Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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Director: Tom Ford

Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

This animal deserves to be seen in daylight

Tom Ford’s brilliant new thriller, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ had a release date primed just in time for Oscar season. When I first saw it, I was sure that it was going to get nominations for every major category because it deserved them. When the Golden Globes were announced I was surprised to see that it was only up for three gongs (Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor) despite all being deserved, I would’ve liked to have seen noms for Best Actor and Actress as well. Thankfully the BAFTA awards came and recognised the film’s fantastic efforts by nominating it in 8 categories. Surely that means that the Oscar noms will come flooding in? Apparently not as #NocturnalAnimals is up for one measly award for Michael Shannon as Best Supporting Actor.

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Whilst I’m glad that Michael Shannon has finally been recognised for his sensational performance in the film, a film as visually gorgeous and stunningly complex as Nocturnal Animals really should be recognised for more awards. In my opinion it’s better than Best Picture nominees #Arrival and #Lion, more competently directed than Mel Gibson’s #HacksawRidge and has a screenplay more dazzling than any film nominated in the Best adapted screenplay category.

Let’s also not forget just how incredible the cast is. #AmyAdams always seemed to be Oscar-nominated but in the year when she pulled out not one, but two career-best performances (the other film being Arrival) the Academy completely snubs her. Her performance in Nocturnal Animals is so brilliantly subdued and intricate, she could’ve single-handedly stole the whole film if it wasn’t for the equally strong supporting cast. #JakeGyllenhaal can always be relied upon for giving a role his all and that’s exactly what he does here. Playing two characters (the author and the book’s character) Gyllenhaal is up for the task of playing two different characters, one a love-struck author and the other a weak father on the quest for vengeance which is no mean feat as seemingly both characters are different; however Gyllenhaal still has to stay true to his author character whilst in the role Edward Sheffield as he is essentially the author’s manifestation. Jake pulls it off exquisitely.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson rightly garnered a lot of recognition in his supporting role as the slimy villain of the story. The Kick-Ass star is often known in likable roles, however here Taylor-Johnson boasts his versatility by playing a vicious and animalistic character that you can’t help but hate. However, it’s the previously mention Michael Shannon who steals the show for me. He plays Bobby Andes, a stone-faced detective with a Southern drawl and a troubled past. He chews up just about every scene he’s in and still proves himself to be one of the very best actors of our generation.

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It isn’t just the acting that makes Nocturnal Animals so great though, if anything it’s the screenplay. Adapted by Tom Ford himself, the film beautifully weaves and winds around a dual narrative reminiscent of David Lynch. Not only does it manage to be entertaining and gripping on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find a rich smorgasbord ripe for analysis and interpretation. Each character is fantastically realised and fleshed out, and both stories are handled with a precision which is close to perfection. Let’s also not forget about Tom Ford’s gorgeous directing. Pretty much every shot could be framed and placed in an art gallery, it’s that beautiful.

So where are this film’s much-deserved Oscars? It does everything a great film should do and more. Its intelligent ambiguity means that the film never quite leaves you. I was left wondering about the events and characters for weeks after which is more than can be said for a few of the films nominated this year.

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Green Room (2016)

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat

Didn’t leave me green with envy

Don’t you hate it when you get yourself hyped up for a film and it lets you down? Green Room has everything I love in a film: A fight for survival, an intense situation and  murderous psychopaths. Horror fans and critics were building it up with stories about people walking out the cinema vomiting and calling it one of the most intense films ever, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Don’t get me wrong Green Room is a good film but it’s no where near as amazing as people are making it out to be. As an avid fan of home invasion and survive the night kind of horror, I think there are much better examples of this kind of film out there and whilst Green Room is a solid thriller it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

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My biggest gripe is how forgettable the characters are. Likable characters and character development are essential for slasher films like this. If you like the characters then chances are that you’ll be invested in the film. However, I didn’t really care about any of these characters and they all felt pretty lifeless and flat. Even the potentially fascinating neo-Nazi villains were wasted, with no characters really being explored fully. Green Room set itself up for a Eden Lake standard character-driven ride, but failed to deliver its full potential.

Another thing that irritated me was the acting. Everyone seemed to be acting very odd with lines being mumbled to a barely audible level and no one really being that bothered about murderous Nazis being outside the door. I don’t think this is the fault of the actors though, I get the feeling that this is the style of acting the director was going for but for me it didn’t work. Even Patrick Stewart sleep-walked his way through the film failing to be the menacing kingpin he could’ve been. I don’t think anyone’s going to be winning any awards here.

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This all makes it sound like I hated the film, but I did actually like a lot of it. I liked the slow build-up of the group ending up in the scary fascist bar and how situations slowly and realistically built up to a life or death situation. When the crazy violence does begin, the film never becomes boring despite being set in one location, although it’s still never as intense as it could’ve been. It is very thought-provoking though and leaves you wondering about what you’d do in their situation. I also loved the dark grungy atmosphere which really added to the hellish situation the group are in.

There are some brilliantly tense scenes, especially towards the end with a couple of nail-biting showdowns which are really well done but I was expecting more. The way it was hyped, I thought it was going to be the same level of intensity as Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s French horror, Inside! However, some of the film is poorly directed with low lighting, frantic camerawork and fast editing so it’s often difficult to make out what’s going on which takes you out of the film and makes it uninvolving. At some points I found it hard to tell which characters’ had died. I also don’t quite understand why people are vomiting from the violence. Whilst there are some nasty moments I never found it overly gory, but then again I am very desensitized now.

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I know it sounds like I hated every minute but if you take away the hype it is a good little thriller and I just want to warn over-excited people (like I was) that it isn’t the ground-breaking horror film they think it’s going to be. Films like You’re Next and the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane are more intense and better made than this one.

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Ranking David Lynch’s Films

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Just last week I managed to tick off the final Lynchy feature film I had left to see, Lost Highway. I was saving it and saving it until I finally gave in so that I can finally say that I have seen every feature film from my favourite ever filmmaker, David Lynch. The man is a god! He understands that film can be as artistic and powerful as any other piece of art. No other director creates worlds like David Lynch. You know that if you stick on one of his films that you’ll be transported into another place for a few hours and it’s quite an extraordinary feeling. The very best David Lynch films are more like an experience than an average film so it’s important not to think about what’s going, but to feel it instead. Even his short films like The Alphabet and The Grandmother offer more ingenuity than the majority of Hollywood’s churnings.

I would normally be feeling mournful at the fact that there’s no more David Lynch output to look forward to, however that simply isn’t true! Laura Palmer promised that she’d see us again in 25 years and here we are with David directing a Twin Peaks revival. With the renaissance TV is going through at the moment with brilliance such as, Breaking Bad and Fargo, there’s every chance that David could blow every series that’s gone out of the window! But for now, here are my rankings of David’s ten film canon complete with my weirdness rating and overall film rating.

10) Dune

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Let’s begin with the elephant (man) in the room. Dune was a self-confessed disaster which even the most hardcore David Lynch fan finds impossible to excuse. There are a few sci-fi weirdos who love it, but I’m not one of them. Everything about this film is just plain bad, from the clunky dialogue to the inexplicable plot. David had absolutely no control over this beast and was lost amidst a gigantic behind-the-scenes crew and controlling production company. David wanted to create a strange three hour plus epic, but those pesky studio execs grabbed hold of it and butchered the film to its very bare bones. The scene which sums the film up is the part where David Lynch himself plays a muddied miner whose trying to harvest all the good spice he can until a giant sandworm (which he couldn’t possibly control) gobbles him up. So as David didn’t really have any power over Dune at all, let’s just pretend it didn’t happen okay?

Best bit: Probably the line, “Bring in that floating fat man!”
Weirdness rating: 6/10
Movie rating: 3/10

9) The Straight Story

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David Lynch surprised the world when he released a genuinely sweet film for all the family to enjoy. Younger viewers might get a little restless at its snail pacing, but for those who appreciate great acting and warmth will find a lot to like. It follows the (mostly) true story of Alvin Straight, a man who rode for miles on his lawnmower to meet his estranged brother. Honestly, it really is that simple! Not a lot happens but somehow it isn’t boring at all. Perhaps it’s because of how involving it feels. You feel as though you’re going through the long and strenuous journey with Alvin, and the end scene really is beautiful and moving. However, us Lynch fanatics see it as one of his lesser films due to the lack of dancing dwarves and general dreamlike weirdness.

Best bit: The cockles-warming end scene.
Weirdness rating: 1/10
Movie rating: 8/10

8) Wild At Heart

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This Palme D’or-winning road trip boasts plenty of Lynchy weirdness, including a squealing peg-legged Grace Zabriskie and an appearance from the fairy godmother herself (played by Laura Palmer). In fact, Wild at Heart features some of the most memorable characters and performances David has ever mustered. Diane Ladd (Laura Dern’s real Mum!) possibly steals the show as Lula’s nightmarish, psychotic mother. Her wildly hammy performance quite rightly garnered an Oscar nomination as she gives Bette Davis a run for her money! Equally impressive is Willem Dafoe as the terrifying Bobby Peru. Willem has never been easy on the eye but Lynch turns him into the stuff of true nightmares. The only thing that stops Wild at Heart propelling to the top is Barry Gifford’s linear and less interesting plot. It’s still a fantastic journey full of fun, frights and lunacy!

Best bit: When Diane Ladd turns to reveal her entire face smothered in lipstick.
Weirdness rating: 7/10
Movie rating: 8/10

7) The Elephant Man

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The other ‘normal’ David Lynch film (along with The Straight Story) which catapulted him into the big time. After the super low-budget Eraserhead found its way into the hearts of Midnight Movie fans, Mel Brooks gave David the chance to direct the true story of Joseph Merrick. The story goes that Lynch accepted the job as soon as he heard the title of the film! Considering how young and inexperienced he was at the time, The Elephant Man is a truly miraculous piece of work and a timeless film by anyone’s standards. It’s impossible not to feel moved and involved in Joseph’s tragic life as he’s taken into care by a kindly Anthony Hopkins. Seeing him transform from a terrified mute into a compassionate and confident character is a pretty life-affirming experience. It also features one of the most powerful and upsetting endings of all time. Despite the scenes which bookend the film, The Elephant Man features virtually no signature strangeness which is why it falls slightly shorter for me. However, it’s still a fantastic piece of work.

Best bit: The soul-crushing ending
Weirdness rating: 1/10
Movie rating: 9/10

6) Lost Highway

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Another Barry Gifford collaboration, although it’s clear who’s in the driving seat here! After a terrific title sequence over David Bowie’s haunting I’m Deranged song our polarising non-linear narrative begins. The first Fred Maddison story features some of the best stuff David has ever done as we’re transported into a frightfully eerie dream world in which a saxophone player and his missus are plagued by mysterious videotapes. The suffocating atmosphere disappears slightly when a perplexing second story begins involving a young mechanic called Pete Dayton. Lost Highway is a gripping and thought provoking psycho-sexual-horror-neo-noir which offers no easy answers. It also features one of the David’s scariest creations in the Mystery Man who’s probably the key to entire mystery but who doesn’t fit into the story at all (seemingly). It perhaps doesn’t feature his strongest protagonists’, but it is unfairly overlooked when discussing David. It’s also masterfully directed.

Best bit: Fred’s first meeting with the Mystery Man is probably the moment which sticks out the most. After his dream!
Weirdness rating: 8/10
Movie rating: 9/10

5) Eraserhead

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This is where it all began! A five year labour of love where a cash-strapped young Dave even lived on the set for a short while to save money. Those five years resulted in 90 minutes of pure genius. It’s quite possibly the weirdest film ever made and transports the viewer into a strange and terrifying land where a funny-haired young man copes with the struggles of caring for a mutant baby. No, it’s weirder than it sounds! It’s exactly like watching a dream and every scene is filled with an inexplicable sense of dread. Eraserhead is the quintessential Lynch film with a polarising narrative, strange characters and dreamlike sequences which end up everywhere and nowhere. Whilst there is no real explanation to it all, David has claimed that he’s still yet to read an interpretation which matches his.

Best bit: The Lady in the Radiator’s haunting singing solo
Weirdness rating: 10/10
Movie rating: 10/10

4) INLAND EMPIRE

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Another film where David gave himself complete control to let his dangerous creative juices flow. Unsurprisingly, it’s also tied with Eraserhead as one of the very weirdest films of all time (IMO). It’s the ultimate test to see how much of Lynch fan you really are. Most people despise INLAND EMPIRE with pure venom due to its hefty 180 minute runtime and incomprehensible plot which is clear as mud. I’ll never forget when I first watched it though (one of my first David Lynch films) and feeling utterly transported. I watched it alone, in the middle of the night with no distractions (the only way to watch a David Lynch film) and I felt as though I was actually having a nightmare. It didn’t feel like I was watching screen, it felt as though I was asleep and having a nightmare I couldn’t escape. Once the film is over you feel as though you’ve spent you’re whole life watching it, yet you can only bits and pieces which is exactly like waking from a dream. At the centre of it all is a stunning performance from Laura Dern, a woman transported into total madness. INLAND EMPIRE is by far David Lynch’s scariest film, and also his most magical.

Best bit: When the prostitutes dance to the locomotion
Weirdness rating: 10/10
Movie rating: 10/10

3) Blue Velvet

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The velvet of blue is often cited as the best film in the Lynchian canon (along with my number one) and it’s easy to see why. Whilst the film has its moments of bizarreness, for the most part it’s an audience-friendly mystery thriller although it’s far from conventional. Kyle Maclachlan is a Dale Cooper in training as he becomes obsessed with finding out where a severed ear came from. The first thirty minutes are like a straightforward albeit gripping, mystery film. Things get dark and subversive when Kyle hides in Isabella Rossellini’s closet and watches her get horrifically raped by Dennis Hopper. Somehow Dennis Hopper didn’t get Oscar nominated for his electrifying performance as Frank Booth. Every scene with Frank is filled with intensity and jet-black comedy. Luckily, David Lynch got himself nominated again as best director to make up for things! Blue Velvet is a masterpiece by anyone’s standards and features scene after scene of classic Lynchian moments.

Best bit: Ben’s strange lip-synch to In Dreams
Weirdness rating: 7/10
Movie rating: 10/10

2) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

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Ooh would you look at me being controversial! It was booed at Cannes and reviled by fans of the series yet somehow it’s crept its way up to second place in my list. I love the original Twin Peaks series but the darker elements have always interested me more than the comedic side and with Fire Walk with Me, David goes full into full horror mode as we explore Laura Palmer’s final week of life. She was an enigma in the series, but here she’s thrown into the spotlight and becomes one of the most compelling characters David Lynch has ever created. After a bizarre opening in which we’re transported into a parallel Twin Peaks universe with Fat Trout trailer parks and reappearing David Bowie’s we suddenly focus on Laura’s final days. Sheryl Lee’s performance is outstanding and the moments of horror are frighteningly intense. The final sequence where Laura is killed is particularly horrifying and ultimately moving. Fire Walk with Me is, in my opinion, one of David’s most harrowing films.

Best bit: The powerful final scene which manages to be tragic and uplifting at the same time.
Weirdness rating: 8/10
Movie rating: 10/10

1) Mulholland Dr

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Ah yes, Mulholland Drive is possibly my favourite film of all time. It wasn’t always that way though! When I first saw it I gave it a 9/10 and wasn’t totally spellbound, but then I read all the explanations and realised just how rich and detailed every single scene was. Mulholland is all the magic of the movies rolled into one. It’s set in Hollywood and features the archetypal Hollywood noir plot of an amnesiac, a mysterious key and a bag of cash. It’s so much more than that though. In fact, Mulholland Drive is so layered and ingenious that it hurts your head just thinking about it. On the surface it’s just a series of random and meaningless scenes which shouldn’t work, but it just does. There’s an intense signature dreamlike atmosphere which dominates every scene right up until the final thirty minutes where the rug is pulled from our feet and the film spirals into total lunacy. Mulholland Drive is an extraordinary achievement which will never be topped.

Best scene: The entire sequence in the Club Silencio is the probably the best thing David Lynch has ever created.
Weirdness rating: 9/10
Movie rating: 10/10

Well there’s my ranking of my favourite filmmaker. Agree or disagree? Let me know below please!

Lost Highway (1997)

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Director: David Lynch

Stars: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake

Dick Laurent may be dead, but long live David Lynch!

I make no secret about David Lynch being my favourite ever director. He makes films like no other by building dark worlds which draw you in by putting you in some sort of spell. I love him so much that I put off seeing Lost Highway for over a year because it was the only David Lynch film I was yet to see. I was even considering not seeing it at all just so I could always have that one new David Lynch film, but then I thought that would just be ridiculous. Also, the revival of Twin Peaks was enough to pique my David Lynch anticipation meter to breaking point so I finally gave in and stuck in Lost Highway.

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Firstly, I don’t think it’s as grossly strange as some people make out. Yes, it has all the trademark bizarreness you come to expect from David but the majority of the film is surprisingly linear. I was expecting some next level INLAND EMPIRE stuff the way some folk bang on about it! The first 40 minutes are like Michael Haneke’s Hidden in dream form. It’s probably some of the best stuff our David has ever done due to the inexplicably tense and hellish atmosphere. A lot of the scariness is down to the terrifying music which ranges to ominous drones to extremely loud strings. There’s one seriously nightmarish image near the start (which I’ve never heard anyone talk about, surprisingly) which sent chills up my spine. It’s a full-on Lynchian assault on the senses which takes you down some dark and enthralling corners. The atmosphere is chock-a-block full of mystery.

There are endlessly beautiful scenes including Fred playing the saxophone, the unsettling meeting with the Mystery Man and extremely frightening dream sequences. I think it’s also important to note the expert positions David places the camera. There always seems to be too much space surrounding the characters and it makes for seriously eerie viewing. There’s also that fantastic Francis Bacon inspired colour scheme of dark purples/pinks and shadows. He really does direct the hell out of the first forty minutes of this film.

Suddenly the film changes into something entirely different as soon as Fred Madison randomly transforms into a young mechanic called Pete Dayton and takes on an entirely new life. No one seems to bat an eyelid about Fred Madison disappearing and the sudden change is quite jarring. In my opinion, this is when the film goes down a gear. I think because the first story is so strong, this second one pales slightly in comparison as the suffocating atmosphere somewhat dissipates and the overall strangeness ceases. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to love it just feels less Lynchy and more straightforward, and the Pete Dayton story is the biggest chunk of the film.

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There are still some spectacular sequences though, including a mysterious gangster getting road rage and Patricia Arquette’s intriguing Alice character. There’s also a strong feeling of everything not quite being what it seems and it gives you time to ponder over exactly what the heck you’re watching. Thankfully for us weirdos things do start to get extremely strange towards the final half hour of the film before breaking down into total chaos until your mind finally explodes.

Lost Highway is extremely puzzling in a similar way to Mulholland Dive. All of the clues seem to be there as well as a few abstractions to throw lots of spanners into the works (what does this Mystery Man have to do with it all!?) but there is a complex and very intelligent story buried underneath all the bizarreness. It feels like a warm-up exercise before Dave finally broke the mould of film with Mulholland Drive. Everything in Mulholland feels like a perfected version of Lost Highway from the more passionate love story to the unrelenting dreamlike atmosphere.

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Lost Highway is still a film to cherish on the Lynchian canon though. It’s very much its own thing and I felt a strong urge to see it all again once it had all finished. Unlike Mulholland Drive there doesn’t seem to be a universal theory to Lost Highway which makes it all the more interesting to watch again and again to dig for clues. However, as with all Lynchy films the best thing to do is just sit back and let your intuition drive you rather than your brain. It’s not an IQ test but a piece of art which is designed to take you on a journey. No one makes films that make you feel quite like David Lynch does. Let’s hope that the Twin Peaks revival encourages our Dave to get back into more regular filmmaking again. I couldn’t bear to wait another ten years!

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Alleluia (2014)

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Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Stars: Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Héléna Noguerra

Praise the Lord! Another fabulous Fabrice film

Even though a little middle-aged Belgian man called Fabrice Du Welz has only made three feature films in his career, he still happens to be one of my favourite directors. My love affair started when I sat and watched a film called Calvaire which left me dumbstruck and disturbed. How it still hasn’t become an iconic horror classic is still beyond me. I love every single thing about it, even down to the little details like the name, Marc Stevens and his bulky Michelin Man red coat. It’s one of my favourite ever films. Then came an underrated little atmospheric English-language horror called, Vinyan. You can imagine my excitement when Fabrice announced a thematic sequel to Calvaire starring Laurent Lucas and featuring Fabrice’s favourite theme of ‘mad love’.

I was blown away by the intense trailer but unfortunately the film wasn’t getting much buzz. Even now, after it has been released for yonks, no one seems to be talking about it or seeing it. There’s barely five reviews on IMDb and the message board is dead in the water, but oh well it’s everyone else’s loss! Alleluia is an electrifying slice of raw and intense romantic horror. Well, I say romantic, it’s Fabrice’s idea of romantic which tends to involve obsessive psychopaths. His debut short film, A Wonderful Love featured a woman falling in love with the corpse of a stripper and Calvaire saw an inn keeper convincing himself that a male guest was his long-lost wife. Alleluia tells the tale of an insane woman becoming besotted with an insane man and going on a killing spree.

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It’s frightening to think that Alleluia is actually based on a real-life case in America where a couple ended up murdering 17 women in America during the 1940’s. Fabrice of course puts his unique spin on things. It opens with a disturbing shot of our hero, Gloria sponging the body of a corpse in the morgue she works at. She then stops and looks directly at us sitting in our little living room arm chairs with her wide eyes penetrating our souls until ‘Alleluia’ flashes up on the screen. Right away you know that you’re in for the Fabrice Du Welz experience.

Alleluia has that same grainy, dirty look as Fabrice’s other films. It feels incredibly raw and scarily real, almost like one of Lars Von Trier’s Dogme films. There’s also a strong claustrophobic atmosphere throughout thanks to the intrusive camerawork which is almost always in front of the actors’ faces or backs. In fact, it’s pretty jarring whenever we’re given a long-shot, it’s almost as though the film is allowing you to breathe. All of the lighting feels very natural too with dark scenes being almost completely black and grainy so that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. All of this contributes to an overall atmospheric and intense experience throughout.

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What surprised me was the stupendous quality of acting from our main stars. Laurent Lucas is usually cast as the charming goody in the films he’s in but has lately been venturing into darker territory. Those who saw the recent French series, Witnesses where Laurent played an everyday family man who liked to put white make-up on his face and kill young women at night won’t be surprised to find out that he’s similarly chilling in the role of Michel. We first see him performing some sort of voodoo on a photo of Gloria before he meets her for the first time and he only gets creepier from there. Laurent puts on a strange raspy voice and plays the part of the serial seducer extremely convincingly and never without a psychotic glint in his eyes.

It’s Lola as Gloria who steals the show though. Lola too usually plays the part of the kindly woman, mostly in Pedro Almodovar’s terrific dramas. Here she’s in total psycho mode as the dangerously obsessed lover who will do absolutely anything and everything for Michel. In fact, Gloria makes Michel look positively normal in comparison and Lola acts the hell out of it without it ever feeling too over-the-top. In a fair world, the Academy would’ve recognised Alleluia and popped Lola up for an Oscar nom. I’m not even kidding, she really is that good!

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Alleluia is split into four acts, all named after the women Michel seduces. Their master plan is for Gloria to pose as Michel’s brother whilst Michel seduces the women and steals of their money. However, there’s that old green-eyed monster in the way called Jealousy. Gloria does not like seeing Michel being affectionate with the old women he’s marrying and so intense violence and chaos ensues for the majority of Alleluia’s tight 90 minute runtime. To say any more about the plot would be to spoil the fun of it all. I can tell you, though that there was not one moment where I was bored. Alleluia always kept me gripped by the throat and didn’t let go.

Whilst the film is less surreal than Fabrice’s previous efforts, it’s still absolutely insane and full of WTF moments. For me Calvaire feels like a string of iconic moments and Alleluia has a few of them too. My favourites include a bizarre Magnolia-styled musical interlude (with added corpses), a creepy Humphrey Bogart-infused trip to the cinema and a disorientating segment which sees the couple dancing around naked in flames with grinding electronic music. The film has more than its fair share of sensory overload and it all makes for an unpredictable and absorbing experience. It also has lots of brilliant uses of black humour. The best example probably comes from when Michel is trying to fleece a religious woman by telling her blatant lies whilst Gloria hysterically laughs, covering it up as hysterical cries.

The strongest segment is arguably the final act which results in a terrifyingly intense finale which leaves you begging for more. Alleluia really is a blistering thriller full of shocking violence, stupendous acting and intense directing. Chances are that you’ve never heard of it so it’s your duty to seek this out and give it the attention it deserves. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed.

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The Gift (2015)

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Director: Joel Edgerton

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton

Joel has presented us with a wonderful gift, here is my thank you card

I think The Gift managed to slip under everyone’s radar. There hasn’t been a really great ad campaign so you’d only know about it if you were quite the film fan, or had been impressed by the cheap trailers which make it look like your average scraping-the-barrel-type thriller. I actually went into The Gift completely blind. I didn’t watch any trailers, skimmed a couple of reviews and didn’t even really know what the story was about. It was a spontaneous trip to my local cinema I made on the day and I was very glad that I made it.

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I think the less you know about The Gift, the better! In fact, I’ve just watched the theatrical trailer for it now and it gives way too much away. It also makes it look like a run-of-the-mill horror film, which it really isn’t. The Gift is a Hitchcockian thriller of the classiest kind. It starts out conventionally enough with a young couple moving into a new house blah blah blah, but the our heroes bump into a mysterious man called Gordo, an old school friend of Jason Bateman. This first encounter fills the film with mystery and intrigue which keeps it utterly gripping.

It’s very difficult to talk about The Gift without giving the plot away and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody. Suffice to say that Joel Edgerton has revealed himself to be quite the talent. His screenwriting skills are extremely impressive. Instead of throwing in clichés and outlandish plot twists, he’s built the film on a story unfolding naturally with realistic characters. In fact, it’s the characters which really made the film for me. They’re developed so beautifully and logically whilst still remaining grounded. By the end of the film it feels like Simon and Gordo are real people.

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The fantastic acting also contributes to the feeling of realism. At times, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall felt like a real couple having real arguments and doing real couply things! It’s a shame that Rebecca Hall isn’t used more in the world of films. I’ve only really seen her in The Prestige and she was equally great in that, plus she’s not too harsh on the eyes either. Joel Edgerton steals the show as Gordo though. He’s creepy, funny, mysterious and yet strangely likable. I suppose it depends on your type of character, but I also sympathised with Gordo like Rebecca Hall did.

Joel Edgerton also proves himself to be a dab hand behind the camera too. It’s difficult to believe that this is his feature length debut because it’s directed in such a confident and classy manner. He certainly knows how to craft an effective jump scare! There are two moments which absolutely made me jump out of my skin! I was worried for the couple of grannies I sat next to; I think their nerves were completely shot by the end of it all. I found there to be tension throughout the film which made it a riveting thing to watch from start to finish.

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I also loved how focused the film was, especially at the beginning. Every scene pushes the plot forward, but in a natural way and not a forced one. Simon, Robyn and Gordo become our sole focus and we feel immersed in their lives. As the film goes on it manages to dig deeper and deeper into the characters which results in an astonishing finale which had my heart pounding. It could’ve easily slipped into a fun, yet conventional thriller finale in the vein of Cape Fear or Single White Female, but Joel decides to hit the audience harder by going taking a different route which completely pays off.

The Gift came as a total surprise to me. I was expecting it to be good from all the positive ratings from critics, but it turned out to be great. It’s an enthralling ride which manages to be intense and thrilling without sacrificing superb character development and subverting audiences’ knowledge of the genre. It’s a shame it hasn’t become a bigger hit, because it really does deserve to be one. It’s everything you could want in a thriller and I shall anticipate the next film Joel churns out.

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Top 10 Scenes In The Dark Knight Trilogy

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I’d like to begin by saying that I am not a superhero or comic book fan. In fact, I’ve never read a comic book in my life other than an old Beano book when I was about seven years old. I even put off seeing Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for years because I was convinced that Batman was for “kids”. How wrong I was. It wasn’t until I started getting into Christopher Nolan films that I decided to give Batman Begins a try and needless to say I was blown away. You can’t imagine how bowled over I was when I then watched The Dark Knight in blu-ray for the first time. Seeing The Dark Knight Rises on the big screen was just a whole new level bliss.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is my favourite trilogy of all time. I believe that The Dark Knight and its sequel are two of the greatest films ever made. They’re pure art and are already iconic pieces of cinema that will surely stand the test of time. I once (famously, I might add) described The Dark Knight trilogy as being akin to a perfect three-course meal. Batman Begins is the starter, a nice little warm-up which gets you excited for bigger things to come. The Dark Knight is the main course, arguably the best part of the meal. It’s the meatiest and tastiest part which leaves you completely satisfied. The Dark Knight Rises is the dessert. It’s just as good as the main course, but in a completely different way. Depending on your taste, it could even surpass it as it rounds everything off to perfection.

I am in fact one of those rare people who think that The Dark Knight Rises surpasses The Dark Knight, ever so slightly due to its atmosphere of dread and sheer scale and ambition. This trilogy is so much more than ‘superhero movies’. They’re individual pieces of art and contain some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen. There are so many incredible scenes, so unfortunately some real crackers won’t feature in my. I myself don’t even agree with this list so I’d love to hear your comments. Without further ado, let’s delve into Christopher Nolan’s nightmarish world of Gotham city.

10) Tumbler Tumble

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This is the first time we really see the tumbler in full action. The bat mobile has been completely reinvented, so that it is no longer a suave sports car, but a military tank. And it makes sense! It’s truly breath-taking to see it swoop across rooftops, speed down motorways and outrun police cars. What makes it all the more tense and exciting is that Bruce Wayne’s fancy woman is in the passenger seat at death’s door, so we know that he’s got to get to his cave fast! It’s an exhilarating scene and just a taste of even bigger things to come…

9) Bank heist

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The opening to The Dark Knight immediately tells you that this film is going to be a departure from the friendlier (but still dark) Batman Begins. In fact, this doesn’t feel like a family friendly superhero film at all! And that’s because it isn’t. This is a beautifully made crime/noirish sequence which feels more like a scene from Michael Mann’s, Heat than a 12A rated Batman film. Those who own the blu-ray will also confirm to you that it looks mesmerising. The opening shot never fails to literally take my breath away as we’re introduced to a frighteningly real world which looks like you could almost fall into it. All the gun fire feels unusually raw and real too, which is a good thing in my books. And of course, who could forget that introduction to Heath Ledger’s, Joker as he says those haunting words, “Whatever kills you makes you… Stranger.” This is a stonkingly good opener!

8) Batman Vs Joker

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I don’t know what it is about this scene, but there’s something about it which I find quite thrilling. There’s a spectacular set-up where we see that the building is full of the joker’s men, hostages and the joker himself, whose whereabouts have been unknown to Batman until now. It’s a set-up not dissimilar to a videogame and it’s heart-stopping to witness! What makes these action sequences feel so intense is that Christopher Nolan tries to use as little CGI as possible and shoot with few quick-cuts so we can actually see what is going on. The final showdown between Batman and the joker is also pretty spectacular. There’s something quite epic about a skinny man in a purple suit beating Batman to a pulp. I also love the way the camera spins as the joker is left hanging. It shows that the closer to death he is, the more unhinged be gets. Wonderful. I’d also like to include the boat scene in this which I really admire. Tense and powerful.

7) A silent guardian

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I never fail to get chills during Jim Gordon’s flawless final words. After a very intense and frightening scene where Harvey-now-the-deranged-two-face-Dent almost blows a hole in the head of Gordon’s son. Batman heroically takes the bullet and plunges the damaged Dent to his death. He then runs off like a thief into the night alongside Hans Zimmer’s grand score and Gordon’s speech before rapidly cutting to black. It’s a fantastic moment and so well written by the Nolan brothers. Some may find the speech contrived, but I see it as something theatrical and grand in scale. I also love the lighting here.

6) Plane Heist

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Some may disagree, but I think the introduction to Bane is even better than the Joker’s intro! What a stroke of genius to have a villain the complete opposite of the Joker, a cold, calculating and hulking figure who is actually a match for Batman! This whole scene is exhilaratingly filmed. The gorgeous scenery and insane special effects make it all the more intense to watch. There’s also some fantastic music here as well which elevates everything. You also can’t help but admire the stunt work here and the way Nolan directs is just flawless as he gets right in on the action with no shaky cam or manic quick cuts! This just goes to show how powerful Bane is and how he always has the upper hand. I also absolutely love his voice. You’d expect him to have the voice of a bull frog, but instead it’s like Shaun Connery on acid. Tom Hardy did almost the impossible, and made us forget about Heath Ledger’s electrifying performance. Whilst Bane still doesn’t reach those heights, he’s still a bloody excellent villain in his own rights. Christopher Nolan himself announced the other day that this was his favourite scene from his entire career!

5) Stadium woes

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This is the moment when we realise that Bane really means business. What would normally be the big finale to a superhero film occurs barely halfway through. It’s the moment where the hero usually comes to stop the villain just before he carries out his evil plan, but not here. The Nolan brothers clearly don’t care for convention and their films are all the more better for it. Bane wins and we’re all surprised. After this moment there’s a fantastic atmosphere of dread where everything seems hopeless and huge in scale. The stadium explosion itself is incredibly well shot. After hearing Hans Zimmer’s masterful, menacing score there’s suddenly silence with just the voice of a innocent child singing and the looming image of Bane in a brilliant coat making his way to the stadium entrance. To top it all off Tom Hardy (apparently) improvises the haunting line, “It’s a lovely, lovely voice” before blowing the stadium to shreds. It’s magnificent to watch, as is seeing all the bridges blow up. Most directors would shoot this from every angle possible in a series of quick cuts, but Nolan only uses one or two shots to really capture the reality of what’s going on. And it really works.

4) Bane’s prison speech

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Bane makes many powerful speeches in the film, but this is probably my favourite. Bane has won and has proudly put himself up as a vicious dictator. He shatters the reputation of “hero” Harvey Dent by reading Gordon’s real speech and liberates the criminals of Gotham by blowing a hole in the prison wall. To top it all off he goes on to explain his plans for Gotham, including blowing it to smithereens. This really shows off the incredible writing skills of the Nolan brothers. They really know how to get inside a character and make them endlessly quotable. I also don’t think that they get enough credit for what they did with some of the Joker’s lines.

3) The bomb

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Christopher Nolan really did end the trilogy with a bang. I’ll never forget seeing this bomb chase scene in the cinema. My heart was racing and chills covered my spine. It was so intense to watch, it’s a feeling I’ve not had since watching Black Swan for the first time. The whole scene is flawlessly done. The music, the directing, the special effects, the sheer emotion. Perhaps it’s because the film is so unpredictable that you don’t know what’s going to happen! Everything seems so hopeless. Alas, Batman gets blown to pieces and saves Gotham, almost like Jesus atoning for everyone’s sins. Or does he live? I also love the scene where Gordon realises that Batman is Bruce Wayne. It’s all so powerful and emotional. Especially when Alfred’s crying his eyes out at the funeral. Oh, and here’s some trivia that you might not know. The bomb actually ticks down in real time! This also subconsciously adds to the intensity.

2) Interrogation

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The iconic interrogation scene features some of the best acting and writing ever committed to film. You can feel Batman’s reeling anger as he brutally beats the Joker. It’s like he actually wants to kill him! But the more angry Batman gets, the more amused the Joker is. He just smiles more with every punch. This is really tremendous acting from Heath Ledger and it’s also the scene where the Nolan brothers give the Joker his most iconic lines such as, “Does it depress you commissioner… To realise just how alone you really are.” The directing here also really captures the emotional intensity of everything. To top it all off, there’s Zimmer’s menacing high-pitched score for the Joker playing over which ratchets up the tension a couple of notches. There’s also that breathtaking moment afterwards where Batman has to save either Harvey or Rachael. If it was any other superhero movie, then Batman would find some sort of way to save both unharmed. But this is Christopher Nolan, and he really hits home when he decides to blow up Rachael. This makes finding the Joker, much more of a revenge quest for Batman.

1) Tunnel chase

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Most will probably disagree with me here, but for me, this is probably where the trilogy hits its highest point. This scene really shows how much of a talent Christopher Nolan is as a director. He shoots everything for real and uses extremely little CGI, which makes the action feel real. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching a movie any more, it’s like you’re actually there and it’s heart-stopping to watch. The Joker rolls up in his comically graphitized truck with a bazooka, trying to blow up the prison van which Harvey’s in and it’s frightening to watch because it just feels so real! The stunts here are just incredible to watch as Batman’s new motorbike feels like it’s going to pop out of the screen. Everything’s going on here: a helicopter crashes, the tumbler dies, Batman crashes through a window, the Joker steals a huge lorry and Batman finally turns it over in spectacular style. But things only get more epic when the Joker crawls out of the wreckage and toys with Batman’s “one rule”. It’s hair-raising to see Batman rocket towards the hapless Joker as he shouts, “HIT ME! HIT ME!” The whole sequence is damn near perfection. I truly believe that it’s quite simply one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed. It just feels so powerful, intense and real.

So there’s my list. I know, I know. Your favourite scene isn’t in there, right? Well to be quite honest with you if I did a 20 greatest scenes, I would still miss something out. I would’ve loved to have included the stock market scene, Batman and Bane’s first fight, Alfred’s leaving and the scene where the Joker makes an appearance at the party. There are just too many great scenes to admire in this awe-some trilogy. What are your favourites?