Alien Addiction (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

Ignoring the conspiracies of his paranoid mother, stoner Riko (Jimi Jackson) stumbles upon an alien spacecraft in the woods and finds that they actually have a lot in common. That is to say: they are mind numbingly stupid and love to smoke.

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These other-worldly beings have big blue heads, and shuffle about with their bellies pushed out. This they do whilst on the hunt for human excrement, which they see as gifts, to be smoked. When things couldn’t seem to get much more ridiculous, Riko befriends the aliens and helps them to chase this high whilst a conspiracy blogger hunts them down.

There isn’t much else going on in the small town of Waikato, New Zealand, nor is there in the film and yet it manages to run at an hour and a half. It’s a juvenile concept but the constant swearing indicates that it’s not meant for children, just stoners maybe, at least it couldn’t be accused of being pretentious. The characters of this film would enjoy it, but then Riko and his group are portrayed as half-wits with no aspirations.

The group of lads, who obsess over getting stoned and racing cars (in that order) to fast food outlets, serve the biggest opportunity for comedy but it’s not long before Riko parts ways with them to spend time with the idiot extra-terrestrials. Wearing costumes that don’t allow for expression leaves Jackson to do the heavy lifting, as it resorts to some basic visual gags.

Alien Addiction feels like Dude Where’s My Car?, or rather that it could have been conceived by one it’s characters, with a unbelievably silly story barely holding it together.

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buzz

Now that my eye has stopped twitching I’ve decided to temper my caffeine intake, to reintroduce it in moderate amounts so that I have a healthy relationship with coffee.

So if I need a coffee, I’ll have one. Or if I really want one, I’ll have one. I’m going to resist drinking out of habit, or too late in the day, and so will replace them with decaffeinated.

This morning I had some bits to do, and since I haven’t had coffee for a couple of days, I make my usual pot – a few heaped spoons of 5-Strength in a 2 mug sized cafe tier. (Isn’t this how recovering addicts OD? Going back to their usual dosage.)

I am now shaking. My hands are trembling as I type and my thoughts are coming in at double-speed so I can’t keep up with them anyhow. I have written out two reviews, typed a couple of emails, made some much needed phone-calls and I have done a few hundred press-ups in-between just to expel some pent up energy.

I can’t tell if I’m fixed or broken.

spasm

I woke a few days ago to find that my eyelid was constantly twitching. Pulsing for a second or two, it was funny at first and then quickly irritating, a day later concerning. I look up possible reasons and the all-knowing omnipresent Google doctor tells me it’s usually down to tiredness, fatigue, stress or caffeine.

I hadn’t had a great deal of sleep, which could account for it, I’m not experiencing stress, but I do drink a fair bit of coffee. I drink a lot of coffee maybe. Day two of my eye-spasms I cut out coffee and replace them with Old Fashioneds. I wake on day three with a pounding headache that I put down to the alcohol and a dancing eye-lid that must be the result of a curse from someone I have wronged in my life.

A few pints of water later and the headache remains. At this point I realise that maybe my body has become dependant on caffeine, so I abstain and endure the fallout. Think I’ll count coffees from now on.

Day four, no headache but still a taunting spasm above my left eye, not constant but just enough to prevent me from enjoying my life. At this point I’m gearing up for this little fucking nerve to become an affectation of mine, an identifying quality that people use to describe me – ‘Oh the one with the vibrating face?’

Today is day five and I feel clear-headed. Clear inasmuch as I have had a long decent sleep, have no headaches or craving for caffeine, BUT my eye is offering me the occasional little jiggle. Feels like it’s leaving. The websites say that they usually last a from a few minutes to a couple of weeks.

Maybe I should give it a name and embrace it as a character unto itself. Picturing it like Stressed Eric and the vein in his temple that would, in moments of stress, pop out of the side of his head and start talking.

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Less coffee today. Maybe just the one.

High Life (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

A lone prisoner aboard a spaceship takes care of a baby girl as his ship sets course for a black hole in this beautifully bleak but challenging film.

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Director Claire Denis has stressed that this is not science-fiction despite the setting. This is true in as much as it is focussed on the human story over special effects, but it is far from ordinary.

The opening features Monte (a tenderly detached Robert Pattinson) carrying out work on a rundown ship and tending to baby Willow (Scarlett Lindsey), sometimes at the same time. In this large vessel that has the isolation of Silent Running and the dirty futurism of Alien: they are alone. Single-fatherhood distilled to the elation of witnessing first steps to pleading for quiet in order to keep sane.

The initial meandering pace of High Life sets expectations for a slow meditation on the human condition, when in fact it will explore this territory but by means of a darkly tense prison drama that tips occasionally into horror and eroticism. Cutting back in time we learn about the purpose of this ship and what happened to the crew before catching up with Monte and Willow much later.

This was a penal colony for death-row inmates who had volunteered for a suicide mission to harness the power of black-holes for Earth. Along the way however they get tangled into twisted experiments of reproduction. This additional research is all under the command and control of Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) who brags of being the only criminal onboard worthy of the name. Combining scientific garb with a waist-long braid she is positively witchy, keeping the others sedated and giving them drugs in exchange for their participation.

A noteworthy scene sees Dr. Dibs strapping herself into the ‘fuckbox’, an isolated cubicle that appears to simulate and stimulate simultaneously, bringing out erotic visions and sensations. Shown within a vacuum, this bizarre sensuous experience is powerful and enveloping.

The film seldom leaves the confines of the ship, and when it does it’s to mysteriously vague memories washed out with 16mm grain, creating more questions than answers, which can frustrate or delight.

Awash with mystery and symbolism High Life climbs inside your head and challenges you to make sense of it, and I accept the challenge gladly.

 

Donbass (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

A series of short vignettes link together this satirical social commentary set in present day eastern Ukraine, depicting the chaos caused by propaganda and corruption.

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The Donbass region is shown pulled apart by civil war, Russian- backed separatists occupy territories with armed soldiers patrolling every street in the name of fighting fascism – though the term ‘facist’ is banded about quite freely and the sides aren’t too clear.

There is a farcical quality that feels nonetheless genuine in Sergei Loznitsa’s film, which makes it all the more frightening. It seems there is common understanding among the people to take any official announcement with a heap of salt. They have a prescribed scepticism that reads as hopeless confusion: no-one believes what they are told but they daren’t speak out.

The film opens in a make-up trailer full of actors being prepped to play innocent bystanders in what turns out to be a staged attack for a news crew. Instructed by belligerent producers with the heft of soldiers, it is revealed that these extras haven’t even been paid, they are practically prisoners of the state. And yet this is all delivered with a sly sense of humour.

There is a visit from a black leather jacketed official to a maternity clinic, reassuring the staff that there are in fact medical supplies, they’re just in the doctors office, in a fridge packed with sausages, beside many other such rations. The doctor must have taken them to sell on the side. This may be true but later he is seen rubbing shoulders with the official himself.

Other segments consist of politicians squabbling over bribes, journalists struggling to get answers from anyone, a tour of a bomb-shelter in the heart of the war-zone to a bizarre wedding ceremony that has the feel of a football game. The tone veers from darkly funny to plainly dark, especially in one brutal extended scene that shows a supposed defector tied to a post in order to receive beatings from the public.

With it’s contrasting chapters and intermittent humour, Donbass is fittingly confusing. There are shocking moments sprinkled among the more amusing absurdity, which might overwhelm or distance the viewer, but the message is unmistakeable.

Vox Lux (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

Vox Lux boasts of being a ’21st Century portrait’, the subjective of which is a young girl who rises out of horrifying circumstances to become a pop superstar.

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Divided into two distinct halves the film opens to 14 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) returning from school break where she experiences an act of extreme violence. In the wake of tragedy, she performs an original song at a candlelight vigil that captures the pain experienced by her peers and connects with the public. The second half jumps ahead by 18 years to see Celeste (Natalie Portman) as she prepares for a concert in a packed arena.

Vox Lux is a success story on the surface but the distinct contrast in Celeste’s personality from adolescence to adulthood appear to condemn the very nature of success, more specifically its parasitic off-shoot: Fame.

Celeste receives our complete empathy in the beginning and when her talent is recognised there appears to be some karmic reciprocity at play. Wide-eyed and excitable she enters this world of studio recordings and music videos, but forward in time, becoming a global sensation and a single mother, she appears complacent and entitled, her narcissism fostered by her family, management and fans.

The two constants in both parts of the film are Celeste’s manager, played with a nice comedic touch from Jude Law, and her sidelined sister Eleanor, an increasingly empty Stacey Martin, who becomes mother surrogate to Celeste’s daughter and the silent partner who writes all of her hits.

The shocking imagery that is used to open Vox Lux, recurs once more in another act of extreme violence, and yet it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The message might be that fame and infamy aren’t far apart, that the media is a monster-making machine, or it may be a comment on gun control.

Vox Lux is never boring but you want it to go further. It doesn’t give you many answers, which is great, but it doesn’t leave you with many questions either. The sparsely used narration by Willem Defoe seems to be an after thought intended to add weight. It struggles in the end to transcend the hollowness of the tacky aesthetic that it lavishes in throughout the final chapter.

Dragged Across Concrete (2019)

Written for RAF News April 2019

Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti are street cops with a reputation in this pulpy, crime thriller. When a video leaks of them beating a suspect in order to complete a bust, they are duly suspended without pay that they desperately need.

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Brett (Mel Gibson) is out of prospects, almost 60 with his ex-partner of twenty years ago now in a cushy office job above him, he decides to go rogue and do some police work off the books to “acquire proper compensation”. Much younger and mouthier, Anthony (Vince Vaughn) comes along for support with nothing more to lose. That is until a stake out for a drug-dealer turns into something much bigger than they anticipated.

Dragged Across Concrete is split between a few perspectives, from the point of view of these bickering cops, to ex-con turned getaway driver Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) and the ominous black-masked character that hired him. Able to see the criminals’ capacity for extreme violence against any and everyone, with such a calm disposition, it becomes a constant reminder of the threat that faces these disgraced cops, a sword of Damocles dangling above them.

Known for the uncompromising brutality of his previous films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, S Craig Zahler sets expectations with this equally foreboding title and makes good on his promise. It is a much longer film with deliberatley slow pacing, but there is an artful cultivation of tension at play. The unflinching use of sudden horrific violence plays so unpredictably that you can’t trust any scene. No-one is safe.

There is a certain rhythm to jump-scares and moments of shock in which you are made to flinch despite knowing that it was going to happen. This film ignores the rhythm completely so that you can’t predict what’s going to happen.

Dragged Across Concrete is a noir-infected, exploitation-inspired buddy cop movie with its tongue in its cheek. It is extreme in it’s darkness but with a lot of comedy to help it go down.