Rhys Darby is one of those comedy actors who, even if the name doesn’t automatically ring a bell, you’ve most likely seen in something. On the small screen, he’s surely best known for his supporting role in Flight of the Conchords as Murray, the inept manager who handles the band on the side of his day job at the New York branch of the New Zealand tourist office, whilst movie fans may know him for his brief but memorable cameo as leader of the werewolves (not swear-wolves) in What We Do in the Shadows. Short Poppies, an 8-part comedy series from 2014, puts him centre-stage as he plays a succession of characters living in a nondescript New Zealand coastal town, where filmmaker David Farrier (a real-life journalist, so I’m told, appearing under his own name) is putting together a documentary series. It’s a promising idea, and makes for around 3 hours of harmless fun, but all in all I’m sorry to say it left me feeling that Darby is perhaps best utilised in a supporting capacity, dealing out his distinct comedic persona in smaller doses.
The daikaiju (or, if you’re a bit less ostentatious, giant monster movie) has always offered a handy, audience-friendly way for filmmakers to address big fears. As countless books on the subject will tell us, Godzilla served as a cathartic expression of post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki angst for Japan, and the ensuing franchise has addressed broader concerns about ecology, corporate greed, and the many various abuses of power which bring down nature’s wrath upon mankind. Since then, Cloverfield dealt with the traumas of 9/11, the Godzilla reboot evoked the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and Kong: Skull Island touched on both Vietnam and, by inference, the subsequent US-led invasions made in the name of the War on Terror. All huge, large-scale horrors which had a devastating effect on large numbers of people. However, it’s rather less common that we see giant monsters used as a symbol for troubles of a more intimate, personal nature, which would seem to be what writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is aiming for with curious genre-bender Colossal.
In honor of the newest Alien film, Alien: Covenant (read Keri’s review here), this reporter has decided to take a closer look at some of the franchise’s other pursuits, primarily comic books because comic books are rad. The Alien comic-verse has been helmed for close to 30 years by Dark Horse Comics and has become one of the longest movie/comic tie-ins in comic history. One of the earliest successes was a work titled Aliens: Salvation, penned by Dave Gibbons and illustrated by a young Mike Mignola in 1993. A gritty, maddening tale of the last survivor of an Alien attack, the comic marks the beginning of Mignola’s career into horror, preceding Hellboy by only a few months. Though initially doomed to die in obscurity, Salvation was re-released in a fancy, hardcover graphic novel in 2015 and has made its way into my grubby mitts.
There is some really wonderful horror cinema coming out of Ireland at the moment, and it’s so pleasing to see genre works getting support from its film board. From Isolation through Wake Wood, The Canal, Citadel and Without Name, the range of horror filmmaking coming from Ireland is truly impressive. I think easily my favourite of this recent wave of films from the Emerald Isle is, appropriately, the Irish-Welsh co-production A Dark Song, a searing feature debut from writer-director Liam Gavin. Taking what might be the ritualistic set-piece from a number of different sub-genres and expanding it to be the main focus of the film, A Dark Song is an incredible meditation on life, death, morality and human nature.
Negotiating the relationship between art and artist can be a tricky business at times. For many, approaching any new movie from Mel Gibson is going to be a tough pill to swallow given the man’s many public disgraces and personal views which don’t sit well with some of us. But even if we try to take the filmmaker’s real life persona out of the equation and approach Hacksaw Ridge purely as a new addition to his body of work, it may seem fraught with contradictions right away. Throughout both his acting career and his work behind the camera on Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, Gibson’s fascination with violence has always been front-and-centre, and many would go so far as to suggest he fetishises combat; and yet, here he is taking on the story of a devoutly Christian pacifist who steadfastly refused to engage in violence during World War 2, despite having enlisted in the army of his own accord. Indeed, at a glance Desmond Doss’s story would also appear somewhat self-contradictory. So in a curious way, it is a very fitting tale for Gibson to tell, and one that cuts directly into the clash between religious conviction and rampant bloodlust which runs throughout his filmography.
I don’t always get on much with Ben Wheatley’s films. Though I adore Sightseers, I found both Kill List and A Field in England underwhelming, and High Rise to be a mess, albeit an enjoyable one. Approaching Free Fire, then, I had an open mind but a sense of knowing what I might expect my own response to be, and it was indeed so. While I enjoyed the film well enough, it left me unsatisfied and wanting rather a lot more from it.
Free Fire is quick to establish its main players, and it does so effectively – a deal broker, Justine (Brie Larson) has organised a weapons deal between Irishman Chris (Cillian Murphy) and South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley). They’re assisted by loyal Frank (Michael Smiley) and suave Ord (Armie Hammer), while the muscle-for-hire, Stevo (Sam Riley) and Harry (Jack Reynor), are too hot-headed for their own good, leading to a tense deal heading southward, and what might then be the climax of another crime film becomes the main bulk of Free Fire: a shoot-out between all parties involved, where loyalties are tested as much as the human body’s resilience to bullet wounds.
Some mild spoilers within.
I had an interesting discussion about Paul Verhoeven’s Elle with a fellow member of the cinema audience recently, and the most striking thing to me that she said – more striking than her conclusion that film was definitely misogynist – was that when she chose to come to see it she knew that Isabelle Huppert wouldn’t be in anything that sick. Now, my favourite Isabelle Huppert role is in The Piano Teacher, so I must say I was expecting the exact opposite, I suspect, of my fellow movie-goer, and I was not disappointed in that regard. It seemed my fellow audience member had taken the film at its most superficial, and I suspect she’s never seen The Piano Teacher, either. There was a great deal of nuance and restraint to the sickness in Elle, and it is that which elevates it to a film which is hugely enjoyable – and yes, very funny – without incurring the wrath I usually have reserved for lazier attempts at rape-revenge films.
The Alien franchise has been around for the same amount of time as I have, and it’s fair to say that (alongside many other people roughly the same age as me, no doubt) the alien creatures of its universe still feel as ingenious and horrifying now as they ever did, having been around in our peripheral vision for so long. I’m not one of those people who maligns Aliens 3 or indeed Alien: Resurrection, either – I think that they are each, in their way, compelling further chapters in the mythos – but, when it turned out that Ridley Scott was coming back to add a prequel to this story, it was exciting news. The resulting piece of work, Prometheus (2012) is undoubtedly an attractive film, with meticulous photography and striking visuals throughout, but its plot is sadly garbled, and it contains a series of unforgivable plot holes which are large enough to lose a ship in. After so many years of waiting and wondering about where the xenomorphs had come from, it didn’t feel as though we were any further ahead by the time the titles rolled – in fact, many viewers had more unanswered questions than ever, even taking into account the general murmur which said that this was NOT an Alien film, and shouldn’t be treated as such. So, what about all those questions then? Turns out Ridley Scott didn’t intend Prometheus to be a stand-alone prequel, and he was working on another prequel – this time a film which picks up a decade in time after the loss of the Prometheus.
The Entity is one of those wonderful films from the era of big-budget, mainstream horror filmmaking based on popular novels – following on from the venerable likes of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, through to Demon Seed and beyond. The film in synopsis sounds, now, like that kind of film that would struggle to get made in such a mainstream setting, or at least would result in a myriad of hot-takes before it even hits a big screen (probably from myself included). The film is inspired by the true story of Doris Bither, a woman who claimed to have been repeatedly assaulted and tormented by supernatural entities. In the film, Barbara Hershey plays hard-working single-mother Carla Moran, who is, one evening, raped in her home by an unseen assailant. The attacks continue, threatening her life and her sanity. When the doctors trying to help her insist on uncovering a rational explanation for what’s happening to her, Carla turns to parapsychologists she meets at a book shop. Finally finding support from people who believe her, Carla agrees to take part in a dangerous solution: luring and entrapping the entity.
I know what you’re thinking: how often am I going to talk about Adventure Time? It’s like I think it’s the best kids show to have come out in the past 20 years and that I’m absolutely heartbroken that it’s coming to an end and holy crap, have you seen the new episodes!? The answer is a lot, so get used to it. Way back a few months ago, I reviewed the initial issue of Adventure Time Comics (not to be confused with Adventure Time which is a similar but separate series that is currently on issue #64), and absolutely fell in love with it. Each issue features a collection of short, grayble-style work handled by different artists and basically just added cute little stories to the very expansive universe. Now at issue #10, the work is just as fun and easily digestible as the first time around and has even opened up its artistic borders to allow for more individual takes on the Adventure Time gang, creating a wholly original work that’s still tethered to the quirkiness of the original source.