at least a passing interest in. It opens with a queen desperate to conceive a child, by any means necessary… so when a necromancer shows up saying he knows a way, she pleads with her king to do the necessary. Loving her so, he grants her wish, setting off to kill a sea monster, seeking its heart, which must be cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen; at which point she will fall pregnant immediately. But there will, of course, be a cost to her granted wish, as there always seems to be with offers sounding too good to be true.

This is one of three entertaining and somewhat fantastical scenarios featuring hapless royalty, each of which take place in the same world but are unique tales in their own right. They all have elements of tongue-in-cheek humour mixed in with serious thematic undertones; the sub-plot revolving around Toby Jones’ fascination with a flea, which then indirectly decides the fate of his princess daughter, is the prime example. There are moments when you’re not quite sure whether to laugh or feel horrified at what’s unfolding in front of you, but the film will certainly hold your attention for the entire journey either way.

As well as the aforementioned Jones (who undeniably steals the spotlight in most of his scenes), Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek, Stacy Martin and John C. Reilly make up an enjoyable ensemble cast, while the beautiful sets and environments they inhabit are characters of their own. One could say if Lord of the Rings was set thousands of years ago, Tale of Tales feels like a slightly more modern reimagining of that kind of world, retaining a shadow of the beauty of its landscape but with all the bastardisations that come with the passing of time, when there are no more wars to be fought.

In reality these two fantasies are scarcely related outside of their genre; this film is based on the works of the Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, whose work reportedly also contained the earliest versions of other fairy tales such as Repunzel and Cinderella. Tale of Tales lacks the sheer scale of Tolkien’s epic (but then again, is there anything that doesn’t?); you’ll find no armies or battles here, and in terms of overall tone the two are quite different, but for imagination I found them comparable. On that note, one can’t help but see Guillermo del Toro’s influence in the creature and set design.

Its eccentric, irreverent tone may indeed be Tale of Tales’ greatest strength. I don’t recall seeing anything else quite like it. Essentially it is as much a black comedy as it is horror or fantasy. Unlike others who’ve tried to parody this kind of setting (2011’s Your Highness comes to mind), Tale of Tales does it with a unique style and fine attention to detail. Providing it resonates with you in the same way, this is likely to be one of your favourite films of 2016.

9 / 10

Traders.

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Imagine a world in which men had been pushed to the point where they willingly put all of their money on the line in a fight to the death; the winner walking away with everything in the other’s possession. Before starting the fight, you find a quiet area, making sure you’re not followed, and dig a hole in which the loser’s body will be placed. If you’re good at it, this can be quite a lucrative business – with frequent sparring partners getting involved out of pure desperation, having lost their job and finding themselves drowning in debt.

Well, Traders brings this scenario to life. An Irish thriller with darkly comedic elements, it’s set around the 2008 financial crash – indeed the film opens with the two central characters losing their highly paid jobs and facing the reality of being unable to afford the lavish lifestyle’s they had been living up to that point.

The film has a definite tongue-in-cheek style to certain parts of its script and acting performances; a tone which some may find slightly jarring as it tackles serious issues like depression and even suicide, resulting from unemployment and debt. But Traders does in fact handle these issues well. It simply does so with a refreshingly irreverent attitude, and dares not to make them the overall focus of the film – because the focus here is instead about finding thrills in a hopeless situation. That’s what the 2008 crash was. The so-called ‘death of the Celtic Tiger’, following a boom for the Irish economy throughout the 1990s and mid-2000s, left many feeling as hopeless as the characters of this film. To look back on it with a sense of humour is something one would like to think is warranted, if not necessary for moving forward.

Jointly written and directed by Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy, starring Killian Scott as its central ‘trader’ Harry Fox, with John Bradley as his hapless friend Vernon (to whom the concept of trading can be attributed; originally pitched as his new ‘business idea’), Traders has been named in the same breath as Fight Club (1999) by critics. It’s not hard to see why; in basic terms, both films involve fighting, men falling back to primal instincts in the face of societal disillusionment, and both provide a subtle critique of their cultural backdrop in entertaining fashion.

This film, though, had a much smaller budget, and in general feels like a more eccentric premise; so that it manages to be almost as successful as David Fincher’s accomplished cult classic is all the more impressive. In time Traders itself may garner a similar reputation in some circles, though its tone may turn others off. For me it was undoubtedly one of the festival’s best surprises.

8 / 10

The Bunker.

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Der Bunker is the German directorial debut from Nikias Chryssos – and it must be one of the most unique, eccentric feature debuts ever.

The main protagonist is a nameless character referred to only as ‘the Student’ throughout the film. Hoping to find peace and quiet so he can make progress with his work – apparently some groundbreaking scientific stuff involving the Higgs particle theory – he moves in with a family (Mother, Father and son Klaus, who is the only named character) as their new lodger. Yet this is no typical family; they live in a bunker, and the Student’s room has no windows, despite the property having been advertised as a ‘lake-side home with a view’.

Furthermore Klaus is being led to believe by his parents that he will one day be president of the United States, and his Father is home schooling him in the bunker to prepare him for this future. One problem (aside from the obvious): Klaus does not seem particularly intelligent, struggling to remember even the capital cities of other European countries like France. Therefore Mother and Father soon suggest to the Student that he take over Klaus’ education, and after some gentle prodding, the Student reluctantly agrees despite it interfering with the important work that was the main purpose of his stay.

Mother also has a ‘presence’ – whether it be some kind of alien, god, or a figment of her own subconscious – called ‘Heinrich’ that inhabits a scar on her leg, regularly giving her instructions for dealing with Klaus (and later, the Student) as they insidiously plan out his upbringing.

Straight up; this film is crazy. But crazy in a good way. Its eccentricities aren’t there just for the sake of mindless fun – director Chryssos clearly intends meaning behind his choices, from the Student’s somewhat stalled attempts to work on the Higgs particle theory, to themes regarding unrealistic expectations for one’s children and even, perhaps, the dangers of following an unseen ‘higher power’ without question. Is it significant that the only two named characters of the movie are the son, Klaus, and the unseen Heinrich? Almost certainly; it seems the other three people involved are merely pawns in the game.

Of course, whether one feels they take anything meaningful from it will depend on the individual. Personally I suspect Der Bunker could be a masterpiece in due time – but on a single viewing I’m still not quite sure.

7 / 10

Marguerite.

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Loosely inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins (who coincidently and rather confusingly is also the subject of an upcoming biographical film starring Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep), Marguerite is a light-hearted drama set in the ‘golden twenties’, about an aspiring opera singer who believes she has a beautiful voice that everyone loves to listen to.

Believes is the key word there, as the truth – which no one has the heart to tell Marguerite – is that her singing voice is, in fact, horrible. The singer’s appeal, the thing that brings her the success she attributes to her vocal talents, lies in her likeable personality and refreshingly naive attitude. Her audiences find entertainment in the fact that she clearly believes wholeheartedly in how good she is, both on stage and in offering advice to inexperienced singers as if she’s an expert, and the film plays up this aspect for comedic value throughout.

This is a movie primarily for those who don’t take life too seriously and can find humour in this kind of self-deprecating entertainment. Also for those who either love opera – though the plot focuses on someone who doesn’t perform it well herself, the soundtrack is otherwise full of vintage classical music – or the period in which the film is set. If any of that sounds appealing to you, you’ll have a great time with Marguerite.

Even for myself, someone for whom 1920s opera wouldn’t necessarily represent a good time on paper, this movie was strangely comforting. There’s something undeniably likeable about these characters… Marguerite’s close friends and family care deeply for her; even her husband, who shows disdain for his wife’s lack of talent and is also having an affair on the side. Marguerite herself, for all her blind naivety when it comes to her singing, shows alarming insight at other times that helps make her increasingly endearing as the film goes on.

Though it ends on a slightly bizarre note (pun intended I guess), Marguerite is on the whole an eccentric and curiously beautiful character study of a woman whose blind confidence overrides lack of talent. The music’s great, period detail immaculate, and there won’t be much else quite like it in cinemas this year.

8 / 10

Our Little Sister (preview).

Anyone who knows me well will know I have a thing for Japan, not least Japanese movies. When a movie is released over here from that part of the world, especially if it’s a piece of work from an established director, I do my best to check it out. Here’s a fine example of something that suitably fits the criteria.

Our Little Sister was selected to compete for last year’s Palme d’Or; the second consecutive film from Hirokazu Koreeda to do so after 2013’s Like Father, Like Son. As his movie titles suggest, he tends to specialise in domestic or family dramas. 2011 film I Wish was a story about two young brothers, while 2008’s Still Walking followed a family commemorating the death of their eldest son over a 24 hour period. Without doubt he’s one of Japan’s top directors of this era; Roger Ebert compared him to Tokyo Story director Yasujiro Ozu.

So if the Japanese domestic environment/ family unit is something you’re interested in, I’d go so far as to say this film might be unmissable. Right now you may be able to find preview screenings in London; there’s also one in Belfast on the 14th April, before the film is more widely released the following day. Beyond that I can’t say yet how widely available it will be. This is one definitely worth looking out for though.

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Bone Tomahawk has been described as a ‘horror western hybrid’ ever since its first screening at Fantastic Fest (film festival in Austin, Texas) last September. That genre description is a fairly accurate summation of the overall experience.

I saw the film at its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in October, and it was one of the most memorable screenings I’ve ever attended. Granted that may have been due partly to audience reaction (which helped make one scene in particular extremely memorable), and whether it will have a similar effect on everyone remains to be seen, but for me the experience was pretty special. This marks the second year in a row (after 2014’s The Babadook) that I found a directorial debut blew me away more than anything produced by industry veterans – and that S. Craig Zahler apparently shot the film over 14 days with little rehearsal time makes it all the more extraordinary.

If I had to choose one word that best describes Bone Tomahawk it would be ‘visceral’. While it does have more understated qualities (performances, dialogue, cinematography and soundtrack to name a few), this isn’t exactly a film for the faint hearted – a foreboding atmosphere hangs over the whole movie from the opening scene. In this case that’s by no means a bad thing.

Yes, there’s conflict, and violence; people die, often in uncomfortable circumstances. You really feel it because you grow to care about the characters. The film’s antagonists are genuinely intimidating and unsettling, as you can imagine them and their methods existing in real life.

Kurt Russell plays the lead in an ensemble that includes Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins. Russell has of course recently made an appearance in another Western: The Hateful Eight. His performance here is better, arguably his best in years, and all-round this is easily a superior movie to Tarantino’s most recent effort. Matthew Fox is also magnificent, encapsulating his character to the extent that you’ll quickly forget he was Jack Shephard from Lost. David Arquette and Sid Haig make entertaining appearances too. For a directorial debut you’ll hardly find a more impressive cast.

The film counterbalances its more brutal moments with light touches of comedy. Although I have heard mild criticisms regarding the script’s pacing around the middle of the movie, I enjoyed spending time with these characters so much that this was never an issue for me. There was never a dull moment from my point of view.

So it should go without saying now that I think you should see this extraordinary film, if any part of my account of it has appealed to you. I don’t deny that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But for those to whom it does sound intriguing, I hope you find as much enjoyment in your “experience” of it as I myself did.

Deadpool.

Deadpool pic 3.

If, like me, you’ve recently found yourself becoming tired of the increasingly redundant superhero/ comic book movie formula that has come to prominence in the film industry over the past fifteen years, rest assured that Deadpool shares the sentiment. This is a movie that fully embraces its role as the black sheep of recent superhero studio offerings, reflected in its self-referential, irreverent attitude and crude content.

Deadpool is, much like its title character, a reluctant, outrageous and mostly hilarious instalment in the expanded X-Men film series – one that shows as little loyalty and respect for its own expanded universe as it does for other supposedly wholesome family-friendly superhero movies that have come before. The film’s stylish opening credits set up its smart-ass, self-deprecating tone in referring to cast and crew by stereotypical tropes – e.g. “directed by an overpaid tool”, featuring “a villain with an English accent” and also starring a “hot chick” – rather than their real names.

Note that such stereotypes are common throughout other superhero movies, not least Marvel’s own; the main difference between them and Deadpool is not so much that this film breaks away from the typical formula (without its sense of humour it would undeniably appear as formulaic as anything else), but that it is excessively self-aware of that formula. It openly embraces the subsequent shortcomings of its own genre before inverting those conventions upon themselves.

Deadpool himself often looks to the audience, casually breaking the fourth wall as he shares in-jokes that play off our preconceived notions of what to expect from this kind of movie. He throws out quips regarding the lesser budget of his film in comparison with the larger ‘franchises’, his own character history (including that misjudged appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that you’d think he’d rather forget), and even acknowledges the naysayers who claimed Deadpool would never get his own movie nor would Ryan Reynolds be a successful casting choice in the central role. Here he goes some way to proving them all wrong, flipping a middle finger in the process.

The coolest thing about Wade Wilson, the quick-witted mercenary who becomes ‘anti-hero’ Deadpool, is that he’s largely a spokesperson for those of us who roll our eyes when the Avengers continually come out on top in perfectly choreographed set pieces; or when Hollywood flippantly destroys entire cities and incurs several casualties that we’re not supposed to care about because the camera doesn’t focus in on them.

In fact perhaps the best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s not, despite initial appearances, simply out for those kind of mindless thrills. Violence, while at times bordering on excessive (though trust me, there’s much worse to be found elsewhere), is not simply there – it has a point. That it’s done in somewhat flippant and comical fashion is what will offend more conservative viewers; that its point is, in the end, to ridicule the high-minded moral compass of other movies is what will turn others off because here they can’t sit quite as comfortably in their seats as when they’re watching the good guys win.

Whether this character resonates with you or not (and by his offensive nature, there will obviously be some with whom he doesn’t gel), one can’t deny that he is a gifted individual; which indeed, for some, will make it all the more galling that he willingly chooses not to perform the noble heroics we’ve come to expect from such a character. He could be a hero… but hey, the world has enough of those anyway.

I think there are two main groups Deadpool will especially appeal to. The first and most obvious are those who simply wish to lap up the dirty jokes, half-naked attractive people on screen, and all-round tone of underworld seediness. Come to it just for those things and you certainly won’t leave disappointed. The second, a group in which I fit quite easily, are those jaded by the repeated formula we’ve become so used to seeing and who find it refreshing to have something different on offer from a major studio.

This is, after all, a superhero/ comic book movie not for kids, but adults – adults who may realise now just how watered down those other movies are. Here is one with excessive swearing, violence, and a potential heart of gold that it willingly – and repeatedly – rips up in front of your eyes for the sheer fun of it. Featuring a protagonist who is, in stark contrast to a ‘true hero’ like Captain America, a rather shallow man (the choice of Ryan Reynolds for the role is itself the subject of self-deprecating humour at one point) using his newfound powers for personal gains, namely revenge motivated primarily by the loss of his good looks.

The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” is inverted time and again – even the usual redemptive character arc is neatly avoided at the last moment. Wade Wilson remains the same ‘Merc with a mouth’ at the film’s conclusion that he was at the beginning; the movie retaining its stubbornly flippant attitude to the end. In this case, it fits, and for me it worked out brilliantly.

Tonally and stylistically, I found the whole movie to be well-crafted and immensely enjoyable. Be aware that it is likely to offend if you don’t share its sense of humour, or its thoughts and opinions on the genre of which it is an entertaining part. But of course, there is also another element to all this; what some people might consider the ‘elephant in the room’.

That is the undeniable fact that this is still a movie by a major studio. While it is essentially making fun of its own methods, it is profiting by doing so, and those profits will ultimately go towards making movies in the same vein that may return to the same old habits. I do however feel that this is a different, bigger conversation for another time. And really, there was no better way to tackle this particular Marvel character than the way in which they did so here.

As a standalone film and all-round experience, I can’t deny the great time I had with Deadpool. There will surely be a sequel; I hope they push the anti-PG bar even further with it. For right now I don’t mind backing Hollywood to do so, even if they have got to a point where they’re selling our own jaded attitudes back to us.

8 / 10