Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – Film Review

A weird, violent and very unpredictable film, Dan Gilroy director of one of my all-time favourite films: ‘Nightcrawler’, works all his charm and creativity into this horror/drama/mystery/dark comedy? It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly what the genre of this film is. Alongside this, similar to some other films I’ve reviewed, I’d say this is definitely not a film for everyone. But for those who it will appeal to, you will surely enjoy yourself.

Plot Summary: Following the discovery of a series of foreboding paintings by an unknown artist, a supernatural force enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art…

The film is mostly built around the shocking deaths throughout the film, as various characters get killed off in different ways. Leaving the rest of the characters in a state of confusion and panic, this allows the film to delve into bits and pieces of characterisation (granted not a lot) in addition to exploring various ideas of what ‘art’ actually is and we criticise and commercialise it, and despite the film not going incredibly in-depth with these ideas, I did still find many of them and the themes of greed and ego interesting.

Jake Gyllenhaal is essentially the main protagonist of the film: ‘Morf Vandewalt’ a very eccentric and strange character who seems to be a parody of over-the-top art critics. Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer and John Malkovich also all lend their talents to the film. Along with the decent writing, their great performances really help give each character a distinct personality. Unexpectedly however, Zawe Ashton is a true standout of the film for me, only really knowing her from Channel 4’s ‘Fresh Meat,’ here she portrays a very different character than ones before.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit also gives the film a very clean look, utilising many different shots throughout. I still do think the film could’ve done more with the camera work though, especially when compared to Dan Gilroy’s previous films. The does also combine cinematography well with the beautiful sets and locations, giving the film a great visual appeal overall. The original score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders also lends it’s hand to the creepy atmosphere at multiple points throughout the film, yet can also change to more calming or light-hearted when it needs to. 

Although the tone can really vary throughout the film, it never comes-off as unbalanced. Comedy is used at points during the story but never to the point of ruining the eerie atmosphere or character moments. When the film does shift into full horror however, we get easily my favourite moments of the film, as it’s these moments we get some very cool CG effects and unique visuals. As well as a great build-up of intrigue and tension, with the eventual death at the end of the scene usually being very creative, despite not always being very gory.

My main two issues with the film resolve mostly around the pacing of the film, as the film can come off as very slow and can really drag the story down at points. As well as the use of John Malkovich’s character: ‘Piers,’ as this character appears in the very first scene of the film and then again later into the runtime. However, he doesn’t really have any impact on the overall narrative, and really felt to me like the film was just using his bland character to fill-up screen-time.

In conclusion, I couldn’t decide as to what I thought of: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ upon my initial viewing of the film, and I’m still not entirely sure now. As whilst the film does suffer from a fair amount of problems and isn’t the incredibly entertaining piece of gory fun I was hoping it would be. But I still enjoyed myself through its weird atmosphere and interesting ideas, and it is a film I could maybe see myself returning too at some point. Final Rating: 6/10.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) – Film Review

The western genre used to be extremely popular back in the golden age of Hollywood, but in recent years however, westerns have mostly died-off, as aside from a few honourable mentions such as: ‘True Grit,’ ‘The Sisters Brothers’ and ‘Django Unchained.’ The western genre as a whole has run mostly dry, until now that is. As iconic directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) return to the silver screen for this brilliant western anthology.

Plot Summary: Consisting of six different stories of life and violence in the Old West, including the tales of a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a travelling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train and a perverse pair of bounty hunters.

This diverse set of stories and characters really keep the film engaging from start-to-finish, as the film constantly jumps between characters and locations all whilst ensuring that it keeps its decent pacing and usual Coen Brother’s dark sense of humour intact. Resulting in the film feeling extremely refreshing, as superhero blockbusters and jump-scare filled horrors have really taken over the film industry in recent years. So revisiting an old yet classic genre (especially with this modern spin) is truly a breath of fresh air. Especially with the Coen Brother’s brilliant direction.

The performances by every member of the enormous cast are pretty excellent all around. As Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Thomas Waits, Zoe Kazan, Jonjo O’Neill and Brendan Gleeson (just to name a few) are all brilliant when portraying their varied and interesting characters, with Tim Blake Nelson definitely being the clear stand-out for me with his extremely funny and charming portrayal of the title character: ‘Buster Scruggs.’

Throughout the runtime, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is almost flawless, as the film utilizes a variety of beautiful shots which perfectly capture the visual appeal of classic westerns. The original score by Carter Burwell is also great, as the soundtrack uses slow guitar stings and an enormous list of classic country songs to build-up atmosphere, with the best of these definitely being: ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.’

One aspect of the film I absolutely adore is the Coen’s usual style of writing, as every character throughout the film is given plenty of comedic moments and memorable lines, which really helped make many of the characters with slightly-less development more likeable. Another element that also really drew my attention during my first viewing was the incredible sets and costumes the film had on full-display, as considering the locations/costumes are some of the main factors of engaging the audience into the story and it’s time-period. It was clear they were pulling-out all the stops. As every location always felt very real and lived-in, with the character’s clothes being no different.

My personal favourite narrative of the six would most likely be the opening story, sharing the same name as the title of the film: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.’ This opening was just such as joy to watch, balancing dark humour with a classic western set-up brilliantly, in addition to the fantastic performance from Tim Blake Nelson as already mentioned. However, this is also where my biggest criticism of the film comes in, as although they definitely aren’t awful, the last two stories are easily the weakest of the film. As although we do get some great character moments and fun scenes within these stories, I couldn’t help but feel they simply weren’t as memorable or as charming as the others leading-up to them. Perhaps if these two stories we’re placed earlier in the film it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it simply leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth afterwards.

‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ proves once again that westerns are far from gone when it comes to film, as the Coen Brothers once again take the audience for a trip into the wild west with complete success. As this anthology is just as hilarious as it is visually impressive and well-acted, regardless of whether or not the stories are quite on the same level. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Mom and Dad (2018) – Film Review

I was very disappointed upon my initial watch of: ‘Mom and Dad,’ as I originally went into this one anticipating an extremely funny, gory and over-the-top dark comedy. Featuring an equally over-the-top performance by the infamous Nicolas Cage. However, I soon found out this wasn’t the case at all, as the film didn’t deliver enough on most of the elements I was expecting, resulting in an extremely weird film for the wrong reasons.

Plot Summary: When a teenage daughter returns home after a day at school, she and her younger brother must try to survive a twenty-four hour period in which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to violently kill their own children.

Although it’s never fully explored, I personally feel this strange yet unique idea for a narrative is one of the best elements of the film. But with a plot sounding this insane, and of course featuring Nicolas Cage (a man known for his crazy and very memorable performances) I expected something truly special for the comedy-horror genre. But I was very underwhelmed. As the film didn’t really deliver on any of it’s best aspects for me, with the story is very simple and barely getting any development beyond the initial idea, with the same sadly being said for the characters.

The film also gives nowhere near enough screen-time to Nicholas Cage, as although he does have a few memorable moments throughout the story. It’s his co-star Selma Blair who takes up the majority of the scenes, and considering his name is all over the marketing, and his over-the-top style of acting would suit a film like this perfectly, it’s not unfair to have expected more from him. The children in the film portrayed by Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur are both decent but very forgettable.

In regards to the actual filmmaking, the film is nothing too impressive. As film contains mostly bland cinematography by Daniel Pearl, relying on large amounts of shaky-cam for the majority of the runtime. The editing in the film is also very distracting, as aside from the opening title sequence of the film which is framed very similar to the opening of a family sitcom, which I found quite amusing. Unfortunately, everything after this intro I did not. As the film’s editing comes off as very messy and out-of-time at points, as it feels to me like director Bryan Taylor was trying to capture a similar tone to his ‘Crank’ series of films. With the film feels very energetic and fast-paced, but it simply comes off as unusual to me.

One of the element of the film I did sum-what enjoy however is the original score composed by ‘Mr. Bill.’ As the film’s soundtrack does help to build tension during many of the chase scenes. However, although I do like this score for its’s originality, it doesn’t always fit within the film or it’s pacing. Alongside this, the film also seems to shy away from more violent scenes, as we only see a few actual deaths on-screen. The remainder of the violence is usually off-screen, only showing small bits of blood to the audience now and then, for a fun comedy-horror like this, I believe that’s a huge mistake. As I feel the film should have gone all-in on the gore/fun factor.

All in all, I wasn’t very impressed with ‘Mom and Dad,’ I feel a film like this would’ve been extremely entertaining if done correctly. But the film really falls short of being the fun gore-fest it set out to be. If the film was more along the lines of something like: ‘Shaun of the Dead’ or ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ I think it could’ve been something really enjoyable. As I do believe director Bryan Taylor is somewhat talented, being both the director and writer of this film, I could see him directing another strange comedy like this in the future (hopefully one a little better though). Final Rating: high 2/10.

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The Cabin in the Woods (2011) – Film Review

A personal favourite horror classic of mine, Drew Goddard (Bad Times at the El Royale) directs his first feature film with this creepy yet hilarious original story. The plot alone is enough to watch this film, as without spoiling anything, it near enough becomes impossible to predict where this film is going. The more the film unravels, the more interested you become, and by twenty minutes in I found myself incredibly entertained.

Plot Summary: A group of teenage friends all fitting the stereotypes of typical slasher victims, head-up to an old cabin deep in the woods for a weekend of partying. Yet things soon turn-out to not be what they seem, as it appears someone, or something, is manipulating events…

The film overall is basically a dissection of horror films and the clichés that come with them, whilst also being a horror film at the same-time. However, although the film does build-up a decent atmosphere throughout, the horror aspect of the film is easily its weakest element. As I always found myself laughing far more at its comedic scenes, rather than finding myself on-edge over during the tension-filled ones.

Being a typical horror story like this however, always comes the risk of using young unknown actors for the teens, with the exception of maybe Chris Hemsworth of course (who was mostly unknown at this point). Yet I think the entire cast did a phenomenal job, especially Fran Kranz as ‘Marty,’ who got many laughs out of me and completely nailed the ‘Stoner’ type attitude, mostly as a result of the extensive prop and behaviour training he went through before filming in order to further fit his character. Richard Jenkins from ‘Step Brothers’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ is also great within the film as ‘Sitterson,’ as for his role in the story, I’ll leave that a mystery for now…

Many of the visuals in the film come off as your usual standard horror flick, alongside the cinematography by Peter Deming, which of course is nothing special. But there is the occasional pleasing shot, or even a throwback shot to classic horror film every so often, with ‘Friday the 13th’ being the most noticeable. However, the actual design of the cabin set itself, as well as many of the creatures throughout the film, is easily one of my favourite elements. As the costumes are nothing short of incredibly detailed, and really help give each creature it’s own distinct look and feel.

The original score by David Julyan is your standard horror film soundtrack, further playing into the idea of a dissection of the genre, and despite being very bland it does back-up many of the eerie scenes regardless. The editing is also nothing phenomenal, but with a narrative this original and the writing being as hilarious as it is. I’m willing to give them a thumbs-up. Especially when you consider the last twenty minutes of the film, which is probably some of the most fun I’ve had watching a horror flick.

Another weaker aspect of the film is also related to the visuals, as the film was made on a smaller budget, the CG effects in many scenes is quite noticeable, and although it doesn’t completely ruin a scene, it can take you out of the film for a second or two. Thankfully, CGI isn’t used very heavily throughout the film. I also feel this smaller-budget might have had an impact of the runtime, as the film feels a little short to me and could’ve done with being slightly longer to further flush elements out.

In conclusion, I adore ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ from the wonderfully crafted creatures to the way the story unfolds, to the various nods to previous entries in the horror genre. I think Goddard has made a flawless dissection of why we love horror films and the traits within them. Although not prefect, I’m still eagerly anticipating his next film and I really hope he keeps this trend of interesting filmmaking going. Final Rating: 8/10.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Film Review

Wes Anderson’s visually spectacular tale of murder, elegance and crime is far more light-hearted than I was initially expecting. Utilising a bright colour palette, unique cinematography and a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat. The film brings all the usual elements of Wes Anderson’s style that I adore, especially coming straight-off the back of Anderson’s animated flicks.

Plot Summary: ‘Gustave H,’ a concierge of the legendary ‘Grand Budapest Hotel,’ alongside his new lobby boy: ‘Zero.’ Embark on a dangerous journey following a mysterious murder and the disappearance of a priceless Renaissance painting, soon leading them into the middle of a feud over an enormous family fortune.

The film definitely does have a particular artistic flair which his animated flicks do not carry, as in nearly every wide-shot in the film we are greeted with what almost looks like a painting. These paintings are almost used as backdrops throughout the film, and blend seamlessly with the bright pale colour palette of the film. Even with this colour palette and mostly upbeat tone however, the film is not afraid to dive into darker territory if needed in order to serve the story.

In addition to his style, Anderson also does a brilliant job when it comes to the writing, as the film is gushing with hilarious and memorable lines throughout. Many of the comedic lines caught me completely off-guard, with some of the humour being extremely dark. But with a cast this large and talented, you’re almost guaranteed to get comedic gold. In particular, I really enjoyed the performances by Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe, who you could really tell they enjoyed their time on-set.

Robert D. Yeoman handles the cinematography within the film, which is of course brilliant. As not only does it contain the usual style expected from Anderson, but the cinematography even backs up the narrative of the film, as many characters within the story feel isolated, and as a result are framed completely alone. But pretty much all the cinematography throughout the runtime is fantastic of course. The original score by Alexandre Desplat is also a great aspect of the film, as he creates a very memorable soundtrack here which fits the tone of the film perfectly and really backs up many of the comedic scenes, with the tracks: ‘Mr. Moustafa’ and ‘The Cold-Blooded Murder of Deputy Vilmos Kovacs’ being my personal favourites.

For the most part, the protagonists of the film are well-written, we understand who they are within the early stages of the story. Yet as the story continues along, we continue to learn more about them. However, if I had to point out a flaw in the film it’s definitely the antagonists of the film, William Dafoe does an excellent job as the deadly hitman, whilst Adrien Brody also does a decent job as his boss. Beyond that however, the characters are very flat and are given little to no development throughout the film.

Wes Anderson once again also pays serious attention to detail, as in many shots there’s always small hidden gags or visual references hidden away to spot. The filmmaking itself is also used for a lot of visual storytelling e.g. the lonely characters and their framing within the shots as already mentioned.

In conclusion, I was very impressed with ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel,’ as aside from the issue I have with the antagonists of the narrative, the film succeeds in nearly every category for me, and was a very enjoyable watch throughout. Combining Wes Anderson’s great visual style with a brilliant main and supporting cast as well as many comedic moments. The film is certainly worth a watch, and it’s fair to say that Wes Anderson will always have a viewer in me going forward in his career. Final Rating: 9/10.

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