BBB Best of 2016

Finally, we’ve made it! Ricardo Medina, special guest Michael Richards (C.E.O. of Phastraq VFX) and yours truly count down our lists of Best Hip Hop Instrumental Albums, Hip Hop EPs, Hip Hop Albums, Live-Action Movies (VFX), Animated Movies, and the Best and Worst Movies of 2016!

PART 1:

 

PART 2 –

 

PART 3 –

 

– Matthew

BBB Queen Of Katwe, True Memoirs Of An International Assassin, Suicide Squad (EXTENDED CUT)

In today’s episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, we review the Mira Nair-directed biographical sports film “Queen of Katwe”, the drab attempt by comedian Kevin James at action comedies with Netflix’s “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” and the extended cut of “Suicide Squad”, which amazingly managed to make an admittedly mediocre movie even worse.

 

–  Matthew

BBB Famous Video, OITNB Season 4, Septembers Of Shiraz, Central Intelligence, ID4 Resurgence REVIEWS

As the 1st anniversary of BBB (YAY!) draws near, we review Kanye West’s controversial music video “Famous” and the fourth season of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”, along with “Septembers of Shiraz”, “Central Intelligence”, and the sequel EVERYONE’S been waiting on for the past 20 years: “Independence Day: Resurgence”.

 

–  Matthew

BBB EPISODE 4 – Dragonball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ / Attack on Titan (Movie) / Best Video-Game Movies

Recorded on location at the recent GamesCon 2015 event held at the University of the West Indies (St. Augustine Campus) and hosted by E-Sports Caribbean League, I, along with Ricardo Medina, talk about the newest feature film from the ridiculously popular “Dragonball Z” franchise – “Dragonball Z: Resurrection ‘F'”, and the live-action film adaptation of the understandably popular anime/manga series “Attack on Titan”, as well as share our thoughts on what were the “best” (and I use this term loosely) video game-to-movie adaptations over the past 20 years.

 

 

–  Matthew

“Satan’s Daughter”/ “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries”

satansdaughter

 

The first time I ever heard of “Satan’s Daughter” was a few weeks ago when my mother saw its TV spot during the nightly news broadcast. Last Wednesday, I saw the poster for the film, placed oddly enough on top of another poster with the words “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” displayed in large text (as you can see above), in the “Now Showing (Port-of-Spain)” page for the Movie Towne multiplex website. Advertised as a “local horror movie/documentary” in the synopsis, this was one of the few rare moments in Trinbagonian film history where two local films were billed as a double feature. The last instance I can remember was the pairing of “The Panman” (1997) and “Bacchanal Time” (1978).  Curious, I looked at the trailers for both films on YouTube. While the World War II documentary intrigued me greatly, the horror film – or at least what I can decipher from its shoddy trailer – didn’t.  Skeptical but still curious, I made the bold decision to watch and review this double feature- BY MYSELF, with the intention of making my fellow readers aware that these local films exist, and uncovering the worth, if any, that these films possess.

 

I did exactly what I set out to do. I went to Movie Towne, paid TT$50 (normal price) for my ticket and stepped inside the cinema which ran the two films. Upon entering, I realized that I was only one of four individuals inside the actual cinema. I shrugged off this realization, and reminded myself that people nowadays are more interested in Hollywood films like “Carrie”, “Escape Plan” and “Gravity” instead of local film entertainment. Sure enough, the lights were turned off and “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” (Jeez, why didn’t the distributors shorten that fucking title?!) began.

 

The intro was exactly what the trailer presented: the archival footage from a WWII naval battle, the clearly-added-post-production-sound-effects, and of course, composer Alan Silvestri’s heart-pounding musical piece “The Chase” from his movie soundtrack to the CLASSIC example of 1980s cinematic BAD-ASSERY known as “Predator” (Like I wouldn’t fucking know the music from the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger yells “RUN! GO! GET TO THE CHOPPAAAAAAH!”. Come on! Besides, I grew up on “Predator” anyway! “Predator” for life,, bitches!!!). But “T&T WWII Diaries” (See? Now that’s easier to type!) was actually a very well-made documentary. In a nutshell, the film showed the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s involvement in the Second World War, from the British West India Regiment and Trinbagonian navigators working for the Royal Air Force, to our oil industry which helped fuel the Allied war machine. The interviews (mostly from surviving participants of WWII) are very informative, and the use of archival footage used in the film (both video and audio), while extensive, is impressive, The cinematic sound design was distracting at times (like the instances where loud stereo sound effects were added to low-to-medium-level mono sound in the archival footage), but it was still quite effective. But even more interesting is the fact that the documentary looked and felt like it was made for TV. And why shouldn’t a documentary like this be shown on television? It’s about a topic in our history that many people, myself included, aren’t fully knowledgeable on. And it’s a shame that not many Trinbagonians would get to, or want to, see it.

 

And then something happened. About a half-hour into the film, the end credits started rolling up the screen, and the male narrative voice-over informed me that this important topic in Trinbagonian history will be continued in the “next episode”.  Assuming that the entire documentary was a two-part affair, and further assuming that “Satan’s Daughter” was actually shorter than I originally expected, I eagerly anticipated the “next episode” of “T&T WWII Diaries”. For my 5 seconds of patience, I was rewarded with……..”Satan’s Daughter”. First of all…….THE FUCK?!! Why would you raise my expectations of witnessing what happened next to the Trinbagonian soldiers in WWII, and then throw it all away for the sake of a horror movie?! Secondly, why would you screen the FIRST PART of a documentary in the first place when you already have a feature-length horror film lined up? Was this an attempt from the distributors to showcase – or show off – the great “strides” they’ve been making in terms of local film entertainment, or was it just a clever marketing ploy to get patrons to pay their hard-earned money to watch a film so COMPELLING that they must be inclined to sit through it in its entirety (“T&T WWII Diaries”), only to cut the film short for the sake of a film that honestly, no one gives a shit about (“Satan’s Daughter”)? But I digress.

 

The haunted house “horror” film “Satan’s Daughter” deals with a “Ghost Hunters”-like film crew of six Americans (three male, three female – you know…..the usual) who arrive to Trinidad (called St. Germaine throughout the film’s narrative) to explore a legendary haunted house. Transported by one of the locals (famed comedic actor Errol Fabien who plays ‘Yani’) to the site, the film crew set up webcams in nearly every area inside and outside of the house. Why this house in particular, you ask? Well, you see, one of the male crew members is actually a descendant of a French baron who owned the home. From what I gathered from the opening voice-over narration that was edited so sloppily (as if the narrator reading his lines too fast weren’t annoying enough, one line would fade out at the last word, and then another sentence would start immediately at that fading out), the French baron fell in love with one of his female slaves. That slave was actually a succubus (or “La Diablesse” – i.e. a popular character of Trinbagonian folkore – as it’s sometimes called in the film), who kills the Baron in his bed during their sexual escapade. The elderly curator of the house, played by veteran actor Errol Jones who does his best Vincent Price impersonation (“The kitchen…………is in the back”; “”I’m……….going now”; “I don’t come out after dark” ) and supposed stepfather (I think) of one of the two blonde-haired women in the crew, warns the Ghost Hunters about an evil presence (the “La Diablesse”) in the house. On the subject of blonde-haired women, that one, in particular, is very, VERY pretty. And as an added bonus, she can hear the voices of spirits, sense the presence of spirits and is knowledgeable about the mannerisms of spirits. With those credentials, it shouldn’t be too hard for her to get a boyfriend. Anyhoo, for the sake of this review – and because I forgot her fucking name in the movie – I’ll call her “Spirit”. From the moment the film crew arrives to the house, weird shit takes place. Satanic objects are discovered in different areas of the house, the La Diablesse (in spirit form) is spotted outside roaming about, and (as you’d expect in a haunted house movie) the crew members are attacked, one by one.

 

“Satan’s Daughter” looks like a mid-90’s direct-to-VHS movie. I’m not bullshitting you here! The colours are washed-out, the cinematography is flat, the acting is uninspired, the actors, with the exception of Errol Fabien and Errol Jones, either try way too hard or don’t try at all to act, the camerawork is amateurish and the visual effects (’cause what would a great haunted house movie be without flashy visual effects? *COUGH!*“The Conjuring”*COUGH!*) are lame as fuck! Even SyFy Original Movies, terrible as they are except for their unintentional humour, have better VFX than this film does. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. A group of local men sneak inside the house, while the “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” find themselves in different areas of the house, and in danger of being attacked by the La Diablesse. After one of the men is grabbed by the legs by the La DIablesse, and dragged into the nearby room, the others quickly exit the house. And when I say quickly, I mean at 2X speed. But with the fuzzy colours and overuse of shadow, you probably wouldn’t have picked up on it – that is, if you were willing to suffer through this movie. Anyhoo, the men jump into a car and drive off – also in 2X speed. When the car reaches the end of the road, it suddenly explodes. And when I say explodes, I mean EARLY After Effects explosions that’ll make even a novice VFX artist laugh his/her ass off!  And on the subject of cheap special effects, the movie itself is so cheap that nearly every opportunity to truly scare and disturb the audience is wasted on quick-cut montages of distorted imagery (which also serve as transitions during most of the film, by the way). First and foremost, distorted imagery that’s confusing and disorienting doesn’t equal scary. I’m just saying.

 

What “Satan’s Daughter” tried to do was combine the haunted house horror sub-genre with that of the found footage sub-genre (which was revolutionized in “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) and since then, mercilessly exploited in films like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise). The film is a series of pre-Windows 98 computer-generated scenes from the perspective of camcorders and webcams, all of which add to the already-90s direct-to-VHS look and feel that it presents. Even the dialogue feel like something out of a shitty, late-night cable horror film. Here’s a few examples: “So what exactly is a zombie?”, “You’ll become Satan’s whore” and my personal favourite (and the one that I can relate to) “Do we have scary yet?”. And just like a shitty, late-night cable horror film, there’s even a few nude scenes thrown in for the hell of it. All three women….yes, even Spirit, are shown in scenes of nakedness.  Ahhhh yeeeeeah! What’s a haunted house horror movie without some naked female flesh (*COUGH*”The Conjuring”*COUGH)?

 

“Satan’s Daughter” is idiotic, boring, witless, non-frightening, unintelligible and unnecessary. The fact that it was shot in Trinidad makes it bad.  The fact that a bargain-basement rap song plays in the end credits (which was a huge slap to my face) makes it worse. And the fact that “Paramount Studios” (I SHIT YOU NOT! Seriously! I’m not lying here!) appears twice in the end credits makes it……even more bizarre than it already is. The “Ghost Hunters” episode (which I suspect was the inspiration for this film) where they came to Lopinot, Trinidad, to look for “jumbies” is QUALITY ENTERTAINMENT compared to this piece of cinematic shit! And that’s a show from SyFy! Imagine that! And while you’re at it, imagine greater.

 

THE LAST WORD: When the lights came back on after the end of “Satan’s Daughter”,  there were only two persons inside the cinema: myself and an elderly man. As we silently exited the cinema, I considered asking the man to share his thoughts on what he saw. But I could tell that he was, like me, unspeakably disappointed, so I chose to forego that undertaking. Keep in mind, ladies and gents, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would hate the LIVING DEAD out of “Satan’s Daughter”, but I still spent my time and money watching it. I had hoped that the “T&T WWII Diaries” documentary would have been worth at least half of the ticket price, but it didn’t even add up to more than a third thanks to its discontinuance. Minutes after I left Movie Towne, I found myself deliberating on the fate of local film, in relation to the “double feature” I had sat through. As I mentioned in my recent review of “Escape from Babylon”, there are “local film naysayers” out there. They’re the ones who bash, scoff at, and turn a blind eye on local films because, simply put, they believe that local films aren’t entertaining or appealing enough to them.

 

Four local-made feature films  (“Home Again”, “Escape from Babylon”, “God Loves the Fighter” and “Between Friends”) have been released this year, each with considerable success. But when a movie like “Satan’s Daughter” comes out, and the obviously poor critical reception reflects the piss-poor attempt at making an entertaining and appealing film, and a meaningful, informative documentary about our country’s history is unashamedly used as a LURE to attract naive moviegoers to watch local films in late-October, then what would those moviegoers say when they realize they’ve been deceived? Will they dismiss the film as a pathetic local horror movie and continue to support local film, or will they give up on local film entirely and become naysayers themselves? And what about the advertising? “Satan’s Daughter”/T&T WWII Diaries” wasn’t advertised as much as the aforementioned feature films were. Matter of fact, many people are STILL UNAWARE that these movies even exist! Can this be blamed simply on poor advertising, or is it another reflection of the film’s “poverty line”?

 

But look at the Hollywood film industry. There’s hits and then there’s flops. It’s inevitable. But Americans will still spend their time and money on movies, good, bad or so-so, not just because these movies are marketed and advertised better, but because the people are aware of the power and value of film in their lives. Our film industry is still in an embryotic state. A “Godfather” or “Seven Samurai” or “City of God” won’t happen overnight, but there is still the hope and possibility that our films will be appreciated and revered throughout the world – and most importantly, in our country. Like Hollywood, there’ll be good films, bad films and so-so films in our film industry’s future, but I believe that eventually, it will develop into something greater than anyone, local film supporter and local film naysayer, would expect.

 

In closing, I continue to ponder on the future of local film. Will there be more flops than hits? Will we continue to support Trinbagonian cinema, or dismiss it every time a local film misses the mark? Only time will tell. But until the day “T&T WWII Diaries” is shown in its entirety on local television, or screened during another film festival, and until the day “Satan’s Daughter” finds itself in the ninth circle of hell, and even beyond that, I WILL continue to support local film.  As before, take my criticism as you will, and please feel free to discuss.

 

MY RATING:

(INDIVIDUALLY)

“T&T WWII Diaries” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie…oops, I meant episode)

“Satan’s Daughter” – 1 out of 5 stars (“Of course it sucked”)

 

(AS A WHOLE) 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my TT$50 back!”)

 

(UNRELATED) “Predator” – 4 out of 5 stars (“‘Predator’ for life, bitches!!!“)

 

– Matthew

“Escape from Babylon” (2013)

Escape From Babylon - Nick Attin, 2012 twit

 

Five months ago, I wrote a review on “Home Again”, a feature-length drama shot almost entirely in Trinidad (though I mistakenly assumed at the time that a large percentage of scenes was shot in Jamaica – since the story was set in Jamaica). Despite the movie’s flaws (particularly in its script and character development), I declared back then that it was: “a step in the right direction for Caribbean cinema”. As a Trinidadian myself, it’s not every day – or should I say every weekend – that I see feature-length films from Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, and other islands of the Caribbean showing in movie theaters. I actually felt a sense of pride seeing the poster for “Home Again” next to the more-recognizable posters of Hollywood films like “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, for instance, which I actually reviewed with “Home Again” and gave a slightly lower rating to.

 

“Escape from Babylon”, released on August 21st in the Caribbean Cinemas 8 movie theater, is the second, and apparently final, Trinidadian feature film to be released this year.  Written, produced and directed by Nicholas Attin, it stars actor/recording artiste Kearn Samuel, Conrad Parris, Samara Lallo, Gregory Pollonais, Kerri Tucker and Joel Joseph (who handled the film’s fight choreography).  Labelled as an action/thriller on Nick’s own film production website (arunawaycolony.com), “Escape from Babylon” tells the story of Randolph Briggs (Kearn Samuel), an average ex-cop/lone wolf who, after being kicked out of the police force, works as a graveyard-shift taxi driver. But Randolph isn’t the only loner cruising the streets. There’s also a serial killer posing as a taxi driver who stalks young women and murders them.  While he still harbors the need to protect the innocent, he must first overcome his personal insecurities before he can take the law into his own hands.

 

Keep in mind that “Escape from Babylon” isn’t the first Trinidadian “action thriller” ever made. Director/producer/actor G. Anthony Joseph brought out the TV movie “Men of Gray” in 1990, its theatrical sequel “Men of Gray II: Flight of the Ibis” in 1996, the direct-to-DVD “Backlash” in 2006, and his second theatrical release “Contract Killers” in 2009. Personally, I wasn’t expecting Nick to re-invent the wheel or break new ground with his second feature length film (the first being 2012’s “Little Boy Blue”). But what I wanted, similar to my expectations of “Home Again”, was a Trinidadian film that can be appreciated locally, regionally and internationally. What really matters is whether or not Nick truly delivered the goods, relatively speaking. With this post, I plan to prove that ultimately, and unfortunately, he did not. (Fuck, I gave away the ending!)

 

RANDOM DISCLAIMER: Before I begin my review, please be aware that this is MY point-of-view, and should not be misinterpreted as a diss to the director or anyone else associated with the making of “Escape from Babylon”. I am not an official screenwriter or official film critic or legit film producer or established film director (as yet… AH HA!! ), and I’m not an all-seeing, all-knowing guru who knows EVERYTHING about great movies. Whenever I do a review on this blog, I do it from both the perspectives of someone who knows a great deal about movies and someone who truly enjoys watching movies. Also, I’m not writing from the perspective of an individual who stays clear of anything resembling “local cinema” (and believe me, I know people like that) but from someone who has supported Trinidadian film from the first day he saw “Calabash Alley” on television (You can Google search the title if my reference is unclear to you), and was inspired by a particular Trinidadian feature film (HINT: It has its own Wikipedia article) to pursue a career in local filmmaking.  Finally, if you’re aware of my writing style in this blog by now, then you should expect a brutally honest review of this movie. With that being said, let’s begin. 

 

“ESCAPE FROM BABYLON” –  This is going to be long, so stay with me here. The film’s intro, which involved one of the serial killer’s victims (a woman with a bloodied face), gave me the indication that this was going to be a brutal film.  The opening credit sequence, which clearly alludes to the intro to Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir thriller “Drive” (right down to the 80s-influenced synth-pop song playing in the background), which saw Kearn Samuel’s character Randolph Briggs driving his taxi through the streets of Port-of-Spain, gave me the idea that this was going to be a dark, brutal film.  The following scene – a flashback of a shootout between Randolph Briggs, his two partners (Conrad Parris and Joel Joseph) and a random thug gave me the indication that this was going to be an intense, dark, and brutal film. What I got however was a film that tried to tell a number of stories at once, tried too hard to be self-referential with its mimicking of visual and thematic elements from popular, and superior, HOLLYWOOD films, and was never quite clear of its overall tone and message (if any existed).

 

Allow me to elaborate: What I gathered from “Escape from Babylon” was that it tried to tell three stories centered on Randolph Briggs. The first deals with him trying to adjust to life outside the police force while he anticipates the moment or reason to get back into action. When he’s not cruising the streets at night, or spending valuable screen time thinking to himself in a hybrid of stream-of-consciousness and diary-like entries (he mentions a number of dates like August 31st and September 11th – Ooooookay then) rolled up into nuggets of voice-over narration, he hangs out with one of his police buddies (Conrad Parris), sits by his sick mother’s bedside at a hospital and converses with a particular woman whose name I honestly forgot (played by Kerri Tucker, who has REALLY nice eyes by the way. Wow. I forgot her name, but I remember those eyes. Fuck it, I’m a guy! Sue me!) who deals with insurance. Kearn’s conversations with Conrad and Kerri respectively, like his own voice-over narration, do little to reveal anything about the characters or move the story further.  Take this scene for example: Kearn and Kerri’s characters are having lunch together. For about five minutes, they talk on and on about random shit (in one scene, they talk about favourite types of movies – REALLY?!!). How does this scene advance the story? What did I learn about these characters? Not much, except that Randolph Briggs hates horror films, but he doesn’t mind watching one with Kerri’s character. Really?

 

The second story deals with Randolph and the serial killer. The similarities and differences between the two characters were admittedly quite interesting. They’re both loners, they both cruise the streets looking for “passengers” and they have a fixation with their weapons (Randolph with his firearm and the serial killer with his knife).  The killer converses more with his passengers than Randolph, who has to suffer through a number of unnecessary conversations. However, there’s an inconsiderable amount of time spent on the two characters in their respective vehicles. One scene, for example, which ran for no more than 10 minutes (or at least felt like it) focused on showing a woman entering the killer’s taxi, becoming fearful when she realizes she’s being taken somewhere she didn’t ask to be dropped at, waiting in the back seat (when she could’ve simply exited the fucking car and ran off! Slasher Movies 101, anyone?) while the killer exits the vehicle to “check something in the trunk”, being attacked in the back seat, and carried to a beach where she’s raped and murdered (in a non-surprising and non-disturbing manner).  This story finally comes full circle (way in the third act, mind you) when Randolph meets a young prostitute (played by Samara Lallo). When she becomes the killer’s latest abductee, Randolph springs to action and confronts the bad guy…. AT LONG LAST!  The outcome, like the aforementioned rape/murder, is also cliched and isn’t surprising to anyone over the age of five.  Groan.

 

The third, and probably not least, story deals with Randolph and his motivation to become a vigilante. Far into the midpoint of the film, Randolph meets Joel Joseph’s character, who tells our hero of his decision to take the law into his own hands. Afterwards, he walks up to a businessman and his bodyguards, beats them up and guns them down in cold blood. This is the inciting incident that motivates Randolph to fight crime on his own. You would assume that the guy would go on a “Punisher”-esque one-man crusade to eliminate all sorts of criminal activities in the city. What does he do? He beats up a small gang who robbed him of his money, set to a circa-90s fighting video game theme song (For some reason, “Killer Instinct”REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!!! – came to mind). Oh, and he stopped the serial killer. That’s it. That’s his one-man crusade. Nothing more, nothing less!  Seriously?!

 

Like I mentioned earlier, “Escape from Babylon” references other movies. It’s okay for a filmmaker to reference a film that he/she is inspired by, but there’s a thin line between a clever reference (i.e. those that add something special and unique to a film, like the subtle references to classic zombie movies in the British horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead”) and a blatant rip-off (like the ones in this movie).  Now, I completely understand “Escape from Babylon’s” references to the aforementioned “Drive” and Martin Scorsese’s neo-noir masterpiece “Taxi Driver” (also about a taxi driver seeking to rid the city of injustice by any means necessary), but was it really necessary to rip off the iconic conversation scene between Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster? There’s a scene in the movie where Randolph converses with the young prostitute while having breakfast in a restaurant, that totally resembles De Niro and Foster’s conversation in “Taxi Driver”. Like De Niro’s character, Randolph tries to persuade the girl to stop leading a life of prostitution. While it could be viewed as a loving homage to “Taxi Driver”, it came off as forced, unnecessary and a cheap attempt at paying tribute to such a great film.

 

The technical aspects of “Escape from Babylon” truly reflects the film’s obviously-low budget. But even with the film’s financial and technical disadvantages, there’s hardly any effort to utilize, innovate and improvise with what’s available. Exterior night shots look grainy, dull and out-of-focus, and the interior car scenes are poorly shot (in some shots, the actors sitting in the back seat are near-indistinguishable due to heavy shadowing, which can be blamed on the cameras used in these scenes). Hand-held camerawork is used to an unbearable degree, with lots of close-ups and medium-close-ups that aren’t properly framed in each shot.  Some scenes look brighter (due to possible colour correction) than others. There’s even a moment where the colour scheme changes from bright to dull in the SAME SHOT! Even by film screening standards, that is fucking UNACCEPTABLE! The sound design is far from perfect: the foley is unnaturally loud,  the dialogue is poorly recorded (with many decisions made to increase the volume of the voices in post-production, so we can actually hear the breeze blowing past the microphones used in recording said voices) and the music is blaring and badly mixed. Speaking of music, the soundtrack to the film isn’t the least bit cohesive. There’s a song that sounds like an African/Indian musical hybrid that sounds completely out of place in the introduction of Samara’s character, some minimalist “psycho music” where the serial killer is preparing to stalk a victim that doesn’t even sound like actual music (more like sound effects looped in a fucking Adobe Audition project) and the fighting video game music (that sounds scrapped together from Fruity Loops…..not, FL Studio, mind you….. FRUITY LOOPS beats) that I mentioned earlier. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like an actual score or soundtrack that one expects from a feature film, but more like random beats thrown into the film for the sake of having music.

 

To make matters even worse, the script is POORLY-WRITTEN.  Improvisation of dialogue can be spotted easily in many scenes. Sometimes the improvisation works to add a sense of much-needed realism and humour, and sometimes they do nothing but slow the film to a molasses-like crawl. Yeah, I said molasses. The pacing is SLOW! There’s little tension, even in moments where there’s supposed to be tension (like the rape/murder scene that I mentioned earlier). The story is badly structured, with “important” plot points (like Kearn’s encounter with Joel Joseph’s character) spread apart unevenly.  And it’s not quite apparent what the story is really about or what the theme is. Is it about one man’s personal redemption? Is it about his mission to stop the killer? Is it about his transition from an ex-cop to a taxi-driving vigilante? Is it about isolation? Depression? Is it about fighting for truth, justice and the Trinbagonian way? Unfortunately, these questions remained unanswered, thus underwhelming my appreciation of the film even further.

 

THE LAST WORD: Here’s the thing: As a Trinidadian, I am proud to see local content (far and few as they come) on the big screen. And the intention of making this content is simple: Trinidadian filmmakers want to tell great stories through film in the same way other filmmakers from other countries did decades before.  And it’s easy to be influenced by the movies of Hollywood due to the big-name actors, top notch special effects, memorable music and so on. But when you separate those elements, the one thing that holds everything together is a great, or at least memorable, story. And time has to be spent to make sure that this is a story that viewers will remember and/or be entertained by.  I attended a screening of “Escape from Babylon” with a few friends of mine who aren’t knowledgeable in film theory or production, but are certainly aware of what constitutes an enjoyable movie. We didn’t roll our eyeballs at the on-screen cliches, squint at the poor video quality or cringe in pain at the terrible dialogue. But we did LAUGH! Yes, ladies and gents, we laughed our motherfucking asses off – not because the movie was a comedy, but that it was unintentionally hilarious! Did previous screenings of the film involve raucous laughter as well? I don’t know, but as a director, the last thing you want is to have your audience laugh unintentionally at your film. If “Escape from Babylon” was supposed to be an “action thriller”, it definitely didn’t feel like one – since it was neither thrilling or action-packed. But with a decent, well-written script, and more attention spent on characters and story than cliched genre conventions and blatant references to classic movies (title cards from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2” and “Inglourious Basterds”, anyone?), then I would’ve even forgiven the technical flaws (jarring as they were). At the end of the day, no film is perfect. And there is a lot of hard work that goes into making a film. But honestly, an audience doesn’t give a rat’s ass how long it took and how hard it was for you as a director to make a film. They are investing their time and money into YOUR film, and they expect their time’s and money’s worth. Even if it’s not high-quality content, they should still leave the theater feeling entertained. Fortunately, I found myself entertained by “Escape from Babylon” but for all the wrong reasons. It could have been a breakthrough in Trinidadian cinema, and it could have gotten more “local film naysayers” involved in our growing industry.  But not even the great acting cast can save this film from buckling under the weight of its weak script and lackluster direction.  According to Nick Attin himself, this is intended to be the first film of a possible trilogy. Let’s hope that at least he learns from the mistakes made with “Escape from Babylon”. And by the way, the title is WAY misleading. Who’s escaping from Babylon? Is Babylon Port-of-Spain? What makes it Babylon? And why would you escape from Babylon? How about surviving in Babylon, or hustling in Babylon? I don’t know, and it doesn’t even matter. Anyways, I’ve written enough and I’m suddenly compelled to re-install FL Stuido onto my laptop (Hmmm… I wonder why). Take my criticism as you will, and feel free to discuss.

 

MY RATING:  2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

 

– Matthew

Double Feature – “Spring Breakers” (2013) & “Only God Forgives” (2013)

While you two are still waiting for what I may have to say about the SyFy Channel’s latest magnum opus “Sharknado”, I’m going to take the time to tackle two films I’ve been dying to see this year: American filmmaker Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” and Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives”. Released in March, “Spring Breakers” stars Selena Gomez in her first “breakthrough” adult role which, alongside her radio single “Come and Get It”  which came out one month later, and which I personally think is a VERY fucking annoying song ……yeah, I said it…. represents her maturity as both a singer and actress. It also stars another ex-Disney tween star: “High School Musical’s” own Vanessa Hudgens, whose song for the “Spring Breakers” soundtrack, weirdly titled “$$$ex”, is even more fucking annoying than “Come and Get It”. But it’s short….and it has a catchy beat, so that counts for something, I guess! Ashley Benson (from some TV show called “Pretty Little Liars”), Rachel Korine (the 27-year old wife of the film’s 40-year old director Harmony Korine….hmmmm), Southern rapper (and one of the worst in the rap game right now, in my honest opinion) Gucci Mane, ex-WWF wrestler Jeff Jarrett  (playing a preacher, of all things) and everyone’s favourite Oscar-nominated pothead actor James Franco also make appearances in this movie.

 

“Only God Forgives”, not to be confused with Miami rapper Rick Ross’ previous full-length LP “God Forgives, I Don’t”, NOT to be confused with the 1967 spaghetti western of the same name, is a French-Danish co-production shot entirely in Bangkok, Thailand. It marks the second collaboration between Nicolas Winding Refn and Hollywood actor Ryan Gosling, the first being the EXCELLENT neo-noir crime thriller (and one of my favourite movies of 2011): “Drive”. It also stars Kristin Scott Thomas (star of “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The English Patient” and last year’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), Tom Burke, Gordon Brown, Byron Gibson, Vithaya Pansringarm, Ratha Phongam and Kovit Wattanakul.

 

So were they worth the three combined hours invested into them? Let’s find out!

 

 

spring-breakers-IGN-poster-debut-610x903

 

“SPRING BREAKERS” – Selena Gomez (whom the common man won’t get shit from – even if he wants it! Dumb-ass song!) plays Faith (funny they should name her that), a college student and devout Christian. Faith and her three childhood friends (also college students) Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) set out to go to Florida for Spring Break. Upon arrival, they get involved in a number of wild beach parties, all involving drunk guys, topless chicks and BANGING music! When they’re not partying, they drink, smoke, ride scooters, get bored, call their mothers to tell them they’re doing fine, and even get the chance to sing Britney Spears’ debut single “(Hit Me) Baby, One More Time” a capella-style. After getting arrested for partaking in an indoor party full of booze, drugs and sex, Faith and her friends are bailed out by  “Alien” (James Franco). “Alien” is a gangsta rapper, and like the real rapper Lil’ Wayne, he believes himself to be “not from this planet, y’all” – hence the alias. But don’t let the pre-“Dutty Rock” Sean Paul-like braids (before he upgraded to a fucking Mohawk of all hairdos) and platinum grill fool you. Alien is the rare case (even in today’s rap game) of a WHITE gangsta rapper who lives the “thug life” he raps about. Yes, this dude makes his money by drug dealing and armed robbery. For him, it’s all about “making dat money” and nothing and no one will get in his way of getting it – not even Big Arch (Gucci Mane), Alien’s drug-dealing rival. Anyhoo, Alien gets closer to the foursome, much to the discomfort of Faith. She fears something terrible will happen. And as expected, something terrible DOES.

 

“Spring Breakers” is that type of movie that you’ll either like or hate. Well, I’m proud to say that I’m one of many who really liked the hell out of this movie! I found myself glued to the screen from start to finish, which I blame on on the film’s vibrant visual style and no-holds-barred approach to its subject matter. It takes you on a hazed and hallucinatory journey through the debauchery of Spring Break festivity, while exposing its dark, rotten core. To the untrained eye, “Spring Breakers” looks like an extended montage of excessive partying, sleaze, sex and violence – but it’s more than that. In essence, it’s really about the seductive allure of the American Dream, but presented as a fantasy that we all would like to see come true, even though, unfortunately, it changes instantly into a nightmare. We all desire happiness and freedom. Most of us would kill for the opportunity to do whatever we want, without any objection or opposition. And I will admit, being a hip hop head and all, I oftentimes desire the mansions, cars, clothes, money and women that rappers express their desires for in their songs. But at what cost? Does it mean endangering yourself and others? Does it mean doing something that you don’t feel comfortable with? “Spring Breakers” asks these questions, and leaves it up to the viewer to find the answers. The casting is impressive (even from the lead actresses – Shocking, I know!), with James Franco taking the lead of best performer. His “Alien” is crazy, creepy, comical and quite captivating, and James Franco incredibly invests himself into the character (at times, you’ll even forget you’re seeing Franco). Stealing every scene he’s in, he truly embodies of the dark side of the American Dream.  The story, while simplistic, is consistently vibrant and well-paced. With its psychedelic visuals alone, “Spring Breakers” deserves the title of “cult classic”. It’s self-indulgent, outlandish and hedonistic, but at the same time, it’s bold, provocative and thought-provoking. And it is actually worth checking out. You may like it or you may hate it – but you certainly won’t forget it!

 

 

ONLY-GOD-FORGIVES-Poster2

 

“ONLY GOD FORGIVES” – When I first saw the trailer to this film, I was hyped! I loved the colours, the music, the violence, the mere fact you had no clue what the hell was going on, EVERYTHING! And I loved “Drive”, so “Only God Forgives” had to be just as good, if not better. Then, about a month or so ago, I was shocked to hear (via a YouTube movie reviewer) that the movie was BOOED at the Cannes Film Festival. Booed, I tell you! Was the movie so bad that the audience had no choice but to express their outrage by booing? Or was it too avant-garde for that same audience to comprehend it? Well, I’m proud to say that it’s kind of a mixture of both. And yes, lady and gent, if I were one of the audience members at Cannes at that time, I would have BOOED my fucking lungs off this movie as well!

 

“Only God Forgives” is, without a doubt, one of the best-looking bad movies I’ve seen in a long time! Yeah, I said it! BAD MOVIE – and not “bad” meaning “good”. Props go to cinematographer Larry Smith for making every shot look like a professional photographer’s wet dream. Striking visuals aside, this movie is a torturous exercise in patience, with no reasonable payoff. It involves the attempt of Julian Thompson (Ryan Gosling), an American who owns a Bangkok boxing club which is actually a front for a drug-smuggling operation, to find the persons involved in his brother Billy’s (Tom Burke) death. Billy, as presented in the film’s inciting incident, is a creepy bastard who brutally murders a 16-year old prostitute, for no reason, before surrendering to the police. Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), rightfully nicknamed the “Angel of Vengeance”, informs the victim’s father of her death, and allows the man to exact his revenge on Billy. Julian and Billy’s mother Crystal arrives to Bangkok to identify her older son’s corpse. Afterwards, she asks Julian to kill the men responsible for the death of his brother, which, oddly enough, he refuses to do. Crystal meets some guy called Byron and organizes a hit on Chang. The “Angel of Vengeance” survives, and goes on a quest to find out who set up the hit. This leads him to Julian, who’s (probably) dying to take his frustration out on the man who oversaw the death of his dear creepy bastard of a brother.

 

Now I’m not a huge fan of Nicolas Winding Refn. Honestly, the only movie I’ve seen from him is “Drive”, but even that isn’t motivation enough for me to seek out his earlier work. That being said, I expected to see the same aspects I loved about “Drive”: great plot, great visuals, great acting, great characters. All I got unfortunately were great visuals. “Only God Forgives” is a joyless, uneven, slow-paced, incoherent and unrewarding film experience. And an overly self-indulgent one at that! The film feels more like “Hey, look at me! I’m Nicolas Winding Refn. I made ‘Drive’ with Ryan Gosling! Look what I can do!”, while throwing image after image at the screen, as opposed to “Hello. I’m Nicolas Winding Refn. I made ‘Drive’ which was a GREAT movie starring Ryan Gosling! Watch me make ANOTHER great movie!” and using a well-written and coherent story to connect these images together. On the subject of acting, Ryan does little of it. He doesn’t do anything except stand, sit, walk, run, punch, get punched and stare at a person or persons for long periods of time. And he has this mopey, depressed and bored facial expression throughout the entire movie! I am not bullshitting you! Ryan Gosling maintains this face throughout the entire movie!

 

 

only-god-forgives

only-god-forgives13-2

only-god-forgives08

 

 

That is some Madam Tussauds Wax Museum-type shit right there!

 

The main characters in this movie are so detestable and heartless, that it’s hard to relate to, or connect with, any of them. Even Ryan Gosling’s Julian is far from a great hero – or antihero for that matter. In one scene (which resembles a number of scenes in the same setting), Julian is at a nightclub (check pic above) staring boringly at one of the prostitutes. He then notices two men sitting on the other side of his table. Apparently, they’re looking at the girl the wrong way, and Julian’s offended. He viciously slaps one of the guys around, and drags him across the floor by his lower lip. Then a jump cut occurs, and Ryan’s sitting in the gym at the boxing club – still moping, still staring forward, like nothing happened. In other words, Julian’s actions in the previous scene are left unjustified. And that’s the main problem with this movie. While I expected a high level of violence in this movie – and there is, to a disturbing degree  – I expected with it some justification and motivation for these violent acts. For example, what’s the justification behind Lieutenant Chang’s use of a sword (concealed behind his back, in case you were wondering) in the film’s major scenes?  Even if it’s made apparent that he’s a lone wolf within the police department, and follows his own code of ethics (like a Thai samurai or some shit), why does he feel the need to chop, slice and stab his enemies? ‘Cause he has a sword?! And where’d he get that sword in the first place?! As the standout character in the movie (yes, Vithaya Pansringarm outshines the host of the fucking movie – for better or worse), he, off all people, deserved some sort of justification and motivation for his actions.

 

Kristin Scott Thomas, who, according to Wikipedia, combined elements of Lady Macbeth and Donatella Verace to play Crystal Thompson, is the worst character in the bunch. She’s rude, despicable, shockingly vulgar, and an overall creepy bitch. In a dinner scene in the middle of the film, Crystal compares the size of her deceased son’s penis to that of Julian’s (What the fuck?!!). She’s usually presented in stylized slow motion, either walking or sitting down. In one of the film’s pathetic attempts at being avant-garde, Crystal sits in a nightclub, puffs on a cigarette and stares at three Thai bodybuilders. Why? I have no fucking idea! Weirdly enough, there’s lots of scenes of characters staring and gazing into the camera. Whether it’s a club scene where police officers stare at Lieutenant Chang singing a Thai love song on stage (and he’s not that bad of a singer – or should I say, the guy who probably lip-synced for him) or Julian staring lifelessly at a prostitute playing with herself in front of him (Seriously, what the fuck?!!), staring contests abound in this movie. There are a few positives however. The hit on Chang was shot and edited very well, the fight scene between Chang and Julian was well done (though the outcome was VERY disappointing), Cliff Martinez’ (who collaborated on “Drive”) musical score fits well with the bleak, haunting vibe of the movie, and Chang is a BADASS – and a mean, scary son of a bitch as well!

 

I flat-out HATED “Only God Forgives”.  Viewers will find themselves cringing at the senseless violence, rolling their eyes after hearing the short, soulless spurts of dialogue blurted out by the actors, or falling asleep altogether. Apart from the impressive visuals, there’s nothing of worth for me to recommend a viewing to anyone. If you haven’t seen “Drive”, see it as soon as you can. It’s a masterpiece compared to this movie! If you have seen it, watch it again and pretend this movie doesn’t exist. “Only God Forgives” is one of the worst films I’ve seen this year, and will find itself at the end of December on a particular list on this blog dedicated to bad movies. Like Rick Ross, Cheech Marin in “Machete” and Terence Hill said before: “God forgives….. I don’t!”

 

MY RATING:

“SPRING BREAKERS” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“ONLY GOD FORGIVES” –  2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

– Matthew