5 Best Movie Vests

In 1988, Bruce Willis blew up a lift, told Alan Rickman where to go, and coined a much-imitated-but-never-bettered catchphrase (you know the one). Most importantly, he wore an increasingly-dirty vest, which became a cinematic symbol for the heroic everyman who triumphs against the greatest odds. He wasn’t the first, and he wasn’t the last…

Die Hard (1988)
Just a year after Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers showed off their bulging biceps in skimpy vest tops in Predator, we got the ultimate in sartorial minimalism.

As New York cop John McClane, Bruce Willis made the vest the must-have item of the late ’80s – and it’s not hard to see why when Willis looked as cool as he did fighting off terrorists in a Los Angeles high-rise. An icon is born.

American History X (1998)
Edward Norton just loves wearing vests. Whether it’s in 25th Hour, Fight Club or The Incredible Hulk, a tight-fitting white number is the thing for him.

He’s never looked meaner, though, than in American History X. Shave-headed, tattooed, goateed and wearing that vest with pride, he’s every bit the badass we’re expected to believe he is.

Blade (1998)
Under that sweeping black leather jacket, half-human half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes) is packing some serious heat. Not only is he equipped with some of the coolest gadgets this side of James Bond, he’s also got one nifty vest.

A cross between a police vest and a lifejacket, Blade’s sleeve-free top is clearly designed to protect his most important asset – his heart. He is a vampire, after all.

Dirty Dancing (1987)
Ask anybody in their thirties and they’ll tell you there was only one movie man for them in the 1980s, and that man was Patrick Swayze.

Hard to disagree. As bad boy dance instructor Johnny Castle, Swayze rocks a figure-hugging black number that leaves little to the imagination. Of course, it helped that he knew how to move. No wonder Jennifer Grey’s young guppy fell head over leg-warmers for him.

Aliens (1986)
Ripley always skirts the line between macho and sexy, which is never more apparent than in James Cameron’s big budget, scale-ramping sequel to Alien.

At the climax of Alien, we got Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in her smalls facing off against the terrifying xenomorph. In Aliens, it’s all about the vest, which Ripley wears right at the start of the film as she recovers from her extended hyper-sleep.

It’s obviously meant to contrast with the army-style fatigues that she’ll don later in the film, and hints at Ripley’s fragile state of mind. Mostly, though, it’s just really cool – even badass Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) gets in on the action.

Honourable mentions: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights, Amber Heard in All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Brad Pitt in Fight Club, Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Nic Cage in Raising Arizona.

The best films of Sundance 2017

Over 10 days, I watched 26 movies at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Some were awesome, some weren’t, but here are eight of my favourites…


Call Me By Your Name

Call Me by Your Name - Still 1Forget The Lone Ranger and The Man From UNCLE, Armie Hammer finally lands a role that reveals the full breadth of his talent in Luca Guadagnino’s third feature (after I Am Love and A Bigger Splash). As an academic who spends the summer of ’83 in northern Italy with a professor and his family, Hammer is breezily charismatic, his enigmatic brainbox soon catching the eye of 17-year-old professor’s son Elio (Timothée Chalamet, fantastic), with whom he shares an adjoining bedroom. Their friendship gradually deepens into something more profound, and amid the apricot trees and watchful ruins of the Italian Riviera, Guadagnino unspools a transcendent love story brimming with warmth, passion and feeling. Unmissable.

 

Thoroughbred

anya-taylor-joy-thoroughbred“The only thing worse than being incompetent, unkind or evil,” says Amanda (Olivia Cooke) midway through this savage teen drama, “is being indecisive.” Deadly observations are Amanda’s thing, especially when – as in this case – she accompanies them with vase-smashing violence. A borderline sociopath with a murky past, Amanda’s cold-hard-truth approach to life first repulses, then beguiles study buddy Lilly (Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s got a few secrets of her own – and an irritating step-father she daydreams about killing. Expertly playing with light and dark, director Cory Finley’s stark debut is a moody semi-chamber piece that delights in Heathers-esque wit and dreamy visuals – and a firecracker final turn from Anton Yelchin. It’ll haunt you for days.


An Inconvenient Sequel

an-inconvenient-sequel-al-goreIt’s not quite Gore vs Trump, but the newly-inaugurated US President casts a long shadow over this follow-up to 2006’s Oscar-winning doc An Inconvenient Truth. In a year when Trump was on everybody’s lips at Sundance, the current White House resident punctuates this engaging if not entirely revelatory sequel by appearing in news footage and sound bites, threatening more dark times ahead. Elsewhere, An Inconvenient Sequel catches up with Al Gore’s anti-global warming campaign a decade after he first unveiled his Powerpoint presentation, revealing the devastating toll it has already taken on the polar ice-caps and cities like New York. It’s a brisk, engaging watch.

 

Manifesto

Manifesto - Still 3You want weird? How about Cate Blanchett playing 13 different characters in one film? Want MORE weird? How about Cate Blanchett playing 13 different characters then reciting the art manifestos of scholars like Jim Jarmusch, Andre Breton and Claes Oldenburg? That’s the hook in German artist/director Julian Rosefeldt’s second feature, inspired by his own art installation (currently touring the globe) and a bold, beautiful, surprisingly funny sermon on the current state of the creative landscape. Naturally, it’s all about Blanchett – whether playing a homeless man, a newsreader, a punk or a puppeteer, she’s utterly riveting, ensuring that while Manifesto may challenge more mainstream audiences, it’ll captivate those with an appetite for audacious cinematic experimentation.


Beatriz At Dinner

beatriz-at-dinnerSalma Hayek delivers a career-best performance as the titular holistic practitioner in this radiant comic drama from director Miguel Arteta. Mousy and watchful, Beatriz offers Buddha hugs to everybody she meets, but butts heads with ruthless businessman Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) when she’s inadvertently invited to a client’s ritzy dinner party. At first playing as a fish-out-of-water comedy, Mike White’s script incrementally pulls focus on Beatriz, revealing a woman whose admirable if steely beliefs make her unexpectedly formidable. Hayek has never been better, glowing with a quiet magnetism, while Lithgow is terrifyingly plausible as the Trump-like Strutt. There are echoes of White’s TV series Enlightened here, and Beatriz At Dinner boasts the same lingering power – and, in light of the presidential election, it couldn’t be more timely.


Beach Rats

beach-rats-movie-jphNotable for its remarkable central performance by Brit newcomer Harris Dickinson, this gritty, Brooklyn-set drama caused a flurry of controversy over its exploration of sexual identity, but the ambiguity director Eliza Hittman paddles in perfectly mirrors her film’s roving teen protag. In a mesmerising and, uh, revealing turn, Dickinson plays teen Frankie, who kills time smoking, doping and chasing girls by day – then surfing the internet for older men by night. Shooting on grainy 16mm, Hittman follows Frankie from beaches and bedrooms to the dark woods he uses as cover for gay hook-ups. Her camera lingers lovingly on Dickinson, whose troubled eyes at once hint at Frankie’s seeming denial over his sexuality, then at his lack of awareness at how his actions impact others. At once brutal and empathetic toward a floundering young man, Hittman’s film will inevitably be spoken about in the same breaths as Mysterious Skin and Moonlight.


Before I Fall

nullThe YA adap craze may be waning, but it was far from dead at Sundance – a bit like Before I Fall’s high school heroine who, after a car accident, keeps reliving the same day she and her friends seemingly died. Yeah, Groundhog Day comparisons are there for the taking, but director Ry Russo-Young squeezes the time-loop hook for all it’s worth. As Samantha (the excellent Zoey Deutch) runs the gamut of frustration, smoky-eyed rebellion and beyond, there are surprises at every turn in an atmospheric exploration of fate and redemption. Russo-Young plumbs honest emotion with minimal sugar-dipping, while shouting out to everything from Carrie and Mean Girls to Pretty Little Liars. And, yes, Groundhog Day.

 

The Big Sick

the-big-sick-movieSilicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani co-wrote this comedy drama, basing it on his real-life relationship, which goes part way to explaining why its warmth and wit earned him rave reviews at this year’s Sundance. Kumail plays a version of himself, a soft-spoken Pakistani-American and wannabe stand-up comic whose mother is so desperate for him to marry that she spends most of her time setting him up with suitable Pakistani women. But when Kumail falls for non-Muslim Emily (Zoe Kazan), he risks losing his family in the name of love. The Big Sick was produced by Judd Apatow, and the comedy mogul’s influence manifests in the film’s winsomely awkward comedy – particularly the hour-long segment in which Kumail attempts to win over Emily’s parents (a brilliantly cast Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). Though it’s long at two hours, this should rightly make an even bigger star of Kumail, who has a gift for incendiary one-liners and bumbling charisma.

Lights Out (2016)

teresa-palmer-in-lights-out-2016The devilish conceit at the heart of 2013 short Lights Out was so scary it went viral on YouTube, prompting horror guru James Wan (Insidious) to hire its director – Sweden’s David F. Sandberg, next making Annabelle 2 – to expand it into a feature, and in the process deliver one of the scariest, most surprising films of 2016. The conceit? Basically: lights on, you’re safe. Lights out, something’s gonna get you. Something that crouches in dark doorways, hugging shadows before pouncing.

That’s what happens to the step-father of gutsy loner Rebecca (Teresa Palmer, bucking Final Girl cliches with an appealingly edgy performance), whose death forces Rebecca to confront her estranged mother (Maria Bello, terrifically tragic) and protect her step-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Which is harder than it sounds when every dark crevice could harbour a murderous entity.

Ably stepping up to the feature game, Sandberg excels at bleeding every gloomy corner of tension, and his innovative light tricks rivet, particularly a nifty shot involving a firearm. Yes, it’s basically 80 minutes of the same gimmick, but with characters you care about and a poignant denouement, this is horror with guts as well as gore. Even better news? Sandberg’s already on board for a sequel.

This review originally appeared in Horrorville Issue #2.

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

the-greasy-stranglerGiven its abundance of slopping, oozing food stuffs, it’s fitting that The Greasy Strangler is such an acquired taste. Revelling in the revolting, its tale of an LA-based serial killer is about as button-pushing as gross-out flicks get, presenting a gallery of grotesqueries that would have Roald Dahl cackling with delight. Introducing us to pink-turtleneck-wearing father and son Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michael) and Big Brayden (Sky Ebolar), we watch them traipse decaying alleyways and forgotten side streets as they lead a walking disco tour, dispensing spurious trivia nibs alongside a torrent of quotable insults (“I call bullshit on that!”).

It’s never in question that this duo is odd to the extreme. A sort of grungy Laurel and Hardy, they’re funniest as a pair, but things kick up a notch when Big Ronnie is revealed as the titular ne’er-do-well, his love of icky food taken to an extreme when, naked, he slathers himself in grease and busts out into the night, killing anybody who crosses his path. Here, first-time director Jim Hosking lets loose with a series of Looney Tunes-esque killings that see eyeballs spurting out of skulls and various body parts gleefully hacked from torsos.

If the gore’s cartoonishly thrilling, though, it’s the gags that really (death) grip. Hosking grew up watching Monty Python and The Young Ones, and that anarchic spirit fizzes here, from the nonsense jokes (entire scenes revolve around repeated lines slung back and forth like grenades) to the wickedly mean interplay between Big Ronnie and Big Brayden. Michael St. Michael deserves special mention for a performance so uninhibited the word now needs a new definition, while the duo’s love interest Janet (played by Elizabeth deRazzo) more than holds her own.

At its best, The Greasy Strangler is a horror movie version of a John Waters flick, though there are echoes of everything from Steptoe And Son to Dumb And Dumber. Many will balk at its joyously backwards mentality, but for the midnight crowd, this is gory catnip in its purest form. Unapologetically barmy and destined for cultdom, it’s, quite simply, full throttle entertainment.

This review originally appeared in Horrorville Issue #2.

The Wailing (2016)

 

xmc0gfgghv41a6sstdojhlx1cffWith its gallows humour, bursts of bloody violence, and a title that’s both noun and pun (the original South Korean title, ‘Gokseong’, is the name of this film’s town setting but also translates as ‘wailing’), director Na Hong-jin’s third feature is a shocking, beautifully abstract and ultimately haunting genre-blitzer. Constructing its mystery steadily and with delicate style (kudos to DP Hong Kyung Pyo), it’s at once a horror story about human fallibility and a slapstick zombie-ghost-infection thriller that echoes the likes of The Exorcist but always feels wholly original.

Inspired by Hong-jin’s own philosophical searchings in a period when a number of his friends suddenly died, The Wailing despatches bumbling local officer Jong-goo (Do Won Kwak) to the scene of a horrific crime in which a man butchered his entire family. Stranger still, he’s riddled with boils. While the media point to mushroom poisoning as the cause of the man’s mania, rumours begin circulating of a Japanese man who’s been spotted in the woods devouring wildlife and attacking anybody who strays into his vicinity.

Pinballing from one murder scene to another, in which all the assailants are infected with a grim virus, Do Won Kwak is endearing as the ham-fisted officer totally out of his depth. Much of the film’s ‘wailing’ comes from him as he spends its first half comically attacked (and reacting as histrionically as a 1920s silent movie actress) or butting heads with everybody from his co-workers to his young daughter Hyo-jin. It’s only when Hyo-jin begins to show signs of infection that The Wailing’s palette darkens.

Jong-goo’s comedic breakdowns become coloured with desperation and as he seeks out the Japanese man in the woods (played by the fantastic Jun Kunimura of The Audition and Kill Bill), Hong-jin’s film plunges its characters deeper into the depths of hell. Boasting a howling shamanic exorcism sequence to rival that most famous cinematic possession sequence for feral power, The Wailing’s undercurrent of religiosity is poetically handled, not least with the appearance of the mysterious Woman Of No Name (Woo-hee Chun).

With its seductive visuals and slowly unwinding horror, The Wailing transcends genre, emerging as a harrowing fable with a formidable ability to scratch under the skin. Few recent horrors have come close to matching its quiet terror, and when its crackers plot (over two-and-a-half hours in the making) finally comes to a boil, it scalds like hellfire.

This review was originally published in Horrorville Issue #2.

M.R. Carey interview: Fellside

promobannerIf you’ve read The Girl With All The Gifts, you’ll know a thing or two about M.R. Carey. The one-time comic-book writer and all-round awesome guy hit literary pay dirt with his 2014 genre-blender, which has already been made into a blockbuster movie starring Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close (it’s ace, go see it). And because he’s a self-confessed write-a-holic, Carey (Mike to his friends) has already released his next novel, the equally unputdownable Fellside. Set in the titular prison, it follows new inmate Jess, who’s haunted by the memory of the night she accidentally killed a little boy during a drug-fuelled rage. Incarcerated and terrified, she starts hearing voices – could the little boy have followed her to Fellside? (Yeah, I got chills.)

I was able to chat to Carey about his new book as part of his promo blog tour. Here’s what he had to say…

Where did the name Fellside come from?
I just wanted a name for the prison that had a Yorkshire flavour to it. I love the word fell. I particularly love how ambiguous it is. It means a high place, but that could be a mountain or it could be a piece of moorland high up in a range of hills. There’s no absolute sense of physical orientation to it. So it’s a good name for a place where you lose your moral orientation, where you lose your way as my protagonist Jess very definitely does.

What makes prison such a good setting for a story?
I think it’s the fact that your characters are locked in together and there’s no easy way out. Every story ultimately comes down to the clash of personalities and the inexorable working out of the logic of a given set of relationships. If you put your characters in an enclosed, hothouse environment with no way out, you compound and concentrate that effect. A prison is just one example.

How does Fellside compare to The Girl With All The Gifts?
I think it’s a darker book. That sounds a little strange, given that Girl is post-apocalyptic and includes the virtual annihilation of the human race, but I believe it’s true all the same. In Fellside there’s a lot of pain to go around, and Jess’s journey is harder and more traumatic than the journey Melanie has to make.

That said, both stories are optimistic about human nature. They find grounds for hope, let’s say, even in the most unpromising situations. Jess things she’s buying redemption for a terrible crime, and although she’s deeply mistaken about what exactly she’s doing and who she’s doing it for, she does achieve a kind of peace and a kind of accommodation with her own past. And the last chapter revisits that past in a way that hopefully will surprise a lot of readers.

Did you want to play with ghost cliches the way you played with zombies in Gifts?
Not really. I mean, challenging genre conventions wasn’t the point with either book. You always want the story to feel fresh, obviously, and so you reject some ideas just because they’re overly familiar. But that doesn’t present itself as the core of what you’re doing. With Girl the core idea was Melanie herself. Inventing her and fleshing her out was a big part of the groundwork for the story. Deciding on Cordyceps as my McGuffin didn’t feel anywhere near as important, although I was happy to find a vector for the zombie apocalypse that hadn’t already been worked to death.

At rock bottom Fellside is a story about addiction. About what it does to you, about getting free of it and then about trying to find the part of you that’s still you at the end of that process.

If you could lock two characters from two of your stories in a room together, which ones and what would happen?
Probably Dr Caldwell from Girl and Harriet Grace [from Fellside]. They’re both the heroes of their own internal narratives, but I think they’d see through each other’s bullshit in some very interesting ways. It probably wouldn’t end in physical violence, but they’d both come away effectively dissected.

Best story idea you’ve had that scared the hell out of you?
I don’t think I can get scared by my own stories. It’s like trying to tickle yourself – your nerve endings don’t work that way. But conceptually the scariest thing I’ve ever written is probably Pullman’s artificial hand in The Unwritten. If it touches you, you stop being real and become a story. You literally melt into words. That’s not something I ever want to experience.

Ever had a day you categorically couldn’t, wouldn’t (and maybe shouldn’t) write? What did you do?
No, everything is fair game. The more extreme, the more interesting. Obviously you don’t say which bits of your work are autobiographical…

Do you have writing habits and/or a routine, or does it depend on the day?
I wish I had a routine. I work long hours, start early and finish late most days, with maybe one day or half a day off at weekends. But I don’t work consistently. I’m easily distracted, waste a lot of time here and there on footling things, and then I have to make up the time by working late into the evening.

A colleague of mine at Luton Sixth Form College back when I was teaching said that when she watched me work the word that came into her mind was entropy. I asked her what she meant and she said “A whole lot of energy burning away into a vacuum.” She had me bang to rights. I’ve been very productive as a writer, but it’s been at the expense of everything else. I really do not have a life. I work and I sleep.

But I enjoy what I do, so it would be crazy to complain.

Review that left you grinning? Review that scarred you for life?
One of my Twitter friends described Fellside as “orange is the new Woman In Black.” I liked that a lot.

Bad reviews always make me unhappy, but I can’t remember any that have affected me for longer than a day. You wake up the next morning and go back to what you do. If the review was fair you even learn from it, and if it wasn’t you shrug it off that much quicker.

Best and worst X-Men characters to write for… Go!
Best would include Rogue, Beast, Cyclops, Professor X… You know, when I think about it the two lists would be almost identical! What matters is whether the editor is letting you play out the riffs and arcs you’ve got a real feel for, and I was very lucky in that respect. Mike Marts, Nick Lowe, Andy Schmidt, Daniel Ketchum. Best in the business.

And when you come right down to it a lot of the characters I loved best when I was writing in the X-verse were the minor ones who nobody else was using. I loved to dust them off and put them back in the spotlight.

Any unfulfilled writing dreams?
At this point, literally none. But there are still some comics artists I’d love to collaborate with. Top of that list would be David Beauchard, who wrote and drew Epileptic.

Fellside is out now.

Scanners Trilogy (1981)

scanners“Scanners? Don’t make me laugh,” scoffs the Mayor (Dorothée Berryman) in the trashily enjoyable Scanners II: The New Order.

She has a point, especially when it comes to the preposterous Scanners III: The Takeover. David Cronenberg’s original 1981 cult classic remains serious sci-fi though, as reliant on ideas as cranium-bursting FX as it explores an underground war between persons of extraordinary psychic power (including unforgettable mind-assassin Michael Ironside).

But the director didn’t return for the follow-ups, and he’s similarly absent from the extras, a jovial series of cast and crew interviews. 3/5

Via Total Film

Knightriders (1981)

knightriders“It’s a pretty bizarre little movie,” surmises Ed Harris in an interview included on this Knightriders restoration.

“It’s unlike anything George did or has done.” No kidding! Sandwiched between Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead (via Creepshow), George A. Romero’s medieval motorbike mash-up is a beguiling blend of two-wheelers and tantrums.

Harris is riveting as the king of a medieval re-enactment troupe whose disillusionment and fiery temper threaten to tear his kingdom apart.

At 145 minutes we’re firmly in epic territory, an ideas-stuffed dissection of society with added bike-duels for kicks. 3/5

Via Total Film

Trouble With The Curve (2013)

trouble-with-the-curveConsider Clint Eastwood’s first acting gig in four years the anti-Moneyball.

Where Brad Pitt’s pic was all about modern tech, Trouble With The Curveargues that “anybody who uses computers doesn’t know a damn thing about this game”.

It’s sentiment over cynicism as Eastwood’s scout butts heads with daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) in a by-the-numbers drama that uses baseball as set-dressing.

Humdrum plotting aside, Robert Lorenz’s directorial debut shows that Eastwood’s still got it – a graveside sing-a-long guarantees sniffles – while Adams is a fiery Lois Lane in embryo. 3/5

Via Total Film

Epic (2013)

epicIf The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey taught us anything, it’s that big adventures can come in small packages.

While Epic‘s neat little parcel contains considerably less singing (Beyoncé warbling over the end credits notwithstanding) and considerably more gastropod molluscs (or, y’know, slugs and snails), it aims for similar pint-sized thrills. Fitting, then, that this 3D jaunt is unlikely to win the heart of anyone over three feet tall.

Between its assault course of airborne action scenes and over-populated cast of characters (including Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari on comic-relief duty as said snail and slug), it’s surprising that director Chris Wedge (RobotsIce Age) finds room for any plot at all.

It’s there, sparingly, in the misadventures of Mary Katherine aka MK (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), who’s shrunk to a speck by Beyoncé’s green-fingered Queen Tara and then roped into the war between miniature leaf men and forest-trashing Boggans. Before anybody can groan “Honey, I shrunk the kids”, spears fly, swords clash and MK moons over leaf hunk Nod (Josh Hutcherson).

Despite a fun zinger late on involving giant electric shocks, few sparks fly between this insipid duo. The plot, meanwhile – based on a book by Rise Of The Guardians author William Joyce – seems to have taken narrative cues from the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’.

There’s also a preoccupation with paternal problems that feels distinctly Spielberg-lite. (“I’m kind of on my own,” sighs MK; “No one’s ever on their own!” trumpets Colin Farrell’s warrior Ronin in a blatant lie.)

It’s almost a relief, then, that the action’s so relentless, distracting from the writing’s inadequacies with swoopy mid-flight skirmishes. Judicious use of 3D will have the nippers gripping their seat arms throughout. And there’s a bit with a mouse – the size of a bear in this teeny-tiny world – that brings the fear factor necessary to any fairy tale.

Verdict: By no means an epic fail, but lacking the spry wit of more adult-friendly animations, this is big on action and small on originality. Gorgeous visuals aside, Epic is resolutely kiddie fare. 3/5

Via Total Film