Tag Archives: Oscars

Netflix Film Review: “Fatal Deceit” a.k.a. “Gaslit” (2019)

read the 150 word review of Fatal Deceit / Gaslit here

… like something from Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place

Olivia’s (Zoe McLellan) world is turned upside down when, following the death of her estranged husband in a car accident, her teenage daughter goes missing while on a camping trip with the neighbours. But when her neighbours deny taking her on the trip, or even having met or seen any “daughter” in Zoe’s house, ever, Zoe’s whole world, and mind, rapidly unravel. Has someone taken her daughter? Does she even have a daughter?

Fatal Deceit a.k.a. Gaslit (2019) is nothing new. The whole have-they-taken-her-kid-or-does-she-even-have-a-kid thing has been done many times before. None-the-less, the basic storyline was entertaining and capably written by Writer-Director Colin Edward Lawrence and co-writer Erin Murphy West. One of the key plot points was, however, clumsily and blatantly telegraphed quite early on, consequently much of the suspense which was otherwise rather well developed was slightly deflated. And the general release title, Gaslit, has to be the biggest spoiler-title since “Return of the King”.

The direction was — interesting. Some of it was unusual but worked, other shots were like something from Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place: a bizarre, TV movie parody, almost. But the hit and miles wide direction was nothing compared to the acting.

Zoe McLellan is a decent television actor. She seems to know what her range is, and she works to push her abilities. Yet despite being an admirable second-rate TV / small screen actor, she was made to look like an Oscar contender such was the truly abysmal work from her castmates. Daughter Hannah (Stevie Lynn Jones) gave an early and shockingly bad turn which actually caused me to turn the movie off. I took a breather, had a think, and plowed back on. But it was that shocking. The rest of the cast do no better: husband Layne, Matthew Pohlkamp, the neighbour Mary, Stephanie Charles, the friend Bruce, Chris Dougherty: all were poor. Only supporting character Jack, Mike Erwin, gave a half-decent go. It’s no exaggeration to say that Zoe McLellan might wish to use this movie as her new demo reel such is the gulf between her performance and that of her castmates: an average turn/performance has been made to seem quite impressive, just as eggy bread looks like haute cuisine next to a dog’s dinner.

This movie is basically trash. A TV movie for the insomniac. But it’s trash with some redeeming features.

2/5

© 2021-2022 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://res.cloudinary.com/jerrick/image/upload/c_scale,q_auto/5fac2467bf56e2001c728019.jpg

Netflix 150 Word Film Review: “Fatal Deceit” a.k.a. “Gaslit” (2019)

check out the full length review here

Flightplan in the ‘burbs.

Olivia’s (Zoe McLellan) world is turned upside down when her teenage daughter Hannah goes missing just weeks after the death of her estranged husband in a car accident. But when people deny having seen Hannah, ever, Olivia’s whole world rapidly unravels. Has someone taken Hannah, or did Olivia’s sick mind make her up in the first place?

Fatal Deceit a.k.a. Gaslit (2019) is nothing new. It’s Flightplan in the ‘burbs. None-the-less, the basic storyline was entertaining and capably written. Sadly, a key plot twist was clumsily and blatantly telegraphed early on, a real suspense-killer. And Gaslit itself has to be the biggest spoiler-title since “Return of the King”.

The direction was unusual, often ridiculous, but always sublime compared to the acting.

Zoe McLellan’s a decent television actor. She did well. But her co-stars’ performances were so uniformly awful that it made McLellan look like an Oscar contender.

A trashy TV movie for the insomniac — but with redeeming features.

2/5

© 2021-2022 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://res.cloudinary.com/jerrick/image/upload/c_scale,q_auto/5fac2467bf56e2001c728019.jpg

Film Review “Mother!” #NetflixReview @MotherMovie @DarrenAronofsky

I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Sadly, I don’t ever want to set my eyes on it again.

Mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence as “Mother”, a devoted wife to emotionally damaged artist “Him” (Javier Bardem) who is suffering a debilitating bout of writer’s block. She single-handedly rebuilds his childhood home, which had mysteriously burnt down, in the hope that this idyll in the middle of nowhere will reignite his creative, and perhaps even sexual, passions. However, this paradise-in-the-making is disturbed as a series of unexpected random visitors pay them a visit from out of nowhere, to catastrophic results. Weird, unique, challenging: director Darren Aronofsky is back.

The acting from Lawrence, Bardem, and Michael Pfeiffer is topnotch, perhaps even Oscar-worthy. Ed Harris is pretty special in this, too. They really are on top of their game here. The set up and first third of the film is wonderful, classic almost Twilight Zone mystery territory: who are these people, what do they really want, and why is everyone — including her husband — acting so off? The film is both a pensive slow-mover and at the same time a rocket-charged rollercoaster. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Sadly, I don’t ever want to set my eyes on it again. The film totally goes off its rocker after an unfortunate incident occurs in the house. The imagery and the acting and set design were magnificent and brutal. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None-the-less, any pretence of story is launched through the window (or the wall) with all the ferocity of Yuriy Sedykh’s hammer throw at the 1986 European Championships. It makes no sense, nor does it want to. Aronofsky is a challenging but brilliant filmmaker (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, Pi), but this film just eats itself in pretension (you already noticed the “names” of our two protagonists, didn’t you? “Mother” and “Him”). Both totally open-ended and easy to interpret any way you want — as per our writer’s own work (ooooh meta) — and yet incredibly straight-forward, this movie doesn’t so much think it’s cleverer than it is, but rather it doesn’t give a flying f***. Frankly, it’s bonkers, but in a way that makes no sense (in contrast to Aronofsky’s previous works).

As I have said, this movie has genuine Oscar contender vibes. So why only two stars? Because story has to come first, that’s why; a movie that tosses story out of the window to go down some kind of nightmarish drug trip which makes no sense at all, cannot have a “good” rating no matter how undoubtedly brilliant aspects of the film are. The last section of the film began to genuinely test my patience with its out-and-out nonsense. Being a visionary director who has succeeded in getting first rate performances out of his team is not an excuse for self-wallowy rubbish.

2/5

© 2021-2022 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://buzz.tt/media/posters/1742/posters_3_1500.jpg

Netflix Film Review “Get Out” (2017) #NetflixReview @GetOutMovie #GetOutMovie @JordanPeele

a refreshing mix of familiar ingredients in a new form, the hallmark of much groundbreaking work

Jordan Peele’s feature debut as writer-director, Get Out, is the story of young African-American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his Caucasian Apple Pie American girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). They take a road trip to meet Rose’s posh WASP family for the first time. Chris is nervous, but Rose reassures him: “They woulda voted for Obama a third time if they could!”. Her family greets him with warm and open arms. But something’s amiss, and Chris just can’t put his finger on it. But as the hours and days go by, Chris begins to realise something is very wrong with the Armitages.

Get Out is a wonderful and surprising horror-mystery-thriller which keeps you guessing until near the end. It’s quite different: a refreshing mix of familiar ingredients in a new form, the hallmark of much groundbreaking work.

It’s thrilling and mysterious, and at times surreal and funny. I thought this worked well, but surrealism and comedy might be a discordant turn-off for some viewers.

Peele says it’s a “social horror”. And it’s certain that it’s on the back of this antiracist message that the film picked up four Oscar noms and one win. Indeed, the point he makes — that white liberals can have a racism every bit as dangerous if not more so than hillbillies can — is important and not often made in cinema. Sad,ly the message was undercut by the thoroughly surreal nature of proceedings; surrealism is a key part to making satire effective, but I feel things stretched too far in this picture. Frankly, this film is best viewed as a horror-mystery-thriller and not as some sort of satirical social commentary (although your Guardian-reading friends surely sold it to you as such).

The final twist seemed a step too far into absurdity to make its social satirical points. But worse, it isn’t quite consistent with what comes before. Although fair play to writer-director Jordan Peele: the ending wasn’t merely tacked on as so often is the case with the shock twist, but was clearly the direction we were headed in all along, with hindsight. Nonetheless, it doesn’t really work. And the biggest twist is revealed through something unbelievable (a scheming character just leaving something incriminating lying about).

Original, refreshing, thrilling, albeit with an ending that doesn’t quite work. Just don’t watch it as a serious take-down of racism.

4/5

© 2020-2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://buytheway.ascjclass.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2017/03/get-out-mainstage-v2-reduced-58daa3d64781d-1.png

FILM REVIEW: 12 Years A Slave

note: review originally published 2014

 … isn’t fit to tie the emotional and dramatic boots of Toy Story 3

12 Years a Slave is the third film from young British director Steve McQueen. Adapted from the diaries of Solomon Northup, the film is set before the American Civil War and tells the true story of a free black man from the northern United States who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south, subsequently spending 12 years trying to get back to his family.

There’s a big buzz around 12 Years a Slave. It seems to be this year’s in vogue film, dealing as it does with controversial subject material (blacks, slaves, impregnated black slaves). But let me tell you a secret, dear reader, something nobody dares speak, that nobody even dares think: the film, err, isn’t that great.

So it’s bad, then? Not at all. It’s actually fairly solid. But the glowing praise and universal acclaim that it’s garnered, along with the multiple Oscars that it will land**, have simply not been earned. Sadly, this film is exactly the kind that the lovies and wannabe intellectual journalist-types adore. Nobody wants to say the Emperor has no clothes because they’re scared it might make them look insensitive or, worse, uncultured(!) Gulp. But the film just doesn’t work. And how I desperately wanted it to work, how I crave to say this blew my mind.

So what is wrong with it?

It all comes down to one thing: you just don’t care what happens to Solomon. He’s clearly a good man, but his struggles and the eventual conclusion of the film leave you feeling rather cold. Crescendo, big moment, obstacle overcome at last, tears on screen – and yet I was left unmoved. Time after time. I thought: Am I bad? Have I become desensitised? Do I not care enough because he’s not white? Am I secretly heartless and/or a racist? Some of my best friends are… I looked around the cinema to see if someone, anyone was crying. But thankfully, my white middle-class liberal angst was for nothing, because nobody in the cinema cared either. All I could see in the half-light were puzzled faces looking around as if to say, “Oh, okay…?”. It’s not that the film’s bad – it’s not. It’s more that we simply don’t give a monkeys what happens to Solomon. He’s a good, upstanding man, sure, no real evil in him. He doesn’t deserve his plight. And he doesn’t do a single bad thing in the whole film. But then again, he doesn’t do a single good thing either. Indeed, he doesn’t do a single thing at all.

The film can be summarised thus: Solomon gets kidnapped, sold into slavery, keeps his head down and does a whole lot of nothing for two hours, Fin. Sad fact though it may be, a heart-rending true story does not a heart-rending drama make. Drama isn’t life, and we the audience need more reasons to emotionally invest in the guy and his journey other than, “he’s a normal bloke who gets kidnapped”. What kindness does he show his fellow slaves? What friendships does he make along the way? And, if you can forgive me a wanky film critic moment, how is the drama of the piece advanced in any way whatsoever by his actions be they instigating or reactive? Answer: it isn’t.

True story or not, the screenwriter and director needed to give us a reason to cheer for Solomon even if that means not being “true” to what really happened. The film presents Solomon with many opportunities to show his kindness, to forge relationships with others that we can really emotionally invest in, and yet he doesn’t. And no amount of understated performances, subtle plays on the material, or beautiful cinematography can disguise the fact that the central narrative of this film violates one of the fundamental rules of drama uncovered as long ago as by Aristotle: things shouldn’t just happen to the characters, but it should be through the characters’ actions that drama unfolds. Unfortunately, in 12 Years a Slave, stuff just happens to Solomon, and he just doesn’t do anything about any of it except occasionally to serve his own ends (and even then, in the most undramatic and inept fashion). The effect is we sit through two hours and thirteen minutes, and we just don’t care. A commanding performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor is nowhere near good enough to rescue the material.

But it’s not all bad. Indeed, and here’s the real tragedy: it’s most fairly good.

The film features relative unknowns in the lead roles, but also some heavy hitting A-listers in support: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Benedict Omnibatch (I mean Cumberbatch: sorry, didn’t you know? New Hollywood rules state that a film is not allowed to go ahead unless Benedict Cumberbatch is cast… in any role… somewhere).

Fassbender in particular is mesmerising as slaver Edwin Epps. He’s a borderline alcoholic with conflicted emotions about his slaves. Yeah, they’re his property, but he doesn’t delight in brutalising them. He seems more a victim of his alcoholism and his henpecking wife (played well by Sarah Paulson, despite a lack of material to work with). And slave girl Patsey is richly portrayed by newcomer Lupita Nyong’O. The film is worth watching for her performance alone. Yet Brad Pitt’s cameo was slightly jarring: I couldn’t stop thinking, “Look! It’s Brad Pitt doing a Brad Pitt!”

Much to the film’s credit, it also does not slide into the predictable tropes of the slave genre. No, the slavers are not all evil; no, the blacks do not all form loving bonds with each other and sing Kumbaya round a campfire; no, the pretty black slave girl does not get knocked up by the white slave master. And for this, the film is to be commended; it gives us a fresh take on a familiar story. It shows the shades of grey that the situation engendered whilst still leaving us in no doubt as to the brutality and unspeakable wrongness of slavery. And yet it also doesn’t show caricature slavers joyfully lashing slaves for the yeehaw of it, nor does it go for sensationalism.

The direction was gripping. A reveal of one character’s whip wounds early on produced a collective gasp from the screening room. And there’s one particular shot in the field where the camera is locked on the scene for what seems an age without moving: the effect is disturbing and brings home the evil of slavery better than a thousand lashes ever could.

In short: I desperately wanted to say “best film since Schindler’s List”. But this “one of the best films ever” [Telegraph] isn’t fit to tie the emotional and dramatic boots of Toy Story 3, and was, sadly, much, much less than the sum of its mostly majestic parts.

**The film did indeed go on to win three Academy Awards.

3/5

review originally published in 2014
featured image from http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1329181/images/o-12-YEARS-A-SLAVE-REVIEWS-facebook.jpg

© 2014-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry