From cult cinema to black comedy, this is a roundup of my most recently watched. Just incase you thought this might be a guide to new releases, I should probably point out it’s not. Instead, it’s a look at recent titles that have graced my small screen from various decades and directors – not new, but usually great.
The Neon Demon (2016, Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)
Synopsis: Jesse, a young model with big dreams, moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the fashion industry but soon realises all is not well in the world of modelling.
Verdict: Here’s where my main issue with The Neon Demon begins: with Refn. Oh, Refn. You directed Drive, it was incomparable. You followed it up with Only God Forgives, which was moderate at best. And now this? I went into the film with limited expectations, knowing critical opinion had been mixed and aware of my own response to the director’s most recent works. I was so unengaged with the whole thing that I turned it off about 30 minutes from the final scene. This is rare. Let me explain why.
Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon
Visually, The Neon Demon is somewhat of a triumph. The L.A. setting is really quite clever too. The idea of perfection and the want to attain it is a theme throughout and the startling aesthetic does well to create a brooding tone but, beyond this, there’s little else to explore. The two characters that are semi-interesting (played by Fanning and Glusman) are lost amongst the bizarre plot changes that develop over the near two-hour runtime so we’re left with this small ensemble of actors – who are by all means incredibly talented – playing roles that we don’t care about. This is, you could argue, Refn’s intention, but it affects the film in a largely negative way.
Refn doesn’t utilise his cast correctly, either. Reeves is barely there and when he is, he’s stilted by a dry script, while Glusman is shoved out too early on. Stand-out performances do come from Fanning and Jena Malone, the latter of whom is entirely comfortable in alien stories such as these, but the plot falters and it can’t seem to be saved. It leads towards a visually repulsing finale that, if you’re still watching, feels pointless, while the barely there screenplay is average at best.
Get Out (2017, Dir. Jordan Peele)
Synopsis: In Get Out, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, meets his girlfriend’s parents at their remote countryside home as cracks begin to show amongst this seemingly ‘normal’ family.
Verdict: Get Out blew a lot of minds upon its release, not only because it was a fresh take on the formulaic horror genre, but because it actively addressed racial tensions in America in a mainstream film. Director Jordan Peele is bold in his ideas, ideas which he successfully executes throughout the flick.
The originality of the film begins with the narrative. On paper it sounds straightforward, on-screen it plays out via scene after scene of enigma inducing dialogue and slow-creeping tension that lends to an ominous atmosphere and sense of impending dread. And the brilliance of it all is that, despite the dark themes, it’s also incredibly funny. Penned by Peele, the script is very, very witty in all of the right moments. At times you’re terrified and confused, in others laughing along with the films own self-awareness.
Peele’s flick isn’t just funny and scary, though. It’s socially relevant and intelligently written. Critics have agreed that it’s the lingering impact of the narrative that is the obvious victory, for small complexities are unearthed after viewing that have you thinking long into the night. Potentially Oscar-worthy, and I expect, just a small glimpse of the greatness still to come from its director.
Sam Neill and Julian Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016, Dir. Taika Waititi)
Synopsis: Ricky Baker, a young boy who is frequently removed from his foster homes, goes on an unexpected adventure when he is placed with a loving couple in the New Zealand bush.
Verdict: The brilliance of Taika Waititi’s coming-of-age comedy drama can be witnessed at every turn and in each scene. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a genuine slice of cinematic brilliance and indie filmmaking at its beautiful best. At times a stripped-back character study, in others an adventure movie that keeps you on your toes; there’s so much depth to this oddball story, lifted by performances from Sam Neill and Julian Dennison.
The narrative is wonderfully sentimental but not emotionally manipulative, instead director Waititi takes a witty look inside the world of troubled teenager Ricky as he finds happiness in the strangest of situations. Sam Neill demonstrates how diverse he is as an actor, with years of experience under his belt this might just be his best performance yet. The whole picture is a treat, charming and enigmatic, with strange and beguiling characters that propel the story into great depths of movie magic.