Raw (2016)

★★★½

Sometimes excessive blood just desensitizes the viewer rather than freak them out. Julia Ducournau’s Raw however, will disturb possibly even the least skittish. Without giving much away, the film is about life-long vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) and her cannibalistic awakening after trying meat for the first time.

At the French veterinary school where the film takes place, the students seem to have insane amounts of free reign to haze whoever they wish no matter how loud and obvious it is that they are up to no good. How is it that no teachers hear or see these huge hazing ceremonies that are going on? This would be the only gripe with the film. It just stuck out as odd and illogical.

Raw is a film that is very sexually provocative in nature. The way Justine eats meat is almost seductive, even. This could lend itself to what the cannibalism means on a deeper level possibility on a feminist level, a woman’s sexual awakening in college. Justine is portrayed as quite coy when she first arrives at med school, but slowly becomes more and more wild and free as time progresses. College is seen by many as a time for young adults to do many things that they were not permitted to do when parents were around and Justine can be seen as someone who takes full advantage of this.

The score is effective when it shows up but the lack of it in some parts added to the atmosphere rather than subtracted. The simple sound of guitars provide for a much more gritty and visceral experience overall. The soundtrack is mostly of the techno/electronic variety and one song’s lyrics even provide a tongue-in-cheek reference to the plot of the film, which was a clever inclusion.

The most impressive part of the cinematography has to be the party scenes. Bright neon lights and loud music cover the screen, giving a very Refn-esque look to the movie. The rest of the movie, gives off a very realistic or (ahem) raw feel. The sky is overcast for most of the film. Which inspires a very grim looking film.

Raw is part rave, part coming of age film, and part horror movie. This odd concoction makes for a very delectable and rich film that, when finished, may make you feel a bit queasy.

Author’s Note: If you don’t like soggy hair then Raw is not for you

Alien: Covenant (2017)

★★★★★

The now nearly forty year-old Alien franchise has made its genre-defining Xenomorphs less threatening over time. The terror that Alien (1979) made people feel is no longer prevalent in the new installments of the franchise. Enter Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus as well as a prequel to Alien. Covenant manages to create a whole new type of monster and makes him threatening and dangerous just as the Xenomorph used to be. His name is David (Michael Fassbender).

Without giving much away, the evolution of former Prometheus crew member and synth to villain is subtle at first as he questions his masters. By Alien: Covenant, David has fully turned on his creators showing no remorse for human life. Fassbender sells this man-made creation through his sheer acting ability to do so. While also portraying David, Fassbender also plays Walter, the synth who assists the Covenant ship crew. Watching both of these characters interact with each other on screen together is a surreal experience that is proven believable through the great effects used to produce it. The two share an admiration for the arts such as poetry, painting, and sculpture. As well as have lengthy dialogue about favorites of theirs in each medium.

A stand-out performance is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant, Tennessee. McBride is mostly known for playing the character Kenny Powers in the HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down and many probably thought that McBride would not be able to pull of a dramatic performance.

Alien: Covenant has stunning cinematography. The Covenant space ship glides through the air with its odd “space sail boat” mechanics and Scott knows when the right time is to dwell on certain set pieces. Dariusz Wolski was the director of photography for this film as well as Prometheus and does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of that film. When the Covenant crew lands on the unknown planet to investigate a radio signal playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (it is unknown if Free Fire stole the idea from this film or vice-versa) is where the cinematography really shines. The overcast of the unknown planet followed by the darker shades of green and blue give off a very gloomy feel to the film as well as somewhat resemble the colors of a Xenomorph. Some well choreographed battle-sequences also manage to create some good suspense.

There are only one issue that I had with this film. The terrible CGI of the Chestbursters. In 1979 the effects looked better and the state that it was shown in was unacceptable for 2017. Some may say that the scientists in this movie do not act logically. This is simply untrue, these characters are on a new planet examining new life. Even scientists sometimes let curiosity get the best of them. It does not even compare to the scientists in Daniel Espinosa’s Life (2017). Who fail to contain a life form on the International Space Station, which they are trained to operate.

Alien: Covenant manages to unexpectedly take the plot in a completely different direction than expected. Instead of having a film more reminiscent of Alien, where a Xenomorph goes around a space ship, killing crew members. Covenant creates a new identity for itself, not being predictable or by-the-numbers.

 

Style Over Substance: In Defense of Nicholas Winding Refn

Most people love Drive (2011). It seemed to be the one movie where Nicholas Winding Refn’s choices as a director seemed to click with people. Refn’s two follow-up films, Only God Forgives (2013) and The Neon Demon (2016) on the other hand, have been met with a much more mixed reception. Refn’s directing style is heavily visual while dialogue is delivered in a much more dry or awkward manner, creating a beautifully deformed version of Bangkok and Los Angeles where these films exist in. Refn is one of my favorite directors currently working because of his unique approach to film-making compared to other artists of this decade. His use of sound and color makes the cinematography of his films look beautiful but they are also symbolic and not just merely eye candy.

When Only God Forgives was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, it was booed by the audience. When the film was actually released theatrically, it created some of the most strongly mixed reception from both sides in recent memory. Some hailed it as masterpiece, while others called it one of the worst films they had ever seen. Many dismissed the film as too abstract and too heavily stylized. But under the surface, the story Only God Forgives tells us is an allegorical revenge film where the vibrant color and cinematography help tell the story as well as enhance the experience. The dislike of this film can still be understood as the acting could turn people off from it, but it is a movie that should be viewed again before dismissing entirely.

Refn’s The Neon Demon, a satire of the fashion industry, is one of my favorite films to have been released in recent memory. The way that Cliff Martinez’s eerie soundtrack fits the film’s display of the fashion industry, the perfect lighting and cinematography, and on top of that, Elle Fanning’s mesmerizing performance as Jesse, the aspiring young model. While not as polarized in reception as Only God Forgives was, it still sits at a 51 on Metacritic, nearly right in the middle. Wooden and blank performances seem to be criticized in The Neon Demon too, but it could also be seen as playing of the shallowness of the people in the industry.

Like it is said in writing, if you know the rules you can break the rules. This can also apply to Refn’s style of film-making. NWR proves that through excellent direction, you can tell stories in an interesting and unconventional way while not adhering to standard practices in the industry.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

★★★★

Logan (2017) set the standard for superhero movies, at least for ones this year. But, does every movie have to be emotionally as powerful as that film was? Of course not! Marvel Studios is here more, to merely create fun entertainment in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Watching the Guardians travel from sci-fi set piece to set piece was quite impressive. The detail to the areas showed the care put into them. Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and crew were pretty much all did good jobs with the script given. With the exception of Drax (Dave Bautista) which we will look into later.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the villain is always considered to be the weakest link. With the exception of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) every other villain seems disposable. In Guardians 2, Ego (Kurt Russell) felt much more memorable as the antagonist makes it stick out compared to other marvel movies. The disconnect from the rest of the Marvel Universe makes the movie stand out as well. Not everything has to be filled with cameos and references to other superheros, and Gunn understands that.

The soundtrack was very well selected, just like the first’s. A lot of surprising picks show up on the set list. It’s best to not look into the soundtrack before watching because it makes the movie all the better. An awesome title sequence begins the choreographed music-video battles in this new selection of hit 70s songs.

Marvel really needs to slow down when it comes to the jokes. Comedy should be present, but it does not need to be as frequent as it shows up? Drax is the embodiment of what I dislike about Marvel Studios movies. His purpose in the movie was to tell an unfunny joke then laugh obnoxiously the same way Seth Rogen does as a que for the audience to do the same. Most of the movie going public seems to feel differently about the inclusion of so much comedy in these films but, it does really seem to affect the more sad or intense scenes. (Guardians 2 did handle an emotional scene well however, unlike past Marvel movies so bravo James Gunn). From the classic “language” quote from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) to “that’s the wi-fi password” from last year’s Doctor Strange (2016) people seem to have a favorite bad joke to make fun of in these films. This picture is no different, offering one of the worst yet with “Tazer Face”. The joke is unfunny at first but it continued getting referenced again and again and it just continued to make it less and less unfunny.

With the exception of the failed attempts at comedy. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is pretty great. James Gunn was also the sole writer for this film and it made the film feel much more even tonally, compared to other MCU films. This is a rare exception where the sequel is possibly even better than the original film. Thank you James Gunn, this was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season.