EIFF 2014: The Green Inferno 0 23

eiff-2014-the-green-inferno

The Green Inferno, the latest film from director Eli Roth, centres on a group of young student activists who decide to take action and travel from their comfortable life in New York City to the wilds of the Amazon jungle in order to save a tribe from being destroyed and bring their cause to worldwide attention. However, when leaving and having seemingly achieved their goal, their plane crashes and they find themselves stranded without means of communication to find help. Unfortunately for them they are captured by the very tribe they were trying to help, one that indulges in cannibalism as part of their ancient customs.

Roth’s latest spends a lot of time setting up the situation and doing a more than decent job of developing the characters before he unleashes bloody hell on them and, indeed, us as the audience. Some of the characters – played by the likes of Lorenzo Izzo, Ariel Levy and Daryl Sabara – are a little on the generic side and some are more sympathetic than others but they feel real and relatable so it’s not that big of a hindering issue. The film perhaps takes a little longer to get going than is probably needed – suffering from that most common of problems of 15-20 that would have been best left in the editing room – but once it does it’s insanely and gleefully graphic, delivering the sort of exploitation thrills fans of Roth and hardcore horror films want and expect.

It’s indeed a brutal watch that’s often tough to endure, most definitely not for those with a weak disposition and stomach. This is not the type of film to hint at the gruesome details and cut away at the last minute, something other safer horrors have been guilty of in order to obtain that wider audience-friendly age rating. This is helped by some truly terrific gore effects, entirely convincing on-screen and affecting because of the often matter-of-fact way the tribe go about their cannibalistic customs. Roth is obviously taking great pleasure in attempting to gross out his audience and while that can often lead to offense or disgust without substance or reason – indeed I have found that to be the case with some of his previous work, namely his two Hostel flicks – it seeks shock while making a point.

That point is multi-pronged, whether it be its exploration of cultural misunderstanding – taken to the extreme here by throwing privileged white Americans into the deep end with a polar opposite culture – or the idea of people projecting a helpfulness but being ill-equipped when it comes to actually doing something. Roth’s film skilfully approaches these and other subjects without hammering it home, never forgetting that at the end of the day this is an over-the-top horror movie that needs to deliver on that level most of all.

It’s hard not to watch Roth’s latest – and best – film without thinking of Cannibal Holocaust, the seminal horror that influenced so many films since including ushering in the over-used found-footage style. A lot of the imagery found here is practically lifted straight from that classic, chief among them the unforgettable sight of bodies spiked on poles through their mouth. But it comes across as a respectful homage rather than any sort of rip-off, particularly because it’s made by someone who knows and loves their horror movies and is doing his best here to provide that with as much kick as possible and just enough of a weighty message to make it mean something. Roth’s film is ultimately an entertaining, blissfully violent watch for those who like their horrors with a bite as bad as their bark.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 203

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 227

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10