One Frame Review: Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, 2013, USA)

 (Poster by Linda Hordijk)

A Beautiful Bombastic Brawl

A reference-based review – Imagine if every Power Ranger and their Zords had been injected with high-grade steroids and placed into a dystopian near-future where Godzilla and his lizard/crocodile/hammerhead shark mates are busting through an Avengers/Doctor Who rift in space-time, forcing the construction of supersize robots piloted by teams of two humans each, defending Earth on the coasts and shorelines in action scenes that Transformers only dreams it could imitate.

Written by Peter deGraft-Johnson, Editor


One Frame Review: Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977, Italy)

Suspiria poster

Thrillingly Unsettling

The pervasive wrongness and pointed misuse of “textbook” filmmaking styles in this film make its unsettling nature so eerie, lasting, and incredible to enjoy and experience. The neon fluorescence of the palette should be out-of-place in a horror, the first death scene is harrowing, and harrowingly early in the film, along with being suitably extreme. The sound mixing twists serene and hypnotic melodies into sharp and piercing soundtracks for dialogue built on double meaning and knowledge that the mere observer is refused. It’s like we’re not in the joke, and the longer the awkward tension builds, the more we’re not sure whether to laugh or be appalled. The scenes are played so that the viewer is restricted to observing at a distance, powerlessly swept through the film by Argento’s fluid and sweeping viewpoint camerawork.

Written by Peter deGraft-Johnson, Editor

Review: The Maze Runner (Wes Ball, 2014, US)

the-maze-runner-teresa-the-maze-runner-movie-reviewby Peter DeGraft-Johnson

Hello and welcome to “Not Another Teen Dystopia”. Today’s guest is The Maze Runner, the newest adaptation from the world of young adult fiction to graduate to the silver screen. After the Harry Potter and Twilight dynasties retired, it’s been open season for hunting the teen fantasy market, and as a result we’ve suffered all manner of teen-skewed releases, each less identifiable than the last as the pool grows wider and the averages lower. The Maze Runner leans away from what makes its contemporaries blend into each other; it doesn’t stand out, it falls out.

The first half features run-of-the-mill world-building that is necessary to set up the franchise for a lucrative future. We are thrust into “The Glade” alongside its latest inhabitant or “greenie” Thomas (Dylan O’Brian). In their community of teenage boys, amnesia is a pre-requisite – a sly bit of storytelling which allows for constant doses of exposition without having to slow the story down. No-one knows how they ended up in their square meadow prison, but each month a new greenie is sent to them. Any more background runs the risk of spoiling the thrill of the film because The Maze Runner thrives on telling the audience barely enough to explain itself. It’s claustrophobic, hurried and tense by design, with testosterone driven alpha male political struggles within the Gladers.

The action flows fast once the world is set-up and the boys are set in their roles enough to take on the maze, inhabited by murderous bio-mechanical sentries called “Grievers”. Back in The Glade there’s the angry traditionalist Gally (Will Poulter) and the builders, the runners who map the shifting labyrinth of the maze, fresh-faced children, doctors and diplomatic leaders. Everything’s holding nicely (apart from the hundred foot high brick walls surrounding them) until the balance is shifted further by the arrival of some feminine energy in Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and the Gladers are forced into the maze.

As dystopias go, it’s obviously action over politics and explosions over social commentary, but wherever possible, Ball ups the action ante. It even works as a self-reflecting satire of teen cinema – the opening third is pure explanation to set up the rest of the film (or franchise). Although it’s best seen with no prior information, the tension balances out the action and fulfils the purpose of the film – to set up the franchise.

Review: Camp X-Ray (Peter Sattler, 2014, US)


by Peter DeGraft-Johnson

Way back in the distant past of the political realm, Barack Obama rode into presidential office on a change-shaped chariot winged with hopeful campaign pledges, a yes-we-can attitude and a promise to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention centre. A rash of unsightly revelations about the conditions and torture methods used at Guantanamo had already brought it to the attention of the world, but the centre is still open and popping up in the news with fresh stories of human rights abuses and unverifiable intelligence. You won’t get any of that important political background in Camp X-Ray though. Director and scriptwriter Peter Sattler keeps it strictly business, above board, plain and simple – a story about two people each stuck in mental dilemmas caused by systems beyond their control.

Stewart and Maadi’s on-screen chemistry is just strong enough to distract attention away from the political oversights. It doesn’t matter that we’re never told why Amir is suffering through daily debasement in Guantanamo Bay, because the conversations and interactions shine light on mutual understanding and the shared struggles of the human experience. All the more impressive is that Maadi’s performance is mostly delivered through the small window of his cell, subconsciously reminding you that although Amir is reaching out to Cole and commanding the conversation subtly, he is confined in a bare and claustrophobic hell in a cell. Cole’s constrictions populate the other half of the story with a struggle for an identity separate from her fellow soldiers, who are mostly people like Ransdell, her leery and suitably sexist superior officer who is played like a comic-book villain’s sneering grin by Lane Garrison.

Leaving aside the imbalances in the portrayals of Pvt. Cole and Ali’s respective experiences, the marketing of the film has played a huge part in its disappointment. It does what it needs to in the world of two-handed unlikely friendships, but despite the empathy of the characters, the story can’t shake the stench of the sham from it. The other inmates are limited to shouting vague obscenities from their cages while Cole’s fellow guards are similarly flat in their blanket hatred of the prisoners (or “detainees”). The tactlessness deepens further whenever the film increases the tension.

Camp X-Ray shies away from proper representation of the horrific nature of a place like Guantanamo Bay and Peter Sattler is only interested in the relationship between an unlikely pairing with slightly comparable struggles. There’s even space for light comedy, weighed down by tinges of gallows humour in every guilty laugh.