In this article, Hannah Pollard reviews the high-school comedy Booksmart, keeping steadily in mind the current social justice milieu.Read More
Truman Roberti reviews Velvet Buzzsaw, a disappointing horror-satire.
Velvet Buzzsaw is Nightcrawler writer/director DanGilroy’s latest attempt, pairing him again with Jake Gyllenhaal, Renee Russo,producer Jennifer Fox, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and editor John Gilroy,all of whom worked with him previously on Nightcrawler. Joiningthat group are the acting talents of Toni Collette, NataliaDyer, Daveed Diggs, and John Malkovich. In VelvetBuzzsaw, a group of art-world denizens stumble across a dead man’svast collection of art and sell them to achieve massive commercialsuccess - but the paintings are cursed and begin killing off people whoprofited from their sale. On paper, this film looks great, which makes thebaffling, absurd, unfocused mess it winds up as all the moredisappointing. Velvet Buzzsaw starts out as a cynical critiqueof the world of visual art and the vapid pretension it exudes, but graduallydevolves into a dumb, generic horror movie that throws all attemptsat tension and logic out the window. If Nightcrawler turnedover the rock of an industry to examine the human bugs crawling underneath, VelvetBuzzsaw is like smashing an anthill and smugly expecting some kind ofemotional response to come from hitting such an easy target.
Conceptually, Velvet Buzzsaw’s blending of horror and social critique isn’t inherently flawed. Shallow, loathsome characters who exist only to be killed in horrible fashion are a mainstay of the horror genre, and when those characters embody real-world obnoxious art critics and self-absorbed gallery owners, the potential for some cathartic death scenes seems pretty apparent. I’ll get behind taking jabs at Instagram obsessed narcissists any day of the week, but Gilroy’s approach is clumsy and out of touch, coming across like an embarrassing rant from a Baby-Boomer who doesn’t quite grasp the world he’s taking pot shots at. Case in point: the painter who created the haunted art is named “Dease”, pronounced like “deez”. As the central menace of the film, his name comes up a lot, and literally every time someone says his name, I’m gripped by the impulse to shout “Dease Nuts” at the screen. This is a way bigger issue than it seems. It’s hard to take a film seriously or feel any suspense when its antagonist is named after a 4-year-old testicle-based meme, and part of this feels like it’s intentional. The majority of the characters in the film have names that must be intentionally comedic, like Morf Vandewalt, Rhodora Haze, Jon Dondon, and of course, Vetril Dease, but every on-the-nose attempt at humour falls flat and undermines the film’s main drive of horror and social critique, which makes the final product unfocused and tonally inconsistent. Velvet Buzzsaw got me to laugh out loud and cringe in terror in equal measure, but never when it was the response Gilroy was trying to elicit.
Even if we ignore the inherent flaws in Velvet Buzsaw’s writing, it’s still a boring, bland film on a technical level. Visually, it looks like your average Netflix show, with flat shot composition, no trace of theme, and a disappointing disregard for color given that this is a movie about art. The soundtrack is your stock horror background noise, with cliché high-pitched whines and low, droning bass – the kind where you can read the Netflix caption of [creepy music] and get the same emotional value you would from listening to it. The sole exception is the string and piano composition that plays over the opening and closing credits, a moody, persistent plucking that sets a tone of suspense and classiness that appropriately reflects the film’s subject matter and setting, though ultimately, not the tone. The performances vary in quality from “simply wasted potential” (Gyllenhaal and Collette) to “completely emotionless and wooden” (Ashton). However, when there isn’t a single good performance across the board from such an explicitly talented cast, the responsibility lies with the director, not the actors.
The thing that maybe hurts the most about Velvet Buzzsaw is that you can tell Gilroy was trying, for the most part. This isn’t a lazy film. The ideas are generally decent, and a good horror-satire can work, as Get Out and American Psycho prove. However, those films are social commentary first and foremost - the horror is mostly there for flavor, supporting the message. With Velvet Buzzsaw, it’s the other way around. Once you peel away the thin exterior of art-world criticism, you’re simply left with… a bad horror movie. And as you’re watching and waiting for the shoe to drop and some kind of point beyond “artists are vapid, critics are mean” to be made, the film ends, and it’s revealed that all along, it was only ever a bad horror movie – a more shocking realisation than anything intentionally put together over its 113 minute runtime. There are bits of hope for Gilroy in the occasional good shot or thoughtfully thematic moment, but as a whole, Velvet Buzzsaw falls completely flat and doesn’t reflect the potential that I know Gilroy has to offer.
Truman Ruberti reviews Vice and itsdepiction of Dick Cheney, the largely unpopular 46th AmericanVice-President.
Expectationsran high after seeing Vice’s trailerand thinking that a biopic with Christian Bale as Dick Cheney – directed by AdamMcKay who brought us The Big Short – soundedpretty cool, and I was eager to see it. It didn’t disappoint. I’m a big fan offilms that have a fun, confident sense of style and a willingness to play withthe medium. With Vice, McKay deliversjust such a film, solidifying himself as a director who can make a film with aslick, self-aware presentation and an extremely brash tone.
Vice is informative and amusing as it delves into Cheney’s life in and out of office, and as such, it becomes easy to get sucked into the world of his gradual, decades-long assumption of power. The film scrutinises Cheney and his colleagues quite harshly over its runtime. It doesn’t like him, nor is it particularly kind to him, but it absolutely respects him. Cheney isn’t an easy man to side with, but despite that, Vice does its best to wade through the mystery and rhetoric to understand who he ultimately was: a human being.
The casting, make-up, and performances all combine to create the best part of the film: the characters. Any biopic lives and dies by its lead, and Bale, as ever, gets lost in the role. He nails the voice, mannerisms, and tics of Cheney, delivering that rare quality of performance (aided hugely by some stellar prosthetics) where an actor becomes the person they are portraying. Over the course of watching Vice, despite the fact that Bale is a massive star, despite the fact that he’s not American, I completely forgot what the real Dick Cheney looked like. The image of the politician melted away while Bale became, and now is, in my mind, Dick Cheney. And he’s not the only one – the rest of the cast are great too. Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell as Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry as Powell, and (particularly) Sam Rockwell as Bush really hit their marks, their acting and comedic talents lending themselves well to McKay’s darkly funny style. McKay doesn’t balk from exposing uncomfortable realities behind a lot of dark elements of American history, and sees no problem with directly linking Cheney’s policies to problems facing the world today. The gallows humour he employs implausibly finds the farcical side of how the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, ISIS, and the rise of American Populism all came to largely hinge on one man. Does the movie over-prescribe the extent of Cheney’s power? Sure. But it acknowledges these creative liberties with its opening epigraph, and if it leads to a film that is more entertaining and a protagonist that is more compelling, well, I’ll put up with a little embellishment.
Ultimately with Vice, what you see is what you get. If you watch the trailer and think it’s for you, it probably is: the performance and tone promised by the advertising are all delivered in spades. Vice isn’t for everyone – the sometimes snarky and always in-your-face presentation will be turnoffs for some, but for those tolerant of a more audacious stylisation, Vice is worth your time. Come Oscar season, while other categories will certainly be tight, if Vice doesn’t take it for at least Hair and Makeup, the Academy’s even worse at making choices than we thought.
Ines Biollay critiques the Netflix original film Roma, evaluating its reputation as a ‘pretentious’ film and questioning whether it is worthy of the slew of Academy Award nominations and successes.
Towards the start of Alfonso Cuaron’s 2018 film Roma, the protagonist, a housekeeper named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), works on her wealthy employer’s rooftop until she is interrupted by the employer’s young son. The boy lies on the sun-drenched rooftop surface, beautifully centred in the frame, and is promptly joined by Cleo. He proclaims that he is playing dead, to which Cleo entertains the boy’s imagination by lying next to him and lazily replying that she too is dead and enjoys the feeling. The dialogue is spoken slowly, with a devoutly solemn tone as a far from subtle indication that perhaps some deep meaning should be taken away from this moment. However, as to just what that meaning may be feels hazy and empty, leaving little room for emotional impact. This scene, shrouded in pretension, pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the film.
The film, shot in black and white and riddled with long takes and vast silences, takes much more of a quiet, arthouse approach than Cuaron’s previous critically acclaimed films, such as 2001’s raucously thought provoking, sexually charged Y Tu Mamá También and the character driven 2013 space film, Gravity. The semi-autobiographical film has been met with positive reviews and a slew of awards show nominations. Besides Roma, only ten foreign films have ever been nominated for best picture at the Oscars: none of which have ever won. The film was also distributed by Netflix, which is a first for any best picture nominee. This year sees Roma breaking through these two barriers. However, whether or not the film is deserving of these potential accolades remains debatable.
The film takes a vignette style approach; favouring a series of quiet moments rather than a traditional plot. If handled with balance and care, this approach can work quite well in film. However, Roma utilizes this technique rather weakly. It is worth considering if the film is commenting on other works that share this quality of a subdued plot or if it was aware of its own ostentation, but, no, it takes itself far too seriously for that. Roma ends in the middle of an insignificant moment after being void of a true climax. Following the children energetically recounting their day at the beach to their grandmother, the ending depicts Cleo reverently walking up the rooftop stairs in order to do more housework. It is similar to many of the previous scenes in the film in that it presents insignificant, routine moments of everyday life. This ending — a demonstration of every day being like the next for Cleo and the children— could work beautifully, except for one large roadblock: we, as the viewers, don’t know how to feel about this monotony. It can be easy to feel unsatisfied by the ending; an emotion that could have been Cuaron’s intention for the viewer and could have worked excellently had Cleo been given more characterization and complexity. Because of her lack of complexity, the viewer can be unsure of what to feel. If Cleo had been more fully realized, perhaps at the end of the film we could feel sad for her that she is trapped in her work life. Perhaps we could feel joy for her that she feels comfortable in her position. And the list goes on and on. Yes, the technicalities of the final scene are sharp, but does this matter if they aren’t backed by other strong elements?
For all of its faults, there is no doubt that Roma does an excellent job at capturing the spirit of its Mexico City setting through unique choices and breathtaking cinematography. The film frequently remembers to follow up a moment specific to the central characters by panning out to their surroundings, whether that be a city street or a scenic landscape. This idea is perfectly presented in a scene in which Cleo browses a shop with her employer’s mother and is then interrupted by a violent protest occurring outside the shop’s window; thus transitioning from a small worldview to a large one. Inanimate objects are also given immense attention; household objects that Cleo interacts with, as well as the food she prepares, are often given close ups that remind us of the importance of the film’s setting and reflects on the many ways in which Cleo is defined by her surroundings.
There is subtlety and then there is pretension: the latter being a territory that Roma crosses into. With every extremely long take, every one-dimensional character and every piece of sappy mumbled dialogue shared between Cleo and the children, the viewer is patronized. The lack of score and soundtrack doesn’t help— the quiet and deeply underscored qualities of the film are given no room to breathe. There is no climax or breakthrough that makes all the silences worth it. No amount of impressive cinematography or aesthetically pleasing shots can take the place of a film having true heart and working with its viewers rather than talking down to them. And though this year’s Academy Awards may disagree, if a film doesn’t respect its viewers, where is the joy in cinema to be found?
Olivia Gill reviews Beautiful Boy and the platform the silver screen has given to a true narrative of drug addiction.
One of the films to recently hit the silver-screen is Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy; a poignant depiction of how drug addiction affects the family in addition to the individual. Based off of the memoirs of David Sheff and his son Nic, the film is all true to reality and leaves its viewers in disbelief regarding what the characters endured. Both Steve Carell (David) and Timothée Chalamet (Nic) impressively recreate this story, leaving you either in floods of tears or smiling from joy.
The film begins exactly when Nic’s drug addiction escalates to dependency on crystal meth (having previously heavily experimented with other Class A drugs before the age of 18) and begins to put his life in danger. Before we meet Chalamet as Nic, we are introduced to a younger version through the eyes of his father David. The bright-eyed boy we meet here contrasts starkly with the debilitated Nic played by Chalamet, who arrives home during an ugly come down. By constantly juxtaposing the different stages of Nic’s life through flashbacks, we see the detrimental effects of his drug addiction and the lost innocence of a good-hearted child. Naturally, this raises awareness of the universality of addiction and how it can unsuspectingly affect anyone, such as Nic who is intelligent and greatly cared for by those around him. In this way, Groeningen brings the reality of Nic’s situation to the forefront of viewers minds for the entirety of the film.
As the film continues, we see the highs and lows of Nic’s youth as he goes through various phases of addiction, which constantly overshadows Nic’s movement through rehabilitation, college, support groups and sobriety. However, David’s strength and determination to help his son never wavers, despite the disappointment he may feel when Nic relapses. There is only one moment where David decides to take his attention away from Nic, a risky move driving Nic close to death without David’s support. However, this seems to jumpstart Nic’s life again, going back into rehabilitation and becoming sober and completely drug free. This is the driving force for the film’s denouement, and whilst David’s actions could have ended badly, they seemed efficient in dealing with an addict and the two begin to rebuild their relationship.
Something unusual about the film is the minor role Nic’s mother plays in his life. It was refreshing to see the life of a single father as the guardian depicted on screen both before, and when, David goes on to remarry and have more kids. Understandably the minimal inclusion of Nic’s mother Vicki could be down to the narrative of the memoirs; only appearing when Nic wants to escape David before eventually returning to the dependence of his father. Yet, Nic is never without motherly care, being treated like a son by David’s new wife Karen. It does bring into question whether his broken family life in his younger years had such a detrimental effect on his wellbeing, yet when watching the film, it is hard to believe this to be true.
It is not until the epilogue of the film that the viewer is reminded once again that this is a true story, and not unlike many others in America today. The awareness that Beautiful Boy brings to drug addiction will no doubt be monumental in helping those who suffer as this has never been showcased on the silver-screen in such a way before. The film resonates through its truthful retelling of this period in David and Nic’s life, rather than a fictionalised plot for the same purpose of raising awareness of drug addiction. Chalamet’s nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, to name a few, has already increased the film’s profile. Whilst the reality of what is showcased before us is difficult to accept, I would highly recommend watching for both the incredible acting and to develop your understanding of the wider effects of addiction.
Got opinions about what you're watching? Contact Christina Riley at email@example.com if you'd like to contribute to the Film and TV section!
Christina Riley previews the second annual St Andrews Film Festival.
The St Andrews Filmmakers’ Society is to present its second annual Filmmakers Festival in the coming weeks to showcase young people’s work in film media. The society hopes to provide a wide-reaching platform within the film industry, which is why the competition is open to all UK university students between the ages of 18 and 25, with no genre restrictions for the entries. Committee member Mariya Raycheva notes that young people are often discouraged from the art form due to lack of opportunities and therefore this festival hopes to garner a substantial reputation and become the UK’s largest student film festival to prove that the possibilities are endless when accompanied with effort and passion. The unique opportunity to make an impact in film media has inspired the team behind the festival, and with over 30 submissions last year, they are hoping to establish a more influential presence this year and foster a community of passionate filmmakers.
Operating on a one day schedule, The Byre Theatre will host the festival on 28th April and will comprise film screenings throughout the day, accompanied by an awards ceremony and an onstage panel discussion with industry personalities. Nine winners will be announced by a panel of St Andrews PhD students and alumni, with prizes such as a year’s subscription to BFI Sight and Sound Magazine.
To keep updated in the lead up to the event, follow the Filmmakers’ Society Instagram takeover on the official St Andrews page from April 26.
The official St Andrews Film Festival website can be found here with the names of last years winners: http://filmmaking-st-andrews.co.uk/festival2019/ The society will upload the previous winners’ short films shortly.
Hannah Pollard reviews Marvel’s new Spider-Man film, reflecting on the success of animation as a medium for adapting the comic-book series.
Waiting for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to start, I didn’t know what to expect; I wasn’t sure if I was the target audience for an animated Spider-Man film. Despite my apprehension, I found myself completely immersed in an emotionally and visually stirring world, leaving the cinema freshly grateful for animation as an increasingly valued medium. The film won a Golden Globe for Best Animation and is tipped to take an Oscar win too - and for good reason.
The plot centres around Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) - that’s right, not Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). As a black teenager, he’s not the protagonist we have been conditioned to expect leading the Spider-Man franchise. The film feels both fresh and comfortingly familiar, which can be attributed to both the similarities and differences in Miles’ and Peter’s stories. Miles’ story shares similarities with Peter Parker’s in previous Spider-Man films - neither fit in at school, both get bitten by a radioactive spider, gaining supernatural abilities, and importantly, both undergo a personal trauma. Yet ultimately Miles’ story is original enough to be a wholly singular creation. His problems feel contemporary, whether that be his complex home life or adjusting to the elite private school he has just begun attending. The film captures the experience of being a teenager with heartfelt authenticity. For example, the soundtrack was chosen to represent what a modern-day teen like Miles would really be listening to. The soundtrack is filled with rap and hip-hop, featuring artists like Nicki Minaj and Post Malone, accurately snapshotting the sort of playlist a New York teenager would have.
The filmmakers create an engaging dynamic between Miles and Spider-Man as a known figure. Miles is not a replacement Spider-Man, but an additional one in a reality where the two coexist. The existence and convergence of alternate realities is central to the film’s plot, something the filmmakers explore with complete creative liberation. It’s up to Miles and Peter to defeat Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) who is attempting to manipulate alternate realities. In a film that does nothing by halves, Kingpin is indulgently villainous, brooding and overwhelming; he dominates frames, often taking up the entire screen. If this all sounds crazy for a Marvel film, it feels it too. I can only imagine the leap of faith the studio took to allow this hyper-meta film to wear the Marvel stamp. Marvel has a dedicated fanbase with massive expectations, and when these are measured against the film, it can only appear as off-brand. Yet, as an animated film Into the Spider-Verse feels like one of the most organic comic book transformations; the medium lends a freedom that live-action Marvel films often lack in realist imaginings.
Into the Spider-Verse makes reference to the multitude of alternate protagonists within the existing Spider-Man comic universe. In the film’s numerous realities, other spider-bitten characters exist with similar superhuman skills - Spider-Gwen, Peni Parker, Peter Porker (who is indeed a pig, armed with a mallet and a string of cheesy one-liners), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage in a self-reflective role, playing homage to his many excessively dramatic past characters). Gwen Stacy is a familiar name, but her role in this film surpasses that of past adaptations. No longer is she a part of the ‘I let Gwen Stacy Die’ trope, in which a female close to a film’s protagonist is killed to provide motivation for the hero to save the day. In contrast, Spider-Gwen is self-sufficient and multifaceted, injecting contemporary female heroism into a typically male-dominated world.
It is the intersection of these characters’ stories that makes the film so wonderfully human. They are all born out of some kind of tragedy, and as Robert Persichetti (joint director with Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman) put it, “for the first time there’s someone out there who knows what they’re going thorough”. The superhero genre has long garnered fans for its ability to confront reality in a nurturing and familiar way, and this lends to the relatability of its characters.
The unique animation style is integral to the film’s innovation. During production Persichetti gave the directive, “if it looks and feels like something from an animated film, it’s not our movie”. It visually appears more like a comic-book than any other superhero movie, complete with thought bubbles, onscreen action words, and delightfully visible spidey-senses. The film’s visuals have a slightly trippy quality, and this is a result of the film’s bold stylistic choices. Motion blur, (the smoothing over of individual frames in a movement sequence) was scrapped in this film, lending the action real time intensity, each image being displayed with incredible clarity, and the common technique of ‘animating on ones’ (where movement is changed every frame) is also abandoned. Directors instead opted for ‘animating on twos’, where movement is slowed down by occurring every second frame. As a result, the film’s action appears more clearly dissected and spectacular.
The superhero genre has become increasingly over-saturated from studios churning out formulaic and uninspiring content multiple times a year. The superhero films of my childhood contained tepid humour and overpowering thematic darkness, but in recent years the genre has undergone a hopeful shift in tone – epitomised by Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. Superhero films are about the fantastic, so it always seems a bit ridiculous to me when one tries to overly assert itself in a gritty reality. Into the Spider-Verse explores the soaring wildness that comes with no longer resisting the impossibility of the genre. Some might find the kinetic energy of this film overwhelming, but I found it captivating, with the film’s success ultimately deriving from its skillful fusion of nostalgia and invention.
Film and TV Editor: Christina Riley
A new addition to the On the Rocks Festival, the Culture Y Film Festival was an opportunity to watch student-made films, all united by the theme of culture. This year, the films created were an exploration of how culture influences identity, and they were presented to an esteemed panel of judges including India Basagni, Dr Lucy Fife Donaldson, Adina Istrate, and Dr Catherine Spencer.The event was held at the Hotel Du Vin, offering an intimate setting perfect for film viewing and post-viewing discussion amongst the attendees. The event began swiftly and ran smoothly, bringing all the focus onto the films. There were a total of five films of around fifteen minutes each, and they were screened according to the following programme:
- Oil + Ink –Sarah Park and Vienna Kim
- Renatus (Rebirth) –Glen Kennedy and Charlie Manasseh
- Third Culture Kid –David Mackenzie and Aneurin Howorth
- Chicken Party –P. Ahana Alam, Indre Tuminauskaite, Laszlo Szegedi and Mando Gianni
- Go Where the People Dance –Dylan Howel, Amy Gregan, Andrew Nall-Cain, Ashlyn Bourelle, Megan Alexandra, Milan Jo Anna
Although all the groups had the same brief, every film had its own distinct identity. It was clear that every team had a clear vision for what they wanted to present, and as an audience member, I felt a different vibe and impact from each film that was presented. Even though the films were being judged by a panel, the audience was still given the opportunity to vote for its favourite, something that I thought was a very engaging element of the event.Following the screenings, the audience had the opportunity to meet the various filmmakers and discuss the issues presented, as well as the chance to cast their votes. It was obvious that choosing a favourite amongst the films proved very difficult for some, and some indecisive audience members even tried to change their votes! But alas, the winners of the night had to be chosen, and in a surprising turn of events, the results were announced as follows:
- 1st Place: Oil + Ink
- 2nd Place: Third Culture Kid
- 3rd Place: Chicken Party
- Audience Favourite: Chicken Party
As a treat for the audience, the event wrapped up with a special screening of Dheu (The Waves), a film that premiered at the Dubai Film Festival. The film was shown under special permission, and was therefore a unique opportunity for attendees, elevating the event even higher.All in all, this film festival was a truly engaging event, and an exciting opportunity to witness the filmmaking talents of the St Andrews student body. I look forward to the opportunity to revisit this event in next year’s On the Rocks Festival, and urge others not to pass up the opportunity to attend.Rachel Abreu