Poltergeist (Gil Kenan, 2015)

As sacrilegious as a Poltergeist remake may seem to some, there are a number of smart creative choices behind 20th Century Fox’s update of the 1982 Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg horror. For one thing, director Gil Kenan has established his own genre skills based around digital trickery, courtesy of his 2006 CGI animation release, Monster House. Secondly, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his play Rabbit Hole, which he also helped adapt for the screen in 2010, suggesting some flair for domestic turmoil material. Finally, the remake’s leads are Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt; two actors who almost always do good work even in disappointing projects, and the two are reliably strong as the parents in Poltergeist.

So, it’s not like this film was immediately starting off on the wrong foot, and the final result generally doesn’t make too many glaring missteps. The issue is that there’s not a lot of weight to those steps…

Full review for Vague Visages

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Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

Made between his milestones American Gigolo and Mishima, Paul Schrader’s Cat People is a blend of the more commercially minded concerns of the former and the stylistically experimental features of the latter. Like The Thing, its Universal stablemate from 1982, Schrader’s film is a very loose remake of a beloved thriller, and one that’s only become more interesting with age…

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Tokyo Tribe (Sion Sono, 2014)

Bringing “slammin’ beats from the ass-end of hell,”, Sion Sono’s manga adaptation Tokyo Tribe is a hysterical hybrid of The Warriors, Yakuza movies and Escape from New York, spliced with video games Jet Set Radio and Streets of Rage, and a dash of Scott Pilgrim. Also, it’s a candy-coloured rap-battle musical where maybe 15% of the dialogue isn’t sung or grunted to some kind of beat. So in that sense it’s like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but with added beatboxing, tanks, Clockwork Orange-riffing human furniture and virgin sacrifices to Satan. Fun for all the family…

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Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

In a cinematic landscape where every movie series of notable mainstream or cult popularity is being resurrected instead of left for dead, one figure has emerged as a shining light amid the darkness of Ridley Scott reboots and kingdoms of crystal skulls. His name is George Miller, his character is Mad Max, and his world is fire and blood…

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Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)

Director Olivier Assayas has a penchant of late for companion piece films. His 2012 feature Something in the Air, a film loosely based on his own coming of age in an era of widespread disillusion, was concerned with youth rebellion in early 1970s France. He mined some similar territory beforehand in his 1994 effort Cold Water, however that film only alluded to the political concerns that Something in the Air puts closer to the forefront. Cold Water and Something share some character names, similar visual cues and thematic motifs. In a way, it’s as though Assayas is using the newer film to comment on the older one, and considering Cold Water’s own supposedly autobiographical elements, one can argue that Something works as an artist looking back on how he previously looked back on his past.

This elaborate self-reflexive approach is maintained for Assayas’ latest extraordinary film, Clouds of Sils Maria, which can be viewed as a companion piece to his 1996 work Irma Vep. Both concern a veteran actress coming to terms with their place in a cinematic landscape they find increasingly baffling, and each offers a unique meta-commentary on contemporary filmmaking. Clouds of Sils Maria takes some major swings at Hollywood’s current crop of samey sci-fi and fantasy franchises along with star stories told through social media and gossip sites…

Full review for Vague Visages