All posts by Josh Slater-Williams

Josh Slater-Williams (@jslaterwilliams) is a freelance writer based in England. He has contributed to a wide variety of outlets and institutions, including the BFI, Sight & Sound, Variety, Little White Lies, The Face, IndieWire, SciFiNow, Hyperallergic, Huck, The Skinny, The List, Filmmaker, The Line of Best Fit, MUBI Notebook, Kinoscope, Locarno Festival, Glasgow Film Theatre, VODzilla.co, and others in both print and online.

I can remember it for you wholesale: The making of ‘Total Recall’, 30 years on

Total Recall was one of my favourite experiences. When was it released? 30 goddamn years, my god.”

Michael Ironside may not immediately remember just how long ago it was that Total Recall was released, but few have been able to forget Paul Verhoeven’s slippery sci-fi action blockbuster since it came out in 1990, nor his memorably intense performance as Richter. The primary heavy in this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’, Richter is in constant pursuit of amnesiac protagonist Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) across both Earth and Mars, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake.

One of Canada’s most prolific actors, with more than 260 screen credits to his name, Ironside is perhaps best known to a certain generation for various antagonist and authority figure roles in fondly remembered films from the 1980s and 90s, including Verhoeven reunion Starship Troopers (1997), Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986), David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) and Charles Burnett’s The Glass Shield (1994). 

Ahead of the release of a new 4K restoration of Total Recall, Ironside spoke to us via Zoom about both Verhoeven collaborations; his own lifelong affinity for science fiction; the on-set experience of making one of the last massive-budget movies based around mostly practical special effects; and how he thinks Cronenberg’s scrapped adaptation of the story might have turned out…

Full interview for the BFI

Charlatan (Agnieszka Holland, 2020)

The Czech Republic’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Oscars, Charlatan comes from Polish director Agnieszka Holland, a veteran filmmaker known for movie and TV work made across wildly different countries and cultures. Her previous feature, the largely English-language Mr Jones, followed a Welsh journalist uncovering an international conspiracy in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Charlatan is also inspired by a real-life figure falling foul of forces in power, this time self-taught herbalist and faith healer, Jan Mikolášek…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Tape Crusader: The Bizarre Brilliance of ‘Batman Forever’’s Soundtrack

In Spin magazine interview marking the 20th anniversary of his band’s 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic, The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne was asked about their involvement with the soundtrack for Batman Forever, an album described by interviewer Dan Weiss as, “Even by ‘90s standards… one of the weirdest batches of artists.” Coyne – reportedly not a fan of the finished film itself, though he enjoyed his group’s aural appearance – had this to say:

“I think it set up a blueprint that you could really have an interesting soundtrack that really doesn’t have that much to do with the movie and people would accept it. It was just a record that had another branding that went with it. I thought that was really a cool move, that it didn’t always just have to be a group of popular artists doing something to promote the movie. It really was a weird mixtape collection that had a movie with it too.”

Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips

A packed film soundtrack of popular music wasn’t a concept born in the 1990s, nor is it something that’s completely died out since, but various factors have led to that decade being the peak ‘music from the motion picture’ era, and how Coyne describes the Batman Forever soundtrack is reflective of why. And in the year 2020, Batman Forever’s album stands out as one of its decade’s most emblematic musical artefacts for how it both followed trends and also bucked the system in a way that arguably influenced the construction of soundtracks going forward; Entertainment Weekly ran a non-review article the summer of release on the extent to which the soundtrack was an outlier among its field…

Full article for The Companion

Henry Blake on ‘County Lines’

A thoroughly absorbing though deeply upsetting drama, County Lines is a remarkable debut feature from New Zealand-born writer-director Henry Blake. Inspired by his own experiences as a youth worker in East London, the film explores how personal and economic factors lead to 14-year-old Tyler (the magnetic Conrad Khan) being groomed for involvement in the eponymous drug-dealing networks that exploit vulnerable children into trafficking Class A drugs, primarily heroin and crack cocaine, from urban areas to rural or coastal towns.

Co-starring Ashley Madekwe and Harris Dickinson, County Lines is a vital empathy machine concerning a difficult subject sometimes prone to bad faith discussions when it comes to the young people who get caught up in the trafficking. But with genuine cinematic verve and complex characterisation, it’s far from a didactic tug on the heartstrings.

Speaking to us at the Glasgow Film Festival back in February, Henry Blake discusses some of his intentions for the project…

Full interview for The Skinny

The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Released the same year as her film The Bigamist, 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker would be one of Ida Lupino’s final features in the directing chair, ahead of a prolific career working in television. When working in front of the camera, the actor-turned-director appeared in a number of notable noir thrillers, including the prior year’s On Dangerous Ground, which she also co-directed (uncredited) for a few days when Nicholas Ray fell ill. The Hitch-Hiker is widely regarded as the first American film noir to be directed by a woman…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (McG, 2020)

In humour and topsy-turvy aesthetic, McG’s The Babysitter proved a surprise word-of-mouth success for Netflix. It was bolstered by a few key notes of merit. The first is that it was undeniably a crucial stepping stone for the star ascent of Samara Weaving, whose first major American role – at least in terms of filming date, more on that later – was as the eponymous character, a loving guardian for nervous pre-teen Cole (Judah Lewis) who turns out to actually be the leader of a devil-worshipping cult, looking to use her innocent ward’s blood for a ritual that will supposedly grant one’s deepest desires.

Second was a theoretically interesting theme concerning how, to kids on the cusp of puberty, older teenagers can have this air of terror, intrigue and incomprehensibility about them that is hypnotising – part of how Cole gets himself into the mess he does is because he wants to see what cool babysitter Bee gets up to with her friends when he’s supposed to be asleep.

Third, peppered throughout The Babysitter was a genuinely quite sweet subplot about Cole’s developing relationship with his best friend and neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind). In the final half hour of The Babysitter, Cole flees to Melanie’s house as Bee fires at him with a shotgun she swiped while disposing of a cop car and the bodies of two police officers her crew killed. Melanie’s own father is reportedly away on a date with a “protestant”, so, with no adults around to defend them, the pair end up hiding from Bee trying to find them in Melanie’s house.

Once she’s left, Cole tries to make sure Melanie is safe before he goes back to his house to face Bee and his fears. Melanie kisses him, telling him: “Just because she’s a psychopath doesn’t mean women are evil.” Boosted by this romantic development and Melanie’s suggestion they should make out next time, Cole heads back and takes out the remainder of the cult. This includes returning to swipe Melanie’s dad’s car to drive into both Bee and his own house, something the film shows Melanie supporting both as and after it happens.

Fast forward to The Babysitter: Killer Queen, the 2020 sequel with a title that seems to have been chosen on the basis of whatever the most expensive song on the soundtrack was, rather than much to do with the story. Despite two police officers called to the scene that night going missing (you’d think that would be a big deal), no one in the film’s world believes anything about Cole’s account of the first film’s events, except for Melanie who at least witnessed Bee brandishing a shotgun around her house.

A more fantastical film that confirms all the ritual business is real, Killer Queen brings back practically everyone from the first outing, including the deceased cult characters played by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor and Hana Mae Lee, who are resurrected from limbo for another chance at performing the ritual, something that can apparently only happen every two years. Samara Weaving’s Bee is also back, eventually, but since she’s become a much bigger deal of late and was filming both Bill & Ted Face the Music and the currently delayed GI Joe spin-off Snake Eyes when Killer Queen was being shot, adjustments had to be made for this direct continuation…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento, 1971)

Dario Argento’s first three features as director – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet – are commonly referred to as his “Animal Trilogy”. They are not connected by recurring story threads or characters, but by visual and thematic motifs in their mystery narratives about murder most foul, many involving voyeurism. And each of the three’s titles contains a species’ name, in case you somehow missed that…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

Ten of the Best Films From London Film Festival 2020

The 64th London Film Festival concluded this past weekend, taking place both online and in select cinemas across the UK in light of these unprecedented times, offering roughly a fifth of the usual number of features presented in a normal year, alongside shorts, experimental and VR works, and a couple of TV series previews. The festival ended with showings of Francis Lee’s period lesbian romance Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, in hundreds of cinemas nationwide, while Thomas Vinterberg’s drama Another Round won the inaugural LFF Audience Award.

Here are ten of the best titles from LFF 2020 worth looking out for in the future; some on their way to cinemas or digital soon, others further off…

Full feature for AnOther

Amateur (Hal Hartley, 1994)

Breaking through with early features The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990) and Simple Men (1992), writer-director Hal Hartley was one of the key figures of the tail end of the 1980s/early 1990s boom of American independent cinema, alongside the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch, before that landscape became altogether different in the wake of the success of films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Clerks (1994).

Hartley’s early tragicomic dramas – which explore such topics as class, the nature of love, and foolhardy ambition in the face of absurd reality – are immediately recognisable through the specific deadpan cadence to the dialogue and his performers’ delivery of it, whereby emotional duress or ecstatic highs are largely conveyed with a relatively expressionless affect, outside of a few select scenes. Hartley’s regular actors around that time included such talents as Martin Donovan, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Bill Sage and the late Adrienne Shelly. Hartley can also attest to being one of the earliest directors to regularly employ Parker Posey’s particularly unique screen presence.

Amateur (1994) is a key transitional work for Hartley. For one thing, it’s a decidedly more violent offering than anything he’d presented before; while relatively free of actual onscreen blood, multiple characters are shot and one is tortured to near-death and driven mad. Secondly, while his later studio foray and prosthetics-heavy oddity No Such Thing (2001) likely cost more, Amateur certainly looks like the most expensive film of Hartley’s career at that point, thanks to use of varied New York City locations (Long Island was his favoured locale before this) and the mere presence of a particular actor (more on that in a moment). Among the production company credits in the gorgeous opening title sequence, set to the score by Jeffrey Taylor and Hartley himself (under the pseudonym Ned Rifle), are the likes of UGC and what was then Channel Four Films (now Film4 Productions), a reflection of Hartley’s growing status as a hot commodity in European arthouse markets…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) (Arie Esiri/Chuko Esiri, 2020)

The feature-length debut of directing brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri (the latter also writing the screenplay), Eyimofe – or This Is My Desire – is a Nigerian drama that acts somewhat in opposition to the country’s filmmaking output at large, both in terms of general perception overseas and the standard domestic models. Nigeria is among the world’s most prosperous film industries, putting out roughly a thousand productions a year. That said, many are made on extremely low budgets and shot within maybe a week at most. Few tend to travel outside of Africa through traditional distribution channels, nor do that many seem especially commercially minded, as it were. (For a sense of at least one major Nigerian studio’s offerings, UK viewers with Sky can watch Rok TV, which screens Rok Studios-produced films and television series 24 hours a day.)

All of this is necessary context for why Eyimofe feels so different as a project. In interviews and supplementary production notes both before and after the film’s world premiere at the 2020 Berlinale, the brothers Esiri have cited their wide-reaching influences as including Robert Altman, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Vittorio De Sica and James Joyce’s Dubliners – filmmakers and authors who notably, though not always, gravitate towards works that examine the larger spaces their characters inhabit, where the city or town itself is truly a character in the text…

Full review for VODzilla.co