Frightfest 2018 ‘Crystal Eyes’ (Mirada de Cristal) Review (THN)

Recreating bygone eras is a tricky business. Most attempts suffer one major drawback – try as they might, they just aren’t the genuine article. A way round this is to nail every little detail, from the font of the opening titles right down to the special effects. This gives people the impression they really are watching something from the time of grainy VHS and good old-fashioned slasher antics.

Crystal Eyes (Mirada de Cristal) pulls off that trick, but goes one better and creates something entertaining and inspired in its own right. Writer/directors Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano have crafted a fiendishly simple homage that stays absurd throughout without veering into spoof territory.

When drug-addled supermodel Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) dies during a fashion show, the emptiest of industries in mid-80s Buenos Aires tries to fill the void. To this end a tribute is planned, which in effect is a clambering exercise for models looking to take the top spot. But there’s a crazed killer at large offing the glitterati in various and visceral ways. It could be any number of the shallow, vindictive and memorable “personalities” on display. Or it could be Alexis herself, risen from the grave with a Giallo-fuelled grudge.

Despite the genre trappings (which the filmmakers revel in) the action has some unusual touches worthy of David Lynch, though in a league of their own. The title track alone is barmier than a box of frogs with lipstick on, part of Pablo Fuu’s synth wave soundtrack which exists on permanent overdrive.

Everyone is acting like they’re in a telenovela, spouting a raft of exposition-heavy dialogue so judging the performances is pointless. Endelman and Leandro Montejano have a real eye for vivid characters and the small touches they introduce are fantastic. At one point a character walks around in heels having just got out of the shower, and a strategically-placed stone backside also raises a chuckle amongst the chills. The malevolent protagonist (played by the brilliantly-named Issis Trash) is creepy yet ludicrous and the action plays out against the backdrop of stylized sets, grimy basements and old architecture.

Every so often you can see the film is shot on digital but given the Eighties pop video vibe that’s a quibble. You could also argue this is more an overextended sketch than anything, but I was truly taken with it.

For casual viewers the nature of the film will be irrelevant, but hopefully they’ll be drawn into what for me was quite a unique mix of elements. Crystal Eyes is a blast and one of the best evocations of the era I’ve seen. A minor triumph and an instant cult classic.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

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“Packs enough stupidity to test anyone’s WTF-ometer…” ‘The Meg’ Review

TM

Sharknado spawned a brood of bad killer fish pictures, so maybe it was time for Hollywood to redress the balance with a deluxe version.

The Meg is certainly in a bigger league than that knowingly absurd franchise. It tips its hat (or swimming cap) in the direction of Jaws, though the movie also packs enough stupidity to test anyone’s WTF-ometer.

The first half is promising. When underwater science hub Mana One discovers a hidden realm of exotic marine life in the Mariana Trench, it isn’t long before a sub is stricken and its crew trapped by a mysterious yet large aggressor.

Among their number is the ex-wife of chiselled cartoon cockney Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a rescue diver who’s still smarting from an incident where he sort of drowned his mates.  Naturally Jonas is the best in the business, so is persuaded out of alcoholic exile to retrieve the crew.

But there’s more to it than that. Because whatever crippled the sub is something he’s encountered before. As the team of photogenic boffins start fishing around they find themselves face to face with terrifying prehistoric predator, the Megalodon.

For a while it seems like director Jon Turteltaub and co are crafting a fairly traditional ocean-bound creature feature. Then once the Meg is unleashed, the plot starts swerving around too much. Instead of focusing on a man v shark grudge match, which is perhaps what people were expecting, the movie wastes energy being tricksy and wrongfooting the audience.

Whereas Jaws‘ protagonists started off on land before winding up isolated and under attack at sea, The Meg goes the other way. The cramped and murky environment of Mana One is left behind so the title monster can make for a brightly-lit resort full of Chinese shark fodder.

Turteltaub treats this third act as kind of a joke, where tension is obliterated by sight gags and multiple references to Spielberg’s classic. The film was more frightening in the build up and the flat characters just can’t sustain the narrative.

Of the main cast Ruby Rose and Page Kennedy have the most presence, and Rainn Wilson is called upon to be sarcastic and slippery as the base’s billionaire investor. But then this isn’t a film about acting so much as a bloody great shark.

The Meg itself is entirely CGI and though it’s a dead-eyed behemoth it doesn’t have a distinctive look or personality. Its size was a problem for me, in that shark movies are about people having chunks taken out of them and being picked off from below. In this everyone is gulped down in one unsatisfying bite.

I’d take this over something like Empire Of The Sharks any day of the week. Granted that’s not saying much. Despite it all I enjoyed The Meg. Lower your expectations into a deep, dark trench and you’ll come back up for air without feeling short-changed.

 

 

 

 

 

“It became a nice combination of all these people from different backgrounds all trying to achieve the same goal.” Brad Anderson Interview, ‘The Negotiator’ (THN)

JH TN

Out today is The Negotiator starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a former diplomat confronting his demons in 1980s Beirut (the city the film was originally named after). Pike is CIA agent Sandy Crowder, joined by an impressive line up of Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Larry Pine.

Brad Anderson (The Machinist, DC Universe’s Titans) directs from a script by Tony Gilroy (acclaimed writer of the Jason Bourne franchise). Anderson’s career has covered many genres (his CV includes Transsiberian and Stonehearst Asylum), and when we sat down to chat with him that diversity seemed to be a great place to start…

THN: This is your first time making a political thriller. How did you find the experience?

Brad Anderson: Basically all the films I’ve done over the years have been different genres, from a horror movie to a drama to a period thriller. I like mixing it up a bit for myself, it keeps me on my toes. I had a great experience with this, mainly because of the script that Tony Gilroy had written. He wrote it over 20 years ago in the early ‘90s, it was one of his first spec scripts.

The idea of doing a movie set in an exotic location, in a time period that was far enough away so you could create a different world, but also was – for me anyhow – a familiar timeframe of the ‘80s, which was a really interesting time for me. To capture the vibe of that world again. And also the characters and the story itself… a central character who’s fallen off the wagon and who’s struggling to redeem himself. He returns to save a friend. To me these were all big draws.

The political aspects of it were interesting. I’ve always had a fondness for those John Le Carré-type political thrillers, I think they’re really compelling. But that was a less of a draw for me than the chance to create this world in Beirut, a city torn by this endless civil war. It felt very topical, a story that was resonating in the headlines again with all the violence in Syria and neighbouring countries. For all those reasons it felt like a good fit, so I jumped on it.

Did the script have to be changed from how it was written back in the ‘90s?

Tony did a pass on it, but it didn’t change much because the story is locked in that period. We changed certain things in order to adapt it to the budget level that we had. The logistics were complicated. Originally the movie was meant to be a studio movie, but we did it independently so we had less money, less time. That was really it, much of it was the original script Tony had written.

You’ve got Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in the cast. They’re both similar in that they look like movie stars but they’re drawn to challenging subject matter. How was it working with them?

Both of them are great. Jon dived into this role. Outside of Mad Men he’d not done a lot of dramas, he’d veered more into doing comedic movies, so this was a chance for him to play a straight out dramatic role, he really responded to Tony’s script. And he’s just a wonderful guy to work with. He’s one of those guys that, despite the difficulties of making a movie on a low budget, and all the problems that come with that, he’s gung ho. He’s not a person who complains, he isn’t a prima donna by any stretch.

Similarly with Rosamund, she was excited to work with Tony and Jon as well. She had a smaller part but she does her research. She researched how the character would look, how they would dress, all the period details. Also she did her interviews with some CIA operatives to get a little background, so she was totally great, really professional and excellent to work with.

You also worked with Dean Norris and Shea Whigham, two of the great supporting actors from Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire.

I worked with Shea before, I always wanted to put him in a movie, going back to my movie Session 9 which I tried to cast him in. I’ve always loved his work, it was exciting to be able to put him in the film. He totally jumped at the chance, he’s great. He is a real character in real life! That’s the thing with these guys, they’re character actors because they are characters. He and Dean and Larry Pine and the supporting cast made this a fun experience.

You mentioned logistics before. Was there anything that was especially tough to film?

We shot the movie in Tangier in Morocco, which turned out to be a very good location, looking like what Beirut may have looked like back then. So the production design was largely taken care of before we started working. I think the issues were we were shooting the movie in the middle of Summer during Ramadan. It just happened to time out that we started rolling cameras on the very day Ramadan started, the Muslim holiday where Muslims can’t eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. So for the entire length of the production all our Muslim crew were suffering badly!

It was a challenge trying to keep everyone content, but in some ways the difficulty of that made everyone rise to the occasion. The non-Muslim Americans, the European crew really helped the Moroccans when needed and vice versa so it became a nice combination of all these people from different backgrounds all trying to achieve the same goal. There’s a lot of infrastructure in Morocco for movies and TV shows, so it’s not like they’re unaccustomed to the process.

You’re also a TV director (Boardwalk Empire among others). Tell me a bit about Titans, which you’ve been making for DC Universe.

Just like I’d never done a political thriller, I’d never done a superhero show. It was new to me as well, but they wanted to reinvent it a little bit, make it darker and more dramatic. Not make it so effects-driven, which was interesting to me. I did the first two episodes and my job was to create the look and the feel of the show and set it up.

It was a good experience, it’s definitely different when you’re working with a network and a well-established canon. I’m not a big comic book person so I’m not really familiar with that world which was a disadvantage but also an advantage because I came at it from the perspective of someone who’s not a fanboy, from the perspective of trying to make a really good story. And I think the producers wanted that as well.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.