Review – ‘Goodnight Mommy’

The Telstar Film Review

Release date: 4 March 2016
Certification: 15
Running time: 99 min
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Starring: Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

Unsettling from the opening moments, this Austrian psychological horror from directors Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz keeps its cards pretty close to its chest throughout. We are given an intriguing set-up as our way in; two boys living in a modern, remote lakeside house with their mother, who has just undergone significant cosmetic facial surgery. Goodnight Mommy is intentionally secretive, preferring to create an overwhelming feeling of dread through impeccable sound editing and subtle shifts in perspective.

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REVIEW:- Stranger by the Lake

Director:- Alain Guiraudie

Starring:- Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao

Runtime:- 97 mins

Year:- 2013

The very title invokes the works of Hitchcock and classic film noir. An unknown figure at an indistinct location. The possibilities for chicanery are endless. There is a beautiful simplicity to writer-director Alain Guiraudie’s lustful thriller; set at a remote lake in the French countryside where members of the gay community meet to cruise for discreet sex. It is a world where anonymity is the norm, almost encouraged. Relationships form and finish in the space of an afternoon. Lovers meet and part like ships passing in the night. The perfect place to make somebody disappear.

Pierre Deladonchamps plays Franck, a frequent visitor to the lake (despite constantly making claims to the contrary) who finds himself overwhelmingly drawn to the mysterious Michel (Christophe Paou). It is an attraction that overrules rational thinking, as Franck finds himself falling in love despite having firsthand knowledge of his partner’s dark side. It is a rich slice of French neo-noir to rival the works of the 1930’s and 40’s; an everyman hero being drawn into a dangerous relationship by a shadowy figure with unknown motives. Like the darkness drenched streets of film noir, the lake exists in a bubble, a landscape out of reach of societies laws as well as it’s prejudices. While honouring narrative conventions of the genre, Guiraudie astutely skewers traditional notions of gender roles. Our femme fatale here may be male, but he possesses all the same enticing qualities that threaten to lead our hero to destruction.

As well as breathing new life into a forgotten genre, Stranger by the Lakebenefits from strong performances from the all-male cast, who seem undaunted at spending the majority of the runtime nude. The brave performances are matched by the director’s approach to filming, which is striking and revealing. One long, uninterrupted shot in particular, coming midway through, is particularly shocking; managing to shatter the illusion of a peaceful haven for these secretive men, and Franck’s illusion of his ideal man with it. Our protagonist, along with director and cast, take a great many risks in this twisted and tense romantic thriller. They are risks that pay off in abundance, offering a film that is beautiful, shocking and thoroughly rewarding.

Michael Clancy


REVIEW:- Evil Dead (2013 version)

Director:- Fede Alvarez

Starring:- Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Picci

Runtime:- 1hr 33mins

Year:- 2013

Re-visiting the 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead was always going to be a gamble. Perhaps as risky as reading from a skin-clad book wrapped in barb-wire and discarded in a basement room filled with animal sacrifices. The original is worthy of its cult status, a bizarre blend of pitch-black comedy and blood-red scares. It follows in the footsteps of other horror heavyweights such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which have all had a facelift in recent years. Those remakes proved to be cynical cash-ins of the loved originals. Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez is the man tasked with making sure Evil Dead does not follow suit.

Alvaraz seems intent on putting his own stamp on the film, whilst maintaining the key elements from the original. Bruce Campbell’s Ash- the iconic hero from the first film- is gone, but his chainsaw, shotgun and red Delta 88 can still be found at the all too familiar cabin. Dropping in nostalgic nods to the original is not enough to make a successful remake however, and this latest version is lacking the key elements of Raimi’s film to make it a classic. The original Evil Dead was a success due to the careful marrying of gruesome, supernatural terror with a sharp and subtle sense of humour helped largely by leading man Campbell’s charisma and flair for physical comedy.

Alvarez depicts his horror with a straight-face. It is not helped by a dour script and forgettable characters, although an honourable mention must go to Lou Taylor Pucci’s Eric, who seems to have superpowers with all the torture he withstands throughout. A lack of comedy could be forgiven, if the scares were up to scratch. But these too are sadly misjudged, with the director relying on cheap shocks based on body disfigurement as opposed to genuine frights. It is The Evil Dead made for the Saw generation, more concerned about making the audience feel queasy than terrified, modern horror filmmaker would do well to remember there’s a difference. Some striking visuals and genuinely shocking scenes do place it head and shoulders above other recent horror remakes, but it still falls a long way short when compared to its namesake. For better or for worse, it is not the nightmare it could have been.


REVIEW:- Theatre of Blood

Theatre of Blood

Director:- Douglas Hickox

Starring:- Vincent Price, Ian Henry, Diana Rigg

Runtime:- 1hr 44mins

Year:- 1973

A bitter thespian takes a bloody revenge on the critics who have dragged his name through the mud. It is as if Shakespeare were writing the Saw franchise. This is Douglas Hickox’s refreshingly macabre Theatre of Blood, a twisted stage in which the works of Shakespeare are distorted into the cruelest plots of revenge. A hilarious, operatic, grandiose piece of nonsense that is not short on scares but is positively crammed with laughs.

Vincent Price is Edward Lionheart, a dedicated actor who’s lack of recognition from members of the critics’ circle drives him first to the brink of suicide, only to return with a taste for murder. His victims are an ensemble of pampered, pompous hacks who spend most of the film swigging champagne in their ivory tower. Each has a vice or sin that Lionheart ingeniously exploits in order to dispatch his own form of poetic justice on his harshest detractors. A lesson in wish fulfillment then, as Hickox lives out the fantasy of every artist by killing those who besmirch their work. But so clever are the set pieces, involving outlandish costumes and Price sword fighting on a trampoline, it is a pleasure to be a part of his twisted dream.

Perhaps the critics depicted onscreen would scold Hickox for his lack of focus in terms of a protagonist. Ian Henry’s leading man Peregrin Devlin proves not much more sympathetic than his critical colleagues who are all too quickly and grimly dispatched. Theatre’s finest executioner almost becomes the hero of the piece. But, much like the critics did with Lionheart, this is to miss the point entirely, as Theatre of Blood proves to be a nasty, grisly little gem, abound with gasps and laughs which pay tribute to the film’s key inspiration, the Immortal Bard.


REVIEW:- Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful

Director:- Sam Raimi

Starring:- James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff

Runtime:- 130 mins

Year:- 2013

Sam Raimi has always been a fearless filmmaker. From his gruesome, iconic Evil Dead horror franchise to bringing Spider-man to the big screen, he is a director who has never been afraid of taking risks. And in Oz the Great and Powerful, he takes his biggest risk to date, returning to the merry-old land of Oz, almost 75 years after Judy Garland’s Dorothy took her first tentative steps down the yellow brick road.

Raimi’s prequel follows James Franco from his humble beginnings as second-rate circus magician Oscar Digg’s, to the all powerful wizard of the Emerald City. As expected, he encounters a menagerie of weird and wonderful characters along the way, including Zach Braff’s talking monkey butler and a host of witches, varying in wickedness, played by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.

Some may feel a prequel to The Wizard of Oz to be blasiphemous, so beloved is the 1939 classic, and yet a cynical view of the film is in keeping with it’s lead character. If the subtext of the original film was a young girl’s journey into womanhood, Oz the Great and Powerful can be viewed as a study of what makes a man as Oz’s transitions from irresponsible Kansas playboy to mighty figure behind the screen. Equally intriguing is the subplot that offers a glimpse of how the Wicked Witch of the West earned her broomstick. The cast perform their duties admirably, with the only minor concern comeing from later scenes in which Kunis’ witch Theodora reveals her darker side. A talented comedic actor, Kunis lacks the powerful presence required to give her character the maniacal menace called for.

Ultimately the reason why Oz the Great and Powerful feels more like an unsubstantial adventure when compared to the timeless classic of 1939 is due to Raimi’s modern vision of the kingdom of Oz. Digitally captured as a vast mountainous landscape stretching as far as the eye can see, it looks more like a PS2 videogame than the magical world that captured our hearts all those years ago. It is still however a passable piece of fantasy fun, and unlike Tim Burton’s soulless Alice in Wonderland avoids the predictable epic final battle. With plenty of enjoyable nods to the original film, Oz the Great and Powerful holds the attention for the 2 plus hours. However Raimi’s offering suffers from the same condition affecting the Tinman in the 1939 version, a lack of heart.


REVIEW:- The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy (Scorsese, 1983)

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro re-form one of the most exciting partnerships in cinema history in The King of Comedy, completing a trilogy of anti-hero films alongside Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Like the lost soul Travis Bickle in the former, and the simmering volcano of aggression that is Jake La Motta in the latter, De Niro delivers another fractured performance as aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin. Not burdened by the violent outbursts of the other protagonists, there is a danger lurking behind his cracked smirk that offers just as much intrigue.

Pupkin is certainly the most delusional of the trilogy’s three characters, with the boundaries between reality and his fantasy merging, allowing for insight into the character not privileged in Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. Like Bickle, his constant solitude pushes him into a dream world, one where he is best friends with talkshow legend Jerry Langford and on the brink of comedic superstardom. Pupkin’s obsession for his idol is portrayed with the chirpy, upbeat loyalty of a dog, as De Niro pushes the canine persistence to excruciating levels.

It is a perfectly judged performance from the lead. Subtle shifts in body language and delivery distinguish between truth and fiction, with his on-stage monologue sequence being a standout. Superbly supported by Jerry Lewis, who plays Langford with a melancholic longing for privacy, and Sandra Bernhard, who represents the opposite side of Pupkin’s insanity in a role full of anger and lust; her stick-insect physique enhances her monstrous psyche.

De Niro is the standout though. After holding the microscope up to damaged souls in everyday life and the sports world, now it is the turn of the entertainment industry. The King of Comedy stands alongside Taxi Driver and Raging Bull as testaments to the quality he and Scorsese are capable of delivering.


REVIEW:- The Angels’ Share

Director:- Ken Loach

Starring:- Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Jasmin Riggins, Gary Maitland, William Ruane

Year:- 2012

Runtime:- 101 mins


After tours of duty in England, Ireland and Iraq, Ken Loach returns to Scotland for the first time in eight years, with The Angel’s Share. On previous visits to the country Loach, along with screenwriter Paul Laverty offered slices of social realism with My Name is Joe (1998) and Sweet Sixteen (2002). During their self-imposed exile the duo have produced more life-affirming efforts with the comedy Looking for Eric (2005). In The Angel’s Share they attempt to marry the bitter and sweet of their previous collaboration, combining harsh social commentary with a light-hearted heist romp involving syphoned whisky. The result is an intriguing blend of grim drama mixed with Ocean’s Eleven in kilts.

Certainly The Angels’ Share is at its most effective when following Robbie’s struggles, a troubled new father who has just narrowly avoided prison for aggravated assault. Loach’s gift for accurately portraying the plight of the lower classes is on full display as our protagonist is continually dragged back to the life he wishes to leave behind. First time actor Paul Brannigan seems to revel in the role as the unstable hero. Brought up by drug-addict parents and having spent time in juvenile detention before being discovered by Laverty, he draws on his own life experiences to deliver the guarded vulnerability required to make him a sympathetic leading character. This fragility is most evident in a scene in which Robbie meets with the family of one of his assault victims. A flashback showing the assault reveals the rage that Robbie carries like so many young men who feel hopeless and trapped by their background. In less skilled hands this scene would turn him from hero to villain, but Loach has faith in his leading man to elicit sympathy from the audience through the silent shame he portrays in the scene. Brannigan doesn’t just know the role, he has lived it.

Loach’s leading man is not the only first-time actor on the screen. Making her big screen debut, Jasmin Riggins also gives a strong showing as Robbie’s kleptomaniac accomplice Mo. There are also roles for Gary Maitland and William Ruane, as Rhino and Albert. The two actors who were given their big break in Sweet Sixteen and provide some much needed comic relief in the earlier sequences. With Maitland now a regular in Loach’s films the director has returned to unearth more acting gems hidden in the rough of urban Scotland.

For the first 45 minutes Loach coasts along in familiar territory, creating a hyper real landscape rife with social commentary, before delving into pure escapism for both audience and characters in the film’s latter stages. The plight of a struggling young father is replaced by an elaborate heist plan involving a crew of oddball heroes and the theft of an extremely rare malt. As the plot drifts from realist drama into the realms of fantasy, so too do the locations. East Glasgow, with its tenement flats and graveyards are quickly replaced by the rolling hills and glimmering lochs of the Scottish highlands. The transformation into knock-about farce is complete with the inclusion of The Proclaimer’s I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) as the gang make their way to the distillery to carry out their plan.

It is a dramatic tonal shift and one that damages the good work achieved in the first half of the film. While the story is first and foremost about Robbie and his attempts to break away from a poisonous lifestyle there are plenty of other important issues raised that are conveniently forgotten about to make way for the comedic crime caper that dominates the final act. While the conclusion provides a feel good moment as Robbie starts his new life with Leone and Luke by his side, there is the suggestion, albeit made comically, that his associates will not be so lucky in their attempts to start a new life. Loach has not betrayed his roots, the story may end well for some, but there is still work to be done at a community level before everyone can have their happy ending. As the hero rides off into the sunset in his new camper-van, those who remain behind serve as a reminder that there are no easy solutions to large social problems.